June 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Three Straights and You’re Out in Gay Softball League (GREG BISHOP, 6/29/11, NY Times)

The five ballplayers summoned before a protest committee at the Gay Softball World Series stood accused of cheating. Their alleged offense: heterosexuality.

Inside a small room, surrounded by committee members and other softball officials, the players said they were interrogated about their sexual orientation. Confusion reigned. According to court records, one player declined to say whether he was gay or straight but acknowledged being married to a woman. Another answered yes to both gay and heterosexual definitions. A third asked if bisexual was acceptable and was told, “This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series.”

Ultimately, the committee ruled that three of the five were “nongay” and stripped the team of its second-place finish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


GOP governors huddle on 2012 race (Jonathan Martin, June 30, 2011, Politico)

In interviews about the presidential campaign, Branstad and another important Republican governor, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, were careful to praise the congresswoman in the course of making the case for why the party should nominate a current or former governor.

“She’s an exciting candidate, she brings a lot of enthusiasm and I think she helps to rally the Republican base and I certainly have a lot of respect for her,” said Branstad. “But she doesn’t have the executive experience that governors have.”

The governor’s skeptical assessment comes as Bachmann formally kicked off her campaign Monday in Waterloo, claimed native daughter status and found herself effectively tied for the lead in the Iowa caucuses.

Making his point unambiguous, Branstad implicitly likened Bachmann to President Barack Obama.

“And especially when you look at how we elected a candidate who had charisma but no experience and you look at the situation we’re in today, a lot of people are saying we need more than charisma,” he noted. “We need experience and the ability to make tough decisions that chief executives have to make.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


What Does Newt Gingrich Know?: Let’s consult the literature — all 21 books by the self-proclaimed ideas man of politics. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 7/03/11, NY Times Magazine)

One of Gingrich’s recent books had the potential to be charming. “Rediscovering God in America” is a walking tour of buildings and monuments in Washington. The point is to demonstrate how previous generations of Americans unabashedly included religious symbols in civic life, in contrast to the picky legalisms and hair-trigger sensitivities of our own era. The book is a collaboration with Callista Gingrich, the wife (“whose support and love have made the adventure of our life together exciting, enjoyable and fulfilling,” Gingrich writes in “To Serve America”) who replaced the second wife, Marianne (“who made it all worthwhile” back in the day of “To Renew America”). Callista is unavoidable in all of Gingrich’s current endeavors. Having married a powerful man and suddenly blossomed in fields in which she earlier showed seemingly no interest or professional skill — writing books, taking photographs, making movies, overseeing her husband’s not-for-profit company — Callista has emerged as the Linda McCartney of the conservative movement.

Her images in the most recent edition of “Rediscovering God in America” are lovely. (Linda was a photographer too.) The entire sepia-toned production is so elegant, that Gingrich’s attacks on the “ruthlessly secular society” in thrall to “a media-academic-legal elite [who find] religious expression frightening and threatening” sound wildly out of place, like a gunshot at afternoon tea.

If Gingrich’s theme is timeless and the enemy unchanging, so is the solution, the same one from 1984. The coming rush of high technology will dismantle the welfare state and provide a replacement that is humane and efficient; it will free the poor from government dependency, take apart a failing educational establishment, relieve the drudgery of industrial labor and provide a steady supply of pleasant jobs, defrock out-of-touch elites in every corner of the ruthlessly secular society, clean up the environment and bequeath to us an America that is “safe, healthy, prosperous and free,” as he wrote in “Winning the Future” and, with slight variation, in most of his other books too. Technology remains the deus ex machina of Gingrich’s vision.

His attraction to it goes beyond the sci-fi enthusiast’s love of gadgetry. As our country’s problems fall before technology’s advance, the need for politics and its drudgery disappears: no fuss over compromise and horse-trading, no grubby catering to commercial interests. Politics is just one more feature of the old order that becomes obsolete. Yet a reader who scans the whole collection from its beginning in “Window of Opportunity” might pause: Wasn’t this supposed to have happened already? The explosion in digital technology that Gingrich foresaw in 1984 has come off, with a bang. And yet still the country hangs in the balance, its condition more dire than ever, its need for a transformational leader never more pressing.

Like most Utopians, Gingrich sees the world in binary terms. Only his alternative future can prevent the cataclysm that has been about to happen for so many years. Muddling through — which is the default option of our constitutional system and the one that most Americans, latently conservative as they are, seem to prefer — never surfaces in the swirling mists of his crystal ball. For all the reciprocated disdain he claims to feel for the establishment in Washington, where he has lived for more than 30 years, he is still its unwitting champion; for without the crises that Gingrich chronically imagines, the establishment would no longer be necessary. [...]

And then, just when my stack had dwindled to nothing and I felt the thrill of liberation, the mail arrived with my preordered copy of Gingrich’s latest book, “A Nation Like No Other.” I thumbed through it. “The election of 2012,” Gingrich writes, “will bring us to an historic crossroads.”

The choice is stark, apparently — as urgent as any in our history.

The idea of turning Andrew Ferguson loose on the Newt canon is genius.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM


MSNBC suspends Mark Halperin for Obama comments (MSNBC, Jun 30, 2011)

Statement from MSNBC:
Mark Halperin's comments this morning were completely inappropriate and unacceptable.  We apologize to the President, The White House and all of our viewers. We strive for a high level of discourse and comments like these have no place on our air. Therefore, Mark will be suspended indefinitely from his role as an analyst.

Statement from Mark Halperin:
I completely agree with everything in MSNBC’s statement about my remark. I believe that the step they are taking in response is totally appropriate.

Again, I want to offer a heartfelt and profound apology to the President, to my MSNBC colleagues, and to the viewers. My remark was unacceptable, and I deeply regret it.

Isn't it supposed to be FOX News that's coarsening our politics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


A GOP Dark Horse? (HENRY OLSEN, Summer 2011, National Affairs)

Understanding the dynamics of the contest for the 2012 Republican nomination first requires an examination of the GOP electorate. And a great deal of this analysis is bound up in the question of what it means to be "conservative."

To be conservative once meant possessing a certain disposition or frame of mind. This type of conservative was cautious and suspicious of change — someone who trusted the collected wisdom of institutions and the past over the novelties of individual reasoning and innovative philosophies. It was in this sense that British and Scandinavian parties of the right labeled themselves "Conservative"; it was to overcome this definition that Canada's Conservatives changed their name in the 1940s to the oxymoronic Progressive Conservative Party. In America, this sentiment was well expressed in Russell Kirk's 1953 magnum opus, The Conservative Mind. It may be neatly summed up in the conservative adage that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.

"Dispositional conservatives" still make up a sizable portion of the Republican Party. Yet they have had to make room for ideological conservatives, who gained prominence in the GOP through the movement that began with Barry Goldwater in the 1960s and matured during Ronald Reagan's presidency in the 1980s. Ideological conservatives are not, by virtue of disposition, necessarily averse to change. On the contrary: In the mold of Reagan, they are forward-looking. They embrace changes and reforms that advance conservative principles, such as the primacy of freedom and the morality of free markets, the protection of traditional moral structures and practices, and the unapologetic use of American power overseas. Under Reagan, conservatism became associated in the public eye with action, experimentation, and change. Its evolving character was best expressed in a line from Reagan's Republican convention acceptance speech in 1980, quoting Thomas Paine: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

The distinction between dispositional and ideological conservatives is often subtle; as a result, the breakdown is difficult to capture neatly in public-opinion polls. It is, however, approximated by the distinction made in some polls between Republican voters who identify themselves as "somewhat conservative" and those who identify as "very conservative." And as exit-poll data from the 1996, 2000, and 2008 Republican presidential primaries and caucuses show, these different types of "conservatives" prefer very different types of presidential candidates. Very conservative Republicans favor rhetorically aggressive champions of conservative ideology. Somewhat-conservative Republicans, on the other hand, tend to prefer established candidates — people who, while generally in agreement with ideological conservatives in their positions on the issues, are not as strident when it comes to ideology, rhetoric, or temperament.

It is worth noting that these somewhat-conservative voters make up a majority of Republican primary voters who identify as conservative. Polls taken in late 2010 and early 2011 show that conservatives comprise between 66% and 71% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. Most pollsters do not break conservatives into "somewhat" and "very" categories, but a mid-October 2010 Wall Street Journal poll asked if respondents were "very conservative" or "just conservative." At the height of Tea Party fervor within the GOP, "just conservatives" outnumbered "very conservatives," 36% to 34%.

In 2008, somewhat-conservative voters were an even larger share of the GOP electorate. Looking at state-by-state exit polls during the period before John McCain clinched the nomination, "somewhat conservative" voters averaged about 35% of the electorate. Moreover, somewhat conservatives outnumbered very conservatives in all but four Southern states. In many early states this advantage was sizable. In Florida and Michigan, somewhat conservatives outnumbered very conservatives by a nearly 3-2 margin; in New Hampshire, their margin was nearly 2-1. Even in supposedly ultra-conservative South Carolina, somewhat conservatives and very conservatives tied with 34% of the GOP electorate, with moderates and liberals nearly even at 32%. Given their number and distribution throughout key states, these somewhat-conservative voters generally have enormous influence over what kind of presidential candidate the Republican Party tends to nominate.

In fact, it is the dispositional conservatism of these somewhat-conservative voters that accounts for the GOP's tendency to prefer next-in-line candidates over their untested rivals. It explains why, despite the fact that ideological conservatives have in many ways dominated the Republican Party since the ascendance of Reagan, the candidates who have patiently waited their turn — who have also often been those in the dispositional-conservative vein — have generally prevailed.

The history and polling data of three key elections — the 1996, 2000, and 2008 Republican presidential primaries — illustrate this phenomenon. [...]

How should such a moderate appeal be crafted? As a general rule, Republican moderates tend not to emphasize religion or social issues; compared to conservative voters, they are more open to raising taxes and increasing government spending. Yet basing a GOP primary campaign on these principles can be a difficult balancing act: While a campaign that focuses on the differences between moderates and conservatives can excite the former, it is doomed to fail among the latter. And although moderates are an important Republican constituency, they are not large enough to deliver the nomination on their own. Thus even a dark-horse candidate aggressively courting moderates must appeal to somewhat-conservative voters as well if he is to secure the nomination.

The way for a dark horse to appeal to moderates without alienating conservatives is to combine conservative positions on key issues with a problem-solving approach that is principled but not ideological, and to display a calm, confident manner. Polls currently show that jobs, the economy, and the national debt are the issues of greatest concern to voters. A dark-horse conservative with moderate appeal would stress his willingness to tackle these questions in a way that does not preclude the possibility of reaching agreement with Democrats. On spending, for example, he might indicate that traditional Republican sacred cows — such as farm subsidies, defense spending, or corporate welfare — are on the table. In short, he must show he is less interested in abstract ideology than in solving America's problems.

Such a dark horse should also have a background in public service that is consistent with his claims. Somewhat-conservative voters value a proven track record: Since 1968, they have never given their support to someone without significant time in public service in elected or high appointed office. Even when presented with two such candidates, somewhat-conservative voters prefer the person who has exhibited a capacity for public-sector leadership for a longer period of time. Mitt Romney, for example, had served for four years as governor; he had devoted two very successful decades to his career in business; and he struck no one as reckless. Nevertheless, he consistently lost somewhat-conservative voters to John McCain, who had spent 26 years in Washington and was a military hero.

A seasoned candidate who stands for conservative principles of individual liberty and free markets, while remaining focused on solving practical problems rather than scoring rhetorical points, will signal to moderates that he is a different kind of conservative. An even temperament coupled with a firm, serious message will also communicate that he is someone who can get the job done — a quality that moderate and somewhat-conservative voters prize.

At the same time, such a candidate would need to be sufficiently conservative on social issues — though not defined by those issues. Contrary to stereotype, moderate Republicans vote for pro-life and pro-family candidates all the time; if they did not, neither John McCain nor Bob Dole could have been nominated. What Republican moderates want, however, is someone who is not obsessed with these issues. Rightly or not, Republican moderates are more concerned about a candidate's stance on other matters — the economy, national security, education — than they are about his views on the state of our culture. In order for a dark horse to win, then, he will have to successfully manage this delicate balance between the moderates' temperamental preferences and conservatives' substantive demands.

It's a blueprint for Tim Pawlenty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


iLiKETRAiNS - TERRA NOVA from Ashley Dean on Vimeo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Google Takes Aim at Facebook: This week Google is silently launching a new social network the search giant is calling Google+. (Brian Ries, June 29, 2011, Daily Beast)

Google began rolling out its ambitious new social-networking project Wednesday with the premise that “online sharing is awkward.” The process may even be broken, Google surmises. But the Internet search giant is here to fix it. “We’d like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests,” the company said in announcing the initiative on its blog. “And so begins the Google+ project.”

Lifehacker basically collapsed last night when it set up a thread where people with invites could send them to readers who requested them. Anybody got extra to share?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


KILLING HER SOFTLY (Mark Steyn, 28 June 2011)

One of the distinguishing features of our age is in its contempt for basic societal building blocks. There's a new book making the rounds by Mara Hvistendahl called Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, And The Consequences Of A World Full Of Men. If you've read the relevant bits of America Alone or some of my other columns, you'll know what comes next: In China, India, other parts of the developing world, and those parts of the west where Chinese, Indians and others have settled in large numbers, there are plenty of boys and an ever greater absence of girls. Indeed, given the decline in sex ratios in Asia and elsewhere, if daughters had feathers or four legs, they'd be on the endangered species list.

However, as Ross Douthat points out, because Ms Hvistendahl is impeccably liberal, she can't quite articulate the grounds of her objection to what's going on. If you're in favor of abortion on principle, it's hard to object to 160 million of them per se. So it seems Ms Hvistendahl would prefer an abortion industry in which the wee male fetus gets equal time. But that's not going to happen, not if you introduce routine abortion into the world as is, as opposed to the world liberal fantasists would like it to be. As I say below, in practice a "woman's right to choose" is the right to choose not to have any women. This wasn't an unpredictable consequence, but entirely foreseeable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Interest groups use the power of the political pledge (Jackie Kucinich, 6/29/11, USA TODAY)

Susan B. Anthony List, an advocacy group that supports female candidates who oppose abortion, recently criticized Romney's refusal to sign their pledge that requires candidates to promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, defund Planned Parenthood and end any government funding of abortion.

Romney, who has publicly supported abortion rights in the past but is now an abortion opponent, said that pledge would have unintended consequences.

Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., project director for Susan B. Anthony List's Votes Have Consequences Project, said a candidate's record as a governor or a member of Congress can only show so much.

"None of them have been president, so despite what one would have done as governor or as a member of Congress, being president is a very different role," Musgrave said.

While Susan B. Anthony List actively supports candidates who oppose abortion, Musgrave did not say the group would withhold support from Republican presidential nominee who would not sign the pledge.

"That remains to be seen, you know, who that individual will be but again the point of the pledge is looking for leaders on the life issue and also letting our over 380,000 members across this country know what candidates were willing to say 'yes, I'm willing to lead on life.'"

Rothenberg said Romney's strategy is "risky" but could have a huge pay off.

...that if he could make it to the general he'd have demonstrated that he's not anti-abortion, like other Republicans.

June 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Bachmann: Media wants a 'mud wrestling fight' with Palin (Peter Hamby, 6/29/11, CNN)

Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann claimed Wednesday that the media is rooting for a catfight between her and Sarah Palin.

"They want to see two girls come together and have a mud wrestling fight, and I am not going to give that to them," Bachmann told a voter Wednesday who asked about her relationship with the former Alaska governor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The End Of Europe: A Civilization Built On Sand (Jerry Bowyer, Jun. 22 2011, Forbes)

The one unifying force the Eurozone might have had was mutual financial and economic interest. That was the original point of economic Nobelist Robert Mundell’s original dream: free trade and sound currency. But that’s not how things worked out.

The member states of the Eurozone cheated: most of them lied about their level of indebtedness, and as a consequence the Eurozone has already broken its constitutional pledge not to engage in bailouts. Much of the bailout money is coming through the European Central Bank, which has weakened the euro relative to gold, Dr. Mundell’s favorite measure of currency value.

So, the Mundellian model of a new Europe, the only model that had a chance in the current environment, was abandoned in favor of a bloated uber-welfare state. The savers of Northern Europe do not have a mutual economic interest in bailouts with the insolvent peoples of the south. Their elites might, but the people don’t.

Elite interest will probably hold this duct-tape empire together through the current crisis. The euro will likely survive its pre-test. But in the end, demographic suicide, moral hazard, stagnation, inflation and most of all the sheer lack of unifying forces, will likely end this utopian experiment in human perfectibility. Europe is a civilization built on sand, and just because they’ll probably survive the current storms on the periphery does not mean that they’ll survive the hurricane headed towards the heart of the kingdom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


The Big Nothing (Josh Rothman, June 27, 2011, Boston Globe)

"The separation of Nothing into opposites still needs explanation," Atkins concedes. Still, he writes, "it seems to me that such a process, though fearsomelessly difficult to explain, is less overwhelmingly fearsome than the process of positive, specific, munificent creation." The main point is that the Big Bang doesn't mark, necessarily, the creation of something out of nothing. If that happened at all -- and it may be, Atkins points out, that there was has never been absolutely Nothing, in a total sense -- then it probably happened further back in the pre-cosmological past. Instead, it marks the emergence of texture, differentiation, and particularity out of even, unchanging featurelessness. It's not something out of nothing, but interestingness out of boredom.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


,The Natural Law (Dr. Jeff Mirus, June 23, 2011 Catholic Culture)

One of the clarifying points in a brilliant new book on natural law from Ignatius Press is that we do not come to know the natural law by being taught it by others. The book is J. Budziszewski’s What We Can’t Not Know; it is a revised and expanded edition in 2011 of a work first published in 2003. The author rightly insists that the natural law is not impressed on us by others, or by this or that interest group. Rather, it is something we recognize instinctively, like the concept of “fairness”. Moreover, it is something which people always refer to even when they are trying to deny it, as when they try to justify their deviation from one part of the natural law by appealing to something else in the natural law that their contemporaries more easily recognize.

Indeed, recognition is the key. While we all respond to the most basic principles of natural law as first principles that do not need to be proved, we don’t always formally recognize that we know these principles, nor can we always elaborate their subsidiary principles accurately. In this sense, good teachers—and especially those who mine the hard-won and enduring insights of previous generations as carried forward by tradition—can draw out of us a fuller recognition of the natural law, even though they are not properly speaking teaching it to us in the form of an argument or even a bald assertion.

J. Budziszewski, a recent convert to Catholicism from an Evangelical background, a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and a frequent contributor to First Things, has a particularly keen ability to help us recognize the natural law, and to elucidate both how we know it and how we may gain additional moral knowledge by reasoning from its deepest principles. In casting about for the simplest and most familiar summary of the natural law, he finds that the Ten Commandments given by God to the Jews cover all the basic points, though they have also been summarized in other traditions.

...even God thought we needed them written down for us.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


The Truth Behind America’s Taliban Talks (Ahmed Rashid, 6/28/11, Financial Times)

In an attempt to avoid further speculation, I am laying out the bare facts of the talks as western officials have described them to me. The first face-to-face meeting between Taliban leaders and officials from the US government took place in a village outside Munich in Germany on November 28th 2010.

The meeting was chaired by a German diplomat and also there were Qatari officials whom the Taliban had asked to be present and involved. The talks continued for eleven hours.

The second round took place in Doha, the capital of Qatar on February 15th. Three days after the Doha meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the most far reaching US public statement to date, telling Americans, ‘’we are launching a diplomatic surge to move this conflict toward a political outcome that shatters the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, ends the insurgency, and helps to produce not only a more stable Afghanistan but a more stable region.’’

The third meeting took place again in Munich on May 7th and 8th. All the same participants have taken part in the three rounds which have largely involved trying to develop confidence-building measures between the Taliban and the Americans, such as lifting sanctions from the Taliban, the freeing of Taliban prisoners, the opening of a Taliban representative office and other steps.

On June 17th in a major step forward, the UN Security Council accepted a US request to treat al-Qaeda and the Taliban separately in relation to a list of global terrorists the UN has maintained since 1998. There will now be two separate lists and UN sanctions on al-Qaeda members will not necessarily apply to the Taliban making it easier to take the Taliban off the list – a major boost to the dialogue process.

Mr Karzai has been fully briefed after each round and has unstintingly supported the Taliban’s desire to hold separate talks with the Americans, even as his government continues their talks with the Taliban at several levels. Pakistani leaders have also been recently briefed about the talks, although they have expressed some reservations about them.

One US-German target is to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 2001 Bonn meeting that set up the Afghan interim government, with another international meeting in Bonn in December 2011 in which the Taliban will hopefully participate.

...if the Taliban were to prevail through the democratic process would we stand idly by if they decided to put an end to that process?

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June 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Poll: Obama beating Palin in Alaska (Politico, 6/28/11)

A new statewide survey in Alaska shows President Obama beating Sarah Palin in her home state in a head-to-head matchup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Bachmann is so not ready for presidency, but Pawlenty has the judgment and skills (Ron Carey. 6/28/11, Des Moines Register)

As the former chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party during the tenure of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as well as the former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, I have watched both candidates from behind the public scene. I've seen how they handle the pressures of the job; I've seen how they lead a staff; and I've seen how they would govern if elected to the most powerful office in the world.

Having seen the two of them, up close and over a long period of time, it is clear to me that while Tim Pawlenty possesses the judgment, the demeanor, and the readiness to serve as president, Michele Bachmann decidedly does not.

The Bachmann campaign and congressional offices I inherited were wildly out of control. Stacks upon stacks of unopened contributions filled the campaign office while thousands of communications from citizens waited for an answer. If she is unable, or unwilling, to handle the basic duties of a campaign or congressional office, how could she possibly manage the magnitude of the presidency? [...]

I find myself agreeing with Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann on 99 percent of the issues, but the similarities end there. We need to look at the experience and accomplishments of the candidates and make sure we support someone who can not only defeat President Obama, but someone who also has the proven experience and leadership to handle the difficult challenges of the presidency.

I know Tim Pawlenty very well. He is a family man filled with faith and conservative convictions proven in action. He will make a great president. I know Michele Bachmann very well. She is a faithful conservative with great oratory skills, but without any leadership experience or real results from her years in office. She is not prepared to assume the White House in 2013.

Hopefully folks learned something from electing a legislator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Pawlenty Lays Out Hawkish Vision in Foreign Policy Speech (Alex Roarty, 6/27/11, National Journal)

In a speech that attempts to stake out his position as the GOP presidential field's leading hawk, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday accused President Obama of turning his back on democracy movements across the Middle East, saying the president has "retreated from freedom's rise" just as grassroots activists leading the "Arab Spring" needed him the most.

Pawlenty, speaking in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations, laid out an aggressive vision for his own foreign policy, calling for direct military intervention in Libya and the ousting of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. And he said Obama has turned its back on Israel, treating it as an enemy instead of the country's closest ally in the region.

"The Middle East is changing before our eyes--but our government has not kept up," Pawlenty said, according to prepared remarks provided by his campaign. "It abandoned the promotion of democracy just as Arabs were about to seize it. It sought to cozy up to dictators just as their own people rose against them. It downplayed our principles and distanced us from key allies."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Radio makes Britons happier than TV and web (Emma Barnett, 28 Jun 2011, The Telegraph)

Listening to the radio makes people happier and gives them higher energy levels than watching TV or browsing the internet, new research has found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


Libya not a stalemate anymore: Qaddafi hasn't been in such a dire situation since mid-February. He now faces an ICC arrest warrant, unrelenting NATO air strikes, and victorious rebels vowing to march on Tripoli. (Dan Murphy, June 28, 2011, CS Monitor)

The ICC announcement touched off celebrations in Benghazi and other eastern towns that are out of the grip of the central government. Meanwhile, the rebels appeared to scored a major victory in the west, where local antigovernment militias have been enjoying a revival in recent weeks, thanks to NATO air strikes that appear to be eroding Qaddafi's ability to project force.

The Los Angeles Times' Borzou Daraghi reports from the Nafusa mountains in the west that rebels "seized control of and pillaged a massive weapons depot Tuesday morning after a short desert battle with troops loyal" to Qaddafi. Al Jazeera English's Johan Hull was also on the scene. He writes that tons of weapons were hauled away into the mountains from the site by rebels, using hundreds of cars. The booty included two Russian-made T-55 tanks. "Seems every man with wheels took part in the haul," he wrote on Twitter. "Will swell morale in the mountains and perhaps add to momentum."

...but when they start fretting about a stalemate four months into the action they're begging you not to listen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


The Failure of Al Gore: Part Deux (Walter Russell Mead, 6/27/11, American Interest)

The global green strategy was a comprehensive, unified and coordinated one. Green activists around the world, in some countries empowered because proportional representation gives fringe groups disproportionate political influence, would unite around the push for a single global solution to climate change. The global solution involved a treaty to be negotiated under UN auspices that would be “legally binding” and subject the emission of greenhouse gasses to strict global controls. Developing countries would receive massive transfers of official aid ($100 billion or more a year) to compensate them for the costs they would incur in meeting carbon targets; developed countries like the United States would face stricter targets still. The target for the treaty was to cap global emissions at levels believed to keep the global temperature rise this century to two degrees centigrade.

To reach this Valhalla, a political strategy was put in place; it is the strategy that the former vice president is still gamely trying to push in his Rolling Stone article. It has failed.

The idea was to develop and present a scientific case that global warming was happening, that it was caused by human activity, and that its consequences in the near future were so devastating that a binding and effective GGCT (Global Green Carbon Treaty) was the only way out.

Politically, the framers of this approach could count on the support of green movements worldwide, on diplomats and UN officials constantly looking for new missions and new budgets, on anti-capitalist or anti-growth forces who want to slow down or reverse the process of capitalist economic development reshaping the world, on Europeans and others concerned about the rapid rise of Asia and the shift of political power from west to east, and on a group of economic interests and financial market wizards who stood to make hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars from the massive reorientation of the world economy the green program would require.

To make the case for a proposition like this, one needs to make the following argument: that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high, that the proposed measures are both feasible and effective, and that there are no easier or cheaper methods of accomplishing the goal. This is no special set of high hurdles invented for the purpose of frustrating the greens; it is the basic test that any proposal in any arena must pass.

In the global warming debate, this involves arguing first that the evidence for rapid and destructive climate change is rock solid, second that the global green agenda can be put into place and will work if it is, and third that there are no less costly, less intrusive or more workable alternative policies to the green agenda as it is now understood.

From the beginning, the movement was dogged by what proved to be a fatal flaw. That problem was and is the sheer expense, complexity and unwieldiness of the GGCT. The political goal of the global green movement is so enormously complicated, so economically expensive, so administratively difficult, so dependent on the coordination and cooperation of so many different powerful political interests with radically different agendas that its adoption was extremely unlikely.

Any serious discussion of the merits of the GGCT would be fatal because the more the world reflects on the topic the more the world’s diplomats, policy makers and opinion leaders realize just how utopian and unworkable this “strategy” really is.

The global green treaty movement to outlaw climate change is the most egregious folly to seize the world’s imagination since the Kellog-Briand Pact outlawed war in the late 1920s. The idea that the nations of the earth could agree on an enforceable treaty mandating deep cuts in their output of all greenhouse gasses is absurd. A global treaty to meet Mr. Gore’s policy goals isn’t a treaty: the changes such a treaty requires are so broad and so sweeping that a GGCT is less a treaty than a constitution for global government. Worse, it is a constitution for a global welfare state with trillions of dollars ultimately sent by the taxpayers of rich countries to governments (however feckless, inept, corrupt or tyrannical) in poor ones.

For this treaty to work, China, India, Nigeria and Brazil and scores of other developing countries must in effect accept limits on their economic growth. The United States must commit through treaty to policies that cannot get simple majorities in Congress — like sending billions of dollars in climate aid to countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria and Pakistan, even as we adopt intrusive and expensive energy controls here at home.

The green plan is a plan for a global constitution because the treaty will regulate economic production in every country on earth.

While the surrender of sovereignty required for such a scheme was certain to be fatal, the fact is that the Climatistas failed at the very first hurdle: people simply do not believe that climate change is primarily a function of human behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Poll: Faith signals party affiliation (JUSTIN HO, 6/28/11, Politico)

Gallup’s latest survey revealed that 48 percent of very religious Americans are Republican or lean Republican, while 38 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic. Among those who aren’t religious, 54 percent consider themselves Democrats and 29 percent identify themselves as Republicans.

The numbers are evenly split among independents, with 16 percent identifying as non-religious, 16 percent identifying as moderately religious and 13 percent identifying as very religious.

Gallup said the data suggests Obama will face an invigorated challenge from the religious GOP in 2012.

“Obama managed to win the presidency in 2008 despite his relatively poor showing against John McCain among highly religious Americans,” Newport said.

“The current data suggest that he still enjoys relatively strong support among Americans who are nonreligious, but that in the coming election he will again face an uphill battle among those who are moderately and, in particular, very religious, given the latter’s clear tendency to identify as Republicans.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Women’s Driving Protest May Signal Changes in Saudi Arabia (Isobel Coleman, June 23, 2011, Washington Post)

The problem for the monarch now is that a lot of his people have been looking at YouTube, where the protest is amplified over and over. There, videos posted by protesters show that the world is not upended when women are in the driver's seat. In many of the videos, husbands, fathers and brothers are sitting in the passenger seat, beaming proudly. The women are simply going about their ordinary chores — and changing conservative mores along the way, as the very public debate over the protests makes clear.

Saudi restrictions on women are not going to melt away. More likely, a growing middle-class acceptance of women's rights, promoted by activists, business leaders, educators, journalists and even moderate religious leaders, will exacerbate the long-simmering tensions between tradition and modernity, between fundamentalist and moderate Islam, that have gripped Saudi society for decades.

Why? Because control over women is at the heart of the harsh version of Islam that Saudi theocracy imposes on the country.

The 18th-century bargain struck between Muhammad ibn Saud, a direct forefather of today's ruling Sauds, and Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the eponymous “Wahhabi,” persists: The Sauds have political control of the country, and the descendents of Wahhab exert social and religious control.

As revolutions swept the region this spring, Saudi Arabia's ruling clerics offered up helpful fatwas and sermons against public demonstrations and in support of the monarchy. In return, the religious establishment was richly rewarded with about $200 million to their organizations, according to the New York Times. The Saudi government is not about to anger religious conservatives at this tenuous time by going soft on the touchstone issue of women's rights.

But the Sauds' bargain with the clerics that sustains the nation's medieval system will become increasingly unsustainable as more and more Saudis question the restrictions imposed on them in the name of religion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Gas prices falling fast: Gas prices have come down an average 38 cents a gallon in the past seven weeks. Gas prices could fall another 25 cents by mid-July. ()

Gasoline prices are falling fast. In the past 7 weeks, the average U.S. retail prices has dropped 38 cents to $3.60 per gallon. Another 25-cent drop is expected by mid-July.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Chocolate milk is best drink for recovery after exercise (IndiaVision, Jun 24, 2011)

[T]wo new studies from The University of Texas at Austin have shown that chocolate milk is the ideal post-workout recovery drink.

"Serious and amateur athletes alike enjoyed physical recovery benefits when they drank low-fat chocolate milk after a vigorous workout," the Daily Mail quoted lead researcher Dr John Ivy as saying.

"The advantages for the study participants were better body composition in the form of more muscle and less fat, improved times while working out and overall better physical shape than peers who consumed sports beverages that just contained carbohydrates," he said.

Ivy and his team compared the recovery benefits of drinking low-fat chocolate milk after exercise to the effects of a carbohydrate beverage with the same ingredients and calories as typical sports drinks as well as to a calorie-free beverage.

They asked 10 trained cyclists to ride a bike for 90 minutes at moderate intensity, then for 10 minutes of high intensity intervals.

The scientists found the athletes had significantly more power and rode faster (reduced their ride time by an average of six minutes) when they consumed low-fat chocolate milk rather than a carbohydrate sports drink or calorie-free beverage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Bachmann's had her share of government aid: The fiscal conservative from Minnesota and 2012 presidential contender has benefited personally from federal funds and federal farm subsidies. (Melanie Mason and Matea Gold, June 26, 2011, LA Times)

Rep. Michele Bachmann has been propelled into the 2012 presidential contest in part by her insistent calls to reduce federal spending, a pitch in tune with the big-government antipathy gripping many conservatives.

