April 30, 2011
LIKE STEVE CARLTON AND HIS RICE BUCKET:
Grinding corn was Frieri's first step toward Padres (Bill Center, April 29, 2011, San Diego Union Tribune)
Ernesto Frieri says much of the credit for his becoming a major league pitcher should go to his grandmother, Zoila Gutierrez.
Between the ages of 12 and 16, Frieri would arise each morning in the village of Sincerin, Bolivar, Colombia, and spend up to two hours turning the crank on the machine that ground the corn for Gutierrez’s tamale business.
“She made 200 to 300 tamales every morning,” recalled Frieri. “I ground all the corn. That’s a lot of corn. I would turn that crank so much I could feel my right shoulder getting stronger by the day.”
“Then I’d help her sell them, 10 cents each in U.S. money. I hated when she woke me up every morning. I hated grinding that corn. But now I thank her every day. I think turning the crank on that machine is why I am here.”
THE PUERTO RICAN JACKIE ROBINSON OF THE NEGRO LEAGUES?:
Navarro, Puerto Rico baseball great, dies at 105 (DANICA COTO, 4/30/11, Associated Press
The cheerful 5-foot-5 infielder was known for his baserunning skills and became the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro Leagues.
[Emilio “Millito” Navarro] played in the Dominican Republic with the Escogido Lions in the late 1920s and in Venezuela with Magallanes and other teams in the 1930s. In Puerto Rico, he was the second baseman for the Ponce Lions for nearly 20 years.
He was a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the New York-based Cuban Stars of the Eastern Colored League in 1928, hitting .337 the following year.
In 2008, Navarro threw out a first pitch before a game at Yankee Stadium. He warmed up his arm, waved his hat and made a 30-foot toss on the fly to catcher Jorge Posada(notes). Asked how the sport had changed, Navarro’s eyes widened and he mentioned high salaries.
“I made $25 a week,” he said through a translator.
In an interview last August with The Associated Press, he said he did not have any secrets to a long life but that he enjoyed dancing and the occasional glass of whiskey.
THE REACTIONARY PARTY:
RE: Communion with Paul Krugman (Yuval Levin, 4/29/11, National Review)
In our time, nostalgia is the reigning sentiment of the left in America, and the project of the left is fundamentally reactionary. They’re clinging mightily to the remnants of the old and bankrupt social-democratic dream, and they constantly appeal to a vision of a (mostly imaginary) ideal past. This is very powerfully evident in President Obama’s rhetoric. Here’s a characteristic passage from this year’s State of the Union address:
Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.
Even in those exceptional three decades after the Second World War, things weren’t really anything like this. But for people who were children during that time, it might be possible to imagine it as having been this way. And for people who believe in the power of social-democratic government activism it may even be possible to imagine that it was achieved by such activism.
The Right is reactionary in the sense it wants to return to the utopia it imagines prevailed under the First Way, the Left in its desire to return to the Second. The political wave in the Anglosphere is inexorably towards the Third.
HE HAS NO BASE:
Obama's swing state blues (Michael A. Memoli, April 29, 2011, LA Times)
A University of New Hampshire poll released Thursday afternoon shows that Obama’s job approval rating among Granite Staters stands at 44%. That’s down just two points from February, but among independents the dip was more pronounced – from 46% to 32%.
In Pennsylvania, which Obama won by double digits in 2008, only 42% of voters think he deserves a second term according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. His approval rating was 51% just two months ago, but has dropped to 42%.
In Florida, which Obama visits Friday, a recent Mason Dixon poll showed that 43% of voters approve of his job performance, including just over one-third of independents.
Even a Democratic-affiliated pollster, Public Policy Polling, saw warning signs in the swing state of Nevada. Their new survey in the Silver State found 45% of voters viewed the president’s performance positively, while 52% disapproved. That survey was conducted just after his visit to Reno last week.
Sure, it's nice to start with CA, NY and IL in your column, but where else won't he be on defense?
REMEMBER DAN MARINO?:
Patriots' Gamble on Ryan Mallett Could Pay Dividends Down the Road, Save Quarterback's Reputation (Jeff Howe, Apr 30, 2011, NESN)
There's this genuine, homegrown Southern personality that emanates from Ryan Mallett, the quarterback with a rocket launcher for a right arm.
He comes across as a good guy with a funny side, and the Arkansas product can apparently talk football until he's out of oxygen. That's where being the son of a coach comes into play.
Mallett is the ideal size for a franchise quarterback, standing tall among his peers at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds. And he's got the intangibles, evidenced by a 73-yard scoring drive in the final minute of last September's thrilling victory at Georgia, which was capped off by his 40-yard strike to Greg Childs.
But with that talent, and that personality, and those nerves, what's the deal? Why did he plummet into the third round of a draft that was littered with mediocrity at the quarterback position?
Ryan Mallett focused on the future: QB prospect not concerned what anyone outside of NFL decision-makers think of him (Elizabeth Merrill, ESPN.com)
A PARLIAMENT CAN'T LOVE YOU BACK:
Republicanism, the morning after: Has the end of the monarchy now slipped out of sight? (David Allen Green, 30 April 2011, New Statesman)
The monarchy looks like it is here to stay a while longer.
The wonderful -- and popular -- spectacle of yesterday's wedding of William and Catherine reminded all republicans that there is a genuine and deep domestic regard for the royal family.
If the sentiments manifested yesterday continue, only a dedicated anti-monarchist would campaign to deprive the British people of the prospect of having their Queen Kate.
Reform ought to reverse directions, giving the Lords and the King increased veto power over the Commons.
WANT TO MAKE MEN GREEN? (via Beppo)::
Real men don’t tote reusable shopping bags (Mary H.J. Farrell, Apr 28, 2011, Consumer Reports)
Is green the new pink? Maybe so. More than 80 percent of respondents to a new study on sustainability said that going green is “more feminine than masculine.” And if men won’t carry reusable bags or water bottles, or drive a Prius, that’s a problem for marketers, says OgilvyEarth, which conducted the study. “Sustainability could use its Marlboro Man moment.”
“More men identified as Green Rejecters, and the ranks of the Super Greens were dominated by women,” said OgilvyEarth in a press release about its research, adding that most respondents were in the middle. But green’s image problem goes beyond gender differences. Those asked said that going green is too expensive, too niche and only for “crunchy granola hippies or rich elite snobs.”
Stop city collection of garbage. We compost and use totes just to cut down on what I have to haul to the dump.
MAYBE HE WAS HOME WATCHING THE WEDDING:
Ahmadinejad Reportedly Not Showing Up for Work, Sparking Rumors of a Possible Power Shift (Amy Kellogg, April 29, 2011, Fox News)
Deep rifts among Iran’s ruling elite have reached an all-time high in recent weeks, according to sources, who say things have gotten so bad that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have stopped showing up for work.
Iran’s complex power structure has for years been compared to a multi-headed hydra, with multiple points of strength. But the struggle now appears to have boiled down to a showdown between Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – once viewed as Ahmadinejad’s biggest cheerleader.
Only by those who weren't paying attention.
GIVE US A KING!:
Royal Wedding to Set All Time Record for Web Traffic (Alex Ben Block, 4/29/11, Yahoo)
The ratings for the British royal wedding are still being tallied but early indications are lots of people were watching on TV and online.
Yahoo! said Friday that its live video stream of the wedding set an all time record for traffic, beating the previous record viewing for the Michael Jackson funeral by 21%.
“Overall traffic is surpassing expectations and we are breaking records in terms of traffic and video consumption,” says a Yahoo spokesperson. [...]
Yahoo! Says the requests per second for the wedding surpassed the previous record set by the Japan earthquake with 40,000 per second at the peak, compared to 33,000 per second for the earthquake. [...]
The results, notes the Yahoo! spokesperson, are “especially impressive given that this event happened during non-peak hours.”
“We anticipate total video audience figures to break all previous records,” added the spokesperson.
April 29, 2011
HERE'S YOUR SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER....:
...Toy Story 4: The Doll is not Your Friend....
Andy is grown up and has kids of his own. We all rejoice when he retrieves a crate from the attic and hands out his childhood favorites to his brood. Buzz, Woody, etc. rejoice in their newly won freedom and the prospect of new owners to play with them....
But it's one of the kids' birthdays and the newest toy to join the household turns out to be Chucky, who proceeds to hunt down his rivals, one by "bloody" one....
GOOD, IT WAS THE HARDEST PART OF THE BAR EXAM (via The Mother Judd):
The Case for Cursive (KATIE ZEZIMA, 4/27/11, NY Times)
For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery.
The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.
Gradual death is too good for it.
The Campaign Waiting for Mitch Daniels (Erin McPike, 4/29/11, Politico)
With more than three decades in politics behind him, the governor has done more than develop a Rolodex he could deploy for fundraising, as most point out. The campaign operative in him also has built an organization ready to go whenever he tells them to -- and the media doesn't seem to know it yet. For the past year, he's been playing its members like piano keys as he orchestrates his national rollout.
Anthony Dolan, the chief speechwriter for the entire Reagan presidency, knows Daniels well from the time they worked together and explained, "Mitch has always been a marvel with the news dynamic." He added, "A year ago people were saying ‘Mitch who' and then comes a rollout with more elaborate choreography than a Busby Berkley musical -- we haven't seen the synchronized swimming yet, but I'm sure it's coming."
Indeed, at the same time Daniels has ruminated publicly about whether or not to run -- as Dolan put it, "for a while there the Daniels speculation was crowding out the royal wedding" -- his team also has carefully blocked out time for national reporters to descend on Indiana to profile him, one at a time. And the intrigue has grown.
WATER FINDS ITS OWN LEVEL:
The Obama doctrine: Leading from behind (Charles Krauthammer, April 28, 2011, Washington Post)
Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the president’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.”
— Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker, May 2 issue
To be precise, leading from behind is a style, not a doctrine. Doctrines involve ideas, but since there are no discernible ones that make sense of Obama foreign policy — Lizza’s painstaking two-year chronicle shows it to be as ad hoc, erratic and confused as it appears — this will have to do.
And it surely is an accurate description, from President Obama’s shocking passivity during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution to his dithering on Libya, acting at the very last moment, then handing off to a bickering coalition, yielding the current bloody stalemate. It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.
THE PERFECT TOPPING:
German monarchists long for a home-grown royal wedding (Deutsche Welle, 4/28/11)
Knut Wissenbach is one of the many German monarchists who will be eagerly watching the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on television this Friday.
But he'll be a little wistful as he watches the extravagant spectacle in the knowledge that there will be no live broadcast when Prince Georg Friedrich von Hohenzollern ties the knot in August. Germany is, after all, a republic now - the last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, abdicated in 1918.
In the absence of a meaningful monarchy and the Prussian glory of days gone by, pomp and ceremony no longer have any place in German society.
Wissenbach is chairman of "Tradition und Leben" (Tradition and Life) a group which has been campaigning for the restoration of the monarchy in Germany since 1959. His study is adorned with oil paintings of kings, Prussian uniforms and medals in glass cabinets.
"We want to top democracy," he told Deutsche Welle, laughing.
NEVER WASTE A "CRISIS":
Debt ceiling: More Democrats threaten to vote against raising borrowing limit (Peter Wallsten, Published: April 28, 2011, Politico)
The push-back has come in recent days from Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a freshman who is running for reelection next year. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told constituents during the Easter recess that he would not vote to lift the debt limit without a “real and meaningful commitment to debt reduction.”
Even Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), generally a stalwart White House ally, is undecided on the issue and is “hopeful” that a debt-ceiling bill can be attached to a measure to cut the federal deficit, said her spokesman, Linden Zakula. Klobuchar is also up for reelection next year.
Months ago it seemed unthinkable that Congress might refuse to raise the borrowing limit. Leaders in both parties agreed that failing to do so would risk a default by the U.S. government, which could send interest rates soaring and cut off Social Security checks, as well as salaries for combat troops.
And although many lawmakers and aides say a bipartisan deal is likely, the insistence on conditions by a small but pivotal group of Democrats suggests that any agreement would almost certainly have to include substantial cuts in the deficit — not just to mollify House Republicans but to satisfy Democrats who could be politically vulnerable on spending issues.
Obama Takes a Page From Nixon's Handbook: Come November 2012, independents will remember the president's earlier appeals to the hard left. (Karl Rove, 4/28/11, WSJ)
[M]r. Obama is making a mistake by following the advice of President Richard Nixon, who argued White House hopefuls must run to their party's flank in the primary and tack back to the center for the general election. While Mr. Obama doesn't face a primary challenge, the White House is worried about the intensity of the Democratic base and feels compelled to feed it red meat now.
This bit of conventional wisdom assumes two things. First, that ordinary voters aren't paying attention now (they are). And second, that veering hard left in 2011 won't limit Mr. Obama's appeal in 2012 (it will). Many swing voters are repelled by the class-warfare rhetoric Mr. Obama uses to fire up the Democratic base. Appealing to envy is usually not a winning formula.
Impressions once created are hard to change. When they do, change is often accompanied by disappointment, as evidenced by what's happened since those hope-filled days of 2008, when independents believed Mr. Obama meant it when he pledged to lead us into new era of post-partisanship.
By 2010, the reality of the Obama presidency—with its spending binges and deficits—had soured voters. The man who promised hope and change was revealed as a calculating politician.
The particular problem for the UR is that the first impressions of him came after he was elected.
THE PROJECT IS FAR MORE INSIDIOUS THAN THAT:
The Malthusians who masquerade as Marxists: Both radical and mainstream authors now frequently attack ‘neo-liberalism’ and ‘free-market fundamentalism’. But their alternative to these largely mythical creeds would be far, far worse. (Daniel Ben-Ami, 4/28/11, spiked review of books)
One of the great puzzles of contemporary political debate is what exactly critics of Western governments mean by the term ‘neo-liberalism’. Typically, the concept is associated with the ideas propagated by a familiar cast of conservative villains, including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Behind the scenes, pulling the strings, are said to be the financial powers of Wall Street and the City of London. But this will not do as a definition. It is rarely made clear whether the ultimate object of their attack is a theory, a set of policies, a phase of capitalism, or something else.
The mystery deepens when it comes to David Harvey, one of the most sophisticated exponents of the concept of neo-liberalism. In the current intellectual climate, it would probably come as a surprise to many to learn that the work of a 75-year-old professor of anthropology and self-proclaimed Marxist is so popular. Yet his 2010 YouTube lecture on the crises of capitalism has received over one million hits. Other critics of neo-liberalism also widely cite Harvey’s many books as authorities on the subject.
Fortunately the publication in paperback of Harvey’s latest book, The Enigma of Capital, provides an opportunity to probe the notion of neo-liberalism more closely. If anyone can spell out exactly what it means it should be him. Indeed, by page 10 he does attempt to define the term: ‘My view is that it refers to a class project that coalesced in the 1970s. Masked by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and the virtues of privatisation, it legitimised draconian policies designed to restore and consolidate capitalist class power.’
Such a project would be just a matter of preserving the status quo or restoring the status quo ante, which has been and always was marked by ideological/economic/political struggle against the capitalist class. The unique genius of neoliberalism, or the Third Way, or compassionate conservatism, or New Labour, or Clintonism, or whatever you want to call it this year in whichever Anglospheric state we're talking about, is that it seeks to universalize the capitalist class. All of the programs it advocates use capitalist means to turn the lower class into capital owners.
DEFLATION IS A MORE REALISTIC WORRY:
Inflation? Numbers Show Faith in Fed (MARK GONGLOFF, 4/29/11, WSJ)
"You would think, by watching TV or listening to people ranting, that inflation expectations are out of control," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. "But clearly they are well-contained."
Inflation is rising, driven by higher oil and food prices. On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that the personal consumption expenditure price index, the Fed's favored inflation gauge, rose at a 3.8% annual rate in the first quarter, the biggest increase since the third quarter of 2008.
But looking beyond the next year, inflation worries are surprisingly muted and have actually fallen slightly in recent weeks.
Long-term inflation-expectation gauges, from consumers and from the bond market, remain subdued and are little changed from a year ago. They point to inflation that isn't far above the average of the past decade, when inflation was historically low.
April 28, 2011
Sourdough Pretzels (King Arthur Flour)
3/4 cup lukewarm water*
1 cup unfed sourdough starter, straight from the refrigerator
3 cups King Arthur Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten Flour* or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) non-diastatic malt powder or 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
*Add an additional 2 tablespoons water if using high-gluten Lancelot flour.
1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder or sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons melted butter, optional
1) Mix and knead the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a cohesive, fairly smooth dough. It should be slightly sticky; if it seems dry, knead in an additional tablespoon or two of water.
2) Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 minutes. It will rise minimally. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
3) Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface, fold it over a few times to gently deflate it, then divide it into 12 pieces, each weighing about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 ounces.
4) Roll each piece of dough into an 18" rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel.
5) Dissolve the malt in the water. Brush the pretzels with the solution, and sprinkle lightly with coarse pretzel salt.
6) Bake the pretzels for 25 to 30 minutes, until they're a light golden brown. Note: This is correct; there's no need to let the shaped pretzels rise before baking.
7) Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush with melted butter, if desired.
Juanes lets his music do the talking: No translation required (Jed Gottlieb,, April 8, 2011, Boston Herald)
A sort of Colombian Bruce Springsteen/Bono/John Mayer mash-up, Juanes has won a record-setting 17 Latin Grammys, sold more than 15 million albums worldwide and last month packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Unlike Shakira, the 38-year-old may not be shaking his hips with Wyclef Jean on “American Idol,” but he’s connected deeply with another massive demographic: America’s nearly 40 million Spanish speakers.
It’s a pretty wild accomplishment for an ex-headbanger who grew up obsessed with Metallica.
“Yes, my favorite band of all time, Metallica,” he said, laughing over the phone from his home in Miami. “‘Kill ’Em All’ changed my life. But back in the ’80s, when I was playing metal music something changed in me. I was missing something. I started listing to the Latin folk music my parents listened to when I was young. It was the start of a journey, trying to make those roots mine.” [...]
Juanes isn’t naive. He knows a good rock song can only do so much. But he’s hoping music can kick-start our humanity and solve some problems.
“It’s a complicated moment for immigrants now,” he said. “Back (when I arrived) it was a little bit different. There wasn’t this pressure on the Latin community. When I see the news, when I listen to people that come to me with immigration problems, I understand the government is worried. But I see the Latin communities as such an important engine for this economy. These are good people who just want a good life for their families (and) this is an immigrant culture, a culture where immigrants are so important.”
IF THERE WERE A WORLD CUP OF MAKING FUN OF SOCCER...:
...America would be the #1 seed:
BECAUSE FAMILY PLANNING HAS WORKED SO WELL SO FAR:
China census figures reveal ageing and urbanised country (Tania Branigan, 4/28/11, guardian.co.uk)
The figures, released today by the National Bureau of Statistics, underline the enormous challenges facing a country with a rapidly ageing population and huge demographic shifts. They also highlight arguments about the need to reform the country's strict one-child birth control policies.
The number of young people fell sharply as a proportion of the population, with under-14s accounting for just 16.6% of the population, down 6.3 percentage points from 2000. Meanwhile, the number of people over 60 rose by nearly three percentage points, to 13.3% of the total population.
China must now sustain the remarkable development that has made it the world's second largest economy with a shrinking workforce and growing number of dependents.
Officials believe that without the strict one-child policy – which actually allows many in the countryside and some in the cities to have two children – the population would have grown by an extra 400 million people over the last three decades. But it was only supposed to last for 30 years and many now believe the country needs to move towards a uniform two-child policy, to tackle the issue of ageing and perceptions of unfairness.
WHAT'S BOLD ABOUT ACCEPTING THE INEVITABLE?:
Seeking peace, Netanyhu must choose state over land: As Netanyahu faces a world gone mad, he must act courageously and wisely. He must present a real plan in Washington for partitioning the land. (Ari Shavit, 4/28/11, Ha'aretz)
For Netanyahu, May 24, 2011, will be a day of to be or not to be. If he does not make a clear and decisive statement on the Palestinian issue, no one will listen to anything else he has to say. If he does not restore to himself the diplomatic credit he has lost, he will not be able to act like a leader in any area. Nor will he survive.
Time is up. There is no more room for ambiguity. Precisely in order to divert the international community from the insane trajectory it is following, Netanyahu must offer it an alternative and sane trajectory. He must formulate a realistic and responsible path to ending the conflict. The end is known: a Palestinian state in modified 1967 borders. Thus, Netanyahu's first historic task is to ensure that this Palestinian state will be demilitarized, will recognize the Jewish state and will enable reasonable solutions to the security problem, the settlement problem and the Jerusalem problem. Netanyahu's second historic task is to ensure the Palestinian state will arise gradually, cautiously and securely.But in order to carry out these two tasks Netanyahu must be generous, courageous and clear.
True, it's not easy. It counters several principles he internalized in his father's home. But when Theodor Herzl saw a contradiction between the state and the land, he chose the state, even if it were established in Uganda. When Winston Churchill had to choose between victory and empire, he chose victory. As Netanyahu faces a world gone mad, he must act courageously and wisely. He must present a real plan in Washington for partitioning the land.
The opportunity for boldness passed with Ariel Sharon's stroke. Bibi can only surrender gracefully.
WE ARE ALL DESIGNISTS NOW:
Technology Advances; Humans Supersize (PATRICIA COHEN, 4/27/11, NY Times)
For nearly three decades, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel and a small clutch of colleagues have assiduously researched what the size and shape of the human body say about economic and social changes throughout history, and vice versa. Their research has spawned not only a new branch of historical study but also a provocative theory that technology has sped human evolution in an unprecedented way during the past century.
NECESSARY, NOT SUFFICIENT:
Why Isn’t China Democratizing? Because It’s Not Really Capitalist: The presence of markets and economic exchange does not make a country capitalist. (Dan Blumenthal, April 26, 2011, American)
At first glance, the notion that China is not capitalist seems preposterous. Much of China’s economy is organized around market principles and the country is deeply embedded in the international trading and production system. But the presence of markets and economic exchange does not make a country capitalist. The “founding fathers” of capitalism conceived of it as a moral and social order—a way of ordering economic as well as social life.
At base, the capitalist order is supposed to provide its citizens with three things. First, it provides the opportunity for all citizens to become wealthier. Second, capitalism encourages maximum individual liberty. Citizens are free to pursue the work they want and are rewarded based on enterprise and initiative rather than birthright. At the core of this idea is the notion that property rights are sacrosanct. Individuals own what they buy or make, and are then free to invest, save, and give away charity as they please. Third, capitalism is supposed to ennoble public virtues by encouraging free exchange among citizens and opportunities for self-betterment. Capitalism frees individuals to develop the “better angels of their nature”—sympathy, generosity, integrity, self-reliance, and self-restraint. All of these virtues are conducive to a system of political liberty and democracy. That is why democracy theorists and policy makers assume that free markets are a necessary if not sufficient condition of democracy.
But the Chinese system has made good on only one of these promises, albeit on a massive scale. Almost all Chinese citizens are better off since the abandonment of Maoism. This is no small achievement. Since Chinese leaders allowed markets to operate in the Chinese economy, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty. But individual liberty consistent with a capitalist order is severely curtailed. Physical and intellectual property are owned by the state and the Party puts stringent restrictions on where a Chinese citizen can invest and save money or give away acquired wealth. “Private” entrepreneurs are at the whim of the Party for the resources they require to form and run enterprises: financing, land, and the enforcement of contracts. Most remarkably, a Chinese citizen is even told how many children to have. A state that engages in forced family planning is shockingly at variance with capitalism’s core tenets.
The last of capitalism’s promises—the ennobling of virtue—has also been undermined by the Chinese state. Absent freedom of association, freedom of religion, and the protection of individual rights, it is very difficult for citizens to be virtuous. The Chinese state prohibits the formation of organizations that it cannot control, thus suppressing charity. In capitalist societies, virtues such as generosity, public spiritedness, and sympathy are often expressed through religious practice. But the Chinese state has repressed religious institutions as well. Moreover, without the protection of property rights or contracts, it is difficult for a Chinese entrepreneur to maintain integrity. It is therefore no surprise that corruption and cheating are endemic to China. And since the state controls the resources the entrepreneur needs, self-reliance cannot flourish.
OF COURSE, THE UR OPPOSED IT WHEN W NEGOTIATED IT:
US-South Korea Free-Trade Pact Trails EU Agreement (EVAN RAMSTAD, 4/28/11, WSJ)
A European Union free-trade agreement won a key victory from South Korean lawmakers Thursday, further bolstering a proposed deal that U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said could put pressure on U.S. lawmaker to approve a similar package with South Korea.
The step came just as a U.S. delegation led by Mr. Locke toured Seoul to rally Korean support for the U.S.-South Korea free-trade deal. Both pacts are similarly-sized, covering about $70 billion in annual two-way trade and represent some of the largest bilateral trade deals ever completed.
No-Knead Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread (Ellen Kanner, 4/28/11, Miami Herald)
1 packet dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon honey, honey substitute or molasses
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
3/4 cups uncooked oatmeal
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Combine yeast, warm water and honey in a large bowl. Stir gently to dissolve yeast, and set aside 10 to 15 minutes, until frothy.
Add flour and mix for 2 to 3 minutes, creating a smooth, moist, not-sticky dough. Work in oil, oatmeal and salt. Cover bowl lightly with a cloth. Set in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Punch down dough and place in a lightly oiled, 9-inch loaf pan (or shape into a round and place on a lightly oiled 9-inch pie pan.) Cover and let rise for another hour.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Bake bread about 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and crusty and bread sounds hollow when tapped. Makes 1 loaf.
MIGYT BE TIME TO TRY LEADING FROM THE FRONT:
Syria crackdown: hundreds resign from Ba'ath party (Katherine Marsh, 4/27/11, guardian.co.uk)
[W]hile the international community failed to condemn the violence, signs of dissent within government ranks started to grow as over 230 members of the monolithic party that has ruled Syria since 1963 announced their resignation.
"Considering the breakdown of values and emblems that we were instilled with by the party and which were destroyed at the hand of the security forces… we announce our withdrawal from the party without regret," 30 party members from the coastal city of Banias said in a letter.
They accused security forces and pro-government gunmen of opening fire at homes, mosques and churches and inciting sectarian strife between the country's Sunni majority and Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The city – which sits near the Alawite's mountain heartland – has seen repeated street protests, which have been met with gunfire, raids and mass arrests by the security forces.
Around two hundred members from the southern Hauran region - which includes the besieged city of Deraa - also stood down, citing the Ba'ath party leadership's complicity with "crimes of the Syrian intelligence agencies".
Deraa, where protests against the Assad regime began six weeks ago, has been surrounded by troops for days, and residents are reportedly running out of food, water and medicine.
Gunfire and sporadic explosions were heard in the city on Wednesday night, after dozens of tanks were seen heading to the city.
GLOBALIZATION IS ANGLOFICATION:
Death by Dialogue: What does it mean for the future of Hindi cinema if most films are now in fact conceived, thrashed out and largely executed not in Hindi but in English? Will filmmakers only tell the stories of a minuscule section of the population? (TRISHA GUPTA, 1 May 2011, Caravan)
IT MAY SEEM UNIMAGINABLE to a generation brought up on Abhishek Bachchan’s Bluffmaster! rap and Kareena Kapoor’s size-zero diet, but 20 years ago, Hindi films were not cool. In large numbers of upper-middle-class, English-speaking Indian families, children were banned from watching “that trash”. Even if they grew up watching Hindi films on television (and
later, video) in the company of grandmothers and household help, they would transition, by their teenage years, into thinking of them as a sort of guilty pleasure.
But a decade and a half ago, something changed. The reemergence of the teenybopper romance, now enclosed in the cloying folds of the family, began to wean the middle-class audience away from their TV-VCR viewing and back to the cinemas—which were themselves being revamped into multiplexes. In a kind of reaction to the saccharinesweet, sanitised, mostly foreign locales of these films, there emerged the gritty urban gangster film. For 42-year-old Navdeep Singh, who had been working as an advertising professional in the US, the moment of transformation was coming back home on holiday in 1998 and watching Satya. He went on to direct Manorama Six Feet Under (2007). For 27-year-old scriptwriter Ishita Moitra (whose credits include 2009’s Kambakkht Ishq, and this year’s Always Kabhi Kabhi), then barely in her teens, it was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). “Earlier, you spoke to your friends about Batman, but not about the Hindi films you watched. That changed after DDLJ,” says Moitra.
Over the past decade, people like Singh and Moitra—people whose primary language is English—have come to form a larger proportion of the Hindi film industry than ever before. In the changing demographic of Hindi cinema, not just of actors and art directors, but even directors and scriptwriters are people much more comfortable in English than in Hindi. What does it mean, one wonders, for most films to be made in a language that no longer comes easily to their creators? What does it mean for Hindi cinema if most films under that rubric are now in fact conceived, thrashed out and largely executed not in Hindi but in English?
It means you've left the Third World.
April 27, 2011
THE FASCIST NIGHT DESCENDING (via Beppo):
Justice Department Pushes Warrantless GPS Surveillance (Darlene Storm, Computerworld)
The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to resolve a conflict among federal appellate courts over the need for a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle to covertly track a person. In fact, the Justice Department said that a person traveling on public roads has "no reasonable expectation of privacy" in his movements, even if 'scientific enhancements' are used to help law enforcement with the tracking.
HELLO, PRESIDENT DANIELS:
Indiana votes to defund Planned Parenthood (SARAH KLIFF, 4/27/11, Politico)
The bill, which passed the Indiana State House late Wednesday afternoon, would bar the state from entering into contracts with abortion providers, making an exception for hospitals and ambulatory centers. Planned Parenthood of Indiana operates 28 clinics in Indiana, eight of which are Title X funded clinics. The group received about $3 million in federal funding last year. State officials have speculated that the bill, if passed, would lead to the state losing all $4 million in federal family planning dollars that it received last year.
RISE OF THE PLANKTON:
Another Global Warming Crisis Canceled For Lack Of Evidence (James Taylor, Apr. 27 2011, Forbes)
Global warming alarmists and their allies in the media were ringing the alarm bells last summer after a study in the journal Nature claimed the global phytoplankton population had declined by 40% since 1950. The alarmists and their media allies aggressively focused attention on the study and made the additional assertion that global warming and carbon dioxide emissions must be to blame.
A just-released follow-up study in Nature, however, shows flaws in the original study and documents that the global phytoplankton population has risen, rather than fallen, over the past several decades.
THE CRYING GAME:
Milan Lucic's Ejection Bogus, As Referees Simply Get It Wrong After Hit on Jaroslav Spacek ( Michael Hurley on Wed, Apr 27, 2011, NESN)
The sport of soccer has a tremendous following worldwide, but in America, it will always struggle to win over the general population. Some sports fans dislike the low scores, but many, many more simply can't stomach the sight of grown men writhing in pain on the ground, looking as if their very lives are in danger, only to see them pop up and sprint down the field seconds later.
The players' intentions, of course, are to convince the official to penalize the opponent, and it's often successful. On Tuesday night, though, that same mentality took center stage at a playoff hockey game, and it's a crying shame.
When Canadians act like Mediterraneans.
THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING:
Report: Denver Broncos Defensive End Jason Hunter Stabbed By Girlfriend (Associated Press, Apr 27, 2011)
Detroit police say Denver Broncos defensive end Jason Hunter has been stabbed and taken to a local hospital.
The owners may have to reach an agreement just to keep their guys out of jail.
THE AMERICANIZATION OF EVERYTHING:
Tibetan exiles elect PM to take over Dalai Lama's role (Harmeet Shah Singh, 4/27/11, CNN)
A Harvard-educated legal expert was elected head of Tibet's government-in-exile on Wednesday, filling the shoes of the Dalai Lama who said last month he was going to give up his political role.
Born in the tea-growing region of Darjeeling in India, Sangay arrived in the United States in 1995. He received his doctorate in law from Harvard University, where he also was a research fellow in the East Asian Legal Studies program and held events related to Tibet.
OR MAYBE HE'S JUST A JERK:
Jonathan Papelbon’s alter ego frighteningly effective (John Tomase, April 26, 2011, Boston Herald)
So who is Cinco Ocho? He’s best viewed in juxtaposition to Papelbon.
Papelbon is fairly subdued. Cinco Ocho is raging id. Papelbon might lie on the clubhouse couch and play along with Discovery Channel’s “Cash Cab” (he’s better than you’d think). Cinco Ocho is more likely to cause a scene like Sunday’s, when he screamed his ABCs while the rest of the clubhouse tried to listen to their unofficial anthem, “Out Here Grindin’ ” by DJ Khaled after a 7-0 victory against the Angels.
“Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me?” Cinco Ocho finished with an unhinged flourish.
“You like that?!” he dared everyone and no one in particular.
For his part, Papelbon has little to say about Cinco Ocho, save for a faint smirk.
“I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m sorry, man. What I think you’re going to have to do is some homework.”
OK, fine. His teammates spelled out a few simple ground rules:
No. 1: Do not talk to Cinco Ocho.
“It’s only scary when you try to talk to him,” Bard said. “I know better. Others try. They get shot down. He’s not a good guy to talk to.”
No. 2: Do not make eye contact with him.
“Everybody loves Pap,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Nobody likes Cinco Ocho.”
No. 3: If you ever meet him in a dark alley, pray to your maker.
“Go the other way,” Saltalamacchia said. “Go the other way as fast you can, because even his best friends don’t stand a chance when Cinco Ocho’s there.”
“That sounds pretty reasonable,” Papelbon allowed.
Right fielder J.D. Drew [stats] laughed when informed of the Cinco rules.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “That doesn’t even make sense. What is he, not human or something? That’s what they’re telling you in your research? Whoever’s giving the intercession on Cinco Ocho’s part has definitely been hoodwinked, I think, with his Cinco Ocho-ness.”
A TAD CONFUSED ABOUT DEMOCRACY, EH, BIBI?:
Fatah and Hamas Announce Outline of Deal (ISABEL KERSHNER, 4/27/11, NY Times)
While the deal, reached after secret Egyptian-brokered talks, promised a potentially historic reconciliation for the Palestinians, Israel warned that it would spell the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.
“The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, “Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly.”
A PRESIDENT AT EASE:
George W. Bush on Panetta, Petraeus Nominations: 'Is This Gossip or Truth?' (George Stephanopoulos, April 27, 2011, ABC News)
Though Bush is pretty determined to stay out of the political fray, I did manage to have him weigh in on the breaking news that CIA Director, Leon Panetta, will move to the Pentagon, replaced by General David Petraeus.
Bush: You know both of them are good men. I have a great respect for David Petraeus. I got to know him well. I also got to know Leon Panetta, not as well as I did David, and both of them are good, good public servants. And I wish them well. Is this gossip or truth?
Stephanopoulos: No, it's truth, we're reporting it this morning. It is done. It's being - It's being announced later this week.
Bush: Well just because you're reporting it, as you might recall... [Laughs] [...]
On gas prices:
Stephanopoulos: Something else that a lot of Americans are dealing with right now these high gas prices? Now that you are a civilian I guess you have to go pump your own gas as well. But what do you say to Americans – and you had to deal with this when you were president as well - who look at these prices going up at the pump and say there must be something you can do about it?
Bush: I mean, I would suggest Americans understand how supply and demand works. And if you restrict supplies of crude, the price of oil is going to go up and it affects gasoline. But you know I really, look I appreciate you giving me the chance to opine on all the issues of the day but as you know I’ve made the decision to support causes I’m interested in without feeling like I’ve got to give an opinion on every issue.
Stephanopoulos: And I recognize that and I do appreciate that. And final word –
Bush: So you're still going to try nevertheless. You haven't lost- you haven’t lost the steps Stephanopoulos. [Laughs]
THE WAR ON LABOR TURNS INTO A ROUT:
House votes to restrict unions: Measure would curb bargaining on health care (Michael Levenson, April 27, 2011 , Boston Globe)
[U]nlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers’ rights.
Unions fought hard to stop the bill, launching a radio ad that assailed the plan and warning legislators that if they voted for the measure, they could lose their union backing in the next election. After the vote, labor leaders accused House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other Democrats of turning their backs on public employees.
“It’s pretty stunning,’’ said Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.’’
If you're going to balance budgets you have to go where the money is.
WHAT WAS THE LAST GOOD SUMMER MOVIE?:
Movie Review: 'Thor' (Epoch Times, 4/27/11)
Growing tired of the recycled nature of the Hollywood machine, Thor, directed by Shakespearean puppet master, Kenneth Branagh, is approached with some trepidation.
Thor is part of the ensemble for Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie (scheduled for release next year and combining the iconic characters of Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man, amongst others) and is hardly a tentpole name when it comes to the Marvel universe. So it appears something of a gamble to launch such a prospectively lucrative adventure with one of the lesser-known heroes.
Filling in the audience’s blanks, in that you know he has a hammer and that’s about it, we are transported to the wonderfully rendered Asgard, a playground of the gods and one of the universe’s fantastical realms. Brothers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) share a close relationship, but only one can be the true heir to the throne once Odin (Anthony Hopkins) abdicates. When the heroic but arrogantly headstrong Thor is banished from the kingdom for putting Asgard in jeopardy, he is cast asunder to Earth, and the poetic mechanisms of a house of power that will have attracted Branagh to the project kick in: sibling rivalry, warring Gods, and some suprising humour.
Thor is an unexpected lightning bolt of an experience that without question is the most successful comic book franchise launch of any of the lesser known characters. Even better than Iron Man? Infinitely.
REAL RECOGNIZE REAL:
Rude Boys: The birth of the Beastie Boys—an oral history on the 25th anniversary of Licensed to Ill. (Amos Barshad, Apr 24, 2011, New York)
While on the Madonna tour, Yauch and Diamond had given keys to their Chinatown apartment to their buddies, who promptly trashed the place beyond habitability. Diamond’s new apartment, on Hudson Street, became unofficial headquarters. The band was now working on the music that would become Licensed to Ill. Before its release, in the fall, the trio would hit the road as Run DMC’s supporting act on the “Raising Hell” tour, which cemented their stage characters: Generally speaking, MCA was the bad boy, Ad-Rock the cute one, and Mike D the comedian.
Horovitz: That year was basically Mike’s house during the day, writing lyrics, going to the club, going to the studio, going back to the club. We would write and write and write, then read the lyrics out loud to see who liked what. And that’s kind of how we’ve always done it since then. Rick had a drum machine, and I used to go to his dorm room and make beats. I made the beat for LL Cool J’s first single, “I Need a Beat.” I bought an 808 at Rogue Music [the Roland TR-808 was one of the first programmable drum machines] with some of the settlement money.
Diamond: We would start with the music, and then Rick would clean it all up. Rick had the ability to make things sound legitimate and bigger, to make it sound like a record.
Rubin: Each one had a strong personality. When we came up with rhymes, we tried to cast them for the right character and the right voice.
Horovitz: It just sort of happened. It wasn’t like, “Okay I’m going to be like Melle Mel, you’re Kool Moe Dee.”
Diamond: We never broke it down like, “Okay, I’m the baritone.”
Chuck Eddy, music writer (who did a notorious Beasties piece in 1987 for Creem): They were smart, arty Jewish kids from New York, and they created these white-trash burnout characters with the help of Rubin. And they pulled it off.
Horovitz: One night at the studio, me and Adam and Mike, we’re waiting outside, drinking beers, and we see Run running down the street screaming, and DMC is way behind him. They were so excited: They’d come up with the idea for our song “Paul Revere” on the way there. We loved Run DMC—and then we were on tour with them. It was like: “Wow, if we’re hanging around with these dudes, it must mean we’re all right.”
DMC: For the first couple of days of the tour, the towns we were playing were in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee—this was the black South. We expected to hear boos, so we were reluctant to be on the side of the stage, to see them get disappointed. But then from the dressing room, we’d hear “Yeaaaaaah! Yeaaahhh!” It was the black audience, praising these dudes. The reason they were so good: It wasn’t white punk rockers trying to be black emcees. They wasn’t talking about gold chains or Cadillacs. They were white rappers rapping about what they did. Real recognize real.
Run: They’d teach me about stupid white-boy stuff, like whippits. “What the hell is a whippit?” “Okay, you take this Reddi-wip thing, you push, you inhale it.” Stuff black people don’t do. I was like, “I don’t know the effects of this foolishness.” I don’t think I did it. With the Beasties, nothing was normal. Ad-Rock bugged me out: He was dating the actress [Molly Ringwald]. It was like, “Wow, now that I look at him, he kind of looks like a movie star.”
Molly Ringwald: I finished doing The Pick-Up Artist, and the producer was putting together the music. He brought the Beastie Boys in to talk to them about having a song in the movie, and Adam gave his number to the producer. I went and looked at some music magazines. I was trying to figure out which Adam it was, because I only wanted to call if it was Adam Horovitz. I thought he was really cute.
DMC: The backstage would be so full of beer. I remember one night we got scared. Yauch, he slipped, like it was a banana peel, and went 50 feet in the fucking air, and went down like bam. I know he was hurt. But he just gets up and laughs it off.
Ringwald: I only made it two weeks on tour. I remember New Orleans because I got really drunk—drunker than I’d ever been in my entire life. I drank all the Beastie Boys under the table.
Run: I never hung out late-night, but I would read all the crazy stuff in the tabloids. In my mind, I was wondering, What percentage of this is true? “Oh, man, the Beasties didn’t turn over a car last night, did they?” They were becoming a menace to society.
THE LIVIN' IS EASY:
More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World: But what if the experts are wrong? (ABHIJIT BANERJEE, ESTHER DUFLO | MAY/JUNE 2011, Foreign Policy)
But is it really true? Are there really more than a billion people going to bed hungry each night? Our research on this question has taken us to rural villages and teeming urban slums around the world, collecting data and speaking with poor people about what they eat and what else they buy, from Morocco to Kenya, Indonesia to India. We've also tapped into a wealth of insights from our academic colleagues. What we've found is that the story of hunger, and of poverty more broadly, is far more complex than any one statistic or grand theory; it is a world where those without enough to eat may save up to buy a TV instead, where more money doesn't necessarily translate into more food, and where making rice cheaper can sometimes even lead people to buy less rice.
But unfortunately, this is not always the world as the experts view it. All too many of them still promote sweeping, ideological solutions to problems that defy one-size-fits-all answers, arguing over foreign aid, for example, while the facts on the ground bear little resemblance to the fierce policy battles they wage. [...]
Consider India, one of the great puzzles in this age of food crises. The standard media story about the country, at least when it comes to food, is about the rapid rise of obesity and diabetes as the urban upper-middle class gets richer. Yet the real story of nutrition in India over the last quarter-century, as Princeton professor Angus Deaton and Jean Drèze, a professor at Allahabad University and a special advisor to the Indian government, have shown, is not that Indians are becoming fatter: It is that they are in fact eating less and less. Despite the country's rapid economic growth, per capita calorie consumption in India has declined; moreover, the consumption of all other nutrients except fat also appears to have gone down among all groups, even the poorest. Today, more than three-quarters of the population live in households whose per capita calorie consumption is less than 2,100 calories in urban areas and 2,400 in rural areas -- numbers that are often cited as "minimum requirements" in India for those engaged in manual labor. Richer people still eat more than poorer people. But at all levels of income, the share of the budget devoted to food has declined and people consume fewer calories.
What is going on? The change is not driven by declining incomes; by all accounts, Indians are making more money than ever before. Nor is it because of rising food prices -- between the early 1980s and 2005, food prices declined relative to the prices of other things, both in rural and urban India. Although food prices have increased again since 2005, Indians began eating less precisely when the price of food was going down.
So the poor, even those whom the FAO would classify as hungry on the basis of what they eat, do not seem to want to eat much more even when they can. Indeed, they seem to be eating less. What could explain this? Well, to start, let's assume that the poor know what they are doing. After all, they are the ones who eat and work. If they could be tremendously more productive and earn much more by eating more, then they probably would. So could it be that eating more doesn't actually make us particularly more productive, and as a result, there is no nutrition-based poverty trap?
One reason the poverty trap might not exist is that most people have enough to eat. We live in a world today that is theoretically capable of feeding every person on the planet. In 1996, the FAO estimated that world food production was enough to provide at least 2,700 calories per person per day. Starvation still exists, but only as a result of the way food gets shared among us. There is no absolute scarcity. Using price data from the Philippines, we calculated the cost of the cheapest diet sufficient to give 2,400 calories. It would cost only about 21 cents a day, very affordable even for the very poor (the worldwide poverty line is set at roughly a dollar per day). The catch is, it would involve eating only bananas and eggs, something no one would like to do day in, day out. But so long as people are prepared to eat bananas and eggs when they need to, we should find very few people stuck in poverty because they do not get enough to eat. Indian surveys bear this out: The percentage of people who say they do not have enough food has dropped dramatically over time, from 17 percent in 1983 to 2 percent in 2004. So, perhaps people eat less because they are less hungry.
And perhaps they are really less hungry, despite eating fewer calories. It could be that because of improvements in water and sanitation, they are leaking fewer calories in bouts of diarrhea and other ailments. Or maybe they are less hungry because of the decline of heavy physical work. With the availability of drinking water in villages, women do not need to carry heavy loads for long distances; improvements in transportation have reduced the need to travel on foot; in even the poorest villages, flour is now milled using a motorized mill, instead of women grinding it by hand. Using the average calorie requirements calculated by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Deaton and Drèze note that the decline in calorie consumption over the last quarter-century could be entirely explained by a modest decrease in the number of people engaged in heavy physical work.
Beyond India, one hidden assumption in our description of the poverty trap is that the poor eat as much as they can. If there is any chance that by eating a bit more the poor could start doing meaningful work and get out of the poverty trap zone, then they should eat as much as possible. Yet most people living on less than a dollar a day do not seem to act as if they are starving. If they were, surely they would put every available penny into buying more calories. But they do not. In an 18-country data set we assembled on the lives of the poor, food represents 36 to 79 percent of consumption among the rural extremely poor, and 53 to 74 percent among their urban counterparts.
It is not because they spend all the rest on other necessities. In Udaipur, India, for example, we find that the typical poor household could spend up to 30 percent more on food, if it completely cut expenditures on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals. The poor seem to have many choices, and they don't choose to spend as much as they can on food. Equally remarkable is that even the money that people do spend on food is not spent to maximize the intake of calories or micronutrients. Studies have shown that when very poor people get a chance to spend a little bit more on food, they don't put everything into getting more calories. Instead, they buy better-tasting, more expensive calories.
In one study conducted in two regions of China, researchers offered randomly selected poor households a large subsidy on the price of the basic staple (wheat noodles in one region, rice in the other). We usually expect that when the price of something goes down, people buy more of it. The opposite happened. Households that received subsidies for rice or wheat consumed less of those two foods and ate more shrimp and meat, even though their staples now cost less. Overall, the caloric intake of those who received the subsidy did not increase (and may even have decreased), despite the fact that their purchasing power had increased. Nor did the nutritional content improve in any other sense. The likely reason is that because the rice and wheat noodles were cheap but not particularly tasty, feeling richer might actually have made them consume less of those staples. This reasoning suggests that at least among these very poor urban households, getting more calories was not a priority: Getting better-tasting ones was.
All told, many poor people might eat fewer calories than we -- or the FAO -- think is appropriate. But this does not seem to be because they have no other choice; rather, they are not hungry enough to seize every opportunity to eat more. So perhaps there aren't a billion "hungry" people in the world after all.
Charles Bradley: Hip-Jerking, Heartfelt Soul (Cheryl Waters, NPR: Favorite Sessions)
Charles Bradley's moving performance at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop in Austin, Texas, backed by the outstanding Menahan Street Band, was a highlight of many memorable shows at SXSW this year. I got a chance to talk with Bradley before this set for KEXP and — despite a life filled with hardship, poverty, pain and loss — he was generous, kind, humble and bursting with a joy for life. He accepts the bad and the good with humility and grace, and I felt so happy that he's finally able to share his talent with a larger audience and devote so much of his time to performing.
If you thought they don't make soul singers like they used to, you likely haven't seen or heard Charles Bradley. Having traveled an unconventional road to success, the 62-year-old soul singer was born in Florida and worked as a chef everywhere from a mental hospital in Maine to Alaska and California. He eventually settled into working as a handyman in Brooklyn, where he now lives. He was only recently discovered singing in a local club by a member of the Menahan Street Band, who helped him along the way to releasing his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, earlier this year on Daptone imprint Dunham Records. As a result, this incredible performer is finally getting the attention he deserves.
GET RICH BY HELPING THE POOR?:
Save the Poor by Selling Them Stuff — Cheap: The bottom-of-the-pyramid marketing movement tries to profit the developing world and make a profit at the same time. (Vince Beiser, 4/25/11, Miller-McCune)
For decades, the main model of Third World aid has been the obvious: Give stuff to poor people — be it hydroelectric dams, surplus food or medical equipment. But Western countries have poured some $1.5 trillion into such efforts over the last 60 years, and more than 1 billion people worldwide still live on less than a dollar a day.
The Extreme Affordability program is an experiment with a dramatically different approach to fighting poverty, one that in recent years has generated tremendous buzz among academics, development workers, entrepreneurs and corporate executives. It’s called “bottom of the pyramid” marketing. The idea is to harness capitalism to solve the problems of the world’s poorest — those at the bottom of the global economic pyramid. If you design a useful product for a market rather than for charity’s sake, the theory goes, the target population is more likely to actually want it and use it. If businesses can turn a profit making that product, it not only creates jobs but will keep getting made even if Western donors lose interest. And there should be colossal profits to be made: The world’s poor don’t have much money individually, but there are billions of them.
Get rich by helping the poor. It’s a powerfully alluring idea. A surge of books, symposia, blogs and corporate annual reports champion it. Major organizations, including the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program, have set up programs that support it. Venture capital funds are giving millions to startup firms trying to implement it. MIT, Penn State, Cornell and other top universities in the U.S. and other countries are teaching MBA students about it. “It’s picking up, big time,” says Luiz Ros, manager of a $250 million Inter-American Development Bank fund dedicated to supporting bottom-of-the-pyramid ventures.
WHO IS MANNY?
Before Manny Became Manny (SARA RIMER, 4/25/11, NY Times)
I stumbled upon the George Washington Trojans of Washington Heights in the spring of 1991. The high school was bursting with new immigrants, and the 25 varsity baseball players were all Dominican.
Mandl invited me to spend the season following the team. He told me he had a great hitter, an 18-year-old from Santo Domingo who got the bat around faster than any other high school player he had seen.
I knew next to nothing about baseball, but even someone with the scantest technical knowledge of the game or the mechanics of hitting could recognize that Ramirez was a star in the making.
I don’t remember the first time I saw that quicksilver swing. What I remember is what it felt like to be there on that rock-hard artificial surface atop the hill next to the high school, among his euphoric teammates and fans shouting his name, merengue blasting from someone’s boom box in the concrete bleachers behind the third-base line, the major league scouts lined up behind home plate as Manny came up to bat in his baggy black-and-orange secondhand uniform and red cleats and slammed one home run after another, day after day.
Up in the stands Manny’s beautiful 16-year-old girlfriend, Kathy Guzman, would practically be swooning. A vendor in a Yankees cap would push a grocery cart serving pastelitos and the sweet, blended orange juice and milk concoction known as a morir soñando: to die dreaming.
Manny, batting .650, walloped 14 home runs in 22 games. Not one of those home runs was on television or saved on videotape. Mandl could barely keep the team in baseballs and gloves let alone think about videotaping his future major leaguer.
But maybe it’s better that way. Those home runs, the memory of them, are part of the Manny that belongs to Washington Heights. He was the shy, happy-go-lucky boy with the perfect swing who everyone knew was going to the major leagues. The boy who loved to hit more than anything else. The boy who worked harder than anyone else. The baby-faced boy who never drank anything stronger than the nonalcoholic Puerto Rican eggnog from the corner bodega he chugged to bulk up.
That was the Manny who at least seemed knowable, before he disappeared behind the wall of all that surreal major league fame and money. Who is the real Manny?
YOU MEAN HE CAN'T LEAD FROM BEHIND?:
Finish the Job? (JAMES M. DUBIK, 4/25/11, NY Times)
PRESIDENT OBAMA insists that protecting civilians is the only military objective in Libya and air power is the only means we will use to achieve it. But the Libyan government’s attacks on civilians continue, and air power alone will not stop them.
Public pronouncements aside, the unstated strategic aim of the intervention in Libya is to remove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his regime, and things are not going well. The United States and NATO must accept that there is no easy way out of this war now that we are in it.
In war, leadership is not exercised from the rear by those who seek to risk as little as possible. Washington must stop pretending that we’ve passed the leadership for the Libyan operation on to NATO. We did so in Bosnia, claiming Europe would take the lead, only to have the 1995 Srebrenica genocide jolt us back to reality. Like it or not, America’s leadership has been crucial to most of NATO’s successes. The same will be true in Libya.