But theMinnesota Republican and her family have benefited personally from government aid, an examination of her record and finances shows. A counseling clinic run by her husband has received nearly $30,000 from the state ofMinnesota in the last five years, money that in part came from the federal government. A family farm in Wisconsin, in which the congresswoman is a partner, received nearly $260,000 in federal farm subsidies.

And she has sought to keep federal money flowing to her constituents. After publicly criticizing the Obama administration's stimulus program, Bachmann requested stimulus funds to support projects in her district. Although she has been a fierce critic of earmarks — calling them "part of the root problem with Washington's spending addiction" — the congresswoman nonetheless argued recently that transportation projects should not be considered congressional pork.

If she looked like Mitch Daniels you'd never have heard of her.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


California budget deal reached (Tami Luhby, June 27, 2011, CNNMoney)

Conceding defeat on his tax extension proposal, California Governor Jerry Brown unveiled a budget Monday that imposes deep spending cuts.

The plan, cobbled together with Democratic legislative leaders, calls for cuts of $650 million to the state's universities, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to the judiciary, Brown said in a press conference.

The budget counts on the state bringing in $4 billion in more in tax revenues in the coming year than was initially expected. The improving economy has pushed the state's tax collections billions of dollars above estimates in recent months. Brown expects the windfall to continue into fiscal 2012, which starts Friday.

If tax revenue comes in lower than expected, the budget also would impose an additional $2.6 billion in cuts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM

Wanda Jackson On Mountain Stage (NPR, 6/27/11)

Backed by the Mountain Stage band and assisted by an incendiary three-piece horn section, Jackson's set kicks off with "Riot in Cell Block #9" before moving into cuts from the new album, including Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Libya: The Lost War (Amitai Etzioni, June 24, 2011, National Interest)

For one thing, the intervention emboldens Iran. The Obama administration has declared repeatedly that it is “unacceptable” for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. The same statement was made by the previous White House and endorsed by our European allies. Moreover, the U.S. government has repeatedly stated that “all options are on the table,” the phrase used to threaten military action. WikiLeaks make it clear that defanging Iran is viewed by our main allies in the Middle East as vital to their interests.

Despite these bipartisan, multilateral declarations, the leaders of Iran cannot but conclude that a nation that gives up its program of obtaining of WMDs—as Qaddafi’s Libya did—is much more vulnerable to Western intervention than a nation that succeeds in acquiring them, as North Korea did, and furthermore, that the Western alliance has a hard time dealing with military forces much less impressive than those of Iran. NATO forces, in Secretary Gates’ words, are so weak they face “collective military irrelevance.”

It is, however, certainly true that we should demonstrate the uselessness of nukes to these sorts of regimes by taking out Pakistan and North Korea's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


The Principal Question (Ken Connor, 6/28/11, Catholic Exchange)

Republican pundits eager to set aside social issues in favor of economic matters will dismiss the kerfuffle over the pro-life pledge as an unnecessary and divisive distraction, and Liberal groups will cite the controversy as the latest example of the GOP’s slide into extremism.

In reality, there are very serious, very legitimate reasons for pro-life conservatives to question the leadership suitability of a candidate who is not willing to commit to Susan B. Anthony List’s pledge. Foremost, a candidate’s easy dismissal of pro-life matters for reasons of pragmatism or nuance, or whatever the reason, calls into question his fundamental belief about the sanctity of life. Life is either sacred or it’s not. Life either begins at conception and should merit the full protection of the law as such, or it doesn’t and shouldn’t. Any refusal to elevate the importance of right-to-life issues by necessity trivializes them.

Of equal importance are the constitutional implications of a candidate’s view of the abortion issue. It is the general conclusion of those who adhere to a strict constructionist view of the Constitution that Roe v. Wade represents the most egregious example of judicial activism in American history. It was a case of pure judicial fiat, in which “emanations” and “penumbras” were fabricated and employed in order to prop up a politically motivated, fallacious decree. The implied “right to privacy” led to a perceived “right to choose,” which then led down the fatal path to a “right to kill.”

Thoughtful conservatives will likely be uncomfortable with a presidential nominee that subscribes to such nonsense. Governor Romney’s refusal to sign the pro-life pledge may be rooted in some ill-conceived form of pragmatism, but it comes at the expense of principle. It may also come at the expense of his nomination.

Cowtowing to the Left before you win the nomination is almost always disastrous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Evolution machine: Genetic engineering on fast forward (Jo Marchant, 6/27/11, New Scientist)

IT IS a strange combination of clumsiness and beauty. Sitting on a cheap-looking worktop is a motley ensemble of flasks, trays and tubes squeezed onto a home-made frame. Arrays of empty pipette tips wait expectantly. Bunches of black and grey wires adorn its corners. On the top, robotic arms slide purposefully back and forth along metal tracks, dropping liquids from one compartment to another in an intricately choreographed dance. Inside, bacteria are shunted through slim plastic tubes, and alternately coddled, chilled and electrocuted. The whole assembly is about a metre and a half across, and controlled by an ordinary computer.

Say hello to the evolution machine. It can achieve in days what takes genetic engineers years. So far it is just a prototype, but if its proponents are to be believed, future versions could revolutionise biology, allowing us to evolve new organisms or rewrite whole genomes with ease. It might even transform humanity itself.

These days everything from your food and clothes to the medicines you take may well come from genetically modified plants or bacteria. The first generation of engineered organisms has been a huge hit ...

"first generation"? Good one!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


The Rebirth of Nations (Roger Scruton, June 2011, American Spectator)

One thing is certain, however: nationalist sentiments are once more prominent in the cultural landscape of Europe. And they are the more prominent for the attempt by the Eurocrats to forbid them. I doubt that this situation was foreseen by those who first set the European process in motion. It seemed reasonable, even imperative, in 1950 to bring the nations of Europe together, in a way that would prevent the wars that had twice almost destroyed the continent. And because conflicts breed radicalism, the new Europe was conceived as a comprehensive plan -- one that would eliminate the sources of European conflict, and place cooperation rather than rivalry at the heart of the continental order.

The architects of the plan, who were for the most part Christian Democrats, had little else in common apart from a belief in European civilization and a distrust of the nation-state. The éminence grise, Jean Monnet, was a transnational bureaucrat, inspired by the vision of a united Europe in which war would be a thing of the past. His close collaborator Walter Hallstein was an academic German technocrat, who believed in international jurisdiction as the natural successor to the laws of the nation-states. Monnet and Hallstein were joined by Altiero Spinelli, a romantic communist who advocated a United States of Europe legitimized by a democratically elected European Parliament. Such people were not isolated enthusiasts, but part of a broad movement among the postwar political class. They chose popular leaders like Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman, and Alcide De Gasperi as the spokesmen for their ideas, and proposed the European Coal and Steel Community (the Schuman Plan) as their initial goal -- believing that the larger project would acquire legitimacy if it could first be understood and accepted in this circumscribed form. At the same time the long-term goal was kept secret, on the justified understanding that, if the people got wind of it, they would make sure it never happened.

When the first instruments of European cooperation were being devised, the continent was divided by the Iron Curtain, with half of Germany and all of the Slavonic countries under Soviet occupation and fascist regimes installed in Portugal and Spain. France was in constant turmoil, with a Communist Party commanding the support of more than a third of its electorate; the free remnant of Europe was critically dependent upon the Atlantic alliance, and the marks of occupation and defeat were (except in Great Britain and the Iberian peninsula) everywhere apparent. Only radical measures, it seemed, could restore the continent to political and economic health, and those measures must replace the old antagonisms with a new spirit of friendship.

As a result, European integration was conceived in one-dimensional terms, as a process of ever-increasing unity under a centralized structure of command. Each increase in central power was to be matched by a diminution of national power. Every summit, every directive, and every click of the ratchet has since carried within itself this specific equation. The political process in Europe has therefore acquired a direction. It is not a direction that the people of Europe have chosen, and every time they are given the right to vote on it they reject it -- hence everything is done to ensure that they never have the chance to vote on it. The process is moving always toward centralization, top-down control, dictatorship by unelected bureaucrats and judges, cancellation of laws passed by elected parliaments, constitutional treaties framed without any input whatsoever from the people -- in short, the process is moving always toward imperial government. And only one thing stands opposed to this result, and that is the national sentiments of the European people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


‘Swamp Dogg’ happy with his music, obscurity (Chris Richards, Published: June 24, 2011, Washington Post)

[B]efore he became an outsider, Williams spent two formative years as an insider. In 1968, he signed a contract with Atlantic Records, both as an artist and an A&R man, making him the first black producer for a major record label. He worked with Patti Labelle, Gary U.S. Bonds and the Drifters. He was tutored by Atlantic super-producers Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler. He claims to have encouraged Commodores saxophonist Lionel Richie to forget about his horn and pick up a microphone. And he didn’t like his job.

“I didn’t realize I was in a corporate setting,” Williams says of his big start. “I didn’t realize I was supposed to be biting the back of the guy in front of me to get his position and continue on up the ladder. . . . Basically, I didn’t fit.”

So he decided to get himself fired.

“Gary U.S. Bonds and I went down to Miami [for a recording session] and ran up the expenses,” Williams says. “At that time, it was astronomical. We must have spent four or five thousand dollars on hotels and cars and parties and another eight or nine thousand on recording.”

The plan worked even better than Williams had hoped. “They gave me a one-month severance check,” he says. “Which was more money than I’d ever had in my life, with those four weeks together.”

He poured the cash into a fresh musical start, but not before tweaking his image. After years of watching the likes of Jackie Wilson, Chuck Jackson and Tommy Hunt charm so many young female fans, Williams decided he’d never be a heartthrob.

"When I walked onstage they'd be putting on two, three pairs of drawers," he says.

So he rebranded himself as Swamp Dogg in 1970 and quickly released “Total Destruction to Your Mind,” perhaps the fieriest, funkiest album the world still has never heard.

“I had predetermined that Swamp Dogg could do anything he wanted to do,” says Williams.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"? (Annalee Newitz , io9)

If we think of Avatar and its ilk as white fantasies about race, what kinds of patterns do we see emerging in these fantasies?

In both Avatar and District 9, humans are the cause of alien oppression and distress. Then, a white man who was one of the oppressors switches sides at the last minute, assimilating into the alien culture and becoming its savior. This is also the basic story of Dune, where a member of the white royalty flees his posh palace on the planet Dune to become leader of the worm-riding native Fremen (the worm-riding rite of passage has an analog in Avatar, where Jake proves his manhood by riding a giant bird). An interesting tweak on this story can be seen in 1980s flick Enemy Mine, where a white man (Dennis Quaid) and the alien he's been battling (Louis Gossett Jr.) are stranded on a hostile planet together for years. Eventually they become best friends, and when the alien dies, the human raises the alien's child as his own. When humans arrive on the planet and try to enslave the alien child, he lays down his life to rescue it. His loyalties to an alien have become stronger than to his own species.

These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color - their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the "alien" cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become "race traitors," and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it's like to be a Na'vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very different lesson. He's becoming alien and he can't go back. He has no other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what? He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely because he's hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a "cure" for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races, it's only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and nobody will let you be a leader of anything.

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This is not a message anybody wants to hear, least of all the white people who are creating and consuming these fantasies. Afro-Canadian scifi writer Nalo Hopkinson recently told the Boston Globe:

In the US, to talk about race is to be seen as racist. You become the problem because you bring up the problem. So you find people who are hesitant to talk about it.

She adds that the main mythic story you find in science fiction, generally written by whites, "is going to a foreign culture and colonizing it."

Sure, Avatar goes a little bit beyond the basic colonizing story. We are told in no uncertain terms that it's wrong to colonize the lands of native people. Our hero chooses to join the Na'vi rather than abide the racist culture of his own people. But it is nevertheless a story that revisits the same old tropes of colonization. Whites still get to be leaders of the natives - just in a kinder, gentler way than they would have in an old Flash Gordon flick or in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels.

When will whites stop making these movies and start thinking about race in a new way?

...who weren't rooting for the Marines to blow up the tree?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 AM

My Morning Jacket performs live at Rock the Garden (NPR, June 24, 2011)

Drawing heavily on their just-released album Circuital, the band also delved deep into their catalog, playing tunes from as far back as their breakthrough third LP, 2003's awesome It Still Moves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 AM


Netanyahu: Israel will not allow flotilla to breach Gaza naval blockade (Anshel Pfeffer, Danna Harman and Barak Ravid, 6/27/11, Ha'aretz)

Israel will not allow any ships to breach its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his inner cabinet yesterday, during a discussion of the Gaza-bound flotilla expected to set sail tomorrow.

Security officials and Foreign Ministry representatives informed the cabinet that Israel has no information indicating that terrorists or anyone affiliated with a terror group is planning to take part in the flotilla, said a government source. Nonetheless, there may be clashes between Israeli forces and some Arab activists aboard the ships.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


What’s needed: A $4 trillion gimmick-free deficit deal in two parts (Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, 06/27/11, The Hill)

What this country needs — and what the American people deserve — is a $4 trillion-plus, gimmick-free fiscal consolidation package that stabilizes and then reduces our debt as a share of the economy. Such a plan need not look exactly like the Fiscal Commission plan we produced, but it must cut wasteful or low-priority spending everywhere — in both the domestic and defense budgets, as well as the tax code where actual spending is dressed up as deductions, credits and other preferences. More importantly, this package must tackle the biggest source of our burgeoning debt — growing entitlement spending. That means it must slow the growth of healthcare and make Social Security sustainably solvent.

All this is a tall order, and not one that can be easily agreed to, let alone written into legislation, before the debt ceiling is hit at the beginning of August.

Given that, a two-part approach seems sensible, where policymakers agree to a large down payment now and follow it with more significant and structural reforms in the near future. For this to work, though, the down payment must be large — in the vicinity of $2 trillion — and it must at least begin to address entitlement growth.

June 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


The wrong John Wayne (Stephen Dinan, June 27, 2011, Washington Times)

Rep. Michele Bachmann kicked off her presidential campaign on Monday in Waterloo, Iowa, and in one interview surrounding the official event she promised to mimic the spirit of Waterloo's own John Wayne.

The only problem, as one eagle-eyed reader notes: Waterloo's John Wayne was not the beloved movie star, but rather John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.

Chris Wallace owes an apology to dandruff, soap, snow and corn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Fore! (Larry David, July 4, 2011, New Yorker)

On the par-3, 175-yard fourteenth hole at Riviera, I hit my tee shot a mere ninety yards and a physics-defying thirty degrees to the right—almost sideways. It’s a miracle I got my right leg out of the way, or I could have shattered it with the club. As I walked to the ball, I remarked to my friend that after seventeen years of playing this course I’d never seen someone hit a ball anywhere near where mine ended up. He had never seen it, either. “What’s more,” I said, “I couldn’t care less.” My friend was taken aback. But I meant it. I didn’t care, and I didn’t particularly care about the next shot, either. I felt liberated, not unlike the way I felt when my wife left me, except this time I didn’t take up skipping.

Finally, after years of pain and struggle, I had accepted the fact that I would never be a good golfer. No matter how many hours I practiced, no matter how many instructors I saw, how many books and magazines I read, or how many teaching aids I tried. Then it hit me. According to Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book “On Death and Dying,” Acceptance was the final stage of grief that terminal patients experience before dying, the others being Anger, Denial, Bargaining, and Depression. I was in the final stage! When I started thinking about it, I realized that I’d gone through every one of those stages, but not as a terminal patient . . . as a golfer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


PA Pursuing Statehood Bid No Matter What (Gavriel Queenann, 6/25/11, Israel news)

The Palestinian Authority will seek United Nations recognition for statehood in September even if peace negotiations with Israel are under way, a senior PA diplomat said Thursday.

Riyad Mansour, the PA envoy to the United Nations, said the PA was simultaneously pursuing three independent tracks: restarting negotiations, building institutions for an independent state, and gaining recognition for statehood.

“If we succeed in opening the door for negotiations, we’re not going to stop from attaining what belongs to us as Palestinians in this General Assembly starting on September 20,” Mansour insisted.

To negotiate with them at all; is to recognize them as a nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


It’s Science, but Not Necessarily Right (CARL ZIMMER, 6/26/11, NY Times)

As a series of controversies over the past few months have demonstrated, science fixes its mistakes more slowly, more fitfully and with more difficulty than Sagan’s words would suggest. Science runs forward better than it does backward.

Why? One simple answer is that it takes a lot of time to look back over other scientists’ work and replicate their experiments. Scientists are busy people, scrambling to get grants and tenure. As a result, papers that attract harsh criticism may nonetheless escape the careful scrutiny required if they are to be refuted.

In May, for instance, the journal Science published eight critiques of a controversial paper that it had run in December. In the paper, a team of scientists described a species of bacteria that seemed to defy the known rules of biology by using arsenic instead of phosphorus to build its DNA. Chemists and microbiologists roundly condemned the paper; in the eight critiques, researchers attacked the study for using sloppy techniques and failing to rule out more plausible alternatives.

But none of those critics had actually tried to replicate the initial results. That would take months of research: getting the bacteria from the original team of scientists, rearing them, setting up the experiment, gathering results and interpreting them. Many scientists are leery of spending so much time on what they consider a foregone conclusion, and graduate students are reluctant because they want their first experiments to make a big splash, not confirm what everyone already suspects.

“I’ve got my own science to do,” John Helmann, a microbiologist at Cornell and a critic of the Science paper, told Nature. The most persistent critic, Rosie Redfield, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia, announced this month on her blog that she would try to replicate the original results — but only the most basic ones, and only for the sake of science’s public reputation. “Scientifically I think trying to replicate the claimed results is a waste of time,” she wrote in an e-mail.

For now, the original paper has not been retracted; the results still stand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


The New State of Coastal California? (Martin Lewis 06/26/2011, New Geography)

In 2009, former California legislator Bill Maze proposed dividing his state, hiving off thirteen counties as Coastal (or Western) California (see map). Maze, a conservative from the agricultural Central Valley, objects to the domination of state politics by the left-leaning Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The initial impetus for his proposal was the passage by state voters in 2008 of Proposition 2, requiring larger pens and cages for farm animals. Agricultural interests denounced the measure, arguing that it would increase their costs and threaten their livelihoods. Meanwhile, the state’s on-going water crisis, which largely pits farmers against environmentalists, widens the divide. Unforgiving invective marks both sides of the debate. A post in Politics Daily characterized secessionist farmers as dolts fighting against “liberal Hollywood types [who] don’t understand the importance of torturing animals.” The Downsize California website, on the other side, fulminates against coastal “radicals” who are “infatuated with nature over mankind and are sympathetic to illegals and criminals.”

The desire to divide unwieldy California may be quixotic but it is nothing new; at least 27 divisional schemes have been proposed since statehood in 1850. Most have sought to split the state along north-south lines.

California and America would be best served by dividing it into two new countries. It already exceeds the optimal size of a successful nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Brown solidified credibility with veto (Steven Harmon, 6/26/11, Contra Costa Times)

In vetoing the Legislature's budget 10 days ago, Gov. Jerry Brown took some sharp jabs from members of his own party, who accused him of betraying their trust, among other things. But it was worth it for the credibility he earned with the public, political observers say.

The veto reaffirmed the persona that Brown had cultivated through his campaign as the guy who means what he says and who will make tough decisions despite the political cost.

"If he doesn't veto the budget, he's eating his words and completely reneging on the promise that he wouldn't go along with gimmickry," said Bill Whalen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and former speech writer for GOP Gov. Pete Wilson. "It's keeping his covenant with voters."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Is This Our Future? (JOE NOCERA, 6/26/11, NY Times)

THE moment I realized that driving the new Chevrolet Volt was fundamentally a new experience was not when I first turned it on and went around the block. Yes, it was whisper-quiet, powered by its 16 kilowatt-hour, 400-pound battery, but it still felt like a “normal” automobile. And it wasn’t when I drove the 100 or so miles from Manhattan to Southampton, N.Y., either. Although the battery’s range is only about 40 miles, the car kept going even after the battery was drained; it just switched to its gasoline engine, in a transition so seamless I barely noticed it. It wasn’t even when I arrived in Southampton that evening and plugged a special cord into an electrical outlet in the garage, to recharge the battery overnight.

No, what made the experience truly different — and what got me thinking about the Volt’s potential to change the way we think about gas consumption — was what happened after that. [...]

Here’s what really got me, though: on the dashboard, alongside the gauge that measures the battery life, the Volt has another gauge that calculates the vehicle’s miles per gallon. During the two-hour drive to Southampton, I used two gallons of gas, a quarter of the tank. Thus, when I drove into the driveway, it read 50 miles per gallon.

The next day, after the overnight charge, I didn’t use any gas. After driving around 30 miles in the morning, I recharged it for a few hours while I puttered around the house. (It takes 10 hours to fully recharge, unless you buy a special 240-volt recharging unit.) That gave the battery 10 miles, more than enough to get me where I needed to go that evening on battery power alone. Before I knew it, my miles per gallon for that tankful of gas had hit 80. By the next day it had topped 100. I soon found myself obsessed with increasing my miles per gallon — and avoiding having to buy more gas. Whenever I got home from an errand, I would recharge it, even for a few hours, just to grab a few more miles of range. I was actually in control of how much gas I consumed, and it was a powerful feeling. By the time I gave the car back to General Motors, I had driven 300 miles, without using another drop of gas beyond the original two gallons. I’m not what you’d call a Sierra Club kind of guy, but I have to tell you: I was kind of proud of myself.

When I began to describe for Mr. Lutz the psychological effect the Volt had had on me, he chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s like playing a video game that is constantly giving you back your score.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


160 Million and Counting (ROSS DOUTHAT, 6/26/11, NY Times)

From the 1950s onward, Asian countries that legalized and then promoted abortion did so with vocal, deep-pocketed American support. Digging into the archives of groups like the Rockefeller Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Hvistendahl depicts an unlikely alliance between Republican cold warriors worried that population growth would fuel the spread of Communism and left-wing scientists and activists who believed that abortion was necessary for both “the needs of women” and “the future prosperity — or maybe survival — of mankind,” as the Planned Parenthood federation’s medical director put it in 1976.

For many of these antipopulation campaigners, sex selection was a feature rather than a bug, since a society with fewer girls was guaranteed to reproduce itself at lower rates.

Hvistendahl’s book is filled with unsettling scenes, from abandoned female fetuses littering an Indian hospital to the signs in Chinese villages at the height of the one-child policy’s enforcement. (“You can beat it out! You can make it fall out! You can abort it! But you cannot give birth to it!”) The most disturbing passages, though, are the ones that depict self-consciously progressive Westerners persuading themselves that fewer girls might be exactly what the teeming societies of the third world needed.

Over all, “Unnatural Selection” reads like a great historical detective story, and it’s written with the sense of moral urgency that usually accompanies the revelation of some enormous crime.

But what kind of crime? This is the question that haunts Hvistendahl’s book, and the broader debate over the vanished 160 million.

The scale of that number evokes the genocidal horrors of the 20th century. But notwithstanding the depredations of the Chinese politburo, most of the abortions were (and continue to be) uncoerced. The American establishment helped create the problem, but now it’s metastasizing on its own: the population-control movement is a shadow of its former self, yet sex selection has spread inexorably with access to abortion, and sex ratios are out of balance from Central Asia to the Balkans to Asian-American communities in the United States.

This places many Western liberals, Hvistendahl included, in a distinctly uncomfortable position. Their own premises insist that the unborn aren’t human beings yet, and that the right to an abortion is nearly absolute. A self-proclaimed agnostic about when life begins, Hvistendahl insists that she hasn’t written “a book about death and killing.” But this leaves her struggling to define a victim for the crime that she’s uncovered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Your Mileage May Vary: White House Floats Proposal Requiring Auto Makers to Double Fuel Efficiency (JOSH MITCHELL And SHARON TERLEP, 6/27/11, WSJ)

The Obama administration may require auto makers to roughly double the average fuel economy of their car and light truck fleets from current levels to 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025.

White House officials outlined the plan to auto industry officials last week, said two people familiar with the matter, setting off a fight among auto makers, environmentalists and others.

Car makers say the proposal would effectively require most new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be battery-powered by 2025 and raise prices by thousands of dollars. Makers of electric vehicle technology say declining costs for lithium batteries will allow the auto industry to make big gains in fuel efficiency without stoking sticker shock.

June 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


What's the Best Baseball Giveaway Promotion? (Ben Watanabe, Jun 26, 2011, NESN)

...because there isn't even a close contender for the greatest promotion of all time--Philadelphia Phillies Tastykake halter top night in 1977, said giveaway sporting the company slogan, "All the good things wrapped up in one."

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Investors Pay for Safety of U.S. Debt (CYNTHIA LIN, 6/26/11, WSJ)

Investors seeking shelter from the euro-zone debt crisis are pushing safe-harbor Treasury-bill yields so low that they are lending to the U.S. government for free, or even paying a small fee to do so.

Given the deflationary epoch it's still a good return.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


‘RomneyCare’ — a revolution that basically worked: The former governor’s health plan is a policy piñata among his rivals. But a detailed Globe review finds the overhaul has achieved its main goals without devastating state finances. The remaining worry is future costs. (Brian C. Mooney, June 26, 2011, Boston Globe)

A detailed Globe examination of voluminous health care and financial data, and interviews with key figures in every sector of the health care system, makes it clear that while there have been some stumbles — and some elements of the effort merit a grade of “incomplete’’ — the overhaul has, after five years, worked as well as or better than expected:

■ The percentage of residents without insurance coverage is down dramatically, to less than 2 percent; for children, the figure is a tiny fraction of 1 percent, a state survey shows. These are by far the lowest rates in the nation.

■ Many more businesses are offering insurance to employees than were before the law. The fear going in was that the opposite would happen.

■ The cost of the changes, while large, has proved manageable thus far, though there are some serious warning signs on the horizon, especially as federal stimulus funds, which have helped defray the cost, run out.

■ The plan remains exceptionally popular among state residents — indeed its popularity has only grown with time. There are some unhappy sectors — notably small business owners, who had hoped to see moderating premiums and chafe, in some cases, at the heavy-handed enforcement of the rules by the state. And support for the requirement that individuals obtain insurance is down to a slender majority, a recent poll shows. But there is no significant constituency here for repeal.

■ And while health care costs continue to grow at alarming rates, as they have nationally, the consensus of industry leaders and health care economists is that this trend cannot be fairly traced to the makeover but rather to cost pressures baked into the existing health care payment system. Massachusetts does have the highest health care costs in the nation, but it owned this dubious distinction long before “RomneyCare’’ was born.

Taken in sum, it is a far cry from what critics of Romney, and of Obama, are saying about the Massachusetts plan. The attacks often rely on distortions, omissions or flagrant inaccuracies, and typically ignore the fact that the law accomplished its principal goal — expanding coverage to nearly every citizen.

If it was a makeover why keep the main problem of the existing system, that the consumer bears too little cost to care?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Israeli envoy backs off Pius XII praise (JTA, 6/26/11)

An Israeli official who praised Pope Pius XII for saving Jews during World War II retreated from his comments amid a hail of criticism.

Israel's ambassador to the Vatican, Mordechay Lewy, said his comments were "premature." [...]

Levy said, during a ceremony June 24 honoring an Italian priest that helped save Jews from the Nazis, that Catholic institutions in Rome helped save Jews when the Nazis came to Rome's Ghetto. "It would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews. To the contrary, the opposite is true," he said.

Silly boy, we're now in the post-mature phase, where we pretend that the mature view was wrong and that prior Jews were lying about the Pope being a righteous gentile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Swing for the Fences: a review of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won by Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim (David Runciman, 6/30/11, London Review of Books)

Now here come Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim to clear up the mystery. Scorecasting is a book in what has become an increasingly familiar genre, a Freakonomics-style investigation into everyday phenomena that we take for granted but can’t explain. The two authors fit the requisite profile: Moskowitz is an economist with an interest in sport; Wertheim is a sports journalist with an interest in numbers; they are old friends. They follow the prescribed method: first take something people think they understand but don’t, then crunch some numbers, strip out the variables, throw in a few one-liners to keep your readers interested and voilà! – whatever you are left with is the truth, however improbable it sounds. Sport has always looked like ripe territory for this sort of approach, because there are lots of numbers to crunch and lots of prejudices to explode. But apart from baseball, which has its own well-established sub-genre of statistical myth-busters (known as sabermetricians), the sportonomics books have all been disappointing. Maybe sport makes it too easy: there are so many stats to play with, and so much nonsense is bandied about as though it were true, that it’s tempting to skip the hard work and simply line up the fish in the barrel. Scorecasting doesn’t do that. It is by far the most engaging book of its kind yet published, crisply written, extensively researched and full of surprises. The biggest surprise of all is home advantage.

So what causes it? First, Moskowitz and Wertheim rule out the conventional explanations, starting with the support of the home fans. How do you isolate the effect of the crowd on a team’s performance? They do it by comparing how well home and away players perform when faced with identical tasks, save only for the presence or absence of a hostile audience. Take basketball: when a player is fouled, he (or she) is awarded free throws at the basket from 15 feet. No one is allowed to interfere, apart from the home fans, who can do what they like to put off the opposition. If you’ve ever seen an NBA game in the States you’ll know this often includes shaking rattles and waving balloons from behind the basket. The result? Nothing. The stats show that away players perform just as well as home players from the free-throw line, despite all the barracking. The same applies to goal-kicking in American football, and penalty shoot-outs in our version. The home side has no better chance of winning at penalties than the away team. Home fans often think they can help the ball into the net with their hushed support, or keep it out with their whistling derision. It seems they might as well save their breath.

If it’s not the fans, maybe it’s the travel. Away teams often have to cross long distances (especially in the US), sleep in unfamiliar beds, and deal with all the discomfort of being far from home. This one is easy to disprove. The record of away teams across all sports is just as bad in local derbies, despite the fact that getting to the ground is no more inconvenient than for the home players. Everton’s and Liverpool’s grounds are less than a mile apart – but Everton are still much more likely to beat Liverpool when they don’t have to make the short journey to Anfield. The historical data back this up. Travelling conditions for top athletes have got immeasurably better over time – where once it might have been as slow and difficult for them to get around as for the rest of us, now it tends to be pampered luxury all the way. But their performances away from home have not got better at all. As Moskowitz and Wertheim put it, ‘the home field advantage is almost eerily constant through time.’ You can do what you like to ensure your players do not suffer all the little inconveniences of being on the road – they are still liable to let you down when they arrive. (The one correlation Moskowitz and Wertheim do find between travel and performance is for those sports where away teams are sometimes forced to cram games together on a single road trip, meaning they have a tighter schedule than their opponents. This is true for US college basketball, where away sides are often disadvantaged by having to rush from town to town while the home teams get a day off – and in college basketball home court advantage runs as high as 69 per cent. But here the test is European soccer, where there are no scheduling anomalies, and where home teams win almost as often.)

What about local knowledge? Every ground is slightly different, so perhaps teams take advantage of their familiarity with their home environment. Even football pitches vary: some are wider, some are narrower, some are blowy, some are sheltered, some are rough, some are smooth. The differences are most noticeable in baseball, where some teams play at stadiums that suit hitters, and others at stadiums that suit pitchers (it’s a question of size, shape and atmospherics). Yet even in baseball, Moskowitz and Wertheim find it makes no difference. Teams that play in hitter-friendly stadiums do not outhit their opponents by any greater margin than teams that play in pitcher-friendly stadiums. This despite the fact that managers can pack the team with sluggers, sure that they will play at least half their games in advantageous conditions. Knowing what you need to do well in your own yard doesn’t help you do it any better. Home advantage seems to be entirely outside anyone’s power to control.

It’s not the crowd, it’s not the travel, it’s not the stadiums, it’s not the players or the managers. So what’s left? Well, there are always the referees (or umpires as they are known in most American sports). And that’s who it is – Moskowitz and Wertheim say home advantage is almost entirely down to the officials. Players aren’t put off by the barracking of the home fans, but the umpires are. It makes sense when you think about it – if tens of thousands of semi-hysterical people were scrutinising your performance, you’d want to try to please them if you could, if only subconsciously. The away players have nothing to gain from the home fans – if they do well they’ll get abuse, if they do badly they’ll get mockery. But the officials can make the home crowd happy and then surreptitiously bask in the warm glow. Away players can’t alleviate the pressure of being in a hostile environment. Referees can.

Moskowitz and Wertheim find plenty of evidence to back this up. In football, it turns out that referees consistently award more injury time when home teams are losing, and less when they are winning (on average, four minutes in the first case and two minutes in the second, enough to make a difference in plenty of matches). Home teams get far fewer players sent off, and receive many more free-kicks. Maybe this is down to the fact that the home side simply plays better and the away players are reduced to desperate measures. But Moskowitz and Wertheim find evidence that crowd effects make a real difference. In the German Bundesliga, for instance, where many of the teams used to play in stadiums incorporating running tracks, putting the crowd much further away from the action, the bias referees normally show to the home side was cut in half. In the British, Spanish and Italian leagues, attendance also has a marked effect on the number of red cards shown to the visitors. The bigger the crowd, the more likely the away team are to end up with fewer players on the pitch at the end.

However, the most compelling evidence for referee bias comes from those sports that have introduced technology to check on the decision-making of the officials. In baseball, a system called QuesTec (similar to Hawk-Eye in cricket and tennis) now shows whether a pitch was in the strike zone or not (the area over the home plate between a batter’s armpits and his knees). Moskowitz and Wertheim have looked at a mass of data and discovered that when a pitch is clearly a strike, baseball umpires do not advantage the home hitters. Equally, when a pitch is way outside the strike zone, they call it against the pitcher. But when it’s on the edges, the home team were getting a large percentage of favourable calls. This shows two things. First, given the choice, umpires prefer to please the locals who are breathing down their necks (in many baseball stadiums almost literally). Second, they know what they are doing – they restrict their bias to areas where it won’t be so obvious (in stadiums that have installed QuesTec umpires have started to eliminate their home bias, now that they realise it’s there for all to see). Moskowitz and Wertheim find the same thing in ice hockey and American football, where the introduction of instant replay reviews showed that for close calls, and in tight games, the officials tend to favour the home team by a significant margin (calls against the away side are more likely to be corrected when impartial technology is called in evidence). Tight games are by definition the ones that can turn on one or two key decisions. And it appears that tight games are also the ones in which the officials go out of their way to help the home team. That’s enough for Wertheim and Moskowitz to finger them as almost entirely responsible for the phenomenon of home advantage.

It’s a lovely theory – simple, elegant and in tune with what most of us believe about human nature (and with what many fans have long suspected but never been able to prove about referees). There’s only one problem – it’s not true. I don’t doubt that referee bias has something to do with home advantage, but the idea that it’s the crucial determining factor is absurd. Just think about it – or rather, think twice about it. The first time you’re told it’s the referees you will probably go ‘aha!’, as I did. But the second time you’ll go ‘huh?’ Look at a football game. Yes, the home side does sometimes seem to get the benefit of the doubt from the referee, and yes, injury time does seem to go on for ever when Manchester United are playing at home – the image of Alex Ferguson consulting his watch as United push forward for a winning goal in the 97th minute at Old Trafford is probably the one that defines the Premier League. But why do the home side always seem more likely to score at the end? Why are they the ones pushing forward? Look, really look. It’s not just because the referee is letting them, it’s because something is making them play better. They believe.

Except that the data demonstrated that they don't believe, they know that the officials will fiddle the result.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


Buzzkill: The problem with Huntsman hype (Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, June 26, 2011, Politico)

For all his obvious gifts, and his potential appeal as a general election candidate, it seems to us Huntsman has two even more obvious problems. He’s got the wrong issues for a Republican nominating contest. And he’s got the wrong persona, especially for this angry moment in GOP politics.

Don’t get us wrong. We have nothing against political hype. Trying to understand Huntsman Fever — and not averse to catching a bout of it ourselves — the two of us this week traveled to South Carolina to watch him on the campaign trail and sit down with him for a wide-ranging interview.

The trip made clear the basic bet of his campaign: That by the power of his personality, and with a few lucky bounces early in the nomination battle, he can unilaterally repeal rules of GOP politics that have dominated for a generation. Our colleague Charles Mahtesian, laying out the case for Huntsman hype here, believes many of those rules might be obsolete in 2012. Our response: Fat chance, Charlie.

There’s a reason he barely has a pulse in the polls. He speaks so softly that even his aides sometimes have trouble hearing him at events. He is making civility a cornerstone of his campaign, at a time when Republican voters are ravenous for red-meat conservative policies, and an epochal showdown with Obama.

The GOP base, sensing weakness in Obama, wants a brawler, the sort of Republican who prospered in dozens of races in the 2010 mid-terms. This is the main reason so many activists are clamoring for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get in the race. Huntsman, by contrast, is running as a diplomat.

Huntsman, of course, worked for Obama, as his ambassador to China — a resume line that huge swaths of Republicans consider all-but-disqualifying. Huntsman likewise will pay a price among some uncertain number of evangelical voters for his Mormon connections, yet some Mormons themselves are put off by his rare attendance and effort to distance himself from the church. When asked about religion, he replies that he is “a good Christian” who is “proud of my Mormon roots.”

GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, a disciplined and aggressive campaigner, could easily throw Huntsman on the defensive on the campaign trail, barring a radical change in Huntsman’s laidback and even diffident style.

He is Mitt Romney, who couldn't win the nomination either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


For Gay Couples, Now the Pressure’s On! (Chris Rozvar, 6/26/11, New York)

My boyfriend and I have been together for over four years. We live together, and whenever one of us is out and about, people inevitably ask if the other is nearby. But the marriage query is not one I get asked a lot — I'm generally exempt from that thirtysomething game because I'm gay. Until just now, I wasn't allowed to get married in New York. Plus, it was a bit of a taboo question because gay relationships just aren't seen as a means to reach marriage as much as straight ones are. But the more the prospect of marriage equality seemed real over this past month in New York State, the more people started asking. Ladies, I now feel your pain. I asked around and found I wasn't alone.

"At a party last week, one of my closest friends got quite tipsy and approached [my boyfriend] alone at the bar, asking which one of us would be the one to propose," recalls Zach Udko, a lecturer at NYU. "Awkward! When he stumbled over his response, she marched over to me and asked the same question."

"I think I didn't know I was in a long-term relationship until gay marriage got so close to passing and so many people started asking," says Andrew Sessa, a freelance writer who has been with his lawyer boyfriend for over two years. It's a good point — New York is a "blink-and-you-miss-it" type of town. If you don't have a five-year plan, why not just coast along as things are? Those carefree days for gays may be over. It's not just friends that are eyeing our long-term relationships now, it's also the media.

Leone Kraus, an activist and spokeswoman for the advocacy networking website Friendfactor.com, says she's been getting calls from publications that want her to pull the trigger. "Are you going to ask [your girlfriend] to marry you after the bill passes?" one outlet asked her. She responded, "If I told you then it wouldn't be a surprise!" Her quote wasn't used. "I found that this wasn't the buzzy item the media was looking for. They want to meet couples who are going to tie the knot as soon as it becomes legal to, which I think is a lot of pressure," she said. "I mean, we've been together for almost four years but it's still a big decision that I'm not going to make public in an interview," Kraus adds. "Can you imagine going up to a straight person and asking 'Are you going to ask him/her to marry you after the rent regulation bill passes?'"

And forget the media pressure. What about mom pressure?

While further degrading the already tattered institution of marriage is a suboptimal solution to the gay couple question, it's fascinating to watch the taming of the transgressives. After all, what is the demand for marriage but an attempt to seem more normal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Glyndebourne live stream: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Wagner (Guardian, 6/26/11)

Watch a live performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg as it takes place at Glyndebourne from 2.45pm on Sunday 26 July. The performance will be available to watch on demand for seven days on the Guardian live at Glyndebourne page from Monday 27 June.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


The 14 Most Dominant Performances (Joe Posnanski, 6/26/11, Sports Illustrated)

So, this is an attempt to come up with my 14 most dominant performances in sports history. The idea — thought up by my friend Tommy Tomlinson* — began with the simple question: Was Tiger Woods’ amazing performance at Pebble Beach in 2000 more impressive than Rory McIlroy’s amazing performance at the U.S. Open this year? This led to the question: What are the most dominating performances ever?

There were a couple of issues with putting together the list. First: What does dominant mean? I mean, if it’s simply the best performances ever, then it can get pretty boring. Most strikeouts. Lowest score. Most yards. Etc. These are easy enough to just look up in the record books.

So I think we want to go with something entirely subjective. This is all art, no science. Most of my lists have some basis, some anchor in reality. Not this one. It’s all about how dominance feels to me. Mike Tyson’s 1988 knockout of Michael Spinks in 90 seconds, for instance, was impossibly dominant. Spinks looked so scared that if offered the option to lay down in the middle of the ring before the fight even started, I’m sure he would have taken it. But it’s not on my list. Why? It’s hard to put into words, but it seems to me that it’s because Spinks was simply not a worthy opponent. We have to try to find the difference between dominance and mismatches, and it’s not an easy line to see. I don’t want this list to be Alabama beating the San Francisco School of Mimes 98-0.

Second, we needed some guidelines. So here’s what we decided: We would keep this to individuals. At first, I wanted to include teams so I could put the Bears’ Super Bowl victory on the list (though the Patriots that year might have been the Michael Spinks of football), or Nebraska’s win over Florida in the ’96 Fiesta Bowl. That can be another list. And I wanted this to be about singular performances. Edwin Moses dominated hurdles for years, but that’s not a single performance. Steffi Graf won the Golden Slam in 1988, and dominated in an overpowering way. Barry Bonds, no matter the reasons, was the most dominant athlete I’ve ever seen from 2000 to 2004 — so bleepin’ dominant that teams simply gave up and walked him 120 times in a single season. But again, Moses, Graf, Bonds, that kind of dominance, I think, is also a different list. The idea is who can dominate one game, one tournament, one match.

For now, it’s this: My impression of the 14 most dominant individual performances in sports history. [...]

No. 8: Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game

He was 20 years old when he threw what I still believe is the most dominant nine-inning game in the history of baseball. Obviously, people will disagree with this — Wood did not throw a perfect game, which probably seems like a prerequisite for the most dominant game ever. But I want to make the case for Wood.

The year: 1998. It was a May day game at Wrigley Field. There were only 15,758 in the stands, though I suspect there are more who claim to have been there. The Bulls were playing Charlotte in the playoffs that night, so that was the focus of the city. Meanwhile, the Cubs were playing the Astros, who would go on to win 102 games and the National League Central. The Astros had two future Hall of Famers — Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio – in the lineup, and they were in their prime. It should be noted that the Astros also had Jack Howell hitting cleanup for reasons that are not entirely clear.*

Wood had a shaky warm-up session in the bullpen. He said he felt terrible. But he also felt GLAD that he felt terrible — “If I’m good in the pen,” he told reporters later, “I’m shaky out there.” When he came out, he wasn’t sharp. But he was throwing SO hard that it didn’t matter. The gun clocked him at 100 mph. Astros manager Larry Dierker, trying to come up with a comparison that made sense, compared his fastball to Nolan Ryan’s (“By the time the ball left his hand, it was in the mitt,” he said). In the first inning, he struck out Biggio swinging, struck out Derek Bell swinging and then struck out Jeff Bagwell looking.

“You can’t get too much better than that,” Bagwell said afterward.

Dave Clark put the first ball in play with two outs in the second inning — a routine fly ball to center. And in the top of the third Houston’s Ricky Gutierrez hit a ground ball just past the glove of Cubs third baseman Kevin Orie. After the game, Orie would wonder if he could have made the play. He was a little bit fooled by the ball. He thinks he might even have touched it with his glove. That was the only hit that Wood would allow. Shane Reynolds bunted him over. Biggio did manage to ground out weakly to end the third inning.

In the fourth, Derek Bell blooped a fly ball to right.

In the sixth, Brad Ausmus grounded out to second.

In the ninth, Craig Biggio grounded out to short.

I bring those up because those are the only balls that anyone hit in fair territory for the rest of the game. The final total of outs:

12 strikeouts swinging
8 strikeouts looking
3 infield groundouts
2 routine fly balls to the outfield
1 sacrifice bunt
1 foul pop-up

Wood did hit Biggio with a pitch, which was more or less unavoidable in those days. Biggio was plunked 106 times from 1995 through ’98. But Wood didn’t walk anybody. He struck out Bagwell three times, struck out Bell three times, struck out Moises Alou three times. He threw 122 pitches, 84 of them for strikes. And he was 20 years old.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cubs announcer Ron Santo would tell anyone who would listen. The Ryan comparisons were everywhere. Billy Williams compared Wood to Koufax. Jim Riggleman called it the best game he’d ever seen pitched, and Mark Grace said this: “You might never see another game like this the rest of your life.” But as incredible as the game seemed at the moment — and I was lucky enough that I happened to watch it from beginning to end on television — it seems even more remarkable now. There are limits to how dominant a pitcher can be on any given day. He relies on his fielders. His performance is affected by the umpire.

But that day in Chicago, Wood pushed the boundaries. He had an inning when he struck out the side looking. He had an inning when he struck out the side swinging. The Astros — and it’s significant that this happened against a really good team — were so overwhelmed that they could not even put the ball in play. Roger Clemens struck out 20 in a game twice. Koufax struck out 14 in his perfect game, Randy Johnson struck out 13 in his. Nolan Ryan struck out 16 in one of his seven no-hitters. And then, of course, there was Harvey Haddix’s 12 perfect innings, Carl Hubbell’s 18 innings of shutout ball, some of Pedro Martinez’s best work. And, more than anything, there was Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series.

But I will still say: No pitcher has ever been as dominant as Kerry Wood was one afternoon in Chicago. [...]

No. 1: Secretariat at the Belmont

One thing that’s easy to forget: Only five horses ran in the Belmont Stakes in 1973. Secretariat had been so amazing that few wanted to even enter their horse in the race. The Triple Crown was considered a certainty — Secretariat went off as a 1-10 favorite, which is absurd.

Still, the people who were there will tell you … they’ve never seen anything like it. What is dominance? All 14 choices on this list could have been different — it could have Larsen’s perfect game, Doug Williams’ Super Bowl, Nadal over Federer at the French, Jack Nicklaus at Augusta in 1972, Michael Jordan’s shrug game, Steffi Graf at the 1989 Australian Open, Derrick Thomas’ seven-sack game, on and on and on — and it would have been just as viable, maybe more so. Dominance is not so easily defined. It is how something strikes you.

And Secretariat winning at the Belmont, it seems to me, is the perfect visual representation of dominance. It wasn’t just that Secretariat won the race by 31 lengths. It wasn’t just that he refused to slow down, moving — in Chic Anderson’s legendary phrase — like a “tremendous machine.” What is dominance? Maybe it is Secretariat, at the height of his powers, pulling away from the pack and then, because he could, pulling away even more and then, for the thrill of the moment, pulling away still.

Those should certainly be #4 and #1, but #2 is actually Michael Johnson in the 200 yard dash at the 1996 Olympics:

and #3 is Pedro Martinez's 17 strikeout, one-hitter against the Yankee team that dominated the late '90s, at the Stadium, on September 11, 1999.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Sun and Planets Constructed Differently Than Thought, NASA Mission Suggests (ScienceDaily, June 24, 2011)

Researchers analyzing samples returned by NASA's 2004 Genesis mission have discovered that our sun and its inner planets may have formed differently than previously thought.

Data revealed differences between the sun and planets in oxygen and nitrogen, which are two of the most abundant elements in our solar system. Although the difference is slight, the implications could help determine how our solar system evolved.

"We found that Earth, the moon, as well as Martian and other meteorites which are samples of asteroids, have a lower concentration of the O-16 than does the sun," said Kevin McKeegan, a Genesis co-investigator from UCLA, and the lead author of one of two Science papers published this week. "The implication is that we did not form out of the same solar nebula materials that created the sun -- just how and why remains to be discovered." [...]

"These findings show that all solar system objects including the terrestrial planets, meteorites and comets are anomalous compared to the initial composition of the nebula from which the solar system formed," said Bernard Marty, a Genesis co-investigator from Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques and the lead author of the other new Science paper.

Or didn't "evolve."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


The Moroccan King's Speech: An Arab leader jumps on the democracy train. (WSJ, 6/25/11)

The Maghreb state's ruler, King Mohammed VI, responded to demands for democracy with political reform, not tear gas and bullets. In a half hour address on Friday night, the nearly absolute monarch laid out a proposal to share power and strengthen individual rights. Moroccans will vote on constitutional changes on July 1.

If the amendments pass, as expected, Morocco would take a step closer to a constitutional monarchy. The king would be obliged to choose a prime minister from the party that won the most seats in parliament. The new head of government will have the right to dissolve the legislature, previously a royal prerogative, though he or she would still need the king's support. The judiciary becomes an independent branch. Religious freedoms are guaranteed, and Berber would be a second national language, alongside Arabic. These changes enshrine in law some minority protections in a country that prides itself as one of the most tolerant places in the Muslim world.

The reforms fall well short of full democracy. Opposition leaders, who've led peaceful protests since February, wanted a parliamentary democracy with a more symbolic role for the monarch, a la Spain or Britain. King Mohammed VI is offering greater political representation but has retained ultimate authority.

If the king isn't going to have day-to-day executive functions--as he shouldn't--then an elected leader, independent of the legislature, must. And the monarch needs to retain some veto powers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


There Are No Socialists (Victor Davis Hanson, 6/25/11, Pajamas Media)

He said energy would rightly sky-rocket, given his determination to curb fossil fuel production (cf. “bankrupt” coal companies). Why then is Obama concerned that gas hit $4; is not such a high price a welcomed retardant to burning hot fuels? The higher the gas prices, the more that subsidized wind and solar power, and electric cars are attractive, and thus the more we enjoy “sustainable” power. Right? Am I missing something about this desire within our grasp of “living within our means”?

Obama enjoyed big majorities in both houses of Congress; and on the campaign trail he had promised a de facto amnesty under the euphemism of “comprehensive immigration reform.” So why did he not grant such exemptions, and absorb 11, 15, or 20 million new “citizens” from Oaxaca? Is not that the point of amnesty, to welcome in new constituencies who will remember a benefactor at the polls?

The most effective economic stimulus he could have passed was amnesty, but it's too late now to help his re-election, even though it remains good economic policy.

June 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Bill would freeze Obama admin's power to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants (Jordy Yager - 06/25/11, The Hill)

The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is crafting a bill that would temporarily freeze the Obama administration’s power to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

To vote for such a law would be a violation of their oath to uphold the Constitution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM

Mark Turner Quartet: Live At The Village Vanguar (NPR, 6/21/11)

Perhaps you haven't heard of Turner, if you don't follow modern jazz closely. He hasn't put out any records as a clear leader for about 10 years now; he has no website. But he has an innovative sonic signature, a certain floating chromaticism, rhythmic mindfulness and lightness of tone, filled with subtleties. Basically, his music has personality, which keeps the best musicians ringing his phone, and the aspiring ones listening hard.

Hear for yourself. Turner marshaled a band for a week at the Village Vanguard in New York City, including the talismanic drummer Paul Motian. WBGO and NPR Music presented a live webcast of the Mark Turner Quartet live from the club on Tuesday, June 21.

Turner is known for having studied the pantheon of saxophone masters in depth: The John Coltranes, Joe Hendersons, Dexter Gordons and Sonny Rollinses. But unlike many of his peers, he's also assimilated much information from Warne Marsh, the tenor saxophonist known best as an associate of pianist Lennie Tristano. In other words, Turner has absorbed some unusual stuff, which has helped give his playing its "who else would think to do that?" qualities. With him this go-round were pianist David Virelles, a young and increasingly sought-after musician from Cuba via Canada, and bassist Ben Street, who's partnered with Turner on many a gig over the years. As for Paul Motian, at 80, he's still something like the Vanguard's unofficial drummer-in-residence, and a loose, iconoclastic player at that.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


The Physics of Cheating in Baseball: Corked bats and juiced balls have long plagued baseball, but do they really help a player’s game? Four scientists found surprising answer (Christopher Solomon, June 24, 2011, Smithsonian.com)

In June 2003, Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa was caught using an illegal corked bat—hardly the first time it’s happened in the Major Leagues. A corked bat is one in which a cavity is drilled out of the barrel and filled with a lightweight material such as cork.

It was scandalous…but does it work? That’s the question that intrigued Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois (and a die-hard Red Sox fan). “There was some anecdotal information from players that there’s something like a ‘trampoline effect’ when the ball bounces off a corked bat,” says Nathan, one of the authors of the new study. So the researchers hollowed out a bat, stuffed it with bits of cork and fired a ball at the bat from a cannon. If anything, the ball came off the corked bat with a slower speed than off a normal bat. Less velocity means a shorter hit. Their conclusion: the trampoline effect was bogus.

But there was another way corking might work: a corked bat is a few ounces lighter than an unadulterated one, and a lighter bat means a batter can swing faster, which means he can generate more force and hit the ball farther. Right?

Not quite, as it turns out.

A batter indeed can swing a lighter bat faster, but a lighter bat has less inertia. So there’s a trade-off, says Lloyd Smith, an associate professor of engineering at Washington State University and a co-author on the paper. By once again firing a ball at a bat at WSU’s Sports Science Laboratory, the researchers found that a heavier bat still hit the ball harder (and therefore farther) than a lighter, corked bat. “Corking will not help you hit the ball farther,” says Smith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Iran's supreme leader accuses U.S. of terrorism (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 6/25/11, Associated Press)

Iran's supreme leader on Saturday accused the United States of supporting terrorism, pointing to American drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan that he said have killed scores of civilians.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a country whose military forces are responsible for such deaths can't lecture the world about fighting terror.

...it's precisely because we at unparalleled at dealing terror that we get to lecture you. A country that doesn't hesitate to incinerate the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is deadly serious about forcing universal conformity to our standards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


Uncommon Knowledge (Kevin Lewis, June 26, 2011, Boston Globe)

The anxious flirt People often feel anxious when they're in a position to confirm a stereotype about their social group — a phenomenon that researchers call "stereotype threat." A new study shows that women may counter anxiety about gender discrimination by flirting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Obama, The Deficit, And The Long Game (Jonathan Chait, June 24, 2011, New Republic)

If Obama wins reelection, he can refuse to extend any tax cuts on income over $250,000. That will prompt Republicans to refuse to extend tax cuts on any income under $250,000 (as they signaled last December, and in keeping with their longstanding priorities, which deem the middle class tax cuts mere sweetener to get the tax cuts for the rich they really want.) Then the tax cuts expire while Obama blames Republicans for holding the (popular) universal tax cuts hostage to the (unpopular) tax cuts that only benefit the rich.

A combination of spending cuts now, gaining bipartisan credibility, winning reelection, then a tax cut showdown would be the ideal scenario. However, it depends on Obama winning reelection, which is far from assured. More importantly, it depends on Obama actually carrying out this plan. Will he?

...yet there are still pundits who think the UR has plans?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


The Great Corn Con (STEVEN RATTNER, 6/25/11, NY Times)

FEELING the need for an example of government policy run amok? Look no further than the box of cornflakes on your kitchen shelf. In its myriad corn-related interventions, Washington has managed simultaneously to help drive up food prices and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit, while arguably increasing energy use and harming the environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


The End of Jewish Men?: Some professors and rabbis are concerned that liberal Judaism is becoming too female. Is this a real crisis? (Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, June 24, 2011, Slate)

In 2007, an organization called the Men of Reform Judaism published a Haggadah intended for men-only Passover Seders. It tweaked the familiar rituals. Instead of solemnly intoning the 10 plagues that struck ancient Egypt—frogs, boils, lice, and so on—participants are asked to recite the scourges of manhood: impotence, hair loss, prostate cancer. In the introduction, the authors explain their motives for the enterprise: "Men need the company of men, to be men."

For the most part, gender segregation in Judaism, like strict Shabbat observance and the renunciation of shellfish, is a practice left to the Orthodox. Egalitarianism is a defining characteristic of the religion's more liberal wings (Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative, among others). But the men's Haggadah is one of several recent initiatives designed for men and boys alone. The 2007 Reform biennial convention hosted a men-only prayer service. In 2009, a book titled The Modern Men's Torah Commentary was released. This year, an organization called Moving Traditions launched a curriculum for teenage boys called "The Brotherhood," focusing on the "journey to manhood."

All of these measures come as a response to a perceived "feminization" of liberal Judaism: declining male involvement in both the leadership and laity, among some Reform and Reconstructionist, and to a lesser extent Conservative, Jews. In 2008, Brandeis professor Sylvia Barack Fishman coauthored a monograph, Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent, based on survey data and her own interviews. On a range of metrics, she found Jewish men to be less invested in their religious identity and less active in synagogue life than Jewish women. Women typically wish to marry within the tribe and raise Jewish children, while men often expressed hostility toward Jewish women and religion generally.

Jewish political identification is roughly 66% Democrat/23% Republican, how much more female can the faith get?

June 24, 2011

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Peter Falk, Rumpled and Crafty Actor on ‘Columbo,’ Dies at 83 (BRUCE WEBER, 6/24/11, NY Times)

A lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department, Columbo was a comic variation on the traditional fictional detective. With the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, he was cast in the mold of neither — not a gentleman scholar, not a tough guy. He was instead a mass of quirks and peculiarities, a seemingly distracted figure in a rumpled raincoat, perpetually patting his pockets for a light for his signature stogie.

He drove a battered Peugeot, was unfailingly polite, was sometimes accompanied by a basset hound named Dog, and was constantly referring to the wisdom of his wife (who was never seen on screen) and a variety of relatives and acquaintances who were identified in Homeric-epithet-like shorthand — an uncle who played the bagpipes with the Shriners, say, or a nephew majoring in dermatology at U.C.L.A. — and who were called to mind by the circumstances of the crime at hand.

It was a low-rent affect that was especially irksome to the high-society murderers he outwitted in episode after episode. In the detective-story niche where Columbo lived, whodunit was hardly the point; the murder was committed and the murderer revealed in the show’s opening minutes. How-it-was-done was paramount. Typically, Columbo would string his suspects along, flattering them, apologizing profusely for continuing to trouble them with questions, appearing to have bought their alibis and, just before making an exit, nailing them with a final, damning query that he unfailingly introduced with the innocent-sounding phrase “Just one more thing. ...” It was the signal to viewers that the jig was up.

It was also the title of Mr. Falk’s anecdotal memoir, published in 2006, in which he summarized the appeal of the show.

“What are you hanging around for?” he wrote, referring to the viewer. “Just one thing. You want to know how he gets caught.”

Mr. Falk had a glass eye, resulting from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor when he was 3 years old. The prosthesis gave all his characters a peculiar, almost quizzical squint. And he had a mild speech impediment that gave his L’s a breathy quality, a sound that emanated from the back of his throat and that seemed especially emphatic whenever, in character, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Columbo.

Such a deep well of eccentricity made Columbo amusing as well as incisive, not to mention a progenitor of later characters like Tony Shalhoub’s Monk, and it made him a representative Everyman, too. Off and on from 1968 to 2003, Mr. Falk played the character numerous times, often in the format of a 90-minute or two-hour television movie, and each time Columbo, the ordinary man as hero, brought low a greedy and murderous privileged denizen of Beverly Hills, Malibu or Brentwood, it was an implicit victory for the many over the few.

“This is, perhaps, the most thoroughgoing satisfaction ‘Columbo’ offers us,” Jeff Greenfield wrote in The New York Times in 1973: “the assurance that those who dwell in marble and satin, those whose clothes, food, cars and mates are the very best, do not deserve it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


The Arab revolutions: an end to dogma (Hazem Saghieh, 6/24/11, OpenDemocracy)

The radical, pro-Iranian pro-Syrian camp in the middle east is extremely confused nowadays. The Arab revolutions which at first triggered its enthusiasm and energy have turned out to be very different from what it expected and hoped for.

The Tunisian revolution did not release any “anti-imperialist” sentiment; the Egyptian revolution did not burn American flags in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, nor annul the 1978 treaty with Israel. The whole notion that the Tunisians and Egyptians were imitating the Khomeini revolutionary model, a notion promoted by the Iranian leaders, was proven wrong.

Moreover, the radical prophecy that the west and its influence are going to shrink in the region was also proved wrong. The international intervention in Libya widened the presence of the west and its influence in the Arab world. What is more annoying to the radical camp is that this intervention is welcomed by most Libyans and acceptable to most of the Arabs.

They are choosing to be Western.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Old, new, borrowed or blue... Has Blue Labour been duped by conservatism? (Craig Berry, 23 June 2011, OpenDemocracy)

In promoting ‘the big society’, David Cameron has defiantly marched into traditional Labour territory – this is the supposition at the heart of Blue Labour thinking. For Maurice Glasman and others associated with the Blue Labour tag, the labour movement emerged out of a groundswell of civic action and a desire for self-determination by individuals, families, communities and workforces, whose political horizons were not fixated simply on the state. As such, Labour needs to recapture these traditions in order to reconnect with the lives actually lived, and the things about life actually valued, by the party's traditional supporters.

The campaign so far has been a welcome moment of reawakening for the Labour Party. The party is finally talking about ideas, and Blue Labour is leading an overdue post-mortem – something that the leadership election failed to deliver – on exactly what went wrong with New Labour. Yet it is based fundamentally on a misappropriation of conservatism. In basing their perspective on a simplistic version of both conservatism, and working class conservatism, Blue Labour thinkers are suggesting that the big society does in fact belong to the Conservatives, therefore rendering Labour the squatter.

Blue versus New
Blue Labour rests upon four key challenges to Labour Party practice. The first is the return to religion: Blue Labour recognises the role of Christianity in the birth of the labour movement, and the fact that many of the community groups doing the work Glasman et al believe the Labour Party should be doing are faith-based. As such, Blue Labour isn't looking to 'do God' in any messianic sense, contra Tony Blair, but rather acknowledges the importance of faith to many people's identity and everyday moral compass.

The second is its challenge to New Labour’s version of modernity. As I argue in Globalisation and Ideology in Britain, a profound acceptance of globalisation escorted New Labour leaders to a neoliberal understanding of society and the economy. Blue Labour shows how this orientation served to undermine the social and spatial ingredients that comprise the things that people most value about life.

This is strongly associated, thirdly, with Blue Labour’s powerful depiction of a Labour Party disconnected in organisational terms from the day-to-day realities of its traditional supporters among the working class, and therefore in breach of its duty to engender and embody democracy.

Fourthly, as Anthony Painter reports in Labour’s Future, Blue Labour also speaks to an important turn against the managerial, instrumentalist state among Labour’s base, and towards values such as reciprocity. New Labour reduced the state's macroeconomic role but, due in part to its attachment to liberal universalist principles, increased the state's presence as an arbiter of everyday life. Most importantly, the state's redistributive power was used to supplement wages through tax credits. Rather than enabling families and communities to function, the benefits system was used to smooth the participation of disadvantaged groups in the global economy (after all, there is no alternative), which often undermined family life further.

...of one party reacting against the Third Way and, therefore, losing power, while its opponent embraces the Third Way. Rinse, lather, repeat...

It is Labour's turn to ditch its reaction and get back to Thatcherism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


What ICE's Latest Memo on Prosecutorial Discretion Means for Future Immigration Cases (Mary Giovagnoli, 06/21/11, Huffington Post)

Last week, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton reminded ICE officials of their duty and obligation to use good judgment in the prosecution of immigration cases in a new memo. In a culture where many people still believe that "enforcing the law" and "removing people" are exactly the same, Morton's new memo is likely to shake some things up. While Morton's memo doesn't change the law in any way or end controversial programs like Secure Communities, it does serve as a much-needed guide for ICE officials on how, when and why to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases.

In the memo, Morton reminds ICE officers and attorneys that they should never assume that they are powerless to affect the outcome of a case -- instead, that authority rests with individual officers and attorneys to determine whether or not the positive factors in a given case outweigh the value of prosecuting that case. In fact, ICE officials need to do this regardless of whether or not immigrants or their attorney have asked for an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The memo reiterates the need to triage cases based on ICE priorities, emphasizing the goal of putting limited resources into cases and activities that protect the country by going after those who seek to do it harm.