FROM SUSTENANCE TO ENTERTAINMENT:
Economists in the Wild: Far from damaging brains and killing seals, applying basic economics to the environment preserves it. (Steven F. Hayward, April 22, 2011, The American)
The rapid material advance of the last 200 years has provided more comfortable lives in several meaningful ways: It has led to longer lifespans, conquest of diseases, and the ability of the human population to grow more rapidly and securely than at any time in previous history. (It also has provided the means of transforming social and family relations, liberating women from historically “women’s work” on the farm or in the home.) In other words, human ingenuity, technology, and innovation have largely succeeded, in wealthy nations at least, in approximating the abundance of the Garden of Eden.
However, no exertion on humanity’s part, and no conceivable innovation in technology, can succeed in re-creating the original innocence of humans in the Garden of Eden. There is perhaps a corollary here: This approximation of Eden still partakes fully of human sin.
The central insight of environmentalism is that humanity’s great leap in material progress has come at a high cost to nature: we tear down entire mountains for their minerals; divert rivers and streams and drain swamps to provide water for modern agriculture and urban use; clear large amounts of forests for other uses, often disrupting crucial habitat for rare animal species; and too often dump our waste byproducts thoughtlessly into the air, water, and land.
But this insight contains a paradox. Environmentalism arose precisely because we have mitigated the material harshness of human life through the Industrial Revolution; as Aldo Leopold, author of the classic environmental book A Sand County Almanac, put it: “These wild things had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast.”iv It is no coincidence that environmental sensibility arose first and has its strongest influence in wealthy nations. The affluent society does not wish to be the effluent society. Meanwhile, the poorest and most undeveloped nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America today suffer the worst environmental degradation and have the least public support for environmental protection. The wealth and technological innovation (spurred more by markets than government dictates) of industrialized nations provides the means for environmental improvement and remediation.
Air and water pollution in the United States and Europe, for example, have fallen substantially over the last 40 years (and will continue to abate in the coming decades), although they are still worsening in most underdeveloped nations. Forestlands, according to recent United Nations (UN) data, are expanding in the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia, but are still contracting in underdeveloped nations.
The point is that our conquest of nature through technology and material progress has enabled our increasing appreciation and concern for it. “The wilderness” is now regarded not as an inhospitable realm to avoid or conquer, but as a source of wonder to be celebrated and preserved. This change in outlook, however, extends beyond just our attitudes and sentiments: prosperity has also become the foundation for improving our environment.
April 26, 2011
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY:
The Syria Lobby: Why Washington keeps giving a pass to the Assad regime. (WSJ, 4/26/11)
Washington's Syria Lobby is a bipartisan mindset. "The road to Damascus is a road to peace," said Nancy Pelosi on a 2007 visit to Syria as House Speaker. Former Secretary of State James Baker is a longtime advocate of engagement with the House of Assad. So is Republican Chuck Hagel, who in 2008 co-wrote an op-ed with fellow Senator John Kerry in these pages titled "It's Time to Talk to Syria." The Massachusetts Democrat has visited Damascus five times in the past two years alone.
Yesterday, the New York Times quoted a senior Administration official saying the U.S. was reluctant to criticize the Syrian President because he "sees himself as a Westernized leader" and that "he'll react if he believes he is being lumped in with brutal dictators." This was meant as a defense of U.S. policy.
Box Office: 'Atlas Shrugged' collapses, even without a NY Times review (Lou Lumenick, 4/25/11, NY Post)
My esteemed colleague Kyle Smith may not qualify as a box-office Nostradamus ("I smell a hit,'' he once wrote of "An American Carol'') but he was certainly on the mark in predicting that "Atlas Shrugged -- Part One'' would flop in his Sunday column a couple of weeks ago.
After a middling performance during its opening weekend that was hyped in some quarters (i.e., The Hollywood Reporter), the per-screen average for this amateurish Ayn Rand adaptation (even Kyle could only muster 2.5 stars' worth of enthusiam for the movie, though he liked its message) plunged to an alarming $1,890 from $5,640 during its opening frame. Overall, the weekend's take was a scant $879,000 -- a whopping 48 percent drop despite adding 166 locations. Which certainly suggest they're running out of audience quick.
That means that at some locations, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures will be writing checks to theaters to cover the difference between receipts and operating expenses.
RESTATING THE OBVIOUS:
A Guide for Those Unwilling to Know Themselves: a review of J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know (Fr. James V Schall, S.J., April 26, 2011, Ignatius Insight)
The modern notion that we postulate our own definition of what is good and what is evil is a disorder that in fact goes back to Genesis and the Fall. It claims that we make what is good and what is evil by our own wills and power. To make this latter claim means logically that we propose ourselves as gods. Then we try to create a better human world only to see our efforts deviate more and more from what it is to be human. Benedict XVI's encyclical Spe Salvi also spelled out this decline.
This world of reason was once understood but it is "lost" because of developments in modern philosophy and politics that presumably have replaced these classic principles with "new" ones. But, as Budziszewski shows, what ended up being lost was our understanding of ourselves and our proper place in the order of things.
Reality—what is—is filled with coherence. Nothing is more ordered than the human being's own structure, something Leon Kass showed quite clearly in The Hungry Soul. Budziszewski again goes over the evidence for design in the universe and in ourselves, evidence that has not gone away with modern science. Just the opposite, in fact. Budziszewski's observations correspond with those of Robert Spitzer in his New Cosmological Proofs for the Existence of God.
The book is filled with pertinent illustrations of the points that Budziszewski wants to make, from his own conversation with students, from his controversies with other scholars, and from what is available in the public order, where human disorder is more and more being legalized and enforced.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this book is not so much the "what we can't not know," something that C. S. Lewis had also made clear. Rather, it is the "furies," as Budziszewski calls them, the "what happens to us" individually and as a society when we reject what cannot be denied. Our souls are never left in peace.
In a sense, this book is a treatise on evil. Budziszewski cites Chesterton's observation that good may stay at a certain even level, but evil never does. It goes downhill, often rapidly, one step at a time.
NOW WHAT WILL THE SOCCER MOMS FRET ABOUT?:
A Toxic Setback for the Anti-Plastic Campaigners (Jon Entine, April 19, 2011, The American)
Advocacy groups targeting plastic products made with bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates took it on the chin last week.
A comprehensive review by the German Society of Toxicology of thousands of studies on BPA concluded, “[BPA] exposure represents no noteworthy risk to the health of the human population, including newborns and babies.” The group, which included several scientists who have advised regulatory caution on BPA, bucked calls by advocacy groups to lower safe exposure levels.
This is a huge development in this ongoing saga and a major endorsement of the scientific method. Over the past decade, German toxicologists had been among the most aggressive in arguing for precautionary standards when regulating plastic additives. BPA is used to line metal cans and make epoxy products and polycarbonate plastics, including children’s sippy cups. Phthalates are softeners used to manufacture vinyl products, from gym mats to cabling and medical tubing.
NO SENSE BETTING ON A LOSING NAG:
Financiers Switch to GOP: Hedge-Fund Titans Who Backed Democrats Open Their Wallets for Republicans (BRODY MULLINS, SUSAN PULLIAM and STEVE EDER, 4/26/11, WSJ)
Hedge-fund managers made a big bet on Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2008. Now, with the 2012 contest gearing up, some prominent fund managers have turned their backs on the party and are actively supporting Republicans.
Daniel Loeb, founder of Third Point LLC, was one of the biggest Obama fund-raisers in 2008, rounding up $200,000 for him, according to campaign-finance records. In the decade prior, Mr. Loeb and his wife donated $250,000 to Democrats and less than $10,000 to Republicans.
But since Mr. Obama's inauguration, Mr. Loeb has given $468,000 to Republican candidates and the GOP, and just $8,000 to Democrats. Hedge-fund kings have feelings, too, and the president appears to have hurt them.
THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE:
The Arab Spring and The Palestine Distraction: Arab peoples aren't obsessed with anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. It's their rulers who are. (JOSEF JOFFE, 4/26/11, WSJ)
Writing in the Financial Times, former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft intoned: "The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed." Read: The fate of democracy hinges on Palestine.
So do "Iran's hegemonic ambitions," he insinuated. This is why Tehran reaches for the bomb? Syria, too, will remain a threat "as long as there is no regional peace agreement." The Assad regime is slaughtering its own people for the sake of Palestine? And unless Riyadh "saw the U.S. as moving in a serious manner" on Palestine, Mr. Scowcroft warned, the Saudis might really sour on their great protector from across the sea. So when they sent troops into Bahrain, were they heading for Jerusalem by way of Manama?
Shoddy political theories—ideologies, really—never die because they are immune to the facts. The most glaring is this: These revolutions have unfolded without the usual anti-American and anti-Israeli screaming. It's not that the demonstrators had run out of Stars and Stripes to trample, or were too concerned about the environment to burn Benjamin Netanyahu in effigy. It's that their targets were Hosni Mubarak, Zine el Abidine Ben-Ali, Moammar Gadhafi and the others—no stooges of Zionism they. In Benghazi, the slogan was: "America is our friend!"
The men and women of the Arab Spring are not risking their lives for a "core" issue, but for the freedom of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria. And of Iran, as the Green revolutionaries did in Tehran in 2009.
AND REGULATION CAN REVEAL THE RISK:
Pride and Prejudice: Contrarian Speculation on Wall Street’s Future (Peter A. Coclanis, April 21, 2011, The American)
The financial industry certainly has its problems and it deserves its fair share of the blame for the onset of the Great Recession. Moreover, quants and the innovative financial products they “engineered” were at the center of many of the problems that arose. But quants are human (more or less!) and engineering innovations of all types have always been prone to problems early on. Although one can take the analogy too far—obviously, the innovations produced by financial engineers are not based on physical laws in the same way that innovations in construction, electrical, or chemical engineering are—in all of these areas it is humans doing the innovating. And humans, being mortals, sometimes misjudge, miscalculate, and make mistakes.
A quarter century ago, in his classic book To Engineer is Human, Henry Petroski demonstrated rather convincingly that failure is indispensable to successful design. Problems virtually always arise when engineers innovate—think here of collapsing bridges, exploding engines, and crashing airplanes—and, once problems are exposed, engineers have generally set to work on such problems and been able to surmount them over time. In so doing, they have enhanced efficiency and improved people’s lives in many, many ways.
A similar process will likely occur in financial engineering as well. In the past, other types of financial innovations—the discounting of bills of exchange, the creation of futures markets, the advent of non-investment grade (“junk”) bonds, etc.—have had rocky starts and have faced plenty of opposition. Over time, such innovations have generally proved their worth. The same may well hold true even for many of the so-called exotic financial instruments created in recent decades; certainly, some forms of securitization have already shown their value. To fully realize the potential of recent financial innovations, though, we need to develop more sophisticated models of financial markets, learn how to evaluate risk more accurately, and better understand the complexities of human behavior. We will need to make sure that we get right the context in which financial innovation occurs, whether through more effective regulation, better incentive structures, or more training in business ethics, if not all of these things.
But I’m confident that we can do what is necessary, and I’d place my money in particular on places such as D.E. Shaw (which, admittedly, has been having a tough time of late), where brilliant people work and merit rules. Paul Volcker’s line about the ATM being the most important financial innovation of the past 25 years is a good one, but it might not be accurate if Wall Street’s meritorious quants can be tamed. Don’t bet against them.
USEFUL SINCE THEIR MAIN STUMBLING BLOCK IS PSYCHOLOGICAL:
Volt and Leaf ace crash tests (Peter Valdes-Dapena, 4/26/11, CNNMoney)
The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf plug-in cars both earned top scores in crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Tuesday.
Both vehicles earned the Institute's coveted Top Safety Pick award, given to cars that get the best possible ratings in side and front crash tests as well as the best scores for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
April 25, 2011
WHICH IS ALSO KNOWN AS FOLLOWING:
The Consequentialist: How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy. (Ryan Lizza May 2, 2011, The New Yorker)
One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.”
A-ROD WAS JUST THE EASIEST TARGET...:
How Jeter put A-Rod in the Yankees' 'snubhouse' (SUSANNAH CAHALAN, April 24, 2011, NY Post)
Jeter's unyielding insistence on loyalty and his dislike for A-Rod during the third baseman's early years in pinstripes was so legendary that one Yankee official admitted he was too scared to talk to Jeter about making amends with his teammate.
"It would've been the last conversation I ever had with Derek," the official said. "I would've been dead to him. It would've been like approaching Joe DiMaggio to talk to him about Marilyn Monroe."
Don Mattingly, then the hitting coach and former captain, tried to intervene, citing his own unfriendly history with teammate Wade Boggs. "I faked it with Boggs," he told Jeter. "And you have to fake it with Alex." [...]
[W]hen fans and rival players criticized A-Rod, Jeter deferred instead of defending his teammate.
General Manager Brian Cashman noticed this and asked Jeter to "fake it" with A-Rod.
"You've got to lead them all, the ones you like and the ones you don't," he told him. He asked him to appeal to Yankees fans on A-Rod's behalf.
"I can't tell the fans what to do," Jeter countered.
A-Rod's obsession with Jeter continued, the book says. He constantly asked players and team officials about Jeter -- down to which charity he was currently supporting.
It all came to a head during a Yankees loss in August 2006 to Baltimore.
An easy pop-up hung in the air between A-Rod and Jeter. Both players closed in and Jeter bumped into A-Rod, knocking the ball out of his glove. Jeter shot A-Rod a withering look.
The gesture did not go unnoticed. Cashman pulled Jeter aside and ordered him to knock it off.
"Listen, this has to stop," Cashman said. "Everybody in the press box, every team official, everyone watching, they saw you look at the ball on the ground and look at him with disgust like you were saying, 'That's your mess, you clean it up.' "
A-Rod also felt betrayed by manager Joe Torre, who players said added fuel to the fiery feud.
"He would never call Jeter on anything, but he'd have no problem doing it to Alex," one player told the author.
...but Joe Torre's book made it clear that anyone who wasn't there when they won the first couple rings wasn't to be considered a real Yankee.
NOT TO MENTION MAXI RODRIGUEZ::
Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox Give Boston Sports Fans a Weekend for Which to Be Truly Thankful (Michael Hurley, Apr 25, 2011, NESN)
Nathan Horton, Rajon Rondo and Carl Crawford As many families around New England wrapped up their Easter Sundays, they had plenty to be thankful for, aside from the good fortune of spending the day with close friends and relatives.
Tough to beat a weekend when you go nine & 0.
Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees (CHARLIE SAVAGE, WILLIAM GLABERSON and ANDREW W. LEHREN, 4/24/11, NY Times)
The secret documents, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, reveal that most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a “high risk” of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision. But they also show that an even larger number of the prisoners who have left Cuba — about a third of the 600 already transferred to other countries — were also designated “high risk” before they were freed or passed to the custody of other governments.
The documents are largely silent about the use of the harsh interrogation tactics at Guantánamo — including sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — that drew global condemnation. Several prisoners, though, are portrayed as making up false stories about being subjected to abuse.
The government’s basic allegations against many detainees have long been public, and have often been challenged by prisoners and their lawyers. But the dossiers, prepared under the Bush administration, provide a deeper look at the frightening, if flawed, intelligence that has persuaded the Obama administration, too, that the prison cannot readily be closed.
Prisoners who especially worried counterterrorism officials included some accused of being assassins for Al Qaeda, operatives for a canceled suicide mission and detainees who vowed to their interrogators that they would wreak revenge against America.
So there are a bunch of really dangerous guys, a bunch we let go after we checked them out, and they weren't tortured. No wonder the UR kept the same system.
JUST ANOTHER BENEFIT OF OPEN BORDERS:
Europeans shift long-held view that social benefits are untouchable (Edward Cody, April 24, 2011, Washington Post)
Particularly since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008, benefits have begun to stagnate or shrink in the face of exploding government deficits. In effect, the continent has reversed a half-century history of continual improvements that made Western Europe the envy of many and attracted millions of immigrants from less fortunate societies.
In the new reality, workers have been forced to accept salary freezes, decreased hours, postponed retirements and health-care reductions. Employees at Fiat’s historic Mirafiori plant in Turin, rolling back a tradition of union privileges, even pledged to cut back on the number of workers who call in sick when the local soccer team has a match.
Unlike in the United States, where conservatives are so resolved to cut spending that they threatened a government shutdown, Western Europe’s generous welfare programs had generally been embraced by the right as well as the left. Against that background, the new wave of cutbacks seems to signal a dramatic shift in attitude toward benefits that many Europeans had come to see as a birthright and that politicians of any stripe could challenge only at the risk of their careers.
The Racism of the Welfare State (Alberto Alesina, 4/22/02, Project Syndicate)
Many redistributive programs in the US are run by the 50 states. States that are more racially heterogeneous have smaller redistributive programs, even controlling for their level of income. Welfare is relatively plentiful in the overwhelmingly white states of the North and Northwest (Oregon and Minnesota, to cite two examples) and in some states in New England (such as Vermont). It is lacking in the racially mixed Southeast and Southwest.
Continental Europe is becoming, and will become, more ethnically mixed as more newcomers from Eastern Europe and the developing world arrive. Xenophobic parties are on the rise across Europe; in some cases, they are in office. Think of Jörg Haider and the late Pym Fortuyn, or, to a lesser extent, Italy's Northern League. It will not be long before even Europe's more respectable conservative parties reach for rhetoric about "foreigners coming here to feast off of our taxes."
Simply put, when middle-class Europeans begin to think that a good portion of the poor are recent immigrants, their ingrained belief in the virtue of the welfare state will begin to waver. Even Europe's leftist intelligentsia now associates crime and urban squalor with immigration. The step from here to lamenting the high taxes spent on welfare for immigrants is a but a short one.
When this happens - and I say "when," not "if" - there are three possible political responses. One is to close borders to poor immigrants, eliminating any correlation between poverty and immigration. The second is to somehow restrict welfare benefits to "natives." The third is to reduce the size of welfare for all because political support for it is declining.
The first strategy is short sighted and the second odious. I hope that the third one will win out, because it would mean relatively open borders, no discrimination, and less government intervention.
Not to worry: the European welfare state will remain more generous than the stingy American one, but it may become more manageable and less intrusive. The fact that this will come about because of ethnic "animosity" is sad and depressing. The silver lining is that the European welfare state does indeed need trimming!
NOTHING SO BECOMES AMERICA AS ITS CONTEMPT FOR INTELLECTUALS:
A Very Public Intellectual (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 4/02/11, WSJ)
The problem is that Sontag wasn't sufficiently interested in real-life details, the lifeblood of fiction, but only in ideas. She also wrote and directed films, which were not well-reviewed: I have not seen these myself, but there is time enough to do so, for I have long assumed that they are playing as a permanent double feature in the only movie theater in hell.
"Intelligence," Sontag wrote, "is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas." In her thrall to ideas she resembles the pure type of the intellectual. The difficulty, though, was in the quality of so many of her ideas, most of which cannot be too soon forgot. Her worst offenses in this line were in politics, where her specialty was extravagant utterance.
During the Vietnam War, Sontag went off to Hanoi as one of those people Lenin called "useful idiots"—that is, people who could be expected to defend Communism without any interest in investigating the brutality behind it. There she found the North Vietnamese people noble and gentle, if a touch boring and puritanical for her tastes. Doubtless that trip led to her most famous foolish remark, when she said that "the white race is the cancer of human history," later revising this judgment by noting that it was a slander on cancer. Hers was the standard leftist view on Israel, which was—natch—that it is a racist and imperialist country. All her political views were left-wing commonplace, noteworthy only because of her extreme statement of them.
Some might think Sontag's renunciation of communism an exception to this record of nearly perfect political foolishness. In a 1982 speech at New York's Town Hall, she announced that communism was no more than "fascism with a human face." The remark drove bien-pensants up the (still standing Berlin) wall. Others who had fallen for the dream of communism had got off the train as long as 50 years earlier. And whatever can Sontag have meant by "a human face" to describe a monstrous system of government that in Russia, Eastern Europe, China and Cambodia slaughtered scores of millions of people?
Rounding her political career off nicely, when the Twin Towers were destroyed and nearly 3,000 people murdered, Sontag, in the New Yorker, wrote that the attack was "on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions"—and so America, in other words, had it coming. "Some ideas are so stupid," Orwell said, "that only an intellectual could believe them," and Susan Sontag seems, at one time or another, to have believed them all.
THE rEALISTS' FAVORITE SON:
The Freedom Movement Comes to Syria (FOUAD AJAMI, 4/24/11, WSJ)
After Hama, Hafez Assad would rule uncontested for two more decades. Prior to his ascendancy, 14 rulers came and went in a quarter-century. Many perished in prison or exile or fell to assassins. Not so with that man of stealth. He died in 2000, and in a most astonishing twist, he bequeathed power to his son Bashar, a young man not yet 35 years of age and an ophthalmologist at that.
By then Syrians had fled into the privacy of their homes, eager to escape the ruler's whip and gaze. Rule became a matter of the barracks, the ruling caste hunkered down, and the once-feisty republic become a dynastic possession. Assad senior had come from crushing rural poverty, but the House of Assad became a huge financial and criminal enterprise.
Around Bashar Assad were siblings, cruel and entitled. At the commanding heights of the economy were the Assad in-laws, choking off the life of commerce, reducing the trading families of yesteryear to marginality and dependence. And there was the great sectarian truth of this country: The Alawis, a mountainous community of Shiite schismatics, for centuries cut off from wealth and power, comprising somewhere between 10% and 12% of the population, had hoarded for themselves supreme political power. The intelligence barons were drawn from the Alawis, as were the elite brigades entrusted with the defense of the regime.
For the rulers, this sectarian truth was a great taboo, for Damascus had historically been a great city of Sunni urban Islam. That chasm between state and society, between ruler and ruled, that we can see in practically all Arab lands under rebellion was most stark in Syria.
HOW MUCH FOOD DO YOU SUPPOSE THEY RUN PAST IN THIS PURSUIT?:
Fair Chase: On the plains of New Mexico, a band of elite marathoners tests a controversial theory of evolution: that humans can outrun the fastest animals on earth. (Charles Bethea, May 2011, Outside)
AS RIDICULOUS AS THIS spectacle might appear, the men are testing a much-debated scientific notion about when and how humans became hunters. Between two and three million years ago, when our australopithecine ancestors ventured out of the forests and onto the protein-rich African savanna, they were prey more often than hunter. They gathered plant-based foods, just as their primate brethren did. Then something changed. They began running after game with long, steady strides. Evolutionary biologists like Harvard's Dan Lieberman think the uniquely human capacity for endurance running is a distant remnant of prehistoric persistence hunting.
We can run all day, the theory goes, because there was once a caloric advantage to it. Our two human legs, packed as they are with long slow-twitch muscle fibers, make us better runners over long distances than most quadrupeds. And our three million sweat glands give us the ability to cool our bodies with perspiration. An antelope, by contrast, sprints—for up to 15 minutes—while wearing a fur coat and relies on respiration (panting) to release the heat that builds up with exertion. Add to the mix our ability to organize and strategize and, well, you can see how persistence hunting might actually work.
In Christopher McDougall's 2009 book Born to Run, a bestseller that examined the history and science of endurance running, Lieberman explained that a successful persistence hunt probably began with scaring the quarry into a long gallop on a hot day. "If you keep just close enough for it to see you, it will keep sprinting away," he said. "After about 10 or 15 kilometers' worth of running, it will go into hyperthermia and collapse."
Of course, "hot" means approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and 10 to 15 kilometers is a low-end estimate. Biologist and ultramarathoner Bernd Heinrich described it more succinctly in his 2001 book Why We Run: "The sprints cost them dearly in the end."
There's no hard archaeological evidence of persistence hunting, but half a dozen tribes are known to have pursued game this way in the past century: the Aborigines in Australia, the Navajo in the American Southwest, the Seri and Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. Of the tribes thought to practice it, though, only the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert have been seen chasing antelope in recent decades. In the 1980s, South African mathematician Louis Liebenberg joined a successful Bushman persistence hunt for kudu in 107-degree heat. It nearly killed him, too.
The Santa Fe team figured that persistence hunting would work just as well on an American antelope, which may have been something of a blunder. Neither Lieberman nor McDougall nor Heinrich knows of anybody who's caught a pronghorn this way. The speed goat, as it's sometimes called, isn't technically an antelope at all but the lone species of the Antilocapra genus, which evolved to flee the now extinct North American cheetah. The pronghorn's top speed of 60 mph is faster than any African ungulate.
In addition to its swiftness, the pronghorn has lungs the size of water-cooler jugs and wide-set eyes as large as an elephant's. It's capable of 340-degree vision, with acuity comparable to a pair of ten-power binoculars.
Evolutionary biologist David Carrier and his brother, Scott, who wrote the 2001 memoir Running After Antelope, made the single recorded attempt to chase down a pronghorn. Scott, a recreational runner, characterized the elusiveness of the animal, which they pursued in Wyoming, like so: "They blend and flow and change positions. There are no individuals but this mass that moves across the desert like a pool of mercury on a glass table." The brothers failed. The antelope, Scott wrote, "used the terrain to ditch us."
Musuva and his gang are much quicker than the Carrier brothers: the fastest of them has run a 2:10 marathon (six minutes off the world record) and the slowest, Esposito, a respectable 2:45. Vegas probably wouldn't like their odds, but who knows? If you believe Lieberman, our mere existence is a testament to our ancestors' success at this tiring pursuit.
Mitch Daniels sounds fiscal alarm, but Indiana Republican hesitant to run in 2012 (Dan Balz, 4/24/11, Washington Post)
As the time draws nearer, those who know him best see the tension rising as he weighs the political challenges and family trade-offs. “There’s a fight going on inside him that’s pretty rare,” said one adviser who asked not to be identified, in order to speak candidly.
Asked where he was in his thinking, Daniels replied with a laugh, “Oh, muddled.” Then he turned serious: “I don’t want to leave a misimpression. If we get in, we will go all out, and we know a little about how to do that. So reluctance or hesitation about running doesn’t mean we would be a reluctant candidate if we got there.”
Asked about family considerations — friends say his wife has been opposed — Daniels goes quiet. “I don’t have much more to say about that,” he said. “It’s just a very important factor.”
As he deliberates, calls come into his office, and the offices of his political advisers and friends, with words of encouragement. He has drawn praise from a number of conservative commentators. They see him as someone who can espouse conservative ideas but who believes the GOP must avoid appearing harsh or braying.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush told a Jacksonville audience in February that, among prospective GOP candidates, Daniels was the “only one who sees the stark perils and will offer real detailed proposals.”
Democrats, too, are taking him seriously. Obama advisers see him as a credible general-election candidate, if he can survive a nomination battle. Democrats, with some encouragement from Washington, have begun to step up their criticism of him and to question whether his record will hold up to serious scrutiny.
Daniels’s potential supporters see him as the anti-Obama, a 5-foot-7-inch, motorcycle-riding, balding politician who lacks the charisma Obama displayed during his 2008 campaign but who they believe has the intellectual heft and plainspoken appeal to go toe-to-toe with the president.
In reality, no one can predict how he would fare. His biography includes two terms as governor, service in the Reagan White House, and stints at the conservative Hudson Institute think tank and as an executive at Eli Lilly before joining the George W. Bush administration as budget director.
Daniels’s retail candidate skills — honed by nights spent in the homes of strangers and encounters with voters in coffee shops, fairs and flea markets along the back roads of his state — could play well in Iowa and New Hampshire. But his capacity to generate real enthusiasm across the party remains in question. He is still a blip in the polls.
In a field with many candidates who carry baggage, Daniels’s biggest burdens might be how he would run. Although he is solidly antiabortion, he has called for a truce on social issues to keep the focus on the country’s fiscal problems. That has riled social and religious conservatives and is already drawing criticism from potential rivals.
Daniels’s stock rose earlier this year after he spoke to the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where he delivered a sobering speech outlining the fiscal threat he sees looming.
“We cannot deter it,” he said. “There is no countervailing danger we can pose. We cannot negotiate with it, any more than with an iceberg or a great white.”
Daniels also said that night that the changes he advocates require big majorities. “We will need people who never tune in to Rush [Limbaugh] or Glenn [Beck] or Laura [Ingraham] or Sean [Hannity],” he said at CPAC, “who surf past C-SPAN to get to [ESPN’s] ‘SportsCenter.’ ”
In the debate between Ryan and Obama, Daniels knows where he stands. He called Ryan’s proposal for ending Medicare’s defined-benefit structure “exactly the right direction to head,” though he says he is open to other serious alternatives. Asked about Ryan’s proposal to convert Medicaid into a block grant with full flexibility for states, he replied, “Bring it on.” He says that means testing should be part of any solution to restructuring Social Security and Medicare.
THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BIRTHERS AND TRUTHERS:
Inside the GOP's Fact-Free Nation: From Nixon's plumbers to James O'Keefe's video smears: How political lying became normal. (Rick Perlstein, May/June 2011 Issue, Mother Jones)
IT TAKES TWO THINGS to make a political lie work: a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it. The former has always been with us: Kings, corporate executives, politicians, and ideologues from both sides of the aisle have been entirely willing to bend the truth when they felt it necessary or convenient. So why does it seem as if we're living in a time of overwhelmingly brazen deception? What's changed?
Today's marquee fibs almost always evolve the same way: A tree falls in the forest—say, the claim that Saddam Hussein has "weapons of mass destruction," or that Barack Obama has an infernal scheme to parade our nation's senior citizens before death panels. But then a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound—until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.
Trig Trutherism: The definitive debunker: Salon investigates the conspiracy theory: Is Sarah Palin really the mother of Trig Palin? (Justin Elliott, 4/22/11, Salon)
Trig Trutherism, the surprisingly resilient conspiracy theory that Sarah Palin is not actually the mother of 3-year-old Trig Palin, is experiencing a boomlet thanks to a new academic paper that endorses the concept. Long pursued by the blogger Andrew Sullivan and a significant segment of the Palin-hating left, Trig Trutherism holds that Trig's real mother is either Bristol Palin or some third party, and that Sarah Palin herself faked the pregnancy to avoid embarrassment for her daughter or for political gain or some combination of reasons.
In light of the recent attention this subject has received and the considerable passion it has stirred, Salon embarked last week on an investigation of the circumstances surrounding Trig's birth. The exhaustive review of available evidence that we conducted, along with new interviews with multiple eyewitnesses who interacted with a pregnant Sarah Palin up-close in early 2008 -- most of whom had never spoken publicly about the matter before -- has produced one clear conclusion: Sarah Palin is, indeed, Trig's mother and there is no reason to suspect any kind of a coverup.
We've learned, for instance, that an Associated Press reporter in Alaska who was covering Palin during her pregnancy in early 2008 (before she became a national figure) thoroughly investigated rumors that the pregnancy was a hoax. The reporter directly questioned Palin about the matter in a private meeting in her Juneau office before she gave birth. Gov. Palin responded by voluntarily lifting her outer layer of clothing, offering a clear look at her round belly. The reporter quickly concluded that there was no truth to the rumors and never wrote about them.
So why dive into this old conspiracy theory now?
After all, there's a strong argument to be made that politicians' private lives should not be subject to investigation unless there is suspicion of hypocrisy (e.g., Larry Craig) or some public policy implication (e.g., Mark Sanford). As Atrios put it, "if Trig was sired by Lucifer and birthed from a hippopotamus it's really none of our business." Sullivan has claimed that the birth of Trig, a baby with Down syndrome, played a key role in Palin being chosen for the GOP's 2008 ticket, because it solidified her pro-life credentials. But the idea that this had anything to do with John McCain's decision to tap Palin is easily debunked.
Still, for all of this, Trig Trutherism seems to have gained a significant following. There doesn't appear to be any polling on the Trig question, but when we ran a dismissive post about the Trig Truthers last week, we were deluged with angry emails and tweets. (Sullivan, one of the leading doubters of Palin's pregnancy, wrote a post accusing me of incuriosity and laziness.) Fed up with the attention the subject has received, the Huffington Post took the step this week of banning Trig Truthers. Whether we like it or not, this is a conspiracy theory that has gotten big enough to warrant a response.
Analysis: Obama went too far in critique (FACTCHECK.ORG)
- Obama claimed the Republicans' "Path to Prosperity" plan would cause "up to 50 million Americans "¦ to lose their health insurance." But that worst-case figure is based in part on speculation and assumptions.
- He said the GOP plan would replace Medicare with "a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry." That's an exaggeration. Nothing would change for those 55 and older. Those younger would get federal subsidies to buy private insurance from a Medicare exchange set up by the government.
- He said "poor children," "children with autism" and "kids with disabilities" would be left "to fend for themselves." That, too, is an exaggeration. The GOP says states would have "freedom and flexibility to tailor a Medicaid program that fits the needs of their unique populations." It doesn't bar states from covering those children.
- He repeated a deceptive talking point that the new health care law will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion. That's the Democrats' own estimate over a 20-year period. The Congressional Budget Office pegged the deficit savings at $210 billion over 10 years and warned that estimates beyond a decade are "more and more uncertain."
- He falsely claimed that making the Bush tax cuts permanent would give away "$1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire." That figure — which is actually $807 billion over 10 years — refers to tax cuts for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, not just millionaires and billionaires.
- He said the tax burden on the wealthy is the lowest it has been in 50 years. But the most recent nonpartisan congressional analysis showed that the average federal tax rate for high-income taxpayers was lower in 1986.
Obama's Awful '70s Show Echoes Jimmy Carter (Eric Alterman, 4/25/11, Daily Beast)
Ask yourself if the following story does not sound like another president we could name The gregarious Massachusetts pol, House Speaker Tip O’Neil, could hardly have been more eager to work with a Democratic president after eight years of Nixon and Ford. But when they first met, and O’Neil attempted to advise Carter about which members of Congress might need some special pleading, or even the assorted political favor or two with regard to certain issues, to O’Neil’s open-jawed amazement, Carter replied, “No, I’ll describe the problem in a rational way to the American people. I’m sure they’ll realize I’m right.” The red-nosed Irishman later said he “could have slugged” Carter over this lethal combination of arrogance and naivety, but it would soon become Carter’s calling card.
Well that was the ‘70s, you say, and America is a different country these days. True enough, but while history never repeats itself, political patterns do. More and more, Democrats are starting to worry they that they have a more um, colorful version of Jimmy Carter on their hands.
A POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY THAT REQUIRES A ONE PARTY STATE...:
What’s Left of the Left: Paul Krugman’s lonely crusade. (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Apr 24, 2011, New York)
For the first two years of the Obama administration, Krugman has been building, in his columns and on his blog, not just a critique of this presidency but something grander and more expansively detailed, something closer to an alternate architecture for what Obamaism might be. The project has remade Krugman’s public image, as if he had spent years becoming a chemically isolate form of himself—first a moderate, then an anti-Bush partisan, and now the leading exponent of a kind of liberal purism against which the compromises of the White House might be judged. Krugman’s counterfactual Obama would have provided far more stimulus money and would have nationalized Citigroup and Bank of America. He would have written off Republicans and worked only with Democrats to fashion a health-care reform bill that included a so-called public option. The president of Krugman’s dreams would have made his singular long-term goal the preservation of the welfare state and the middle-class society it was designed to create.
...obviously isn't much use in a democracy, nor does it deserve the honorable title of liberalism. It is illiberal.
DEFINE THE CONTRIBUTION, NOT THE BENEFIT:
The End of the Defined Benefit (Michael Barone, 4/25/11, National Review)
The defined benefit is dying. Barack Obama is struggling to keep it alive, but it’s apparent that it’s something that even as bounteously rich a society as ours can’t afford.
Yes, I know that “defined benefit” is not a common household phrase. But most people know what a defined-benefit pension is. It’s when your employer promises to pay you a certain amount of money, pegged to your salary or according to some other formula, when you retire.
Some 30 years ago, most big employers had defined-benefit pension plans. Some private-sector employees still have them, and many government employees do.
But a little-known provision of the 1978 tax law, section 401(k), authorized companies to offer defined-contribution pensions. Instead of promising to pay workers specific amounts years later when they retired, companies would put certain amounts in the employees’ 401(k) accounts.
The employees would own the money and choose among investment options. The money wouldn’t be taxed until it was removed from the 401(k) accounts years later.
It’s easy to understand why employers prefer defined-contribution plans. Once they’ve paid the employees, they don’t have any further obligation.
Many employees like them, too. They have actual money, not a claim on some fund someone else is managing. They can move from one job to another rather than stay with one employer for many years until their defined-benefit pension is fully vested.
April 24, 2011
CLOSE? hE EARNED A CIGAR:
If Christ Has Not Been Raised: The Case for the Resurrection (Mark P. Shea , 4/23/11, Inside Catholic)
Ah, yes. They say. But why should we believe them? What if the Eleven were just body snatchers, stealing the corpse of Christ in order to portray themselves as the martyr's best buddies and found a cult with Jesus as putative head but themselves as the adored big cheeses?
The difficulties with this are numerous. First of all, they don't act like any cult leaders we know. The records they leave behind do not describe fearless, shiny, happy, faith-filled dynamos of apostolic courage, theological acumen, and intellectual agility. They show us a group of men whose chagrined honesty compelled them to carefully incorporate into the public record the fact that they were snobbish, spiteful, cowardly, factional nitwits who were slow on the uptake, ambitious, blind, selfish, and, when the supreme test came, quite willing to bolt and run in the hour of their Master's terrible trial. Compare this with the adoring exhalations of the North Korean press on the Manifold Virtues of The Fearless Leaders, or the flawless perfection of Stalin according to the Stalinist press of the 1930s, or the Nazi hagiography of Hitler. The apostles make sure that their public preaching and the public record include a faithful recitation of their many, many sins. Moreover, they continue to preach the Resurrection for decades, despite separation, persecution, poverty, threats, torture, and martyrdom (except for John, who had the pleasure of watching his brother James executed for his testimony). In short, they speak and act like honest men, not like men out to make a buck or acquire power.
Indeed, so honest are they that they even make Jesus look rather ungodlike at first blush. Jesus is recorded displaying weakness, showing fear, confessing ignorance, and asking questions. He is described as unable to do certain things. The disciples' official record has Him saying things that sound dangerously like denials of deity, such as "Why do you call me good? There is none good but God alone" (Mark 10:18) or "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Yet we are to believe that cunning liars who carefully doctored history to make Jesus appear to be the Risen Lord also managed not to notice such unsettling details in their account?
No. What comes across with terrific force in the New Testament is that the testimony has been given by people who tell the truth, even about awkward facts not instantly advantageous to their claims. They come across as people who genuinely believe Christ risen, not as people who lie about a body that they know perfectly well was stolen or eaten by dogs. For the rest of their lives (right through to their torture and execution), the apostles behaved like men utterly convinced that they had met the Risen Christ. Indeed, so convinced are they that they include numerous details that, frankly, no liar would ever make up. So, for instance, no first-century Jewish liars would call as their first witness Mary Magdalene. For the Magdalene was prima facie incredible to a first-century Jewish audience on two counts: First, she was a woman; second, she was a woman out of whom seven demons were supposed to have been driven -- a rather shady psychological profile (Mark 16:9). The Gospels read like accounts by honest people who are stuck with the facts -- including the fact that one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection was a woman of uncertain reputation.
THE CRUX OF THE MATTER:
Mercifully Forsaken: There is a reason Good Friday is called good, and why we can be thankful when God forsakes us. (Mark Galli, 4/21/2011, Christianity Today)
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" —Mark 15:33-34, ESV
Here Jesus speaks a word we could have spoken. Not always, not everywhere. But there are times when this word has become our word, words he may have taken right out of our mouths: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [...]
We often glibly say that we want to be like Jesus. We want our lives to be like his life. We want our values to be shaped by his values. We want our relationship with God to be like his relationship with God. So we pray to be like Jesus. But we're generally blind to the full reality of who Jesus is. We want be shaped by the glorious Jesus. We want to heal the sick and raise the dead; we don't want to feel his grief at the unbelief of Jerusalem. We want to speak eloquent words of wisdom, but we don't want to say to anyone, "Get thee behind me, Satan," or "You brood of hypocrites!" We want to be raised to new life, but go to great lengths to avoid the cross. We want an intimate life with God, but never want to know the experience of being forsaken.
But to share in the life of Jesus means to share in all of his life, and that means to share in his suffering.
Now, I'm about to venture into a deep mystery here. Who can say what Jesus experienced on the cross? What exactly was the nature of this forsakenness that he exclaimed? We know in one sense that Jesus' death, and his forsakenness, was utterly unique, never to be repeated. In his death and his death alone—and in nothing we experience—do we stand secure in our redemption. In him alone was God reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins. Period.
But if Christ's incarnation—which includes his forsaken crucifixion—is a participation in humanity and thus our participation in him, then all humanity shares in Christ's forsakenness, and to freely share in this forsakenness by faith becomes a way we grow fully into Christ-likeness. Whatever it meant for Jesus, it surely means this much for us: It means to know the abandonment that is the dead fruit of human sin and evil. It means to recognize the incomprehensible distance between us and an infinite and righteous God, to recognize again the terrors of life outside of life in him. It means also to grieve, not unlike Jesus, over our own and our world's hardness of heart ("O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!"). It is indeed a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for it means to suffer in ways not unlike the suffering of Jesus.
Again, let's not wax tragic here. This is not the end of the story. Forsakenness would be tragic had Jesus not risen from the grave. We would not have the courage to talk about this sobering reality if it were not Easter. Nor is this the constant refrain of our Christian lives. God is good and will not tempt us with forsakenness beyond our ability to endure.
Still, they come, these times of forsakenness. We are wise to remind ourselves that the cross is indeed part of the story of Jesus, and to the degree we would be like him, it becomes part of our story. You want to be like Jesus? "Okay," says God. "Good for you! Be prepared to know forsakenness!"
PRAISE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY MICK:
Baseball Chapel isn't just an Easter Sunday service: More than 500 volunteer chaplains celebrate services, in English and Spanish, as many as 51 weeks a year. And sports beyond baseball follow suit. (Kevin Baxter, April 23, 2011, LA Times)
The first man to try to organize religion in the locker room was former big league pitcher Clyde King, who, while managing in the minors during the mid-1950s, provided chapel services for his players.
Years later, the idea got a boost from the New York Yankees quite by accident.
Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson, who raised two sons to become ministers, was a frequent churchgoer on the road. But when teammate Mickey Mantle decided to tag along to a Baptist service in Minneapolis in August 1961, the pastor and much of the congregation became confused over who they were worshiping.
"About three minutes before the service was over, we got up to walk out. And not only half the congregation walked out with us, but the pastor came out too," Richardson recalled. "He said, 'I want a picture with Mickey and my son.' "
Yankees broadcaster Red Barber, a Methodist lay minister, heard the story and offered to lead private clubhouse prayer meetings when the team was on the road.
"That really was kind of the start of Baseball Chapel," Richardson said. "And it just kept going from there."
These days, more than 500 volunteer chaplains celebrate prayer services, in English and Spanish, as many as 51 weeks a year wherever professional baseball in played — from the major leagues and the 20 affiliated minor leagues, to training academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and to the clubhouses of teams in the independent Atlantic and Golden leagues.
Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman even helped popularize the practice in Japan during the five seasons he spent managing in Hokkaido.
Nauss estimates about a third of players and coaches in the major leagues attend at least occasionally. The Dodgers' chapel services regularly draw more than a dozen worshipers; and the Angels, who offer separate services in English and Spanish, draw almost as many.
"It just kind of keeps everybody floored during the week," Hunter said of the services. "If you stray during the week, you go to Baseball Chapel to get you right back on track."
Reporters and photographers are banned from the makeshift chapels for privacy reasons, but the chaplains say the services differ from traditional liturgy in several ways. For starters they're brief, usually lasting less than 20 minutes.
"If you took a snapshot of a Catholic mass at the time where the priest gives his homily, it would be more like that," Nauss said. "Or a Baptist church or a Presbyterian church when the pastor gives his sermon. It's a snapshot of that."
And while all the chaplains are Christian, they say they are open to ministering to players of all faiths.
"I'm there to care for anyone," said Ben Bost, the Angels' Phoenix-based chaplain during spring training last month. "You never know what people are dealing with. And a lot of times it doesn't necessarily relate to any type of specific religious background. Most of the time we're dealing with the normal struggles of life."
The work is serious business, but that doesn't mean there aren't light moments. Bost recalls conducting a spring training chapel in the shower room off the Angels' clubhouse — while a player stood naked under the water behind him.
Another chaplain told Nauss about a big league equipment manager who graciously offered the use of his office for Sunday services. But since the office walls were covered with dozens of centerfolds from men's magazines, the chaplain would arrive early and discreetly tack a shroud over the pictures.
"I remember him saying that he had a message on temptation one week," Nauss said, "and in his line of vision is one picture that he forgot to cover."
Baseball isn't the only sport that offers weekly ecumenical services. On the NASCAR and IndyCar circuits, chaplains minister to hundreds of people, from drivers and their pit crews to family members, track workers and even journalists. Professional golf's touring circuits have been offering similar open events for more than three decades, once drawing a crowd of 2,000 for an Easter service at the 18th green during the Heritage Classic.
"There's a commonality and a unity among chaplaincy that really spreads over sport," said Bost, a former professional golfer who is now a golf ministry director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "And if you brought in people outside of sport — Army chaplains and other people — there would be a common understanding for what's it like."
Bost said the threads to sports ministry are presence, relationship and attitude — basically just being there and being available, and not just on Sunday. In every big league city, baseball chaplains are available all day, every day.
Guantanamo Bay: Why Obama hasn’t fulfilled his promise to close the facility (Peter Finn and Anne E. Kornbluty, April 23, 2011, Washington Post)
The sputtering end of the Obama administration’s plans to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed in federal court came one day late last month in a conversation between the president and one of his top Cabinet members.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had called President Obama to inform him that he would be returning the case to the Defense Department, a decision that would mark the effective abandonment of the president’s promise to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
During the call, Obama did not press Holder to find a way to resurrect the federal prosecution of Mohammed and four co-defendants, according to senior administration officials familiar with the conversation. He did not object. Instead, he called it a pragmatic decision.
It was a fittingly quiet coda to the effort to close the military detention center. For more than two years, the White House’s plans had been undermined by political miscalculations, confusion and timidity in the face of mounting congressional opposition, according to some inside the administration as well as on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the failed effort to close Guantanamo was reflective of the aspects of Obama’s leadership style that continue to distress his liberal base — a willingness to allow room for compromise and a passivity that at times permits opponents to set the agenda.
There's a reason we don't elect legislators to lead.
THE QUESTION BEING WHETHER THE WORLD COULD SUSTAIN A LACK OF OUR DEBT:
US debt and China: a tale of two deficits: Deficit hawks are manipulating mistaken fears about the dollar and the US trade gap to push a highly partisan cuts programme (Dean Baker, 4/22/11, guardian.co.uk)
The reason that we are borrowing from abroad every year is that the United States has a trade deficit of the order of $550bn a year, or just under 4% of GDP. This trade deficit is financed by foreign borrowings. The logic is simple. If the United States buys more than it sells, then it must borrow the difference.
Note that this has nothing to do with the budget deficit. If the United States buys $500bn more from other countries than it sells to other countries, then it must borrow $500bn a year from them, regardless of whether the United States is running a budget surplus or a budget deficit. Foreign borrowing is determined by the trade deficit, end of story.
There are two ways that reducing the budget deficit can affect this picture. First, cutting spending and/or raising taxes can slow the economy, as will likely be the result from the cuts recently pushed through by Congress. If the economy is smaller, then we will buy less of everything, including fewer imports. In other words, if cutting the deficit makes the downturn deeper, then we will have a lower trade deficit. This means that the deficit hawks can reduce our borrowing from bad guys – if their intention is to throw the economy into a severe and prolonged downturn.
The other route through which reducing the fiscal deficit can lead to a lower trade deficit is if it results in a lower-valued dollar. The argument here is that if we get the deficit down, then interest rates would fall. Lower interest rates would make foreigners less interested in buying dollar-denominated assets, like US government bonds.
If foreigners investors are less interested in buy dollar-denominated assets, then they have less need for getting dollars. The reduced demand for dollars would cause the value of the dollar to fall. A lower-valued dollar will then make US goods more competitive in international markets, leading us to buy fewer imports and to increase out exports.
However, this channel for reducing the value of the dollar is not working right now, since many governments – most importantly, China's – are deliberately propping up the value of the dollar against their currencies. They are doing this to sustain their export markets in the United States.
It is very difficult to see why China would be less interested in sustaining its export market in the United States if we reduced our budget deficit. Does anyone believe that President Hu is going to decide that China no longer needs its export market in the United States because we have reduced our budget deficit?
Of course, this is absurd. China's decision to prop up the dollar is not going to be affected by the size of the US budget deficit. Which means that the US trade deficit and our borrowings from China are not going to be affected by the budget deficit. If we are interested in reducing our borrowings from China, then we should be focused on reducing the value of the dollar, not the budget deficit.
So, why do all the deficit hawks talk about borrowing money from China? They do it for the same reason that George HW Bush talked about Willie Horton when he was running against Michael Dukakis. It works.
NOTE THAT LIBERALISM COMES OFF ESPECIALLY BADLY IN COMPARISON TO CLINTONISM...:
After So Many Policy Failures, Are Liberals Now Irrelevant? (J.T. YOUNG, 04/18/2011, IBD)
Liberals upset with Obama's Wednesday deficit speech don't realize what's at stake ... for them. Yes, in part it was about getting the nation's fiscal house in order. And yes, it was about the president's re-election.
But it was wholly about an even bigger question for the left: Can liberals govern America?
To say Washington's fiscal house is overspent is to understate. The federal government spent more in 2010 than the amount of 2001's entire national debt (debt held by the public).
It took in enough tax revenues last year to have balanced the 2003 budget. Yet Washington overspent by more in 2010 than it spent in total in 1991 — or the entire national debt of 1984. The previous two years, federal spending consumed on average one quarter of all America produced. Its overspending has equaled one 10th of all America produced. The nation's debt as a percentage of its economy is almost double (from 32.5% to 62.1%) what it was in 2001.
...although, in fairness, that's entirely a function of the Peace Dividend, which the next president will likewise reap. If Mr. Obama were an executive and understood economics he'd be demanding that dividend right now.
A CERTAIN SAMENESS:
The Really Smart Phone: Researchers are harvesting a wealth of intimate detail from our cellphone data, uncovering the hidden patterns of our social lives, travels, risk of disease—even our political views. (ROBERT LEE HOTZ , 4/23/11, WSJ)
Advances in statistics, psychology and the science of social networks are giving researchers the tools to find patterns of human dynamics too subtle to detect by other means. At Northeastern University in Boston, network physicists discovered just how predictable people could be by studying the travel routines of 100,000 European mobile-phone users.
After analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, the researchers determined that, taken together, people's movements appeared to follow a mathematical pattern. The scientists said that, with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone's future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy.
The pattern held true whether people stayed close to home or traveled widely, and wasn't affected by the phone user's age or gender.
"For us, people look like little particles that move in space and that occasionally communicate with each other," said Northeastern physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, who led the experiment. "We have turned society into a laboratory where behavior can be objectively followed."
Only recently have academics had the opportunity to study commercial cellphone data. Until recently, most cellphone providers saw little value in mining their own data for social relationships, researchers say. That's now changing, although privacy laws restrict how the companies can share their records.
Several cellphone companies in Europe and Africa lately have donated large blocks of calling records for research use, with people's names and personal details stripped out.
"For the scientific purpose, we don't care who the people are," said medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis at Harvard University, who is using phone data to study how diseases, behavior and ideas spread through social networks, and how companies can use these webs of relationships to influence drug marketing and health-care decisions.
His work focuses on "social contagion"—the idea that our relationships with people around us, which are readily mapped through cellphone usage, shape our behavior in sometimes unexpected ways. By his calculation, for instance, obesity is contagious. So is loneliness.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THINE THE KINGDOM:
Jesus before Pilate: What happened during the final week of Jesus of Nazareth's earthly life? How did the man whom many hailed as the Messiah on Palm Sunday come to be rejected by the leaders of his own people just a few days later? In Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Benedict XVI takes up these and other crucial questions. Following is an excerpt. (POPE BENEDICT XVI)
At this point we must pass from considerations about the person of Pilate to the trial itself. In John 18:34–35 it is clearly stated that, on the basis of the information in his possession, Pilate had nothing that would incriminate Jesus. Nothing had come to the knowledge of the Roman authority that could in any way have posed a risk to law and order. The charge came from Jesus' own people, from the Temple authority. It must have astonished Pilate that Jesus' own people presented themselves to him as defenders of Rome, when the information at his disposal did not suggest the need for any action on his part.