While Morton started down this road last year with a memo on enforcement priorities, the circumstances of this memo are significantly different. First, rather than simply reiterate the memos of past immigration officials, this memo synthesizes what has come before, offering a more detailed discussion of the nature of prosecutorial discretion, when it can be exercised, and what kind of factors should be taken into account. Second, the list of factors themselves is a more concrete framework for guiding decision-making. Government officials often like to couch admonishments to exercise good judgment in benign phrases like "totality of the circumstances" without giving concrete examples.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


City Life Affects Brain's Response to Stress: Study May Help Explain Why City Residents Have Higher Rates of Depression and Anxiety (Brenda Goodman, June 23, 2011, WebMD Health News)

The brains of people who live in cities react more strongly to stress than those who live in small towns and rural areas, a new study shows.

The study is published in the journal Nature. It may help explain why mood disorders like depression and mental illnesses like schizophrenia are more common in city dwellers than in those living in less densely populated areas.

June 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


The long war between Sunni and Shia (Olivier Roy, 23 June 2011, New Statesman)

The strength of the pro-democracy movements in the Middle East is such that, for the first time in the Arab world, revolution has not attached itself to some grand, supranational cause: pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism, socialism, support for the Palestinians, anti-colonialism, anti-Zionism or anti-imperialism. These new movements are patriotic rather than nationalist, taking root in a domestic context and confronting the authorities without accusing them of being puppets of a foreign power.

This is not to say that the great geostrategic fissures have disappeared, but they exist primarily in the minds of the leaderships still in place which, when they haven't been content simply to fight for their own survival (as in Libya or Yemen), have interpreted the revolts in terms of their wider regional implications. This is also true of the Israelis, who, like the Saudi regime in Riyadh, have been concerned only to cal­culate the likely consequences of the recent unrest. Though the western powers are congratulating themselves on a wave of democratisation that they have encouraged, they, too, are highly sensitive to the geostrategic dimension, as their silence on the repression of protests in Bahrain demonstrates.

What we are witnessing is the emergence of a strange dichotomy, wholly unprecedented in recent times. Until now, all revolutionary movements have worked to the benefit, real or imagined, of a great power or ideology. For a long time, it was the Soviet Union, then Islamism - and we should not forget the role played by the west during the demonstrations that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Indeed, this is no different than the last. Mr. Roy's confusion arises because the ideology--the Anglo-American protestant/democratic/capitalist End of History--works to the benefit of the people, not a great power (well, other than the Great Power).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


A Divine Wind Blows Against Iran’s President (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, 7/23/11, NY Times)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, seeking to repair a politically reckless rift with the country’s supreme leader that is leaving him isolated and embattled, recently portrayed their relationship as one of “father and son.”

Conservative clerics, convinced that the ambitious, messianic president remains determined to supplant them, rebuked Mr. Ahmadinejad for elevating his own station.

“The relationship with the leader of revolution should be the relation between the guide and the guided,” growled Mojtaba Zolnour, the supreme leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, in a speech in Qum, Iran’s religious center. “What does it mean to say that my relation with the leader is like the relation of a son to his father. This is nonsense. This is deviant discourse!” [...]

Fundamentally, the fight conforms to a pattern of presidential politics that has troubled the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. The system allows for two presidents, one divine, the other democratic. The divine leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, holds most of the power levers, controlling the military, the judiciary and the state broadcasting services.

The divine leader is also permanent, while elected presidents serve a maximum of eight years. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s predecessors — Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, who also clashed with the supreme leader over prerogatives — have gradually faded from view.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is determined to avoid their fate, and that, say Iran experts, set off the current showdown.

“The game they are playing now is Ahmadinejad trying to politically maneuver himself to gain more power, while Khamenei tries to contain him,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “It is a struggle motivated by politics and economics, being presented by some as an ideological and spiritual struggle.” [...]

In creating a vision of an Iran less dominated by clerics, Mr. Ahmadinejad has evoked Iranian nationalism, redolent of pre-Islamic Persia, and holds that Shiite Muslims do not need the clergy to engage with the Hidden Imam, a messiah-like figure who Mr. Ahmadinejad predicts will return soon.

Then there is the matter of djinns. Several aides arrested in recent weeks have been charged with evoking djinns, or secret spirits, and dabbling in other dark arts. Traditionalist clerics abhor the president.

“They don’t like his suggestions that he alone is so close to the Hidden Imam — the connotation is that he has a privileged position is religiously problematic,” said Vali Nasr, the author of “The Shia Revival.” “They don’t like his messianism, they don’t like his meddling in religious affairs, they see his populist folksy brand of Shiism as a threat.”

We have met the Messiah, and he ain't Mahmoud.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Time for Plan B: How the Euro Became Europe's Greatest Threat (DER SPIEGEL, 6/22/11)

f it wasn't for the euro, Greece's debt crisis would be an isolated problem -- one that was tough for the country, but easy for Europe to bear. It is only because Greece is part of the euro zone that Athens' debts are a problem for all of its partners -- and pose a threat to the common currency.

If the rest of Europe abandons Greece, the crisis could spin out of control, spreading from one weak euro-zone country to the next. Investors would have no guarantees that Europe would not withdraw its support from Portugal or Ireland, if push came to shove, and they would sell their government bonds. The prices of these bonds would fall and risk premiums would go up. Then these countries would only be able to drum up fresh capital by paying high interest rates, which would only augment their existing budget problems. It's possible that they would no longer be able to raise any money at all, in which case they would become insolvent.

But if the current situation continues, the monetary union will invariably turn into a transfer union, a path the inventors of the euro were determined to prevent.

The euro's founding fathers did not anticipate such a crisis, and thus did not include any provisions for it in the European Monetary Union's set of regulations. The euro welds together strong and weak countries, for better or for worse. There is no emergency exit, and there are no rules to follow in an emergency -- only the hope that everything will turn out well in the end. This is why the crises of a few euro countries are a crisis for the euro, as well as a crisis for the European Union, its governments and its institutions. And this is why the euro crisis has suddenly and expectedly mushroomed into a crisis for the political Project Europe, its future and its cohesion.

The fact that the countries funding the bailouts are lacking democratic legitimization is now becoming the greatest impediment to joint crisis management. Gone are the days of subtle debate over whether the European Parliament involves citizens in a just and proportional way in the decisions reached by the European Council, the body headed by the leaders of the European Union member states, and European Commission, the EU's executive. When things get serious, as they are now, decisions will no longer be made in the somewhat democratically legitimized EU bodies, but at the more or less secret meetings of a handful of leaders.

During the German chancellor's and the French president's quiet walks together, and at the behind-the-scenes meetings of discrete central banks, policies are being made that are then handed to the parliaments to rubber-stamp, even though hardly any of their members understand them.

The costly decisions that are ultimately reached by the luminaries of European solidarity don't just affect the citizens of the ailing member states in an existential way; they must also fear for their social security, their jobs and their assets.

The decisions of European politicians are just as troubling for citizens who live, like the Germans, on the sunny side of the union, and are worried that their country is running up debt that could remain on the books into a remotely distant future.

One of the reasons that Europeans are so incensed at their respective governments is that they are not involved in the decision-making process.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM

Booker T. Jones performs live at Rock the Garden (The Current, June 22, 2011)

Jones grabbed the crowd's attention early on with his long-standing hit "Green Onions" and proceeded to take it from new to classic, with renditions of Lauryn Hill's "Everything is Everything" and Outkast's "Hey Ya" all the way to Otis Redding's standard "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and Sam and Dave's "Hold On.

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June 22, 2011

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Abraham Lincoln, the American Founding, and the Principles of the Republican Party (Mackubin T. Owens, February 23, 2002, Remarks at the North Kingstown Republican Town Committee’s Annual Lincoln Day Dinner)

[T]he Republican Party was founded on the basis of principles invoked by Abraham Lincoln. He himself recurred to the principles of the American Founding, specifically the Declaration of Independence, so we can say that the principles of the Republican Party are the principles of the nation. In essence these principles hold that the only purpose of government is to protect the equal natural rights of individual citizens. These rights inhere in individuals, not groups, and are antecedent to the creation of government. They are the rights invoked by the Declaration of Independence—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness.

We should remember that the Republican Party was created in response to a crisis arising from the fact that the country had drifted away from its founding principles. While the some of the founders may have owned slaves, they denounced the institution as a corrupt system that America had inherited, but which for the sake of security could not be abolished all at once. However, they fully expected that they had put slavery on the road to extinction.

But they were wrong. Slavery flourished in the South during the ante-bellum period. More importantly, public opinion had come to accept the idea that there was no moral reason that slavery should not be permitted to expand into the territories if that’s what a majority of the white people there wanted.

Lincoln understood the critical importance of public sentiment in a democracy. "Our government rests in public opinion....Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much."

In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.

Lincoln was concerned that public sentiment was being prepared to accept the rightness of slavery. It was being prepared by Stephen Douglas’s doctrine of "popular sovereignty," which professed indifference to the moral aspect of slavery, leaving the question to the preferences of the community. It was being prepared by Chief Justice Taney, who argued in Dred Scott that blacks had no rights that whites were bound to respect.

In opposition to this trend in public opinion, Lincoln invoked America’s "central idea." "Every nation," said Lincoln, "has a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate." For Lincoln, this central idea was the Declaration of Independence and its notion of equality as the basis for republican government—the simple idea that no one has the right by nature to rule over another without the latter’s consent: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." Lincoln saw more clearly than his critics, then or now, that equality is inseparable from democracy. As he remarked in 1859: "All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression."

Indeed, it is the idea of equality in the Declaration, not race and blood, that establishes American nationhood, constituting what Abraham Lincoln called "the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land..."

In a speech delivered just after Independence Day 1858, Lincoln clarified the link between the Declaration and American nationhood. His argument is one we should ponder at a time when "multiculturalists" are advancing the view that the US is not a land of free individuals but instead a conglomeration of discrete racial and ethnic groups.

When we celebrate the Fourth of July, Lincoln told his listeners in Chicago, we celebrate the founders, "our fathers and grandfathers," those "iron men...But after we have done this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—...finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that ’We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that the moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are."

Lincoln fought to save this "central idea" from its contemporary detractors by pointing out that the United States faced two irreconcilable choices on slavery: As Larry P. Arnn, now President of Hillsdale College in Michigan has observed, we could re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of the Declaration of Independence or we could embrace the contrary doctrine proposed by Southern slavery advocates in the 1830s and ’40s. According to the former, all people have equal rights by nature and government’s purpose is to protect those rights. According to the latter—which harkened to European feudalism—government’s task is to assign rights unequally, whether based on race or class, in order to achieve a predetermined social goal.

Lincoln’s opponent in the Illinois Senate race of 1858—and a leading national Democrat—was Stephen Douglas. He attempted to sidestep the conflict then facing the nation: whether slavery would be extended to the federal territories to the West, and ultimately throughout the nation, or whether it would be put "in the course of ultimate extinction." Douglas defended the right of the people in the territories to outlaw slavery. But he also defended the right of Southerners to own slaves and transport them to the new territories.

While Douglas repeatedly refused to say that slavery was wrong, Lincoln never hesitated to criticize the institution as incompatible with republican government. In his 1854 speech at Peoria on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln declared that he hated slavery because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Lincoln rejected the possibility that the choice between slavery and the equality that underpins republican government could be evaded: "A house divided against itself cannot stand.... I do not expect the Union to be dissolved, I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all free or all slave." And Lincoln indicated the logical absurdity in Douglas’s attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


Georgia immigrant crackdown backfires (REID J. EPSTEIN, 6/22/11, Politico)

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s program to replace fleeing migrant farmworkers with probationers backfired when some of the convicted criminals started walking off their jobs because field work was too strenuous, it was reported Wednesday.

And the state’s farms could lose up to $1 billion if crops continue to go unpicked and rot, the president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council warned.

In a story datelined Leslie, in rural south Georgia, The Associated Press writes of convicts calling it quits at 3:25 p.m. — more than 2½ hours before the crew of Mexicans and Guatemalans they replaced.

“Those guys out here weren’t out there 30 minutes and they got the bucket and just threw them in the air and say, `Bonk this. I ain’t with this. I can’t do this,’” said Jermond Powell, a 33-year-old probationer working at a farm in Leslie. “They just left, took off across the field walking.”

When they finally found folks who'd pick willingly they tried to get rid of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant (JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS6/26/11, NY Times Magazine)

One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. “Baka malamig doon” were among the few words she said. (“It might be cold there.”) When I arrived at the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport with her, my aunt and a family friend, I was introduced to a man I’d never seen. They told me he was my uncle. He held my hand as I boarded an airplane for the first time. It was 1993, and I was 12.

My mother wanted to give me a better life, so she sent me thousands of miles away to live with her parents in America — my grandfather (Lolo in Tagalog) and grandmother (Lola). After I arrived in Mountain View, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area, I entered sixth grade and quickly grew to love my new home, family and culture. I discovered a passion for language, though it was hard to learn the difference between formal English and American slang. One of my early memories is of a freckled kid in middle school asking me, “What’s up?” I replied, “The sky,” and he and a couple of other kids laughed. I won the eighth-grade spelling bee by memorizing words I couldn’t properly pronounce. (The winning word was “indefatigable.”)

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. “This is fake,” she whispered. “Don’t come back here again.”

Confused and scared, I pedaled home and confronted Lolo. I remember him sitting in the garage, cutting coupons. I dropped my bike and ran over to him, showing him the green card. “Peke ba ito?” I asked in Tagalog. (“Is this fake?”) My grandparents were naturalized American citizens — he worked as a security guard, she as a food server — and they had begun supporting my mother and me financially when I was 3, after my father’s wandering eye and inability to properly provide for us led to my parents’ separation. Lolo was a proud man, and I saw the shame on his face as he told me he purchased the card, along with other fake documents, for me. “Don’t show it to other people,” he warned.

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant.

...America would be a better place if we made folks like this leave.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Did the Palin bus tour run out of gas? (Lucy Madison , 6/22/11, CBS News)

Despite the much-publicized rollout of Sarah Palin's "One Nation" bus tour last month, the Palin bus seems to have taken an extended hiatus as the family spends time Alaska, putting previously-planned stops in key primary states on hold and leading to yet more questions about the former Alaska governor's political intentions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Jon Stewart and Fox News anchor go head to head (Rebecca Stewart, 6/19/11, CNN)

Stewart stood up for his "Daily Show" antics.

"Here is the difference between you and I," he said, "I'm a comedian first. My comedy is informed by an ideological background, there's no question about that.

"The thing that - in some respect - conservative activists will never understand is … I'm not an activist. I'm a comedian," Stewart said.

Fox News just does comedy better than he does, because his ideological background is a restraint.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM

NONE SO BLIND AS THOSE WHO SEE (via The Other Brother):

Why Seeing (The Unexpected) Is Often Not Believing (Alix Spiegel, 6/20/11, NPR)

Obviously, it wasn't possible to recreate all aspects of the case, like the adrenaline rush of running after a murder suspect, or the chaos of so many people moving through the same space. But Chabris and Simons did their best. Their results were published this month in the journal i-Perception.

To simulate Conley's focus on the fleeing suspect, Simons and Chabris gave their undergraduate volunteers very specific instructions.

"The subject in the study was supposed to follow behind the jogger at a fixed distance and count how many times the jogger touched his hat," Simons says.

The purpose of this was to maintain the focus of their attention, just as Conley was focused on the suspect he was chasing to make sure he didn't pull a gun or throw something away.

Then about a minute in the run, slightly off to the side, Chabris and Simons had three students stage a fight.

"We had two students beating up a third, punching him and kicking him and throwing him to the ground," Chabris says.

The question was whether the students would see the fight, and under the conditions — nighttime — that most closely resembled Conley's experience. The numbers were shockingly low.

"Only about a third of the subjects reported seeing the fight that we had staged," says Chabris.

And broad daylight didn't cure the problem. In the light of day 40 percent still didn't notice the student being beaten.

Unfortunately this work was only published this month, far too late to factor into the Conley case.

Conley was the sole officer convicted after the 1995 beating of Michael Cox. His 34-month sentence for perjury was eventually overturned in 2004 after it became clear that the government had withheld documents helpful to Conley's case. But in the meantime Conley lost his position on the police force. For years he bumped around from job to job.

But both Chabris and Simons are hopeful that this work might influence future cases.

"We hope that maybe this will influence the courts to take notice of the fact that people don't see everything around them — and they intuitively think that they will," says Simons. "And those two things together can lead to a lot of mistakes: potentially convicting people of crimes that they weren't really guilty of."

And the relevance of this work isn't limited to what happens in court rooms.

Chabris points out that our inability to absorb visual information coupled with our mistaken belief that we actually are able to absorb a lot of it influences all kinds of behavior.

"This underlies problems with using cell phones while driving and all kinds of situations like that," Chabris says.

Even noticing can be useless. When we were kids, growing up in the 'hood, we were playing on the front lawn one day, across from the local high school, and saw one kid chase another down the street, tackle him, and take the football away from him.

Except that it turned out to be a mugger, chasing a woman, and taking her purse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Stephen Colbert: Catholicism’s best pitch man? (Matt Emerson, 6/02/11, Washington Post)

Colbert is a practicing Catholic and so is his character, and sometimes something apostolic appears to break through. Consider the confetti of Catholic words that opened the post-Easter episode. In the opening monologue, a groggy, depleted Colbert began to recall his weekend, unbosoming memories from what he called his “Catholic bender.”

It had started, he said, on Holy Thursday night. Walking past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Colbert “caught a little whiff of incense.” Not long after, he was “stumbling through the streets of Manhattan in a chasuble and mitre begging for quarters to buy votive candles.” He later “genuflected all over the back of a cab” and eventually passed out near an “abbot illuminating a manuscript.” The bacchanal included a concurrent saying of the Hail Mary and the Our Father, in Colbert’s words, “the Catholic speedball.”

“I guess I just have to accept,” Colbert concluded, “that I’m a functional Roman Catholic.”

It was hilarious. And it was not the first time that Colbert revealed his inner catechist. So numerous are the clips involving religious and Catholic topics, one could almost assign the “The Report” to introduce Catholic theology.

For example, he has interviewed atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, each time offering impressive responses to their unctuous non-belief. In the wake of psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s preposterous exegesis of the Adam and Eve allegory, Colbert responded with an exposition of the Catholic understanding of hell, concluding the interview with what might be the most well-timed expletive in the history of television.

On Ash Wednesday of this year, Colbert opened his show with ashes on his forehead and discoursed briefly on Lent. Colbert has also interviewed Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., about the Vatican’s position on extraterrestrial life, as well as law professor Douglas Kmiec on Catholic support for President Barack Obama. In one segment titled the “De-deification of the American Faithscape,” Colbert began a critique of the modern lack of religious belief by reciting the Nicene Creed.

Furthermore, Colbert has appointed a Catholic priest, America’s Fr. James Martin, S.J., as “The Colbert Report” chaplain. Together, they have discussed the preferential option for the poor; the words of Jesus in Matthew 25; the life and prayer of Mother Teresa; the connection between a bad economy and belief in God; the vow (and value) of poverty; and social justice. Once, as Colbert’s time with Fr. Martin neared an end, Colbert said, “Father, this interview has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

The skits and interviews are compelling, in part, because Colbert does not indulge agendas. While sometimes stooping for a cheap laugh, his comedy usually evades the retort, “He’s on our side.” Colbert’s show is one of the few experiences involving Catholics and media that disarms, or at least is not demanding of a pro or con stance contrived as a test of orthodoxy.

The insidious genius of Mr. Colbert is that he's not making fun of his character but of the viewers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Polling Prejudice Against Mormons: Democrats Worse Than GOP (Jonathan S. Tobin 06.21.2011, Commentary)

[I]t is worth pondering why prejudice against Mormons is so persistent when anti-Catholic sentiments as well as anti-Semitic beliefs, which have deeper roots in our culture than the prejudice against Latter Day Saints, have diminished. Indeed, the poll showed the only groups that generate a higher negative response are gays/lesbians and atheists.

The Mormon religion was intensely controversial in its first half century because of the practice of polygamy and the fact this church was viewed as a political as well as spiritual threat to the existing order. After much strife as well as persecution, the Mormons re-entered the American mainstream in the late 19th century after the LDS church renounced polygamy, and Utah finally won statehood.

Still, in an era when religious pluralism is an unquestioned element of American culture, it is somewhat baffling that Mormons remain the object of hate. Some may put it down to the rigid beliefs of conservative evangelicals who think Mormons are not Christians, but considering the rude treatment the Mormons have gotten on both Broadway and HBO, it must be considered that some sophisticated liberals may be among the prejudiced 22 percent Gallup has discovered. Indeed, the survey says 27 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for a Mormon as opposed to only 18 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Independents.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


The Quotas Everyone Ignores: Why universities are quietly favoring white males once again. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 3/28/11, Weekly Standard)

Among college admissions professionals, it has been a barely concealed secret for several years that such an effort is underway at many, if not most, selective schools. The secret became public in 2006 when the admissions dean at Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, published an op-ed in the New York Times. Never underestimate the anger of a parent whose kid didn’t get into the right school. Britz’s daughter had just been wait-listed at a college that mom assumed she would glide into, and mom, being in the business herself, said she knew why.

“The fat acceptance envelope is simply more elusive for today’s accomplished young women,” Britz wrote. She offered an anecdote from her own experience, about a recent applicant to Kenyon. The girl was admirable in every respect but for her middling SAT scores. Britz finally decided to admit her, but it was a close thing. The kid should have been born a boy.

“Had she been a male applicant,” Britz wrote, “there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit.” The threshold for boys is lower than for girls, not only at Kenyon but at other schools too. Boys, she explained simply, are “more valued applicants.”

Britz’s op-ed loosed a flurry of journalism—editors never tire of college admissions stories—much of it summarized the following year in an excellent exposé by U.S. News and World Report’s Alex Kingsbury. A raft of prominent schools, including Pomona, Tufts, the College of William and Mary, and Boston College, were accepting boys at a far higher rate than female applicants—boys with lower test scores and lower grade point averages than their female rivals. William and Mary, for instance, accepted 40 percent of the boys who applied in 2006 and only 26 percent of the girls.

Since the early 1980s, when a brief period of parity was reached after generations of male dominance, more girls than boys have applied to college each year; in 2011, 60 percent of college applicants will be women. Girls—sorry, fellas—are by any objective measure more attractive applicants than boys, with higher average GPAs and test scores. They have fewer behavioral problems. They write better application essays. They have a wider range of extracurricular interests. They clean up better for interviews.

On any fairly balanced scale, the acceptance rate for women at selective colleges should be far higher than for men. Instead it’s the other way around. The reason is “affirmative action,” sometimes called preferences, sometimes called quotas—though never publicly. Admissions deans like Britz have placed a thumb on the scale.

This much is generally accepted practice among college admissions deans in the upper tiers of American higher education. But why? If girls are better suited to college, why not let them enter the better colleges at rates equal to their achievements?

Here is where the Legend of 60-40 enters in. Sixty-forty is the ratio of women to men at which, according to admissions lore, the “atmosphere” of a campus changes irreversibly and the school’s reputation passes a point of no return. It becomes known as a “girls’ school” and before you know it .  .  . there goes the neighborhood.

“Once you become decidedly female,” Britz wrote in her op-ed, “fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.” Or worse, it becomes attractive to the wrong kind of male. Hubba hubba, in other words. Predation can be a problem. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by the indispensable education writer Richard Whitmire offered anecdotes from the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. JMU refuses to institute gender quotas and as a result is now more than 60 percent female. “What can be seen [on campus] so far is not encouraging,” Whitmire wrote. “Stark gender imbalances appear to act as an accelerant on the hook-up culture”—a reference to the Bonobo-like mating patterns that have lately enlivened social life among America’s budding scholars.

For this reason, the admissions dean of the College of William and Mary has been unapologetic about that thumb of his, which he has firmly planted on the boy side of the scale. “We are, after all, the College of William and Mary,” he has often said, “not the College of Mary and Mary.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


'The Swell Season': How Documentaries Can Tell Stories We Don't Want To Hear (Linda Holmes, 6/21/11, NPR)

As a work of fiction, The Swell Season, the documentary about the band of the same name that opened the Silverdocs film festival in Silver Spring, Md., on Monday night, would have been the wrong story to a lot of people. That's because what happens is, at one level, completely unsatisfying. The sketch goes like this: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova make the practically no-budget movie Once, it becomes an indie hit, they win an Oscar for Best Original Song for the beautiful "Falling Slowly," they give enormously memorable speeches, and they go from playing smallish venues to playing Radio City. And of course, they fall in love.

And it doesn't work out.

The film, from directors Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, doesn't point fingers about any one dramatic reason why it doesn't work out. There are, as there often are, lots of reasons. She's very young — the movie was filmed over a couple of years, but she's roughly 19 when a lot of it is happening, and he's in his mid-thirties and left school at 13 to make music, so they're in wildly different stages of both their lives and their careers. They react to the sudden onslaught of attention from strangers totally differently. And you sense that the same huge, passionate reactions to everything that make him so charismatic also sometimes make her tired.

It's just ... not quite going to work out.

But what's lovely about it — and ultimately very satisfying — is that it's a busted romance, not a busted love story.

Glen explains at one point that breaking up has made them closer, and the film ends with him performing, but more with Marketa watching him perform. Standing in the wings, she has all the giddy joy on her face that you would have watching anyone that you really, really loved doing something that he really, really loves doing. Make no mistake: this is a really beautiful love story. It's just a busted romance. It's sad, but ... it's really not sad.

Boy doesn't get girl saved the original film.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) by Zane Grey (Marianne Wiggins, Summer 2011, BookForum)

Even if you haven’t read the book, I bet you think you know what it’s about: solitary masculinity on a colossal stage of raw geology, right? (Framed by Ford and featuring the Duke.)


Riders of the Purple Sage is a love story (several love stories, actually), bursting with pre-Freudian eroticism of the later drugstore-novel type. No wonder it sold like hotcakes. (My bet is, to impressionable boys and dissatisfied women.) It has all the standard western elements—horse thieving, cattle rustling, battles over water rights, discovery of gold—plus the carry-over nineteenth-century crowd-pleasing plot device of female abduction, this time by Mormons, not Apaches. (O those crazy Mormons!) (O pioneers!) But at its center are Jane Withersteen (a pre-universal-suffrage Mormon woman of independent mien and means) and the enigmatic, gunslinging Jim Lassiter (our conquering hero).

Today it is almost laughably unreadable. (“Lassiter, I’ll ride away with you. Hide me till danger is past—till we are forgotten—then take me where you will. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God!”) But in 1912, it must have been thrilling, sexy, even daring.

...it has the insight that Gilligan's Island lacks.

June 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


The ghost of LBJ hovers over the 2012 election: Barack Obama’s hopes of a second term are still bright. But twin policy crises and Republican stirrings are clouds on his re-election horizon. (Godfrey Hodgson, 22 June 2011, MercatorNet)

The campaign for the United States presidential election of November 2012 is gathering pace with a degree of emerging clarity in the contest for the Republican nomination. There is more certainty on the Democratic side, in that Barack Obama is sure to run for a second term without opposition from inside his party.

Yet an event during a previous contest that might give him a certain pause is an address by his predecessor Lyndon B Johnson on 31 March 1968. LBJ then shocked the United States and the world by concluding with the announcement that he “would not permit the presidency to be involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year”; and accordingly,” I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM

To: Fox Corporation

Vin Scully, the greatest baseball announcer of all time has not called a World Series Game on Television since Game 5 of the 1988 World Series when his Dodgers defeated the Mighty A's. As his career comes closer to an end, I feel that this great man and broadcaster needs to have one more chance to shine when the stage shines the brightest, The World Series. Join me in this push to have him get one more chance to crown a World Champion in the way it should always be done, with class, diginity and honor, the way he has done it for over 60 years.


The Undersigned

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Mumford and Sons from Black Cab Sessions on Vimeo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Romancing the Throne (Patrick Allitt, 6/21/11, National Interest)

The case against hereditary monarchy has proved widely persuasive over the last couple of centuries. [...]

Through it all, however, an intense, burning love of the monarchy has persisted across all social ranks in Britain and throughout the British Commonwealth. There is no significant constituency in Britain in favor of abolishing it. Americans say they love equality and democracy, but they love the British monarchy too and join in wholeheartedly at moments like this. There’s even a palpable sense of what might be called dynasty-envy in the United States, by which certain distinguished political families (the Kennedys, the Clintons and the Bushes) take on a pseudoroyal glamour of their own. You only have to compare the muted fanfare around the weddings of Jenna Bush in 2008 or Chelsea Clinton last year, however, to realize that the Americans still have a very, very long way to go.

American excitement over the wedding also suggests an oblique recognition of the benefits of monarchy, once shorn of its obvious ancient abuses. Monarchy separates ceremonial leadership from political leadership, functions which, in the United States, are combined in the president. Nearly half of all American voters, in any given election year, voted against the person who now represents the nation, and probably don’t like him, whereas no British person voted against the queen. She can embody the nation over and above its squabbling politicians and can present a more dignified idea of the country to its own citizens and to outsiders.

Royalty has also, in the twentieth century, been a brake on, or antidote to, dictatorship. The restoration of the Spanish monarchy ended the sordid and repressive Franco era, while the constitutional monarchies of Holland and Scandinavia are among the most moderate and politically stable entities in the world. The fact that accident of birth decides who will be king or queen might offend our sense of meritocracy, but it also protects us against the kind of unscrupulous personalities who often claw their way to the top in democracies.

There are two caveats, however. First, the monarch has to have a well-developed sense of duty and to behave with political impartiality, a point that Elizabeth II appears to have understood perfectly. Second, the existence of the monarchy must not offend the citizens’ essential idea of their own country.

Way to contradict your entire thesis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM


Legal Acrobatics, Illegal War (BRUCE ACKERMAN, 6/21/11, NY Times)

Last Sunday was the 90th day of bombing in Libya, but Mr. Obama — armed with dubious legal opinions — is refusing to stop America’s military engagement there. His White House counsel, Robert F. Bauer, has declared that, despite the War Powers Act, the president can continue the Libya campaign indefinitely without legislative support. This conclusion lacks a solid legal foundation. And by adopting it, the White House has shattered the traditional legal process the executive branch has developed to sustain the rule of law over the past 75 years.

...but my calculations suggest the Republic is close to 222 years old, making something 75 years old an innovation, not a tradition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The Long, Lame Afterlife of Mikhail Gorbachev: A cautionary tale about what happens when you fail to see the revolution coming. (ANNE APPLEBAUM, JULY/AUGUST 2011, Foreign Policy)

In fact, Gorbachev did not intend for things to end up the way they did. But then, Gorbachev never set out to become one of the founding fathers of modern Russia either. He was a reformer, not a revolutionary; his intention, when he became leader of the Soviet Communist Party in March 1985, was to revitalize the Soviet Union, not undo it. He knew that the system was stagnant. But he didn't understand why. Instead of abolishing central planning or calling for price reform, he announced a drastic anti-alcohol campaign: Perhaps if the workers drank less, they would produce more. Two months after taking power, he put restrictions on the sale of alcohol, raised the drinking age, and ordered cuts in production. The result: enormous losses to the Soviet budget and dramatic shortages of products, such as sugar, that people began using to brew vodka illegally at home.

Only after this campaign failed -- and only after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster brought home to him the real dangers of secrecy in an advanced industrial society -- did Gorbachev make his second attempt at reform. Like the anti-alcohol campaign, glasnost, or openness, was originally meant to promote economic efficiency. Open discussion of the Soviet Union's problems would, Gorbachev believed, strengthen communism. He certainly never intended his policy to change the USSR's economic system in any profound way. On the contrary, not long after taking power, he told a group of party economists, "Many of you see the solution to your problems in resorting to market mechanisms in place of direct planning. Some of you look at the market as a lifesaver for your economies. But, comrades, you should not think about lifesavers, but about the ship, and the ship is socialism."