Yet during the interrogation we suddenly arrive at a dramatic moment: Jesus' confession. To Pilate's question: "So you are a king?" he answers: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" ( Jn 18:37). Previously Jesus had said: "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world" (18:36).
This "confession" of Jesus places Pilate in an extraordinary situation: the accused claims kingship and a kingdom (basileía). Yet he underlines the complete otherness of his kingship, and he even makes the particular point that must have been decisive for the Roman judge: No one is fighting for this kingship. If power, indeed military power, is characteristic of kingship and kingdoms, there is no sign of it in Jesus' case. And neither is there any threat to Roman order. This kingdom is powerless. It has "no legions".
With these words Jesus created a thoroughly new concept of kingship and kingdom, and he held it up to Pilate, the representative of classical worldly power. What is Pilate to make of it, and what are we to make of it, this concept of kingdom and kingship? Is it unreal, is it sheer fantasy that can be safely ignored? Or does it somehow affect us?
In addition to the clear delimitation of his concept of kingdom (no fighting, earthly powerlessness), Jesus had introduced a positive idea, in order to explain the nature and particular character of the power of this kingship: namely, truth. Pilate brought another idea into play as the dialogue proceeded, one that came from his own world and was normally connected with "kingdom": namely, power – authority (exousía). Dominion demands power; it even defines it. Jesus, however, defines as the essence of his kingship witness to the truth. Is truth a political category? Or has Jesus' "kingdom" nothing to do with politics? To which order does it belong? If Jesus bases his concept of kingship and kingdom on truth as the fundamental category, then it is entirely understandable that the pragmatic Pilate asks him: "What is truth?" (18:38).
It is the question that is also asked by modern political theory: Can politics accept truth as a structural category? Or must truth, as something unattainable, be relegated to the subjective sphere, its place taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power? By relying on truth, does not politics, in view of the impossibility of attaining consensus on truth, make itself a tool of particular traditions that in reality are merely forms of holding on to power?
And yet, on the other hand, what happens when truth counts for nothing? What kind of justice is then possible? Must there not be common criteria that guarantee real justice for all – criteria that are independent of the arbitrariness of changing opinions and powerful lobbies? Is it not true that the great dictatorships were fed by the power of the ideological lie and that only truth was capable of bringing freedom?
What is truth? The pragmatist's question, tossed off with a degree of scepticism, is a very serious question, bound up with the fate of mankind. What, then, is truth? Are we able to recognize it? Can it serve as a criterion for our intellect and will, both in individual choices and in the life of the community?
The classic definition from scholastic philosophy designates truth as "adaequatio intellectus et rei" (conformity between the intellect and reality; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 21, a. 2c). If a man's intellect reflects a thing as it is in itself, then he has found truth: but only a small fragment of reality – not truth in its grandeur and integrity.
We come closer to what Jesus meant with another of Saint Thomas' teachings: "Truth is in God's intellect properly and firstly (proprie et primo); in human intellect it is present properly and derivatively (proprie quidem et secundario)" (De Verit., q. 1, a. 4c). And in conclusion we arrive at the succinct formula: God is "ipsa summa et prima veritas" (truth itself, the sovereign and first truth; Summa Theologiae I, q. 16, a. 5c). [...]
This formula brings us close to what Jesus means when he speaks of the truth, when he says that his purpose in coming into the world was to "bear witness to the truth". Again and again in the world, truth and error, truth and untruth, are almost inseparably mixed together. The truth in all its grandeur and purity does not appear. The world is "true" to the extent that it reflects God: the creative logic, the eternal reason that brought it to birth. And it becomes more and more true the closer it draws to God. Man becomes true, he becomes himself, when he grows in God's likeness. Then he attains to his proper nature. God is the reality that gives being and intelligibility.
"Bearing witness to the truth" means giving priority to God and to his will over against the interests of the world and its powers. God is the criterion of being. In this sense, truth is the real "king" that confers light and greatness upon all things. We may also say that bearing witness to the truth means making creation intelligible and its truth accessible from God's perspective – the perspective of creative reason – in such a way that it can serve as a criterion and a signpost in this world of ours, in such a way that the great and the mighty are exposed to the power of truth, the common law, the law of truth.
Let us say plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world.
At this point, modern man is tempted to say: Creation has become intelligible to us through science. Indeed, Francis S. Collins, for example, who led the Human Genome Project, says with joyful astonishment: "The language of God was revealed" (The Language of God, p. 122). Indeed, in the magnificent mathematics of creation, which today we can read in the human genetic code, we recognize the language of God. But unfortunately not the whole language. The functional truth about man has been discovered. But the truth about man himself – who he is, where he comes from, what he should do, what is right, what is wrong – this unfortunately cannot be read in the same way. Hand in hand with growing knowledge of functional truth there seems to be an increasing blindness toward "truth" itself – toward the question of our real identity and purpose.
[originally posted: 3/13/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: DON'T DIE WITHOUT KNOWING:
The Blind Boys' version is the touchstone:
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE ULTIMATE IRONY BEING THA IT WAS hIS FAILURE THAT SAVED US, NOT hIS VICTORY:
The Problem with Christus Victor: An increasingly popular view of the atonement forces the question: What are we saved from? (Mark Galli, 4/07/2011, Christianity Today)
The Christus Victor model has much to commend it. The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law, and death. While the model assumes humanity's guilt for getting ourselves into this predicament—beginning with the original sin of Adam and Eve—the theory's anthropology (view of humanity) emphasizes not our guilt but our victimhood, at least the way it is often discussed today. The main human problem is that we are trapped and we need to be rescued: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15) . [...]
On the other hand, "neurotic substitutionary atonement" needs to be abandoned. The picture of a wrathful Father having his anger appeased by the death of his Son is wrong on many fronts. Here's one: It separates the work of the Father from the Son, as if they have competing concerns—the Father with righteousness, the son with compassion. It sounds like the Son saves us from the Father! This is manifestly unbiblical, for Paul clearly says that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). While we were sinners, God took action. God would not have come to us in Christ had he not already determined to reconcile with us. This is not the behavior of a God who stands aloof in a huff, waiting for propitiation before he'll have anything to do with us. [...]
I have noticed—and do tell me if you see otherwise—that in general those who publically champion Christus Victor don't pepper their talks and prayers with personal guilt for sin or the need for divine forgiveness. By way of contrast, note the oldest advocates of Christus Victor, the Eastern Orthodox. Personal sin and guilt, and the consequent wrath of God, regularly weave themselves into their prayers. Note this prayer recommended for each morning:
Arising from sleep I thank you, O holy Trinity, because of the abundance of your goodness and long-suffering, you were not angry with me, slothful and sinful as I am. Neither have you destroyed me in my transgressions, but in your compassion raised me up as I lay in despair, that at dawn I might sing the glories of your Majesty.
But for some reason, when the Christus Victor theory is extolled by Protestants today, personal sin and guilt take a back seat. Way back sometimes.
If all He represented was victory He wouldn't even be particularly interesting. If all He represented was some kind of sacrifice He wouldn't be worthy of worship. It is because God loves us so much that He was willing to become Man and fail like us that the Story is transcendent. And it is, of course, His failure that reconciles Him with us.
[originally posted: 4/07/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SIZE MATTERS:
The ‘Small’ God Who Brought Heaven Down to Earth (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, December 22, 2010, Acton)
“Yet,” she continued, “how is it that Christianity, whose priests invented the scientific method, and who built the institutions of the hospital and university, can hold to the idea of such a small God?”
The pugnacious New Yorker in me wanted to reply to the effect that, “Well even a small God is bigger than no god.” But I knew that would not go down well, and that the issue was not about “size” after all, but about meaning and, ultimately, Truth.
Feeling something like I imagined Flannery O’Connor did when confronted with collapsed-Catholic Mary McCarthy’s observation about the Eucharist as a impressive symbol, O’Connor retorted, “Well, if it’s just a symbol, I say to hell with it.”
Instead I swirled my shiraz and asked, “Whatever do you mean?”
She responded: “Well, all this stuff about God being born as a baby. This business about the ineffable inhabiting time and space. It just seems so small, so concrete, so … improbable.”
The lady had it right, or more precisely, she had it half right. The doctrine of the Incarnation is indeed a scandal, not to say improbable, to the modern mind that does not yet grasp the immensity of the concept or the enormity of its impact on all that would follow from it throughout history from that first Christmas to this one.
That the eternal God should deign to co-mingle in time and space with humanity does tell us something, not about the ‘smallness’ of God, but about the inestimable dignity of the human person who is created in the image of the Lord of History. Thus it tells us about the importance of human history to eternity; of the relation of the visible world to the invisible one; and of the way the mortal life we each live here and now determines our immortal destiny.
Big God never understood. He only gained insight by becoming small. The peculiar thing is that He cared enough to do so.
[oriuginally posted: 2/13/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE HOUR OF GLORY:
Death on a Friday Afternoon: an excerpt from Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things)
Exploration into God is exploration into darkness, into the heart of darkness. Yes, to be sure, God is light. He is the light by which all light is light. In the words of the Psalm, “In your light we see light.” Yet great mystics of the Christian tradition speak of the darkness in which the light is known, a darkness inextricably connected to the cross. At the heart of darkness the hope of the world is dying on a cross, and the longest stride of soul is to see in this a strange glory. In John’s Gospel, the cross is the bridge from the first Passover on the way out of Egypt to the new Passover into glory. In his first chapter he writes, “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” The cross is not the eclipse of that glory but its shining forth, its epiphany. In John’s account, the death of Jesus is placed on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan, precisely the time when the Passover lambs were offered up in the temple in Jerusalem.
Lest anyone miss the point, John draws the parallel unmistakably. The legs of Jesus are not broken, the soldier pierces his side and John writes, “For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of him shall be broken.’ And again another scripture says, ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced.’” In the book of Exodus, God commands that no bone of the paschal lamb is to be broken. Then there is this magnificent passage from the prophet Zechariah: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
Here on Calvary’s hill, all is fulfilled. It is the glory of Jesus’ cry, “it is finished.” The cross is the moment of passover from the old covenant to the new. Weeping at the cross, Mary is both the mother of sorrows and the mother of hope. The resurrection glory is discerned in the way that Christ dies. Now the reason for the whole drama becomes clear in the Son’s unqualified obedience to the Father, even to death, and the Father’s promise to glorify the Son. John says nothing about the risen Christ appearing to his mother. The other disciples discovered the resurrection glory at the dawn of the third day. Mary had already discovered the glory in the cross. There she took “the longest stride of soul.”
“In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” declared the nineteenth-century hymn writer John Bowring. It seems a strange, even bizarre, glory. “We have beheld his glory,” St. John wrote, meaning that he was there, with Mary, beholding the final and perfect sacrifice. In the churches of Asia Minor that were founded by John, Easter was celebrated not on Sunday, as with the other churches, but on 14 Nisan, the anniversary of Christ’s death. This was his “hour” of glory.
Father Neuhaus's book is great not just for its exegesis on the Crucifixion and the Seven Last Words generally, but in particular for his explanation of what the events mean for the relationship between Jews and Christians.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: I ADMIRE HIM AS A MAN, BUT...:
It is well known that Christ consistently used the expression "follower." He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.
Christ understood that being a "disciple" was in innermost and deepest harmony with what he said about himself. Christ claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). For this reason, he could never be satisfied with adherents who accepted his teaching - especially with those who in their lives ignored it or let things take their usual course. His whole life on earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers and to make admirers impossible.
Christ came into the world with the purpose of saving, not instructing it. At the same time - as is implied in his saving work - he came to be the pattern, to leave footprints for the person who would join him, who would become a follower. This is why Christ was born and lived and died in lowliness. It is absolutely impossible for anyone to sneak away from the Pattern with excuse and evasion on the basis that It, after all, possessed earthly and worldly advantages that he did not have. In that sense, to admire Christ is the false invention of a later age, aided by the presumption of "loftiness." No, there is absolutely nothing to admire in Jesus, unless you want to admire poverty, misery, and contempt.
What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.
To want to admire instead of to follow Christ is not necessarily an invention by bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, who keep themselves at a safe distance. Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm. Admirers are only all too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. As such, they refuse to accept that Christ's life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended at him. His radical, bizarre character so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience the tranquillity they so much seek after. They know full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being up for examination. Even though he "says nothing" against them personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs.
And Christ's life indeed makes it manifest, terrifyingly manifest, what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of following it. When there is no danger, when there is a dead calm, when everything is favorable to our Christianity, it is all too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. And this can happen very quietly. The admirer can be in the delusion that the position he takes is the true one, when all he is doing is playing it safe. Give heed, therefore, to the call of discipleship!
If you have any knowledge at all of human nature, who can doubt that Judas was an admirer of Christ!
[Originally posted: March 13, 2005]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: AS OF OLD:
The Cross and the Cellar (Morton T. Kelsey, Bruderhof)
Let us look at some of the people who brought Jesus of Nazareth to crucifixion. They were not monsters, but ordinary men and women like you and me.
Pilate receives most of the blame for Jesus' death, and yet Pilate didn't want to crucify the man. Why did Pilate condemn Jesus? Because Pilate was a coward. He cared more about his comfortable position than he did about justice. He didn't have the courage to stand for what he knew was right. It was because of this relatively small flaw in Pilate's character that Jesus died on a cross. Whenever you and I are willing to sacrifice someone else for our own benefit, whenever we don't have the courage to stand up for what we see is right, we step into the same course that Pilate took.
And Caiaphas, was he such a monster? Far from it. He was the admired and revered religious leader of the most religious people in that ancient world. He was the High Priest. His personal habits were impeccable. He was a devout and sincerely religious man. Why did he seek to have Jesus condemned? He did it for the simple reason that he was too rigid. He thought he had to protect God from this man, thought he had to protect the Jewish faith, and so he said: "It is good for one man to die instead of a nation being destroyed." Caiaphas's essential flaw was that he thought he had the whole truth. People who have fought religious wars, those who have persecuted in the name of religion, have followed in his footsteps. Those who put their creeds above mercy and kindness and love, walk there even now.
Why did Judas betray his master? He wasn't interested in the thirty pieces of silver, at least not primarily. Judas had wanted Jesus to call upon heavenly powers, to take control of the situation and throw the Romans out of Palestine. When he failed to do this, Judas no longer wanted anything to do with him. Judas' fault was that he couldn't wait. When we can't wait and want to push things through, when we think we can accomplish a noble end by human means, we are just like Judas.
Then there was the nameless carpenter who made the cross. He was a skilled workman. He knew full well what the purpose of that cross was. If you questioned him he probably would have said: "But I am a poor man who must make a living. If other men use it for ill, is it my fault?" So say all of us who pursue jobs which add nothing to human welfare or which hurt some people. Does the work I do aid or hinder human beings? Are we crossmakers for our modern world? There are many, many of them.
These were the things that crucified Jesus on Friday in Passover week A.D. 29. They were not wild viciousness or sadistic brutality or naked hate, but the civilized vices of cowardice, bigotry, impatience, timidity, falsehood, indifference - vices all of us share, the very vices which crucify human beings today.
This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible if we strive on.
Still as of old
Men by themselves are priced --
For thirty pieces Judas sold
Himself, not Christ. -
Hester H. Cholmondeley
[Originally posted: 2005-03-25]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHY PERSECUTETH THEY PAUL?:
Why The Jews Did or Did Not Reject Jesus (Richard John Neuhaus, February 2005, First Things)
In his new book, [Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History], [David] Klinghoffer is admiring of Christianity's civilizational achievements, although not of its theology. He rebuts the claim that it is anti-Semitic to say that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, citing Maimonides and other Jewish authorities who say the Jews were right to eliminate a false messiah. He debunks the notion that Nazism and the Holocaust were a product of Christianity, and he underscores Nazi hatred of Christianity and the Judaism from which it came. He treats sympathetically Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, and is witheringly critical of the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations that thrive by exploiting irrational fears of anti-Semitism in America. In sum, Klinghoffer is in many respects Christian-friendly.
Except for the fact that Christianity itself is premised upon the fatal falsehood that Jesus is the Messiah. Much of the book is given to a detailed point-by-point rebuttal of the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic promises of the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament. These arguments will be of interest mainly to those who describe themselves as Hebrew Christians or Messianic Christians, and who believe they are fulfilled as Jews by becoming disciples of Jesus. The arch- villain in Klinghoffer's story is the apostle Paul who, he says, radically rejected Judaism and invented a new religion dressed up in "biblical trappings." Although Klinghoffer excoriates the liberal theological reductionisms of the nineteenth century, both Jewish and Christian, at this point his argument is oddly similar to a long liberal tradition of blaming Paul for distorting the more attractive religion of Jesus. Along with many Christians, he fails to appreciate the implications of the fact that Paul's epistles were written well before the gospel accounts of Jesus. In part because of their prior placement in the New Testament, it is a common error to think that the seemingly more straightforward gospel accounts were later and complicatedly "theologized" by Paul, whereas, in fact, Paul's writings reflect what was generally believed about Jesus in the community that later produced the gospel accounts.
This tendency to get things backwards is at the crux of Klinghoffer's argument. He writes, "We arrive here at the very heart of the difference between Judaism and the religion that Paul originated. The difference is still observable in the faith of Christians, as compared with that of Jews, down to our own time. Followers of Paul read and understand the Hebrew Bible through a certain philosophical lens--they bring to it the premise that Jesus is the savior, that salvation is from him. They read the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. They prioritize the New over the Old."
Well, yes, of course. Only some Messianic Christians and Jews such as Klinghoffer think that the truth of Christianity stands or falls on whether, without knowing about Jesus in advance, one can begin with Genesis 1 and read through all the prophecies of Hebrew Scripture and then match them up with Jesus to determine whether he is or is not the Messiah. As with Saul on the road to Damascus, Christians begin, and Christianity begins, with the encounter with Christ. As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the first Christians, who were Jews, experienced in that encounter the opening of the Hebrew Scriptures, revealing, retrospectively, how they testify to Jesus as the Christ. Klinghoffer writes, "The resurrection works as a proof that Jesus was 'the Christ' only if you have already accepted his authority to render interpretations of Scripture contrary to the obvious meaning of the words. That is, it works only if you are already a Christian." The more one takes seriously Old Testament prophecy, writes Klinghoffer, "the more convinced he becomes that it is awfully hard to make Christian doctrine sit naturally on its presumed foundation, the Hebrew Bible. Yet even the arguments based on prophecies obviously aren't perfectly invulnerable to refutation. Otherwise there would be no Christians, or at least no thoughtful Christians. They would all be Jews."
This is, I'm afraid, gravely muddled. The argument, in effect, is that Jews reject Jesus because they are already Jews, and the mark of being a Jew is that one rejects Jesus. This is quite unconvincing in its circularity. Christian thinkers, including Paul, viewed Christ and the Church as the fulfillment of the promise to Israel not because they were engaged in tit-for-tat exegetical disputes with Jews over what Klinghoffer recognizes are often ambiguous and enigmatic Old Testament prophecies. Christians early on, and very importantly in engagement with Greek philosophy, developed a christology that entailed an understanding that all of reality, including the history of Israel, finds its center in Christ who is the Word of God (the Logos), the image of the invisible God in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1), and, finally, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. These philosophical and theological developments, almost totally ignored by Klinghoffer, form the matrix within which the Church--mainly Jewish in its beginnings--understood Israel and its Scriptures. For the early Christians, as for Christians today, the person of Jesus Christ was revelatory also of the history and sacred writings of Israel, of which he is the fulfillment.
You have to figure Paul takes the brunt of these criticisms because folks are afraid to attack Christ and Christianity directly.
[Originally posted: February 19, 2005]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SOMEBODY WALKING:
The Priest of Spring (G.K. Chesterton, A Miscellany of Men)
There is one piece of nonsense that modern people still find themselves
saying, even after they are more or less awake, by which I am particularly
irritated. It arose in the popularised science of the nineteenth century,
especially in connection with the study of myths and religions. The
fragment of gibberish to which I refer generally takes the form of saying
"This god or hero really represents the sun." Or "Apollo killing the
Python MEANS that the summer drives out the winter." Or "The King dying in
a western battle is a SYMBOL of the sun setting in the west." Now I
should really have thought that even the skeptical professors, whose
skulls are as shallow as frying-pans, might have reflected that human
beings never think or feel like this. Consider what is involved in this
supposition. It presumes that primitive man went out for a walk and saw
with great interest a big burning spot on the sky. He then said to
primitive woman, "My dear, we had better keep this quiet. We mustn't let
it get about. The children and the slaves are so very sharp. They might
discover the sun any day, unless we are very careful. So we won't call
it 'the sun,' but I will draw a picture of a man killing a snake; and
whenever I do that you will know what I mean. The sun doesn't look at all
like a man killing a snake; so nobody can possibly know. It will be a
little secret between us; and while the slaves and the children fancy I am
quite excited with a grand tale of a writhing dragon and a wrestling
demigod, I shall really MEAN this delicious little discovery, that there
is a round yellow disc up in the air." One does not need to know much
mythology to know that this is a myth. It is commonly called the Solar
Quite plainly, of course, the case was just the other way. The god was
never a symbol or hieroglyph representing the sun. The sun was a
hieroglyph representing the god. Primitive man (with whom my friend
Dombey is no doubt well acquainted) went out with his head full of gods
and heroes, because that is the chief use of having a head. Then he saw
the sun in some glorious crisis of the dominance of noon on the distress
of nightfall, and he said, "That is how the face of the god would shine
when he had slain the dragon," or "That is how the whole world would bleed
to westward, if the god were slain at last."
No human being was ever really so unnatural as to worship Nature. No man,
however indulgent (as I am) to corpulency, ever worshipped a man as round
as the sun or a woman as round as the moon. No man, however attracted to
an artistic attenuation, ever really believed that the Dryad was as lean
and stiff as the tree. We human beings have never worshipped Nature; and
indeed, the reason is very simple. It is that all human beings are
superhuman beings. We have printed our own image upon Nature, as God has
printed His image upon us. We have told the enormous sun to stand still;
we have fixed him on our shields, caring no more for a star than for a
starfish. And when there were powers of Nature we could not for the time
control, we have conceived great beings in human shape controlling them.
Jupiter does not mean thunder. Thunder means the march and victory of
Jupiter. Neptune does not mean the sea; the sea is his, and he made it.
In other words, what the savage really said about the sea was, "Only my
fetish Mumbo could raise such mountains out of mere water." What the
savage really said about the sun was, "Only my great great-grandfather
Jumbo could deserve such a blazing crown."
About all these myths my own position is utterly and even sadly simple.
I say you cannot really understand any myths till you have found that one
of them is not a myth. Turnip ghosts mean nothing if there are no real
ghosts. Forged bank-notes mean nothing if there are no real bank-notes.
Heathen gods mean nothing, and must always mean nothing, to those of us
that deny the Christian God. When once a god is admitted, even a false
god, the Cosmos begins to know its place: which is the second place. When
once it is the real God the Cosmos falls down before Him, offering flowers
in spring as flames in winter. "My love is like a red, red rose" does not
mean that the poet is praising roses under the allegory of a young lady.
"My love is an arbutus" does not mean that the author was a botanist so
pleased with a particular arbutus tree that he said he loved it. "Who art
the moon and regent of my sky" does not mean that Juliet invented Romeo to
account for the roundness of the moon. "Christ is the Sun of Easter" does
not mean that the worshipper is praising the sun under the emblem of
Christ. Goddess or god can clothe themselves with the spring or summer;
but the body is more than raiment. Religion takes almost disdainfully the
dress of Nature; and indeed Christianity has done as well with the snows
of Christmas as with the snow-drops of spring. And when I look across
the sun-struck fields, I know in my inmost bones that my joy is not solely
in the spring, for spring alone, being always returning, would be always
sad. There is somebody or something walking there, to be crowned with
flowers: and my pleasure is in some promise yet possible and in the
resurrection of the dead.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: EVEN HE:
In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God.
And now let the revolutionists of this age choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.
You'll often read that missionaries had trouble convincing various uncivilized peoples that they should become Christians because those peoples could not imagine that a God who could be killed would be worthy of worship. But it is not even His death that is the most radical part of the story--it is His despair.
[Originally posted: April 4, 2004]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE ESSENTIAL TENSION:What is the 'West?' (Jeffrey Hart, Dartmouth Review)
The Master Narrative that seems to me to “cover the facts” has been called “Athens and Jerusalem.” Those proper nouns stand for Greek philosophy and Jerusalem’s spiritual aspiration.
So far as I know, the first major figure to use that expression as I do here was Tertullian (160?-230?), a Church father, who demanded to know “What is Athens to Jerusalem?” He wanted to exclude Greek philosophy from the Christian perspective. He was opposed by Clement of Alexandria (150-220) and Origen (185?-234), who argued that Greek philosophy was neutral or damaging, depending upon how it was used. It could be a valuable tool. After all nature was part of the Creation. Within the Church Clement and Origen won, Tertullian lost. One consequence was that philosophy and science were institutionalized in Western universities. Thus Aquinas taught that grace completes but does not cntradict nature. Athens and Jerusalem became recognized components of the Western mind from the earliest days.
And implicitly so before the arguments of these Church fathers. But, of course, Athens and Jerusalem had long been vital and polar components.The first chapter of John combines the scriptural narrative of Jesus with Greek Logos (ultimate pattern of the universe) philosophy. Paul, a contemporary of Jesus, was a Roman citizen, a rabbi, a Greek writer and speaker, and a Christian. In the climactic scene of Acts, he journeys to Athens to speak in the Aeropagus, the scene deliberately written to remind us of the trial of Socrates. In I Corinthians 15, Paul presents excellent reasons for crediting reports of the Resurrection. Speaking in Athens, he tells the audience that Jesus spoke Greek. His contemporary Paul certainly did. It was the international language of the learned.
An enormous amount is at stake here. “Athens” stands for the view that truth is discovered through intellect. “Jerusalem” stands for the view that truth is delivered through the insights of recognized genius. “Athens” stands for cognition, philosophy, and science. “Jerusalem” stands for the spiritual aspiration to holiness, or purity of soul.
Of course, I was reminded of the “Athens” and “Jerusalem” dialectic in important works by Matthew Arnold, Nietzsche, and Leo Strauss; but most recently by a pregnant observation Paul Cantor of the University of Virginia made in his excellent book Hamlet: “The conflict between the classical and the Christian has been central to Western civilization, and has produced that basis for both its proudest and most deeply problematical moments.”Athens and Jerusalem are at the core of Western Being—not Confucius, not Buddha, certainly not Mohammed, nor the Aztecs and Incas. And it is the tension between Athens and Jerusalem that generates the peculiar and powerful envergy of the West. There is tension between the goal of knowing through intellect, and the goal of spiritual aspiration to holiness. They are not incompatible, but they are not altogether compatible either. Off at the edge, do we place our final be on intellect or on inspired insight that has been confirmed by experience? Both have claims. There are immensely powerful intensities behind who we actually are. And they are unique in human history.
Mr. Hart has long been one of the great writers on political philosophy and he's lost nothing off his fastball. [Originally posted: October 17, 2002]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHO AM I? WHO WAS HE?:
Godforsakenness: 'Finding one's heart's desire' (John F. Kavanaugh, OCTOBER 1, 2007, America, the Catholic magazine)
Mother Teresa was living with a “great loss of certainty”—about herself, about her relationship to Christ, about her fate, about her very God. The feeling of not having faith is quite different from not having faith. Otherwise it would not be so harrowing to the believer, who cries out with nothing but trust.
It would be good if all of us, believer and nonbeliever alike, could learn once and for all that whatever faith is, it is not a crutch. Sometimes in faith, you have nothing to lean on. Nor is the “feeling” or consolation of faith something we can conjure up on our own. If anyone had such powers of conjuring it would be Mother Teresa. So much for feel-good religion—that “opiate of the masses.” Morphine is much more effective.
The real story, the deepest subtext, in Mother Teresa’s “dark night” is not that God was purifying her. God was actually giving her her heart’s desire.
Every Missionaries of Charity community I have visited has a large crucifix with the words “I thirst” over it. It is that broken man on the cross that Mother Teresa most wanted to identify with, the same Jesus she could see in the most bereft and seemingly unloved of her brothers and sisters on earth. In one of her desperate cries to Jesus she wrote, “Lord my God, who am I that you should forsake me?” Is it possible that she could not see that her very words were the same as those uttered by the man on the cross she so longed to be with? Could she not realize that she had finally found union with the man who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Perhaps it is best that she did not appreciate the intensity with which her prayers were answered. Freed from her darkness, she would have left him to his cross. Such can be the paradox of finding one’s heart’s desire.
[originally posted: 4/04/10]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: FOOLISHNESS:
The Cross–For Us: An excerpt from A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen (Hans Urs von Balthasar)
Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.
The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand", which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).
Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith. He does not see that God's commitment to the world is most absolute precisely at this point across a chasm.
It is certainly not surprising that the disciples were able to understand the meaning of the Cross only slowly, even after the Resurrection. The Lord himself gives a first catechetical instruction to the disciples at Emmaus by showing that this incomprehensible event is the fulfillment of what had been foretold and that the open question marks of the Old Testament find their solution only here (Lk 24:27).
Which riddles? Those of the Covenant between God and men in which the latter must necessarily fail again and again: who can be a match for God as a partner?
The most terrifying thing about the Cross is that upon it not even Christ was a match for God.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WESTWARD, HO:
GOOD-FRIDAY, 1613, RIDING WESTWARD. (John Donne)
LET man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th' intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul's, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg'd and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom'd us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: MEN BY THEMSELVES ARE PRICED:
The Truth about Everything: Death on a Friday Afternoon (Charles Colson, March 24, 2005, BreakPoint)
As [Father Richard John Neuhaus] writes [in Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus], "If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything." That "everything" starts with telling the truth about the human condition. How? By paradoxically punishing the offended party, instead of the guilty.
As Neuhaus tells us, we are all aware that "something has gone terribly wrong with the world, and with us in the world." It is not just history's best-known list of horribles. It's also "the habits of compromise . . . loves betrayed . . . lies excused . . . "
Yet, instead of acknowledging our complicity in the world's evil, we minimize our own faults and regard our sins as "small." Good Friday puts the lie to that claim. If the Son of God had to suffer such a horrible death, then our sins cannot have been "small."
The Cross reminds us that "our lives are measured," not by us or by our peers, but "by whom we are created and called to be, and the measuring is done by the One who creates and calls." Instead of glossing over our sin with an understanding nod, the Cross renders "the verdict on the gravity of our sin."
Our unwillingness to see our sins as they really are, as God sees them, leads us to embrace another falsehood: that is, that we can make things right. Even though our culture is, in many respects, post-Christian, it still clings to the idea of redemption. However, just as with our ideas about sin and guilt, our ideas about redemption are pitiful and impoverished.
On Good Friday, God made it clear "that we are incapable of setting things right." He made it clear by taking our place. On the Cross, "the Judge of the guilty is Himself judged guilty." This is, of course, the great scandal, one that paradoxically points to the great truth at the heart of Good Friday: We are powerless to set things right, and only God, the offended party, could undo the mess we created.
The Cross--God's way of bearing witness to the truth about our condition--is as offensive today as it was two thousand years ago. Now, as then, we insist on misinterpreting the events of that Friday afternoon, but to no avail. Our sin has been judged, and God Himself bore the punishment. And that is the truth about everything.
One need not believe directly in this truth to understand that it is the only basis for a decent state.
The truth is that liberalism's last two really big ideas - that government should micro-manage the economy to uplift the poor, and that fascism was unrelievedly evil but that communism should be appeased because its aims were noble - both lost resoundingly, in world competition, to the conservative propositions that a free market is the greatest engine of prosperity for everyone and that communism must be opposed and destroyed. The present happy condition of conservatism is simply more support for the old adage that nothing succeeds like success.
What, then, should liberals do? [...]
To be blunt, they must come to terms with reality. That means accepting the principles of the free market wholeheartedly - not simply with "mouth honor," as Macbeth put it. And it also means coming to terms with the world as it really is. Peretz warns that liberals have invested far too many hopes in the United Nations. He is absolutely right.
At a deeper level, liberals must give up the conviction, born of the Enlightenment, that humanity, by the use of reason alone, can design a happy future for itself and the planet. That will entail abandoning their long romance with atheism and accepting a more modest place and role for mankind in God's plan for His universe.
[originally posted: 3/24/05]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: MAD MEN:
Original Sin, the 'madness' of the Cross and the 'foolishness' of God's love (Fr Dennis Byrnes, April 2008, AD 200)
To help us gain some insight into sin we need to think about our faith which is based very much on what St Paul calls the 'madness' of the Cross. The saints through the ages describe it as the 'foolishness' of God's love.
To refer once more to the Compendium, 78: 'After the first sin the world was inundated with sin but God did not abandon man to the power of death. Rather he foretold in a mysterious way in the 'Protoevangelium' (Genesis, 3:15) that evil would be conquered and that man would be lifted from the fall. This was the first proclamation of the Messiah and Redeemer. Therefore, the fall would be called in the future a 'happy fault' because it 'gained for us so great a Redeemer' (Liturgy of Easter Vigil).'
The pictures we have presented certainly confront us with two extremes. It is difficult to understand God's love. We can only begin to understand it when we follow him in the way of the Cross, in his journey in the desert. As the Compendium, 85, informs us: 'The Son of God became man for us men and for our salvation. He did so to reconcile us sinners with God, to have us to learn of God's infinite love, to be our model of holiness and make us 'partakers in divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4).' It is only when we follow Christ in this 'foolishness' of his love that we can learn something of the madness of sin.
We are born with a fallen nature; in a state of separation from God. It is not a question of personal sin on our part at birth. The baby who is born cannot be guilty of any personal sin for it is not yet mature enough to make a personal choice which is necessary for sin. But it is born human, in a fallen state, with a nature that calls out for God, yet is incapable of reaching him by its own powers. It is in Christ we have hope.
When we realise in faith the depths of man's fallen state we in turn realise that we rise in hope to the glory of Christ's risen life. If we have failed to appreciate the extreme of God's love it is because we have not recognised the extreme of man's sin.
[originally posted: 1/11/09]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: ABANDONMENT ISSUES:
Could God Abandon Christ?: Jesus' cry from the cross means that the Father is to be found when all traces of power are absent. (Stanley Hauerwas, March 2005, BeliefNet)
We do not want Jesus to be abandoned because we do not want to acknowledge that the one who abandons and is abandoned is God. We seek to "explain" these words of dereliction, to save and protect God from making a fool out of being God, but our attempts to protect God reveal how frightening we find a God who refuses to save us by violence.
God is most revealed when he seems to us the most hidden. "Christ's moment of most absolute particularity-the absolute dereliction of the cross-is the moment in which the glory of God, his power to be where and when he will be, is displayed before the eyes of the world," says David Bentley Hart. Here God in Christ refuses to let our sin determine our relation to him. God's love for us means he can hate only that which alienates his creatures from the love manifest in our creation. Cyril of Jerusalem observes that by calling on his Father as "my God," Christ does so on our behalf and in our place. Hear these words, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" and know that the Son of God has taken our place, become for us the abandonment our sin produces, so that we may live confident that the world has been redeemed by this cross.
So redeemed, any account of the cross that suggests God must somehow satisfy an abstract theory of justice by sacrificing his Son on our behalf is clearly wrong. Indeed such accounts are dangerously wrong. The Father's sacrifice of the Son and the Son's willing sacrifice is God's justice. Just as there is no God who is not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so there is no god who must be satisfied that we might be spared. We are the spared because God refuses to have us lost.
[originally posted: 4/04/10]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE THIN GRUEL OF EXPERIENCE:
Thomas declared, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." -John 20:25
Thomas appears to have been a realist - reserved, cool, perhaps a little obstinate.
The days went by, and the disciples went on living under this considerable tension.
Another week, and they were together again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them. The same thing repeated itself. Jesus passed through closed doors, stepped into their midst, and spoke: "Peace be upon you!" Then he called the man who was struggling against faith: "Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe!" At this point Thomas was overwhelmed. The truth of it all came home to him: this man standing before him, so moving, arousing such deep feelings within him, this man so full of mystery, so different from all other men - He is the very same One they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered: "Thou art my Lord and my God!" Thomas believed.
Then we come upon the strange words: "And Jesus said to him, 'Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!'"
Such words as these are really extraordinary! Thomas believed because he saw. But our Lord did not call him blessed. He had been allowed to "see," to see the hands and the side, and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed!
Perhaps Thomas had a narrow escape from a great danger. He wanted proofs, wanted to see and touch; but then, too, it might have been rebellion deep within him, the vainglory of an intelligence that would not surrender, a sluggishness and coldness of heart. He got what he asked for: a look and a touch. But it must have been a concession he deplored having received, when he thought on it afterwards. He could have believed and been saved, not because he got what he demanded; he could have believed because God's mercy had touched his heart and given him the grace of interior vision, the gift of the opening of the heart, and of its surrender.
[originally posted: 3/27/05]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE STUMBLING BLOCK:
The Scandal: Jesus Hangs on the Cross to Forgive Us of Sin: A Lenten homily. (Fr. George Morelli, 3/28/09, Orthodoxy Today)
But who was Jesus? He was the son of a carpenter who came from a place of no stature or notice — "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46). He was an itinerant, poor preacher and would be condemned as a criminal, scourged, buffeted, spat upon and be crucified in total ignominy.
Of the coming Messiah, the Prophet Isaiah forewarned that:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed (Is. 53: 3-5). [...]
The power of Jesus was not of this world. His kingdom is understandable only in Divine terms — as the suffering servant. Isaiah wrote: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is. 53:7). St. John Chrysostom wrote: "[Jesus] on His part also gives evidence of His power, loosing the man's sins with complete authority, and indicating in every way that He is of equal status with the One who begot Him."
St. Paul taught that Jesus is the true Christ, not anointed to be an earthly king, but to reign as the Divine King. But this kingship would be hidden from earthly eyes, because of sin. That's why the cross is a scandal. How could a King be crucified?
Particularly daunting is that the only important question about His Crucifixion is whether you and I would have helped string Him up or merely denied Him
[originally posted: 4/04/09]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SO ASTONISHING THAT EVEN CHRISTIANS DON'T LIKE ACCEPTING IT:
God on the Cross (Ben Merkle, 15 June 2010, Credenda)
Arius believed that we could be saved only by an atoning death, and he also confessed that a merely human death would not suffice to take away sin. At the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to believe that God Himself could take flesh, suffer, and die on a cross. So he said that the Son was not eternal God, but only a high creature. The Son was everything that a creature could possibly be; he was a perfect creature. But Jesus could not be God. The one thing that Arius could never say was, “God died on the cross.”
By the time of Nestorius in the fifth century, the Arian option was no longer available. Nestorius had to move the buffer. He didn’t place the buffer between God the Father and God the Son, as Arius had done. He placed the buffer between the Son and His human flesh.
The specific debate sparked by Nestorius didn’t focus on the cross but on the birth of Jesus. Nestorius refused to say, “Mary is God-bearer.” He thought it absurd to believe that Mary, a human, could have borne the Son of God. AS his opponents saw it (perhaps unfairly), Nestorius was teaching that the birth of Jesus was an event in the life of the humanity of Jesus, but not an event in the human life of the Son of God. That meant, of course, that their life not one life. It meant that the story of the humanity and the story of the Son of God were different stories, though they overlapped and interpenetrated at various points. The same logic applied to the cross. Who died on the cross? Nestorians say, The humanity of Jesus. Meanwhile, the Son of God is kept carefully shielded from that suffering.
The heretics made sense. After all, how can God suffer and die? They made sense, but the orthodox insisted they were wrong. Impossible as it seemed, the church proclaimed, the One who suffered on the cross was none other than God the Son in human flesh, none other than the Creator become a creature.
For centuries, Christians have confessed this orthodox “nonsense” every week. Trace back the antecedents of the pronouns in the Nicene Creed. “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God . . . very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate . . . and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.” Who is on the cross? It is none other than the only-begotten Son of God, very God of very God, the Son who is “one substance” with the Father, the One who created all things. That Son of God died on a cross.
This is a breathtaking statement, but not just about Jesus. It is a breathtaking statement about God. What kind of God is it who can (and did) take flesh, who can be born of Mary, who can hunger and thirst and be tempted, who can stand on trial before a Roman governor, who can endure torture and beatings, who can be hung on a cross, who can die, who can cry to His Father in anguish? What kind of God do we worship who can (and did) share fully in our weakness and sufferings, who can share even our death, and yet not be overcome by death but instead overcome it?
Christians worship a God revealed by and defined according to the gospel. To paraphrase N. T. Wright: To say that the crucified Jesus is God is to make a remarkable statement about Jesus. It is also to make an astonishing statement about God.
[originally posted: 6/15/10]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHY THE BRIGHTS FEAR THE LIGHT:
Christ Is Risen — Run Away!: Why we don't always want to meet the resurrected Lord. (Mark Galli, 4/09/2009, Christianity Today)
The Genesis story tells us that God was walking in the Garden apparently the day after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. He was looking to get close to the guilty couple. But when they discovered that God was in the neighborhood, they hid themselves.
In the New Testament we read that Peter, after hauling in a great catch at the command of Jesus, found himself confronted with the glory of miracle and the power of God. He tells Jesus, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!"
This Sunday, we will be reminded of another such moment: When the women realize that Jesus has been raised, they run in fear.
There is something about the great news of encountering the very glory of God that scares the spirituality out of us. There are many reasons for that, but one is this: Divine light exposes something in us that we do not like to look at.
Paint a room in normal lighting, and when you step back, it all looks pretty good. You pat yourself on the back, and start cleaning up. But shine one of those 500-watt high-intensity lamps on the walls, move the lamp up and down, and get a sideways look at it. That high-intensity light exposes all the places where the old paint still bleeds through.
To experience Christ in his resurrection glory can be something like that. The one whom the Nicene Creed calls "Light from Light" has a way of exposing all the old paint that still bleeds through our lives. So some days, the last thing I want is to meet the resurrected, glorious Christ. He just exposes too many flaws.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: DID YOU CLEAR THAT DOCTRINE WITH US?:
THE DISPUTATION: A Passion for Censorship (David Klinghoffer, 8/01/03, The Forward)
[T]he second reason we Jews need to learn some deep-breathing and other relaxation techniques is the one that always gets lost when others less meticulous than Fredriksen publicly humiliate a Christian for espousing his beliefs. If we are empowered to edit their doctrine, then why are they not empowered to edit ours?
In the past, Christians felt justified in telling Jews what we were entitled to write and read if it touched upon their savior. The Talmud was censored with their denunciations, and worse, in mind.
There seems little danger "The Passion" will incite violence. However, if it were to arouse Christians to demand that Jews similarly submit our faith for their approval - well, then, the attempt to cow Mel Gibson will have been most helpful to would-be Christian censors in making their case.
If Gibson someday says he would like to have a look at the Talmud with a view to fixing it up with some additional corrections, we should let Paula Fredriksen have a go at explaining to him why this would be inappropriate.
This dispute has reached the point where both the story of the Crucifixion and Mel Gibson's attempt to defend himself against charges of anti-Semitism are being characterized as inherently anti-Semitic. Such arguments push anti-anti-Semitism towards anti-Christianism.
-Passion Play: The controversy over Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie on the death of Jesus Christ. (Michael Novak, 08/25/2003, Weekly Standard)
The claims Christ made for himself seemed at the time divisive and dangerous. Many people, the Jewish authorities told Pilate, were following this man's lead. His history, they said, showed that he worked magic, performed miracles, and consorted with demons. He had been sent by God, he as much as said, to "fulfill the Scriptures." His continued preaching might lead to riot and rebellion. But only the Romans had the power to do to Jesus what was actually done, and so it was under the authority of Pontius Pilate, and at the hands of the Roman Empire, that Jesus "was crucified, died, and was buried."
AT THE TIME of Christ's death, Christianity was still internal to Judaism. The Christian Church itself began not at the Passion, but fifty-three days later on Pentecost, when the apostles left an "upper room" in Jerusalem speaking in tongues. With his preaching Jesus had clearly put a challenge to Judaism, expressly announcing a "new" covenant, whose mandate was to "complete" and "fulfill" the "old" covenant. And there is no doubt that Jesus' death meant a parting of the ways between Christians and Jews. Nonetheless, from a Christian point of view, the life and teachings of Jesus and his new covenant do not remove or destroy the old covenant. God cannot be unfaithful to his promises. Besides, if the Creator is not faithful to his first covenant with the Jews, how can Christians expect Him to be faithful to His new covenant with them?
Thus, Christians hold that Christianity fulfills the hopes launched into the world by Judaism. They also hold that those Jews who reject Christianity remain vessels of God's first love. In God's mysterious plan, the continuation of Judaism in time is a grace to be respected, on the same principle on which the faith of Christians rests--the fidelity of God to his everlasting promises.
The Jewish leaders of the generation that knew him did in fact reject Jesus and his claims, and they did accuse him of blasphemy. "Nevertheless," as the Second Vatican Council said in its statement on Judaism, "the Jews still remain very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made." The Council strictly forbids Catholics to hold Jews to be "repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the Holy Scriptures." And it deplores "all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time and from any source against the Jews." This condemnation includes the Church's own sins. The Council stressed the two covenants' common spiritual heritage and foresaw a future in which both communities would serve God "shoulder to shoulder."
Gibson's film is wholly consistent with the Second Vatican Council's presentation of the relations of Judaism and the Christian Church. But "The Passion" will not be easy for Jews to watch. One reason is simply that its entire subject is the death of one who, for many Jews, is a
figure of division, Jesus Christ. And a second reason is that it is never easy to relive a moment in which the leaders of one's community, however justified they might have been by their own lights and their own sense of responsibility, do not appear to viewers to be acting in a noble way. As a Catholic, I cringe every time I go to the theater when a pope, cardinal, archbishop, or even priest is portrayed in an unflattering light. Even when they deserve it, I do not enjoy the spectacle.
In the first part of the gospels' account of the Passion, the high priests of Jerusalem standing before Pilate are, painfully no doubt to contemporary Jews, the voice for the prosecution. During the early scenes of the movie, which I tried to watch as if I were Jewish or seated alongside a Jewish colleague, I thought: This is too painful. Having sat through many analogous moments as a Catholic, I did not like the experience.
VERY SOON, though, the action in the film belongs to the Romans. Roman soldiers inflict systematic pain on Jesus with gusto, lighthearted bantering, and the practiced sadism of those who know how to keep subdued populations subdued. The overwhelming drama consists in Christ's willing endurance of unbearable suffering, for the purpose of inaugurating an entirely new order in human life. The movie, like the gospels, is unmistakable in setting this meaning before our eyes. It is, somehow, our sins for which Jesus is dying.
The Passion of Jesus Christ is not a drama about ethnicity. It is about our humanity. The hero of this movie is Jewish, his mother is Jewish, his apostles and followers are Jewish. But one misses the whole point of the Passion of Jesus unless one sees that he submitted to his suffering for all of us.
-Are observant Jews racists?: Intermarriage bad. Jewish continuity good. Discuss. (Rabbi Avi Shafran, October 11, 2003, Jewsweek.com)
Countless Jews of faith work closely with, are neighbors of, or are friends with, non-Jews. And while the Torah clearly identifies the Jews as God's "chosen nation," and imposes upon them special obligations befitting that status, at the same time Jewish tradition clearly regards non-Jews as created as well "in God's image" and as full partners in humanity, as per the Talmudic assertion that meaningful lives and the World-to-Come are the potential provinces of all people.
What is more, while Judaism neither demands nor seeks converts, any non-Jew who is truly willing and ready to undertake observance of the Torah's laws can, according to the Torah itself, join the Jewish people. How objectionable, in the end, can an "exclusive club" be if anyone at all can join it by sheer force of will?
There may well be prejudiced people within the religious Jewish world, as there are among all communities, but they are not representative of that world. In fact, the Jewish religious imperative of "darkei shalom -- the ways of peace" mandates exemplary behavior toward all humankind.
And yet, all the same, it is certainly true: observant Jews do not choose non-Jews as spouses and want all Jews to marry other Jews.
How can that be understood?
Well, for starters, it needn't be. Judaism is a religion of laws, some of which are understandable and others puzzling. Like eating pork or creating fire on the Sabbath, intermarriage is prohibited by the Torah, period.
Leaving aside, though, the religious component, is Jewish support for Jewish in-marriage really beyond comprehension?
[Originally posted: October 30, 2003]
NO LESS MONSTROUS:
Seven Stanzas At Easter (John Updike, 1964)
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SURPRISED BY SIN:
Ongoing Incarnation: Would Christmas have come even if we had not sinned? (Philip Yancey, 1/10/2008, Christianity Today)
More than two centuries before the Reformation, a theological debate broke out that pitted theologian Thomas Aquinas against an upstart from Britain, John Duns Scotus. In essence, the debate circled around the question, "Would Christmas have occurred if humanity had not sinned?"
Whereas Aquinas viewed the Incarnation as God's remedy for a fallen planet, his contemporary saw much more at stake. For Duns Scotus, the Word becoming flesh as described in the prologue to John's Gospel must surely represent the Creator's primary design, not some kind of afterthought or Plan B. Aquinas pointed to passages emphasizing the Cross as God's redemptive response to a broken relationship. Duns Scotus cited passages from Ephesians and Colossians on the cosmic Christ, in whom all things have their origin, hold together, and move toward consummation.
Did Jesus visit this planet as an accommodation to human failure or as the center point of all creation?
Had He anticipated our sinfulness, God would have had no need to become Man in order to comprehend our plight, nor have despaired Himself when mortal.
[originally posted 1/10/08]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE AVOIDABLE VOID (via Mike Daley):
How can I fill this void in my life? (ANNA SMYTH, 4/08/04, The Scotsman)
As Easter Sunday approaches, Christians across the world are preparing to celebrate the most significant festival of their religious calendar. The Jewish community is currently marking Passover. Those who follow other major faiths, or fulfil spiritual needs through less mainstream outlets, will be looking forward to their own key festivities as the year moves on. But for those who do not believe in the spiritual life, where is the answer to the meaning of life? For those who don't believe in God, where may a code of personal ethics be found? [...]
According to Dr Colin Gill, psychologist and founder of Psychological Solutions, which aims to maximise employees' potential via psychology-based training, philosophy is filling the emptiness felt by many.
Gill says that a key problem facing people in the West today is the lack of a common moral code. With the separation of religion from the state and an increased promotion of multiculturalism, our ethical boundaries have been blurred. "We are now in a more confused state than we have ever been," says Gill, a psychologist who specialises in ethics, morality and personality. "We don't have one agreed set of ethics, and aside from believing that paedophilia is wrong, everything is negotiable."
Gill adds that the central problem is one of absolutes. Society may have slipped into a spiritual slumber, but human beings remain innately curious creatures. As small children we need boundaries. Even as adults, if we do not know what is acceptable behaviour, we begin to lose our grip. But our instinct is to find a firm footing again. "This is evidenced by the success of one branch of the church which has returned to strict, traditional morals," says Gill.
"Some evangelical Christians are reverting to the morality of Victorian times, and within that defined framework, they are enjoying stable marriages and successful careers.They now know what is right and wrong. The price they pay for that is to be cut off from a surrounding culture which does not adopt the same principles."
Nevertheless, what Gill describes as the "surrounding culture" is searching for a moral substitute which in earlier, more God-fearing, times was readily defined by the teachings of the Church.
Gill believes Western society's uncertainty in the post-9/11 era may have added more than a little rocket fuel to this quest. As the West faces its first coherent external threat for many years, our secular community is evaluating the foundations on which its society is built, and considering what sort of world we would like to inhabit. "For the first time in centuries we are not fighting each other," says Gill.
"We are faced with a group of people who have in themselves a very clear, defined moral code, one that is so robust they are willing to die for it. If we are to face that threat we need to be united in our own set of standards. If we are to live in a secular society, we need a secular moral code."
Nietzsche's Truth (Damon Linker, August/September 2002, First Things)
Nietzsche was hardly the first modern figure to espouse atheism. The most radical writers of the Enlightenment suspected that God was a fiction created by the human mind. G. W. F. Hegel famously declared that modernity is "Good Friday without Easter Sunday." And throughout the nineteenth century, a series of authors, from Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx to Charles Darwin, claimed that religion is a human projection onto a spiritually lifeless world. Nietzsche agreed with this tradition in every respect but one. Whereas most modern atheists viewed their lack of piety as an unambiguous good--as a mark of their liberation from the dead weight of authority and tradition--Nietzsche responded to his insight into the amoral chaos at the heart of the world with considerable pathos. If in Human, All Too Human and Daybreak he flirted with the facile cheerfulness so common to his fellow atheists, beginning with aphorism 125 of The Joyful Science, Nietzsche showed that he now understood with greater depth that the passing of God has potentially devastating consequences for Western Civilization. This is the madman's requiem aeternam deo:
But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?