Of course, Gorbachev later wound up changing his ideas, in economics and many other areas. Indeed, this pattern would repeat itself many times. Determined to save central planning, he told people to talk openly about it -- as a result of which they concluded that it didn't work. Determined to save communism, he let people criticize it -- as a result of which they decided they wanted capitalism. Determined to save the Soviet empire, he gave Eastern Europeans more freedom -- which they used to wriggle out of the empire's grasp as quickly as possible. He never understood the depth of cynicism in his own country or the depth of anti-communism in the Soviet satellite states. He never understood how rotten the central bureaucracies had become or how amoral the bureaucrats. He always seemed surprised by the consequences of his actions. In the end he wound up racing to catch up with history, rather than making it himself.

In fact, all of Gorbachev's most significant and most radical decisions were the ones he did not make. He did not order the East Germans to shoot at people crossing the Berlin Wall. He did not launch a war to prevent the defection of the Baltic states. He did not stop the breakup of the Soviet Union or prevent Yeltsin's rise to power. The end of communism certainly could have been far bloodier, and if someone else had been in charge it might have been. For his refusal to use violence, Gorbachev deserves Anka's corny serenade.

But because he did not understand what was happening, Gorbachev also did not prepare his compatriots for major political and economic change. He did not help design democratic institutions, and he did not lay the foundations for an orderly economic reform. Instead, he tried to hold on to power until the very last moment -- to preserve the Soviet Union until it was too late. As a result, he did not politically survive its collapse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Germany's Left Party Faces Charges of Anti-Semitism: Swatiskas intertwined in the Star of David, a map of the Middle East with Israel missing, boycotts of Israeli products: Germany's far-left Left Party, many feel, has a growing anti-Semitism problem. The issue threatens to divide the party. (Der Spiegel, 6/21/11)

Germany's far-left Left Party has been struggling for months to have its voice heard on the national political stage. Falling membership numbers, shrinking support and a very public leadership battle this spring have all left the party struggling to find relevance.

Now, though, the party is facing yet another challenge. For years, the Left Party -- a partial outgrowth of the East German communists -- has been criticized for harboring anti-Semitism and being overtly critical of Israel. [...]

On Monday, Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, wrote a guest commentary for the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in which he accused Left Party members, particularly those from western Germany, of "downright pathalogical hatred of Israel." He also wrote that the "old anti-Zionist spirit from East Germany still stains the party."

There are many within the party who agree. Chief among them is Benjamin-Christopher Krüger, a founding member of a Left Party working group which aims at rooting all forms of anti-Semitism out of the party. "We have an anti-Semitism problem," he said.

A recent study by the University of Leipzig quoted in the daily Frankfurter Rundschau would seem to support Krüger's claim. The study said that positions hostile to both Israel and Jews are "increasingly dominant within the party" and critics of anti-Semitic positions are "increasingly isolated."

Several recent incidents bear witness to the problem. In April, the website of the district chapter of the Left Party in the western city of Duisburg featured a swastika entangled with a Star of David. The symbol linked to a pamphlet which called Israel a "rogue nation" and called for a boycott of Israeli products. The Duisburg Left Party chapter distanced itself from the pamphlet and claimed that the site had been illegally manipulated -- but the head of the Duisburg Left Party has long supported a boycott of Israeli products.

In May, Inge Höger, a member of the Bundestag from the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, appeared at a Palestinians in Europe conference attended by numerous Hamas sympathizers. She was wearing a scarf printed with a map of the Middle East that did not include Israel. Höger claimed that she was handed the scarf and didn't want to be impolite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Don't Blame Mary McCarthy: Oh, for the days of Lillian 'Pants on Fire' Hellman. Now accusations of lying often just mean: I disagree with you. (BARTON SWAIM , 6/21/11, WSJ)

There are at least two problems with Mr. Ackerman's idea. The first is that it's never clear what sort of "crisis"—or "failure of public conversation"—he is talking about. The nearest he comes to describing the "crisis" is this: The Hellman-McCarthy lawsuit "represents a clash between two models of language: one, as McCarthy saw it, that reports transparently on matters of fact, and one"—presumably as Hellman saw it—"that is self-consciously rhetorical and shaped by desire." Unless I'm mistaken, that's a highfalutin way of saying that the question of what constitutes truth in particular utterances is often disputable. I'm not convinced that we need a 300-page monograph to tell us that.

The second problem with Mr. Ackerman's idea is that, although McCarthy intended her remark to be witty rather than strictly true, it wasn't particularly witty and came awfully close to the truth. Hellman was, in fact, a chronic liar. She wrote three memoirs: "An Unfinished Woman" (1969), Pentimento (1973) and "Scoundrel Time" (1976). Reviewer after reviewer during the 1970s and 1980s—including Irving Howe in Dissent, Hilton Kramer in the New York Times, Alfred Kazin in Esquire, Martha Gellhorn in the Paris Review and most devastatingly Samuel McCracken in Commentary—showed beyond any doubt that these books were full of outrageous omissions and flagrant departures from the historical record.

In the worst instance, a story in "Pentimento," Hellman claimed that she had gone to heroic lengths to aid a young American woman named Julia in supporting anti-Nazi conspirators in Germany. In due course it emerged that the real Julia was a woman named Muriel Gardiner and that Hellman, who had heard her story from someone else, had simply stolen it and put herself in the lead role.

I say all this is a problem for Mr. Ackerman's thesis because if there is any "crisis in American political discourse," it is the nonchalance with which eminent commentators and now even politicians make accusations of dishonesty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


. . . And the Climate Tort Cashiered: Justice Ginsburg's finest hour. (WSJ, 6/20/11)

In American Electric Power v. Connecticut, eight states and various other environmental activists sued a group of utilities, claiming that their carbon emissions were a "nuisance" under federal common law and that therefore the courts should set U.S. global warming policy. Yet this is a fundamentally political question, one the Constitution reserves to Congress and the executive, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the 8-0 majority.

The Court "remains mindful that it does not have creative power akin to that vested in Congress," Justice Ginsburg observed, in an all-too-rare vindication of legal restraint.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Man urinates in water, city flushes 8M gallons ( TIM FOUGHT, 6/20/11, Associated Press)

Because a 21-year-old man was caught on a security camera urinating into a city reservoir, Oregon's biggest city is sending 8 million gallons of treated drinking water down the drain.

Portland officials defended the decision Monday, saying they didn't want to send city residents water laced, however infinitesimally, with urine.

Public health officials say, however, that urine is sterile in healthy people and that the urine in the reservoir was so diluted — perhaps a half pint in millions of gallons — that it posed little risk.

June 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


What If Jews Had Followed the Palestinian Path?: Postwar Jewish refugees left everything they had in Europe—no 'right of return' requested. (WARREN KOZAK, 6/20/11, WSJ)

[T]he Jewish refugees returned to their ancestral homeland. They left everything they had in Europe and turned their backs on the Continent—no "right of return" requested. They were welcomed by the 650,000 Jewish residents of Israel.

An additional 700,000 Jewish refugees flooded into the new state from Arab lands after they were summarily kicked out. Again losing everything after generations in one place; again welcomed in their new home.

In Israel, they did it all the hard way. They built a new country from scratch with roads, housing and schools. They created agricultural collectives to feed their people. They created a successful economy without domestic oil, and they built one of the world's most vibrant democracies in a region sadly devoid of free thought.

Yes, the Israelis did all this with the financial assistance of Jews around the world and others who helped get them on their feet so they could take care of themselves. These outsiders did not ignore them, or demean them, or use them as pawns in their own political schemes—as the Arab nations have done with the Palestinians.

I imagine the argument will be made that while the Jews may have achieved all this, they did not have their land stolen from them. This is, of course, a canard, another convenient lie. They did lose property all over Europe and the Mideast.

Holocaust reparations: Putting a price on the Holocaust: The latest effort to secure Holocaust reparations is foundering over money. Is that what this appalling historical episode has been reduced to? (The Economist, Nov 25th 1999)
HOW do you put a price tag on the atrocities of the past? That is the dilemma at the heart of the latest unresolved wrangling over Holocaust reparations, this time claimed by the survivors of Nazi labour camps. Efforts to secure compensation from German firms and the German government collapsed last week over the size of a compensation fund that would absolve German companies from existing and future legal claims over forced labour. With talks due to resume again in Washington on December 8th, and over $1 billion still separating the two sides, the question raised once again is this: does the effort to put a monetary value on unspeakable human wrongs of the past not help ultimately to diminish them?

The forced-labour case is only one of a battery of outstanding claims by Holocaust survivors, or the families of those who were killed, for reparations for Nazi-era crimes. The chief targets are European companies—notably German, Austrian, Swiss, Italian and French—which, it is claimed, harbour dormant bank accounts, unpaid insurance policies or other assets lost or seized at the time of the Third Reich. While these claims are being pursued through various different courts, most of them in the United States, the common theme is an attempt to seek monetary compensation.

Well, what do you expect, reply the claimants, when so many of these cases refer to stolen assets? “We are not talking about putting a price on those who died, but on what was stolen from them,” declares Elan Steinberg, the executive director of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in New York.

Israel seeks fresh Holocaust reparations deal with Germany (Anshel Pfeffer , 9/11/07, Ha'aretz)

Minister for Pensioner Affairs Rafi Eitan is seeking to reopen the 1952 reparations agreement between Israel and Germany.

Eitan, the minister in charge of the talks with Germany on reparations for Holocaust survivors and retrieving Jewish property, intends to discuss the matter with the German finance minister when he comes to Israel in two weeks' time.

Eitan told Haaretz that the original reparations agreement, the Luxembourg Agreement, did not take into account many issues relating to Holocaust survivors and should therefore be reopened. That agreement stipulated that Germany would give Israel $833 million in money and merchandise, and Israel would look after the survivors, who would not be permitted to sue Germany directly.

A state comptroller's report on the treatment of Holocaust survivors, released this past August, said that in the 50 years between 1954 and 2004, the government had spent some $3.5 billion on the survivors, more than four times the sum transferred by Germany.

"We see Germany as responsible for the Holocaust survivors," Eitan told Haaretz.

Germany to Raise Sums of Holocaust Reparations (Elad Benari, Israel news)
The German government has announced its decision to raise the aid it gives to Holocaust survivors. The reparation amounts for 2011 will stand at 110 million Euros per year, up from 55 million Euros in 2010.

The announcement on the increase in aid was made by Claims Conference VP Shlomo Gur on Tuesday during a meeting of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee.

We can be pretty sure that Mr. Kozak doesn't seriously want to apply the same standard to Palestinians as regards reparations as was applied for Jewish refugees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Blue State Schools: The Shame of a Nation (Walter Russell Mead, 6/20/11, American Interest)

When it come to excellence in education, red states rule — at least according to a panel of experts assembled by Tina Brown’s Newsweek. Using a set of indicators ranging from graduation rate to college admissions and SAT scores, the panel reviewed data from high schools all over the country to find the best public schools in the country.

The results make depressing reading for the teacher unions: the very best public high schools in the country are heavily concentrated in red states.

Three of the nation’s ten best public high schools are in Texas — the no-income tax, right-to-work state that blue model defenders like to characterize as America at its worst. Florida, another no-income tax, right-to-work state long misgoverned by the evil and rapacious Bush dynasty, has two of the top ten schools.

Newsweek isn’t alone with these shocking results. Another top public school list, compiled by the Washington Post, was issued in May. Texas and Florida rank number one and number two on that list’s top ten as well.

There’s something else interesting about the two lists: on both lists only one of the top ten public schools was located in a blue state. (Definition alert: on this blog, a blue state is one that voted for John Kerry in 2004; red states cast their electoral votes for Bush.) [...]

Defenders of the high tax, high regulation, highly unionized model of state governance that characterizes the blue states like to point to their higher quality of government services as justification for the taxes they pay and the regulations they accept.

Let those crackers and hillbillies in the red states wallow in their filth and their ignorance, say proud upholders of the blue state model. We blue staters believe in things like quality education — and that costs money.

In theory, perhaps, but in practice the extraordinary achievement of so many red state schools strongly supports the idea that blue state governance is no friend to excellence in education. Having low taxes and governors descended from George H. W. Bush seems to offer students more hope than having high taxes and strong teacher unions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


The Illusions of Psychiatry (Marcia Angell, 7/14/11, NY Review of Books)

As Robert Whitaker tells it in Anatomy of an Epidemic, the medical director of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Melvin Sabshin, declared in 1977 that “a vigorous effort to remedicalize psychiatry should be strongly supported,” and he launched an all-out media and public relations campaign to do exactly that. Psychiatry had a powerful weapon that its competitors lacked. Since psychiatrists must qualify as MDs, they have the legal authority to write prescriptions. By fully embracing the biological model of mental illness and the use of psychoactive drugs to treat it, psychiatry was able to relegate other mental health care providers to ancillary positions and also to identify itself as a scientific discipline along with the rest of the medical profession. Most important, by emphasizing drug treatment, psychiatry became the darling of the pharmaceutical industry, which soon made its gratitude tangible.

These efforts to enhance the status of psychiatry were undertaken deliberately. The APA was then working on the third edition of the DSM, which provides diagnostic criteria for all mental disorders. The president of the APA had appointed Robert Spitzer, a much-admired professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, to head the task force overseeing the project. The first two editions, published in 1952 and 1968, reflected the Freudian view of mental illness and were little known outside the profession. Spitzer set out to make the DSM-III something quite different. He promised that it would be “a defense of the medical model as applied to psychiatric problems,” and the president of the APA in 1977, Jack Weinberg, said it would “clarify to anyone who may be in doubt that we regard psychiatry as a specialty of medicine.”

When Spitzer’s DSM-III was published in 1980, it contained 265 diagnoses (up from 182 in the previous edition), and it came into nearly universal use, not only by psychiatrists, but by insurance companies, hospitals, courts, prisons, schools, researchers, government agencies, and the rest of the medical profession. Its main goal was to bring consistency (usually referred to as “reliability”) to psychiatric diagnosis, that is, to ensure that psychiatrists who saw the same patient would agree on the diagnosis. To do that, each diagnosis was defined by a list of symptoms, with numerical thresholds. For example, having at least five of nine particular symptoms got you a full-fledged diagnosis of a major depressive episode within the broad category of “mood disorders.” But there was another goal—to justify the use of psychoactive drugs. The president of the APA last year, Carol Bernstein, in effect acknowledged that. “It became necessary in the 1970s,” she wrote, “to facilitate diagnostic agreement among clinicians, scientists, and regulatory authorities given the need to match patients with newly emerging pharmacologic treatments.”

The DSM-III was almost certainly more “reliable” than the earlier versions, but reliability is not the same thing as validity. Reliability, as I have noted, is used to mean consistency; validity refers to correctness or soundness. If nearly all physicians agreed that freckles were a sign of cancer, the diagnosis would be “reliable,” but not valid. The problem with the DSM is that in all of its editions, it has simply reflected the opinions of its writers, and in the case of the DSM-III mainly of Spitzer himself, who has been justly called one of the most influential psychiatrists of the twentieth century. In his words, he “picked everybody that [he] was comfortable with” to serve with him on the fifteen-member task force, and there were complaints that he called too few meetings and generally ran the process in a haphazard but high-handed manner. Spitzer said in a 1989 interview, “I could just get my way by sweet talking and whatnot.” In a 1984 article entitled “The Disadvantages of DSM-III Outweigh Its Advantages,” George Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, wrote that the DSM-III represented “a bold series of choices based on guess, taste, prejudice, and hope,” which seems to be a fair description.

Not only did the DSM become the bible of psychiatry, but like the real Bible, it depended a lot on something akin to revelation. There are no citations of scientific studies to support its decisions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


The great jobs mismatch (Robert J. Samuelson, Published: June 19, 2011, Washington Post)

One puzzle of this somber economy is the existence of unfilled jobs in the midst of mass unemployment. You might think (I did) that with almost 14 million Americans unemployed — and nearly half those for more than six months — that companies could fill almost any opening quickly. Not so. Somehow, there’s a mismatch between idle workers and open jobs. Economists call this “structural unemployment.”

Just how many jobs are affected is unclear; there are no definitive statistics. Economist Harry Holzer of Georgetown University thinks the unemployment rate might be closer to 8 percent than today’s 9.1 percent if most of these jobs were filled. That implies up to 1.5 million more jobs. Economist Prakash Loungani of the International Monetary Fund estimates that 25 percent of unemployment is structural; that’s more than 3 million jobs. A recent survey of 2,000 firms by the McKinsey Global Institute, a research group, found that 40 percent had positions open at least six months because they couldn’t find suitable candidates.

Remember real recessions? Where people used to line up to apply for any job?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


Why can't we fix Medicare once and for all? (Geoff Colvin, 6/20/11, FortuneMagazine)

One way to fix it is the Brute Force approach. That's the concept on which Medicare was built. The federal government dictates which services are covered and how much will be paid to doctors, hospitals, and others for everything they do. To keep costs under control, Washington restricts what it covers or dials down what it pays.

How well has the Brute Force approach worked? "It never works," says Mark McClellan, former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The House Ways and Means Committee predicted in 1967 that the new Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990. Actual 1990 cost: $110 billion. (2010 cost: $523 billion.) The problem is that eternal irritant to grand Washington plans, the market. Turns out that if you unilaterally cut prices, some providers will quit providing services and some patients won't get care, so you can't cut too much. And if you pay providers barely profitable rates when they perform a given service, they will overperform those services, grossly inflating the government's costs. That's what has happened.

The other way to fix Medicare is the People Aren't Dummies approach. It's the concept on which most markets operate. Let people spend their own money -- even if it's given to them -- and let providers compete for it. Providers aren't dummies, so they'll innovate in ways that bureaucrats would never think of. Consumers aren't dummies, so they'll choose what works for them. Quality rises, and costs stay reasonable.

The People Aren't Dummies approach has a proven record, and it's the opposite of Brute Force's record. Medicare Part D, which took effect in 2006, lets users choose from competing private plans for prescription-drug coverage. "Most of those plans aren't at all what the law envisioned," says McClellan. Instead, they're what consumers actually want. And Part D costs are about 45% below what was predicted when it was created.

June 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Why Europe no longer matters (Richard N. Haass, June 17, 2011, Washington Post)

For the United States, the conclusions are simple. First, no amount of harping on what European governments are failing to do will push them toward what some in Washington want them to do. They have changed. We have changed. The world has changed.

Second, NATO as a whole will count for much less. Instead, the United States will need to maintain or build bilateral relations with those few countries in Europe willing and able to act in the world, including with military force.

Third, other allies are likely to become more relevant partners in the regions that present the greatest potential challenges. In Asia, this might mean Australia, India, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, especially if U.S.-China relations were to deteriorate; in the greater Middle East, it could again be India in addition to Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and others.

None of this justifies a call for NATO’s abolition. The alliance still includes members whose forces help police parts of Europe and who could contribute to stability in the Middle East. But it is no less true that the era in which Europe and transatlantic relations dominated U.S. foreign policy is over. The answer for Americans is not to browbeat Europeans for this, but to accept it and adjust to it.

Not that NATO never mattered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Sweden: A Role Model for Capitalist Reform? (Nima Sanandaji, 06/19/2011, New Geography)

[T]he recent strong performance of the Swedish economy has its roots in labor market and other reforms enacted by center-right governments. Perhaps least appreciated, Sweden has dramatically scaled back the size and scope of government starting in the 1990s, which spurred the recovery of the growth rate.

Indeed, modern Sweden’s success can be seen as more a shift away from the far left policy that predominated from the 1960s till the end of the century. During recent years Swedish policies have shifted strongly to the center-right, placing the once dominant Social Democrats in deep crisis.

An important explanation is that the Swedish electorate wishes to again strengthen the ethical norms that have been eroded during the high tax regime. The center-right government that took office in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010 has implemented stepwise and rather large tax reductions.

Few other nations demonstrate as clearly the phenomenal economic growth that results from adopting free-market economic policies. School vouchers have successfully been introduced, creating competition within the frame of public financing. Similar systems are increasingly being implemented also in other public programs, such as health care and elderly care. Another example is that the pension system has been partially privatized, giving citizens some control over their mandated retirement savings.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


U.S. vs. Jamaica: Roster Musings (JOHN GODFREY, 6/18/11, NY Times)

Should Dempsey stay on the wing or play up top?

Despite missing multiple easy chances against Guadeloupe on Tuesday, Dempsey has been his team’s most dangerous player. Playing his usual role on the wing (at least to start), he has joined the attack consistently, creating chances for himself and others. In a perfect world, he would stay in this outside role and continue to pounce as he sees fit.

Only, it’s not a perfect world. Bradley is all but certain to start Jozy Altidore at forward against Jamaica, but the other two options at striker — Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo — have disappointed. By moving Dempsey to forward alongside Altidore, Bradley could put two of his best attackers close to goal and keep two struggling players on the bench.

But a better choice would be the one Bradley made against Guadeloupe — leaving Dempsey on the wing and starting Wondolowski at forward.

Why? Because Dempsey is thriving -– despite his misses — and a coach can’t afford to mess with success. [...]

Should Maurice Edu start instead of Jermaine Jones?

Edu is talented, but Bradley and Jones are beginning to develop a good understanding, and the more they play together, the better that will get. And besides, Jones has performed reasonably well throughout the tournament, both in defense and in the counterattack. Yes, Jones has a tendency to play an overly physical game that can lead to cautions (he received an early yellow against Panama), but if that happens again, Edu is a more-than-viable option off the bench.

Benching Donovan, who's been dreadful, and pairing Dempsey with Altidore would allow you to move the Bradley/Jones pairing forward and to put Edu with another defensive midfielder in front of Goodson & Ream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The match that would never end: Last year's Wimbledon saw the most extraordinary game of tennis in its 125-year history: an epic contest between two relative unknowns that lasted three days, captivated the world, smashed records and - as John Isner and Nicolas Mahut tell GQ - nearly broke its two competitors. (Ed Caesar, 6/03/11, GQ)

Update: in an incredible twist, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have been drawn against each other again in the opening round of Wimbledon 2011. Ahead of the rematch, read the story of how two little-known tennis players battled for three days in the greatest tennis match of all time. [...]

Mahut served the first ball of the match at 6.13pm, on Tuesday 22 June. The match finally ended at 4.48pm on Thursday 24 June. There were no breaks for rain. The fifth set alone lasted eight hours and eleven minutes, spanned two days and was 98 minutes longer than the previous longest Grand Slam match ever played: Fabrice Santoro's victory over Arnaud Clément at the French Open in 2004. Indeed, for extended periods of that final set between Isner and Mahut - when game after game finished decisively in favour of the server - it seemed not only that the match would never end, but that it could never end. It was in these moments that the contest became more interesting than mere sport. It was between these games that the crowd got the giggles.

When Isner eventually passed Mahut with a double-handed backhand to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68, the assembled punditariat naturally reached for the record books. The match was not only, by some distance, the longest ever played, but broke the records for the longest set, the most games in a set (138), most games in a match (183), most aces in a match by one player (Isner: 113), total aces (216), and most points scored (Mahut: 502). My favourite statistic, though, is that in the fifth set, Mahut successfully served to stay in the match 64 games in a row - a display of extraordinary fortitude.

The trouble with these statistics, however, is that they tell only one story: the match was long. The numbers reveal nothing about why Isner and Mahut played as they did, or what demons entered their minds and bodies. They can't relate how, at the end of the second day's play, Isner was so bereft of energy that he briefly desired any kind of conclusion - even a loss - because the prospect of returning to play the following day horrified him. And, of course, the statistics tell you nothing about what has happened to the players since the match. They cannot map the strange and intense kinship these men now feel because of their three-day dance in the London sunshine.

There are many reasons why professional tennis matches do not normally last eleven hours. Most tournament matches are best-of-three sets and include tie-breakers when the games reach six-all in any set. Only three of the Grand Slams - Wimbledon, the French Open and Australian Open - play men's singles and doubles over five sets, with no tie-breaker in the last. But, even at the three Grand Slams where a marathon is technically possible, fifth sets rarely go beyond 20 games. At some point, errors and exhaustion decide the match. But neither Isner or Mahut blinked. To understand how, and why, you need to know the distance they travelled to their mammoth fifth set. As Boris Vallejo, Mahut's affable coach, explains: "nothing comes from nothing."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


How High-Speed Rail Died in Texas, Thrived in Spain: In the late 1980s, both Texas and Spain proposed high-speed rail systems: Texas walked away from the idea, while Spain leapt in a little too exuberantly. (Michael Scott Moore, 6/08/11, Miller-McCune)

The TGV in Texas, meanwhile, folded in 1993. What killed it was not just a lack of private investment but also Southwest Airlines, the Dallas-based carrier, which noticed a threat to its home turf and launched a “sweeping, aggressive public relations campaign throughout the state to discredit TGV and prevent the company from meeting its fundraising deadlines,” according to the Austinist website.

Southwest understood better than most high-speed rail critics just how well the trains could work. AVE has reduced Spanish highway traffic — even for cargo, by freeing up space on the older rail network — and it’s cut dramatically into domestic airline business. “The opening of the Barcelona-Madrid line [in 2008] marked the beginning of the end of the airlines’ dominance,” The Economist wrote in 2009. “Tellingly enough, Iberia [Airlines] is planning to cut domestic flights by 7% this year.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM



"In 1996, I made my debut as a color commentator doing the games on radio with WBZ," Andy Brickley, former Bruins forward, now the color man on television, said. "They had the worst record in the league. That was tough. The worst record in the league. It was awful. It was embarrassing. You had to learn to be creative in a hurry."

Would the Bruins ever be the Bruins again?

A standard of success had been laid out by the Orr teams in 1970 and '72. Their unmatched, giddy romp to those two Cups captivated the region. The picture of the flying Orr, tripped after he scored the winning goal against the Blues in 1970 by defenseman Noel Picard, became a staple of New England barrooms and kitchens, hung next to portraits of John F. Kennedy, the Pope and maybe Carl Yastrzemski. The game, hockey, sank its roots deeper and flourished.

The Bruins were kings. Hockey was king.

"I was eight years old, 10 years old, when they won those two Cups," Brickley, who grew up in suburban Melrose, said. "Everyone played hockey. Everyone wanted to be Sanderson, Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Kenny Hodge. If you couldn't skate, that was O.K., because you could play street hockey. I grew up in a family with seven kids, five of them boys. There was a park across the street. Someone started a rumor that my older brother maybe went into the park and cut down the tennis net so we could have room to play street hockey. Maybe he took that net and made goalie nets out of them. Maybe that happened."

The excitement generated by the Bruins was irresistible. Of course kids fell in love. Bob Wilson boomed out baritone descriptions on the radio. Channel 38 brought the games into the living room. The Boston Garden, the old Garden, the home of those teams, was cramped and loud. The patrons hung over the ice from the third deck, the Gallery Gods, the cheap seats. The comments were constant.

"The people who followed us were working guys," Sanderson, a center, said. "They liked us because we were working guys. Policemen and firemen always liked us. Hockey isn't like, say, baseball. Baseball is a game of stats. If Kevin Youkilis goes 4 for 5, makes a couple of plays in the field, he can have a good day and it doesn't matter if the Red Sox win or lose. He still had a good day. Hockey isn't like that. Hockey is a game of character. In hockey everybody has to have a good day at the same time. If one guy isn't doing what he is supposed to do, the whole thing falls apart.

"Boston fans knew this. They'd give you about eight to 11 minutes to get going in the first period. If they sensed no effort, no bounce, you'd start to hear the comments, 'You wanna wake up, you clowns? You want to wake up?' That would get you going. It better get you going."

The atmosphere seemed to come from an old movie. Maybe a prison film. An opera singer named Rene Rancourt was invited for the first time to sing the national anthem in 1976. He didn't know anything about hockey. ("Never paid attention.") He never had heard of the Bruins. ("Who are they?") He didn't know how to get to the Garden. ("Where is it?") When he got there, saw what was happening, he was amazed.

"There were all these people pounding on that plexiglass, all this noise," he said. "The smoke was everywhere from all of the cigarettes. You smelled beer everywhere. I said, 'These are my people.' I loved that place. I even loved the rats in that building. Those big river rats. You'd see 'em on the way out the back door late at night."

An image of the Bruins hockey player emerged. He wore an open blue collar. He was not afraid to dirty his hands. The Lunch Pail A.C. That was the nickname. Punch in, punch out. An honest effort. The off-ice exploits made news, wacky stuff like when Orr and some teammates kidnapped center Phil Esposito from Mass General after knee surgery, wheeling him out to go to a team party, but the on-ice exploits were solid and successful. The city loved the Bruins. The Bruins loved the city. Even after the birth of the competing World Hockey Association and the expansion of the NHL took talent off the roster, the Bruins were the bottom-line Boston team. They were family, not just sports entertainment. Family and friends.

The players on the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, as the money grew larger and larger, became wealthy visitors. They played their seasons, made their money, took it somewhere else, preferably warm, when seasons and then careers were finished. The Bruins routinely stayed. They bought houses. They raised kids. They shoveled the driveway and said hello. Family. Family and friends.

"You'd get everything for free," Sanderson said, describing the Stanley Cup days. "You'd go to a restaurant, eat for free. Go somewhere else, drink for free. Free clothes. You'd get gas. No problem. I never had a date the whole time I played in Boston. Not a date where you went to the girl's house, picked her up. You just went to the bar. Come around midnight, you picked out who you wanted."

There was nothing as good as being a Bruin in Boston in those days. Nothing in sports. Nothing maybe in anything.

So now the best times, at least an updated version of the best times, have arrived again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Making Metal Bats Play Like Wood (PAT BORZI, 6/18/11, NY Times)

BBCOR measures the bounciness or give of an aluminum bat at the moment of contact with a ball. The more bounciness, the faster the ball flies off the bat. For a bat to be approved, manufacturers must submit samples to an N.C.A.A. certification center at Washington State University. Approved bats carry a certification mark, and umpires check bats for these marks before every game, Hurd said.

The effect was immediate. N.C.A.A. statistics through midseason — the most recent figures available — showed that runs, home runs and batting averages had dropped considerably in all three divisions compared with the same point last season. In Division I, scoring fell to 5.63 runs per team per game from 6.98, homers to 0.47 from 0.85, and batting average to .279 from .305. Pitchers’ earned run average also dipped, to 4.62 from 5.83.

“I think they accomplished what they set out to do, which is to make a woodlike standard,” said Matt Arndt, a senior vice president for Easton Sports, which supplies bats for three College World Series teams — Florida, California and Texas A&M.

Anderson, the only coach on the N.C.A.A.’s Division I baseball committee, had urged the N.C.A.A. for years to deaden aluminum bats. The BESR standard failed to protect Minnesota pitcher Ben Birk, who was hit in the face by a line drive from Miami’s Kevin Howard during a March 2001 tournament at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Major league scouts with radar guns clocked the speed of the ball off Howard’s aluminum bat at 99 to 100 miles per hour, exceeding the N.C.A.A. ceiling of 97 m.p.h. Birk needed a titanium plate to repair three fractured bones near his left eye.

“He had to have his eye socket and face rebuilt,” Anderson said.

Birk’s trauma occurred a year after an N.C.A.A. regional at Minnesota’s Siebert Field in which pitchers Pat Neshek of Butler and Shane Komine of Nebraska, future major leaguers, had their jaws broken by line drives.

Although Birk returned after two months to beat Michigan in the Big Ten tournament championship game, and pitched briefly in the Florida Marlins system, Anderson never forgot the injury. Recent composite metal bats, which grew livelier with use — a process known as rolling — scared Anderson even more.

“The pitching part of the game had gotten away from us,” he said. “Whoever had the last at-bat had the chance to win the game. In my opinion, there was way too much offense in the game. There was no balance between pitching, offense and defense. I thought we lost the really strategic elements of the game. The game wasn’t being played the way it was meant to be played, invented to be played.”

Players say the new bats have smaller sweet spots. The ball still jumps if you hit it right, they say. But jam shots and balls off the end of the bat no longer carry beyond outfielders’ heads or out of the park.

The larger the sweet spot the less like a sport.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


With Botox, Looking Good and Feeling Less (PAMELA PAUL, 6/17/11, NY Times)

According to a new study by David T. Neal, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, and Tanya L. Chartrand, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, people who have had Botox injections are physically unable to mimic emotions of others. This failure to mirror the faces of those they are watching or talking to robs them of the ability to understand what people are feeling, the study says.

The idea for the paper stemmed from a study conducted in the 1980s, which found that long-married men and women began to resemble each other over time, especially if they were happily wed. “So we thought, what’s going to happen now that there’s Botox?” Dr. Neal said.

The toxin might interfere with “embodied cognition,” the way in which facial feedback helps people perceive emotion. According to the theory in the study, a listener unconsciously imitates another person’s expression. This mimicry then generates a signal from the person’s face to his or her brain. Finally, the signal enables the listener to understand the other person’s meaning or intention.

While the first two steps of this process had been established by research, it was unclear whether facial feedback helped people make better judgments about other peoples’ emotions.

Enter the Botoxed person, a useful new laboratory specimen. And, as a control, the user of Restylane, a skin filler that does not alter muscle function.

June 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Review: 5 e-book readers for less than $175 (Peter Svensson, 6/17/11, Associated Press)

When Amazon.com's ground-breaking Kindle e-book reader came out in 2007, it cost $399. Now, some e-readers, including the most recent Kindle entry, can be had for just north of $100.

At the price of five or so hardcover books, it's close to impulse-buy territory for many people. And if you give in to your desires, what do you get? Our test of five e-readers priced from $114 to $164 finds that cheap, in most cases, means good value.

The Chevy Volt will, likewise, be $15k in four years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Specials: How Ghost Town defined an era (Jon Kelly, 6/17/11, BBC News Magazine)

Ghost Town by the Specials is 30 years old. How did this strange but unforgettable record capture a moment in history?

It starts with a siren and those woozy, lurching organ chords. Then comes the haunted, spectral woodwind, punctuated by blaring brass.

Over a sparse reggae bass line, a West Indian vocal mutters warnings of urban decay, unemployment and violence.

"No job to be found in this country," one voice cries out. "The people getting angry," booms another, ominously.

Few songs evoke their era like the Specials' classic Ghost Town, a depiction of social breakdown that provided the soundtrack to an explosion of civil unrest.

Released on 20 June 1981 against a backdrop of rising unemployment, its blend of melancholy, unease and menace took on an entirely new meaning when Britain's streets erupted into rioting almost three weeks later - the day before Ghost Town reached number one in the charts.

...can take seriously the whining about how tough times are now.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Arab Spring, Kurdish Summer (SEBAHAT TUNCEL, 6/17/11, NY Times)

In a 2005 speech in Diyarbakir, Mr. Erdogan declared, “The Kurdish problem is my problem.” It seemed that he had accepted the failure of Ankara’s heavy-handed security policy and was setting a new process in motion. This “Kurdish opening” seemed like a step in the right direction; it offered the possibility of greater language rights, more autonomy and amnesty for antigovernment Kurdish militants.

However, it soon became clear that Mr. Erdogan was not sincere. Despite the Turkish public’s approval of the opening, the A.K.P. did not take serious steps toward resolving the Kurdish problem. On the contrary, it stepped up military operations, banned the leading Kurdish party, the D.T.P., and arrested Kurdish politicians, including me. (I was arrested in November 2006 and spent nine months behind bars, until I was elected to Parliament from prison and granted immunity in July 2007.)

Since then the government has largely ignored the Kurdish people’s grievances. Under the guise of an opening, it has continued the traditional nationalist politics of denial. Rather than meeting the demands of the Kurdish people, it seems that the A.K.P. is now dragging Turkey toward a new confrontation. The election of 36 pro-Kurdish deputies to Parliament will be the most effective check on the A.K.P.’s destructive policy.

As Turkey’s various political parties debate the drafting of a new Constitution, the resolution of the Kurdish issue will be of paramount importance — and this will require the active participation of Kurdish members of Parliament.

The unjustified arrests and military operations must come to an end and Turkey’s Kurds, after decades of struggle, must be granted the right to learn and pray in our own language and exercise self-government in our cities and towns.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Key Seniors Association Pivots on Benefit Cut (LAURA MECKLER, 6/17/11, WSJ)

AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington's debate over how to revamp the nation's entitlement programs.

The decision, which AARP hasn't discussed publicly, came after a wrenching debate inside the organization. In 2005, the last time Social Security was debated, AARP led the effort to kill President George W. Bush's plan for partial privatization. AARP now has concluded that change is inevitable, and it wants to be at the table to try to minimize the pain.

The guy just looks better and better.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Romney won't sign abortion pledge (KENDRA MARR, 6/17/11, Politico)

Five Republican presidential candidates have signed a pledge to advance the anti-abortion movement if elected to the White House, but the current front runner for the 2012 GOP nomination — Mitt Romney — isn’t one of them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


How Hitler Could Have Won: a review of THE STORM OF WAR: A New History of the Second World War By Andrew Roberts (TIMOTHY SNYDER, 6/18/11, NY Times Book Review)

How did the Wehrmacht, the best fighting force, lose World War II? The reader seeking the answer to this question, posed by Andrew Roberts in his splendid history, will be treated to a brilliantly clear and accessible account of the war in all of its theaters: Asian, African and European. Roberts’s descriptions of soldiers and officers are masterly and humane, and his battlefield set pieces are as gripping as any I have ever read. He has visited many of the battlefields, and has an unusually good eye for detail as well as a painterly skill at physical description. (His nearly perfect sense of terrain and geography is marred only by his regrettable conflation of Russia with the Soviet Union, which leads to confusion about battlefield locations, German war aims and Soviet casualties.) He is just as much at home at sea as on land; from Midway to El Alamein his prose is unerringly precise and stirringly vivid. It is hard to imagine a better-told military history of World War II.

The title of the book, “The Storm of War,” conceals an answer to Roberts’s central question about the reasons for the German defeat. The notion of war as a storm summons up the Nazi idea of a blitzkrieg, a lightning victory that would somehow resolve all of the political and economic problems of the German state. Yet the reference in the title is not German but British, not to Hitler but rather to Churchill, who told the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, that he had every confidence Britain could “ride out the storm of war.” Lightning signals not the end but the beginning of a storm; he who escapes the flash can survive, endure, get the wind at his back and in his sails, and triumph. The Wehrmacht lost the war because the conflict was long, and it was long in part because Churchill refused to abandon the fight, but chiefly because Germany’s main war aims were impossible to attain.

...is how they could possibly have won. And the answer is they couldn't have. Since the advent of the long bow only the English-speaking powers have been able to prevail in global wars, because our aim is not to govern the defeated populace but for them to manage themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


The Art of Staying Hot: Critics may have dismissed Louis Armstrong in his later years, but audiences loved him—with good reason (TOM NOLAN, 6/18/11, WSJ)

By the 1930s he was justly celebrated as a powerhouse performer. But over time he found himself eclipsed by new currents in jazz, which featured a more orchestral approach during the big-band era and, with bebop, more advanced harmonies. As jazz progressed, "smart opinion" relegated Armstrong to the status of mere entertainer.

And yet, as Mr. Riccardi reminds us, Armstrong's latter-day career highlights are extraordinary. He was a fantastically popular live performer throughout the 1950s and 1960s, drawing crowds around the globe—in Asia, Africa, Latin America and behind the Iron Curtain—and earning him the unofficial title of America's No. 1 ambassador of goodwill. In 1949, Armstrong's plane had to delay its landing in Stockholm because 40,000 fans had jammed the airport. At an open-air event in Ghana in 1956, Armstrong's combo drew a crowd estimated at 70,000. In Budapest, the crowd exceeded 100,000. When Armstrong visited the Belgian Congo during its civil war, Mr. Riccardi notes, "both sides stopped fighting and welcomed him grandly, bearing him on a red throne" before a huge concert in a soccer stadium. "Members of warring parties sat together, danced, and cheered the music." For sheer exuberance, Mr. Riccardi cites the 1959 world tour, which had Louis "blowing with sometimes frightening power . . . notes much higher than as a younger man . . . with astonishing ferocity."

The strength and melodic invention were present, as well, on the discs that Armstrong made in his final decades, including such superlative George Avakian-produced Columbia-label LPs as 1954's "Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy"—probably "the greatest album Armstrong ever recorded," according to Mr. Riccardi. Though the critics largely ignored these later albums, they were as important and beautiful in their way as the Columbia recordings of the same era by Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. Equally notable were Armstrong's collaborative sessions with Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson and Mr. Brubeck. With good cause Armstrong could state in 1956: "I'm playing better now than I've ever played in my life."

Then there were the out-of-the-blue 1960s hit records: "What a Wonderful World" (which made the international charts a second time after Armstrong's death) and "Hello, Dolly!," which knocked the Beatles off the hit parade's No. 1 perch at the height of the British group's 1963 mania.

Other matters, though, marred Armstrong's reputation, at least in America. His commercial success was thought antithetical to jazz, and critics decried his stage act's vaudeville antics—e.g., the dance splits of his vocalist Velma Middleton. Not that audiences seemed to mind. As one of his clarinet players said: "It's a show, not a jam session."

What really hurt was when his fellow African-Americans called Armstrong an Uncle Tom, not only for his "mugging" stage mannerisms but for his failing to take a strong public stand against racial intolerance. But when he did speak out, during the Little Rock, Ark., school-integration events of 1957—he chided President Dwight Eisenhower for not acting soon enough and denigrated Gov. Orval Faubus for his bullying obstructionism—he drew rebukes from certain blacks, who criticized his remarks as intemperate or hypocritical. Even so, he later spoke out again, saying (while in Denmark) of those who attacked voter-rights demonstrators in Alabama: "They would even beat Jesus if he was black and marched."

From the viewpoint of the afficianado, it is vital that the artist not produce art.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Southern Baptists adopt ‘Gospel response’ toward undocumented immigrants (Kate Shellnutt, June 15, 2011, Houston Chronicle)

“SBC is at a crucial decision point. The immigration crisis demands a Gospel response before a political response,” said Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler on Twitter.

Russell Moore, a seminary professor and pastor, tweeted along saying, “Our response to the immigrant communities in this country cannot be ‘You kids get off my lawn’ in Spanish.”

The text of the approved resolution reads, in part:

RESOLVED, That we ask our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention … call on our churches to be the presence of Christ, in both proclamation and ministry, to all persons, regardless of country of origin or immigration status …

… RESOLVED, That we deplore any bigotry or harassment against any persons, regardless of their country of origin or legal status …

The language of the first clause was so controversial that the vote split 51.31 percent in favor and 48.43 percent opposed. The convention ended up adding the clause “this resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”

Immigration and race aren’t new issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, which has been around for more than 165 years, but this year they seemed to be especially central to the discussion at the convention’s annual conference, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday.

June 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


China's "Born in the USA" Frenzy (ZHANG YAN, Jun 16, 2011, TIME)

Giving birth to a child abroad is not a privilege reserved to the stars and the very wealthy. An increasing number of expectant middle-class parents also fancy giving their children passports that they can feel proud of. "The return on investment is higher than robbing a bank," the consultancy agent tells women such as Liu. When Chinese children are born in America, they automatically become U.S. citizens. Once they reach 21, their parents will be able to apply for green cards and emigrate.

Those who would prefer a closer destination can go to Hong Kong, whose passport gives access to more than 120 countries without the need of a visa. Advantages include the fact that children will receive bilingual education (which will give them a foothold in the international world), and the fact that they will also enjoy the preferential policies for going to Chinese universities.

After consulting quite a few agencies for expectant mothers, Liu Li chose a reputable one. Airplane tickets, fees for labor, pre- and post-delivery care cost her roughly 20,000. Since most airlines refuse to accept women passengers who are more than 32 weeks pregnant, Liu Li set off for America when she was six months pregnant and then checked into a Chinese birthing center in California.

After her arrival, Liu Li realized that the area was full of facilities set up for Chinese women like herself. On the limited occasions when Liu Li goes to the Punete Hill Mall near her birthing center - the facility limits walks outside its premises to three per week, each time for about three hours - Liu Li bumps into lots of pregnant Chinese women. Birthing centers such as Liu Li's, which are mostly situated in America's beautiful west coastal areas, operate without a business license, and try to be as discreet as possible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


2012 Voter Preferences for Obama, "Republican" Remain Close: Forty-four percent prefer the Republican; 39%, Obama (Jeffrey M. Jones, 6/17/11, Gallup)

Forty-four percent of registered voters say they are more likely to vote for "the Republican Party's candidate" and 39% for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, according to Gallup's June update. The current five-percentage-point edge for the generic Republican is not a statistically significant lead, and neither side has held a meaningful lead at any point thus far in 2011.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Senate strikes at ethanol handout: Stephen Dinan, 6/16/11, The Washington Times)

Signaling that austerity is now the prevailing attitude on Capitol Hill, the Senate delivered a stunning blow to a once-sacrosanct program Thursday when it voted to end billions of dollars that go each year to producers of blended ethanol.

Reversing itself from just two days earlier and despite opposition from the White House, a bipartisan coalition voted 73-27 to halt the 45-cents-per-gallon tax credit, which was expected to total $5.7 billion in 2011.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


CNN reporter severs ties to Jewish women’s group after criticism from abortion foes (JTA, 6/17/11)

Dana Bash, a senior CNN correspondent, stepped down as a trustee of Jewish Women International because of its abortion rights advocacy.

"Bash came under scrutiny for her relationship with JWI due to the organization’s long held position on reproductive choice," the group said in a statement Friday.

A number of conservative blogs highlighted the group's position on abortion after JTA reported Bash's acceptance of the position of trustee. Bash is CNN's senior congressional correspondent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


‘I can’t believe that’s us,’ says woman in kissing photo (Petti Fong and Lesley Ciarula Taylor, 6/17/11, Toronto Star)

At first Alexandra Thomas couldn't believe that was she and her boyfriend on the ground sandwiched in between riot police on a calamitous Vancouver street.

“When I first saw it, I thought, ‘No way, that's not ... I can't believe that's us,’ ” said Thomas in an interview with the Toronto Star this morning. “Then I looked some more and realized, that is us. That's a very revealing picture of us.”

Thomas and her boyfriend, Scott Jones, were watching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night at one of the downtown venues when a riot began. [...]

The couple is leaving in three days on a trip to California, before Scott heads back to Australia. Thomas said the response from her friends and family has been overwhelming.

“When I saw that picture I couldn't believe it and then I looked at it more and realize it's quite artistic and really something beautiful.”

On Friday morning, Scott spoke with his dad, Brett, by Skype in Australia after his family first identified the couple when the photo was seen worldwide.

“How’s that for making love, not war,” Brett declared on his Facebook page, telling the world that the famous Romeo in a Vancouver riot picture is his son.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


I agree: the BBC favours ‘the right to die’. But watch out. That’s a phrase with a sinister history: The German medical profession accepted ‘assisted dying’ for compassionate reasons in the 1920s. Then came the 1930s (William Oddie, 16 June 2011, Catholic Herald)

It’s all, of course, a very reasonable-sounding explanation of what he called in a contribution to the Newsnight discussion his “right to death”. When I heard him use that phrase, however, I shuddered, for it has a sinister history: it recalls vividly the entire reasonableness of the successful campaign in Germany during the 1910s through to the 20s and 30s to convince the medical profession that “assisted dying” or “sterbehilfe” for those with an impaired “quality of life” (to use a modern expression which also has sinister historical overtones) as morally acceptable: a book published 13 years before Hitler took power, The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life, Binding and Hoche’s Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens, together with Jost’s Das Recht auf den Tod (The Right to Death) [remember Sir Terry’s “right to die"?] had a huge influence on the German medical profession and without doubt paved the way for the Nazi euthanasia programme.

These authors were far from being Nazis themselves. Professor Binding was an authority on constitutional law; Dr Hoche was a leading psychiatrist. They made it clear that “sterbehilfe” had to be voluntary. But we know what happened then. What happened was that the Nazis didn’t justify “sterbehilfe” for those they decided were unfit to live by declaring its basis in Nazi ideology: what they did instead was to use precisely the language of reason and compassion that underlay the arguments that had so influenced the medical profession that they were in no intellectual condition to resist the Nazi programme on moral grounds.

Nazi propaganda films portrayed euthanasia as essentially compassionate. In I Accuse! (Ich klage an!) (which I have seen: it’s very well made, and would actually be deeply moving if one didn’t know where it had come from) a woman with multiple sclerosis, a musician who is losing the power to play her instrument (the cello: that somehow makes it more poignant) asks her husband to give her a merciful death. He gives her a lethal injection of morphine while peaceful music is played on the piano in a neighbouring room (remember Sir Terry’s plan to put Thomas Tallis on his iPod?). He is tried for murder: at his trial he argues that this was not murder, since his motives were wholly compassionate. He is, of course, acquitted: and the bourgeois moralists are routed.

Well, you may say, that couldn’t happen again: we’re not going to become Nazis, are we?

At its core, Terry Pratchett's argument is not that he has a right to die because he's a human being but that he should be killed because he's no longer human.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


New Little Ice Age in store? (Stephen Adams, 15 Jun 2011, Telegraph)

Between 1645 and 1715 almost no sunspots were observed, a solar period which came to be called the Maunder Minimum.

During those decades Europe suffered frequent unusually harsh winters, and the time was later termed the Little Ice Age.

Although there is no conclusive evidence that one caused the other, many scientists believe it did.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Wailin' Jennys on Mountain Stage (NPR, 6/16/11)

The Jennys' first full-length album, 40 Days, won a prestigious Juno Award, and its follow-up, Fire Cracker, was named "Contemporary Album of the Year" by the Folk Alliance. The trio performs songs from its most recent release, Bright Morning Stars, which has drawn comparisons to both Gillian Welch and Fleetwood Mac. The band also covers Julie Miller's "By Way of Sorrow," and wring out an intense, rhythmic version of "Deeper Well," which originally appeared on Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Brandon Phillips: #adifferentidentity: Cincinnati Reds second baseman using Twitter to connect with fans -- and on the field (Amy K. Nelson, 6/16/11, ESPN.com)

It's a Friday afternoon in late March, and Rachel and Dave Zahniser sit nervously in a hotel lobby, their eyes darting, looking to the door constantly. Is this real -- will their host show? And how are they supposed to act if he does?

Rachel clasps her hands as Dave shakes his head, thinking about how in the early morning rush to the airport, he forgot his cellphone in Kentucky. "Stupid," he says. Rachel and Dave, huge Cincinnati Reds fans, are waiting for second baseman Brandon Phillips to walk through that lobby door.

Phillips paid for the couple to fly from Covington, Ky., put them up at the hotel and got them game tickets after Rachel won a trivia contest Phillips hosted on his Twitter page. The tweeted question: "What's my favorite drink?" Rachel, knowing Phillips doesn't drink alcohol, guessed correctly first: milk. #Winner.

A few hours later, @DatDudeBP began following her on Twitter, and they began sending direct messages to one another. Phillips promised game tickets and that he'd hang out with the couple off the field. Rachel, 38, and husband Dave, 46, flew in on this Friday morning, went straight to the spring training game and found their seats behind the Reds' dugout.

Phillips won't play in the game, and the couple will not even see him at the ballpark. But a few hours later, Phillips calls Rachel and tells her to meet him in the hotel lobby. Just after 6 p.m., Phillips, alone, walks through the sliding doors and greets both of them with an enormous smile.

"Y'all hungry?" he says as he embraces them.

Meet Brandon Phillips: a two-time Gold Glove winner and All-Star for the Reds who, in baseball circles, has carried questions about his dedication to the game and questions about whether he's a good teammate because of how he plays and what he says.

Meet @DatDudeBP: a two-time Gold Glove winner and All-Star for the Reds who tells it like it is and has engaged fans like no other ballplayer through Twitter this season, a move that initially had his general manager, manager and some teammates wary about what they might have to clean up.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


A Chinese Revolt on a Plane (Eric Jackson, Jun. 16 2011, Forbes)

We all read our papers. We listened to our iPods. Some guy behind me kept getting calls on his phone to which Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” ringtone would play.

A couple of updates from the captain came every 45 minutes or so, with no news. Suddenly, at the 3 hour mark of the delay, people started going batty on this plane. Five people at the back stood up and started shouting at the flight attendants. Then 7 people stood up in the mid-section of the plane to do the same.

I don’t speak Mandarin, so I couldn’t understand what they were upset about. But my colleagues traveling with me helped translate.

One guy shouted: “Why would you people be so stupid to board us on the plane when you knew there was going to be this delay?”

Another: “Yes. This is crazy. You always do this to us on flights. You never planned on leaving on time anyway. Why didn’t you let us stay in the terminal?”

Then, one guy started screaming: “You lie. You lie. You lie.” He kept repeating himself for 10 minutes.

A new guy about 5 rows ahead on me in the window seat inexplicably started pounding his fist on the cabin wall. He didn’t say anything. He just kept beating on the plane to display his anger.

One old man than shoved an older flight attendant and other flight attendants started rushing to her assistance. The plane then jerked forward and started driving around the runway with no warning for a good 5 minutes. No one was in their seats with their seat belts for that time. We finally took off 5 minutes later and the anger dissipated as quickly as it came.

I asked my Chinese friends how to make sense of it. Back in the US, I think I’ve sat on flights out on the runway for a good 5 hours and no one except the crying babies says boo. They told me that these kinds out public outbursts are pretty common in China. They thought maybe some of the agitated people were smokers having a nic fit. But even they calmed down as soon as the plane took off.

My friends shrugged their shoulders: “This kind of stuff happens all the time here.” I was so taken aback I pulled out my iPhone to try and video the events. See below for what I captured before a flight attendant grabbed my phone out of my hands and turned it off.

The whole episode left me with a sobering thought: God help the Chinese authorities if these folks ever got really upset about food prices or jobs or providing for their families. If provoked, the Chinese would be up in arms about 50 times sooner than any American. When you hear about the Chinese government wanting to ensure there is “social stability” or “social harmony,” what they’re really talking about is keeping these folks that were on my Guangzhou flight subdued and happy.

No one stays bought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Gaddafi's son holds out offer of elections (Nick Carey, Jun 16, 2011, Reuters)
"They (elections) could be held within three months. At the maximum by the end of the year, and the guarantee of transparency could be the presence of international observers," Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

He said his father, who came to power in the same year that man first set foot on the moon, would be ready to step aside if he lost the election but would not go into exile.

"I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Libyans stand with my father and sees the rebels as fanatical Islamist fundamentalists, terrorists stirred up from abroad," the newspaper quoted Saif al-Islam as saying.

The offer was made as Mikhail Margelov, the envoy leading Russia's efforts to end the conflict, arrived in Tripoli for talks with Gaddafi's government.

The Kremlin, which says Gaddafi should quit but opposes NATO's action in Libya, has said it is ready to help negotiate the Libyan leader's departure.
But it's good to recognize from whence legitimacy comes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Humans evolving slower than previously thought, study finds (Jennifer Welsh, 6/16/11, CS Monitor)

The researchers, reporting their findings June 12 in the journal Nature Genetics, based their measurement of evolution speed on the number of new mutations that occur during one generation in each of the families. A slower mutation rate means we probably separated from chimpanzees evolutionarily longer ago than previously thought, the researchers say, adding that the finding may have medical implications, if some groups of people are more mutation-prone than others.

"This makes us think about what are the underlying mechanisms of these mutations, other than just a random process," said study researcher Philip Awadalla, of the University of Montreal in Canada. "Why are there differences in the rate or accumulation of mutations in individuals?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Boston’s Spoiled 7-Year-Olds (Carl Bialik, 6/16/11, WSJ)

Boston is, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first city to win all four major titles in a seven-year span. The shortest previous period for Beantown? The 32-year span between the Bruins’ 1972 championship and the Red Sox victory in the 2004 World Series, according to the Donovan Index, a website that tracks cities’ championships.

Lest that sound like a long time, consider that few cities have won all four titles — ever. Detroit has, though its briefest interval was 34 years, from 1955 to 1989. Chicago secured all four in 25 years, between the Bears’ Super Bowl win in 1985 and the Blackhawks’ title last year. And Philadelphia squeezed four titles into just 20 years, from the Eagles’ NFL championship in 1960 to the Phillies’ 1980 World Series. Still, the youngest Philly fan to experience championships in all four sports was old enough to vote.

June 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


Game 7 of Cup final between Canucks and Bruins breaks CBC ratings record (The Canadian Press, 2011-06-16)

An average audience of 8.76 million Canadians tuned in to watch the Bruins beat the Canucks 4-0 on Wednesday night, making it the most-watched NHL broadcast in the public broadcaster's history.

The overnight ratings were just behind the network record from 2002, when 8.96 million Canadians watched the Olympic men's hockey final between Canada and the United States in Salt Lake City. [...]

The game was also a ratings hit south of the border, where it earned the highest television rating for an NHL game in 37 years.

The game had a 4.8 rating and 8 share on NBC. That's the best since a 7.6/27 for Boston-Philadelphia in 1974.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Most of the players that helped Boston win the Stanley Cup will return (The Canadian Press, 2011-06-16)

If anything, general manager Peter Chiarelli might be looking to add a few pieces. He has US$52.2 million committed to 18 players next season—leaving him roughly $10 million to spend with the cap expected to be set around $62 million.

He'll also likely get back the $4 million in cap space dedicated to forward Marc Savard, who is expected to retire because of ongoing concussion symptoms.

Chiarelli's biggest decision will be determining the fate of defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who failed to provide the power-play boost the Bruins were looking for when they acquired him in a trade from Toronto midway through the year. The veteran earned $4.25 this season and is an unrestricted free agent.

Forward Michael Ryder is also eligible to become unrestricted on July 1 after earning $4 million.

The only other Bruins regular in need of a contract is Brad Marchand, who earned himself some extra money by scoring 11 times in the playoffs, including twice in Game 7 against Vancouver. The pesky forward is a restricted free agent who averaged a little over $821,000 on his entry-level deal.

With Tyler Seguin taking over Savard's munutes, Jordan Caron replacing Recchi, Tuka Rask ready to supplant Thomas, and, most of all, Steven Kampfer taking over for the disastrous Kaberle, the Bruins are set up to extend their current three year run as the best team in the East now that they've learned how to close out a series.

There's no chance they bring back Kaberle, making the biggest decision figuring out whether Lucic was so seriously hurt that he just couldn't be effective or whether something else was going on.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Is Barack Obama a president or a pawn? (Matt Miller, 6/15/11, Washington Post)

A president’s power to shape events are more limited than we generally think. But a president’s power to shape the boundaries of debate are limited only by his imagination and by his appetite for political risk. From the looks of it, Barack Obama has plenty of imagination. So if he chooses not to challenge these boundaries, he’s a prisoner not only of entrenched forces arrayed behind the status quo; he’s a pawn, ultimately, of his own ambition.

Or, he has no imagination, no appetite for risk and has done nothing because there is nothing he wants to do, besides be president so he can add it to his resume.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


After GOP debate, feeling nostalgic for George W. Bush (E.J. Dionne Jr., 6/15/11, Washington Post)

Perhaps I should thank the current crop of Republican presidential candidates for providing me with an experience I never, ever expected: During this week’s debate in New Hampshire, I had a moment of nostalgia for George W. Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer - review: A valuable guide to human prehistory (Peter Forbes, 6/15/11, guardian.co.uk)

Stringer is most concerned with the period from the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa, around 195,000 years ago, to their arrival in Europe and the subsequent demise of the Neanderthals (who had left Africa hundreds of thousands of years before). The archaeological record shows Homo sapiens in Africa several times on the verge of a cultural breakthrough, but this is not consolidated until their arrival in Europe. Stringer writes: "It is as though the candle glow of modernity was intermittent, repeatedly flickering on and off again."

The introduction of farming, first in Iraq and Turkey, was the single greatest event in the evolution of Homo sapiens since its emergence. From farming flowed, in an incredibly short time, population growth, craft, art, religion and technology.

New cultural practices led to radical genetic changes, the ability of northern Europeans to digest cow's milk being the most dramatic. This followed the adoption of cattle rearing and reverses the idea that genetic mutations have initiated innovation. Just as often, it seems, it has been culture that has led, genes that have followed.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Charlie Siem: Tiny Desk Concert (Tom Huizenga, 6/15/11, NPR)

When he was 3, Siem heard the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin play Beethoven's Violin Concerto. That was all it took to inspire him to pursue the violin. Siem studied at Eton and the Royal College of Music, and now he plays one of Menuhin's old violins — a stunning 1735 Guarneri del Gesu.

As it turns out, fiddling runs in the family. Siem recently discovered that he's related to the 19th-century Norwegian violin virtuoso and composer Ole Bull. Fittingly, Siem started off his Tiny Desk show with Bull's bucolic Cantabile. But then the fireworks began. Paganini's Variations on "Nel Cor Piu" (an aria from a now-forgotten Paisiello opera), contains a grab bag full of violin special effects. Watch Siem as he tosses off the left-hand pizzicato, double-stop harmonics and spiccato bowing as if he were buttering bread. I'm confident that many of my colleagues gathered to hear Siem had never witnessed playing on that level. I saw a few jaws tilted toward the floor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


Criticizing Obama, Kucinich credits Bush for asking Congress to go to war (Bob Cusack, 06/16/11, The Hill)

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) on Thursday ripped President Obama while giving credit to former President George W. Bush for asking Congress to authorize the war in Iraq.

The anti-war Democrat, criticizing Obama's handling of the conflict in Libya, noted that Bush formally consulted Congress on the Iraq war in 2002.

"President Bush came to Congress ... President Obama doesn't feel like he needs to come to Congress," Kucinich said during an interview on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program. Kucinich pointed out he was strongly opposed to the Iraq war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


Yes, Those People Are Literally Kissing, On The Ground, In The Street, Amid A Riot (Claire O'Neill, 6/16/11, NPR)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Electric Buses Get a Jump Start: A GM-funded bus could reduce transit agencies' fuel bills by 80 percent. (Kevin Bullis, 6/16/11, Technology Review)

The electric-bus startup Proterra has raised $30 million in new funding, including $6 million from GM Ventures. The company uses relatively small battery packs to keep down costs, intending them to be recharged frequently at rapid-charging stations that can replenish them in less than 10 minutes.

Fuel-saving technology is important to transit agencies, especially now that diesel prices are high and volatile—a gallon of diesel costs a dollar more that it did a year ago. Proterra CEO Jeff Granato says each bus will save the transit agency $600,000 in fuel costs over the 12-year life of the vehicle, plus another $70,000 to $95,000 in maintenance costs. Electricity to charge the buses costs about 18 cents per mile, compared with about $1 a mile for diesel fuel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


The Mossad man who can’t keep a secret (Nathalie Rothschild, 6/16/11, spiked)

With his hawkish image, Meir Dagan, the former boss of one of the world’s most awed spy agencies, hardly fits the conventional mould of the maverick whistleblower. Yet since stepping down as head of Mossad in January, after eight years in the post, Dagan has been spilling the beans in a series of unusual public statements and appearances.

Dagan put the Israeli political establishment and commentariat in a spin last month when he told delegates at a Hebrew University conference that a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, a cornerstone of Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s defence strategy, would be a ‘stupid idea’. He said military action could lead to a long war that might threaten Israel’s existence.

Weeks later, speaking at Tel Aviv University, Dagan reiterated this point, and also complained that Israel had failed to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians. He said Israel had been foolish to ignore the Saudi peace initiative, which promised full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders. He expressed concern about Israel possibly being pushed into a diplomatic corner as Palestinians prepare to push through a UN declaration in September that would recognise a Palestinian state based on the 1949 armistice lines.

The day after his Tel Aviv appearance, Dagan questioned the leadership skills of Netanyahu and of defence minister Ehud Barak. In a leaked statement to journalists, he reportedly suggested that his retirement and the near-simultaneous retirement of other top security chiefs – military chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the director of the Shin Bet internal security agency, Yuval Diskin – had taken away a necessary alternative voice in decision-making, particularly regarding a possible military attack on Iran.

A number of Knesset members are now supporting an amendment to the Public Service Act designed to limit officials’ ability to comment publicly on matters regarding their office after they retire.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Raise the Cup: Bruins shut the door in Game 7 to take first title in 39 years (Dan Shaughnessy, June 16, 2011, Boston Globe)

They won it for every New England mom and dad who ever woke up to drive kids to the rink at 6 a.m., and drank hot chocolate while they waited in the cold. [...]