If God is dead, then man has completely lost his orientation. There is no human dignity, no equality, no rights, no democracy, no liberalism, and no good and evil. In the light of Nietzsche's insight, a thinker such as Marx looks extraordinarily superficial, railing against religion on the one hand while remaining firmly attached to ideals of justice and equality on the other. He has failed to grasp the simple truth that if God is dead, then nothing at all can be taken for granted--and absolutely everything is permitted.
Ms Smyth would appear to believe that Man has just now struck upon this idea of trying to fill the gaping whole left by the loss of God with the consolation of philosophy. In reality it is the failed project of modernity. At least Nietzsche had the courage of his convictions and could accept, even embrace, the consequences of God's death. Most atheists though are rather pitiable. The attraction of denying God lies in the rebellion against authority. Rebelling then against the biggest Authority conveys a certain sense of courage and self-importance that must appeal to a certain type. But if you go scurrying around afterwards trying to reconstruct the same morality, human dignity, etc. that you've just kicked the props out from under then you can't help but look pretty cowardly. On the other hand, if you go around telling people that not only are you an atheist but you don't believe in morality, you'll not find much welcome--certainly not be asked to babysit anyway. So atheists are left in the comical position outlined by Ms Smyth, denying God but insisting that they can come up with their own god-replacement that will do all the same things as the original.
Phil (masterfully played by Bill Murray) is egotistical, career-driven, and contemptuous of his fellow man. "People are morons," he tells his producer Rita, played by an adorable Andie MacDowell. "People like blood sausage." Phil, in other words, is the typical product of modernity, the bourgeois man who lives for himself in the midst of others. Rita describes him--and us--well by quoting Sir Walter Scott's "There Breathes the Man":
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.
By refusing to die to himself, Phil and those like him are doomed to die doubly, triply, innumerably.
The Punxsutawney celebration of Groundhog Day culminates with the town elders consulting a real woodchuck, also named Phil, about the next six weeks. The groundhog sees his shadow, an omen that more winter is to come.
Connors cannot wait to return to Pittsburgh, but trapped by a blizzard (which he failed to predict), he and the crew must stay another night in Punxsutawney. When he awakes the next morning, Phil discovers to his dismay that it is February 2nd--again. The same thing happens the next day, and the next. For reasons that are never made clear, Phil is condemned to live Groundhog Day over and over.
Phil's situation is unique, yet the movie hints that it is not unrelated to our own quotidian lives. Commiserating with two locals over beers, Phil asks, "What would you do if every day was the same, and nothing you did ever mattered?" The men's faces grow solemn, and one of them finally belches, "That about sums it up for me." Phil's preternatural plight bears a twin resemblance to ours: first, as a symbol for the Fall, with its "doubly dying" estrangement from God and return to the vile dust from whence we sprang; and second, as a symbol for life in the wake of postmodern philosophy.
For the great father of this philosophy is Nietzsche, and the idea that frightened him most was the "the eternal recurrence of the same," i.e., that even the superior human being must bear the same dreary existence an infinite number of times. Like us, Phil is the modern man who must now confront the hardship of postlapsarian life on the one hand and the metaphysical meaninglessness of postmodern thought on the other.
Indeed, Phil's various reactions to his enslavement read like the history of philosophy in reverse. Phil is shocked at his own impotence, so much faith had he put in his meteorological training. ("I make the weather!" he tells an unconvinced state trooper.) Phone lines and automobiles prove useless, as do his visits to a doctor and a therapist. All of the Enlightenment's societal buttresses--technology, natural science, and social science--collapse under the weight of a problem outside the parameters of space and time.
Once Phil realizes that in his Nietzschean quagmire there are no consequences to his actions, he also experiences modern philosophy's liberation from any sense of eternal justice. "I am not going to play by their rules any longer," he gleefully announces. His reaction epitomizes Glaucon's argument in Plato's Republic. Remove the fear of punishment, Glaucon argued, and the righteous will behave no differently than the wicked. Nineteen hundred years later, Machiavelli, arguably the father of modern philosophy, elevated this view to a philosophical principle.
And Phil embodies it perfectly: Once he learns that he can get away with anything he wants, he becomes Machiavelli's prince. He unhesitatingly steals money from a bank, cold-cocks a life insurance agent, and seduces an attractive woman.
To Phil's surprise, however, this life of instant gratification proves unfulfilling, leading him to set his sights on Rita, his beautiful and wholesome co-worker. The name "Rita," I contend, tells us something about the role she plays in Phil's life. Rita is short for Margarita, the Latin word for "pearl." To Phil, Rita is the pearl of great price. We know from Matthew's Gospel that this pearl is the kingdom of Heaven, but it may also be appropriate to think of it as happiness, since, according to Aristotle, happiness is that towards which everything in our life is ordered.
And so the overriding question of the story becomes clear: What will it take to attain true happiness? What will it take to buy the pearl?
[Originally posted: April 9, 2004]
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
The Cross (Prince)
Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry, he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross
Ghettos 2 the left of us
Flowers 2 the right
There'll be bread 4 all of us
If we can just bear the cross
Sweet song of salvation
A pregnant mother sings
She lives in starvation
Her children need all that she brings
We all have our problems
Some BIG, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross
Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry 4 he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross
Ghettos 2 the left of us
Flowers 2 the right
There'll be bread 4 all, y'all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah
We all have our problems
Some are BIG, some are small
Soon all of our problems, y'all
Will be taken by the cross
[originally posted: 3/25/05]
"HOW COME YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE LIVING BY THE OPEN HAND?":
[originally posted 4/04/09]
April 23, 2011
SURE, THEY AREN'T AN ECONOMIC PROBLEM...:
Obama Chose The Wrong 2012 Issue (John B. Judis, 4/22/11, New Republic)
[F]or the last five months, Republicans have been harping on deficits as the cause of the economic downturn and continuing unemployment. The economy and jobs are still voters' top concern, but in the latest Gallup poll, deficits and spending come in second. That's not because the Congressional Budget Office suddenly found a river of red ink, or because interest rates shot up, or because the unemployment rate has gone up. It's because Republicans have advanced the deficit as the reason for the problems in economy and jobs. They filled in the gap between fact and perception with the idea that things are getting worse and that the reason they are getting worse is because of the deficits.
I am not sure exactly why Republicans have focused on deficits. I suspect it is a combination of reasons. Some of them don't understand modern economics; many of them want to use the peril of the deficit to justify cuts in government spending on social programs; and some of them, perhaps, want to arrest the recovery to improve their election chances in 2012. But the effect is to nullify Democrats' ability to offer popular programs that will fuel growth, save jobs, and reduce people's insecurity.
Obama has, sadly, bought the Republican argument for why the economy is in trouble. This week, he went to a community college in Northern Virginia to rally students there to the cause of the deficit. Here's my expurgated version:
"For a long time, Washington acted like deficits didn't matter. ... And as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. ... Now, if we don't close this deficit, now that the economy has begun to grow again, if we keep on spending more than we take in, it's going to cause serious damage to our economy."
Obama has tried to carve a liberal niche within this retrograde political framework by charging that the Republican plan to cut the deficit would get rid of Medicare and would keep the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. That's all well and good, but Obama is still playing on Republican turf. And it might not work. The last Democratic presidential candidate who based his campaign on deficits was Walter Mondale in 1984. Mondale probably would have lost to Ronald Reagan in any case, but he would have won more than Minnesota and the District of Columbia. The other Democratic candidate who tried to make deficits an issue was Al Gore in 2000, and he lost to a candidate he should have defeated easily. And you can be sure that Bill Clinton in 1992 didn't focus on deficits in running against George H.W. Bush.
I know Obama and his political advisers think that by emphasizing deficits they are going to win over independent voters. But as I have argued earlier, Obama is pursuing a political fiction. The independents he needs to attract are primarily white working-class voters in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They may care about deficits as a stand-in for what they see as wasteful spending on undeserving groups. But their primary concern, as they demonstrated in 2008, is jobs and the economy.
...but they are an aesthetic problem, which is far more important as a matter of political narrative. What ought to make them important to Democrats though is the nature of the aesthetic problem. Huge budget deficits are ugly enough to us that they make us believe that government has, in some sense, failed. To the extent that Democrats are the party of government then it is in their best interest to fix the problem.
WENT TO THE 5 COLLEGE BOOK SALE TODAY, AND RETURNED WITH THESE 3 STORIES:
It's a college town, so umpteen copies of Barack Obama's bios were $3 each, but was able to snap up the lone copy of Mark Steyn's America Alone for $1.
Also for $1, spotted a copy of William F. Buckley's Hymnal and just knew it had to be a copy he'd given to Jeffrey Hart, sure enough there's a To Jeff plate inside the front cover.
Didn't buy it, but the best book bit spotted was Queen Victoria, Zombie Hunter, which sports the tag line "She loved her country. She hated zombies."
BEFORE WE WERE CLIMATE DENIERS WE WERE POPULATION DENIERS:
Sterilizing Those Pesky Humans: Earth Day with Paul Ehrlich (Paul Kengor, 4/23/2011, Townhall)
What Ehrlich wrote is jaw-dropping. Dealing first with pesky Americans, he wrote (pages 130-31):
"[T]he first task is population control at home. How do we go about it? Many of my colleagues feel that some sort of compulsory birth regulation would be necessary to achieve such control. One plan often mentioned involves the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired population size. Those of you who are appalled at such a suggestion can rest easy. The option isn’t even open to us, since no such substance exists. If the choice now is either such additives or catastrophe, we shall have catastrophe. It might be possible to develop such population control tools, although the task would not be simple. Either the additive would have to operate equally well and with minimum side effects against both sexes, or some way would have to be found to direct it only to one sex and shield the other."
As for pesky (non-white) folks in places like India, Ehrlich was less patient. On pages 151-52, he favored “sterilizing all Indian males with three or more children,” and with the direct help of the U.S. government. “We should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments,” advised Ehrlich. “We should have sent doctors to aid in the program by setting up centers for training para-medical personnel to do vasectomies.” [...]
Today, Ehrlich remains an icon, holding a plum spot at Stanford as the Bing Professor of Population Studies. Because he’s a liberal, a “progressive,” the 78-year-old has gotten away with this, much like Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood matron, who ran a “Negro Project,” spoke at a KKK rally, labeled certain pesky people “human weeds” and “imbeciles” and “morons,” and preached “race improvement.”
For icons of the left, there’s no need to say “I’m sorry.” The sins of the fathers and mothers of the progressive left are buried with the trash, never to be recycled, especially at Earth Day.
PROPHYLAXIS, NOT PUNISHMENT:
Germany considers alcohol ignition locks for drunk drivers (Deutsche-Welle, 4/20/11)
The German government is considering introducing locks that prevent car engines from starting if the driver is intoxicated. Drunk drivers in Germany could keep their license if they agree to have the device installed.
Too late once they've got a conviction on their record, or, even worse, killed somebody.
YONDER STAND THE ALAWITES:
Syrians demand 'overthrow of regime' at mass funerals (REUTERS , 04/23/2011)
Tens of thousands of chanting Syrians demanded the "overthrow of the regime" on Saturday at funerals for scores of people killed by security forces in the country's bloodiest pro-democracy protests, witnesses said.
Funerals were held in Damascus and at least one of its suburbs and in the southern village of Izra'a, where mourners also chanted "Bashar al-Assad, you traitor. Long live Syria, down with Bashar."
IT'S NOT EVEN HIS BEST QUOTE:
Gen. Stark: More than a man with a motto (DAN TUOHY, 4/22/11, New Hampshire Union Leader)
The Friends of Stark Park, joining forces again this Monday with the Sons of the American Revolution, are looking to raise public awareness of the Revolutionary War hero beyond his famous words: "Live Free or Die; Death is not the worst of evils."
A celebration of John Stark Day at the Stark family grave site is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.
"The significance of it is huge," said Mike Rounds, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. "He made a huge contribution to the American Revolution."
Still, Rounds said, New Hampshire can do more to recognize Stark's role in the Revolutionary War and celebrate New Hampshire's history in the birth of the nation.
Stark (1728-1822) was born in Londonderry, served in Rogers Rangers, fought in the battle of Bunker Hill, and later in the 1777 Battle of Bennington, which led to British Gen. John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga.
A statue of Revilutionary War Gen. John Stark in Manchester's Stark Park, is ready for General Stark Day on Monday.
It was in 1809 when Stark, unable to make a reunion with his comrades, offered his toast: Live Free or Die; Death is not the worst of evils. It wasn't until 1945 that "Live Free or Die" became the official state motto.
"Now, my men, yonder are the Hessians; they were bought for seven pounds tenpence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it. To-night the American flag floats over yonder hill, or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!"
PEOPLE USED TO BE AFRAID OF ELECTRICITY ITSELF TOO:
Electric dreams: the charge ahead: A future free of petrol is just around the corner and the race is on to capture the market (Stephen Ottley, 4/23/11, SMH)
The race to find an alternative to fossil fuels has been intensifying and is set to reach a critical moment over the next 18 months.
Electric cars are ready to hit the mass market with Mitsubishi, Nissan and Holden all poised to begin offering Australians the option of ditching the internal combustion engine by the end of next year.
But electric cars are just one part of the alternative, because there will not be a single like-for-like replacement for petrol. Instead, fully electric, range-extended electric, hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, ethanol as well as unleaded and diesel will all compete for our attention.
Electric cars have the early advantage and look set to become the most serious competition to petrol. But a number of obstacles stand between today and the scenario played out above.
Infrastructure needs to be built; vehicle costs need to come down; Australia needs to get more energy from green power; governments need to be more supportive; and, most important of all, consumer attitudes need to change.
While electric cars are ready, perhaps the real question is: are we ready for them?
Electric cars are nothing new. They've been around almost as long as cars powered by the internal combustion engine. But it wasn't until recently that car makers worked out how to build one that offered a useful driving range between recharging, was reliable and was relatively affordable.
Mitsubishi became the first major car maker to offer an electric car in Australia late last year. The tiny i-MiEV city car was offered on a lease arrangement to governments, councils and fleet operators as a would-be teaser of what's to come.
The real breakthrough for electric cars is expected next year when Nissan becomes the first manufacturer to offer a full-size electric hatchback: the Leaf. Later next year Holden is expected to join the electric revolution with its Chevrolet-inspired Volt range-extended electric small sedan.
By producing cars in the most popular segment of the market Nissan and Holden will entice more buyers to make the switch to electric. But even so, both cars are expected to sell in limited numbers for the first couple of years.
That's because while small in size, they won't be small in price. Neither Nissan nor Holden have revealed pricing for their electric cars but they are expected to cost more than $50,000. Nissan Australia's EV [electric vehicle] regional director, Michael Hayes, is confident there will be enough early adopters looking for the next step willing to pay the premium.
''We see [initial Leaf buyers] as the same people that adopted hybrid technology seven, eight years ago,'' Hayes says. ''People who understood the benefits of hybrid technology, they 'got it', and it was in line with their own social conscience and their own agendas. Those people are looking for the next step in personal motoring.''
Extending sales beyond those environmentally conscious early adopters will be the biggest challenges the car makers will face. There are a number of hurdles the industry has to clear, notably implementing charging infrastructure and overcome consumer's ''range-anxiety''; the fear of running out of charge.
WHICH IS WHAT THE FOUNDERS AVOIDED AT ALL COST:
The perils of extreme democracy: California offers a warning to voters all over the world (The Economist, Apr 20th 2011)
It is tempting to accuse those doing the governing. The legislators, hyperpartisan and usually deadlocked, are a pretty rum bunch. The governor, Jerry Brown, who also led the state between 1975 and 1983, has (like his predecessors) struggled to make the executive branch work. But as our special report this week argues, the main culprit has been direct democracy: recalls, in which Californians fire elected officials in mid-term; referendums, in which they can reject acts of their legislature; and especially initiatives, in which the voters write their own rules. Since 1978, when Proposition 13 lowered property-tax rates, hundreds of initiatives have been approved on subjects from education to the regulation of chicken coops.
This citizen legislature has caused chaos. Many initiatives have either limited taxes or mandated spending, making it even harder to balance the budget. Some are so ill-thought-out that they achieve the opposite of their intent: for all its small-government pretensions, Proposition 13 ended up centralising California’s finances, shifting them from local to state government. Rather than being the curb on elites that they were supposed to be, ballot initiatives have become a tool of special interests, with lobbyists and extremists bankrolling laws that are often bewildering in their complexity and obscure in their ramifications. And they have impoverished the state’s representative government. Who would want to sit in a legislature where 70-90% of the budget has already been allocated?
This has been a tragedy for California, but it matters far beyond the state’s borders. Around half of America’s states and an increasing number of countries have direct democracy in some form (article). Next month Britain will have its first referendum for years (on whether to change its voting system), and there is talk of voter recalls for aberrant MPs. The European Union has just introduced the first supranational initiative process. With technology making it ever easier to hold referendums and Western voters ever more angry with their politicians, direct democracy could be on the march.
April 22, 2011
WHEN ALL THINGS ARE PERMITTED:
Grand delusions: Why we're determined to be free (Dan Jones, 19 April 2011, New Scientist)
For now most of us are content to believe that we have control over our own lives, but what would happen if we lost our faith in free will? In recent years some psychologists have been trying to find out. In one study, Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, asked volunteers to read an excerpt from Francis Crick's book The Astonishing Hypothesis, which argues that "you are nothing but a pack of neurons", with your sense of free will a mere illusion, however persistent. After reading this passage, participants reported weaker belief in free will compared with those who hadn't read it. When given a mathematics test, which presented an opportunity to cheat seemingly without being detected, those whose belief in free will had been eroded were more likely to cheat (Psychological Science, vol 19, p 49).
Another example of the unsettling effects of shaking people's belief in free will comes from the work of Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, Tallahassee. His team asked participants to read either statements that bolstered belief in free will or ones that undermined it. For example: "I am able to override the genetic and environmental factors that sometimes influence my behaviour" versus "A belief in free will contradicts the known fact that the universe is governed by lawful principles of science". The volunteers were then asked how likely they would be to help another person in a range of scenarios, such as giving money to a homeless person or letting someone use their cellphone.
You guessed it: people whose belief in free will was challenged were, on average, less altruistic than the other group. The researchers also found that priming people with anti-free will statements made them behave more aggressively towards strangers, as measured by how much chilli sauce they added to a dish destined to be eaten by someone who had expressed a dislike of hot foods (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol 35, p 260).
We can hardly be surprised that folks hate morality so much they pretend to deny free will.
GOD IS TOO INTERESTING TO BE CONSISTENT:
The Bible Is Dead; Long Live the Bible (Timothy Beal, 4/19/11, The Chronicle Review)
For many potential Bible readers, that expectation that the Bible is univocal is paralyzing. You notice what seem to be contradictions or tensions between different voices in the text. You can't find an obvious way to reconcile them. You figure that it must be your problem. You don't know how to read it correctly, or you're missing something. If the Bible is God's perfect, infallible Word, then any misunderstanding or ambiguity must be the result of our own depravity. So you either give up or let someone holier than thou tell you "what it really says." I think that's tragic. You're letting someone else impoverish it for you, when in fact you have just brushed up against the rich polyvocality of biblical literature.
The Bible is anything but univocal about anything. It is a cacophony of voices and perspectives, often in conflict with one another. In many ways, those dedicated to removing all potential biblical contradictions, to making the Bible entirely consistent with itself, are no different from irreligious debunkers of the Bible, Christianity, and religion in general. Many from both camps seem to believe that simply demonstrating that the Bible is full of inconsistencies and contradictions is enough to discredit any religious tradition that embraces it as Scripture.
Bible debunkers and Bible defenders are kindred spirits. They agree that the Bible is on trial. They agree on the terms of the debate, and what's at stake, namely the Bible's credibility as God's infallible book. They agree that Christianity stands or falls, triumphs or fails, depending on whether the Bible is found to be inconsistent, to contradict itself. The question for both sides is whether it fails to answer questions, from the most trivial to the ultimate, consistently and reliably.
But you can't fail at something you're not trying to do. To ask whether the Bible fails to give consistent answers or be of one voice with itself presumes that it was built to do so. That's a false presumption, rooted no doubt in thinking of it as the book that God wrote.
GOOD NEWS, KIDS!:
The family that plays together stays together? (University of Texas at Dallas, April 21, 2011, PhysOrg.com)
[P]arents needn’t worry so much, according to Dr. Cuihua (Cindy) Shen, an assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication at UT Dallas. Her recent research article in the Communication Research journal argues that online games can actually bolster family communication.
“Even though most people think that spending large amounts of time playing online games can be harmful to one's social life, if people play online games with their existing friends and family, game play could actually enhance their social experiences,” Shen said. “An online game thus becomes an additional venue, albeit virtual, for socialization.”
Shen surveyed more than 5,000 gamers about how they use the Internet, their specific activities in the virtual world and their psychosocial well-being for the article, “Unpacking Time Online: Connecting Internet and Massively Multiplayer Online Game Use With Psychosocial Well-Being,” co-written by Dmitri Williams.
According to the study, online games engage 76 percent of all teens and 23 percent of all adults in the United States. Of these games, networked games known as massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) are growing in popularity. The content of these games is based largely on social interactions, which supports the argument that new technologies create social augmentation, as opposed to displacement: “Not only could the Internet enhance one’s everyday communication with family and friends locally and over a distance,” wrote Shen, “it could also enlarge one’s existing social network by bringing together people with shared interest and values in virtual communities.”
A GOOD CRUSADING NAME FOR IT:
Syria experiences 'Good Friday massacre': Syria’s security forces stand accused of carrying out a “Good Friday massacre” of more than 50 protesters on one of the bloodiest days yet in the five-week uprising against President (Adrian Blomfield, 22 Apr 2011, The Telegraph)
Across the country, protesters spilling out of mosques were met with live ammunition, sometimes within minutes of Friday prayers ending.
In Damascus, the capital, and towns and cities to the east, west and south, every attempt to challenge the regime was met with the same remorseless vengeance.
By dusk, there were fatalities reported from nine separate demonstrations. Up to 54 people were killed, according to a Daily Telegraph tally of reports by Syrian activists, witnesses and doctors.
Even by the blood-soaked standards of the repression that has characterised the Syrian uprising - at least 220 people have died since protests first began on March 18th - this was killing on a different order of magnitude.
YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET:
Here’s Comes the Bus: America’s Fastest Growing Form of Intercity Travel (Joseph Schwieterman, 04/22/2011, New Geography)
Travel by intercity bus is growing at an extraordinary pace: reflecting a rise in travel demand, escalating fuel prices, and investments in new routes. This confluence of factors has propelled scheduled bus service between cities to its highest level in years and has made the intercity bus the country’s fastest growing mode of transportation for the third year in the row. “Curbside operators,” including BoltBus, DC2NY Bus, and Megabus.com, which eschew traditional stations in favor of curbside pickup and provide customers access to WiFi and other amenities, have enjoyed particular success.
The comeback of the intercity bus is noteworthy for the fact that it is taking place without government subsidies or as a result of efforts by planning agencies to promote energy efficient forms of transportation. Instead, it is a market-driven phenomenon that is gradually winning back demographic groups that would have scarcely contemplated setting foot on an intercity bus only a few years ago. Our DePaul University study estimates that curbside operators like Megabus expanded the number of daily departures by 23.9% last year. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, service grew at an even faster rate. [...]
Curbside buses achieve more than 160 passenger-miles per gallon of fuel burned, making them several times more fuel efficient than commercial airplanes and private automobiles, as well as conventional diesel trains. Using the results of a survey we administered to 250 curbside-bus passengers in East Coast and Midwestern revealing how passengers would have traveled had curbside bus service not been available, we estimate that curbside bus service is reducing fuel consumption by about 11 million gallons annually and reducing carbon emission by an estimated 242 million pounds—the equivalent of removing about 23,818 vehicles from the road.
Is Equity the Superior Growth Model? (Sarah Treuhaft, David Madland, April 22, 2011, American Progress)
Though some empirical research suggests that inequality is good for growth, a large body of research has found the world to be much more complicated. One significant strand of research finds that there is no tradeoff between equity and growth. In their frequently cited historical analysis, Peter Lindert of the University of California, Davis, and Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard University examine the U.S. economy since colonial times and the British economy over a similarly long period and find no pattern between growth and equality. Instead, they argue that inequality is driven by the supply and demand of labor and capital.
Similarly, researchers such as Oxford University’s Tony Atkinson, Princeton University’s Jonas Pontusson, and Walter Korpi of the Swedish Social Institute have all separately examined whether welfare states designed to increase equality harm economic growth. They all have found strong evidence that it does not.
Perhaps most importantly, a growing body of research argues that inequality is actually harmful to economic growth. Harvard’s Philipe Aghion finds that inequality is negatively related to growth and argues this is largely because of imperfect credit markets that prevent the nonwealthy from making significant economic contributions. And New York University’s William Easterly argues that societies that are not economically polarized have higher levels of growth because they have better institutions and higher levels of human capital accumulation. Easterly analyzed data from 1960 to 1990 in more than 100 countries to conclude that “middle-class societies have more income and growth.”
Then there is the work of Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Dani Rodrik, who studied economic growth in the period between 1960 and 1985 in advanced and developing countries. They find that countries with high inequality have lower subsequent levels of growth and argue this is because the poor in unequal countries promote policies that stunt growth. A host of other researchers have similar findings and arguments.
While most of this research is based largely on analyses of developing countries, a small but growing literature specifically focusing on the United States is finding that equality is good for growth. The University of Geneva’s Ugo Panizza’s econometric analysis of economic growth among U.S. states from 1940 to 1980 shows that equality leads to growth. Similarly, in an econometric study of U.S. economic growth at the state level between 1960 to 2000, Ohio State University’s Mark Partridge found that a greater share of income going to the middle-income quintiles within states leads to higher levels of growth. And after analyzing the growth of 74 U.S. metropolitan regions in the 1980s, Manuel Pastor at the University of Southern California found that greater equality within regions (measured by poverty reductions in central cities) corresponds with stronger regional economic growth (measured by growth in per capita income).
In a paper published by the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, Randall Eberts of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and colleagues analyzed growth in 118 regions in the 1994–2004 period and found that racial inclusion and income equality were positively correlated with economic growth measures including employment, output, productivity, and per capita income. A later analysis by Pastor and Chris Benner at the University of California, Davis, found that concentrated poverty, income inequality, and racial segregation exerted a significantly stronger drag on growth in older industrial cities— the same places where growth is most needed—than on cities with stronger markets.
Although the new literature arguing that equality is good for economic growth is still in the early stages, it is clear that the old view of inequality being unambiguously good for economic growth is inaccurate. There is no need to choose between growth and equality.
...we don't have to choose between the two, when we can simply reform the social welfare net so that it boosts savings.
PUTTING THE OLD GIRL OUT TO PASTURE:
Obama-Hoyer bond forms as Pelosi rejects budget deal (Mike Lillis and Bob Cusack, 04/22/11, The Hill)
Hoyer’s emergence is partly by political chance. With Republicans controlling the House, Obama and Senate Democrats have been forced to the right.
At the same time, however, GOP leaders in the lower chamber have struggled to rally enough votes to pass legislation, making them reliant on Democrats. The unusual dynamics cater well to Hoyer, a fiscal centrist known for his working relationships with Blue Dogs and GOP leaders.
“If you’re going to have anything done in the House [that’s] bipartisan, Steny Hoyer is going to have to be involved,” said a House Democratic aide who works for a Blue Dog.
Hoyer, who has taken a backseat to Pelosi for a decade, has been quick to seize the opportunity.
THERE GOES THEIR ONLY HOPE FOR A FUTURE:
The Flight of Japan's Immigrant Workers: Low-paid immigrant workers are fleeing the earthquake zone, and jobs are going begging (Drake Bennett, 4/21/11, Business Week)
The Mar. 11 disaster and the nuclear crisis have badly wounded Japan and its economy—from the tragic loss of life to the destruction of plants and ports. For many businesses, the disaster has had another effect: It has scared off the foreign workers they rely on.
Japan's aging population and extremely restrictive immigration policy, combined with a highly educated younger generation uninterested in menial labor, have created a shortage of workers willing to do the dirty, dangerous, or monotonous work that immigrants do in much of the rest of the wealthy world. Food processing and textile plants, restaurants, farms, and home health-care agencies have had difficulty filling job openings.
To help address that, Japan has created a temporary workforce, mostly from China, under what it calls its foreign worker trainee program. These workers spend three years in Japan, ostensibly learning a skill that they can take home with them. Immigrants rights groups and human rights lawyers, however, charge that the program simply provides companies with cheap, pliant labor while blocking actual immigration. In lawsuits, trainee workers have reported being paid as little as half the minimum wage in their first year. The minimum wage is usually between $8 and $10 an hour.
The aftermath of the earthquake suggests another weakness of the program: Some industries have come to depend on workers who are actively discouraged from putting down roots of any kind. When catastrophe occurs, Japan's trainee workers have little reason to stick around. And while they make up only a small fraction of the overall workforce, they're vital to certain parts of its agricultural, service, and manufacturing sectors. The Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (Jitco), the agency that administers the program, estimates that 70 percent or 80 percent of its more than 150,000 temporary workers have left the country since Mar. 11 and haven't come back.
The Japan Agricultural Cooperative Assn. chapter in Ibaraki, a prefecture at the southern end of the coastal area hit by the tsunami, reports that it lost 387 of its 1,591 foreign trainee workers through the end of March. Half the 1,500 foreign workers at the Hidakaya noodle shop chain went home after the earthquake. Recruit, the biggest manpower agency, is having trouble finding candidates for low-wage openings.
THE BABY IN THE BATHWATER:
Searching for Hayek in Cairo: To make democracy stick, the Arab Spring now needs an economic revolution. (MATTHEW KAMINSKI, 4/21/11, WSJ)
Before 2005, Egypt was a stagnant and state-dominated economy. But after the opening that year—including the introduction of a flat tax that increased revenues four-fold—average annual growth above 6% beat similar Arab countries like Jordan or Syria. Economic activity started to come out of the shadows. The banking system was cleaned up. Red tape, while still notoriously bad, improved enough for Egypt to make a dramatic jump up to the 18th spot on the World Bank's rankings of easiest countries in which to do business.
Four days into the January protests, President Mubarak fired the government of Mr. Nazif, who now sits in prison. Aside from appeasing public anger, he hoped to secure the military's support. The brass didn't like reforms or Gamal Mubarak, a banker who had his eye on daddy's job. The privatization of state companies—often to benefit Mubarak cronies—and pledges of transparency and competition threatened the military's opaque hold on, it is said, up to a third of Egypt's economy. Two weeks later, after protests swelled, the generals pushed the Mubaraks out.
To the public at large, Gamal Mubarak symbolizes obscene wealth for the elites, while roughly half of Egypt lives on less than $2 a day and can't read or write. "Egypt did very well—just for 100 people," says protest organizer Abdullah Helmy. As Russia showed in the 1990s, privatization without proper domestic competition and rule of law enriches insiders, enrages the rest, and yields limited economic benefits.
But however flawed and limited, the reforms have helped Egypt stomach the economic blows of revolution. Tourism plummeted and Cairo's stock market stayed shut for over a month, until late March. Gross domestic product this year is expected to grow 2.5%, less than half the pre-revolutionary forecast. The interim government is looking for funding from the International Monetary Fund and others to cover a budget hole, but there's little sense of desperation or shortages of food or other staples. Egypt built up reserves to $36 billion; the central bank has used at least $6 billion of it to prop up the Egyptian pound since February.
"The economic developments that Egypt saw in the last five years did not filter to the masses," says Yasser El Mallawany, the chief executive of EFG Hermes, the biggest investment bank in the Middle East. "It was not people friendly. But if the growth [in 2005-10] had not been achieved, I don't know from where you'd feed 80 million people today."
Pity the poor Arabs, they would have their revolution at a point where the chattering classes have despaired of free markets. Those lucky Eastern Europeans were liberated when even the Left was having to acknowledge that only capitalism works.
WHEN MEDICINE BECAME A GOOD INSTEAD OF A NECESSITY:
Patients Are Not Consumers (PAUL KRUGMAN, 4/21/11, NY Times)
Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.
Except that most people need the car they purchase themselves. Rather few need the "care" that someone else buys for them. Your relationship with the salesman at the dealership is more personal (and professional) than your interaction with the medical system.
NO HEAVY LIFTING REQUIRED:
Nouriel Roubini On The One Big Reason To Be OPTIMISTIC About The National Debt (Joe Weisenthal, Apr. 20, 2011, 2011, Business Insider)
In a note this morning that he put [out] with fellow analyst Arnab Das, [Nouriel Roubini] writes:
The United States has the most manageable fiscal issues of any major advanced economy because federal, state and local revenues as a share of GDP are very low, for cyclical and other reasons. Therefore, fiscal balance can be restored by fiscal adjustment without major economic difficulty in the near term.
In other words, US revenue and spending can be brought closer into line via raising more revenue (as a share of GDP) and so in reality this means raising taxes.
SUCH A PURELY INTELLECTUAL PROPOSITION WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A TOUGH SELL IN AMERICA...:
Blame Game: Has the green movement been a miserable flop? (Bradford Plumer, April 21, 2011, New Republic)
What the hell went wrong? For months now, environmentalists have been asking themselves that question, and it’s easy to see why. After Barack Obama vaulted into the White House in 2008, it really did look like the United States was, at long last, going to do something about global warming. Scientists were united on the causes and perils of climate change. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had stoked public concern. Green groups in D.C. had rallied around a consensus solution—a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions—and had garnered support from a few major companies like BP and Duke Energy. Both Obama and his opponent, John McCain, were on board. And, so, environmental advocates prepared a frontal assault on Congress. May as well order the victory confetti, right?
Instead, the climate push was … a total flop. By late 2010, the main cap-and-trade bill had fizzled out in the Senate; not a single Republican would agree to vote for it. Greens ended up winning zilch from Congress, not even minor legislation to boost renewable electricity or energy efficiency. Worse, after the 2010 midterms, the House GOP became overrun with climate deniers, while voters turned apathetic about global warming. All those flashy eco-ads and all that tireless eco-lobbying only got us even further from solving climate change than we were in 2008.
...but then they cast it as a fight between intellectuals and their skeptics, the latter group being the majority of Americans throughout our history. If they wanted to effect change they should have made it a simple matter of patriotism, of liberating America from dependence on foreign oil and sticking it to dictatorships. But there's the rub, they don't care about the change, just the fight.
A COMPLEX BEAST:
The reason I'm even here at this shooting range in late February during baseball's spring training, holding this gun, is that Scott is the left fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, and I'm trying to understand him better. Scott is one of baseball's most complex characters. His questions about President Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship put him in headlines during an otherwise-quiet offseason. He speaks bluntly and with heavy opinions. He's fluent in Spanish and loves Latin culture, but in the clubhouse, he'll make potentially inflammatory comments to a Latino player who is his best friend -- throwing plantain chips at him to keep him in line. He wears religion on his sleeve.
Given all that, the simple assumption is that Scott is a right-wing nut, a borderline racist and a loudmouth redneck ballplayer who should keep his mouth shut.
But it's not that simple. Luke Scott will require a deeper line of thinking. [...]
Scott talks about these basic principles -- honor, integrity, accountability, hard work -- and says they all trace back to the founders of this country. He espouses them frequently, especially to his teammate and close friend, outfielder Felix Pie. The day before going to the shooting range, I mention to Scott that I want to explore his relationship with the Dominican Republic-born Pie, because it's a part of his life that few outside the clubhouse seem to know about.
"Felix is my friend," he says. "I give him a hard time. The reason why I give him a hard time is because there are certain people you deal with and you go up and talk to them, and it doesn't work. They don't understand.
"I tell him about some of the ways he's acted: 'Look, you're acting like an animal, you're acting like a savage.'"
Scott turns to his locker and pulls out a bag of plantain chips.
"So I throw bananas in his helmet. Here are my banana chips to remind him that whenever he acts like an animal, 'Hey, that's what other people are thinking. They're just not telling you, but that's what they're thinking about. And I'm telling you so that you're aware of that so you can make a cognitive decision to not behave like that.' I would want someone to tell me that instead of letting you making a jerk of yourself."
Why would Scott choose potentially loaded words like "animal" and "savage" -- and how can they not offend either his friend or anyone in the locker room who overhears? Most teammates asked about it laugh or smile. They cite it as part of the two players' playful relationship, part of life in a big league clubhouse -- there are things that fly in there that wouldn't in the outside world.
Adam Jones, who is black, says it doesn't bother him because he knows Scott is a good person and the words do not come from a bad place. If it bothered Pie, who is a dark-skinned Dominican, it might be a different situation.
"He's not a redneck racist; his beliefs are his beliefs," Jones says. "Their relationship is uncanny, and Pie ribs him just as much. I don't think Luke means any racist thing by it. Trust me, if I see racism, I'll say some s---. Quickly.
"I've told Luke there are some things you should and shouldn't do that might offend … if he crossed the line I would have already said something."
Everyone seemingly has a similar refrain: From the outside it seems offensive, but if you know Scott, it's harmless.
Joe Inglett and Scott were teammates with the Cleveland Indians' Class A Kinston team in 2002. He says Scott was always opinionated, mostly about religion and guns. He doesn't remember him being very political. Willy Taveras was with the Indians then, too, and Inglett remembers Scott using similar words.
"That's how they talk to each other, you know, how friends talk to each other," says Inglett, now with the Astros. "It's not in a derogatory way, though. I will never, ever take anything he says seriously. He's an A-plus dude."
Pie laughs when asked about the names Scott calls him.
"Like 'Bogeyman?'" Pie says. "Luke is my friend. He's like a brother. It doesn't bother me because I'm the kind of person [where] you're going to know when you do something that bothers me. This is my friend. He doesn't hurt me, people know that. If you met him you can see that, too."
One Orioles team source explains it like this: "He's not John Rocker. He took the time to be bilingual; he spends more time with his Spanish teammates than Americans. This ain't John Rocker, but he says some John Rocker type s---. My question is, why?"
WHY WOULDN'T HE HAVE?:
Why Obama agreed to unleash Predator drones on Qaddafi forces: President Obama has approved the use of Predator drones in Libya. The drones represent a 'unique' capability that NATO needed in an increasingly urban war, Pentagon officials say. (Mark Sappenfield, April 21, 2011, CS Monitor)
The decision points to a clear need in the evolving conflict. Predator drones have proven their value in Iraq and along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for carrying out targeted strikes. In Libya, the war has increasingly moved into urban areas like Misurata, with media reports suggesting Libyan government forces are using unmarked vehicles and dressing like civilians.
NATO forces, which are leading the international coalition against Mr. Qaddafi, do not have armed drones. That gap in NATO's capabilities is further evidence of the indispensable role that the US alone can fulfill in armed humanitarian interventions.
WHEN REALIZING WHAT YOU ARE MAKES YOU FEEL NAUSEAOUS:
American-born demonstrators wash immigrants' feet: The traditional Christian act of humility, after passage of an Arizona-style illegal immigration bill, is met with a mixed reaction in conservative Cobb County, Georgia. (Richard Fausset, 4/21/11, Los Angeles Times)
[T]hey filed out of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church on Thursday morning to march quietly past the ranch houses and quickie marts and strip malls of suburban Georgia, toward the old town square in Marietta, about eight miles off. There, in imitation of Jesus, who washed his apostles' feet the day before his execution, the American-born among them would wash the feet of a dozen immigrants.
The Maundy Thursday Christian tradition was intended to be an act of humility and solidarity. To some, it was also an act of provocation in Cobb County, a conservative Atlanta suburb where the Latino population grew nearly 80% in the last decade.
"Using Easter and invoking the name of God to advance the open-borders agenda is not only an insult to most thinking Christians, but creepy and transparent," wrote D.A. King, head of the Cobb County-based Dustin Inman Society, which opposes illegal immigration, in an email. "I have seen one of these marches, complete with cross-carrying professional victims and self-comparisons to Christ. It is quite nauseating."
NOTHING COULD BE LESS SURPRISING:
The Ultimate Baseball Book: a review of The Cambridge Companion to Baseball edited by Leonard Cassuto and Stephen Partridge (Joseph Finder, 4/21/11, Daily Beast)
The eight-page chronology of the game that starts the book is worth the price of admission, almost. The 15 articles and seven short “interchapters” that follow present the Plimptonian hypothesis. But they also serve as a reminder that in a surprising number of ways, the history of baseball over the past century and a half has been the history of the United States. Articles like Leslie Heaphy’s piece on “Baseball and the color line” encapsulate the nation’s complex history of race relations, and Matthew Frye Jacobson’s essay on Curt Flood’s fight for free agency tells a story that still has the power to shock, 40 years later. Chapters on the growth of baseball in East Asia, Japan, and Latin America not only explore the nature of cultural hybridization (and you might even say imperialism), but offer insights into baseball as a microcosm for the global economy, for better or worse. We’re a net importer of baseball to Japan, for instance: Major League Baseball derives income from licensing and touring in Japan, and baseball tourism has become big business for Japanese travel to the U.S. By contrast, baseball has had a major impact on the economies of Latin American nations like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, which export their best players to the U.S., along with certain questionable practices like steroid use (common in minor-league ball in those countries).
Alone among American sports, arguably, baseball is both art and commerce, with a folkloric tradition approaching religion. No sport has come close to generating the volume or diversity of artifacts—relics, almost—that baseball has, as David F. Venturo points out. Baseball fans are compulsive collectors, whether of broken bats or game-used balls, and thus baseball creates its own sub-economy within the larger economy. Venturo’s essay on the iconic Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card—“the palimpsest on which people write their baseball fantasies”—is fascinating and might even be funny, if anything that goes for $2.8 million at auction can be said to be funny.
The book’s most sobering and valuable article may be the full-length chapter on “Cheating in Baseball.” Cassuto and Partridge have structured this book so artfully that by the time we reach David Luban and Daniel Luban’s essay, their assertion that “cheating belongs to the fabric of the game” makes perfect sense. The preceding articles lay out all the economic and social reasons for cheating, and then the Lubans slip us another one: “the odd seductiveness of cheating in the eyes of fans has to do with our national love-hate relationship with formal rules and authority.”
HE WAS THE rEPUBLICAN:
The Spanish Model: a review of Spain: A Unique History by Stanley G. Payne (Matthew Kaminski, April 20, 2011, New Republic)
Eight decades on, the Civil War is still contentious for historians and politicians. Payne seeks to rescue this complex conflict from mythmakers of various stripes. Though it was a prelude to the clash between totalitarianism (both fascist and, until “Operation Barbarosa” in 1941, Soviet communist) and liberal democracy—both sides in Spain of course carried all three of those banners—the war had uniquely and familiar Spanish roots. The war pitted the revolutionaries of the Republican Left, and its communist allies, against the counterrevolutionaries of the Catholic Right, who were eventually backed by the military. Payne has written elsewhere at length on the war and its causes, and here rather briefly but clearly gives an honest account without favor to either side. While many of its supporters thought they were battling for democracy, the Republican government pushed religious and economic reforms that didn’t enjoy the support, Payne reckons, of more than a fifth of the Spanish public. Though elected in free elections, the Republic ended up trampling on the constitution, arming the unions and welcoming in the Soviets. These were no pure democrats.
No more so, of course, were those on the other side. The military rebelled, won the backing of fascists in Italy and Germany, and committed a larger share of atrocities during and of course exclusively in the purges after the war. The Spaniards were not fascists of the classic type; before the 1936 rebellion, Payne says, the military did not even lean particularly hard to the right. The nationalist right in Spain, he adds (in a judgment that will rankle some), resembled less Germany or Italy of the time than Austria or some of the Central European authoritarian regimes, such as Poland under Józef Piłsudski. Simply put, the absence of a “liberal center” sank the democratic experiment again in the 1930s, though with a far bloodier toll than in past civil conflicts. Spain’s punishment was to end up with Franco for the next forty years, missing out on the democratic awakening in the parts of Europe liberated by the Americans.
The Generalissimo looks slightly better with time, and Payne offers a useful reassessment. Though fully aware of Franco’s crimes and personal limitations, he chalks up the rise of modern Spain in no small part to Franco—“the most successful counterrevolutionary of the 20th century and in terms of the positive transformation of his country, the most successful dictator.” He repressed his opponents, got into bed with Hitler, and kept Spain a dowdy backwater for far too long. Yet unlike most other dictators, Franco did lay the ground for a transition to constitutional monarchy. Payne calls Spain the “first example of a democratization from the inside out, in which the laws and institutions of the authoritarian regime were used to carry out a complete transformation into a democracy.”
Fascists who did not lay the groundwork for the transition to democracy are the rarity. Franco is archetypal, not exceptional.
April 21, 2011
Liverpool's mammoth £25m-a-year Warrior kit deal rewrites the record books (Sportsmail, 22nd April 2011, Daily Mail)
Liverpool have wrapped up a £25m-a-year kit deal with Boston-based company Warrior Sports — a record for English football and twice what adidas currently pay.
IF THEY HAD ANY HAND-EYE CO-ORDINATION THEY'D PLAY A REAL SPORT:
WHO KNEW YOU COULD SINK LOW ENOUGH...:
...to be mocked by the Pirates
Invitation to Israeli Leader Puts Obama on the Spot (HELENE COOPER, 4/20/11, NY Times)
A Republican invitation for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress next month is highlighting the tensions between President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu and has kicked off a bizarre diplomatic race over who will be the first to lay out a new proposal to reopen the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
For three months, White House officials have been debating whether the time has come for Mr. Obama to make a major address on the region’s turmoil, including the upheaval in the Arab world, and whether he should use the occasion to propose a new plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
One administration official said that course was backed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the president himself, but opposed by Dennis B. Ross, the president’s senior adviser on the Middle East.
As the administration has been pondering, Mr. Netanyahu, fearful that his country would lose ground with any Obama administration plan, has been considering whether to pre-empt the White House with a proposal of his own, before a friendly United States Congress, according to American officials and diplomats from the region.
There's nothing for Palestine to gain in negotiations with statehood a fait accompli at this point. Israel and America will make concessions after the announcement without the new state having to give anything up.
Attack on 'blasphemous' art work fires debate on role of religion in France (Angelique Chrisafis, 4/18/11, guardian.co.uk)
When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.
Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an "anti-blasphemy" campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon. [...]
Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other fundamentalist groups. The staunchly conservative archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ "odious" and said he wanted this "trash" taken off the gallery walls. Last week the gallery complained of "extremist harassment" by fundamentalist Christian groups who wanted the work banned in France.
Lambert, one of France's best known art dealers, complained he was being "persecuted" by extremists who had sent him tens of thousands of complaint emails and bombarded the museum with spam. He likened the atmosphere to "a return to the middle ages".
France should be so lucky.
MAYBE LENSCRAFTERS IS HIRING?:
Syrians rally in large numbers ahead of massive protests Friday (Daily Star, April 21, 2011)
Syrians took to the streets in large numbers in Homs, Daraa and Aleppo Wednesday as the country’s growing protest movement vowed to stage the biggest rallies to date Friday.
The protests went ahead despite a concession by the government Tuesday which approved legislation ending the state of emergency in force for the last 48 years.
“We are preparing for a huge demonstration Friday,” said an activist in the southern city of Daraa, where anti-government protests first erupted last month and later spread nationwide.
Four-thousand students from Daraa and surrounding areas protested near the city’s Al-Omari Mosque.
Activists also said dozens of students protested Wednesday at Aleppo University in the country’s north, adding there were confrontations on campus between pro- and anti-government students.
In Homs, protesters’ chants demanded “the downfall of the regime,” defying a heavy deployment of security forces and an order by officials to stop all forms of demonstration.
OLD WHITE PEOPLE DON'T SUPPORT CUTS TO WELFARE FOR OLD WHITE PEOPLE? SHOCKING!:
Majority of Tea Party supporters oppose cuts to Medicare, Medicaid: poll (Aliyah Shahid, 4/20/11, NY DAILY NEWS)
The government-blasting Tea Party doesn't want any changes to two of the government's biggest programs.
The vast majority of Tea Party supporters - 70% - oppose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, a new McClatchy-Marist poll found.
The weird popularity of real-life Quidditch: The Harry Potter-inspired game is becoming more than a campus goof. It has full-contact action -- and it has brooms (Robert Ito, 4/19/11, Salon)
It's the second day of the Quidditch Western Cup, and two players, one male, one female, have just collided on the field. Both are flat on their backs, neither one moving, so the EMT walks over to take a look. After a minute or so, one player sits up, her face pink as a bad sunburn; the other is still thinking about getting up, but hasn't quite yet. It was a brutal, high-speed smack, but nothing one wouldn't see at any hard-fought soccer match, except for the fact that the two combatants weren't even playing in the same match. One of them, it seems, had come flying into the other from an adjoining field. And then there are the brooms -- yes, brooms -- which, moments before impact, both players had been gripping between their legs.
Welcome to the wild and weird sport of Muggle Quidditch, where boundary lines are suggestions, four balls are in play at any given time, and every player -- except for the elusive golden Snitch -- dashes about with large, bristly broomsticks held mid-thigh. Six years ago, the game was just a cool idea hatched by a group of students at Vermont's Middlebury College; today, there are more than 700 teams on high school and college campuses worldwide. Adapted from the high-flying sport popularized in the Harry Potter books and movies, the earthbound version boasts a governing body (the International Quidditch Association); a smart, funny magazine (the Monthly Seer); a World Cup competition, which, last year, drew 20,000 spectators; and an ever-expanding base of players and fans from San Diego to Seoul.
After the brooms, the first thing one notices about the sport is just how fast and physical it can be. Here at the Western Cup, a player got hit so hard it knocked out his contact lenses.
...he had extra pairs of bifocals in his knapsack.
WE ARE ALL CREATIONISTS NOW:
What Defines a Meme?: Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve (James Gleick, May 2011, Smithsonian magazine)
What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life.’ It is information, words, instructions,” Richard Dawkins declared in 1986. Already one of the world’s foremost evolutionary biologists, he had caught the spirit of a new age. The cells of an organism are nodes in a richly interwoven communications network, transmitting and receiving, coding and decoding. Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment. “If you want to understand life,” Dawkins wrote, “don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.”
We have become surrounded by information technology; our furniture includes iPods and plasma displays, and our skills include texting and Googling. But our capacity to understand the role of information has been sorely taxed. “TMI,” we say. Stand back, however, and the past does come back into focus.
The rise of information theory aided and abetted a new view of life. The genetic code—no longer a mere metaphor—was being deciphered. Scientists spoke grandly of the biosphere: an entity composed of all the earth’s life-forms, teeming with information, replicating and evolving. And biologists, having absorbed the methods and vocabulary of communications science, went further to make their own contributions to the understanding of information itself.
Jacques Monod, the Parisian biologist who shared a Nobel Prize in 1965 for working out the role of messenger RNA in the transfer of genetic information, proposed an analogy: just as the biosphere stands above the world of nonliving matter, so an “abstract kingdom” rises above the biosphere. The denizens of this kingdom? Ideas.
“Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms,” he wrote. “Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role.”
Ideas have “spreading power,” he noted—“infectivity, as it were”—and some more than others. An example of an infectious idea might be a religious ideology that gains sway over a large group of people. The American neurophysiologist Roger Sperry had put forward a similar notion several years earlier, arguing that ideas are “just as real” as the neurons they inhabit. Ideas have power, he said:
Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet.
In the Beginning was the Word....
Sam Fuld’s Value to the Rays Goes Beyond Numbers (TYLER KEPNER, 4/19/11, NY Times)
Samuel Babson Fuld was 10 pounds at birth, so chunky that the nurse in the delivery room told his parents, Ken Fuld and Amanda Merrill, that their son would grow up to be a football player. They called him Sumo Sam.
He never grew into the body of a hulking lineman or a mammoth wrestler. Sumo Sam adored baseball as a child in New Hampshire, not only playing it but studying the meaning within its numbers. By age 5, he carried around The Complete Handbook of Baseball, a pocket-sized paperback with the statistics of every player in the majors. On long car rides, he would call out totals for hits and at-bats and quiz his parents on the corresponding batting average.
“It was probably a pretty odd hobby for a little kid,” Fuld said. “But it was something that always interested me.” [...]
Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ general manager, said Fuld was a gifted defensive player who ran the bases well, made contact and works good counts. And though it was incidental to the reasons for acquiring him, Fuld is also the kind of player Friedman wanted to be as an outfielder at Tulane, with similar sensibilities.
Friedman worked on Wall Street before joining the Rays, whose front office is renowned for its appreciation of statistics. In Fuld, Friedman said, “We joke that we could use him as our advance-scouting intern.”
Fuld has the background and the aptitude. Drafted in the 10th round out of Stanford in 2004, he applied for an internship at Stats LLC, outside Chicago, following his professional debut at Class A Peoria in 2005. Joe Stillwell, a supervisor in data collection, sent Fuld a tape to analyze, asking him to track the type of pitch, the velocity and the location.
The internship would last only a month or two, so Stillwell needed a person who would not require much training. He picked a challenging pitcher for Fuld to analyze: Cory Lidle, who threw four different pitches at similar speeds, including a splitter and a changeup, which are often difficult to distinguish. Fuld logged in remotely, entered his findings, and easily passed the test.
“Seeing what he could decipher watching a game, he was almost too good to be true,” Stillwell said. “We needed to figure out a way to get him in here.”
Fuld, who has also pursued a master’s degree in statistics from Stanford, said he always wanted to keep his options open for after his baseball career. His parents offer powerful role models: his father is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire, and his mother is a New Hampshire state senator.
But baseball has directed Fuld’s path. He made the varsity as an eighth grader, and hit so well that he transferred to Exeter Academy for the athletics. He dominated there, too — usually hitting above .500, all while managing Type 1 diabetes — but a major league career seemed far-fetched.
“From when he was young, he had such a good mind for math and statistics that he’s always had a sense of how hard it is to make the major leagues,” Merrill said. “But at the same time, he stuck with his dream.”
April 20, 2011
Lucinda Williams On Mountain Stage (NPR, 4/18/11)
Lucinda Williams first performed on Mountain Stage in 1989, a full 10 years after releasing her debut Ramblin'. Heard here in her fifth appearance, she brings songs from her highly anticipated latest release Blessed.
WHERE'S AHAB WHEN WE NEED HIM?:
Right whales off Mass. prompt boater alert (Associated Press, April 20, 2011)
A record number of North Atlantic right whales have been spotted off Massachusetts, prompting state officials to warn boaters to stay clear of the endangered animals.
An aerial survey of Cape Cod Bay and surrounding waters on Tuesday identified 101 individual right whales, the most ever spotted in a single day. The previous high came last April when 70 of the whales were spotted during a single aerial survey.
The Low Anthem On Mountain Stage (NPR, 4/20/11)
For the making of Smart Flesh, the latest from Rhode Island indie-folk band The Low Anthem, the four members spent three winter month recording in an abandoned pasta sauce factory, capitalizing on its resonant, cavernous sounds. In their second appearance on Mountain Stage, the band recreates the sounds of Smart Flesh, drawing from a variety of musical styles and an even greater variety of instruments; they switch back and forth between 11 instruments during their five-song Mountain Stage set, including World War II-era pump organ, dulcimer, clarinet, trumpet, fiddle and musical saw.
PURITANS VS. SYBARITES:
What makes Americans and Europeans happy? (Deborah Braconnier, 4/19/11, PhysOrg.com)
According to a new research study, Europeans are happier when they have a day off and work less, while their American counterparts would rather be working those extra hours. Published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the research, led by Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn from the University of Texas, looks at survey results of Europeans and Americans and how they identified being happy.
Based on the study results, Europeans who described themselves as being "very happy" went from 28 percent down to 23 percent as their work hours increased. Americans, on the other hand, remained at 43 percent regardless of how many hours they worked. [...]
Previous research shows that happiness can come from wealth and as a person’s income and employment status increase, so does their satisfaction with life. Americans believe that their hard work is what will move them up the ladder, so they appear happier while working more hours. They believe that by working these hours, they are achieving more and reaching more.
Nation’s largest abortion provider: Planned Parenthood: Ending taxpayer funding must remain a high priority (Charmaine Yoest and Anna Franzonello, 4/18/11, The Washington Times)
Planned Parenthood has been in the business of abortion since 1970. As one affiliate proudly notes, “Planned Parenthood of Syracuse, N.Y., began performing abortions on the first day permitted by the law.”
Since 1970, Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the abortion business has grown tremendously. With each passing year, it performs more abortions, even though the national abortion rate has declined steadily since 1990. Today, Planned Parenthood performs and profits from one in every four abortions in the United States.
Not only is Planned Parenthood increasing its “market share” of the abortion business, abortion is an increasing part of Planned Parenthood.
According to Planned Parenthood’s own reports, 12 percent of its patients in 2009 sought abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics. In 1999, that number was 7.3 percent. Adoption referrals and prenatal clients decreased during the same 10-year time frame.
But if you want to understand how big a role abortion plays in Planned Parenthood’s care of pregnant women, just read its fine print. According to a “fact sheet” detailing its “services” for 2009, affiliates performed 332,278 abortions, saw 7,021 prenatal clients and made 977 adoption referrals. That means for 97.6 percent of its 340,276 pregnant clients, abortion was Planned Parenthood’s provided “service.”
Relying on financial and service data provided by Planned Parenthood and an average cost of abortion provided by the Guttmacher Institute - a former official affiliate of Planned Parenthood - a conservative estimate would find abortion accounting for 37 percent of Planned Parenthood’s health care center income in 2009.
WHY WOULD YOU STOP VOLUNTARILY?:
Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer (Ryan O'Hanlon, 4/19/11, Good Men Project)
Andy Tracy plays first base for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s 37 and turns 38 in December. According to Minor League Baseball (MiLB), he’s the oldest American position player in the entire minor league system.
In 16 seasons, he’s played for the Crocs, the Hammerheads, and the Zephyrs. Hell, he’s even been an IronPig. All in all, he’s played for 11 minor league teams and one in Japan. He’s tallied 5,298 minor-league at-bats, playing in 1,511 minor-league games.
In the same time, he’s also played for three major league teams: the Expos, Rockies, and Phillies. He’s had 227 major league at-bats. He’s played 149 games in the big leagues. More than half of them came in 2000, when he played 83 games with the Expos. He hasn’t played more than 15 games since 2001.
So, um, what the hell is this guy doing?
He’s 37, and he’s playing baseball in Reno. His family lives in Columbus. He has a wife of ten years, a four-year-old boy, and a two-year-old girl. He’s riding on coach buses each week, getting daily meal stipends in cities like Fresno and Sacramento. Why keep going?
Well, he’s probably making a decent living, but it’s more than that.
“I still believe I can help a big league team. That’s why I’m still playing,” Tracy told me. “The day I believe that I can’t, I would probably walk away from it. I think I can still help a big league team off the bench.”
Tracy very well might be able to. He’s started off the season well. He’s hitting .389 through six games—a very small sample size. He’s been a minor league All-Star the past three seasons. But he still hasn’t played a major-league game since 2009.
You see, this story was supposed to be about the oldest guys in the minors. Raul Chavez, Brett Tomko, and Marc Kroon are all 38—older than Tracy—but none of them wanted to talk to me. And can you blame them?
Hi, would you like to talk about how you almost made it? What about how you failed? Maybe a few questions about how you were never good enough? Or possibly something about how you couldn’t let go?
But Tracy spoke to me, and I think that says something about him. It says something about his career and, really, about how he’s come to terms with it and how it’s not a failure. You talk to Tracy and you get the feeling that this guy was meant to be the oldest player in the minor leagues.
Israel unveils hiking trail in Galilee for Christian pilgrims (Associated Press, April 15, 2011)
Israel hopes to attract Christian tourists with a new pilgrimage route unveiled this week in the Galilee, a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples.
Pokey LaFarge: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 4/20/11, NPR)
Pokey LaFarge writes and performs original and sometimes traditional music, steeped in American blues, country and Western swing from the days when 78s ruled the record player. LaFarge's music is honest and infused with respect for the era he loves — particularly the '20s and '30s. When you listen to this music as part of a diet of songs from the 21st century, it feels fresh, fun and altogether outstanding.
SOMEBODY TRIP THE BLUE LIGHT, WE'VE BEEN VIOLATED!:
"Conservative coming out" email prompts expletive from Iowa professor (Brian Montopoli, 4/20/11, CBS News)
An anthropology and gender studies professor at the University of Iowa responded with an expletive to a mass email from a college Republican group promoting "Conservative Coming Out Week," prompting a campus controversy.
As the Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register report, professor Ellen Lewin responded to the email by writing "F*** YOU, REPUBLICANS" from her university email account.
MIGHT BE TIME TO STOP APING THE FRENCH:
The Arab Wave (Eugene Rogan, 4/19/11, National Interest)
EGYPT HAS never quite been able to consolidate its desire for democracy in the way of the Turks—even though it is the country that achieved the highest degree of multiparty democracy in the modern history of the Arab world. Though still under British occupation, the Egyptians drafted a new constitution in 1923. It introduced political pluralism, regular elections to a two-chamber legislature, full male suffrage and a free press. A number of new parties emerged on the political stage. Elections attracted massive turnout at the polls. Journalists plied their trade with remarkable liberty.
Yet this almost-golden age of Egyptian politics was rife with factionalism, struggling to find its footing. Three distinct authorities sought preeminence in Egypt: the British, the monarchy and, through parliament, the nationalist Wafd Party. The rivalry between these three proved disruptive to say the least. And the internecine squabbles between the Egyptian political elite played right into the hands of both the king and the British.
The popular nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul may have led his Wafd Party to sweeping victory in Egypt’s first parliamentary election in 1924 and used that mandate to try and negotiate Egypt’s independence from Britain, but autocratic forces remained. At the opposite end of the political spectrum was Ismail Sidqi, who defected from Zaghlul’s Wafd Party. Sidqi was an advocate of a strong monarchy, opposing, as he put it, “the tyranny of the majority over the minority.” He wanted to free the government from its constitutional bonds and rule by decree in partnership with the king.
In the summer of 1930, King Fuad invited Sidqi to form a new cabinet. In accepting, Sidqi assured his monarch that “my policies would start from a clean slate and that I would reorganize parliamentary life in accordance with my views on the Constitution and the need for stable government.” In October of that year, Sidqi introduced a new constitution that expanded the powers of the king. It reduced the number of elected deputies in the parliament and gave the king control over the upper chamber. Sidqi’s constitution reduced universal suffrage, taking voting power from the masses (on whose support the Wafd relied), and concentrated electoral authority in the propertied elite. The powers of the legislature were reduced, as was the length of the parliamentary session, from six to five months, and the king’s powers to defer bills were expanded.
The new constitution was blatantly autocratic and provoked near-unanimous opposition from politicians across the political spectrum and the general public.
The press, refusing to be silenced, did keep up a steady barrage to turn popular opinion against Sidqi’s government. Security conditions began to deteriorate as the public grew more outspoken (Sidqi had always justified autocratic rule in terms of providing law and order). Faced with a nascent anarchy, the British began to agitate for a new government to restore public confidence and curb political violence. In September 1933 the king dismissed his prime minister. Down but not out, he remained one of Egypt’s most influential politicians until his death in 1950, and his machinations against constitutional rule did much to undermine public confidence in Egypt’s fitful Liberal Age.
By 1952, the Egyptian people had lost faith in the institutions of democratic government. Political parties had been platforms of factionalism. The British had played on divisions between the monarchy and the parliament to extend their rule over Egypt. Even the nationalist Wafd Party had lost popular support when, after thirty years, it still had not secured Egypt’s total independence. When a group of military men called the Free Officers Movement led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power in July 1952, the people of Egypt (and of the Arab world at-large) celebrated a new order of forceful, decisive government. Similar revolutions followed in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, ushering in a new age of autocratic rule that would last over half a century.
For six decades now, the Arab world has lived under absolute rule of one form or another. Monarchy has continued primarily in the oil-rich states of the Arabian Peninsula. The only two non-oil monarchies to survive were in Morocco and Jordan, where charismatic kings enjoyed sufficient support to weather the revolutionary 1950s and 1960s. The rest of the region, with the exception of Lebanon’s dangerous sectarian democracy, fell under the control of military-men-turned-presidents and single-party rule. Neither the monarchies nor the praetorian republics were tolerant of opposition. Government monopoly of the press and censorship limited the scope of debate. Constitutions were amended in ways that enhanced the power of government at the expense of citizens’ rights. That Arabs should agree to live under such a miserable social contract only convinced the outside world that Arabs were somehow incompatible with democracy. Reforms and constitutional debates stretching back to the 1830s were forgotten by Arabs and Westerners alike.
SEVERAL FACTORS contributed to making 2011 a revolutionary year in the Arab world. Over the past two decades, the standard of living in the non-oil Arab states has dropped precipitously. Only sub-Saharan Africa scores worse on the un’s Human Development Index. Yet the ruling elite did not share in the suffering of common Arab people. On the contrary, corruption and cronyism enriched those who surrounded kings and presidents in ways that were all too obvious to their citizens. With this growing inequality came deepening resentment as a young and increasingly well-educated population entered the job market . . . only to find that there were no jobs. Worse yet, these aged and corrupt leaders were paving the way for family members to follow them in dynastic succession. Arab citizens faced the prospect of unending restrictions on their political and human rights by rulers who had failed them in every respect—and rebelled. Much to the world’s surprise, it was Tunisia that led the way.
The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi galvanized public outrage against everything that was wrong in Tunisia under President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s reign: corruption, abuse of power, indifference to the plight of the ordinary man and an economy that failed to provide opportunities for the young. After twenty-three years in power, Ben Ali had no solutions. His wife, Leila Trabelsi, and her family soon came to personify cronyism. In Tunisia, it was long common knowledge that the Trabelsis had enriched themselves with government funds, and the rumors were confirmed when WikiLeaks published a number of U.S. State Department reports attesting to much the same. While Mohamed Bouazizi’s tragedy was gaining attention, the Trabelsi family’s extravagances were made public.
On January 4, 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi died of his burns. An individual tragedy, a communal protest movement, a discontented nation, social-networking websites, Arabic satellite television and WikiLeaks: it was the making of the perfect twenty-first-century political storm. When Ben Ali realized that he no longer commanded the loyalty of his army, and that no concessions were going to mollify the demonstrators, he stunned his nation and the entire Arab world by abdicating power and fleeing Tunisia for Saudi Arabia. The Jasmine revolution, as the Tunisians called their movement, had toppled one of the long-reigning autocrats which had dominated Arab politics since the 1950s. Within two weeks, the next revolution would start in Egypt.
“The people should not fear their government,” read a placard in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, “Governments should fear their people.” The message captured the moment as hundreds of thousands of democracy activists using social-networking platforms to organize their grassroots movement brought the whole of Egypt to a standstill. Known as the January 25 movement, named for the date the demonstrations began, the Egyptian revolution of 2011 witnessed mass protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Ismailia, and other major Egyptian towns and cities.
For eighteen days the whole world watched transfixed as Egypt’s democracy movement challenged the Mubarak regime—and won. The government resorted to dirty tactics against the demonstrators. They released convicted prisoners from jail to provoke fear. Policemen in civilian clothes assaulted the protesters in Tahrir Square, posing as a pro-Mubarak counterdemonstration. The president’s men went to theatrical lengths, mounting a horse-and-camel charge on the democracy activists. Yet every attempt at intimidation was repelled with determination, and the number of protesters only grew. Throughout it all, the Egyptian Army refused to support the government and declared the demonstrators’ demands legitimate. As Ben Ali before him, Mubarak recognized his position was untenable without his army’s support. On February 11 he stepped down amid jubilation and wild celebrations in Tahrir Square. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, made up of senior military men, assumed control of the country and dissolved parliament to oversee the transition to democratic government. Mubarak’s fall was thus but the first stage in Egypt’s revolution.
Emboldened by the fall of Egypt’s strongman, popular demonstrations have followed across the Arab world: in Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. The crowds repeat the same Arabic four-word slogan as their North African brethren: al-shaab yurid isqat al-nizam—“The people want the fall of the regime.” Long after Western analysts had dismissed Arab nationalism as a spent force—a bankrupt ideology ever since the Arabs were defeated by Israel in 1967 and the death of Nasser in 1970—the events of 2011 reveal a new and potent form of Arabism. It is clear that what happens in one part of that world is incredibly influential across the rest of the region. Bound by a common language and historic experience, citizens of different Arab states are inspired by each other’s methods and goals. And a crucial part of that historic experience is the struggle to constrain absolutism, resumed in 2011 with a vigor that puts to rest once and for all the myth that the Arabs as a people, or Muslims more generally, are somehow incompatible with democratic values.
Toward a Muslim Solzhenitsyn: An interview with Holland Taylor, co-founder of LibForAll (Matthew Shaffer, 4/18/11, National Review)
After September 11, President Wahid became convinced that his kind of Islam — spiritual, relatively liberal — was needed more than ever. Taylor agreed, left the private sector, and enlisted in Wahid’s campaign. He now spends most of his time in Indonesia, revisiting the West occasionally to keep us posted on his efforts to replicate our experiment in liberty.
Taylor speaks of Islamic radicalism metaphorically as a health problem: “The patient is in critical condition and requires comprehensive treatment.” Roughly speaking, there are two responses to the disease. Where it is virulent, the disease must be contained, quarantined, and destroyed — through sanctions, drones, heat-seeking missiles, daisy cutters, and Special Forces. But long-term eradication requires prevention of its spread, by strengthening vulnerable populations’ immunity. The U.S. Armed Forces have the first task covered; LibForAll is trying to do the latter — through pamphlets, conferences, and debates, intended to refute Islamic extremism from within Islam. Taylor doesn’t discount the importance or efficacy of the War on Terror. But in the long run, he says, “ideology is more dangerous than bombs.” And by the same token, ideology is a more efficacious force for reform.
That conviction has led Taylor to a study of intellectual history — of the conception and gestation of the ideas that eventually led to the birth of the open society in the West, and its failure in the Middle East. “What happened to make the West different from all previous civilizations?” he asks. His tone suggests the question has been on his mind for a couple of decades. “There were particular turning points. We’ve been blessed to have certain visionaries. If you look at our religious tolerance, it’s pretty modern. It’s an Anglo-Saxon, relatively new phenomenon.” And, “those ideas haven’t been safe and secure. If we had lost the war against Hitler, the meaning of the West would have been eradicated.”
The “critical success factors” began with two developments in medieval Europe: religious dissent and a revolution in information technology, i.e., Martin Luther and the printing press. The critical thing Luther did was to challenge “exclusive, political ownership of official, religious truth” — a sentiment today’s papists can appreciate. The printing press enabled the dissemination of ideas and information outside of seminaries. Combine the separation of Truth and State with the wide and relatively quick dissemination of ideas, Taylor says, and you have the seed and soil for an open society.
That seed blooms into enlightenment, and into societies remaking themselves — revolutionizing — on foundations other than divine right. Here Taylor conceives a crucial division in Western intellectual history between Locke and Rousseau. Taylor attributes to Rousseau a secularist, anti-clerical chauvinism, and to Locke a philosophical pluralism and liberal Christianity. Rousseau wanted to “destroy the Church with the State,” to “liberate” man from “tradition and ‘superstition.’” Locke wanted to protect the Church from the State and facilitate the discovery of Christian truth through free debate. “Separation of Church and State developed in America out of animus for the State,” he says. “For Locke, free speech was a technology for discovering religious truth through the exchange of ideas.”
The revolutions and reformations based on that Lockean idea — American and Anglophone — were ultimately successful in producing truly liberal societies. Those based on an anti-clericalism inspired by Rousseau or his intellectual descendants — the Young Turks’ revolution, Mao’s revolution, etc. — produced closed societies. And thus the exceptional paradox of America: The most religiously conservative non-Muslim country in the world is also the most classically liberal. And the equal paradox of China, where neither Cultural Revolution nor economic explosion has undermined authoritarianism.
ALONG FOR THE RIDE:
What's New: Gavin Bryars' Gently Undulating Piano Concerto (Tom Huizenga, 4/19/11, NPR)
Bryars' newly released piano concerto is subtitled "The Solway Canal." It begins with undulating tones deep in the basses, from which low piano notes slowly emerge like the prow of a boat materializing out of early morning mist.
Being a Bryars composition, this is not a conventional piano concerto. Don't expect flashy cadenzas or roller coasters of double octaves. Instead, Bryars' piano is like some indifferent ship captain guiding the music through a calm canal. Along for the ride, a male chorus intones two evocative sonnets by one of Bryars' favorite poets, the Scotsman Edwin Morgan. The sound reminds me of the melancholy shipmen singing from the decks of Wagner's Flying Dutchman. Bryars himself admits that the addition of the chorus was a nod to another odd piano concerto — the one by Feruccio Busoni.
"The Solway Canal" is in a single uninterrupted movement, and though the tempo remains slow, the music has the feeling of constant motion. Rippling, repeating chords in the piano and oscillating figures in the strings give the piece its pulse, propelling the boat forward through water. The tranquil tone echoes the English pastoral school, sounding not too far off from pieces like Vaughan Williams' Flos Campi or Delius' A Song of the High Hills.
Never Failed Me Yet (WQXR)
The tape piece, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, won English composer Gavin Bryars an international success when it was re-released in the 1990s. However, the depth and emotional potency of the works of this improvisatory jazz bassist turned composer still remain relatively under-appreciated in the United States. Q2 aims to throw back the curtain on this titan of contemporary music.
Q2 is proud to launch Never Failed Me Yet: a weeklong celebration of the music of English composer Gavin Bryars. The festival begins Thursday, April 14 with a live audio Webcast from New York City's Guggenheim Museum of Bryars's 1969 masterpiece The Sinking of the Titanic, as performed by the Wordless Music Orchestra.
Listen in April 14-20 for live concert recordings, diverse daily focuses, performance and interview videos and introductions by Bryars himself to over 40 of his evocative and paradigm-shifting pieces.
WHICH IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AMERICA DOESN'T DO ITS DUTY:
Cuban communists headed for oblivion (CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER, 4/17/11, www.firmaspress)
An old and disappointed Cuban communist told me, during a recent brief encounter in Madrid: “This Sixth Party Congress reminds me of the atmosphere of sadness and nostalgia one breathes in those theaters that present their last show before being demolished.”
That’s a good metaphor.
Fidel Castro’s generation is now octogenarian. It’s giving its farewell performance. Fidel, 84, had his intestines removed in 2006, and Raúl, almost 80, will leave the stage before long. He gave himself a three-to-five-year period to transfer his authority in full and facilitate a sort of generational relay “so the heirs may continue the revolutionary task.”
What does all that mean? Nothing, except to stay in power. Although Cubans continue to repeat slogans, almost no one believes in Marxism-Leninism, while the government tries to escape from the system’s chronic failures by creating a few spaces that might allow private initiative to alleviate the disaster of collectivism. While they applaud revolutionary mottos, young people call Marx “the little old man who invented hunger.”
OF COURSE, THE DUPES WHO BELIEVE IN THEM...:
Belief in Conspiracies Linked to Machiavellian Mindset: New research suggests people are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they would be willing to personally participate in such a conspiracy. (Tom Jacobs, 4/19/11, Miller McCune)
Know any conspiracy theorists? No doubt they’ve tried to convince you that man didn’t really land on the moon or President Obama was born in Kenya.
In fact, they were imparting genuinely interesting information — about themselves. New research suggests belief in such theories may reveal a Machiavellian mindset.
“At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it,’” University of Kent psychologists Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton write in the British Journal of Social Psychology.
“These studies suggest that people who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.”
...are hardly the sort we'd have in our secret society.
A GOOD FIRST STEP, THEN ADD MEANS TESTING (via Steve Jacobson):
Obama backs lifting income cap for Social Security (Kim Dixon, Apr 19, 2011, Reuters)
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that boosting the amount of individual income subject to Social Security taxes should be considered as a way to put the retirement program on a stronger fiscal footing.
The president's deficit commission late last year proposed raising the income cap on Social Security taxes, now at about $107,000, but Obama has shied away from supporting specific proposals.
Presumably raise means remove.
April 19, 2011
Charles Bradley, at 62, finally putting his own soul on display for the world (Allison Stewart, 4/14/11, ChicagoTribune)
Years ago, after he had spent the better part of his youth and middle age roaming the country but before he became the most promising new soul act of 2011, Charles Bradley worked as a James Brown impersonator known as Black Velvet.
YouTube footage can be found of Bradley as the Godfather of Soul. Heavily pompadoured, shimmying and strutting (less and less as he got older), Black Velvet cut a wide swath through the clubs and cafes of Bradley's adopted hometown of Brooklyn.
It was there, at the Tarheel Lounge in Bed-Stuy, that Bradley/Velvet was discovered by Gabe Roth of Daptone Records, home to hipster soul revivalists Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Bradley's only real contemporary analog.
Roth befriended Bradley, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead to Bradley's debut, the fiery funk-soul revival disc "No Time for Dreaming." It was released in January, when Bradley was 62 years old.
JUST LIKE US:
The Stakes in the Middle East (NATAN SHARANSKY, Spring 2011, Jewish Review of Books)
For decades, the policy of the free world toward the Arab and Muslim Middle East was based on a simple principle: The overriding aim was stability, purchased by deals struck with leaders. That the leaders in question were autocrats of one stripe or another mattered little; neither did the cruelty and rank corruption endemic to their rule. To the contrary, tyranny was seen as the guarantor of stability, just as corruption guaranteed that the regimes' friendship could be bought.
And so a pact was struck. Sometimes the terms were transparent, a prime example being the 1993 "peace" deal between Israel and Yasser Arafat. The arch-terrorist's dictatorial powers were openly embraced as ensuring his control of terrorism, while his corruption was underwritten by an international agreement that poured many tens of millions of dollars intended for the Palestinian people into his private slush fund. More often the terms were masked, as in relations between France and Tunisia, or the US and Egypt. But the quid pro quo—support for stability—remained the same, rationalized by considerations of realpolitik and the comforting assertion that we had no right to judge the behavior of societies with moral standards different from our own.
Repeatedly, however, and now definitively, that pact has been exposed as a sham, yielding not stability but its opposite. And, the recent setbacks notwithstanding, the old pact has been no less definitively broken—broken not by us, and not by our partners in Cairo, Tunis, and elsewhere, but by the awakening peoples of the region themselves. This great awakening cannot be wished away. It may be stalled; it may be temporarily forced underground; but it cannot be extinguished forever. Already it has accomplished something historic: shattering the longstanding truism that, unlike "us," the Arab and Muslim peoples of the Middle East have no real desire for freedom, that they are content with living in societies dominated by fear. With tremendous courage, they have done nothing less than to put their lives on the line to inform us otherwise. [...]
The first duty, then, is to speak out, clearly and repeatedly, in unqualified support of the protesters' right to expression, and in no less unqualified sympathy for the cause of democratic dissidents in their struggle against still-existing regimes and their potential non-democratic successors. Strong words in themselves are not sufficient, but they are crucially necessary.
The second duty is to match words with deeds. The aim must be to create the conditions that will enable masses of ordinary people to cross the fear barrier and participate actively and openly in the building of free societies. Only thus will the West avoid falling into the fatal choice of relegitimating dictatorship.
Here the critical point is linkage, whose instrument is the massive amounts of foreign aid the free world has committed to some of the lands in question. By continuing to remain generous, by recruiting other donors from, especially, the oil-rich nations of the Arab world—and by placing clear, verifiable, and enforceable conditions on our largesse—we can decisively help form the essential institutions of an open society: a free press, freedom of religion, rule of law, civil-society reform, the freedom to organize, and the rest. In Egypt and elsewhere, local entrepreneurs can be mobilized to address the dire housing conditions. International human-rights organizations can prove their bona fides by finding and working with local partners dedicated to democratic reform, including students and women's groups. Individuals and groups like those nurtured by the online project Cyberdissidents can be openly strengthened and empowered.
JUST LIKE YOU:
The Hispanic Century?: A comprehensive look at voter behavior and demographics reveals a momentous prospect: A Hispanic electorate that votes en masse, allies itself with one political party and changes America’s political balance for decades. (Norman Nie, 4/18/11, Miller-McCune)
We examined Hispanic turnout and partisanship in midterm elections — that is, the elections where turnout isn’t significantly affected by charismatic presidential candidates — from 1978 to 2006 by collecting and matching data from several sources. First, we combined more than 150 academic and high-quality commercial public opinion surveys, each of which employed a nationally representative sample of at least 1,000 respondents. In addition to this combined dataset, we added voter turnout data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, creating what we believe is the most comprehensive demographic and voting behavior dataset ever compiled for midterm elections. The data allowed us to examine both overall trends and individual behavior. (Individual level data is not yet publicly available for the 2010 midterm election, but aggregate results are considered here.)
On the surface, the information we gathered supports some common political wisdom: A vast buildup of potential Hispanic voters, primarily composed of immigrant citizens and young U.S.-born Hispanics, has generally tended to favor Democrats but turned out to vote at far lower levels than whites or African Americans during the last three decades.
Our dataset, however, shows that the common wisdom misses a potentially momentous prospect.
Once we accounted for demographic differences known to affect turnout, we found that Hispanics actually vote at rates very similar to those of whites and blacks. In other words, much of the explanation for the low turnout rates for Hispanics is not related to being Hispanic but to Hispanics being younger and having less education on average than whites or blacks.
Similarly, we found that in terms of both party identification and the strength of that partisanship, the differences between whites and Hispanics disappears when individual-level characteristics such as age and education are taken into account. In short, the data suggest that Hispanics have not been genuinely incorporated into the party system or made anything like a deep commitment to either party.
But that incorporation and commitment may come soon.
The large influx of Hispanic immigrants into the United States over the past four and a half decades resembles — in terms of magnitude and proportion — the great immigration wave from southern and eastern Europe that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like today’s Hispanic population, a large body of research shows, these earlier immigrants possessed limited experience with U.S. politics and received few partisan cues from their parents. The Democratic Party captured these voters because the party supported policies that addressed their central concern — the economic turmoil of the Great Depression — while the GOP took a hands-off approach. The resulting Democratic affiliation reorganized American politics for the next 30 years.
Vote-eligible Hispanic immigrants and their U.S.-born children today appear to have a similar lack of political experience and affiliation. In a partisan sense, they are legitimately up for grabs — and consequently sit in a strategic and increasingly important position in American politics.
As their average education level, income, age and familiarity with the political process increase over time, Hispanics can be expected to enter the active electorate in far higher numbers than they have to date. Current conditions — the worst economic dislocation since the Great Depression combined with fierce controversy over an issue of central concern to Hispanics, immigration — provide the salient issues that could move Hispanics to connect deeply with one party or the other. The party that best handles those issues of high importance to Hispanics, our research strongly suggests, could be the beneficiary of a shift in turnout and partisan attachment that alters the balance of political power in America not just for the next presidential or midterm election but for decades.
Because Hispanic allegiance to both parties is weak, the question remains: What can Republicans or Democrats do to seal the Hispanic political deal? [...]
How the immigration issue is resolved and how undocumented immigrants are treated in what could be a long-term economic downturn, are precisely the kind of crosscutting, highly salient issues from which — a long line of political science research shows — strong and long-lasting party ties are made.
When a country has more than 6.6 million families with a head of household and/or spouse who migrated without authorization, immigration policy is, as a matter of factual reality, as much about keeping families together as it is about border control. Many in the Republican Party repudiated the comprehensive immigration reform measures championed by President George W. Bush during his term in office and have instead adopted a strong stance against undocumented immigrants, most notable of which was Arizona’s SB 1070, a law that, among its many controversial facets, requires individuals to prove legal residence in the U.S. on the request of local and state authorities.
Such policies make the Hispanic community wary of the GOP for now. And given the recent ascendance of hard-line, anti-immigration factions within the party, a shift to more immigrant-friendly positions is by no means clear. But the emergence of high-profile Hispanic Republicans in positions of real political prominence could well steer the GOP back toward Bush-style immigration reform and help make Hispanics comfortable with the Republican Party again.
Run, Jeb, run.
THE 11TH PLAGUE IS AMERICA:
A Passover ritual for all enslaved peoples (Rabbi Joseph Polak, April 19, 2011, Boston Globe)
[T]here I stood in the equatorial sun, sheltered by a huge mango tree, addressing 160 freed slaves seated on the ground, who, at first, just glared at me in suspicious silence. They spoke only Dinka. Men and women chose to sit separately; many dressed beautifully, others in deplorable tatters, drinking a little wine with me, eating a piece of matzo and a boiled egg. Slowly I prevailed on them to sing with me as a form of celebration familiar to both our peoples; slowly it became clear that we were eating together for the same reason.
I am here, I told them through translators, because my people too were liberated from slavery; like you, we were remembered by God, and there is no greater experience in life than being remembered.
I also told them that more recently my people had again been enslaved; this time we worked 12 to 14 hour days, for Daimler and BMW, for I.G. Farber and Siemens — for no pay, no medicine, no sleep, with a slice of bread per person per day. Millions of us died of typhoid, of malnutrition, and exhaustion; unlike the first time, no one came for us.
Fortunately, the former slaves I met had been delivered to freedom. Say a blessing, I pleaded with them, acknowledge the greatness of this day. If all God had done had been to remember your plight, dayenu, that would have been enough. If all that had happened after that is that you were brought back to your people, dayenu, that would have been enough. But you were also brought back to a land that in July will be fully yours for the first time in history; dayenu — that surely is also enough.
Someone arose and asked four questions meant to provoke them into the key task of the seder — the telling of the story. Five former slaves told their tales of horror and humiliation. The youngest was a 17-year-old blind boy called Kir, who had managed to lose a cow from his herd. The master hung him by the feet, lit a fire underneath him, and rubbed his eyes with hot peppers.
This suffering may finally be ending. After 23 years of war, the Bush administration brokered a peace settlement in 2005. In a referendum in January, the south voted successfully for partition, and is expected to declare its independence in July.
ATTENTION IS THE POINT OF THE SITES:
Münchausen by internet: the sick world of the internet fakers: Why would someone feign a serious illness online? Jenny Kleeman, 4/16/11, Good Weekend: Sydney Morning Herald)
Anyone following her updates online could see that Mandy Wilson had been having a terrible few years. She was diagnosed with leukaemia at 37, shortly after her husband abandoned her, leaving her to bring up their five-year-old daughter and baby son on her own. Chemotherapy damaged her immune system, liver and heart so badly she eventually had a stroke and went into a coma. She spent weeks recovering in intensive care, where nurses treated her roughly, leaving her covered in bruises.
Wilson was frightened and vulnerable, but she wasn't alone. As she suffered at home in Australia, women offered their support throughout the US, Britain, New Zealand and Canada. She'd been posting on connectedmoms.com, an online community for mothers, and its members were following every detail of her progress - through updates posted by Wilson herself, and also by Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet, Wilson's real-life friends, who'd pass on news whenever she was too weak. The virtual community rallied round through three painful years of surgeries, seizures and life-threatening infections. Until March last year, when one of them discovered Wilson wasn't sick at all. Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet had never existed. Wilson had made up the whole story.
Wilson is one of a growing number of people who pretend to suffer illness and trauma to get sympathy from online support groups. Think of the characters portrayed by Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club, only these support groups are virtual, and the people deceived are real. From cancer forums to anorexia websites, LiveJournal to Mumsnet, trusting communities are falling victim to a new kind of online fraud, one in which people are scammed out of their time and emotion instead of their money. The fakers have nothing to gain from their lies - except attention.
POOR DELUDED FOOL:
RNS: Kmiec's gospel falls flat in Foggy Bottom (Daniel Burke, 4/18/11, Religion News Service)
[Douglas] Kmiec, who helped shape an intellectual framework for President Obama's outreach to Catholics during the 2008 campaign, was slammed in a recent State Department report for spending too much time writing about religion.
Kmiec's focus on faith, "based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama's interfaith initiatives ... detracted from his attention to core mission goals," the State Department's Inspector General wrote in a February report made public in early April.
Kmiec, a former lawyer in the Reagan administration and onetime dean of Catholic University's law school, announced he would resign on Aug. 15, which he pointedly noted is the Feast of the Assumption.
The Catholic intellectual fiercely defended his work in separate letters to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Kmiec told Obama his work was "devoted to promoting what I know you believe in most strongly -- namely, personal faith and greater mutual understanding of the faiths of others as the way toward greater mutual respect."
So too is the battered wife sure the husband loves her.
IT'S THE DEPTH hE SANK TO THAT SCARES US:
God Desires to Lift the Human Being to Himself (Vatican Information Service, 4/19/11)
In the homily the Holy Father, reflecting on the meaning of Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, explained that “he knew that … he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. … The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being”.
“But”, he asked, “how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to ‘be like God’, to attain the heights of God … And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months”.
Benedict XVI highlighted that “man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us, and grants us true freedom”.
“God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. … Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards”.
The Pope placed special emphasis on the need we have of God. “he draws us upwards; letting ourselves be upheld by his hands – by faith, in other words – sets us aright and gives us the inner strength that raises us on high. We need the humility of a faith which seeks the face of God and trusts in the truth of his love. The question of how man can attain the heights, becoming completely himself and completely like God, has always engaged mankind”.
IT BEGINS WITH HATING PEOPLE:
Malthusian Delusions Grip Australia (Ross Elliott, 04/18/2011, New Geography)
The anti-population jihad is nothing new. Thomas Malthus was an 18th century economist and Anglican clergyman, whose ‘Essay on the Principles of Population’ (published 1798) popularised the notion that vice, plague and famine were natural forms of population control. In short, overpopulation would be subject to control by food scarcity.
Maulthusians almost 200 years later, in 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote the blockbuster ‘The Population Bomb’ which warned of imminent mass starvations and famine due to overpopulation.
Now joining the fray is our very own Dick Smith, former super-nerd and founder of Dick Smith Electronics stores, aviator, publisher (of Australian Geographic), entrepreneur and 1986 ‘Australian of the Year.’
Dick’s a popular figure in Australia, and when he speaks people (and the media) listen. But Dick’s suggestion that Australia is overpopulated, and thus requires we need to limit our growth through a two child policy borders on the hysterical. [...]
Doug Saunders is the author of ‘Arrival City,’ a book about the conflicts and change brought on by massive urban migrations. And in this article he explains, “by 2050, most Western countries will have to devote between 27 and 30 per cent of their GDP to spending on retirees and their needs”. This he adds, will produce fiscal deficits in most advanced countries of almost 25 per cent of GDP, making the current crisis seem minuscule by comparison.
This is not a remote or abstract crisis. Countries like Canada will soon be fighting to attract anyone we can get to work – and squeezing as much as we can from the remaining few.
Australia has been fond of comparing itself to Canada. We are both western democracies, operating under similar governance systems. We both have relatively small populations given our geographic size (Canada has 34 million people, we have 23 million) and abundant natural resources. The resource we both lack is people. If Saunders is right about Canada fearing the same demographic problems as Japan (population 127 million), Australia might want to take note.
THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?:
Dancing with the Assads (Boston Globe, April 19, 2011)
Assad has been performing the same old pirouette for years — assuring US diplomats and legislators that he’s serious about opening up his corrupt police state, but somehow never actually doing it. The wave of popular protests rolling across the country makes it appear that Syrians have lost patience with the Assad regime before Washington did.
A growing toll of martyrs has led protesters to drop earlier calls for piecemeal reforms and to demand instead the fall of the regime. The rebellion only gathered force after Assad, instead of offering reforms in a much-anticipated speech last month, blamed the protests on “a big plot from outside’’ and evoked a conspiracy that serves “an Israeli agenda.’’
The recent WikiLeaks disclosure of modest US financial backing since 2005 for an opposition TV channel broadcasting into Syria only underlines how restrained Washington has been in challenging the Assad regime. The time has come be more demanding.
When even the Globe has had enough, you know dictators are on borrowed time.
April 18, 2011
Ayn Rand: Architect of the culture of death: No philosopher ever proposed a more simple and straightforward view of life than the one Ayn Rand urges upon us. (DONALD DEMARCO, National Catholic Register)
Barbara Branden tells us, in her book, The Passion of Ayn Rand, of how Miss Rand managed to make the lives of everyone around her miserable, and when her life was over, she had barely a friend in the world. She was contemptuous even of her followers. When Rand was laid to rest in 1982 at the age of 77, her coffin bore a six-foot replica of the dollar sign. Her philosophy, which she adopted from an early age, helped to assure her solitude: "Nothing existential gave me any great pleasure. And progressively, as my idea developed, I had more and more a sense of loneliness." It was inevitable, however, that a philosophy that centred on the self to the exclusion of all others would leave its practitioner in isolation and intensely lonely.
Ayn Rand's philosophy is unlivable, either by her or anyone else. A philosophy that is unlivable can hardly be instrumental in building a Culture of Life. It is unlivable because it is based on a false anthropology. The human being is not a mere individual, but a person. As such, he is a synthesis of individual uniqueness and communal participation. Man is a transcendent being. He is more than his individuality.
The Greeks had two words for "life": bios and zoe. Bios represents the biological and individual sense of life, the life that pulsates within any one organism. This is the only notion of life that is to be found in the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Zoe, on the other hand, is shared life, life that transcends the individual and allows participation in a broader, higher, and richer life.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis remarks that mere bios is always tending to run down and decay. It needs incessant subsidies from nature in the form of air, water, and food, in order to continue. As bios and nothing more, man can never achieve his destiny. Zoe, he goes on to explain, is an enriching spiritual life which is in God from all eternity. Man needs Zoe in order to become truly himself. Man is not simply man; he is a composite of bios and zoe.
Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.
The transition, then, from bios to zoe (individual life to personal, spiritualized life; selfishness to love of neighbor) is also the transition from a Culture of Death to a Culture of Life.
TAXES DON'T GO UP:
60-year-low tax revenues contribute to deficit growth (Patrice Hill, 4/17/11, The Washington Times)
Revenues plunged from their peak of $2.57 trillion in 2007 to reach $2.1 trillion, or 14.8 percent of economic output in 2009 — the lowest level since the 1950s — and taxes remain that low today, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
While that may seem like good news to millions of people filing their federal taxes, that level of revenues is far below the 18 percent historical average and is not sufficient to support a federal government that is waging two wars and has become the primary source of income for a growing population of retirees, economists say.
The collapse in federal revenues has driven the total weight of taxes on the economy to the lowest levels since the 1960s, even when myriad state and local taxes are added in, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
With federal, state and local tax revenues totaling 24 percent of economic output, the OECD said, the United States is in the same category as countries like Turkey and South Korea, which have neither a globe-spanning military to support nor fully developed economic safety-net programs such as unemployment benefits, Social Security and food stamps.
SUNNI OR LATER:
Gathering Clouds for Syria's Assad (Mohamad Bazzi, April 18, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations)
It is especially troublesome for Assad that the unrest started in Sunni areas that traditionally supported the Ba'ath Party and have provided recruits for the Syrian military. On March 6, the police arrested fifteen teenagers who had scrawled anti-government graffiti on several buildings in Deraa. The arrests set off large demonstrations, which led to clashes with security forces and dozens of casualties. Assad and his advisers bungled the initial response: The president failed to offer condolences to the families of those killed or to visit the town, setting off a new round of protests that spread to other areas. As the crackdown intensified, demonstrators also honed their rhetoric from demands for "freedom" and "dignity"--and an end to abuses by the security forces--to calls for Assad's overthrow.
Assad's main goal is to preserve the rule of his Alawite regime in a Sunni-dominated country. (The Alawites, who make up about 12 percent of Syria's population, are an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.) Unlike the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, it is unlikely that the Syrian military leadership would abandon Assad. Most of the country's generals and top security officials are Alawite, and their fortunes are tied to Assad's survival. Syria is also home to Christian, Druze, and Shiite minorities--about 15 percent of the population--and they tend to support the Alawite regime. Along with many secular Sunnis, these minorities look to Assad as a source of stability, and they fear that his fall could precipitate a civil war.
The Ba'athist regime has a history of using extreme violence to suppress opposition. In 1982, as the Muslim Brotherhood carried out attacks against military and civilian targets in several cities, Hafez Assad dispatched troops to the city of Hama to put down an Islamist uprising. Assad's forces leveled sections of the city, killing an estimated twenty thousand people. Since then, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood has been punishable by death.
While the current wave of protests has been partly inspired by Sunni preachers in some cities and towns, Syria is not facing another Islamist uprising. Like other rebellions in the Arab world, the largest protests have taken place after Friday prayers. But many secular Sunnis, especially in Damascus, are still on the sidelines. If these Sunnis take to the streets in sustained, large-scale protests, then Assad's government will face a grave danger.
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE UN CAN BE EMBARRASSED:
UN Embarrassed by Forecast on Climate Refugees (Axel Bojanowski, 4/18/11, Der Spiegel)
Six years ago, the United Nations issued a dramatic warning that the world would have to cope with 50 million climate refugees by 2010. But now that those migration flows have failed to materialize, the UN has distanced itself from the forecasts. On the contrary, populations are growing in the regions that had been identified as environmental danger zones.
YOU GONNA TAKE THAT SITTING DOWN?:
Is Sitting a Lethal Activity? (JAMES VLAHOS, 4/17/11, NY Times Magazine)
[Dr. James Levine's] initial question — which he first posed in a 1999 study — was simple: Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight? After assessing how much food each of his subjects needed to maintain their current weight, Dr. Levine then began to ply them with an extra 1,000 calories per day. Sure enough, some of his subjects packed on the pounds, while others gained little to no weight.
“We measured everything, thinking we were going to find some magic metabolic factor that would explain why some people didn’t gain weight,” explains Dr. Michael Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher who collaborated with Dr. Levine on the studies. But that wasn’t the case. Then six years later, with the help of the motion-tracking underwear, they discovered the answer. “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t.
People don’t need the experts to tell them that sitting around too much could give them a sore back or a spare tire. The conventional wisdom, though, is that if you watch your diet and get aerobic exercise at least a few times a week, you’ll effectively offset your sedentary time. A growing body of inactivity research, however, suggests that this advice makes scarcely more sense than the notion that you could counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging. “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting,” says Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
The posture of sitting itself probably isn’t worse than any other type of daytime physical inactivity, like lying on the couch watching “Wheel of Fortune.” But for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.
STOP FUNDING EVIL:
Obama’s Fake Energy Policy: Flex fuel is the solution to our reliance on foreign oil. (Robert Zubrin, 4/18/11, National Review)
This wrecking operation on our economy is being perpetuated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel of tyrannies and kleptocracies largely hostile or indifferent to the prosperity of the industrialized West. This cartel, which controls 80 percent of the world’s commercially viable oil reserves, is currently limiting its production to 1973 levels — despite a doubling of the size of the world economy in the nearly four decades since. As a result, we and our allies are having our economies looted as oil prices go through the roof, with even worse consequences falling upon the world’s poorest. An oil impost that causes depression in the advanced world can cause starvation in the Third World.
We need to break free of the extortions of this cartel. The only way to do that is to enable our economy to run on low-cost fuels whose production does not depend on resources under OPEC’s control.
Fortunately, such a fuel is available. It’s called methanol, or wood alcohol. It’s a major chemical commodity that can currently be produced in quantity from natural gas, coal, recycled garbage, or any kind of biomass without exception. The cost of production of methanol is about $0.60 per gallon, and its current spot price is $1.20 per gallon, without any subsidy — equivalent in miles per dollar to gasoline at $2.18 per gallon. While not drinkable like ethanol, methanol lacks the carcinogens contained in gasoline, burns cleaner, and is safer to handle — in fact, windshield-wiper fluid is one-third methanol. It is also less likely to cause a dangerous fire in the event of a crash. In short, methanol is cheap, clean, safe, and readily producible from resources that are widely available both here and around the world.
The only problem is that the cars on the road today can’t use it. But this can be readily fixed.
Flex-fuel vehicles can be now be made, at an incremental cost of only about $100 per car, that can run equally well on methanol, ethanol, or gasoline, in any combination, thereby giving the consumer complete fuel choice.
Were Congress to pass a law requiring that all new cars sold in the U.S. be fully flex fueled, it would change not merely the American auto fleet, but the global auto fleet, as foreign car makers would be compelled to switch their lines over to meet the standard. Thus Japanese cars sold in Japan, China, and India would also be flex fueled, as would Korean and European cars marketed worldwide. If we make flex fuel the American standard, it will become the effectively the international standard.
WE'RE PROGRESSIVE, THEY'RE REACTIONARY:
The Incredible Shrinking Obama (PETER WEHNER, 4/25/11, Weekly Standard)
Republicans need to unmask the philosophy guiding modern liberalism when it comes to taxes. What liberals are interested in isn’t growth so much as egalitarianism and redistribution for its own sake. For many on the left, increasing taxes isn’t about economics as much as morality. They believe taxing the wealthy is a virtue, to the point that they would penalize “the rich” even if that has harmful economic consequences. Recall that during a campaign debate, when asked by Charles Gibson about his support for raising capital gains taxes even if that caused a net revenue loss to the Treasury, Obama sided with tax increases “for purposes of fairness.”
Higher taxes would keep our current welfare state in place for only a little while longer. The entitlement apparatus would remain unsustainable. Tax increases might slightly delay, but could not forestall, a fiscal crack-up. The only thing that can is reconfiguring and restructuring our entitlement programs, most especially Medicare. That is what Paul Ryan’s plan does—and what President Obama’s budget avoids doing.
The point cannot be made often enough: Modern liberalism, as embodied in the Obama presidency, is the defender of the status quo.
Of course, the second part of this is that the GOP needs to be the party of putting the welfare state on a sustainable footing, which is what the Right is reacting against.
BLUE ON BLUE VIOLENCE:
Detroit Moves Against Unions: Mayor and Schools Chief Leverage State Law to Force Change, Close Budget Gaps (MATTHEW DOLAN, 4/18/11, WSJ)
A new state law has emboldened the Detroit mayor and schools chief to take a more aggressive stance toward public unions as the city leaders try to mop up hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink.
Robert Bobb, the head of the Detroit Public Schools, late last week sent layoff notices to the district's 5,466 salaried employees, including all of its teachers, a preliminary step in seeking broad work-force cuts to deal with lower enrollment.
Earlier last week, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing presented a $3.1 billion annual budget to City Council in which he proposed higher casino taxes and substantial cuts in city workers' health care and pensions to close an estimated $200 million budget gap.
To save cities they'll have to kill the unions.
MAYBE HE'S HIS ONLY SUPPORTER:
Sen. Kohl reported no fundraising activity for the first quarter (Shane D'Aprile - 04/18/11, The Hill)
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) reported no fundraising activity in the first quarter of this year.
But he loaned his campaign account $1 million late last year, which was seen as a sign that he'll run for a fifth term.
IT'S NOT ART, NO ONE WANTS TO SEE IT:
Under Threat: The Shock of the Old (HOLLAND COTTER, 4/18/11, NY Times)
“WHAT happened to Africa?” an art-world friend asked. “It disappeared.”
She was right. Do a quick scan of major exhibitions in big American museums in the past few years and Africa’s barely there. The same with India. Even China, usually an easier sell, is seen only discreetly. Wasn’t the multicultural surge of yesteryear supposed to produce the opposite effect?
There's only one Culture.
K. I. S. S.:
The 30-Cent Tax Premium: Tax compliance employs more workers than Wal-Mart, UPS, McDonald's, IBM and Citigroup combined. (ARTHUR B. LAFFER, 4/17/11, WSJ)
There is a lot more to taxes than simply paying the bill. Taxpayers must spend significantly more than $1 in order to provide $1 of income-tax revenue to the federal government.
To start with, individuals and businesses must pay the government the $1 in revenue plus the costs of their own time spent filing and complying with the tax code; plus the tax collection costs of the IRS; plus the tax compliance outlays that individuals and businesses pay to help them file their taxes.
In a study published last week by the Laffer Center, my colleagues Wayne Winegarden, John Childs and I estimate that these costs alone are a staggering $431 billion annually. This is a cost markup of 30 cents on every dollar paid in taxes. And this is not even a complete accounting of the costs of tax complexity.
THANKS, W, BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN DIRECT ACTION:
U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show (Craig Whitlock, April 17, 2011, Washington Post)
The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”
Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.
The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad.
Next year in Damascus.
The Gulf of Mexico's Seafood Rebirth a Year After the BP Oil Spill: One year after the BP oil disaster, marine life is thriving in the Gulf of Mexico and fishermen and state officials are optimistic about the summer season. But locals still battling health problems are angry at the oil giant’s failure to meet its commitments (Rick Outzen, 4/18/11, Daily Beast)
The largest man-made environmental disaster in U.S. history, struck the Gulf Coast on April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded nearly 50 miles off the Louisiana shore, costing 11 men their lives. It would be September 19 before the spill was completely stopped, and U.S. government data show that 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked before the well was capped. At the time, many feared one of the richest eco-systems in the world, the Gulf of Mexico, would take decades to recover.
But a year on, predictions that the gulf would become a dead sea have proven premature. Seafood in the region is thriving as the first anniversary of the explosion approaches. Commercial-fishing and charter-boat captains from Galveston, Texas, to Apalachicola Bay, Fla. are optimistic that their businesses will have a great summer after six years of battling hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina—and the spill.
Scientific research is giving Gulf seafood a clean bill of health.
YOU CAN'T MAKE IT UP:
Environmentalists seek gays' advice on President Obama (ALEX GUILLÉN, 4/18/11, Politico)
Young environmentalists looking for a success story in pressuring a Democratic administration to advance their goals have found it from an unusual source: the gay rights movement.