Today would be a good day to call your out-of-town friends and tell them you live in a city that just won its seventh championship in 11 years. You live in the only hamlet that’s won the Grand Slam of North American trophies within seven years.

It is the High Renaissance of New England sports. Our Duck Boat tires are balding. The vaunted Patriots just became the Boston franchise with the longest championship drought. The Patriots, the NFL’s team of the decade, haven’t won a Super Bowl since way back in 2005.

The humanity!

Let the record show that the Bruins’ long-awaited return to the circle of champions came on a perfect June evening, 2,500 miles across the continent from Causeway Street. A season that started in Prague ended on Game No. 107, as the Bruins became the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s in a single spring. It was the Bruins’ first Game 7 road win in their 87-year history. [...]

The Canucks were strong at the jump, but with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first period, the Bruins lost a faceoff in the Vancouver zone, but Marchand got the puck. The Ball Of Hate controlled it nicely, and centered the puck to Bergeron, who one-timed it past Roberto Luongo. Good omen. The team that scored first won every game of the Final.

Late in the second, Zdeno Chara made a crucial save. That’s right. Save. After giving up the puck right in front of the Bruins’ net, he assumed the goalie duties when Thomas was faked out of position. Looking like a treetop Gump Worsley, Chara stopped Alex Burrows’s shot with his left knee. Nice save for the big guy.

With 7:47 left in the second, Marchand made it 2-0 on a wraparound at the left post. Once again, tire-pumpin’ Luongo was not agile enough to stop the puck.

Then the Bruins struck with a shorthanded goal — the clincher. With Chara off for interference (first penalty of the night), Bergeron found himself on a shorthanded partial breakaway. As he was dragged down by Christian Ehrhoff (chasing with Alex Edler), Bergeron somehow steered the puck past the shell-shocked Luongo. The goal was reviewed and when it was announced that the goal would count, it sounded like 18,860 were taking their college boards. The Bruins had three goals on only 13 shots. Both Sedins were on the ice for all three scores. At that juncture, Luongo had whiffed on six of the last 21 shots on net. [...]

Here’s the new joke in British Columbia?

Q: What time is it in Vancouver?

A: It’s 20 past Luongo.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


The Anglo-Saxon Invasion: Britain Is More Germanic than It Thinks (Matthias Schulz, 6/15/11, Der Spiegel)

It is now clear that the nation which most dislikes the Germans were once Krauts themselves. A number of studies reinforce the intimacy of the German-English relationship.

Biologists at University College in London studied a segment of the Y chromosome that appears in almost all Danish and northern German men -- and is also surprisingly common in Great Britain. This suggests that a veritable flood of people must have once crossed the North Sea.

New isotope studies conducted in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries produced similar results. When chemists analyzed the tooth enamel and bones of skeletons, they found that about 20 percent of the dead were newcomers who had originated on mainland Europe.d

Archeologist Heinrich Härke of the University of Reading has now come up with a quantitative estimate of the migratory movement. He suspects that "up to 200,000 emigrants" crossed the North Sea.

The massive movement of people was apparently triggered in 407 A.D., the year in which the ailing Roman Empire withdrew much of its army from Britain. Soon afterwards, it stopped paying its soldiers altogether. As a result, the last legionaries took off.

This left the island unprotected, an opportunity that the starving people on the continent couldn't pass up. Angles, Saxons and Jutes left their mound dwellings and broad bean fields in the wetlands of northern Europe in droves.

You're welcome.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Ethanol subsidy spurs a nasty tax fight on the Right (Timothy P. Carney, 06/15/11, Washington Examiner)

Taxpayers are subsidizing agribusiness and oil companies to spur production of ethanol, a fuel with dubious benefits that harms the economy and the environment while raising food prices. Abolishing this special-interest subsidy should be a no-brainer for fiscal conservatives, but instead -- because the subsidy comes in the form of a tax break -- it has become the flash point of a bitter feud.

In one corner is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who tried this week to end the 45-cents-per-gallon ethanol tax credit. Opposite him is Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, who has insisted that killing tax credits is raising taxes.

If the divine nature of tax expenditures is now dogma on the Right couldn't President Obama become their avatar by vastly increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Is Carter A Best Case Scenario? (Walter Russell Mead, 6/14/11, American Interest)

The greatest example of anticlimax in the English language, said William F. Buckley, was the final line in the unofficial anthem of his undergraduate college: “For God, for country, and for Yale.”

Buckley’s anticlimax now faces a challenge from an even shorter phrase: “The Obama Administration” is on the road to becoming the most anticlimactic expression known to man.

President Obama swept into office on a tide of Lincoln and FDR comparisons. A giddy press corps swooned every time he spoke; his cabinet was a ‘team of rivals’ like Lincoln’s. His mandate, the press said, was to be a transformative president, like FDR. The more sober said he would be a Democratic Reagan: just as the Californian led the country into a generation of conservative politics, so President Obama would lead Democrats into permanent majoritarian status.

This was the consensus of the mainstream press; it was also the opinion of the President’s inner circle. Based on that consensus, the President made the decisions which, if he fails of re-election in 2012, history will likely regard as the fatal mistakes of his term: he went along with the flawed and failed stimulus program the Democratic Congress put forward, and he pushed forward on health care reform before economic recovery was assured.

In reality, President Obama’s mandate was not to be a transformer; he was elected to conserve. In 2008 the independents who elected Obama by deserting the GOP were tired of the drama of the Bush administration and they were terrified by the financial panic that followed the failure of Lehman Brothers. What they wanted was another Bill Clinton: a calm and soothing figure who would feel their pain and tweak the New Deal/Great Society state model to make it a little more user-friendly and a little less bankruptcy prone.

Midway through 2010, President Obama looked less like Lincoln redux and more like a Clinton manqué. By the end of that year, the penultimate dissing of the President began; friends and foes began to ask whether President Obama might not be, gasp, the new Jimmy Carter.

...the UR would be doing well if he could just perform better than the disastrous Truman and JFK.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Evolution: Darwin's city: David Sloan Wilson is using the lens of evolution to understand life in the struggling city of Binghamton, New York. Next, he wants to improve it. (Emma Marris, 6/08/11, Nature)

Differences in prosociality, Wilson thought, should produce measurable outcomes — if not in reproductive success, perhaps in happiness, crime rates, neighbourhood tidiness or even the degree of community feeling expressed in the density of holiday decorations. "I really wanted to see a map of altruism," he says. "I saw it in my mind." And with a frisson of excitement, he realized that his models and experiments offered clues about how to intervene, how to structure real-world groups to favour prosociality. "Now is the implementation phase." Evolutionary theory, Wilson decided, will improve life in Binghamton.

He now spends his days in church basements, government meeting rooms, street corners and scrubby city parks. He is involved in projects to build playgrounds, install urban gardens, reinvent schools, create neighbourhood associations and document the religious life of the city, among others. Wilson thrives on his hectic schedule, but it is hard to measure his success. Publications are sparse, in part because dealing with communities and local government is time-consuming. And the nitty-gritty practical details often swamp the theory; the people with whom he collaborates sometimes have trouble working out what his projects have to do with evolution.

At the Lost Dog, I ask city planner and frequent collaborator Tarik Abdelazim whether he understands why an academic scientist is taking such a proactive interest in the city. He leans against the bar, glass of wine in hand, and addresses Wilson. "I know you talk about 'prosociality', but how that connects to our good friend Darwin, I don't know."

Fellow biologists are also bemused. According to Wilson's former graduate student Dan O'Brien, now a biologist at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, many have reacted to Wilson's work with "a mixture of intrigue and distance". That, says O'Brien, "is because he's not doing biology anymore. He's entered into a sort of evolutionary social sciences." Wilson has acquired the language of community organizing and joined, supported and partially funded a slew of improvement schemes, raising the question of whether he is too close to his research.

Darwinism is virtually defined by its proponents failure to understand the theory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Fans rage, fires burn, cars flip after loss (Associated Press, June 16, 2011)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Parked cars and garbage cans were set on fire, cars were tipped over, and people threw beer bottles at giant television screens following the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Bruins on last night in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

People chanted obscenities and some leaped over raging bonfires as riot police moved in to try to restore order in the downtown streets strewn with garbage and filled with acrid smoke.

Cheap shots, diving, whining...now riots? What a disastrous finals for the city and the franchise. If the NHL were wise it wouldn't even schedule a meeting between the two teams next year, because it's going to be a bloodbath when the Bruins are free to settle some of the scores that built up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

June 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth (PATRICIA COHEN, 6/15/11, NY Times)

For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment.

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication.

“Reasoning doesn’t have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions,” said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. “It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us.” Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

Darwinism is indistinguishable from a Monty Python skit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Obama: My family would be fine with just 1 term (AP, 6/14/11)

Asked about his family's reaction to his wanting another term, Obama said: "Michelle and the kids are wonderful in that if I said, `You know, guys, I want to do something different,' They'd be fine. They're not invested in daddy being president or my husband being president."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


The High Priest of Civic Religions (George J. Marlin, 6/15/11, Thge Catholic Thing)

Reversing the Christian story of the Fall, Rousseau argued that we are in our original state of nature inherently good – it is society that corrupts us. Social institutions, private property, wealth, luxuries, competition, social standing were unnatural and compelled men to be bad. He preferred communal living conditions that he believed were found in tribal life and ancient patriarchal families.

Assuming men would not willing return to their primitive state, Rousseau called for a new social contract whereby individuals – contrary to the sovereign freedom he accords them in other places in his work – would subordinate their rights and judgment to the needs and judgments of the entire community. The sovereign power would not be placed in one ruler but in the Volonté générale – the sacred and supreme General Will: “Let all surrender their will, their goods, their person, under the contract of the general will.” Despite his own self-indulgence and paeans to self-expressiveness, social virtue for Rousseau was, oddly, the conformity of particular wills with the General Will.

Under that scheme, each person would be both a citizen and a subject. The citizen participates in the supreme authority and the subject submits to the supreme authority of the General Will. The General Will delegates power to executives mandated to create harmony by social engineering that eliminates evil interests, biases, prejudices, and bad habits. Submitting to these decrees, Rousseau argued will preserve true freedom. Blind obedience “forces [man] to be free.”

There is no room for Catholicism in Rousseau’s society. We don’t need the help of Christ or his Church to lead a good life because each man “is the infallible judge of good and evil which renders man like unto God.” Of course, at the same time, the Rousseauvian state functions like a church of a different kind and limitless scope.

Seeking a celestial afterlife and not an earthly paradise renders Catholics unworthy of citizenship, according to Rousseau. Because of their divided loyalties, Catholics are evil agents undermining the state: “Whoever dares to say ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’ ought to be driven from the state unless the state is the Church and the prince is the pontiff.”

Rousseau was the founder of an anti-Christian civic religion that substituted service to the state for service to God. And rejection of his civic religion was not to be tolerated:

There is then a purely civil profession of faith, of which the sovereign must fix the articles, not as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which it is impossible to be a faithful citizen or subject…. While the state can compel no one to believe them, it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an antisocial being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If anyone, after publicly recognizing these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death.

Rousseau’s creed, which put moral and civic order in the hands of the infallible state, laid the groundwork for totalitarian rule. His earliest converts were the Jacobins who established a dictatorship in France ten years after his death.

The respective failures of the French model and success of the English are a simple function of Rousseau vs Calvin.

One of the most amusing refutations of Rousseau being William Boyd's Brazzaville Beach.

Rousseau & the Revolt Against Reason (Mary Ann Glendon, October 1999, First Things)

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June 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Tallinn is Worth a Mass (JESSICA DUCHEN, June 2011, Standpoint)

In a studio at the bottom of a west London garden, one of Britain's most individual and recognisable composers is hard at work. Roxanna Panufnik, now in her forties and a mother of three, manages her schedule with a quiet determination that on the surface scarcely indicates the vibrant inner life and intensity of her art.

This month sees the world premiere of perhaps her most extraordinary task to date: Tallinn Mass: Dance of Life, a cantata incorporating both the Latin Mass and 19 poems in Estonian — a language she doesn't speak. Its first performance on June 30, in Tallinn, celebrates the city's tenure as European Capital of Culture. Talking it through over a well-earned cup of tea, she confirms that it has been "one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced in my professional life." [...]

Panufnik's professional life has often found her up against two perennial issues: first, the fact that her father was Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991), the great Polish composer who fled to Britain at the height of the Communist era; and secondly, the question of why women composers are still relatively few and far between. Today, though, it's interesting that both matters seem to be receding in importance at last.

Real equality for women in music is still a long way off, of course, especially for composers and conductors — and Panufnik has never yet had a commission from the Proms, something that's decidedly overdue. But the runaway popularity of the Westminster Mass, which was her "breakthrough" work, written for Westminster Cathedral in 1997, more than proved she could hold her own. She has scarcely had a spare moment since.

Nor does her father cast such a long shadow, though it would be easy for any composer to be inhibited by such a heritage. "I don't think he ever had a direct influence over me musically," Panufnik says. "The only thing I've taken from him is his love of simultaneous major-minor harmonies, and I use that much more excessively than he did. He was very economical with his harmonies. When I was writing Westminster Mass in the Malvern Hills, I was figuring out a chord progression for the Kyrie and suddenly it was as if I heard my father's voice speaking to me very clearly, saying: ‘Roxanna, clean up your harmonies!'" He was primarily a symphonic composer and wrote little for the voice, she adds — "a pity, because the stuff he did write is gorgeous. But because I love words and the voice so much, that's a big feature of what I do."

Narratives are often at the heart of her works. Try her delicious settings of Vikram Seth's fables in Beastly Tales; her Violin Concerto "Abraham", written for Daniel Hope, which incorporates elements of traditional music from the three major monotheistic faiths; or the witty evocations of different types of concertgoer in The Audience, a collaboration with the poet Wendy Cope, commissioned by the Endellion String Quartet for its 30th anniversary and currently touring around the UK.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Sun's Fading Spots Signal Big Drop in Solar Activity (Denise Chow, 6/14/11, SPACE.com)

In the second study, researchers tracked a long-term weakening trend in the strength of sunspots, and predict that by the next solar cycle, magnetic fields erupting on the sun will be so weak that few, if any, sunspots will be formed.

With more than 13 years of sunspot data collected at the McMath-Pierce Telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona, Matt Penn and William Livingston observed that the average magnetic field strength declined significantly during Cycle 23 and now into Cycle 24. Consequently, sunspot temperatures have risen, they observed.

If the trend continues, the sun's magnetic field strength will drop below a certain threshold and sunspots will largely disappear; the field no longer will be strong enough to overcome such convective forces on the solar surface.

In a separate study, Richard Altrock, manager of the Air Force's coronal research program at NSO's facility in New Mexico, examined the sun's corona and observed a slowdown of the magnetic activity's usual "rush to the poles."

"A key thing to understand is that those wonderful, delicate coronal features are actually powerful, robust magnetic structures rooted in the interior of the sun," Altrock said. "Changes we see in the corona reflect changes deep inside the sun."

Altrock sifted through 40 years of observations from NSO's 16-inch (40 centimeters) coronagraphic telescope.

New solar activity typically emerges at a latitude of about 70 degrees at the start of the solar cycle, then moves toward the equator. The new magnetic field simultaneously pushes remnants of the past cycle as far as 85 degrees toward the poles. The current cycle, however, is showing some different behavior.

"Cycle 24 started out late and slow and may not be strong enough to create a rush to the poles, indicating we'll see a very weak solar maximum in 2013, if at all," Altrock said. "If the rush to the poles fails to complete, this creates a tremendous dilemma for the theorists, as it would mean that Cycle 23's magnetic field will not completely disappear from the polar regions. … No one knows what the sun will do in that case."

If the models prove accurate and the trends continue, the implications could be far-reaching.

"If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum we'll see for a few decades," Hill said. "That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth's climate."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM

Banana-coconut chocolate swirl bread (Boston Globe, June 15, 2011)

Butter (for the pan)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 or 4 ripe bananas, mashed
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 cup unsweetened small shred coconut
Extra small shred coconut (for sprinkling)

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt to blend them; set aside.

3. In an electric mixer, cream the butter, coconut oil or olive oil, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until the mixture is light in color. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and bananas.

4. With the mixer set on its lowest speed, beat in the flour mixture until just blended.

5. Remove 1 cup of the batter and transfer to a small bowl. Stir the melted chocolate into the smaller amount of batter until well-blended. Stir the coconut into the larger amount of batter.

6. Pour the coconut batter into the loaf pan. Add the chocolate batter by spoonfuls on top. With a blunt knife, swirl the two batters together, making sure to cut all the way down to the bottom of the loaf pan. Sprinkle the top of the batter with extra coconut.

7. Bake the bread for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes away with just a few small crumbs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


What So Proudly We Hail: What’s the point of Flag Day? (Leon Kass &
Amy Kass, 6/14/11, National Review)

The nation over which Old Glory flies is also highly unusual — indeed, exceptional. Alone among the nations of the world, it was self-consciously founded on a set of universal principles, stated as self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence (equality, individual rights, consent of the governed), and given operative life in the polity established by the Constitution. We Americans are the privileged heirs of a way of life that has offered the blessings of freedom and dignity to millions of people of all races, ethnicities, and religions, extolling the possibility of individual achievement as far as individual talent and effort can take it. And we remain a shining example of self-government and a beacon of hope for oppressed and miserable people all over the world. This is hardly accidental. The very universality of the American principles, applicable to and affirmable by any human being, means that anyone can become in spirit an American, even before coming to these shores. Americans may choose to live in France or China, but we can never become French or Chinese; but anyone can become fully American, simply by embracing our principles — and also by swearing allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands.

Paradoxically, it is precisely the universality of American principles and ideals — and the heterogeneity of the American people — that makes respect for the flag so necessary and desirable. The universal philosophical principles can command the assent of the mind. But they cannot by themselves attach the loyalties of the heart. For that we need symbols and songs, stories and speeches. We need holidays and rituals, shared times for remembering and appreciating. We need ordered respite from commerce and amusement — and politicking — for expressions of communal gratitude: for the privilege of living in a republic that enables us to live and work, love and play, freely and with dignity; for the blessing of living under “a grand old flag . . . the emblem of the land I love, the home of the free and the brave.”

...making patriots.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Three Moves the U.S. Should Make Against Guadeloupe (JOHN GODFREY, 6/14/11, NY Times)

Start Clint Dempsey at Forward

If the first two matches of the Gold Cup have established anything, it’s this: Clint Dempsey is Bradley’s best attacking option, by a wide margin. [...]

Push Carlos Bocanegra to Central Defense

Bocanegra has played both central defense and left back during his impressive international career. At his peak, Bocanegra could move back and forth between the two positions without missing a beat. Now that he’s 32, Bocanegra lacks the mobility necessary to play on the left, because fast wingers can scoot around him and he doesn’t offer the sort of pace required to counterattack.

By moving Bocanegra back into a central role, Bradley could make the most of his considerable attributes (experience, organizational savvy, strength in the air) and mitigate his lack of speed.

Eric Lichaj, a speedy back with a penchant for pushing forward, could take Bocanegra’s place on the left. And Tim Ream, a promising central defender who gave up a penalty in a forgettable performance against Panama, could go to the bench and learn a few things by watching his captain. It’s a no-brainer.

...to step outside for the US brings out the least in him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM

Chris Thile And Michael Daves: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 6/13/11, NPR)

Daves and Thile met in New York during a midweek jam session at the now-closed Baggot Inn in the West Village. Daves is a jazz lover who grew up playing bluegrass in Atlanta, but the first jams the two made together took them down musical roads neither had traveled. Eventually, they took their project to Jack White's Third Man Records studios, first only to record a 45. But, as it turned out, the pair recorded more than 20 tunes, with 16 making it onto a recent full-length album called Sleep With One Eye Open. Watch those fingers!


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


The Conservative Revolutionary (Walter Russell Mead, 6/12/11, American Interest)

The cycles of revolution — 1830, 1848, 1917-20, 1946-1960 (decolonization), 1989-91, 2003-5 and now 2011 — catch Americans flatfooted over and over again. We are surprised when they occur, and we are surprised when they fail to follow the course we expect.

The realists are half right: most revolutions will not bring about stable democratic societies. But realists get the other half wrong; revolution is a basic fact of modern life and the kind of ‘stability’ that old fashioned diplomats long for is just a mirage. American foreign policy cannot proceed on the assumption that despotic, frozen regimes will last. They won’t. Sooner or later they will come crashing down — and as the pace of technological and social change around the world continues to accelerate, such revolutionary upheavals are likely to become more frequent.

There is another problem with realism. Like it or not, the United States is a revolutionary power. Whether our government is trying to overthrow foreign dictators is almost irrelevant; American society is the most revolutionary force on the planet. The Internet is more subversive than the CIA in its prime. The dynamism of American society is constantly creating new businesses, new technologies, new ideas and new social models. These innovations travel, and they make trouble when they do. Saudi conservatives know that whatever geopolitical arrangements the Saudi princes make with the American government, the American people are busily undermining the core principles of Saudi society. It’s not just our NGOs educating Saudi women and civil society activists; it’s not just the impact of American college life on the rising generation of the Saudi elite. We change the world even when we aren’t thinking anything about global revolution — when Hollywood and rap musicians are just trying to make a buck, they are stoking the fires of change around the world.

A revolutionary nation cannot make a conservative foreign policy work for long. In the 1820s and 1830s Washington tried to reassure the Mexican government that it had no hostile designs against Mexican territory. But the American people were moving into Texas and the US government couldn’t stop that movement or blunt the threat to Mexico if it tried. In the same way today, the economic and political activity of individual Americans and American companies is changing the world in ways that make life much harder for governments in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. We can press all the reset buttons with Russia that we want, but the Russian government will still notice that both US society and sometimes the government are actively working to help foreign subversives overthrow repressive regimes.
Feckless Idealists

If the desire of our realists to conduct foreign policy with foreign despots as if unprincipled cooperation with the bad guys could build a stable world is unrealistic, the idealism of our enthusiasts that every new foreign revolution will bring a millennium of democratic peace is absurd.

American foreign policy cannot expect that revolutions in foreign countries will rescue us from the painful dilemmas our foreign policy often confronts. Revolution is not the deus ex machina that will make the world peaceful; it is a tsunami that sweeps everything before it, and often leaves the world messier and more dangerous.

Modern history teaches two great lessons about revolution: that revolutions are inevitable, and that a large majority of revolutions either fail or go bad. Americans almost instinctively look at revolutions in terms of our own past: the 1688 Glorious Revolution that made Parliament more powerful than the King in England, and the American Revolution that led in relatively short order to the establishment of a stable and constitutional government.

Most revolutions don’t work like this at all. Many of them fail, with the old despots crushing dissent or making only cosmetic changes to the old system. (This happened in Austria in 1848 and something very like it may be happening in Egypt today.) Others move into radicalism, terror and mob rule before a new despot comes along to bring order — at least until the next futile and bloody revolutionary spasm. That was France’s history for almost 100 years after the storming of the Bastille. China, Russia and Iran all saw revolutions like this in the 20th century.

The revolutions that ‘work’ are the exceptions, not the rule. The peaceful revolutions in the Central European countries as Soviet power melted in 1989-1990 are a unique exception to the rule that most revolutions either turn nasty or fail. When many American idealists think about revolution today, they have Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in mind.

Few assumptions can lead you into as much trouble this quickly. Even in 1989-90, those countries were the exception and not the rule. Think Ukraine, Belarus, Yugoslavia, Romania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and of course Russia itself. More people live in countries where the 1989-90 revolutionary wave failed to establish secure constitutional democracy than live in those where it succeeded.

More, the countries that had ‘velvet’ revolutions shared a number of important characteristics. They had or longed to have close political and cultural ties to the West. They wanted to join NATO and the EU, and had a reasonable confidence of doing so sooner rather than later. They could expect enormous amounts of aid and foreign direct investment if they continued along the path of democratic reform. They lay on the ‘western’ side of the ancient division of Europe between the Orthodox east and the Catholic/Protestant homeland of the modern liberal tradition.

No Arab country looks anything like this. Indeed, most seem closer to Yugoslavia and Belarus or, at best, Ukraine. We, and they, may get lucky, and the revolutions in the Arab world may lead to something that looks more like Central Europe than like Central Asia. That would be a nice surprise, but we should not be placing large bets that this will actually happen.

China, by the way, does not look very much like the Czech Republic. Revolution there is very unlikely to produce a US or European style democracy anytime soon.

If realists ignore the inevitability of revolution, idealists close their eyes to the problems of revolutionary upheavals in societies that have difficult histories, deep social divisions, and poor short term economic prospects. Unfortunately the countries most likely to experience revolutions are usually the countries that lack the preconditions for Anglo-American style relatively peaceful revolutions that end with the establishment of stable constitutional order. If things were going well in those countries, they would not be having revolutions.

Historically, revolutions in foreign countries are both necessary for their political development and inevitable. They often tend to make American foreign policy more difficult — and the world more dangerous. On the evidence so far, this is the pattern we are seeing in the Middle East today.

The difficulty American policymakers have in coming to grips with the recurring phenomenon of foreign revolutions is rooted in America’s paradoxical world role. We are not just the world’s leading revolutionary nation; we are also the chief custodian of the international status quo. We are upholding the existing balance of power and the international system of finance and trade with one hand, but the American agenda in the world ultimately aims to transform rather than to defend.

It is harder to be an effective revolutionary power than to be a conservative one — and it is harder still to combine the two roles.

Fortunately, being a conservative country, we don't expect them to succeed in becoming like us overnight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Mysterious mountain lion killed in Connecticut (Lauren Keiper, Jun 11, 2011, Reuters)

A mountain lion was killed just 70 miles from New York City early on Saturday morning and officials were trying to determine if it was the same big cat spotted a week ago roaming the posh suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut.

The 140-pound mountain lion was hit by a small SUV on a highway in Milton, Connecticut early Saturday morning, and died from its injuries. The driver was unhurt, officials said.

With no native mountain lion population in the state, "it's possible and even likely" it is the same enormous cat with a long tail spotted last weekend in the New York City suburb some 30 miles away, said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Schain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Syria: Where Massacre Is a Family Tradition: The mask of the Assad regime finally falls, and the world is forced to confront its illusions about Iran's ally and Hezbollah's patron. (FOUAD AJAMI, 6/13/11, WSJ)

Syria's rulers were Alawites, schismatics, to the Sunni purists a heresy. Yet as America battled to put a new order in Iraq in place, Syria was the point of transit for Sunni jihadists from other Arab lands keen to make their way there to kill and be killed. The American project there was being bloodied, and this gave the Syrians a reprieve, for they feared they would be next if Washington looked beyond Iraq for other targets.

It was that sordid game that finally convinced George W. Bush that the Syrians had to pay a price for their duplicity. The American support for the 2005 "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon then followed, and the Syrians made a hasty retreat. In time they would experience a seller's remorse, and they would try to regain what they had given up under duress.

Barack Obama provided the Syrian dictatorship with a diplomatic lifeline. He was keen to "engage" Tehran and Damascus, he was sure that Syrian radicalism had been a response to the heavy hand of the Bush administration. An American ambassador was dispatched to Damascus, and an influential figure in the Democratic Party, Sen. John Kerry, made it his calling to argue that the young Syrian ruler was, at heart, a "reformer" eager to sever his relations with Iran and Hezbollah.

The Arab Spring upended all that. It arrived late in Syria, three months after it had made its way to Tunisia and Egypt, one month after Libya's revolt. A group of young boys in the town of Deraa, near the border with Jordan, had committed the cardinal sin of scribbling antiregime graffiti. A brittle regime with a primitive personality cult and a deadly fault-line between its Alawite rulers and Sunni majority responded with heavy-handed official terror. The floodgates were thrown open, the Syrian people discovered within themselves new reservoirs of courage, and the rulers were hell-bent on frightening the population into their old state of submission.

Until the Arab Spring, nothing had stirred in Syria in nearly three decades. President Hafez al-Assad and his murderous younger brother Rifaat had made an example of Hama in 1982 when they stamped out a popular uprising by leveling much of the city and slaughtering thousands. Now, the circle is closed. President Bashar al-Assad and his younger brother Maher, commander of the Republican Guard, are determined to subdue this new rebellion as their father did in Hama—one murder at a time. In today's world it's harder to turn off the lights and keep tales of repression behind closed doors, but the Assads know no other way. Massacre is a family tradition.

...since it never has in the past.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Who Made That Oreo Emboss? (HILARY GREENBAUM, 6/06/11, NY Times: 6th Floor)

After the National Biscuit Company introduced the Oreo in 1912, its face underwent a few rounds of adjustments before the contemporary design was settled upon in 1952. Many Internet resources have credited William Turnier as the man behind the four-leaf clover and serrated-edge design, but Nabisco could confirm only that a man by that name worked for the company during that time as a “design engineer.”

is that when you rest the cookie on top of the milk in your glass and then submerge it slightly the white milk fills in the crevasses of the chocolate cookie. Even better for that purpose than the Oreo (or the far superior Hydrox) was the Keebler Elfwich, which didn't taste as good but looked cool when eaten this way:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Small Banks, Big Banks, Giant Differences (Robert G. Wilmers, 6/13/11, Bloomberg)

Banking once was a community-based enterprise, relying on local knowledge to guide the process of gathering customer deposits and extending credit. Done well, this arrangement ensures that deposits are deployed into a diversified pool of investments, while providing depositors with liquidity and a return on their savings.

Over the past generation, however, the financial services industry changed dramatically. In 1990, the six largest financial institutions accounted for 9 percent of all U.S. domestic deposits. As of Dec. 31, 2010, the six biggest banks accounted for 36 percent of deposits.

Such concentration raises the concern that poor decisions at such outsized institutions can lead to systemic risk. But this risk is greatly magnified by the new way in which the major banks, those deemed too big to fail, are doing business today. The largest and most profitable bank holding companies have moved away from traditional lending and come to rely on speculative trading in all types of securities, derivatives, credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and other, even more complex and exotic financial instruments -- many of them associated with high leverage.

Such trading now is the engine of income. In 2010, the six largest bank holding companies generated $56.1 billion in trading revenue, or 74 percent of their $75.7 billion in pretax income.

Trading revenue at these institutions distinguishes them from traditional commercial banks, which aren’t typically involved in such speculative endeavors. The Big Six institutions earned more than 93 percent of the trading revenue generated by all American banks during the past two years. To say these large institutions are the same species as traditional commercial banks is akin to describing dinosaurs as reptiles -- true but profoundly misleading.

To concentration and speculation one can add another dangerous element: outsized, bonus-based executive pay. This supersized compensation, like the trading itself, is something new under the sun for bankers -- and poses serious problems for the U.S. labor market and our most talented citizens.

Consider that in 1929 compensation for employees in the financial-services industry was just 1.5 times that of the average nonfarm U.S. worker. By 2009 employees in the securities and investments sector, which includes investment banks, securities brokerages and commodities dealers, earned 3.4 times as much as an average U.S. worker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


The Return of the Population Bomb: When the experts tell you there are too many people, they don't mean too many Swedes. (WILLIAM MCGURN, 6/13/11, WSJ)

From these pet orthodoxies two clear implications flowed.

First, when the experts tell you there are too many people, they don't mean too many Swedes. They mean too many poor people, mostly brown or black or yellow. In Hong Kong, I stumbled across a 1959 book written by an American entitled "Too Many Asians." Today the focus has shifted from Asia—but the theme remains. Early last month, the New York Times ran a page-one story citing United Nations warnings about the growing population of Africa.

Second, if the experts continue to tell countries they need to control their population or else, Mr. McNamara is absolutely right: That "or else" is going to mean coercion.

We saw that throughout the 1970s as well.

In India, the government of Indira Gandhi launched a massive and brutal sterilization campaign. In China, women's monthly periods were charted on blackboards at their places of work—and even today women are sometimes hunted down and forced to abort if they become pregnant without permission. Meanwhile, in the early 1980s, black women in Namibia complained about being forcibly injected with contraceptives after having their first babies. From Peru to the Philippines, the poor and vulnerable were subject to similar outrages.

The one difference between the 1970s and today is this: Back then, the worry was that poor nations would never advance. Today we know they can and are developing.