Environmentalists, especially youth activists that were a large part of President Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral victory, had high hopes for the past two years. But after the death of cap and trade, an oil spill that led to little action from Congress and the GOP gains last fall, disappointment reigns.
For the greens, there are numerous emotional parallels between the green and gay rights movements, most notably frustration over the lack of action on what they see as an obvious endgame.
MUST BE GLOBAL WARMING:
Oregon's monster mushroom is world's biggest living thing (Jeff Barnard, 6 August 2000, Independent)
The largest living organism ever found has been discovered in an ancient American forest.
The Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments, called rhizomorphs, through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows. It now covers 2,200 acres (880 hectares) of the Malheur National Forest, in eastern Oregon.
The outline of the giant fungus stretches 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) across, and it extends an average of three feet (one metre) into the ground. It covers an area as big as 1,665 football fields.
BUT I'VE SEEN DOROTHY LAMOUR DO IT:
Secret of the Indian rope trick is finally revealed: it's a hoax (David Brown, 14 April 2001, Independent)
Peter Lamont, a former president of the Magic Circle in Edinburgh and now a researcher at the city's university, revealed the truth at Edinburgh's International Science Festival last night.
He has discovered that the trick has never been performed and was invented by an American newspaper as part of a circulation drive 111 years ago.
The Chicago Tribune caused a storm when it printed a report from India of a boy climbing an unsupported rope and disappearing at the top. The paper claimed he was followed by a man armed with a sword who also disappeared before parts of the boy's body fell from the sky and landed in a basket at the base of the rope. The man reappeared and emptied out the basket, revealing the boy to be in perfect health.
Versions of the story spread worldwide, but little notice was taken of a short note published by the Chicago Tribune four months after the original story that admitted the article was a publicity stunt. It assumed readers would realise it was a hoax because the story was bylined "Fred S. Ellmore".
FROM THE ARCHIVES: CAN'T HELP BUT BE POLITICAL:
The Passover Story, Illuminated (GABRIELLE BIRKNER, April 18, 2008, NY Sun)
At the ritual Passover meal, or seder, many Jewish families will be reading an abbreviated story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt from wine-stained, center-stapled Haggadahs. A more select group will be reading the same slavery-to-freedom story from a leather-bound volume that features 48 brilliant-hued reproductions from an illuminated manuscript by Arthur Szyk — the Lodz-born art ist who became one of America's most influential political cartoonists during World War II.
Irvin Ungar, a rabbi turned antiquarian, is publishing 300 numbered reproductions of the Szyk Haggadah, available in two editions, priced at $8,500 and $15,000, respectively. This rerelease comes more than seven decades after the Haggadah was rejected by Eastern European publishers, apparently for its incorporation of Nazi caricatures: In Szyk's original, snakes had swastikas painted on their backs, and the "wicked son" of the Passover story wore Hitler's iconic mustache. "For Szyk, the story of Passover was taking place in his own day; it was something unfolding before his eyes," Mr. Ungar said. "He saw Hitler as Pharaoh, and the Nazis as the new Egyptians who had come to enslave, and ultimately annihilate, the Jewish people."
The London press that agreed to publish his book in 1940 did so on the condition that Szyk paint over much of the Nazi imagery. [...]
A lecturer at University of California, Los Angeles who is writing a book about political art in America, Paul Von Blum, said the Szyk Haggadah provides a more activistic message than do other seder-table texts — and that is a good thing. "You can make tremendously contemporary applications of the story of escaping from tyranny and slavery, and that should apply to all oppressed people," he said, noting that Szyk was also an advocate for the civil rights of black Americans. "The Haggadah service should be political."
A few years ago, as we read, the Mother-In-Law commented: "This sounds like a speech by George Bush!?"
Anti-Nazi Haggadah is the legacy of an activist artist (rafael medoff, 4/07/06, Jewish Weekly News))
The classic Szyk haggadah becomes a modern masterpiece of the digital age: The Art of the Seder (Tom Tugend, 4/18/08, Jewish Journal)
[originally posted: 4/20/08]
NOW THAT'S A TAT:
Howdy everyone, this is Matt Murphy. Here is a project we all can enjoy. Go to this website and read the directions:
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to donate money to this worthy charity in the amount of a college football game that makes you happy and/or involved the destruction of a hated rival. If the total amount donated reaches $50,000 in a set time-frame, the site's proprietor has to get a tattoo.
For example, if you're a Nebraska fan and you want to commemorate the 1995 Orange Bowl, you would donate $24.17. You go to the link at the Every Day Should be Saturday website, click on one-time donation, check the option that allows you to choose your amount, type it in, and go the next page, where you fill in some info. At the bottom of that second page, you want to pick the SPECIAL EVENT tab and, next to it in the details area, put EDSBS/[YOUR SCHOOL], so they know who is doing it. Underneath that, you can write "NA" in the address box so they won't send you stuff (you do have to put your address down earlier for the billing, though).
Here is a post I made calling out Colorado fans. I don't normally trash talk this badly on Internet forums, but since the intention is to goad Colorado fans into donating to charity, I figured it was justified:
Not surprisingly, no Colorado fans have donated anything yet that I know of, but one Texas Tech fan did respond to me by donating $70.10 in honor of Nebraska's 2004 annihilation at the hands of Mike Leach. This donation is, so far as I know, the only good thing to come out of the state of Texas since the Alamo, when Texas lost.
Best to everyone,
FROM THE ARCHIVES: NEW ISRAEL:
The season of the lambs: Christians are trying to analyse their responsibility for anti-Jewish prejudice, and to examine their own faith's Jewish roots (The Economist, Apr 7th 2004)
FOR the Judeo-Christian world, this is the week. For Jews, celebrations of Passover or Pesach--recalling the children of Israel's escape from Egyptian bondage--reach their central moment. Over a family meal, millions of households have remembered the lamb's blood which the Jews in Egypt daubed on their doors to escape the angel of death. All over the Christian world (this is one of those years when the western and eastern halves of Christendom celebrate on the same date), the story of Easter or Pascha, which draws deeply on Passover symbols, is being relived. As people hail the resurrected Jesus Christ, they rejoice in their own redemption "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish". Thus, in many corners of the world, there is talk of lambs being slain, either literally, or as a metaphor for God incarnate.
For many centuries, the Christians' season of hope was a time of fear in Jewish ghettos, as religious fervour spilled over in murderous anti-Semitic violence. Now, though the demon of anti-Semitism is far from dead--and is on the rise in certain parts--the sort of anti-Jewish sentiments that were directly inspired by Christian preaching are a thing of the past in most areas of the historically Christian world. This has been largely brought about by the deep and searching dialogue between leaders of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as both traditions struggle to make some spiritual sense of the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi death camps.
A token of the new Jewish-Christian understanding is the passage into common, unselfconscious use of the term Judeo-Christian to describe the religious heritage of the western world. Even now, admittedly, the word is not problem-free. Colin Powell, America's secretary of state, stumbled into a controversy last autumn when he said of Iraq that it was "an Islamic country by faith, just as we are Judeo-Christian". Out of deference to Americans of other religions or none, Mr Powell quickly corrected himself, saying "we are a country of many faiths now".
American Muslims nonetheless protested strongly, pointing out that in certain ways--in particular, its reverence for Jesus and Mary--Islam is closer to Christianity than Judaism is. They urged that some new, more inclusive term (Abrahamic, perhaps) be found to describe the commonality between all three monotheistic faiths.
But Mr Powell's use of the term does reflect something real in recent religious history. Over the past half-century, Christians have tried harder than at any time in the previous two millennia to analyse their own faith's responsibility for anti-Jewish prejudice and violence; and to look at their own faith's Jewish roots.
If you attended a seder last week you'll have no problem understanding why Americans put the "Judeo" in Judeo-Christian. At least when telling the story of Exodus, Judaism is a theology of liberation from oppression. Perhaps because the Muslims so quickly became overlords, Islam contains nothing similar.
[Originally posted: 4/07/04]
THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT:
iMahNishtanah (App Shopper)
Learn or refresh reading and singing the Four Questions with your own interactive Mah Nishtanah.
Touch-n-Read technology lets you read along and hear every word. Sing along too!
Record mode makes it easy to practice reading the Hebrew words and automatically saves your last recording. Play your recording anytime for your friends, parents, teachers, or just to hear how you sound.
Play interactive activities to learn the meaning of the words.
• Friendly Touch-n-Read audio allows you to hear each word and read along.
• The full song is sung aloud so you can practice too.
• Interactive pictorial activities and flashcards help you learn the meaning of the words.
• Read or sing along in auto-save record mode.
This is not your father’s Passover!
FROM THE ARCHIVES: GOD-NAME-FREE?:
The Passover Song (NATHAN ENGLANDER, 4/08/09, NY Times)
Beyond the famed medieval manuscripts — the illuminated Sarajevo Haggadah, and the German Bird’s Head Haggadah — there are versions geared toward seders of every stripe. There are feminist editions, a vegetarian take for “the Liberated Lamb,” “The Anonymous Haggadah” for 12-steppers, one for the United States Armed Forces, the Santa Cruz liturgy, which is both “gender-neutral and God-name-Free,” and a Facebook Haggadah that ends by threatening a twitter version for next year (Google it yourself).
The Haggadah advises us to venture-off and learn but when it comes to choosing a liturgy, I don’t venture far. I came to discover that there’s no one more fiercely traditional than a fallen Jew, and found myself recoiling in horror when an ancient Hebrew word-puzzle was absent from the text I’m using as a guide (don’t worry, I put it back).
In the middle of all the figuring and arguing, the pondering of biblical prose, I often find myself remembering, a sweet side effect I didn’t expect. I remember the ritual search for hametz the night before the holiday: a little boy standing in a darkened basement at my father’s side, a lighted candle aloft, a feather in hand, ready to sweep up any crumbs missed along the way.
I remember the seasons when Easter and Passover crossed; walking to our suburban Long Island synagogue in a yarmulke and tiny suit, and waving up at the Easter Bunny perched atop one of the town’s fire trucks, the volunteer-fireman Bunny waving back on his rounds. I remember us laughing, my sister and father and I, the firemen too.
It was not lost, the sweetness of it: Passover suit or bunny suit, the firemen in their uniforms and me in mine, an acknowledgment of the different rituals and ceremonies that make up a town.
And the rituals in our home were many.
[originally posted: 4/08/09]
FROM THE ARCHOIVES: WHYFOR ON THIS NIGHT ABOVE ALL OTHERS DO WE EAT SALTINES?:
Matza and macaroons: As the Jewish festival of Passover nears, Naomi Alderman celebrates its annual food rituals and offers two classic recipes from her grandmother's favourite cookery book (Naomi Alderman, April 16, 2008, Guardian)
The festival celebrates, and at times attempts to relive, the story of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from their captivity in Egypt. God, so the Bible relates, rescued the Children of Israel from slavery by smiting Egypt with 10 plagues; when Pharaoh finally agreed to release them, they had to leave so quickly that they didn't even have time to allow their bread to rise. So, for the eight days of Passover - this year from sunset next Saturday to sunset on Sunday April 27 - observant Jews eat no bread products, or anything made with flour that could potentially have had time to rise. These foods are called "chametz" and it's the prohibition against owning even a crumb of the stuff during Passover that creates the greatest levels of anxiety. In the preceding weeks, Jewish homes are cleaned with a fervour that borders on obsessive-compulsive. Furniture is pulled out. Books are opened and shaken. Curtains - as if they were known to attract breadcrumbs magnetically - are taken down and washed. [...]
The foods - especially the ritualised Seder meals on the first and second nights of the festival - become all the more alluring for being seen, smelled and tasted only once a year. Matza brei, the soft-yet-crunchy, delicious breakfast made from matza (cracker-like flatbread made from flour and water) soaked in an egg-and-milk mixture, and then fried in walnut oil, transports me instantly back to the kitchen of my grandmother, who died two years ago. I miss her, but I feel close to her again when I cook the meals she used to make - sometimes with her utensils as, being used only one week in the year, Passover cookware survives the generations. I have her recipe book, a battered 1958 edition of Florence Greenberg's Jewish Cookery (an updated and expanded version of Greenberg's first Jewish Chronicle Cookery Book published in 1934), bulging with yellowed recipes cut from newspapers and handwritten notes stuffed between the pages.
Passover, like all ritual, has the ability to telescope time. When I visit my parents' house and eat the same chicken soup my mother always makes, with the same kneidlach - little dumplings made from matza meal and eggs - floating in it, it's not exactly that I'm transported back to childhood. But the continuity between each Passover and all those that have gone before is almost stronger than the continuity between the day before the festival starts and the festival itself. There is a satisfaction, and a sense of permanence and stability, to be found in eating the same foods that I did at that time last year. This feeling swells further with the thought that the same rituals were performed not only by my parents and grandparents but ancestors whose names had been forgotten 100 years ago.
[originally posted; 4/16/08]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: BUT I STILL HAVEN'T FOUND WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR :The Search: We Leave Egypt Tonight (Paul Greenberg, March 26, 2002, TownHall.com)
It is not history that gives Passover its warrant. Quite the opposite: What makes tonight so full of promise and burden, like freedom itself, is that it breaks through history. It disrupts the everydayness. Why is this night different from all other nights? Not because we are set free, but because we may realize we are set free.
Nor is it the celebration of freedom that fills this night with awe but what follows: the plunge into the Wilderness. That is, the search. And tonight it begins anew.
Larry Johnson, former head of Counterterrorism at the State Department, was on NPR the other day talking about how Islamic terrorists groups in the Middle East are apparently cooperating with white separatists in America and Marxist terror groups in Europe. What could create this improbable shadow axis of evil? : simple, hatred of Jews. He said he was in Argentina recently and had separate middle-class Argentines tell him that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion reveal the Jewish plan for world domination.
It seems that for the first time since WWII, we now have a revival of virulent, exterminationist anti-Semitism and this time it's a global phenomenon. Meanwhile, people who should know better now turn their eyes toward the Middle East and wonder if all our lives wouldn't be easier if only Israel would give in, even if it means signing its own death warrant. This is, therefore, a particularly dangerous moment for Judaism and for those who care to see it, and the Jewish people, survive.
As we head into the Passover holiday it seems like an especially opportune moment to reflect on the debt that we all owe to Judaism. Happily, there's a book that does a great job of exploring the unique contributions of Judaism to Western Civilization : The Gifts of the Jews : How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (1998) (Thomas Cahill) (Grade: A-). Among the points he makes is one similar to that which Mr. Greenberg makes, that it was Jews who broke us free from the cyclical view of history, the fatalism that held that life ever repeated itself, and thereby set us off on the journey of discovery and progress that has brought us to this point in history. Both Mr. Greenberg's column and Mr. Cahill's book are highly recommended.[originally posted: March 26, 2002]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: A GOOD PASSOVER TO ALL:Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport (George Washington, August, 1790)
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that
they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
David discusses his thoughts about Jerusalem below, the Seder including the phrase: "Next year in Jerusalem". The influential philosopher Leo Strauss stressed the idea that Western Civilization is a product of the tension between Jerusalem and Athens. As Jeffrey Hart puts it:
As used in this way those two nouns refer simultaneously to two cities and to two goals of the human mind. Athens and Jerusalem are at once actual and symbolic. In their symbolic meaning, "Athens" represents a philosophic-scientific approach to actuality, with the goal being cognition, while "Jerusalem" represents a scriptural tradition of disciplined insight and the aspiration to holiness. Together they propose the question: Is all of actuality more like a mathematical equation or is it more like a complicated and surprising poem, reflecting, as Robert Penn Warren once put it, the world's tangled and hieroglyphic beauty. Over many centuries Western civilization has answered this question not either-or but both-and, both Athens and Jerusalem. The interaction between Athens and Jerusalem has been a dynamic one, characterized by tension, attempted synthesis, and outright conflict. It has been this dynamic relation that is distinctive in Western civilization, and has created its restlessness as well as energized its greatest achievements, both material and spiritual, both Athens and Jerusalem.Oddly enough, while there are none who would do away with Athens, there are those who think that we do not need Jerusalem, who believe reason sufficient unto itself. But what will it behoove us to comprehend actuality if we do not also aspire to holiness, to goodness?
[Originally posted: April 16, 2003]
April 17, 2011
THERE IS NO EUROPE:
True Finns Cast Finland Support for EU Bailouts Into Doubt (Arild Moen, 4/17/11, Dow Jones)
National Coalition Party Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen was declared the winner late Sunday, after a finely balanced election which saw the euro-skeptic True Finns emerge as Finland's third largest party.
The True Finns--who are against bailouts for deeply indebted euro-zone countries--won 19% of the vote, adding to the probability that the party could be part of Finland's new coalition government.
That is a dramatic increase from the 4.1% they received in the last election in 2007.
A new Finnish government opposing further bailouts could, in theory, prevent the EU from granting new rescue loans, since they have to be agreed unanimously by all members of the single currency.
The Portugese aren't true Finns.
SURE, THEY'D RATHER KILL THEM IN THE WOMB, BUT...:
The Anti-Immigration Crusader (JASON DePARLE, 4/17/11, NY Times)
Three decades ago, a middle-aged doctor sat outside his northern Michigan home and saw a patch of endangered paradise.
A beekeeper and amateur naturalist of prodigious energy, John Tanton had spent two decades planting trees, cleaning creeks and suing developers, but population growth put ever more pressure on the land. Though fertility rates had fallen, he saw a new threat emerging: soaring rates of immigration.
Time and again, Dr. Tanton urged liberal colleagues in groups like Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club to seek immigration restraints, only to meet blank looks and awkward silences.
“I finally concluded that if anything was going to happen, I would have to do it myself,” he said.
Improbably, he did. From the resort town of Petoskey, Mich., Dr. Tanton helped start all three major national groups fighting to reduce immigration, legal and illegal, and molded one of the most powerful grass-roots forces in politics. The immigration-control movement surged to new influence in last fall’s elections and now holds near veto power over efforts to legalize any of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
One group that Dr. Tanton nurtured, Numbers USA, doomed President George W. Bush’s legalization plan four years ago by overwhelming Congress with protest calls. Another, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, helped draft the Arizona law last year to give the police new power to identify and detain illegal immigrants.
A third organization, the Center for Immigration Studies, joined the others in December in defeating the Dream Act, which sought to legalize some people brought to the United States illegally as children. [...]
While Dr. Tanton’s influence has been extraordinary, so has his evolution — from apostle of centrist restraint to ally of angry populists and a man who increasingly saw immigration through a racial lens.
Mindful that the early-20th-century fight to reduce immigration had been marred by bigotry, Dr. Tanton initially emphasized FAIR’s identity as a “centrist group” and made arguments aimed at liberals and minorities. He allowed few local FAIR chapters, warning that a stray demagogue might “go off half-cocked and spoil the whole effort.”
When a member of FAIR wrote that Hispanic immigrants should be shot — because they “multiply like a bunch of rats” — a staff member offered to refund his dues. Early supporters included Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Warren E. Buffett.
Now FAIR’s signature event is an annual gathering of talk radio hosts, where earnest policy pitches share time with the kind of battle cries Dr. Tanton once feared. This year’s event mixed discussion of job losses among minorities with calls to use Tomahawk missiles on Tijuana drug lords, while a doubter of President Obama’s birth certificate referred to “the undocumented worker” in the White House. Leading allies include Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, whose sweeps of Latino neighborhoods around Phoenix have prompted a federal investigation.
While the whole movement grew more vehement as illegal immigration increased, Dr. Tanton seemed especially open to provocative allies and ideas. He set off a storm of protests two decades ago with a memorandum filled with dark warnings about the “Latin onslaught.” Word soon followed that FAIR was taking money from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that promoted theories of the genetic superiority of whites.
IT'S NOT THE VELOCITY HE HATES...:
Obama Seems Out of Sync with Events (David Shribman, 4/17/11, RCP)
The man who knew just when to say exactly the right thing -- to make the precisely correct gesture -- is repeatedly days, weeks, sometimes even months behind, so much so that it almost seems he is out of sync with the new rhythms of American politics.
Obama may hate the velocity of events -- a common complaint for older politicians, but not for people his age -- yet for all his powers as president he cannot slow them. Even Princeton basketball has abandoned the slowdown offense that Pete Carril pioneered and used to take the Tigers to the NCAA tournament 11 times and to upend UCLA in 1996. Today they play the same game everyone else does.
Moreover, the man who knew when to do the audacious thing has traded that in for a new trademark: caution. I know the perils of this sort of metric, but the words "cautious" and "Obama" appear together more than 13 million times on the Internet. That's more than five times as often as the pairing "audacious" and "Obama."
There is great virtue in caution and in its first cousin, prudence, a favorite word of former President George H.W. Bush. Presidents should be cautious when sending Americans into danger or tinkering with the economy.
Yet there are increasing signs that the president is paralyzed by caution.
...it's the fact that there are events. He's just not equipped to deal with them, entirely typical of someone who was a legislator rather than an executive.
TAX WHAT YOU DON'T WANT:
PODCAST: Can Taxes Be Green?: Could taxing environmental ills prove more of a solution to pollution than dilution? (David Biello, 4/17/11, Scientific American)
[S]tarting with Arthur Pigou in the early 20th century, economists have argued that if we really want less of something then we should make it cost more, not hide it in a public good like the atmosphere. How? Taxes!
For example, if we want less odorless, colorless carbon dioxide billowing into the air from coal-fired power plants and vehicle tailpipes, then a tax should cause people to cut down on this undesirable activity. The most common examples of this method are probably the various "sin" taxes put on things like alcohol or tobacco. A pollution sin tax could also offset current taxes, such as income tax.
THE POINT BEING....:
The Do-Nothing Plan: How Congress can balance the budget in eight years by literally doing nothing. This is not a joke. (Annie Lowrey, April 16, 2011, Slate)
[S]late proposes the Do-Nothing Plan for Deficit Reduction, a meek, cowardly effort to wrest the country back into the black. The overarching principle of the Do-Nothing Plan is this: Leave everything as is. Current law stands, and spending and revenue levels continue according to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections. Everyone walks away. Paul Ryan goes fishing. Sen. Harry Reid kicks back with a ginger ale. The rest of Congress gets back to bickering about mammograms. Miraculously, the budget just balances itself, in about a decade.
I know. Your eyebrows are running for your hairline; your jaw is headed to the floor. You've had the bejesus scared out of you by deficit hawks murmuring about bankruptcy and defaults and Chinese bondholders. But don't take it from me. Take it from the number crunchers at the CBO. Look at the first chart here, and check the "primary deficit" in 2019. The number is positive. The deficit does not exist. There's a technicality, granted: The primary deficit is the difference between spending and revenue. The total deficit, the number more commonly cited as "the deficit," includes mandatory interest payments on the country's debt. Even so, the total fiscal gap is a whisper, not a shout—about 3 percent of GDP, which is what economists say is healthy for an advanced economy.
So how does doing nothing actually return the budget to health? The answer is that doing nothing allows all kinds of fiscal changes that politicians generally abhor to take effect automatically. First, doing nothing means the Bush tax cuts would expire, as scheduled, at the end of next year. That would cause a moderately progressive tax hike, and one that hits most families, including the middle class. The top marginal rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, and some tax benefits for investment income would disappear. Additionally, a patch to keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million or so families would end. Second, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's health care law, would proceed without getting repealed or defunded. The CBO believes that the plan would bend health care's cost curve downward, wrestling the rate of health care inflation back toward the general rate of inflation. Third, doing nothing would mean that Medicare starts paying doctors low, low rates. Congress would not pass anymore of the regular "doc fixes" that keep reimbursements high. Nothing else happens. Almost magically, everything evens out.
...there just isn't much of a problem. But the GOP is wise to pretend there's a crisis in order to push reform.
THE ECONOMICS ARE JUST FOLLOWING THE DEMOGRAPHICS AND THE CULTURE...:
Japan’s Crisis: Context and Outlook: Once, many observers thought Japan should be feared. Now, many fear that Japan should be pitied because natural disasters will accelerate its economic retreat. Perhaps the latter assessment will turn out to be as mistaken as the former. (Vaclav Smil, April 16, 2011, American)
A new study on sovereign fiscal responsibility (published by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research) defined the fiscal space and fiscal path of 34 major economies—and put Japan in 31st place, just behind Ireland and ahead of Iceland, Portugal, and Greece. Japan—until recently the world’s second-largest economy, admired for its high-tech innovative drive and product quality and, in some views, even a presumptive heir to the U.S. global economic primacy—thus finds itself with a perilously diminished fiscal space on par with Portugal, with just five years left before it hits its maximum-feasible debt ceiling (for the United States, this point presently appears to be in 2027). Sovereign debt downgrading has already begun—in May 2009, Moody’s cut Japan’s rating from AAA to Aa2, and in January 2011 S&P posted an AA- rating (while the United States and Germany retain their AAA ratings). And the governor of Japan’s central bank keeps repeating the mantra of no country being able to run deficits forever. But, to put it bluntly, Japan for years has not had any government able to make significant decisions.
The country now resembles postwar Italy, with five prime ministers coming and going during the last five years, and, ironically, the tenure of the latest premier (in power since June 2010) was prolonged by the quake: Prime Minister Kan’s pre-quake favorability rating was only about 20 percent, he was under pressure (including from critics from his own party) to resign in the wake of illegal campaign donations, and the opposition was demanding an early new election—and it subsequently refused his invitation to join a new post-quake cabinet of national unity. Add to this frequent firings and resignations of key government ministers, and it is clear that the historic shift in September 2009 from more than a half-century of nearly-uninterrupted Liberal Democratic Party rule to control by the Democratic Party has brought neither improvements in policy clarity nor more resolute management of nation’s affairs.
What is ahead is a long and costly slog. Just to clear the seemingly endless fields of coastal debris in the two worst affected prefectures will take three to five years. New housing will have to be found or built for 150,000 people who now live scattered across 18 prefectures in more than 2,000 temporary shelters, and it is clear that some coastal settlements will not be rebuilt. It will take months to achieve stable cold shutdown at all Fukushima Dai-ichi station reactors and spent-fuel storage pools, to clear all radioactive debris from failed reactor cores and ruined storage pools, and to remove all radioactive water, while the complete unwinding of the disaster will take decades: the account books have yet to close on the Three Mile Island accident of far lesser magnitude-and-severity, 32 years later.
The aggregate long-term costs of coping with Fukushima station’s shutdown and (now inevitable) decommissioning remain highly uncertain, with a displaced population that has been removed from the roughly 1,000 square-kilometer formal exclusion zone around the plant, with radiological complications in international relations, and with reduced food production (Japan already imports two-thirds of its food, more than any other rich nation) from the contaminated area. Current estimates are that half of the 13,000 small farmers in the area may be at least temporarily excluded from the marketplace due to the combined impacts of farmland inundation and contamination of their produce. And what will Japan decide to do about its nuclear electricity generation capability? Before the quake it supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity and was expected to grow to 50 percent within two decades, fractions so large that they cannot be replaced either rapidly or cheaply by any other available option, making a substantial retreat from nuclear power almost impossible to contemplate and a failure to continue with planned nuclear growth one fraught with major challenges.
The Japanese government has no choice with respect to taking on more public debt: it has already announced that it will nationalize all land abandoned by disaster victims, finance the region’s redevelopment (including construction of as many as 100,000 new residences), take a large stake in the financially troubled TEPCO (whose present market capitalization is barely 10 percent of its short-term-maturing debt, to say nothing of its possible liabilities), and indemnify farmers for their losses due to their contaminated rice fields, and fishermen for their similarly forgone catches. All this will obviously further constrict Japan’s fiscal space and truncate its already-short fiscal trajectory toward de facto shut-out from global capital markets.
A single generation ago, it appeared to many sober observers that Japan should be feared as it moved on a seemingly unstoppable track toward global economic domination. Today, many fear that Japan should be pitied as the greatest measured earthquake in the country’s history, compounded by an extraordinary tsunami and potentiated by a serious nuclear catastrophe, will accelerate the nation’s two-decade old economic retreat. My modest hope is that the latter assessment will turn out be as mistaken as was the former.
...so unless they were to use the crisis to radically alter the latter two the former will just keep following.
Reason for optimism on U.S. economy: Tough times call for tough action - and political courage - from policymakers. We've been there. (Mark Zandi , 4/16/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)
The good news is that a political consensus is forming between the rational right and rational left. Two bipartisan commissions have now concluded that both spending cuts and tax increases are necessary, and that the biggest part of deficit reduction should come from less spending. Historical experience suggests that countries that tackle their fiscal problems by spending less see their economies perform better in the long run.
Besides freezing discretionary spending, Congress must put entitlement programs on solid financial ground, permanently. Indexing the Social Security retirement age to longevity, means-testing benefits, and tying them more accurately to inflation are all ways to do this. The changes should not affect those nearing retirement, who counted on the current system in their planning. But younger workers have decades to make the necessary adjustments.
Tax reform, meanwhile, should focus on reducing tax expenditures - those exclusions, exemptions, deductions, and credits that currently cost the federal government close to $1.2 trillion per year. The mortgage-interest deduction is among the largest of these, but hundreds of other loopholes indirectly pay for tuition, health insurance, child care, local property taxes, and so on. From an economic perspective, there is no difference between eliminating tax loopholes and cutting government spending; the result is the same.
Limiting tax expenditures could raise enough revenue to allow lower marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations. This might help end the decade-old political war over tax rates for those making more than $250,000 a year. It would also make U.S. firms more globally competitive and likely to invest and hire at home.
I'm not saying any of this will be easy; policymakers will almost surely need a push from markets. Interest rates are still low, suggesting the global investors who buy U.S. government debt don't mind our fiscal mess. But their patience stems largely from the lack of alternatives.
....the entitlement fixes are so easy there's no pressure for genuine reform.
10 EXPERTS OR 400 MILLION CONSUMERS?:
New Efficiencies in Health Care? Not Likely: If the British experience is any indication, generic drugs and expert commissions will do little to lower costs (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 4/16/11, WSJ)
All attempts to reduce bureaucracy increase it, and the same goes for cost. Such, at any rate, has been my experience of the British health care system—its famed, or infamous, National Health Service.
Thus, I could not but smile a little wanly when President Barack Obama said this week that he hoped an increase in the use of generic drugs, together with an expert commission to examine the cost-effectiveness of medical treatments, would make a significant impact on the vast budget deficit of the United States. We in Britain have been there and we have done that, and our health-care costs doubled, perhaps not as a result, but certainly at the same time.
The best that might be said for these measures is that the increase in health-care costs was lower than it might otherwise have been. That is certainly not enough to save a country from a financial apocalypse, or even enough to be a major contribution to its salvation. [...]
It is an occupational hazard for politicians to think that they and their ilk know best, and by all indications Mr. Obama rather likes centralization. In my professional lifetime in the centralized British health-care system, however, I have seen a hundred schemes of cost reduction, but I have never seen any reduction in costs, or at least any that lasted more than a few months. I can't remember a single health minister who did not promise more efficiency at less cost, or a single one who actually managed to achieve it.
The long-term solution, I imagine, is the same for health care as it is for pensions: to pay for it with the income generated by dedicated savings accounts, which can be transferred to the next generation after death. The important thing is to reduce the insurance element, which encourages a pay-as-you-go system, a kind of Madoff scheme ensnaring the whole country.
If we are to have health-care systems that don't bankrupt us, people will have to accept paying more bills out of pocket and perhaps lowering their standard of living. Tiresome as the advice might be, we had better start saving a good deal more.
Only health savings accounts get us where we're going; we're just bickering over the pace of reform.
WE'RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER RUG:
The Man Behind the Curtain: Physics is not always the seamless subject that it pretends to be (Tony Rothman, American Scientist)
“I want to get down to the basics. I want to learn the fundamentals. I want to understand the laws that govern the behavior of the universe.” Thousands of admissions officers and physics department chairs have smiled over such words set down by aspiring physicists in their college-application essays, and that is hardly surprising, for every future physicist writes that essay, articulating the sentiments of all of us who choose physics as a career: to touch the fundamentals, to learn how the universe operates.
It is also the view the field holds of itself and the way physics is taught: Physics is the most fundamental of the natural sciences; it explains Nature at its deepest level; the edifice it strives to construct is all-encompassing, free of internal contradictions, conceptually compelling and—above all—beautiful. The range of phenomena physics has explained is more than impressive; it underlies the whole of modern civilization. Nevertheless, as a physicist travels along his (in this case) career, the hairline cracks in the edifice become more apparent, as does the dirt swept under the rug, the fudges and the wholesale swindles, with the disconcerting result that the totality occasionally appears more like Bruegel’s Tower of Babel as dreamt by a modern slumlord, a ramshackle structure of compartmentalized models soldered together into a skewed heap of explanations as the whole jury-rigged monstrosity tumbles skyward.
Of course many grand issues remain unresolved at the frontiers of physics: What is the origin of inertia? Are there extra dimensions? Can a Theory of Everything exist? But even at the undergraduate level, far back from the front lines, deep holes exist; yet the subject is presented as one of completeness while the holes—let us say abysses—are planked over in order to camouflage the danger. It seems to me that such an approach is both intellectually dishonest and fails to stimulate the habits of inquiry and skepticism that science is meant to engender. [...]
Quantum text authors, perhaps because of the perversity of their subject, are particularly adept at sweeping conceptual difficulties under the rug. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the celebrated “two-slit” experiment, which is universally invoked to illustrate the wave-particle duality of light and which brings you face to face with the bedrock inscrutability of Nature. The experiment is simple: Shine a light beam through a pair of narrow slits in a screen and observe the results. For our purposes, the great paradoxes illustrated by the two-slit experiment, that light can act like a wave or a particle but not both at the same time, are not central. What is central is that explanations of the experiment’s results invoke both classical lights waves, on the one hand, and photons—quantum light particles—on the other.
Also central is that in analyzing this experiment textbook authors essentially throw up their hands and surrender. Recollecting that light is an electromagnetic wave, authors invariably begin by talking about the intensity of the incident light, which is a measure of the strength of the electric and magnetic fields. Then in a complete non sequitur, they shift the conversation to photons, as if the quantum-mechanical beastlets have electric and magnetic fields like classical light waves. They don’t. In fact, an accurate description of the famous experiment requires a more subtle quantum-mechanical entity known as a coherent state, which is the closest thing to a classical light wave.
What’s more, by resorting to a classical optics analogy of the experiment, authors are forgoing any explanation whatsoever. “Explanation” in physics generally means to find a causal mechanism for something to happen, a mechanism involving forces, but textbook optics affords no such explanation of slit experiments. Rather than describing how the light interacts with the slits, thus explaining why it behaves as it does, we merely demand that the light wave meet certain conditions at the slit edge and forget about the actual forces involved. The results agree well with observation, but the most widely used of such methods not only avoids the guts of the problem but is mathematically inconsistent. Not to mention that the measurement problem remains in full force.
Such examples abound throughout physics. Rather than pretending that they don’t exist, physics educators would do well to acknowledge when they invoke the Wizard working the levers from behind the curtain. Even towards the end of the twentieth century, physics was regarded as received Truth, a revelation of the face of God. Some physicists may still believe that, but I prefer to think of physics as a collection of models, models that map the territory, but are never the territory itself. That may smack of defeatism to many, but ultimate answers are not to be grasped by mortals. Physicists have indeed gone further than other scientists in describing the natural world; they should not confuse description with understanding.
CLINTON'S FIFTH TERM (via Bryan Francoeur):
Obama committed to South Korea trade deal: Clinton (Reuters, 4/16/11)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday the Obama administration was committed to passing a long-delayed free trade agreement with South Korea, and that the pact was ready for review by Congress.
OOH, OOH, THAT SMELL:
Where does good come from?: Harvard's Edward O. Wilson tries to upend biology, again (Leon Neyfakh, April 17, 2011, Boston Globe)
What [E.O.] Wilson is trying to do, late in his influential career, is nothing less than overturn a central plank of established evolutionary theory: the origins of altruism. His position is provoking ferocious criticism from other scientists. Last month, the leading scientific journal Nature published five strongly worded letters saying, more or less, that Wilson has misunderstood the theory of evolution and generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. One of these carried the signatures of an eye-popping 137 scientists, including two of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard.
His new argument, in a nutshell, amounts to a frontal attack on long-accepted ideas about one of the great mysteries of evolution: why one creature would ever help another at its own expense. Natural selection means that the fittest pass down their genes to the next generation, and every organism would seem to have an overwhelming incentive to survive and reproduce. Yet, strangely, self-sacrifice exists in the natural world, even though it would seem to put individual organisms at an evolutionary disadvantage: The squirrel that lets out a cry to warn of a nearby predator is necessarily putting itself in danger. How could genes that lead to such behavior persist in a population over time? It’s a question that bedeviled even Charles Darwin, who considered altruism a serious challenge to his theory of evolution.
The puzzle of altruism is more than just a technical curiosity for evolutionary theorists. It amounts to a high-stakes inquiry into the nature of good. By identifying the mechanisms through which altruism and other advanced social behaviors have evolved in all kinds of living creatures — like ants, wasps, termites, and mole rats — we stand to gain a better understanding of the human race, and the evolutionary processes that helped us develop the capacity for collaboration, loyalty, and even morality. Figure out where altruism comes from, you might say, and you’ve figured out the magic ingredient that makes human civilization the wondrous, complex thing that it is. And perhaps this is the reason that the debate between Wilson and his critics, actually somewhat esoteric in substance, has become so heated.
The currently accepted explanation for altruism is something known as kin selection theory. It says that an organism trying to pass its genes down to future generations can do so indirectly, by helping a relative to survive and procreate. Your brother, for example, shares roughly half your genes. And so, by the dispassionate logic of evolution, helping him produce offspring is half as good for you as producing your own. Thus, acting altruistically towards someone with whom you share genetic material does not really constitute self-sacrifice: It’s just a different way of promoting your own genes. Wilson was one of the original champions of kin selection theory, but 40 years later, he is calling it a “gimmick,” and is imploring his colleagues to give it up.
“Kin selection is wrong,” Wilson said. “That’s it. It’s wrong.”
He most recently argued this point of view in a rhetorically unsparing paper that ran on the cover of Nature last August, saying that kin selection theory simply doesn’t explain altruism. It is that paper, co-written with the Harvard mathematicians Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, that is now being broadly and dramatically challenged in the form of letters, blog posts, and rebuttals published in other journals. Richard Dawkins, who played a crucial role in popularizing kin selection with his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” said last week that he has “never met anybody apart from Wilson and Nowak who takes it seriously.”
“It’s almost universally regarded as a disgrace that Nature published it,” Dawkins said. “Most people feel the reason they published it was the eminence of Wilson and Nowak, not the quality of the paper.”
Wilson’s recent about-face on kin selection has stunned the scientific world in part because Wilson was personally responsible for the almost universal embrace of the idea in the first place. While he didn’t come up with the theory, he is often credited with discovering William Hamilton, the graduate student who did, and convincing the scientific community that the young man was onto something big.
Wilson’s initial encounter with Hamilton’s theory of kin selection is famous among biologists: The story goes that he read Hamilton’s paper, which had been published in a not-very-widely-read journal of theoretical biology, on a long train ride from Boston to Miami in 1965. He approached it with skepticism: According to a 1999 story in the magazine Lingua Franca, he was agitated by the notion that some unknown upstart seemed to have solved a puzzle that had eluded him and the rest of the profession for so long. But by the time he stepped out of the train in Miami, he was thoroughly won over by the paper’s logic and prepared to go out into the world as an evangelist.
“I was enchanted,” Wilson said.
Wilson made Hamilton’s theory the basis of his work in sociobiology, a field he pioneered in the 1970s and which cemented his status as a star beyond the realm of entomology. But over the course of subsequent decades, Wilson came across evidence that made him doubt the connection between genetic relatedness and altruism. Researchers were finding species of insects that shared a lot of genetic material with each other but didn’t behave altruistically, and other species that shared little and did. “Nothing we were finding connected with kin selection,” Wilson said. “I knew that something was going wrong — there was a smell to it.”
The smell is dead fish floating to the top of the barrel.
CATERING TO AN AUDIENCE THAT DOESN'T EXIST:
The Naked Nielsens (Marty Kaplan, 04/14/11, HuffPo)
The metrics are wearing no clothes.
How would you react if you found out that the basis of your business model was bogus? That's the nightmare that the television industry is finally waking up to, and I bet that online media won't be far behind.
The TV business is built on advertising. Except for premium cable, the money that networks get for selling audiences' eyeballs to advertisers is the mother's milk of the industry. Networks set the price of ads on their shows using demographic information about the age and sex of those shows' viewers. And the company that pretty much has a monopoly on furnishing those metrics is Nielsen.
So a few weeks ago, at the Marriott Marquis in New York, it must have felt like pitchfork time when a respected TV network figure in charge of analyzing ratings, CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack, told the Advertising Research Foundation's annual convention that, um, age and sex don't matter.
Poltrack put a positive spin on his stunning admission: Look! We're working with Nielsen to come up with terrific new metrics that are way better than those lousy old demographics! But that cheery prospect may not have distracted the advertising and marketing executives in the room from ruing the hundreds of billions of dollars they've apparently thrown down the rat hole these past 35 years.
How lousy are age and sex for targeting ad buys? "Essentially invalid," said Poltrack. "There is no link, none, between the age of the specified demographic delivery of the campaign and the sales generated by that campaign." According to Ad Age, Nielsen executives at the convention reported that "ratings demographics by age and sex had a... 0.12 correlation with actual sales produced by exposure to TV ads, where 1.0 is complete correlation and 0 signals no relationship whatsoever." Zero-point-one-two! You'd do better using a Ouija board than Nielsen demos.
Whenever The Wife watches a sporting event she complains that men get all the good ads.
WHY ONLY BASEBALL FASCINATES::
Strange balk sequence provides light moment (Eric Gilmore, 4/17/11, MLB.com)
With Daric Barton at first base and David DeJesus at the plate, Verlander went into his stretch. He stepped back off the mound, intending to throw to first, but apparently caught a cleat in the dirt. So instead of making an off-balance throw to first, he threw toward home plate -- and hit DeJesus.
Home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck ruled it a balk and awarded second base to Barton. DeJesus' at-bat continued, and he eventually walked.
"That was the strangest [thing] I've ever seen," Geren said.
LET MY PEOPLE GO:
Story of Passover is told in modern-day uprisings (Lila Bricklin, 4/17/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Monday night during the seder meal, Jews worldwide will relive the redemption of the Israelites as written in the book of Exodus.
The Haggadah - the book used to guide the seder and a word that means to tell, or the telling - says that in every generation each Jew must feel personally redeemed; we're supposed to embrace the exodus from Egypt as part of our own experience.
As history has played out the last three months across North Africa and the Middle East, I feel like I've borne witness to the Passover story on my TV and laptop. Dictators have been toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, and the world is helping rebel forces in Libya battle a brutal modern-day pharaoh.
WHAT'S THE POLYNESIAN FOR FIFTY-CENTS?:
Ukulele Crazy (BEN SISARIO, 4/17/11, NY Times)
LIKE everybody else, Eddie Vedder was shocked by what the ukulele could do.
It was the late 1990s and Mr. Vedder was in Hawaii, decompressing after a tour with his band, Pearl Jam, when one of those modest, four-stringed instruments caught his eye in an out-of-the-way drugstore. He bought it, sat down on a nearby case of beer, and picked out a few melodies. It felt good.
“And then a couple of tourists came by and threw 50 cents in the ukulele case,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, there’s something going on here.’ ”
Mr. Vedder’s new solo album, “Ukulele Songs” (Monkeywrench), will be released May 31. (“Truth in advertising,” he says of the title.) But in the years since his first beer-case serenade, the ukulele’s fortunes have changed. Not long ago it was an endangered species, usually encountered as cheap exotica or a comic prop. Now it permeates the culture to an extent that it hasn’t in more than half a century, turning up in Top 10 pop songs and fashionable indie-rock bands, in television commercials by the hundred and YouTube videos by the thousand. There definitely is something going on here.
THE CARICATURE IS THE REALITY:
Atlas Winced (Megan McArdle, Apr 15 2011,, The Atlantic)
I feel bad being this mean about the movie. Mean reviews are cheap currency for a reviewer; they're easy and fun to write, while it's hard to find interesting and original ways to say "I liked it". But in this case, it's more than justified. Acting an Ayn Rand movie well would require extraordinary control and nuance; the actors either don't get it, or don't have the skill to convey it. Filming it well would require imagination to capture the combination of WPA mural and noir that forms the backdrop for her novels; the director and the art director either lacked the imagination, or the budget. Writing it well would require deft judgement as to how to translate Rand's rather preachy dialogue into something plausible and compelling. The writers either . . . well, here's a sample.
"I'm Robert McNamara. What are you selling, pal?"
"Nothing. I'm simply offering a society that cultivates individual achievement. I know where such a place exists."
At the sound of this, my husband's head popped up. "He really said that?" he asked incredulously. And in a tone of even greater wonder "And someone else wrote it??" It is sort of breathtaking to contemplate the chain of events that had to occur for those words to end up blaring improbably from my laptop speakers.
Believe it or not, this is far from the worst dialogue in the movie--the farewell of Ellis Wyatt is much, much worse, and also, manages to step on one of the best lines in the book. Did I say "step"? The line was flung down and danced upon.
The worst part is that the movie is a bad caricature of what people think that libertarians believe. The genius of capitalism is nowhere to be found--in this movie, "business" mostly consists of shuffling papers around a desk, telling your fellow capitalists how great they are, and instantly promising to deliver metal for a railroad bridge without probing trivial matters like how much metal will be required, when and where the bridge will be built, and how much the customer might be willing to pay. This makes the capitalists who go on strike seem very little different from the "looters" in Washington who they are supposed to be fighting: they're all a bunch of pompous windbags delivering prim little lectures to each other.
April 16, 2011
NO ONE GETS AROUSED LOOKING AT VEGETABLES:
Vegan magazine admits to meaty pics (UPI, 4/15/11)
U.S. readers of vegan magazine VegNews say they're in a stew to find the magazine regularly uses stock photographs containing meat in its photo spreads.
CNN said the magazine admitted to using the meaty photographs after being outed by the author of a vegan blog called quarrygirl.com.
"The pictures we've been drooling over for years are actually of MEAT!" quarrygirl charged. "Get your barf bags ready!"
They're bulimic, their barf bags are always ready.
WE ARE ALL DESIGNISTS NOW:
Evolutionary analysis shows languages obey few ordering rules (John Timmer, April 13, 2011, Ars Technica)
Noam Chomsky helped establish the Generative school of thought, which suggests that there must be some constraints to this madness, some rules that help make a language easier for children to pick up, and hence more likely to persist. Others have approached this issue via a statistical approach (the authors credit those inspired by Joseph Greenberg for this), looking for word-order rules that consistently correlate across language families. This approach has identified a handful of what may be language universals, but our uncertainty about language relationships can make it challenging to know when some of these are correlations are simply derived from a common inheritance.
For anyone with a biology background, having traits shared through common inheritance should ring a bell. Evolutionary biologists have long been able to build family trees of related species, called phylogenetic trees. By figuring out what species have the most traits in common and grouping them together, it's possible to identify when certain features have evolved in the past. In recent years, the increase in computing power and DNA sequences to align has led to some very sophisticated phylogenetic software, which can analyze every possible tree and perform a Bayesian statistical analysis to figure out which trees are most likely to represent reality.
By treating language features like subject-verb order as a trait, the authors were able to perform this sort of analysis on four different language families: 79 Indo-European languages, 130 Austronesian languages, 66 Bantu languages, and 26 Uto-Aztecan languages. Although we don't have a complete roster of the languages in those families, they include over 2,400 languages that have been evolving for a minimum of 4,000 years.
The results are bad news for universalists: "most observed functional dependencies between traits are lineage-specific rather than universal tendencies," according to the authors. The authors were able to identify 19 strong correlations between word order traits, but none of these appeared in all four families; only one of them appeared in more than two. Fifteen of them only occur in a single family. Specific predictions based on the Greenberg approach to linguistics also failed to hold up under the phylogenetic analysis. "Systematic linkages of traits are likely to be the rare exception rather than the rule," the authors conclude.
If universal features can't account for what we observe, what can? Common descent. "Cultural evolution is the primary factor that determines linguistic structure, with the current state of a linguistic system shaping and constraining future states."
There are only the choices we make.
WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN DENNY (via Matt Murphy):
Maple Bacon Sundae (Denny's)
Bacon makes a classic ice cream sundae even more awesome. We start with maple-flavored syrup, and a scoop of rich, creamy vanilla ice cream and then a generous sprinkle of our diced hickory-smoked bacon. Add another sweet layer of syrup and vanilla ice cream topped with even more bacon and a drizzle of syrup.
From Dynasty to Democracy: Nations did not find stability, or sustained prosperity, until they became accountable to their citizens (David Gress, 4/15/11, WSJ)
For Mr. Fukuyama, politics are decisive. The ways in which societies govern themselves, he believes, create paths that may last for centuries, even millennia. Unlike the libertarians, he does not believe the state is a second-order phenomenon, a mere enabler or protector of what people choose to do in civil society or, alternatively, a saboteur of their freedoms. On the contrary, the form the state takes is of first-order importance: It can allow for human flourishing or thwart it mercilessly.
Mr. Fukuyama condemns the "curious blindness" of serious thinkers, including economists, to "the importance of political institutions." He notes, for instance, that it matters more to the destiny of a society which conqueror takes power—and when and how—than what its people's supposedly innate qualities might be or what perfect model of rational self-interest its scholars may endorse.
The narrative direction of "The Origins of Political Order" is not a Whiggish one of inevitable progress— there is too much back-and-forth variation, over the centuries, for so simple a scheme. But it is true that Mr. Fukuyama tracks a quest for "order" that often falls short of its goal until a decisive threshold is reached around 1800.
By then the Industrial Revolution—even at its earliest stages—had unleashed the forces of production in ways hitherto unimaginable, allowing for abundance rather than scarcity, not least in the production of food. But the threshold proved to be more than a matter of escaping "the Malthusian trap" of hunger and overpopulation. In the years surrounding the French Revolution, Mr. Fukuyama believes, politics began to shape itself—at last—into an orderly and sustainable form.
Obviously, political order had been achieved before then, but in a fitful and incomplete way. In Mr. Fukuyama's view, a durable political order can arise, and societies can fully thrive, only when a state is formed, when the state itself operates according to a rule of law, and when the state becomes accountable—that is, when it must answer to its citizens. Until the threshold point around 1800, he says, all three properties rarely existed together.
Francis Fukuyama’s Theory of the State: a review of THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL ORDER: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution By Francis Fukuyama (MICHAEL LIND, 4/17/11, NY Times Book Review)
“I believe that Kojève’s assertion still deserves to be taken seriously. The three components of a modern political order — a strong and capable state, the state’s subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens — had all been established in one or another part of the world by the end of the 18th century.”
By chance, these three elements were united for the first time in Britain, although other northwestern European countries that were influenced by the Reformation, like the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, “also succeeded in putting together the state, rule of law and accountability in a single package by the 19th century.” [...]
Drawing on recent work in sociobiology as well as older critiques of abstract natural rights liberalism, Fukuyama writes: “Human beings never existed in a presocial state. The idea that human beings at one time existed as isolated individuals, who interacted either through anarchic violence (Hobbes) or in pacific ignorance of one another (Rousseau), is not correct.”
Some readers, however, may think that Fukuyama goes too far in de-emphasizing the natural rights tradition that inspired the Renaissance and Enlightenment liberalism. Here Fukuyama’s historicism and his insistence that ideas themselves shape political order are arguably at odds. He takes the theology of ancient Brahmins seriously as an explanation for the organization of Indian society, but does not do the same for the thinking of 17th-century English Levellers and Lockeans who influenced the English, American and French revolutions. Like 19th-century historicists, who accepted much of modernity while seeking to trace the origins of modern Western institutions to the customs of Germanic tribes or the corporations of medieval society, Fukuyama is in the position of favoring a democratic political order while arguing that the theories that first justified it, like universal rights and moral and epistemological individualism, were mistaken. It will be interesting to see how Fukuyama deals with the ideas that shaped the republicanism of the American and French revolutions in his promised second volume.
That said, “The Origins of Political Order” is a rigorous attempt to create a synoptic view of human history by means of a synthesis of research in many disciplines. Even those who doubt that such an enterprise can succeed or who take issue with particular details or conclusions can be impressed by Fukuyama’s audacity and stimulated by his arguments. Ambitious, erudite and eloquent, this book is undeniably a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.
One can imagine how much heat Mr. Fukuyama has taken from the intelligentsia over the years for the End of History, which essentially states that the Anglo-American system of democracy, capitalism, and protestantism is the ultimate arrangement of human affairs. But pretending that other cultures contributed to this development is kind of silly. And, being a neocon rather than a conservative, even when he wrote the earlier essay and book, he had failed to reckon with the degree to which the End was dependent on Christianity. After all, strong states are rather routine in history and, likewise, the rule of law, but the notion that the law should apply universally to all individuals in a society and that the state exists for that purpose, is exclusive to the West, while the morality undergirding that notion is exclusive to the children of Abraham.
It is this problem, the origins and maintenance of human dignity, that seems permanently elusive to Mr. Fukuyama. Recall that the "Last Man" he worried about in the book version of End of History is basically bereft of any meaning to his existence at the End. While this accurately describes the crisis of secularism, as we can see in the continental Europe that is willingly dying off, it ignores the thriving citizenry of the faithful Anglosphere. Peter Augustine Lawler's new collection, Modern and American Dignity, offers a powerful corrective to Mr. Fukuyama's blindness in this regard. [Interestingly, both were members of W's Council on Bioethics.] Consider, for example, the discussion in an essay that appeared first in The New Atlantis, Nations, Liberalism, and Science:
What is the relationship between liberalism and the nation? Does liberalism threaten the very existence of the nation? Can liberalism have a future without the nation, without a definite and limited political form? Do we have to choose between being liberal and being national or political? And how has our changing understanding of the natural world and man’s place in it—from natural theology to modern, mechanistic science—changed personhood and politics?
From the beginning, liberalism and political devotion have, of course, been in tension. The nation—or nation-state—is the modern form of the polis or political community. The polis came into existence when human loyalty ceased to be wholly personal or despotic. Loyalty shifted away from the personal rule of the despot to the way of life—the system of justice—of the place. Personal loyalty is fundamentally nomadic; it travels with the despot. Political loyalty is to a community occupying a particular territory.
The polis or nation inspires and depends upon political loyalty. The citizen, strictly speaking, finds his identity as a part of a political whole. He is formed by the process of “political socialization” of a particular polis. The citizen exists to serve the cause of his country—a reality much bigger and greater than himself. The virtue of the citizen is loyalty—even unquestioning loyalty.
Liberalism has its origins in opposition to that comprehensive understanding of citizenship. Each particular human being—the person—is not part of a political whole. The person himself is a whole, with personal responsibility and a personal destiny. A person can also be a citizen, of course, but being a citizen expresses only part—and not the highest part—of his being. He has the freedom to form or integrate himself according to what he can see for himself about who he is, both in terms of his capabilities and limitations and about what and whom he knows and loves.
Liberalism begins on a big scale with Christianity. St. Augustine, for instance, criticized the theologies of ancient Greece and Rome from a liberal view. Civil theology involved the polytheistic gods of Athens and Rome, who existed to give divine sanction to the polis’s view of justice and to the loyalty of citizens. This civil theology, Augustine explains, does not give people the security for which they long: the city, so to speak, does not care about you the way you care about the city; there is no political recognition of your unique and irreplaceable being as a particular person.
What’s more, Augustine continues, civil theology is degrading. The truth is that every human being is more than a citizen—and we are all free to be open to the truth about who we are.
St. Augustine also criticized the philosophic natural theology of the Greeks and Romans. According to natural theology, we are all part of the impersonal process of nature. Aristotle’s God, for example, is not a person but a principle. Our moral pretensions and desire for personal significance are not supported by nature. The natural theologians—philosophers and scientists—are incapable, Augustine claims, of seeing the irreplaceable existence of every particular human being. They cannot account for our desire to be more than merely biological beings—to be personally significant, to be known and loved as persons. Our irreducible personal longings—which exist in every being born with both logos and eros—point in the direction of a personal God Who knows and loves us as persons. When each of us “relates” to that God, we remain a whole person relating to a whole person.
St. Augustine says that each human being is to some extent a pilgrim in his earthly city, and he obeys the law in the spirit of an alien or captive. Deep down, the particular person does not understand himself as a citizen or think of his country as his truest home. The person is also alienated, to some extent, from nature, knowing that nature is not his truest home either. Although man knows himself as a who, to both nature and the polis he is only a what.
Not that persons are not partly natural, partly political, partly familial, and so forth, but as a unique whole, a person is more than the sum of his parts. That is not modern liberalism, though. Distinctively modern liberalism is Christian or personal liberalism without belief in the Bible’s personal God.
Modern liberal philosophers, such as John Locke, side with the Christians in opposing civil theology. We are by nature free individuals—whole or, in a way, emotionally self-sufficient beings—and we invent political life—we institute government—to serve our individual needs. I do not exist for the city; the city exists for me. I ask first what my country can do for me, not what I can do for my country. The modern separation of church and state is an unreligious way of expressing the Christian view that our deepest devotion is not to our country, and that our political obedience can be separated from love or profound emotional loyalty.
The modern liberals also agree with the Christians that natural theology does not provide an account to the individual of his freedom. We are free from nature and dissatisfied with nature. We can and should use our freedom to master nature, to create a world more in accord with our own longings. Modern liberals make use of their technology to counter the impersonality of natural theology. But while each person should regard himself as unique and irreplaceable—as a whole and not merely a part—there is no corresponding personal God Who lovingly provides for each of us. There is no evidence for the existence of such a God, just as there is no evidence that any of us survives our biological demise. The truth is that we are all alone in a hostile environment and must provide for ourselves. This is not to say that Locke was necessarily an atheist; let us say he was a Deist who believed in an emphatically “past-tense” God Who set the universe in motion and left us alone. The God of the Deists may be different from the Aristotelian principle insofar as we can hold Him to be a Creator mysteriously responsible for our freedom, but He, like Aristotle’s God, is not personally concerned with any of us in particular.
Thus the good and bad news for the modern liberal is that each of us is really on his own—truly, absolutely free. The free human person brought into being the impersonal state. To maximize our freedom, we do not think of government as deserving of our personal love or loyalty, and patriotism becomes much less instinctive and more calculating. The free citizen sees that government is part of what is good for him. But the territory or tradition that his political community occupies is much less important than its capacity to serve his personal interests. Except for extreme libertarians, nobody denies that the modern state still requires some measure of loyalty. But the source of loyalty becomes more problematic. As the modern world becomes more “Lockeanized,” loyalty is the virtue that most obviously deteriorates. The “right of secession” is more consciously and deliberately applied to all the relationships that are parts of our lives. Even friendship becomes a temporary alliance, or “networking.”
The modern state has also suffered, since its beginning, from the growing contradiction between liberal personal longings and increasingly impersonal or mechanistic science. The cost of freeing the person from nature and God is freeing nature and theology from the person. “Nature’s God” is not a guide for human thought and action, and nature is hostile to our personal beings. The tension between the apparent accident of personal existence and the impersonal laws that govern science produces a loneliness that becomes harder and harder to bear. [...]
The American nation, we can also see, has a more promising future. There are many reasons for the American difference. The two world wars and the Cold War were not as traumatic for us; in fact, they reinforced our national self-confidence. The human cost of the monstrous twentieth century was not exacted on our continent. In each of these wars we also rightly think of ourselves as having been a force for good, defending personal freedom and human rights against terrible evildoers.
We can also see that America has not really engaged in the effort to stabilize free, personal life in the absence of a personal God. The American view has tended neither toward the death of God nor His reconfiguration as the foundation of some American civil religion. Writers often discuss the American civil religion, but generally describe it as some variant of Biblical religion with an active God.
From the beginning, Americans have not grappled in the same way with the contradiction between intense personal longings and impersonal science or theology. Consider our Declaration of Independence. The theoretical core of the Declaration—on self-evident truths, unalienable rights, and instituting government—speaks of “Nature’s God,” a Deist creator, the source of the impersonal laws of nature. Christian members of the Continental Congress insisted that two other references to God be added to the eminently modern Jefferson and Franklin’s draft, and so the rousing conclusion, ending with “sacred Honor,” speaks of a Creator-God as the “Supreme Judge” of us all and as the source of “divine Providence.” Thanks to this legislative compromise, the Declaration offers up a “Nature’s God” Who also knows and cares about each of us. Through most of our history, such compromises between modern and Christian Americans have considerably reduced the distance between Christian and modern views of the person’s natural and theological environment.
So Americans view political life, in part, as the free construction of self-interested individuals securing their material being in a hostile natural world. But they also, in part, regard it as limited by the conscientious duties persons have to their personal Creator. Political life is both dignified and limited by the real existence of dignified creatures. The most admirable and powerful American efforts at egalitarian reform have had religious origins, but religion has also acted (as Tocqueville explained) as a limit on the American spirit of social and political reform. Americans have plenty of confidence in progress, but present persons are not to be sacrificed to some vague historical future. Because Americans don’t really believe people are radically, miserably alienated from God and nature now, they don’t think it is their job to transform existence itself to save people from their misery.
Consider today how Americans are divided over the truth of modern, impersonal natural theology or science. Some Americans believe that we should take our social and moral cues from the evolutionary science of Darwin. In their eyes, we are not qualitatively different from the other animals; basically, they assert with pride in their sophistication, we are chimps with really big brains. This variety of American is also usually quite proud of his autonomy—his freedom from nature for self-determination. If men really are the same as chimps, however, then human autonomy is nothing but an illusion. Strict materialism and evolution cannot really account for free, personal existence. So these sophisticated Americans, despite themselves, can’t help but be in fierce rebellion against impersonal nature. They are well on their way to reducing all morality to fanaticism about personal health and safety. In their social behavior, they increasingly resemble the Europeans—and like the Europeans, they are not having enough children to replace themselves.
Meanwhile, other Americans still believe that their personal existence is supported by a personal God, often a God Whose intelligence exhibits itself in the design of nature. Although they typically believe their true home is somewhere else, these are clearly the Americans most at home as members of families, churches, and their country. Generally speaking, they have more than enough babies to replace themselves, raise them comparatively well, and do not seek as urgently to fend off their inevitable biological demise. Most at home with the irreducible alienation that comes with being a person, they seem best able to see the good about their familial and political existence for what it is. In our country, personal theology seems an indispensable support for the future of the nation.
Maybe it would be helpful if we somewhat altered Mr. Fukuyama's formulation: the optimal political order does not so much become accountable to its citizenry but holds itself accountable to God by treating all of its citizens with the dignity they deserve by virtue of their Creation.
-REVIEW: of Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (2001) by Robert P. Kraynak (Brothers Judd)
The Beginning of History: As the communist era vanished, he declared history’s end. With the Middle East in revolt and China rising, Francis Fukuyama is back. What is he thinking? (Andrew Bast, 4/10/11, Newsweek)
If he started with the end, Fukuyama is now returning to the beginning: he wants to answer the existential question of politics—where does government come from?
But he’s pursuing this newest project all alone. He has publicly turned his back on the neocon movement. He has no interest in ingratiating himself in the foreign-policy establishment. Actually, after 22 years in Washington, Fukuyama has escaped to Stanford. He lives in Palo Alto, California, where dotcom money reigns. “Google is just up the street. My wife ran into Mark Zuckerberg at Trader Joe’s,” he says, “and watch out—you’ll probably see a few Ferraris around.” (In fact, by the end of the afternoon the sweet California sun had begun to shine, and we’d spotted two.) The End of History was the making of Fukuyama, not only as a public intellectual, but also financially. His beautiful new house (into which he and his wife have just moved) stands in one of the most expensive ZIP codes in America.
Self-exile from his former milieu and from his old associates, however, seems to have offered Fukuyama a kind of mental liberation, freeing him from ideological trappings and allowing him to serve up his magnum opus. His new book, The Origins of Political Order, which hits bookstores this week, seeks to understand how human beings transcended tribal affiliations and organized themselves into political societies. “In the developed world, we take the existence of government so much for granted that we sometimes forget how difficult it was to create,” he writes.
Political order begins, he says, in ancient China. By the time of the Chin dynasty in 221 B.C., some 10,000 individual separate chiefdoms across Asia had been corralled into a single state. How did that happen? To boil things down quickly: the state evolved to allow for a more effective making of war. Walking forward through the millennia, he investigates the political evolution of India: the strict social class structure defined its politics. Then the Islamic caliphate: “There is no clearer illustration of the importance of ideas to politics than the emergence of an Arab state under the Prophet Muhammad,” but the spread of Islam “depended also very much on political power” and military slavery. Lastly, he outlines the rise of the Catholic Church in Europe: “The Western separation of church and state has not been a constant since the advent of Christianity but rather something much more episodic—in fact, it established what we know today as the rule of law.” (The book ends at the French Revolution, leaving subsequent history to the next volume.)
What does Fukuyama make of the confounding world of today, with revolutions rocking the Middle East and the rest torn between Washington’s free-market democratic model or Beijing’s authoritarian state capitalism? “There’s something very gratifying about the Middle East demonstrating that Islam is not at odds with the democratic currents that have swept up other parts of the world,” he says. “But what’s most important, actually, is what happens next.” That is, of course, the messy, often contentious process of engineering democracy. These are complicated places—despotic rule has stunted political parties (or, as in Libya, erased them entirely) and gutted civil society. That’s where the real trouble begins. On the “Arab Spring,” he’s bearish. “I guarantee you in a year or two it will not look as hopeful. It’s the whole point of my book. You need institutions, leaders—and corruption has to be under control. These are really the failings of many democracy movements. And it’s happening again—if you look at Egypt, the liberal parties are floundering.”
While the world can’t take its eyes off the Middle East, Fukuyama is, instead, looking ahead to China. Beijing has gone to great lengths—stymieing communications, hitting protests with an iron fist—to keep any democratic wave from rolling too far east. The Chinese government, he argues, will be successful in stifling protest, at least in the near term. “Authoritarianism in China is of a far higher quality than in the Middle East,” he wrote recently. Revolutions, he argues, don’t come from the disenchanted poor, but from an upwardly mobile middle class fed up with anachronistic government that does little but keep them from achieving their potential. So Beijing may be able to keep its people happy for now, but in the coming years its biggest risk is putting off democratic reforms and ending up with a regime that’s fallen behind its people. When the Chinese middle class is no longer willing to forgo political freedom for bigger paychecks, or when the Communist Party grows stagnant, unable to keep up with the masses, then change is going to come, one way or another.
Strange as it may sound for a man who secured fame and fortune with an essay titled “The End of History?” his prescience as a political philosopher flows from his “revulsion at triumphalist views” (in the view of Paul Berman, author of Flight of the Intellectuals). When Fukuyama first joined up with the neocons back in the 1970s under the tutelage of Allan Bloom (who wrote The Closing of the American Mind), it was largely a reaction against the left-wing triumphalism of the Great Society and of the cultural rebellions of the New Left spawned in 1968. More recently, Berman says, “the same kind of triumphalism overtook the neoconservatives on the right, and he turned away from them.”
That break with the neoconservative clan had a very specific genesis. At an annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute in February 2004, Fukuyama sat listening first to a speech by Vice President Dick Cheney and then the columnist Charles Krauthammer, who declared a “unipolar era” had begun, which, of course, the U.S. would lead. “All of these people around me were cheering wildly,” Fukuyama remembers. But in his view, Iraq was fast becoming a blunder. “All of my friends had taken leave of reality.”
Princelings and the goon state: The rise and rise of the princelings, the country’s revolutionary aristocracy (The Economist, Apr 14th 2011)
Since the late 1970s, when China began to turn its back on Maoist totalitarianism, the country has gone through several cycles of relative tolerance of dissent, followed by periods of repression. But the latest backlash, which was first felt late last year and intensified in late February, has raised eyebrows. It has involved more systematic police harassment of foreign journalists than at any time since the early 1990s. More ominously, activists such as Mr Ai have often simply disappeared rather than being formally arrested.
It is an abnormally heavy-handed approach, one unprompted by any mass disturbances (recent anonymous calls on the internet for a Chinese “jasmine revolution” hardly count). This suggests that shifting forces within the Chinese leadership could well be playing a part. China is entering a period of heightened political uncertainty as it prepares for changes in many top positions in the Communist Party, government and army, beginning late next year. This is the first transfer of power after a decade of rapid social change. Within the state, new interest groups have emerged. These are now struggling to set the agenda for China’s new rulers.
Particularly conspicuous are the “princelings”. The term refers to the offspring of China’s revolutionary founders and other high-ranking officials. Vice-President Xi Jinping, who looks set to take over as party chief next year and president in 2013, is one of them. Little is known about his policy preferences. Some princelings have been big beneficiaries of China’s economic reforms, using their political connections and Western education to build lucrative business careers. Other princelings are critical of China’s Dickensian capitalism and call for a return to socialist rectitude. Some straddle both camps. Prominent princelings in business include President Hu Jintao’s son, Hu Haifeng, who headed a big provider of airport scanners; and Wen Yunsong, a financier who is the son of Wen Jiabao, the prime minister.
Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, argues that a shared need to protect their interests binds these princelings together, especially at a time of growing public resentment against nepotism. Since a Politburo reshuffle in 2007, princelings have occupied seven out of 25 seats, up from three in 2002.
A kleptocracy, if you can keep it.
THERE HAVE BEEN 20 BILLION OF US, HOW HARD CAN IT BE?:
Go Ahead, Have Another (JONATHAN V. LAST, 4/15/11, WSJ)
Bryan Caplan's "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" is the antidote to Amy Chua's best seller, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Whereas Ms. Chua insists that parents should have few children and then drive them relentlessly toward perfection, Mr. Caplan argues that people should have more children; that they are cheaper than we think; that parenting is less important than we imagine; and that kids can basically raise themselves. [...]
If parenting does not help a child make money as an adult or increase her chances of a lasting marriage, there are still a few areas where parents can make a difference. Parents have a good chance of passing on their religious and political views to their children, for instance. Studies also show that parents can, by small degrees, cause their daughters to postpone having sex. (Huzzah!) And they can lower the chances that, as teenagers, their kids will wind up in jail. But the biggest effect of nurture, it turns out, is on how children perceive their parents.
So you can greatly increase the chances of your children voting the way you do, going to your church and thinking fondly of you. But that's about it. "Instead of thinking of children as lumps of clay for parents to mold, we should think of them as plastic that flexes in response to pressure—and pops back to its original shape once the pressure is released."
That is Mr. Caplan's first bit of good news. The second is that if you are a reasonably well-adjusted and happy person, your kids probably will be, too. All of which means that parents don't need to invest nearly as much time and energy in parenting as they think they need to. "You can have a better life and a bigger family," he says, "if you admit that your kids' future is not in your hands."
With the economics out of the way, Mr. Caplan tries coaxing parents into taking their hands off the wheel. "The first step to happier parenting," he observes, "is to abandon 'recreation' enjoyed by neither parent nor child." Your daughter hates ballet class and you hate schlepping her there? Drop it. Planning to travel hundreds of miles for a family vacation that will make everyone miserable? Try a "staycation" instead. Get take-out food, he urges, and hire a housekeeper. But above all get a nanny—even if she doesn't speak fluent English or have a driver's license. Your life will be easier, and your kids won't be any worse off—they may even turn out better, since you'll be setting a better example by being less anxious.
Despite its wickedly subversive premise, Mr. Caplan's book is cheery and intellectually honest. (The exception being a tendentious chapter on fertility technology, in which Mr. Caplan gives a thumbs-up to everything, including human cloning.) And the bedrock of his argument is solid: Modern parenting is insane. Children do not need most of what we buy them. So, yes, the "price" of children is artificially high.
THROW AWAY YOUR CANE:
Raphael Saadiq On World Cafe (NPR, 4/15/11)
From the age of 6, Saadiq has professed a strong knack for music, playing the bass, singing in professional gospel groups and performing on stage for his church and school. His solo albums have marked his steady evolution as an artist, from 2002's Instant Vintage to 2008's successful The Way I See It. Saadiq is set to release his fifth solo LP, Stone Rollin', on May 10. Hear songs from the upcoming album, as well as an interview with host David Dye, on this edition of World Cafe.
Hollywood Adjustment?: Are religious themes and influences becoming more prominent in recent films? (Steven D. Greydanus, Catholic World Report)
Open-endedness and ambiguity are hallmarks of the filmmakers responsible for last year’s most remarkable faith-inflected film, True Grit. Notably, where nearly all the rest of Hollywood’s faith-themed 2010 output had at least one thing in common—they were generally popular, and critical, disappointments—True Grit was the outstanding exception, the Coens’ highest-grossing film to date, and a critical darling with an impressive lineup of Oscar nominations (though, disappointingly, no wins) including best picture, director, actor, supporting actress, and adapted screenplay.
True Grit doesn’t fit any of the categories noted above: It isn’t aimed at believing audiences, it doesn’t grapple with faith issues from a secular perspective, and it doesn’t reduce religious themes to mythic trappings. It can be considered a genuinely religious film—not just a film about religious questions, like A Serious Man, but a film that we are at least invited to contemplate in terms of faith.
Coen skeptics (I tend more than not to be one myself) may easily doubt this judgment, given the Coens’ not undeserved reputation as filmmakers for irony, misanthropy, and nihilism. True Grit has left more than a few critics and even fans squinting in perplexity at what appears to be an old-fashioned moral drama with flawed but sympathetic, capable characters, looking for some hint that the Coens were only joking. There are certainly moments of Coenesque absurdity, but the disdain for their characters that marks many Coen films is absent here, and the film credibly comes together as a narrative about grace and justice.
A new adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel rather than a remake of the 1969 film for which John Wayne won his only Oscar, True Grit tells the story of a 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (played by the extraordinary Hailee Steinfeld), on a quest to avenge the death of her father at the hands of a drifter. “No doubt Chaney fancied himself scot-free, but he was wrong,” Mattie declares in an opening voiceover. “You must pay for everything in this life, one way and another. There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”
Certain of the rightness of her cause, Mattie is confident that Providence, among other things, is with her: “The Author of all things watches over me, and I have a good horse.” She also has two men, US Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon). Both justice and revenge fuel Mattie’s quest: she is determined to see Chaney hang, on her terms, in her county, for her father’s killing and not some other crime. (Spoilers follow.)
When Mattie finally comes face to face with Chaney, she shoots him—twice. The first time she only injures him, but—in a notable departure both from the Portis novel and the John Wayne film—later on, after he has attacked her, she gets a second chance, and kills him. Under the circumstances it may be possible to view pulling the trigger either as self-defense or as some species of unjust homicide, and that ambiguity colors the consequences of her act.
Later, Rooster bears the injured Mattie across the trackless wilderness under a darkening sky that fades to night. Critic Lee Siegel of the New York Observer, one of the film’s few naysayers, argues that the “fablelike starry skies” symbolize “The Indifferent Universe”—that the “point of the starry sky—as was the point of the Coens’ stylishly pointless No Country for Old Men—is to present the universe as amoral. It is as indifferent to who we are and to the stories we tell ourselves as it is to our fabricated categories of good and evil.”
While I tend to agree with Siegel about No Country, I think he is wrong here. I think we can look into that starry sky and see what Mattie does, the Author of all things watching over her. Beneath her is a good horse—and when the horse fails, there is a good man, a man at least partly redeemed from the wickedness of his past life, carrying her as far as he can. And when the man fails, there is the grace of God. Most explicitly, the grace of God may be seen in the crucial moment when a character utters a whispered ejaculation (“Oh Lord”) as he squeezes a trigger and makes an impossible shot, saving another man’s life and ultimately Mattie’s as well.
To find such themes in a Coen film is itself a gift, almost a grace. Hollywood’s sporadic attempts to reach out to Christian viewers with films like The Blind Side, The Book of Eli, and Soul Surfer will continue; some of these films may even be good. And it’s a foregone conclusion that religious trappings will continue to provide a colorful backdrop for dumb roller-coaster movies.
Genuine religious interest, though, is not a commodity that can be packaged in an elevator pitch or pushed by producers in response to box-office ups and downs. It comes from filmmakers like Nolfi and the Coens with a personal interest in religious questions. For the most part, a religiously illiterate culture will produce religiously illiterate cinema, and films that really explore the big questions will continue to be rare—which is precisely why they are worth seeking out when they do come along.
Except that the culture is so religiously literate that it not infrequently serves up works that explore those questions in implicitly religious ways, whether the makers and patrons realize it or not.
WHEN THE TSAR STOPS FIRING THE REVOLUTION HAS WON:
Syrian government holds its fire amid largest protests yet (Tara Bahrampour, April 15, 2011, Washington Post)
Protests in Syria swelled Friday to their largest numbers so far, as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the capital, Damascus, and in dozens of cities and towns across the country, witnesses said.
But unlike in earlier protests, state security forces appeared to withhold lethal force, firing into the air instead of on crowds — a possible sign that the government might be reassessing its approach to the uprisings that started here a month ago.
“It is an amazingly big day, both in the number of protesters and the number of towns and cities being bigger than ever before, and in that the regime response and the way they dealt with the protesters was exceptional,” said Wassim Tarif, director of Insan, a Syrian human rights organization. “This is the first Friday that we don’t have reports of people being killed in the country.”
Pro-democracy protests rock Syrian capital (Deutsche-Welle, 4/15/11)
Pro-democracy street demonstrations reached the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Friday with thousands of protesters gathering in the city center after weekly Muslim prayers.
Protesters reportedly shouted "God, Syria, Freedom" as they defied Syrian security forces, which used batons and tear gas to clear the main Abbasside Square of regime opponents.
REMEMBER HOW GREAT MEETINGS WERE BEFORE POWERPOINT!:
The No. 1 Killer of Meetings: And what you can do about it, according to Harvard blogger Peter Bregman (Peter Bregman, April 14, 2011, Harvard Business Review)
"That was dreadful. Not only was I bored, everyone else was bored too. Disengaged. I'm terrible at facilitating these kinds of meetings. But they're so important. I've got to get better at it. I need to find a better way."
I wrote that in a journal entry about seven years ago. I still remember the meeting that finally drove me to change how I run meetings. There were about 10 people involved—the CEO and his direct reports—and we met for two days offsite, in a hotel, so we wouldn't be distracted. The goal was to discuss and agree on our plans for the next year. A strategy offsite.
I had prepared meticulously. I met one on one with each person on the team and collected their thoughts about the strategy of the company and what might get in the way of its successful execution. Using their input, I designed the flow of the two days and asked each person to prepare a PowerPoint presentation of the strategy for their area.
The result? When each person stood up to present his strategy, everyone else did one of two things: tune out or poke holes.
Most presentations elicit those reactions because most presentations are polished and thorough and designed to satisfy their audience, as well as to build confidence that the speaker knows what he's talking about. People tune out because nothing is required of them. Or they poke holes because, if they don't tune out, it's the most interesting thing to do when someone is trying to prove there are no holes.
So over the following seven years, I experimented with designing offsites. I did team-building activities, I stayed at the front of the room throughout the meeting, I took myself out of the meeting completely, I taught skills critical to the meeting like communication and team dynamics, I had the CEO run the meeting, I took the CEO out of the meeting completely, and dozens of other tweaks.
Over time, I identified a single factor that makes the biggest difference between a great meeting and a poor one: PowerPoint. The best meetings don't go near it.
PowerPoint presentations inevitably end up as monologues. They focus on answers, and everyone faces the screen. But meetings should be conversations. They should focus on questions, not answers, and people should face each other. I know it sounds crazy, but I've found that even the hum of the projector discourages dialogue.
Meetings are exorbitantly expensive when you add up the number of highly paid people in the room at the same time. They should be used as a time to engage deeply in issues, not to update each other on progress.
Except that most of us recognize that isn't what meetings are for. Meetings are called by bureaucrats in order to create the illusion that others are involved in their decisions. We don't pay any attention because we are not so deluded. Power Point has nothing to do with the basic facts. It is just busy work for said bureaucrats. The message is the message. The medium is trivial.
TO READ THE PHRASE "MAINTAINING U.S. FORCES IN GERMANY AT EXISTING LEVELS"....:
We Are All Deficit Cutters Now (IRWIN M. STELZER, 4/16/11, Weekly Standard)
Let me paint with the broadest brushes. Barack Obama wants to restore the nation’s finances primarily by unspecified cuts in military spending, taxing those he considers to be rich, and practically rationing health care. This would enshrine in the budget three major themes of the Democratic left.
♦ Extend the Libyan model to all U.S. interventions. No use of force unless approved by the United Nations (presumably the blessing of the Arab League will not be needed in all future cases), and then only in conjunction with allies who will be expected to bear the major burden of any engagement. This avoids not only the cost of those interventions, but such expenses as are associated with maintaining U.S. forces in Germany at existing levels.
♦ Reduce the inequality of after-tax incomes by making the tax code more progressive—soaking the rich, in the vernacular. What the president considers to be “loopholes” will be plugged, and the tax rate on families earning more than $250,000 per year will go up, crudely stated by the president as eliminating “tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in society.”
♦ Maintain what the president calls “investment” and others call spending on education and infrastructure to better equip the country to compete in an increasingly globalized world, continuing the expansion of the role of the state that has been the hallmark of his presidency.
Over to Paul Ryan, the hero of the deficit cutters in the Tea Party and, I would guess, old-line Republican conservatives who favor a balanced budget at all times, and who believe that the only people more evil than John Maynard Keynes are his present-day followers. Ryan would cut the deficit by cutting spending, would not raise taxes, does not wish to take an axe to military spending, and wants to bring the budget into balance by relying heavily on a plan to convert Medicare into a subsidized insurance scheme that gives individuals control over their own medical budgets. Ryan and his followers believe that American citizens can spend their money better than the government can, and that taxing the rich is counter-productive because of its negative effect on incentives to work, and take the risks involved in setting up a small business. Inequality, they at times quietly say is an incentive to those at the bottom of the ladder to work their way up, and benefits that decouple work from income have a long-term negative effect on the ratio of wealth producers to government dependencies.
There is more, a lot more. Obama would rely on triggers that cut spending if certain deficit reduction targets are not met by 2014, and Ryan on reducing the inflation in health care costs to the lower level of general inflation. The president knows that although he will not have to face the voters in 2014, the Congress he is counting on to swing into action and cut spending will. And Ryan must know that an ageing population will demand increases in health care services that are likely to drive up costs under almost any system of provision.
It is unlikely that a grand bargain, rather than a messy stopgap compromise can be struck during the upcoming debate on raising the $14.3 trillion debt limit, a ceiling that will be hit sometime between May 16 and July 8. That will have to wait for vox populi to be heard in the 2012 election. The president knows he cannot face the voters as a deficit denier or deal wrecker, and the Republicans know that placing all of the burden on those most reliant on government services, while protecting higher earners from any increase in taxes, is likely to push the undecided in the president’s direction.
...is to realize how much of the argument the GOP hasn't engaged yet.
ANOTHER BLESSING THAT WOULD HAVE COME TO PASS 50 YEARS AGO IF ONLY WE'D WON WWII:
Something Real, For A Change (Walter Russell Mead, 4/15/11, American Interest)
The change in the US-Brazil relationship is not as dramatic or consequential as the change in US-Indian relations since the Cold War. The US and India share two paramount strategic concerns — the possibility that China might seek hegemony in Asia and the possibility that Islamic extremism will destabilize the Middle East and beyond — that make that bilateral relationship one of the keys to the global situation. US and Indian relations may never produce a formal alliance, but the community of interest is so deep and has such obvious military and geopolitical implications that even casual newspaper readers will be increasingly aware of its importance.
The new US-Brazilian relationship does not quite live up to that, but the ramifications of the changing relations between the two dominant powers in the western hemisphere will nevertheless make waves. It is likely in the 21st century that Brazil will join the group of countries Americans listen to and rely on the most, and the countries whose interests Americans take the greatest care to address.
Changes in both US and Brazilian perceptions about the world have combined to create the basis for a new kind of relationship. On the US side, the end of the Cold War changed the nature of our interests in South America. [...]
[T]he fall of the Soviet Union took the global struggle against communism off the table and removed any serious reasons for heavy-handed US interference in South America. Today no global American security interests are challenged by the power of any South American state; the United States and its government wish the peoples of South America well, but we no longer have a compelling security reason to meddle in their domestic affairs.
A fifty-year period of North American interference in South American affairs came to an end in 1990; unless Hugo Chavez finds a way to turn taunts and insults into a consequential security threats, the US has no need to treat him as anything worse than a nuisance. Ditto for the rest of the continent; while US security and political interests are likely to keep us engaged in the traditional sphere of American interest in the Caribbean and Central America (extending at most to the northern fringe of South America), the US no longer has any desire to interfere with the domestic politics of countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile and their neighbors.
On the Brazilian side, something even more important has happened: Brazil has begun to believe that the world economic system might just work to Brazil’s advantage.
Language at risk of dying out – the last two speakers aren't talking ( Jo Tuckman, 4/13/11, guardian.co.uk)
The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other indigenous languages, it's at risk of extinction.
There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other's company.
"They don't have a lot in common," says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be "a little prickly" and Velazquez, who is "more stoic," rarely likes to leave his home.
The dictionary is part of a race against time to revitalise the language before it is definitively too late. "When I was a boy everybody spoke it," Segovia told the Guardian by phone. "It's disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me."
SOME GENERATION OR ANOTHER:
OBITUARY: Buster Martin (The Telegraph, 4/14/11)
Buster Martin, who died on April 13, possibly aged 104, became celebrated at the age of 100 as “Britain’s oldest worker”, a triumph that was largely untarnished by persistent allegations that the story of his life, including his age, was fabricated.
He was feted by the media, by his employers (a south London plumbing firm for whom he worked as a van cleaner), and by politicians including the former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who hailed him in 2006 as “living proof of why people should not be written off once they pass retirement age”.
A former Brixton barrow boy with the looks of Captain Birds Eye, Martin hit the headlines in 2007, allegedly at the age of 100, when he signed up as an agony uncle for the men’s magazine FHM. With his straggly beard and dry wit he was irresistible copy for the press and later the same year he found fame with The Zimmers, a 40-strong group of elderly rockers (combined age: more than 3,000) who scored a hit single with a cover of The Who’s My Generation.
April 15, 2011
NOW LET'S SEE THE SENATE PASS THE OBAMA "PLAN":
Paul Ryan budget adopted on partisan vote (JAKE SHERMAN, 4/15/11, Politico)
House Republicans on Friday overwhelmingly embraced Rep. Paul Ryan’s long-term budget proposal adopting a blueprint that calls for massive changes to Medicare and Medicaid while slashing trillions of dollars in spending.
The votes was 235-193 — four Republicans voted no and every Democrat in the chamber rejected the Ryan plan, which seeks to cut $6 trillion in spending over the next decade.
At least one of the parties is serious.
RUTH GINSBURG'S AMERICA:
Planned Parenthood and the Soviet Model (Paul Kengor, 4.15.11, American Spectator)
[Margaret] Sanger, Planned Parenthood matron and racial-eugenicist, who ran a "Negro Project," who spoke to a KKK rally in 1926, who wished to rid America of its "human weeds" and "morons" and "imbeciles," and who wanted birth control for "race improvement," had just returned from a pilgrimage to Stalin's Russia. Like many Potemkin progressives, she went there to soak in the glorious triumphs of the communist motherland. Each progressive dupe had a particular interest; John Dewey, for instance, hailed the Bolsheviks' "Great Experiment" in public education. Sanger marveled at Lenin's and Stalin's wondrous advancements for women.
And so, in the June 1935 edition of her flagship publication, Birth Control Review, in an article titled, "Birth Control in Russia," Sanger concluded:
Theoretically, there are no obstacles to birth control in Russia. It is accepted … on the grounds of health and human right…. [W]e could well take example from Russia, where there are no legal restrictions, no religious condemnation, and where birth control instruction is part of the regular welfare service of the government.
I could quote more, including this jaw-dropping prediction: "All the officials with whom I discussed the matter stated that as soon as the economic and social plans of Soviet Russia are realized, neither abortions nor contraception will be necessary or desired. A functioning Communistic society will assure the happiness of every child, and will assume the full responsibility for its welfare and education."
Now there, ladies and gentleman, is progressive utopianism, an absolute faith in central planners. Contrary to the Planned Parenthood founder's optimism, abortions skyrocketed to seven million annually in the USSR.
Looks like Margaret Sanger was wrong on that one. Talk about being duped.
What struck me in recently re-reading this article is how Democrats in America have arrived at Sanger's ideal, where Planned Parenthood's services have become, in their mind, "part of the regular welfare service of the government" -- just like good old Stalinist Russia.
IT IS ALIVE:
Budget Deal Fuels Revival of School Vouchers (TRIP GABRIEL, 4/14/11, NY Times)
In the 11th-hour compromise to avoid a government shutdown last week, one concession that President Obama made to Republicans drew scant attention: he agreed to finance vouchers for Washington students to attend private schools. [...]
Mr. Boehner’s beloved program is the latest example of how conservative Republicans across the country are advancing school vouchers — including offering them for the first time to middle-class families — and reviving a cause that until recently seemed moribund.
“Life has been breathed into the voucher movement,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, director of education policy at the Brookings Institution. “I think they are part of what will be a more powerful and focused drive toward choice.”
BUT THE rEALISTS THINK THAT "NORMAL" IS IDEAL:
Resilience and Euphoria in Free Libya: In Benghazi, state salaries are being paid, trash collected, and the poor looked after. (ANN MARLOWE, 4/12/11, WSJ)
Many of the fears articulated by American observers are discounted here. No one believes that a civil war between east and west is likely. Libyan diplomat Ahmed Gebreel—who used to work for Libya at the United Nations in New York and now advises Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul Jalil on foreign policy—says there is no broad ethnic divide between Tripolitanians and Cyrenaicans.
"The original inhabitants of Tripoli are only a couple of thousand people. The rest come from all over Libya. I was born in Al-Bayda (in eastern Libya) but I normally live in Tripoli." Conversely, as Imam Bugaighis, a university lecturer and one of the handful of prominent women in the circle around the Transitional Council, told me, "Every family has relatives in both Benghazi and Tripoli."
There are valid questions about what would happen to the social fabric if opposition forces fight their way to Tripoli, but that seems increasingly unlikely. The Transitional Council appears to expect a negotiated settlement to end the conflict, though not one that leaves in power Gadhafi, his family, or anyone associated with him.
Benghazi and Tobruk show encouraging signs of social resilience and even social transformation. Ms. Bugaighis says that there are more than 100 voluntary committees in Benghazi, a city of about 800,000. "We are doing much better without him," she stated proudly, referring to Gadhafi. Under him, "Libya wasn't meant to be a country—just militia and people."
Benghazi's citizens are stepping up to the plate to maintain essential services. Sanitation workers, largely guest workers from Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa, have gone back to their own countries. But local volunteers are taking the initiative and picking up the garbage. Libyans may drive too fast, but they're still obeying traffic laws and parking in an orderly way. Mr. Gebreel says that the incidence of traffic accidents has actually fallen since the revolution. In conservative Tobruk, I watched as volunteers for a local charity, the Mercy Foundation, measured out European Union-donated flour into bags for displaced people. Sixty volunteers serve 10,000 needy families in the area.
The mood in Benghazi is euphoric. The square in front of the courthouse where the protests began has become a revolutionary fair where families stroll and young people demonstrate. Booths offer political leaflets and display political cartoons, while food carts offer free sandwiches and espresso to the coffee-obsessed population. Souvenirs in red, green and black—the colors of the original 1951 Libyan flag of independence—are sold everywhere.
"We don't want normal life to continue," says Ms. Bugaighis.
PAGING HOWARD DEAN:
Democrats' Disgust With Obama: The budget deal, angrily rejected by Nancy Pelosi as it passed Thursday, was the last straw. Patricia Murphy on why some liberals are now pushing for a primary challenge to the president. (Patricia Murphy, 4/14/11, Daily Beast)
For many Democrats, the budget bill was only the latest in a string of disappointments served up from the White House since 2009, when Obama swept into office on a tide of goodwill and a platform of base-pleasing promises they say he hasn’t lived up to. On the list are his pledges to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, pass comprehensive immigration reform, and end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
In 2008, for example, Obama promised Latino groups that he would pass comprehensive reform within a year of taking office. But he made no serious push to do so when the Democrats controlled the House and Senate. Latinos are further incensed over the fact that his administration is deporting a record number of illegal immigrants, more than under George W. Bush.
In protest, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez launched a cross-country tour, complete with a stop in Chicago on Saturday, to urge the administration to make its enforcement more compassionate. “I have made no secret of the fact that I think the president can do more to keep families together and that the focus of changes this year needs to be administrative and procedural because legislation is very unlikely,” Gutierrez said Thursday.
Some legislative grumbling is inevitable when a party returns to power after eight years. But a number of Democrats are past protesting the president, discussing among themselves ways to recruit a primary challenger in 2012.
“I have been very disappointed in the administration to the point where I’m embarrassed that I endorsed him,” one senior Democratic lawmaker said. “It’s so bad that some of us are thinking, is there some way we can replace him? How do you get rid of this guy?” The member, who would discuss the strategy only on the condition of anonymity, called the discontent with Obama among the caucus “widespread,” adding: “Nobody is saying [they want him out] publicly, but a lot of people wish it could be so. Never say never.”
Governor Dean could not only command press attention and raise a significant amount of money, but he'd be competitive in the NH primary.
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR PIRATE COOKED?:
US Navy's laser test could put heat on pirates (JASON STRAZIUSO, 4/13/11, Associated Press)
The baseball-sized laser beam, though, could be used to stop small crafts from approaching naval ships. It could also target pirates.
"You can use the laser to ward off an attack, or you can dial it down to a non-lethal level where it basically becomes a very bright light so they know they are being targeted," Michael Deitchman, the director of air warfare and weapons at the Office of Naval Research, said Wednesday.
Deitchman said the laser provides two benefits not seen in other military weapons. The laser is precise, unlike bullets that can ricochet and hit unintended targets, and the laser's strength can be dialed down from a lethal level to a nuisance level.
Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, the head of Dryad Maritime Intelligence, said the test was "remarkable" for how the Navy was able to concentrate the beam over such a long distance at sea, and given how the boat was being tossed about in rough water.
"Hats off to the U.S. Navy because that is very, very impressive," he said. "It was pitching and rolling and yet they got this very fine beam to focus on one part of an engine casing. That they managed to keep the energy in one place is remarkable."
"KIND OF SUAVE":
Does Pawlenty Have a Prayer? (Howard Kurtz, 4/14/11, Daily Beast)
The former Minnesota governor has honed his stump speech—he is punchier and funnier than his bland reputation might suggest—at a time when he appears to be getting a second look from voters, such as the more than 100 who packed into a small ballroom here.
The early line on Pawlenty damned him with faint praise: Nice guy, good governor, charisma-challenged, a real long shot.
But in the last few weeks the line has begun to shift. Now Republican insiders are starting to say the guy could actually win the presidential nomination.
What happened? A positive cover story in National Review, depicting him as a stick-wielding hockey player, didn’t hurt. (“Pawlenty guided Minnesota’s political culture firmly and sharply to the right” and “is more electable than Sarah Palin.”) The pundits softened their view (he “has an opening as the least objectionable candidate,” says Politico). And, well, his 2012 rivals haven’t blown anyone away.
Some New Hampshire residents say they aren’t bothered by Pawlenty’s lack of pizzazz. “I’m tired of superstars that flame out halfway through the campaign,” says Phil Straight of the Merrimack Conservation Commission.
“I’m not exactly Lady Gaga, but they (rivals) aren’t either.”
“We don’t need a rock star,” says his friend Dan Dwyer, a councilman in the town, calling Donald Trump a “distraction” who won’t wind up running.
Straight says he is impressed that Pawlenty “seemed to be successful” in what is “still a Hubert Humphrey state. He had to be kind of suave.”
JUST ANOTHER REASON TO STRAIGHTJACKET YOUR KIDS:
How Self-Control Works: It's a skill, we are learning, that profoundly shapes lives. How does it work? Where does it come from? (Dan Ariely, April 12, 2011, Scientific American)
A recent study by colleagues of mine at Duke demonstrates very convincingly the role that self control plays not only in better cognitive and social outcomes in adolescence, but also in many other factors and into adulthood. In this study, the researchers followed 1,000 children for 30 years, examining the effect of early self-control on health, wealth and public safety. Controlling for socioeconomic status and IQ, they show that individuals with lower self-control experienced negative outcomes in all three areas, with greater rates of health issues like sexually transmitted infections, substance dependence, financial problems including poor credit and lack of savings, single-parent child-rearing, and even crime. These results show that self-control can have a deep influence on a wide range of activities. And there is some good news: if we can find a way to improve self-control, maybe we could do better.
So when we consider these individual differences in the ability to exert self-control, the real question is where they originate – are they differences in pure, unadulterated ability (i.e., one is simply born with greater self-control) or are these differences a result of sophistication (a greater ability to learn and create strategies that help overcome temptation)?
In other words, are the kids who are better at self control able to control, and actively reduce, how tempted they are by the immediate rewards in their environment, or are they just better at coming up with ways to distract themselves and this way avoid acting on their temptation?
It may very well be the latter. A hint is found in the videos of the children who participated in Mischel’s experiments. It’s clear that all of the children had a difficult time resisting one immediate marshmallow to get more later. However, we also see that the children most successful at delaying rewards spontaneously created strategies to help them resist temptations. Some children sat on their hands, physically restraining themselves, while others tried to redirect their attention by singing, talking or looking away. Moreover, Mischel found that all children were better at delaying rewards when distracting thoughts were suggested to them.
A helpful metaphor is the tale of Ulysses and the sirens. Ulysses knew that the sirens’ enchanting song could lead him to follow them, but he didn’t want to do that. At the same time he also did not want to deprive himself from hearing their song – so he asked his sailors to tie him to the mast and fill their ears with wax to block out the sound – and so he could hear the song of the sirens but resist their lure.
DON'T WORRY, NO ONE ELSE HAS EITHER:
My literary allergy: The work of David Foster Wallace brings me out in hives (Geoff Dyer, 23rd March 2011 , Prospect)
It’s taken years of unscientific tests, but I now accept that there is such a thing as literary allergy. This should not be confused with a negative value judgment; it is simply a reaction. With food it’s possible to be allergic to things one actually enjoys eating, like strawberries. In the realm of literature, that combination of liking and allergy would seem almost inconceivable, but the kind of reaction I have in mind here is not simply an intense dislike. Nor is it the same thing as developing an intense antipathy to a writer solely on the basis of the persona that emerges in and through his or her writing. As a reader, this is what happened to me with Bruce Chatwin. As a writer, I seem to have occasionally generated this feeling myself—how else to interpret the blogger’s declaration that he wanted to headbutt me?
I have always felt well disposed towards the widely acclaimed David Foster Wallace, whose latest novel, The Pale King, is published on 15th April, two and a half years after his suicide. But I am allergic to his writing. I liked the idea of someone swimming in big modernist and postmodern theory and still making room for human feeling, but a page—sometimes even a sentence, or an essay title—brings me out in hives. This is not a literary judgement; I have not been able to read enough of him to form one.
One of those authors--including all of the modernists--who when you find his novels at a book sale there will be not so much as a crack in the spine nor a dog-eared paged.
April 14, 2011
PSSSST...HE DOESN'T CARE ABOUT YOU:
Nancy Pelosi snaps at White House adviser Gene Sperling (JOHN BRESNAHAN & JONATHAN ALLEN, 4/14/11, Politico)
In a tense moment that may well have encapsulated the frustrations of three-plus months in the minority, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi snapped at a top presidential economic adviser, Gene Sperling, during a closed-door meeting between White House aides and House Democratic leaders Wednesday. [...]
At the time, Sperling was discussing the form and mission of a new bipartisan congressional working group the president wants to charge with establishing a deficit-reduction plan. In the president’s view, it would consist of 16 members, plus the vice president as chairman, and finish up by the end of June.
House Democratic leaders didn’t like the size of it, the reporting date, which falls very close to the deadline for raising the debt ceiling, or the perception that a White House plan had been baked without input from the president’s allies on Capitol Hill.
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL IF HE'D EVER CAST A VOTE THAT...:
Obama Exclusive: Concedes Senate Vote Against Raising Debt Limit Was 'Political' (George Stephanopoulos, April 14, 2011, ABC News)
George Stephanopoulos: You’ve got to extend the debt limit by May. And it seems like you made up the job-- your job is a lot tougher because of your vote in the Senate against extending the debt limit…When did you realize that vote was a mistake?
President Obama: I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a Senator versus the vantage point of a…President. When you’re a Senator, traditionally what’s happened is this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars… As President, you start realizing, "You know what? We-- we can’t play around with this stuff. This is the full faith in credit of the United States." And so that was just a example of a new Senator, you know, making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country."
...was important for the country even though it didn't help him personally.
IT'S WORSE THAN YOU COMPREHEND BUT GOING TO BE BETTER THAN YOU IMAGINE:
VIDEO: Is China Becoming a Mafia State? (USCI presents The Age and Sydney Morning Herald's China correspondent, John Garnaut, 04/11/2011)
NEITHER SIDE IS PREPARED FOR THE REFORMS THAT ARE NEEDED:
The President’s Speech (Yuval Levin, 4/13/11, National Review)
President Obama’s speech really brought home how confused and disoriented liberalism is today, and how very difficult it will be for the Left to accept that the social-democratic welfare state is collapsing and something else must take its place. Yet the very fact that he felt compelled to make such a speech does offer some hope.
As recently as February, in his budget, Obama essentially denied that we had a fiscal crisis. Today, he admitted it and described it, or at least parts of it. It is certainly unorthodox for a president to renounce his own budget two months after proposing it, but that is just what the president did—implicitly dismissing even the goals set out by his budget in its own terms (let alone its potential to achieve them, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office) as totally inadequate. In that sense, the only immediate practical implication of the speech is that it throws the 2012 budget process into disarray. Are the cabinet agencies supposed to be defending the president’s now-repudiated formal budget request before congressional committees in the coming months, or does the administration now expect Congress to ignore its budget? If so, will the administration be offering some particular alternative requests, with details that (unlike this speech) can be scored by CBO?
The other implications are less direct, because the president mostly laid out ends without means. He accepted much of Paul Ryan’s definition of the problem we face, but insisted that it could be solved by trimming our welfare state at the edges, rather than reforming and restructuring it. He held up past examples of such trimming as his model—arguing, preposterously, that the budget agreements of the 1990s, which offered slight adjustments without reforming the institutions of our welfare state, were successful and that we only face a crisis today because George W. Bush cut taxes. In fact, those budget agreements bought a little time while ignoring the basic problem—especially the entitlement problem. That’s why we are where we are, and Obama now proposes to just put the blindfolds back on and make the same mistake again.
Christians in a Post-Welfare State World (Samuel Gregg, 4.13.11, American Spectator)
he welfare state's impending demise is going to force Christians to seriously rethink how they help the least among us.
Why? Because for the past 80 years, many Christians have simply assumed they should support large welfare states. In Europe, Christian Democrats played a significant role in designing the social security systems that have helped bankrupt countries like Portugal and Greece. Some Christians have also proved remarkably unwilling to acknowledge welfarism's well-documented social and economic dysfunctionalities.
As America's welfare programs are slowly wound back, those Christian charities who have been heavily reliant upon government contracts will need to look more to the generosity of churchgoers -- many of whom are disturbed by the very secular character assumed by many religious charities so as to enhance their chances of landing government contracts.
Another group requiring attitude-adjustment will be those liberal Christians for whom the essence of the Gospel has steadily collapsed over the past 40 years into schemes for state-driven wealth redistributions and promoting politically-correct causes.
The welfare state's gradual collapse presents them with somewhat of an existential dilemma. The entire activity of lobbying for yet another welfare program will increasingly become a superfluous exercise -- but this has been central to their way of promoting the poor's needs for years.
More-pragmatic liberal Christians will no doubt adjust. Others, however, will simply deny fiscal reality and frantically lobby for on-going redistributions of an ever-shrinking pool of funds.
Initiatives to Promote Savings From Childhood Catching On (Amy Goldstein, 8/20/05, Washington Post)
In today's economy, a savings account "is as fundamental as land was back in the 18th and 19th century," said Ray Boshara, of the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank that is a main advocate of children's accounts.
Involving several hundred children in a dozen communities around the country, SEED (Saving for Education, Entrepreneurship, and Downpayment) -- a four-year experiment being conducted by local social service agencies, studied by researchers and paid for by several nonprofit foundations -- is a modest version of the ultimate goal.
Legislation has been introduced in Congress that calls for the government to open a KIDS Account of at least $500 for every baby born in the United States. And President Bush's first Treasury secretary, Paul H. O'Neill, has been giving speeches around the country, promoting an even bolder plan he has devised for children's accounts that he says would guarantee every American at least $1 million by age 65, eventually eliminating the need for Social Security.
Fostering savings from childhood is, in a sense, a spillover from the debate over whether to establish private investment accounts in Social Security, the nation's fragile retirement system. But unlike the partisan rancor that runs through the Social Security debate, children's accounts are gaining proponents across the ideological spectrum. Conservative Republicans construe them as a form of the market-oriented "ownership society" that Bush touts. Liberal Democrats view them as an extension of the Great Society of the 1960s that created government programs to lift people from poverty.
"It's a simple kind of merging of the stereotypes of the parties," said Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), sponsor of a bill that would create KIDS Accounts. "You give to people; you put some responsibility on people to save, as well."
Despite bipartisan cheerleading, such accounts have skeptics on the right, who are disdainful of a new government handout, and on the left, who fear the expense would drain money from other social needs.
The Right can't stand that reform is going to be universal and expensive up front and the Left can't stand that it means ceding control from government to individuals and the markets.
THERE IS NO SYRIA:
Syria: dissenting Damascenes and defiant dictators (Ali Khan, 13 April 2011, Open Democracy)
Syria is wracked with internal divisions, which have often been exacerbated by the heavy-handedness of the government. The largely secular ruling Ba’ath party has been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1940s. After a particularly violent few years of assassination attempts and car bombs, in 1982 Hafez al-Assad’s brother Rifaat, who now lives in exile in London, surrounded and bombed Hama. The town was known for being a base of the Muslim Brotherhood and the bombing killed thousands of people. Subsequently, the Brotherhood and indeed all other opposition have effectively been stifled while the Alawi minority has strengthened its position.
The Alawis are the spiritual progeny of a movement started in the 9th century when Ibn Nusayr announced himself as the bab or the hidden gateway to truth (God). Very close in terms of practice to Christians, Alawis or as they also known Nusayris believe in a kind of holy trinity comprised of Mohammad, Ali and Salman al-Farisi, one of the first Persian converts to Islam. The reason they are viewed as non-Muslims is because of their belief in the divinity of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, who was the fourth Caliph and the first Imam for Shi’as. In a bid to consolidate their power the Alawis managed to secure recognition from the Shi’a leader, Musa as-Sadr, in 1972, declaring them to be Muslims. As early as 1936 they procured a decree from the Sunni Chief Mufti of Palestine, al-Haj Amin al-Husaini, recognizing them as Muslims. However, many Sunnis and some Shi’a ulama, or scholars, continue to view the Alawis as non-Muslims, or even sometimes as apostates.
Apart from the Alawis, the Christians are a sizeable minority and form about 10% of the population and the Druze constitute about 3%. The Sunnis form the majority of the population. Syria also has a large Palestinian refugee population of 500,000 and more than a 1,000,000 Iraqi refugees.
The problems in Syria today are therefore exacerbated by the fact that Syria could be heading for a civil war, due to these old ethnic and sectarian tensions, and might follow the Libyan scenario rather than the Egyptian or Tunisian model. One factor however, that might hold back an all-out war is that there are a multitude of links between the regime and society through army, government and non-official ties. Bashar al-Assad, although seen by some to be a moderate and a reformer is still presiding over institutions that were created during his father’s time. This means that often the ‘old guard’ is the biggest obstacle to implementing reform. However, there have been some token gestures of reform from the President.
Among the small number of concessions that the regime has made are a few that were pushed for by a group of imams, headed by Ramadan al-Buti, perhaps Syria’s most famous cleric. A casino has been shut down and a ban on wearing the niqab, a veil that covers the face as well as the body, in educational institutions is being reversed just as France is implementing its own ban. In other ‘concessions’ the infamous 1963 Emergency Law is now finally to be lifted, but an ‘Anti-terrorism’ law is to be passed instead. About 200,000 Kurds who have hitherto not been granted any rights have been given citizenship. But a majority of the Kurds who form 11-14% of Syria’s population still suffer from various institutional biases. The Kurds have responded by protesting in Qimishli, in the north-east of Syria, under the interesting slogan, ‘we want freedom not citizenship.’
The stakes that many foreign actors have in Syria are also crucial in determining the next steps in the Syrian uprisings. Iran and Hezbollah will fear the loss of an important regional ally and the possible rise of a predominantly Sunni government. Apart from this, even Shi’as who are not ideologically aligned with Iran will be afraid of the loss of the comfort in which the community lives. In particular, the network of religious schools around Sayyid Zainab’s shrine in Damascus are already fearful of what may happen if the Alawis lose power. Israel must worry because at the moment it has an enemy that it ‘knows’ whereas it will be harder to predict whether the new government shall be even more anti-Zionist.
WHEN GRASS WAS GREEN AND GRAIN WAS YELLOW:
U.N. Praises Palestinians’ Progress Toward a State (ISABEL KERSHNER, 4/12/11, NY Times)
The United Nations praised Palestinian Authority efforts at strengthening its institutions in a report on Tuesday, describing aspects of its administration as sufficient for an independent state.
The endorsement came at a crucial time for the Palestinian Authority, which has set a September deadline for the completion of its state-building program and is working toward international recognition of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that month.
April 13, 2011
PASS THE TRIGGER TOMORROW:
'Act boldly now': Obama calls for reducing deficit by $4 trillion (Sam Youngman and Erik Wasson, 04/13/11, The Hill)
The key part of the president’s plan is a “debt fail-safe” trigger that would initiate “across-the-board spending reductions” if by 2014 the projected ratio of debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) “is not stabilized and declining toward the end of the decade,” according to a fact sheet released by the White House in advance of the president’s speech.
The White House said the trigger should ensure that deficits average no more than 2.8 percent of GDP in the second half of this decade. The trigger would not be applied to Social Security payments, Medicare benefits or low-income programs.
Obama said the failsafe "should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road."
The failsafe is an incentive for the GOP to yield nothing, since it will automatically get what it wants.
DO TELEPROMPTERS BREATHE?
Obama’s speech was a waste of breath (Clive Crook, 4/13/11, Financial Times)
Obama had a difficult assignment in this speech, partly because of the exaggerated hopes for it (see previous post). Even allowing for that, it was weak both politically and substantively. My instant unguarded reaction, in fact, was to find it not just weak but pitiful. I honestly wondered why he bothered.
There was no sign of anything worth calling a plan to curb borrowing faster than in the budget. He offered no more than a list of headings under which $4 trillion of deficit reduction (including the $2 trillion already in his budget) might be found–domestic non-security spending, defence, health costs, and tax reform. Fine, sure. But what he said was devoid of detail. He spent more of his time stressing what he would not agree to than describing clear proposals of his own.
His rebuttal of the Ryan plan was all very well–I agree it’s no good–but the administration still lacks a rival plan. That, surely, is what this speech had to provide, or at least point to, if it was going to be worth giving in the first place.
Suzanne Collins’s War Stories for Kids (SUSAN DOMINUS, 4/08/11, NY Times Magazine)
Back in 2009, the literary agent Rosemary Stimola sat down to read “Mockingjay,” the third, highly anticipated book in a wildly popular trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. Stimola, who represents Collins, read eagerly until she came to one of the last chapters, in which a firebombing kills thousands of civilians caught in a revolutionary war, including one heartbreakingly innocent and beloved young character. The book was then a computer file, not yet the blockbuster it would become upon its release last August. Changes could still be made. Stimola picked up the phone and called Collins.
“No!” Stimola wailed. “Don’t do it.”
She was reacting as a reader, not a career adviser, but perhaps in the back of her mind she was imagining the emotions the plot twist might provoke in the book’s youthful fans: depression rather than inspiration, desolation rather than triumph. The capacity of young-adult literature for dark messaging has been expanding since the early ’70s, but this poignant loss seemed almost unbearable.
“Oh, but it has to be,” Collins told her. Stimola, paraphrasing, recalled the explanation Collins offered her over the phone: “This is not a fairy tale; it’s a war, and in war, there are tragic losses that must be mourned.”
Collins, a 48-year-old mother of two, spent much of her adult life writing for children’s television, dreaming up plot lines for shows like “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!” a Nick Jr. cartoon aimed at preschoolers. But in the “Hunger Games” trilogy, she revealed an outsize imagination for suffering and brutality. The books juxtapose the futuristic fantasy of a gleaming, high-tech capital and early-industrial life in the 12 half-starved districts it controls. In a ritual known as the Reaping, two adolescents from each of these oppressed districts are selected at random to participate in the Hunger Games, an annual televised match in which children battle one another and mutated beasts to the death, like Roman gladiators in a glitzy reality-TV contest. The trilogy’s heroine, Katniss, 16 years old when the series begins, has the tough-girl angst of an S.E. Hinton teenager and is too focused on survival to spend much time on familiar Y.A. preoccupations like cliques and crushes. On the very first page, she stares at the family’s pet cat, recalling, matter-of-factly, her aborted attempt to “drown him in a bucket.” By the last book, she is leading a revolution.
...by the Daughter Judd.
A GAME WHICH IS BETTERED ONLY...:
The Craziest Men in Sports: In hurling, the ball moves 100 miles per hour. So why don't goalkeepers want to wear facemasks? (Loren Berlin, April 13, 2011, Slate)
A pair of hurlers in action. Click image to expand.A pair of hurlers in actionImagine you're sprinting down a 160-yard field. As you run, you balance a tiny ball—small as a hockey puck, hard as a baseball—on the end of your stick, as in lacrosse. Except where the lacrosse stick has a woven pocket, your stick has a flat, wooden blade, and where lacrosse requires protective gear you wear neither pads nor gloves. Now imagine that your opponents are waving these same axe-like cudgels. They are coming at you from all sides, hoping to hook you from behind or block you from the front. You race down the gigantic field while considering your options. You could pass to a teammate, either with a slap of the bare hand or with a kick. No one is open, though, so you prepare to take a shot—never mind that you're still 100 yards out from the goal. You lean back and swing hard, like a baseball player at bat, feeling the satisfying reverb in your arms as you connect with the ball.
Now imagine you're the goalkeeper preparing to block this shot. Because it's been flung from the other side of the field, that dense, little ball has gained a lot of momentum. By the time it reaches you it's moving at 100 miles per hour. And there you are, standing in a giant goal without any padding, preparing to either catch this ball-turned-ordnance with one, ungloved hand, or deflect it with your stick. All the while, the goal-hungry opposition descends on you like a swarm of bees.
Such is the job of the goalkeeper in hurling, a sport famous for its speed and the bravery (or lunacy) of its participants. Known as the fastest field sport on earth, hurling predates Christianity and is native to Ireland, possibly originating with the Celts. Two teams of 15 players compete to score the most points by hitting the ball, called a sliotar, between the opposing team's goalposts. While rugby-style tackling is prohibited, hockey-style body checks and shoulder charges are common. As in soccer, a player can shoot from anywhere on the field, including directly in front of the goal, and directly at the goalkeeper. One point is earned for a ball that flies between the posts but over the crossbar, while three are awarded for a goal scored underneath the crossbar, where the goalkeeper stands, a kamikaze in shorts and a jersey.
Hurling is a thrilling and dangerous sport, and in Ireland the players are universally admired for their nerves. Within this pool, it is the goalkeepers who are most venerated. "A key requirement to be a goalkeeper in hurling is that you have to be mad," says Feral McGill, head of games administration and player welfare for hurling's governing body, the Gaelic Athletic Association. To wit: In 1997, goalkeeper Joe Quaid shattered one testicle, and had to have half of the second removed, when he took a ball to the crotch on a penalty shot. Upon recovery he returned to the sport, and continued playing as a goalie for three more seasons.
...when the Irish hurlers play the Shinty men of Scotland
NOTHING COSTS MORE THAN IT USED TO:
Amazon Launches Ad-Supported Kindle For $25 Cheaper (Dan Frommer, Apr. 11, 2011, Business Insider)
Amazon has found a new way to make its Kindle e-book reader even cheaper: It will start shipping a new edition next month that is supported by advertising.
The new Kindle with Special Offers will sell for $114, or $25 cheaper than the $139 Kindle, and will ship on May 3.
HAPPILY, THE NEXT NOMINEE WILL FAVOR OPEN BORDERS TOO:
Hispanic Conservatives (William Murchison, April 2011, American Spectator)
Some 47 million Hispanics now live in the United States -- almost 15 percent of the total population. Of these, a survey by the Pew Hispanic Forum in October 2010 estimates 38 percent to be immigrants. Of this latter category, an estimated 19 percent (something over 11 million) are what we once called illegal aliens but now generally refer to as undocumented workers -- accent perhaps on the word "workers."
Work they do -- in factories, on construction sites, in homes and hotels and offices, on lawn-cutting crews, on hog and poultry farms. They work because America has more work to be done than is available in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Ecuador, with native-born Americans more indisposed than formerly to low-paying trades and occupations. The work ethic, in other words, informs the Hispanic voter, actual or potential. A building contractor with whom my wife and I were recently discussing the integrity of construction workers told us, "It's whites who steal from you on the job site. The Hispanics have their heads down working to make money to send somewhere or the other." I wouldn't call that a dispositive observation on the Hispanic orientation toward work, but it gets you to thinking. A willing worker, conservatives tend to understand, is susceptible to opportunities for pay and reward such as the free market provides out of all proportion to those occurring under government auspices and control. This understanding, one might well deduce, gives conservative candidates a leg up in the quest for private sector growth.
The general Hispanic population likewise has a relatively strong commitment to religion and family. I am uncertain how far we are to push this particular point, which I have heard advanced in a vague way for years, without statistical underpinning. I think modern Anglos, looking anxiously at the evaporation of their own cultural norms, have a bent for romanticizing the attachments and outlooks of others who seem at least from the outside to "have it all together." We know, against this cultural bent, that the pregnancy rate among Hispanic teens exceeds that for whites as the rate among blacks exceeds that for Hispanics. We know that more Hispanics drop out of high school than do whites or blacks. Yet something else we know (thanks to a Pew Forum survey) is that nearly two-thirds of older Hispanics oppose abortion -- the other side of this particular coin being lighter opposition (43 percent) among younger Hispanics. When the Texas senate, in February, approved a bill requiring the offer of a sonogram view of her child to a woman considering abortion, three Hispanic Democrats, representing heavily Hispanic South Texas districts, voted with the Anglo Republican majority.
To pursue further the question of philosophical orientation, a poll more than a year ago asserted that 54 percent of Texas Hispanics call themselves conservative, as against 18 percent who self-identify as liberal or progressive. Maybe so, to judge from how things went at the polls in Texas last November. Four Hispanic Republicans won state house seats in Hispanic territory. Three of the Democratic losers were likewise Hispanic. With the election over, along came Rep. Aaron Peña, a Democrat, to cross over to the Republican side due to what he identified as the overlap of his own views with those of the GOP.
Of particular note, from this same standpoint, was the contest in formerly Anglo-Czech-Slovak Williamson County, home base for Dell Computer, lying just north of Austin, where a Hispanic woman, Diana Maldonado, two years earlier wrested the seat from a white man. In 2010, one Larry Gonzales wrested it back for the GOP. Nobody -- Anglo, Hispanic, or what-not -- seemed to notice anything but the philosophical and partisan divide between the two candidates. Walloping the Democrats, rather than fretting over ethnic identity, turned out to be the big thing.
NOT THAT HISPANIC VOTES can be likened to ripe pears waiting to fall into the aprons of eager Republicans shaking the tree. In 2008, Barack Obama received two-thirds of the Hispanic vote. A national House exit poll in 2010 suggested that 60 percent of Latinos voted Democratic. In fact, something had happened since 2006, when exit polls put the Hispanic vote at 69 percent Democratic. Was that due in part at least to the economic mess, coupled with Democratic failure to create jobs? Whatever the case, Republicans and conservatives sense for 2012 an opportunity, not so much to forge a grand alliance with Latinos -- such a process will take time -- as to illustrate what Aaron Peña figured out for himself, namely, the general congruence of Hispanic values and Republican policies.
The Wrath of Symbols: a review of Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by Ted Lendon (A review by James Carman, Wilson Quarterly)
He argues that the first 10 years of the Peloponnesian War are best understood not as a struggle between two mighty opponents for survival, but as an often petty contest over time, "which consisted of esteem by others and others' confirmation of one's lofty impression of one's own merits," with the rest of the Greek world occupying the twin roles of audience and judge. [...]
Lendon is a gifted storyteller and military historian. His Soldiers and Ghosts (2005) is a rewarding journey through classical warfare from the Trojan War to the Roman conquests, and the ancient battles he reenacts with his University of Virginia students are regular campus spectacles. In Song of Wrath, he deftly explains how battles could turn as much on misapprehensions and chance as on bravery and superior skill. This was especially true at Pylos and Sphacteria (425 BC), where Sparta suffered its most ignoble defeat and -- almost unthinkable! -- surrendered rather than fight to the death. Lendon writes that "after that Sparta was merely playing for a draw," which it achieved after besting the Athenians in several battles.
Although most histories of the Peloponnesian War encompass the intervening decade of uneasy peace that followed and Sparta's eventual defeat of Athens at the great sea battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC, Lendon ends his history with the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC, when the Athenians were up. "The Athenians won both the war itself and, no less necessary in a war of symbols, the simultaneous war to define victory and defeat," he writes. In his view, the Athenians' subsequent doom -- including their devastating loss of more than 40,000 men who were killed or taken prisoner in a risky expedition to Sicily in 415-413 BC -- was brought on only when they "began to look around for some mighty deed they could perform that would raise their rank in the eyes of the Greeks."
Athens was not, of course, the last power that would overreach and sow the seeds of its own destruction, which is one reason why the world still seeks to draw lessons from this long-ago struggle. But today, Lendon says, the Peloponnesian War's most telling insights may be about "international actors whose aims and actions the contemporary West finds it hardest to understand and manage: the wrathful ones... who seek revenge for ancient slights."
WHAT'S IN W'S 4TH TERM FOR THEM?
Obama risks losing liberals with talk of cutting budget (Zachary A. Goldfarb and Peter Wallste, April 12, 2011, Washington Post)
Key liberal groups, which helped elect Obama in 2008, are raising concerns that he has given up political ground to Republicans, allowing the message of reducing government to trump that of creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate.
Seizing on Friday’s deal, which would cut $38.5 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget, activists on Tuesday threatened to sit out the 2012 presidential campaign if Obama goes too far with further cuts.
MORE LIKELY LESS AND LESS:
New giant jet clips smaller craft at JFK (Associated Press, April 12, 2011)
A frightening collision of one of the world’s largest airliners with a commuter jet on a dark, wet tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport is underscoring worries about ground accidents as U.S. airports begin handling a new generation of giant planes. [...]
“It’s the sheer size of these aircraft and the congestion at these airports that’s the problem,” said Allan Tamm, a consultant with Avicor Aviation, based in Portland, Ore. “It’s a serious concern for all these airports trying to accommodate these aircraft. It’s going to happen more and more.”
Not in democratic states.
REBUILD THE HOTEL:
Neutral Uke Hotel strum gaily over the sea: Flight from the hater brigade (JONATHAN DONALDSON, April 12, 2011, Boston Phoenix)
Shawn Fogel of Golden Bloom knows that his latest stage act is a formula for potential enormous suckitude. Take one of indie rock's sacred cows — Neutral Milk Hotel's 1999 album In the Aeroplane over the Sea — and play the whole thing, straight through, on ukuleles. Then have the audacity to call it Neutral Uke Hotel. "I think we came up with an idea for a project that is one of the easiest things to hate," chuckles Fogel from his home base of Montclair, New Jersey. "I don't want to hear the dub reggae version of Metallica."
Most of the rest of us wouldn't want to hear Metalli-jah either. Come to think of it, though, why not? Is anything really that precious? Would anyone even care if Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum hadn't tweaked out and disappeared? But people do care. [...]
But Fogel found that by stripping the album's 11 tracks of electric Salvation Army Band mayhem down to two ukuleles (played by himself and Michael Epstein of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling and the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library), melodica (the Boston-based Josh Cohen of Golden Bloom), trumpet (the Future Everybody's Matt Girard), and a snare drum (Golden Bloom's Andrew Aubacher), he could, uh, milk a sing-along/campfire vibe out of Aeroplane's often cacophonous and emotionally high-pitched songs. And people who never heard the music performed live got the chance to experience the album in a different sonic way — in a fun and refreshingly unsnobby way. "It wasn't even [as much] about the ukulele itself as it was about stripping down the songs as much as possible," says Fogel. "What's great about a ukulele is that it has only four strings — it's a really, really narrow harmonic range. So when you play a chord, all the notes are really close to one another. It's a great way of stripping down a song to its barest essence."
Neutral Uke Hotel/Golden Bloom/The Motion Sick (Daytrotter Sessions)
April 12, 2011
THE MESSAGE IS THE MESSAGE:
King James Bible as a catalyst (The Monitor's Editorial Board, April 12, 2011, CS Monitor)
Ironically, the king, as head of the Church of England, commissioned a translation that gave the people a direct connection with the Bible – and made a priesthood (and a national church) less necessary. Faith became more individual. Americans found the word choices brought out the Bible’s original emphasis upon Christ as sovereign king. This led them to a greater sense of what it is to be governed by God, and to be self-governed under the laws of God.
By the time of the American Revolution, the colonists proclaimed they would have no king but Jesus. The translators rendered Paul’s words: “[W]here the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
America would go on to become a beacon of freedom. A fine Bible translation had touched humanity.
So I just read Douglas Coupland's short and appropriately idiosyncratic biography of Marshall McLuhan, the gist of which seems to be that McLuhan is most interesting for being incredibly similar to Mr. Coupland himself. McLuhan had a variety of pathologies, from some level of Asperger's/autism to hyper-sensitive hearing to clinical or casual ADHD to actual strokes and brain tumors. As a result his lectures and writings were notoriously scatter shot, obscure and contradictory. Moreover, since his intent was to provoke listeners/readers he confessed that even he didn't believe many of the things he said. So it's an exercise in futility to analyze his "thought" seriously. For every seemingly profound or prescient statement there's a matching one that is grotesquely wrong and not infrequently the latter undercuts the former. But such is the nature of aphoristic philosophers that they only need to nail a few good sound bites and they will be mistaken for great minds. McLuhan scored his with "the medium is the message."
As Mr. Coupland explicates it, what was meant is that the manner in which we communicate matters more than the content of our conversations and that manner effects certain changes in us (he's less clear here, as his subject was.) For all that McLuhan became a cult hero in the computer world, Mr. Coupland shows that he was not celebrating new media but warning us about it. He was something of a Luddite and longed for the days when communication was simpler, less of an assault on the senses. One of his favorite stories was Edgar Allan Poe's Descent into the Maelstrom, the narrator of which escaped the eponymous predicament. McLuhan saw this as a metaphor for his own work, which was about trying to keep your head above water in the midst of modern life.
Here's the thing though, while the medium has changed over the past 600 years, the message has stayed the same. Our advances in media have just served the wider broadcast of Judeo-Christianity/Western Civilization, allowing it to triumph globally. Indeed, one of McLuhan's other coinages is "the global village", but globalization represents nothing but the triumph of Western--specifically Anglo-American--values.
Roman roads were ultimately the conduits via which Christianity was spread to barbarian Europe. Gutenberg's press was used to print the Bible in the vernacular, the King James translation ending up in nearly every home in early America. Newspapers and coffee houses became focal points for the revolutionaries and when they wrote the Declaration they were able to rapidly spread it throughout the former colonies. Its message: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Radio, especially the BBC, and television, mainly American, diffused our culture across the world. Whatever life may have been like outside your door, in your living room you were part of Anglo-American families. The psychic tension of Apartheid South Africa embracing the Cosby Show is an exemplar of how the message could not be contained for long.
When Boris Yeltsin and his allies thwarted Gorbachev and the coup-makers of the USSR they communicated with the world via fax machine. When protestors gathered in Tiananmen Square we saw them on our tv screens, but they were gathered around their own Statue of Liberty. The current Arab Spring is being texted, tweeted and facebooked, but all of those media are just different ways of spreading the same message, that the people have a God-given right to consensual government.
Well might we say that the medium is significant only to the degree that it allows wider dispersion of the Message. The former changes. The latter doesn't. McLuhan need not have worried so much.
And what's odd is that Mr. Coupland reveals that McLuhan was a devoted Catholic convert, having been influenced by that great aphorist, G. K. Chesterton. So McLuhan accepted Christian certitudes about eternity and the overarching direction of our lives, yet fretted about trivia like the specific media we were using to communicate with each other, never recognizing that the message being shared was basically the faith he'd found.
One of the complaints of those, unlike McLuhan, who are opposed to Western civilization and the way it has become globalized is that it is a disease. Certainly it is as contagious as one and we could view it epidemiologically and show that it has spread like one. But no one would ever say that "the vector is the disease," would they?
FORGET THE INCENTIVES, JUST TAX GASOLINE:
Pass the Boone Pickens Bill (JOE NOCERA, 4/11/11, NY Times)
Boone has spent most of his career drilling not for oil but for natural gas, which he knows more about than just about anyone. His late-life occupation has been running a natural gas-oriented hedge fund, which has made him, at the age of 82, a billionaire several times over.
Out of that deep knowledge has come a powerful belief: that the country’s energy salvation depends on moving away from the fuel we don’t have — namely, oil, where imports, some of which come “from our enemies” (to quote Boone), account for two-thirds of our oil needs. Instead, we should move to a fuel we have in abundance: natural gas. Most experts say there is enough natural gas in the ground to last a century; Boone’s convinced that modern drilling techniques will allow us to find enough for several centuries.
His critics like to point out that anything that boosts natural gas will put money in his pocket. But so what? He’s already plenty rich, and, he says, “I’m sure not doing this for the money.” Besides, he’s right.
The bill introduced last week is an offshoot of the Pickens plan, his cri de coeur for energy independence, which he put together in 2008 and has spent more than $80 million promoting. Although Boone believes that our continued reliance on OPEC oil is dangerous, he also knows that even if you drill, baby, drill, as many Republicans want, it won’t make much difference. Quite simply, America is running out of oil. The Pickens plan calls for increased use of wind, solar, nuclear, even coal. ”I’m for anything that’s American,” he said.
But, of course, you can’t use solar or wind to power a vehicle, which is what most imported oil is used for. You can, however, use natural gas. Nor is this some pie-in-the-sky technology; there are already 12 million vehicles around the world that use either liquefied or compressed natural gas, though only 140,000 in the U.S. (They’re mostly buses and trash haulers.)
The Pickens bill creates tax incentives — $1 billion a year for five years — to encourage manufacturers to begin building heavy-duty trucks that will be powered by natural gas instead of diesel. It also gives some tax incentives to truck-stop owners who install natural gas filling stations to help create the infrastructure.
EASTER BUT WITH BAD GRUB:
To the Last Detail: More than 50 million copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah have been distributed since 1932, but a different, lower-profile version of the Passover prayerbook is the quintessential Jewish-American text (Allison Hoffman, Apr 12, 2011, Tablet)
The first Maxwell House Haggadah was published in 1932 and was free with purchase of a can of Maxwell House. It wasn’t the first instance of marketeering finding a place at the Seder table—the State Bank of New York had done earlier haggadah giveaways—but it turned out to be the most successful by far. More than 50 million copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah have been distributed over the years, a kind of covenant between the coffee maker and those seeking to preserve “a Jewish national institution,” as the 1939 edition described the holiday ritual. It was famously used in the first-ever White House Seder last year, and it remains significant enough that its adoption this year of an updated English translation warranted coverage by the New York Times.
But here’s the odd thing about the Maxwell House Haggadah: Despite being a thoroughly American artifact, it doesn’t read as a particularly American Jewish text. Its early incarnations have the overtones of a David Attenborough script: “Almost everyone is familiar with the Biblical story of Passover,” began the 1939 introduction. “Yet the Jewish people love to recall this tale year after year.” The English doggedly follows the Hebrew, leaching any poetry from the Seder passage linking matzoh to the sought-for relief from exile in a way that renders it literally rather than conceptually Zionist. “At present we celebrate it here, but next year we hope to celebrate it in the land of Israel,” it says. “This year we are servants here, but next year we hope to be free men in the land of Israel.” So much for the goldene medina.
The English of the Maxwell House Haggadah stands in sharp contrast to the other major mass-market American haggadah of the 20th century: the booklet distributed to more than 350,000 Jews serving in the United States military during World War II. (Proper title: Haggadah of Passover for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States.) Consider this alternate rendering of the same Hebrew lines describing the Jews’ desire for redemption: “May Israel wandering yet this year reach Israel’s land this coming year, and Zion’s mount and shrine ascend. May those who freedom lacked this year their shackles break this coming year; may freedom on the world descend.” The authors, David and Tamar de Sola Pool, were unhesitant about drawing an explicit link between the safe haven of mid-century America and the hoped-for Promised Land of the Seder. “This book brought to them a heightened dedication to the ideal of liberty doubly theirs as Americans and as Jews,” the de Sola Pools wrote in 1947, in a preface to a postwar edition.
THE PARTY OF DEATH:
Democrats will yield on everything but abortion (Timothy P. Carney, 04/10/11, Washington Examiner)
[I]n last week's budget debate we glimpsed the party's unshakable core: dedication to the abortion lobby.
President Obama had promised to veto the House-passed bill funding government through the end of the fiscal year, and Majority Leader Harry Reid made it clear the Senate would never pass it. But the final agreement -- with most of the cuts Republicans wanted, plus funding for school vouchers in Washington -- proved that the Democratic opposition was grounded not in Keynesian fears of spending cuts or liberal concern over service cuts.
The deal breaker for Democrats had been the rider cutting off federal funds for Planned Parenthood. As a "senior Democratic source" told the Huffington Post on Friday, "The cuts will be hard for us to swallow, but we won't bend on Title X" -- that is, federal funding of Planned Parenthood. "Reid doesn't even have to go back to the caucus to ask on that one."
Reid said so himself Friday: "We are not -- we are not! -- bending on women's health." When you consider the flexibility of Reid on other issues, this shows extraordinary devotion.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Feb. 4, 1906 — April 9, 1945 (Martin Marty, April 9, 2011, Living Lutheran)
We learn from a letter that succumbing to despair was tempting to the prisoner and that at a low moment suicide was even an option, because he considered himself to be “basically” dead.
We learn that, instead of killing himself, he began to write, especially as his material circumstances eventually, if only slightly, improved. Many of his notes, of course, were personal letters, some passed on through authorities and some smuggled out and then transmitted to his best friend, Eberhard Bethge, a pastor who saved them.
No publisher would have seen a potentially attractive book in the letters or his other various jottings, musings and poems written in prison.
Against all odds, a book was being drafted. After World War II, Eberhard — who had hidden the scraps and scribblings in the days of danger — evaluated and organized them.
This meant deciphering scripts and arranging pages to fashion the book that the English-speaking world knows as Letters and Papers from Prison.
Issuing from that 70-square-foot cell, this little work came to be known, read and used around the world well into a new century. While the physical setting of its letters and papers was a place capable of inducing claustrophobia, spiritually these contents served readers everywhere as a testimony to openness, possibility and hope.
The letters and papers from prison reveal much about Bonhoeffer’s spiritual life and vocation, and they served a new generation of collegians and seminarians who were looking for models of witness and courage.
THE WIZARD OF ID:
Atlas Shrugs Off an Opportunity, Alienates Viewers (Joy Pullmann, April 12, 2011, American)
Rand attacks both liberals and conservatives (take, for example, her speech, “Conservatism: An Obituary”); but it’s her attack on conservatism that’s worth visiting here, since it’s so out of touch with the American character. She appeals to the natural and highly American intolerance of abused authority; but she locates a replacement authority inside the individual himself, stripping away any mediating institutions, deity, or natural law. Man becomes his own measure; yet somehow never disintegrates in her fiction the way he does so often when adopting this mentality in real life.
This Rand hallmark makes her extremely attractive to young people and those whom government has abused or burdened. Rand is an intellectual Siren; she attracts travelers with the sweet songs of freedom, individual responsibility, and creativity; yet her narrow worldview in the end also hacks these ideals to bits.
The case against Rand was perhaps most forcefully made by Whittaker Chambers in National Review in 1957. Benjamin Wiker makes a more recent, and more biographical, case against her in chapter 15 of his recent 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read. And AEI’s own Charles Murray discussed her relative merits and demerits in the context of two excellent new Rand biographies in the Claremont Review of Books.
Rand’s philosophy is solipsist: since, for consistency if nothing else, man must have guiding principles, institutions, or ideas, she removes all others and places herself in their stead. Rand preaches innovation, creativity of thought and expression, self-direction, and the overruling demands of Nietzschean super-geniuses. But she never allowed deviation from her rules and preferences among her followers, even to the most minuscule instances. She liked Chopin and disliked Bach; therefore for anyone else to enjoy Bach indicated mental weakness. She wanted to have an affair with Nathaniel Branden, a married man; therefore, it was rational for her to do so and destroy his marriage and wife.
This mode of living she celebrated as exemplifying the “virtue” of selfishness. As she said, “My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: And I mean it.” If anything, her life and novels as illustrations of and promotions for her philosophy illustrate exactly the dangers and shortcomings of Objectivism, not just personally, but morally, and for society. Perhaps Rand didn’t care for society, except of her own making—that’s probably why her geniuses in Atlas Shrugged withdraw to a secluded mountain to let the rest of humanity crumble under its own weight. But most Americans, as human beings and citizens with a national heritage of voluntary community resourcefulness and charity, would find this not only distasteful, but immoral and absurd.
Affluent white teenage boys don't.
IF GOD COULDN'T MOLD HIS CHILDREN, WHAT HOPE DO THE REST OF US HAVE?:
Economics, Genetics and Hippies (Bryan Caplan, 4/11/11, Freakonomics)
As I explain in my new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, adoption and twin researchers have spent the last forty years measuring the effect of parenting on every major outcome that parents care about.
Their findings surprise almost everyone. Health, intelligence, happiness, success, character, values, appreciation – they all run in families. But with a few exceptions, adoption and twin researchers find that nature overpowers nurture, especially in the long-run. Kids aren’t like clay that parents mold for life; they’re more like flexible plastic that responds to pressure, but returns to its original shape when the pressure is released.
The most meaningful exception to this flexible plastic rule is appreciation – how your kids feel about and remember you. One Swedish study asked middle-aged and elderly twins – some raised together, some raised apart – to describe how their parents raised and treated them. Twins raised together painted much more similar portraits of their parents than twins raised apart. If you raise your children with kindness and respect, they will probably remember it for as long as they live.
The upshot: Parents spend too much effort trying to mold their kids for the future, and not enough just enjoying life together. Vainly struggling to change your kids isn’t fun for you or them. And the struggle can easily hurt the main outcome where parenting really matters: the quality of the bond between parent and child.
MAKING THEMSELVES USEFUL:
New perceptions of shoulder injuries (Kay Lazar, April 12, 2011, Boston Globe)
Using a computer-controlled cadaver to simulate a pitcher on the mound, Boston researchers are gaining insights into the causes of baseball shoulder problems — which derail more major leaguers than just about any other injury.
In the study, the reanimated bodies duplicate the throwing motions of actual pitchers, but the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center scientists say their findings reach beyond professional baseball and may help countless weekend warriors, as well as high school and college athletes, recover from similar injuries or prevent them altogether.
Working in the shadow of Fenway Park, and with a grant from Major League Baseball, the researchers have found a common denominator that, they say, is a likely culprit in some of the most common shoulder injuries among pitchers — a misaligned scapula, better known as the shoulder blade.
“When pitchers experience a ‘dead arm,’ unable to achieve the velocity, the scapula malposition is a major cause of this,’’ said Dr. Arun Ramappa, a co-leader of the research team and the chief of sports medicine and shoulder surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess.
While other scientists have traced various shoulder problems to an out-of-whack scapula, the Beth Israel Deaconess team is believed to be the first to demonstrate, down to the muscle and bone level, precisely how the injuries occur through the use of mechanized cadavers. That, Ramappa said, will help them better understand which treatments, including surgery and physical therapy, are most effective at restoring shoulder mobility.
IN A DEFLATIONARY ENVIRONMENT YOU CAN'T RAISE PRICES:
Wal-Mart to reinstate dropped products, emphasize price (Ylan Q. Mui, April 11, 2011, Washington Post)
Analysts say that the retailer has lost market share for the first time in a decade and that rival Target has finally matched many of its prices — and no one at Wal-Mart is laughing.
Instead, the company is backtracking. On Monday, Wal-Mart announced a campaign dubbed “It’s Back,” slated to launch next month, that will showcase the return of 8,500 items it had axed. TV ads will remind customers of a promise to match competitors’ prices. Store shelves will be higher, aisles will be narrower, and the towering pallets of merchandise beloved by legendary Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton will once again take center stage.
FOLLOWER OF THE PACK:
Obama turns to his bipartisan deficit commission’s blueprint for reducing debt (Lori Montgomery and Zachary A. Goldfarb, April 11, 2011, Washington Times)
President Obama plans this week to respond to a Republican blueprint for tackling the soaring national debt by promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission rather than introducing his own detailed plan. [...]
Letting others take the lead on complex problems has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency. On health care, last year’s tax deal and the recent battle over 2011 spending cuts, Obama has repeatedly waited as others set the parameters of the debate, swooping in late to cut a deal. The tactic has produced significant victories but exposed Obama to criticism that he has shown a lack of leadership.
Like the House GOP budget plan, the Senate effort — led by three Democrats and three Republicans known as the Gang of Six — aims to cut about $4 trillion from the debt over the next decade. But the group is looking to reduce spending in all categories, while urging a rewrite of the tax code that would raise revenue. The Republican plan would cut spending on domestic programs while protecting the military and preserving George W. Bush-era tax cuts that disproportionately benefit high earners.
The work of the Gang of Six is modeled on recommendations of the fiscal commission Obama appointed last year. On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the commission had “created a framework that may help us reach a deal and a compromise.”
A combination gets us even bigger reform.
April 11, 2011
HOPEFULLY THEY'RE JUST DOING THIS...:
Men’s ‘apology’ video to women touching, ‘creepy’ (Cheryl Wetzstein, 4/10/11, The Washington Times)
An eight-minute video on YouTube in which “conscious men” apologize to the women of the world is drawing tears and praise — as well as verbal brickbats — from around the world. [...]
“Dear Woman,” the men begin, taking turns speaking from “A Manifesto for Conscious Men.”
“We stand before you today as men committed to becoming more conscious in every way. We feel deep love, great respect and a growing sense of worship for the gifts of the feminine,” they say.
“We also feel deep sorrow about the destructive actions of the unconscious masculine in the past and present. We want to apologize and make amends for those actions today, so that we can move forward into a new era of co-creation.”
...to get chicks to think they're sensitive.
WHICH IS ALL ATHEISM AMOUNTS TO:
AC Grayling: 'How can you be a militant atheist? It's like sleeping furiously' ( Decca Aitkenhead, 4/03/11, guardian.co.uk)
"My wife did give me a card," he giggles, "that said, 'I used to be an atheist until I realised I am God'.
WALK LIKE AN AMERICAN:
Revolts boost Americans' views of Arabs: poll (AFP, Apr 11, 2011)
Recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have improved Americans' opinions of Arabs, with Egyptians viewed in an especially positive light since their successful revolt against Hosni Mubarak, a poll showed Monday.
Fifty-six percent of Americans surveyed this month said they have a favorable view of Arab people in general, while 70 percent voiced positive opinions about Egyptians, the University of Maryland poll showed.
The Egyptian people's ratings put them just below the 73-percent favorable rating that Americans give Israelis, according to the study, released on the eve of a forum on relations between the United States and the Islamic world.
WAIT! ARE YOU SAYING THEY DIDN'T GET FAIR TRIALS, WE JUST IMPRISONED THEM FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR?:
Prisoners (Hendrik Hertzberg April 18, 2011, The New Yorker)
On May 13, 1943, Axis forces in North Africa surrendered. The Allies suddenly found themselves saddled with nearly three hundred thousand prisoners of war, including the bulk of General Erwin Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps. Unable to feed or house their share, the British asked their American comrades to relieve them of the burden. And so, by the tens of thousands, German soldiers were loaded aboard Liberty Ships, which had carried American troops across the Atlantic. Eventually, some five hundred P.O.W. camps, scattered across forty-five of the forty-eight United States, housed some four hundred thousand men.
There, now aren't we all ashamed of ourselves?
JUST AS HISTORY UNDERSTANDS IKE AND NIXON TO HAVE BEEN INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM NEW DEAL DEMOCRATS....:
The GOP's winning streak (JIM VANDEHEI & MIKE ALLEN, 4/10/11, Politico)
The winners and losers of this weekend’s 11th-hour budget deal may be in dispute. But the broader trajectory of politics, stretching back to the spring of 2009, is not. The Republican — and, yes, the tea party — agenda is not only ascendant, it’s driving the debate over reshaping government at every level.
Jubilant top Republicans told POLITICO in interviews that they plan to use the momentum from the budget fight to take a hard line with President Barack Obama in the fiscal fights of the months ahead. And the GOP leaders said they believe their new advantage in the national debate will lift the party’s presidential candidates — none of whom right now looks capable of beating Obama.
“The debate is now on our side of the field,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said from Sioux Falls. “This is just the opening act. But these upcoming debates are not going to be about whether we’re going to reduce the cost and size of government, but how much. That’s very good ground for Republicans to fight on.”
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a 2012 presidential hopeful, told us: “When you see [Democratic governors] Jerry Brown [of California] and you see Andrew Cuomo [of New York] wrestling with spending, and inevitably wrestling with the unions who elect them, you know you’re in a different era.”
...so too will Bill Clinton and Barack Obama blend seamlessly into the Republican epoch.
THE CLOTHES HAVE NO EMPEROR:
The President Is Missing (PAUL KRUGMAN, 4/11/11, NY Times)
What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?
I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative.
What use is a bully pulpit to an empty suit?
BUT YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO COLLABORATE WITH US:
Israel concerned about Hamas-Egypt relations (YAAKOV KATZ, 04/11/2011, Jerusalem Post)
Egypt has suspended construction of an underground steel wall along the Egypt-Gaza border that it had been building over the past year in an effort to stop smuggling weaponry through tunnels into the Gaza Strip, defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. [...]
News of the freeze on construction comes as concern increases in Israel over an apparent strengthening of ties between Hamas and the new Egyptian government. During a recent visit to Cairo, Mahmoud al-Zahr, the so-called Hamas foreign minister, met not just with Egyptian politicians but also with military and intelligence officials.
“There is a new relationship between Hamas and Cairo today,” one senior official said. “This is likely connected to the upcoming elections and the understanding in Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong player and as a result it is important to maintain contacts with Hamas.”
WHATEVER ELSE GOD MAY BE, hE 'S NEVER BEEN VERY CONVINCING:
His Anger Does Not Turn (Peter J. Leithart, 10 April 2011, Credenda)
Four times in Isaiah 9-10, the Lord repeats that same threat: “In spite of all this His anger does not turn away, and His hand is still stretched out.” And then again, “In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away, and His hand is still stretched out.” And then again, and then again (9:12, 17, 21; 10:4). He has tried everything to bring Israel back. He has brought afflictions, and then new afflictions, and still Israel and Judah do not turn.
He sends out a word, a word of judgment, and the judgment falls on Jacob. The word of Yahweh that falls on Samaria causes things to fall down, specifically things that are made of bricks and sycamore. The men of Babel used bricks to construct their city and tower, and the Egyptians used bricks to build their storage cities and pyramids, and put the Hebrews to work making bricks for these projects. Now, the people of Samaria have become like the men of Babel and like the Egyptians, building in rebellion against Yahweh. The only other time Isaiah refers to bricks, he is talking about brick altars (65:11), and so it’s possible that this is what he has in view here. The word of the Lord falls on Samaria, and when the word falls, the brick altars and the wooden shrines of the northern kingdom collapse.
But that does not stop the rebellion of the North. Instead, they remain proud and determined to have their idolatrous shrines and altars. If Yahweh knocks them down, then the proud people of Samaria are going to build up their altars again, but this time with cut and polished stone, build them better than they had been, stronger and with more precious materials. If the Lord knocks down their shrines, they are going to rebuild, and this time not with cheap sycamore but with more expensive cedar.
Yahweh is going to raise up adversaries and enemies against the people of the North, as He did against Solomon when Solomon built idolatrous shrines for his many wives. The Lord is going to add to the afflictions of Samaria by opening the jaws of the Philistines and the Arameans. The two nations on the east and west are going to form a large set of jaws, a gaping maw that is going to swallow down Samaria.
Still, Samaria does not turn, and therefore, the Lord’s hand, the hand that brought afflictions and plagues to Egypt, is still stretched out against them.
So the Lord tries a different tack.
ALL ABOUT NATHAN HORTON:
Why Boston will win the Cup (Shawn P. Roarke, 4/10/11, NHL.com)
The Big Why: It might be hard to find a better defensive team than the Boston Bruins, whose 2.30 goals-against per game is the best mark in the Eastern Conference and second-best in the League.
Boston's own-zone prowess should not come as a surprise, however, as they possess one of the game's best goalies. Tim Thomas is enjoying a season for the ages. Tim Thomas, a candidate for both the Vezina and Hart trophies, has a 2.00 goals-against average this season and his save percentage of .938 was the best in the League. His back-up, Tuukka Rask, is also no slouch, checking in at 2.67 GAA and 11 wins.
Thomas also gets a lot of help from Zdeno Chara, Boston's rock on the blue line. Only five defensemen average more ice time per game than Chara's 25:26 – and four of those five play in the Western Conference. Chara skates in all situations and physically intimidates opposing forwards. He fits the bill -- you might even say he is the 2011 prototype--as a playoff game-changer.
The Big Uh-Oh: Really, the only question facing the Bruins may be if they can score enough goals to lift Lord Stanley's hardware. Milan Lucic is their only 30-goal scorer and they didn't have a player reach the 70-point mark.
Bruins-Habs is like Sox-Yanks but with a clock and fighting allowed.
Centuries-old debate on perception settled (Marlowe Hood, 4/11/11, Agence France-Presse)
A conundrum about human perception has stumped philosophers and scientists alike since it was first articulated by an Irish politician in a letter to John Locke 323 years ago. But French scientists now claim that they have it solved.
Imagine, William Molyneux wrote to the great British thinker, that a man blind from birth who has learned to identify objects - a sphere and a cube, for example - only through his sense of touch is suddenly able to see. The puzzle, he continued, is "Whether he Could, by his Sight, and before he touch them, know which is the Globe and which the Cube?"
For philosophers of the time, answering 'Molyneux's question', as it was known ever after, would resolve a fundamental uncertainty about the human mind.
SOMETIMES NOTHIN' IS A REAL COOL HAND:
Cool Hand John (G. Tracy Mehan, III, 4.11.11, American Spectator)
House Speaker John Boehner has succeeded in making the largest cut to the bloated federal budget in American history. In this he surpasses even the great Ronald Reagan, who still deserves all honor and praise for defeating the Evil Empire and ushering in tax reform and economic dynamism in political economy. The Speaker has initiated what one can only hope is a rescue mission of equivalent importance to the future of the Republic.
ONE CHEER IS AMPLE:
Three cheers for contrarians: While many of us avoid conflict, there are braver souls who can’t help but disagree with friends, colleagues or experts. As Jackie Hunter discovers, there’s a real value in being prepared to go against conventional wisdom (Jackie Hunter, Psychologies)
According to psychologist Sandi Mann, there is not always an intention to be obstinate or gratuitously provocative. We may see contrarians as devil’s advocates, she says, but their off-kilter opinions are often given in earnest, not just for the sake of putting across another point of view. ‘They have great talent for seeing things from another angle, are good problem-solvers and creative thinkers, unafraid to trust their judgment.’
Vivien’s colleagues were initially wary of her. ‘My manager championed my ideas, but in private she warned me I should be more subtle and focus on teamwork, or I’d alienate myself. I’m now trying to make myself more useful as a problem-
solver, rather than as a knee-jerk nay-sayer.’
There is an art to being a contrarian in a conventional-thinking world. Counter-intuitive thinkers often stumble over inter-personal relationships, says Karl Albrecht, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science Of Success. ‘Often they haven’t [acquired] the tactical skills of developing their ideas. They tend to blurt them out, making them hard to accept, or else they disagree with others in a clumsy way.’
Albrecht confesses to being ‘something of a contrarian’ himself, but has learned to rely on the vital tool of social intelligence. ‘It’s not so much contrarian thinking that’s difficult as the way it’s put forward,’ he says. ‘It can be intimidating.’
So how do you exercise your counter-intuitive mind without infuriating or alienating others? Albrecht advises that when you have an unusual idea you need to formulate it before sharing it. Recall the language and references the other person has used and echo them. And learn to take it in your stride when people criticise your ideas.
We non-contrarians have work to do, too, because contrarians challenge us to be more patient. Before saying ‘I don’t agree…’, says Albrecht, we should pause, listen and think. For example, if your partner says, ‘Let’s go to Paris for the weekend’ when you’re frantic at work, the temptation is to scream, ‘Are you crazy?’. But to stimulate your high-level thinking — the process that lets your brain explore an issue — you need to resist this knee-jerk response. Take a moment to think, says Albrecht, and your considered reaction may be, ‘OK, Paris is only a couple of hours away, it’s not so crazy after all’.
Life with a contrarian is always stimulating, but it comes with conflict, says Sternberg. For some, that’s a good thing and even an expression of love. ‘If you’re both argumentative, the relationship can work really well, although you both need to get the same charge out of arguing for it to work.’ But beware of getting into a verbal battle with a contrarian just to shut them up, he warns.
April 10, 2011
A TRIBE CALLED LIBERTAIAN:
Atlas Shrugged. And So Did I. (P.J. O’Rourke, 4/08/11, WSJ)
The movie version of Ayn Rand’s novel treats its source material with such formal, reverent ceremoniousness that the uninitiated will feel they’ve wandered without a guide into the midst of the elaborate and interminable rituals of some obscure exotic tribe.
Meanwhile, one half expects teenage boys to be led out of the theater in their raincoats, like Pee Wee Herman.
EVEN THE CARNIES ARE SUPERIOR (via Brandon Heathcotte):
Immigrant carnival workers bring strong work ethic, drug-free culture (Richard Ruelas, Apr. 8, 2011, The Arizona Republic)
The work is grueling and repetitive. Two men scramble along the frame of the Flying Bobs ride, balance themselves on the edge, hoist a side panel up 20 feet and lock it into place. They will repeat this 16 more times.
One ride over, men in hard hats guide down 15-foot steel pieces that form the foundation of the Victory Lane ride.
At the carousel, 74 animals need to be lifted out of a truck, bolted into place, then polished. Every time the carnival moves, the routines reverse themselves.
When they're not working, the employees stay on the carnival grounds, living out of bunkhouse trailer that contain bunk-bed compartments, stacked like a railroad sleeper car, just big enough to sleep in.
Carnival culture involves living this way for months on end. It's a life that used to attract men who enjoyed working with their hands and drifting around the country.
But Vomberg says those workers don't exist in the United States anymore. Especially ones who can routinely pass a random drug screening.
Vomberg knows that, in a nation with an unemployment rate at around 9 percent, people will bristle at the notion that there are jobs Americans won't take, but he said, "People can't deal with the truth."
Vomberg, a self-described conservative Republican, said the new wave of workers has made the carnival more profitable. They are able to set up quicker, allowing the carnival to run more nights. The change also has lowered the carnival's workers' compensation claims and liability insurance.
But the biggest change is the end of the rampant drug culture. Vomberg said drug dealers used to knock on workers' bunkhouse trailers at night, knowing they had a willing market. That has ended, he said.
During the carnival's weeks in Arizona, Vomberg said it had drug-tested 20 employees. Five came back positive for marijuana. "All native Americans," he said, meaning U.S.-born employees.
"There is a public trust," Vomberg said. "When people come out here with their kids, they want clean and safe operators. It's a moral obligation."
For the immigrant workers, it means about nine months away from their families, keeping in touch through cellphone calls and pictures. But it also means a decent, steady income. Workers are hired making $325 to $350 a week, after taxes, Vomberg said. Supervisors and foremen can make between $700 and upwards of $1,000 weekly.
GOD GAVE NOAH THE RAINBOW SIGN:
The Enduring Brownson: a review of In Search of the American Spirit: The Political Thought of Orestes Brownson by Gregory S. Butler (Peter J. Stanlis, Summer 1993, University Bookman)
In this very thoroughly researched and well-written description and analysis of Brownson’s political thought, Gregory S. Butler is far less concerned with the merely legal and political structures of American constitutional and positive law than with his conception of “the American spirit,” which provides the religious, cultural, and social foundations of his politics. Brownson rejected the common belief that any fictional theory of a “social contract,” based upon a supposed “state of nature” prior to the origin of institutional society, can be legitimately considered the basis of the American spirit. He also rejected the equally fictitious theory of a “general will,” based upon humanitarian sensibility and belief in the natural goodness of man, as foreign to the American spirit. In short, all of the secular premises, theories, and arguments of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau had no place in forming the American spirit.