That's precisely the fear: that as people are eating better and living longer and making their way up the ladder, they will want more of the things that we take for granted—cars, air conditioners, refrigerators and so on. Indeed, the really big dreamers might even hope one day to have for their families the kind of carbon-footprint-maximizing manse that Mr. Friedman has for his family in Maryland.

Ironically, by almost any human measure—food consumption, life expectancy, access to clean water, etc.—life is getting better, not worse. So why the recurring predictions of catastrophe?

Because the growth sectors of both the foreign and domestic populations are mostly colored.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


The hidden behavioral tax from a tight budget: Lessons from late night Walmart (Nudges Blog)

On the eve of each new month, a consumer ritual unfolds at Walmarts around the country.

At around 11 p.m. “customers start to come in and shop,” Walmart’s CEO of U.S. Business Bill Simon told a conference of investors last year. Shoppers fill their carts with staples. Baby formula, milk, bread, and eggs. They browse until midnight when their government electronic benefits cards activate. Walmart’s dead-of-night sales zoom well above its monthly average.

Retailers have long known about this phenomenon, commonly called the “paycheck cycle,” in which cash-strapped consumers make big purchases when they get paid and are forced to cut back to the bone later in the cycle until the next paycheck arrives. In this tough economy, said Simon, the paycheck cycle is “extreme.” It can affect Americans at all income levels, but at the end of the month, that extremity is most crushing to the poor and the working class.

When money is tight, people buy less. When money is really tight, less means a smaller package. Retailers are now meeting that demand. Walmart has adjusted package sizes, stocking large pack sizes early in the month, and small pack sizes late. To compete with super discount dollar stores, it is offering micro-size items for under $1; a single paper towel roll, a four-pack of toilet paper, or a box with a handful of garbage bags. On a transaction basis, these goods are dirt cheap. As any good Costco member will tell you though, on a per unit basis, they are not. Walmart is not the only business adjusting; Heinz, Con-Agra, and Coca-Cola are going small too.

When you’re caught in the paycheck cycle, it’s one thing to have to cut back on movies and meals out at the end of the month. It’s another when you have to cut back on essentials. Or pay more for less. Ultimately, the penalty hits the poorest Americans the hardest. The Nudge blog calls it the Public Benefits Cycle Tax, and the implications for policymakers are still evolving. Right now, it’s a tax whose full financial and psychological costs researchers are trying to add up.

The paycheck cycle seems so avoidable. Spend smarter. Budget better. These common refrains sound so reasonable and simple, yet for anyone, rich or poor, who’s ever deposited a fat check on a Friday payday, the temptation to treat yourself just a little bit is tough to fight off. Wallets have a lot in common with waists.

When most economists look at us, they overestimate our financial discipline and underestimate our urge to splurge. In economics, the main doctrine for understanding consumption patterns is an idea called the Permanent Income Hypothesis, developed by economist Milton Friedman. Basically, it says people should take all of the income they expect to receive and smooth out their consumption evenly. Generally, this hypothesis has been used to explain spending over one’s lifetime, but the idea can apply over much shorter time frames like a month.

...and The Wife is a doctor. They just happen to get paid once a month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 AM


I wrote this a while ago, so it will seem redundant to some, and I apologize for that. Also, I promised on pain of death never to reveal the identity of the gentleman mentioned herein--an entirely characteristic desire on his part not to be made to seem extraordinary, though he is. We reprint it now only because, having had the tv on for exactly twenty minutes, I just saw the American flag being burned on four different continents and even here in the U.S.:

I have to admit that I find most of the "Greatest Generation" stuff to be pretty annoying. I don't think the generation that survived Depression childhoods and fought WWII actually did anything that other generations of Americans would not have (let's hope we never have to find out). And I think they deserve our opprobrium for the job they did raising their kids and for the demands they placed on government, as if their service to the nation entitled them to fiscally irresponsible Social Security, Medicare, and other social welfare programs. Mostly I think the image of them as selfless and silent sufferers is a canard. This after all was the generation that first popularized divorce and the myriad social "freedoms" that did so much to destroy our social fabric in the 60s & 70s.

On the other hand, one of my personal heroes is a member of that generation and does exemplify all the qualities we attribute to them generally. I have a friend whose Dad was a poor Jewish kid from Louisiana. He was sent to fight the Germans in Europe and ended up in the Battle of the Bulge. He's a big, big man, not terribly tall but bull-like. Most of all, he's got big feet. One of the only things I've ever heard him complain about in all the years I've known him is that they could never get boots big enough for him, so his feet always hurt anyway, plus it was cold as heck marching around in the snow that winter. For years that was darn near all he told us about his service.

So here was this big, quiet guy, the kind of Dad that every boy sort of, or openly, wishes he had. One who doesn't feel compelled to "share his emotions, but whose feelings of love for his family, his friends, his God and his country are clear to anyone who pays attention. Simply by his presence and his authority he made us tone down, and improve, our behavior. It wasn't that we feared him--though once, when I swore in front of his wife, he did clobber me over the head and surprised even himself by splitting the plastic batting helmet I was wearing in two--it was more that we couldn't bear the thought of disappointing him.

Then, one night, I don't even remember how we got him going, he said a little more about his war. In quiet, almost reverential, tones, he just mentioned to us : "I had to bayonet a guy during the war. I could feel his weight at the end of the gun barrel." And, with that, he got a far away look in his eyes and he said no more.

Well, we were so quiet, so awed, that you could hear everyone breathing. No way would we have had the temerity to ask him anything more; even if our curiosity was killing us, as I assure you it was.

Why do I mention that now?

Today someone asked me a question : what does the American flag mean to you? I'm afraid my answer was neither eloquent nor memorable. She asked me about the flag burning case and didn't have a coherent response. But then this guy, whose Dad I mention, told me a story.

When that case was decided, he asked his Dad what he thought about it. His Dad, of course, is your garden variety New Jersey Jewish Democrat. He supports the right of people to do things he would never dream of doing himself and which he would strangle his own sons for doing. But he does support those rights. So my friend expected him to say the decision was okay.

Instead, his Dad said that he thought burning the flag was an act of sacrilege, like burning the Torah.

As my friend said :

"I don't know that you'll ever inculcate that level of love of country inthe classrooms where you're putting flags...but if you can get to 50% of that sentiment, it will be worth the effort...."

What a glorious gift those of us who are privileged to live in America have received. For it is only in America that a boy may be sent abroad to fight an evil that, while it is not even harming his countrymen, is killing his coreligionists by the million. Such are the ideals that we often vindicate, that evil shall not stand, that when freedom is threatened, we'll be there. Such are the values that the flag stands for.

How lucky we are that men like this end up here, where these values reign, where they endure through the efforts of such men. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to know him.

So, rather than dwell on the navel-gazing cretins who are defiling our flag and besmirching our streets in SF and Chicago and elsewhere, we choose instead to think of this utterly decent and wholly unrecognized hero and those like him, many of whom are abroad tonight in yet another blighted land, fighting for the same values sixty years later. Thanks to them, and in spite of the swinish demonstrators, if we ask ourselves "how stands the city on this winter night?", we can honestly answer: "not bad at all".

[originally posted: 3/21/03]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 AM


Sew Tough: The real Betsy Ross was a hard-nosed, snuff-loving businesswoman. (Ruth Graham, July 2, 2010, Slate)

The Betsy Ross that emerges in recent research is no sweet seamstress, but rather a tough businesswoman fond of dark snuff and storytelling.

Until now, Betsy Ross hasn't received much serious attention by historians, who have treated her story something like young Washington and his cherry tree. That's starting to change. April saw the publication of the first scholarly biography of Ross, historian Marla Miller's affectionate, meticulously researched Betsy Ross and the Making of America. In October, an exhibit called "Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend" will open at Winterthur, a Delaware museum focused on historical Americana. So how did a defense contractor rejected by the Quaker church become the milquetoast matron of the story told to schoolchildren? It was a combination of Ross's own self-mythologizing, her descendants' familial boosterism, patriotic interest in the U.S. centennial, and the tale's alignment with notions of proper 19th-century femininity.

[originally posted: 7/03/10]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Happy Flag Day everyone. Here's a speech from a local event where a citizens' group presented the Hanover school system with American flags for classrooms that lacked them. And the following is a story that Walter Berns tells at the end of his fine book, Making Patriots :
The following story is told by a foreign diplomat who, as he explains, had occasion to visit the United States Embassy in the capital of his country.

'I arrived at a quarter to six, after official office hours, and was met by the Marine on guard at the entrance of the Chancery. He asked if I would mind waiting while he lowered the two American flags at the Embassy.  What I witnessed over the next ten minutes so impressed me that I am now led to make this occurrence a part of my ongoing record of this distressing era.

The Marine was dressed in a uniform which was spotless and neat; he walked with a measured tread from the entrance of the Chancery to the stainless steel flagpole before the Embassy and, almost reverently, lowered the flag to the level of his reach where he began to fold it in military fashion.  He then released the flag from the clasps attaching it to the rope, stepped back from the pole, made an about-face, and carried the flag between his hands--one above, one below--and placed it securely on a stand before the Chancery.

He then marched over to a second flagpole and repeated the same lonesome ceremony....  After completing his task, he apologized for the delay--out of pure courtesy, as nothing less than incapacity would have prevented him from fulfilling his goal --and said to me, "Thank you for waiting, Sir.  I had to pay honor to my country."

I have had to tell this story because there was something impressive about a lone Marine carrying out a ceremonial task which obviously meant very much to him and which, in its simplicity, made the might, the power and the glory of the United States of America stand forth in a way that a mighty wave of military aircraft, or the passage of a supercarrier, or a parade of 10,000 men could never have made manifest.

One day it is my hope to visit one of our embassies in a faraway place and to see a soldier fold our flag and turn to a stranger and say, "I am sorry for the delay, Sir.  I had to honor my country."

I'm not supposed to know--except that my son is a blabbermouth--that for Father's Day I'm getting an American Flag to put on our front porch. We too wish to honor our country. Originally posted: 2002-06-14 MORE: Here's something else we posted a few years ago
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June 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Pavement Contributes To Poor Air Quality: Paved roads and sprawl are likely to blame for summertime smog buildup. (David Biello, June 12, 2011, Scientific American)

Sprawl isn't just eating up the countryside—it's also blocking the breezes that would otherwise clear out air pollution. That's according to a new study of Houston from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Sprawl is first and foremost about pavement leading to all those subdivisions, strip malls and suburbs. That pavement soaks up heat during the day and releases it at night, warming the otherwise cooler nighttime air. It's known as the urban heat island effect.

In Houston, this causes a smaller than usual difference between the temperatures of the land and the sea at night. And that means weaker sea breezes to clear away the smog.

Scientific fact: Roads are anti-human.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


McQuaid’s Debate Prep: The publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader analyzes the GOP presidential field. (Brian Bolduc, 6/13/11, National Review)

Joe McQuaid, publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader — the widest-circulating newspaper in the state — is blunt, plainspoken, and unapologetic. Consider his take on Sarah Palin.

“I don’t think she’s in the race at all,” he tells National Review Online in a phone interview. “And considering the way she’s dealing with New Hampshire, I would tell her that’s probably good that you’re not going to be in the race, lady, because you’re not dealing with the people the way New Hampshire people like to be dealt with — which is actually to talk with them.”

I remind McQuaid that he’s previously argued New Hampshire is quirky and some candidates have won the state without ever setting foot in it: Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964, for example. “Those are the exceptions that prove the rule,” McQuaid replies. “But which one of us in this piece is going to suggest Palin is the new Eisenhower?”

When Rudy Giuliani stopped by McQuaid’s office two weeks ago, he received an unusual welcome from the publisher. “I threatened him with a baseball bat and told him to decide [about a presidential run],” McQuaid recounts. “But he didn’t quiver.”

Despite McQuaid’s menacing glare, Giuliani — “the Hamlet of the Republican party,” McQuaid calls him –is skipping tonight’s debate at Saint Anselm College. Sponsored by CNN, local station WMUR-TV, and the Union Leader, the contest will feature seven candidates: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. But the politicians who are playing coy — Giuliani, Jon Huntsman, and Palin — frustrate McQuaid the most.

“Even if you decide not to run, there’s no loss in being at the event and seeing how you do and what the public reaction is,” he counsels.

And provided that Governor Pawlenty wins IA and keeps close to Mitt in NH, it's a one man race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Two years after Iran's marred election, hard-liners anything but triumphant: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared the 2009 winner by a landslide, and his aides have been dismissed by conservative rivals and clerics as a "deviant current" in Iran's theocracy. (Scott Peterson, June 12, 2011, CS Monitor)

Iran’s unique system of government – a blend of preeminent theological and declared democratic values that are often in tension with each other ­– once sought to offer a model to the world.

Instead, even as hard-line leaders proclaim the Islamic Republic to be at the peak of its powers, the events of the last two years have exposed political dysfunction.

Iran “simply has not developed the institutions and rules that are needed to prevent very unsettling change,” says Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “So rather than moving toward stabilization… what we see is a system that is constantly faced with deepening political turmoil.”

By intervening too much in matters of day-to-day governance and by limiting the electoral choices overmuch, the Grand Ayatollah so disillusioned the reform-minded in the electorate that their participation in elections waned and made it possible to elect governments that lack popular support. It's been a costly lesson but a useful one....provided his successors can learn from the example. The monarch must be the final defender of the republic, not its micromanager.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Death panel? No -- A promising way to control health costs (Joshua Gordon, 6/13/11, CNNMoney)

[I]n either vision, the cost of care will be driven by what doctors say to their patients during office visits or in hospital rooms.

This is why the board, known as IPAB, is so important in the effort to control costs.
How the IPAB will work

It will be made up of 15 experts, some suggested by congressional leaders and all confirmed by the Senate, appointed by the president to represent the major participants in the health care system, including patients.

These board members will not force doctors to hold back necessary, but expensive treatment, as some critics have charged. They also will not "ration" and choose who deserves to be treated. In fact, IPAB is specifically prohibited from rationing and limiting Medicare benefits, increasing costs for beneficiaries, and raising taxes.

Instead, while Congress retains the ultimate power over Medicare, IPAB will help ensure that innovations in cost control will get a fair trial based on medical expertise rather than political pressure. [...]

[W]e need to focus on giving incentives to providers to reduce costs.

Instead of paying doctors more for volume, we could pay for quality.

Instead of having primary care doctors and specialists work separately, doctors could receive bonuses if integrated care saves costs.

Instead of having clinical practices differ based on where a doctor went to medical school, we could create well-designed studies to determine best practices. And instead of patients lacking a meaningful way to compare providers, we could offer incentives for providers that participate in public databases.

The 2010 health care law sets up experiments and pilot projects to see what works. Medicare has had previous pilot projects succeed at controlling costs, only to see more widespread adoption unfortunately blocked by a determined few in Congress.

But that's where IPAB comes in. The health care law delegates some of Congress's management to a panel of experts -- IPAB.

As established, IPAB will review such experiments and recommend which deserve widespread adoption. These will then be automatically implemented unless Congress and the president enact laws vetoing IPAB's recommendations. Furthermore, the recommendations will come annually, beginning in 2013, if the health law's savings targets aren't met, making them difficult to continually thwart.

Ultimately, IPAB will attempt to keep health care costs growing at the rate of economic growth plus one percent -- well below historic rates. The additional hope is that the board's recommendations will influence payment policy among private insurers and help slow costs system-wide.

...is consumers who won't pay them. Besides, at the point where the consumer is in the hospital listening to the doctor you've already lost the cost containment battle.

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June 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Is higher joblessness rate the 'new normal'? (Kevin G. Hall, 6/11/11, McClatchy Newspapers)

At issue is what's called the "full employment" rate. It's generally thought to be the rate at which everybody willing and able to work can find a job. It's a theoretical "ideal" rate; "full" employment can't be zero because there'll always be people transitioning between jobs, others with disabilities and those who aren't interested in working or who have given up finding work who'll be excluded from the workforce.

For much of the 1980s, the unemployment rate hovered between 6 percent and 7.5 percent. During the mid-1990s, the rate fell steadily to around what economists came to consider the rate of full employment - 5 percent. Anything above that would signal inefficiencies in the economy.

Then in 2000, the improbable happened. It hovered around 4 percent most of the year, then dipped to 3.9 percent during the final four months. Those numbers were stronger than most economists thought possible without triggering inflation.

Today, perceptions are far different.

If the "new normal" means a full employment rate of 7 percent, that suggests a wide mismatch between available jobs and the skills that unemployed workers possess - construction workers lost jobs and don't qualify for ones in the booming health-services sector, for example. Economists call this a structural shift in the workforce, and a growing body of research increasingly suggests that's what's happening now.

"It just screams out that there has been a structural break. We try to make it more complicated than it is," said Mark Vitner, a senior economist with the Wells Fargo Securities Economics Group and author of a provocative report on the new normal in the labor market.

Thinking of it as a structural break likewise overcomplicates things. Instead, we can simply view the current employment rate as a return to historical norms:

following a forty year period in which we experienced lowered productivity as the result of a perfectly reasonable effort to employ people previously thought unfit for work. This meant creating a vast number of makework jobs that basically added no value. But now that we know that these folks are just as capable of doing the real work as white males were there's no reason the genuinely productive jobs shouldn't be filled by American women and people of color or done overseas. So the employment rate drifted back towards its normal baseline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Fixing America's Economy: Nine Ideas from Around the World: Countries as diverse as Germany, Brazil, Singapore, and Thailand can offer ways for the U.S. to shore up its economy (Peter Coy, 6/08/11, Business Week)

From: Canada

Idea: A Worthwhile Tax

With the 2012 Presidential election looming, the idea of springing any new taxes on the American public verges on heresy. But digging out of our fiscal hole will require the government to find ways to increase tax revenues one way or the other. For a start, look north. Unlike the U.S., Canada has a national sales tax—the Goods and Services Tax, currently levied at 5 percent. Consumption taxes such as these are less harmful than a tax on wages and salaries (which discourages work) or a tax on investment (which discourages saving). Livio Di Matteo, an economist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., believes the U.S. could go a long way toward solving its budget problems with a national sales tax and a fatter gasoline tax. "The U.S. is a rich country," he says, "and its deficit situation is more a political rather than economic problem." Consumption taxes might be one "worthwhile Canadian initiative" that's worth a closer look.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Without belief in moral truths, how can we care about climate change?: Peter Singer admits his brand of utilitarianism struggles with the challenge of climate change in a way Christian ethics does not (Mark Vernon, 5/25/11, guardian.co.uk)

Singer admitted that his brand of utilitarianism – preference utilitarianism – struggles to get to grips with the vastness of the problem of climate change. Further, there is an element that comes naturally to Christian ethics which his ethics might need in order to do so. It has to do with whether there are moral imperatives that can be held as objectively true.

Climate change is a challenge to utilitarianism on at least two accounts. First, the problem of reducing the carbon output of humanity is tied to the problem of rising human populations. The more people there are, the greater becomes the difficulty of tackling climate change. This fact sits uneasily for a preference utilitarian, who would be inclined to argue that the existence of more and more sentient beings enjoying their lives – realising their preferences – is a good thing. As Singer puts it in the new edition of his book, Practical Ethics: "I have found myself unable to maintain with any confidence that the position I took in the previous edition – based solely on preference utilitarianism – offers a satisfactory answer to these quandaries."

Second, preference utilitarianism also runs into problems because climate change requires that we consider the preferences not only of existing human beings, but of those yet to come. And we can have no confidence about that, when it comes to generations far into the future. Perhaps they won't much care about Earth because the consumptive delights of life on other planets will be even greater. Perhaps they won't much care because a virtual life, with its brilliant fantasies, will seem far more preferable than a real one. What this adds up to is that preference utilitarianism can provide good arguments not to worry about climate change, as well as arguments to do so.

This brings us to the issue that Christians find comes naturally, namely the claim that there exists objective moral truths. In recent moral philosophy, such an assertion has been unfashionable. The Enlightenment thinker David Hume can be blamed. He argued that the reasons anyone has for action will always actually be based upon their desires. "'Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger," he asserted. Further, as wants and desires cannot be said to be true or false, so it makes no sense fundamentally to assert that moral judgments are true or false too. This subjectivism has been held in different ways by individuals from AJ Ayer to Simon Blackburn.

Christian ethicists have never been tempted to believe that moral values are unhinged from an objective horizon. As Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at Christ Church, Oxford, put it at the conference, that there are moral givens is part of what it means to affirm one deity as the creator. Creation is made in order to realise what is good and true.

You can either have faith and morality or reason and immorality/amorality.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


The New Pro-Life Surge: Political gains by U.S. conservatives unleash waves of anti-abortion legislation. (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, 6/10/2011, Christianity Today)

[B]y early April, 142 abortion-related provisions had passed at least one chamber of a state legislature, compared with 67 in 2009. More than half of the 142 bills (57 percent) introduced this year seek to restrict abortion access, compared with 38 percent in 2010.

About 40 new anti-abortion laws were on the books by mid-April. They include:

expanding the waiting period requirement in South Dakota from 24 hours to 72 hours, and requiring women to visit a crisis pregnancy center in the interim.

requiring a physician who performs an abortion in South Dakota to provide counseling on all risk factors related to abortion.

allowing any hospital employee in Utah to refuse to "participate in any way" in an abortion.

making it a felony in Arizona to perform or provide money for abortions sought because of a baby's race or sex.

prohibiting insurance plans that participate in the state insurance exchange from including abortion coverage in Virginia, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.

prohibiting the abortion of a fetus capable of feeling pain in Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, and Oklahoma. The organization National Right to Life has drafted a model bill for pro-life lawmakers to use.

Republican victories in the 2010 mid-term elections account for much of the legislative surge. Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate. But their success at the state level was more significant. They took 29 governorships and 680 seats in state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It's the largest gain in modern history. The previous record was held by Democrats in the post-Watergate 1974 election, in which they picked up 628 seats. Republicans now control the governor's office and both legislative chambers of 21 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"The November elections brought huge change in the state houses," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life. "But we've been tilling this ground for a while."

The forward momentum began, Yoest said, when the Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion in 2007.

"They chipped away at the absolute right to abortion," Yoest said. "The Supreme Court said that states do have the right to limit abortion. That was a seismic shift." Pro-life advocates began to see how far they could get with restrictions, such as parental notification and informed consent laws, she said.

The legislation has been snowballing since the Republican sweep: "Just in the first three months of this year, we've provided testimony on 17 life-related legislative matters," she said. In previous years, the average number of testimonies provided was two or three for the entire year.

Public Opinion Changes

Restricting abortion through new state laws seems to be highly effective in reducing abortion rates.

"We see that the number of abortions has gone down by 22 percent between 1990 and 2005," said Michael New, political science professor at the University of Alabama. "An important reason is the restrictions that more and more states are passing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


The Greatest Paper That Ever Died: Radically brilliant. Absurdly ahead of its time. Ridiculously poorly planned. The National changed everything about sports journalism — and torched $150 million in the process. (Alex French and Howie Kahn, JUNE 8, 2011, Grantland)

Peter Price (Publisher): It all started in the spring of 1989. Azcárraga wanted to have lunch. I'd heard about Emilio from Televisa, the Mexican media conglomerate, because I was in the media business, as well. I'd become publisher of the New York Post when Peter Kalikow bought the paper from Rupert Murdoch for $37 million. When I took over in 1988, there was a strike going, the circulation had plummeted, and the advertising had disappeared. We had the challenge of rebuilding. At lunch, Azcárraga started one of the strangest conversations of my life.

Emilio Azcárraga (Died in 1997. Lunch conversation recalled by Price): I read a comment of yours that the Post is unique among all American dailies in that it has many more male readers than female readers. You attributed that to the fact that the Post was a newspaper for women and a sports paper for men.

Price: The ladies like our gossip; the guys read it backwards and hardly ever get to the front of the newspaper.

Azcárraga: That's what I want to talk to you about! Why is it that the most developed country in the world doesn't have a daily sports newspaper? We've got one in Mexico. The Italians have two. The Brits have tabloid sports papers. L'equipe in France is reigning strong, and Japan has a sports paper.

Price: There are only three national newspapers in the United States, and only one is a purely national paper with genuinely national distribution. But USA Today is going on almost a decade, a billion dollars in losses, and it's supported by a major publishing company. To do a national sports paper from scratch without the backing of a major publishing enterprise, without having a delivery system, without having regional printing plants, without having a brand name, and without any staff is not for the fainthearted.

Azcárraga: I think it's a good idea. What would it take? Why don't you give that some thought and come down and visit me? I'll send my plane.

Price: I went to Mexico on his G4. I had never been on a G-anything before. The morning after arriving in Mexico City, I was brought to the Televisa production complex. It was like being at the backlot at Warner Brothers. People in costumes, cameras going here and there, trucks moving around. Emilio's office was tasteful, not extravagant. He had his lawyer and his CFO there. There was a big whiteboard with different color markers. I wrote out the challenges, one through four.

Price (in Azcárraga's office): The first is content. In the United States, you've got dozens of local events going on at the same time. You've got to have the Mets game from last night — box scores, game stories. And you've got to have Sports Illustrated-caliber national reporting. Unless you have them both, you're not a national sports daily.

Azcárraga: So far, so good. Keep going.

Price: Next: Production. You have to produce it in color. Every metro daily is quickly adding color. And metro dailies own their own presses. We don't have printing plants, so we've got to go out and make deals with these plants who already have deadlines for their metro dailies.

Azcárraga: Good. Tell me more.

Price: Third: Distribution. We'd have to rent an entire distribution network. USA Today did that with affiliate papers and by hiring school teachers with their station wagons to deliver the paper before they go to work. But they had a couple of years to plan all of that and eight years to get it right, and they're still having a hard time making a nickel. Almost all of these metro dailies rely on home delivery. There's no way that we can get a home-delivery network going, so we're going to have to rely on newsstand sales.

Azcárraga: Distribution. Got it.

Price: Last: Marketing. When you introduce a new product, you've got to spend a mint convincing people that they really need it. We've got to reach men, which is not an easy demographic.

Azcárraga: What will it cost?

Price: Emilio wanted a ballpark figure. Knowing what it costs to produce the Post, I said a minimum of $40 million. That was just to get started. Until you turn a profit or break even it could be $100 million. Nobody else in a room said anything. No questions. No challenges.

Azcárraga: This is a good idea. We're going to do this now.

Price: What do you mean, now?

Azcárraga: Let's make an agreement within the next 24 hours. We'll sign it tomorrow. You go home, tell them you've got something else to do, and we start.

...it was a sports daily that went to press so early it didn't have box scores.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


An Antiterror Roadmap: Entebbe-style derring-do is great, but 'routine, grind-it-out' measures have been essential to Israel's security. (GABRIEL SCHOENFELD, 6/11/11, WSJ)

What can we learn from Israel about fighting terrorism? Seemingly, a great deal. Ever since its founding in 1948, Israel has been contending with attacks that have exacted an awful human toll. They have come in almost every conceivable form: snipers, suicide bombers, cross-border raids, rockets, airplane bombings, hijackings. Long before the U.S. began to develop its counterterrorism measures, Israel had a full repertoire: targeted killings, hostage rescues, retaliatory raids, rigorous airport security measures and incursions into countries harboring terrorists. Israel also has extensive experience with the dilemmas that arise with incarceration and interrogation, including that most vexing of all categories: captives who are believed to know about impending plots.

In "A High Price," Daniel Byman, a Georgetown University professor, surveys Israel's record and tries to extract lessons. A carnage-covered checkerboard is what emerges from his meticulously researched historical narrative. On one side are the daring exploits that won Israel the admiration of the world, as in the miraculous 1976 commando raid on the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, that freed Israelis and Jews taken hostage in an airline hijacking. On the other side is a long record of failure, as shown by the sheer number of successful terrorist attacks. Most of these atrocities demonstrate the inherent difficulty of Israel's security challenge, but in some instances, Mr. Byman says, the terrorists have benefited from Israel's "political maneuvering, ignorance, and outright hubris."

His central argument here is that Israel pursues "schizophrenic" policies, its military and intelligence arms working at cross purposes with its political leadership. The political effects of counterterrorism are thus slighted, leading Israel to embrace measures that backfire, radicalizing adversaries, courting condemnation and jeopardizing alliances. This combination of "brilliance" and "bungling," Mr. Byman argues, has given rise to competing myths about Israel that obscure a complex reality. It is not Entebbe-style derring-do but "routine, grind-it-out intelligence-gathering efforts, solid defense, and the constant disruption of terrorist communications" that have safeguarded Israel's security.

...that Israel brought an end to terror by acceding to it. An independent Palestine is ruled jointly by the PLO and Hamas, which, having won, no longer have any need to terrorize Israelis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


This Syrian tinderbox could set fire to the region: Assad's regime threatens dire consequences for the bloodshed in Jisr al-Shughour. They may not be restricted to Syria's borders (Simon Tisdall, 6/12/11, guardian.co.uk)

Carnage in Jisr al-Shughour has taken the Syrian crisis to a new level, even as Bashar al-Assad's regime descends to new depths. Three risks now stand out. The first and most obvious is vicious regime retaliation against residents of the north-western town where 120 army and security personnel are said to have been killed. The second is the very real spectre of civil war raised by this escalation. Third, and most dangerous for Israel and the west, are growing, linked attempts by the regime and its ally Iran to externalise the conflict.

Syrian ministers are threatening dire consequences for the Jisr al-Shughour deaths, which they blame (without offering evidence) on armed gangs. Their alarm is justified in one respect: this turmoil threatens the very existence of the Assad clan's ascendancy. Of the more than 1,000 civilians killed since the uprising began in March, the largest number – at least 418 according to a new Human Rights Watch report – died in the south-western Daraa governorate.

This week's events in Jisr al-Shughour, involving organised armed resistance and well-directed counter-attacks against regime targets, are of a different order of seriousness to Daraa's peaceful pro-democracy protests. In Daraa, the report says, "systematic killings and torture" by security forces probably amounted to crimes against humanity. So what untold horrors may be in store for Jisr al-Shughour residents, where the stakes are so much higher and where the same media curbs prevent independent scrutiny?

This chill moment is reminiscent of the day in July 1995 when Serbian forces brushed aside UN peacekeepers and seized the besieged Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Europe held its breath, fearing the worst. What transpired was even more awful than most could have imagined.

Assad should know by now that violence added to violence is not the answer. Amazingly, he does not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Wayne Gretzky 'Thrilled' His Son Is Baseball Player, Not Hockey Player (Jashvina Shah, Jun 11, 2011, NESN)

Wayne Gretzky is very proud of his son Trevor Gretzky, and he's also happy that his son is headed into baseball as opposed to hockey, according to ESPN.com.

"So when he chose baseball at a young age, I'm a huge baseball fan and I loved going to his games and watching baseball. And being in California, that's what kids should be playing -- baseball," Gretzky said on ESPN 1000's The Waddle & Silvy Show.

Gretzky added that his son does not need the added pressure of playing hockey and having to deal with constant comparisons to his father.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


The Sickness Beneath the Slump (ROBERT J. SHILLER, 6/11/11, NY Times)

Consider this: Home prices rose nearly 10 percent a year on average in the United States from 1997 to 2006, long enough for many people to become accustomed to the pace and to view it as normal. The conventional 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 6.8 percent over those years, far below the appreciation rate on housing, so even if you had a substantial mortgage, you were becoming wealthier by the day, at least on paper. People who owned a home over that period had reason to feel pretty well off and proud of their investment acumen. That fed a contagion of optimism and helped to drive the speculative bubble, propelling the economy and the stock market in a feedback loop that repeated year after year.

Professor Case and I have conducted annual spring surveys of home-buyer attitudes for many years. We ask about long-term expectations: “On average over the next 10 years how much do you expect the value of your property to change each year?”

The survey we conducted in spring 2005, near the end of the bubble, included 407 home buyers. In it, the median expectation for home price appreciation over the next decade — until 2015 — was 7 percent a year. That is substantially less than the 10 percent a year that Americans had recently experienced.

But expected increases of 7 percent a year still implied another doubling of home prices by 2015. And about a quarter of our respondents in 2005 anticipated increases of at least 15 percent a year for the next decade. Something was very wrong with this picture, but few noticed it.

As it turned out, of course, those expected increases didn’t happen. Instead, home prices tumbled 34 percent nationally from the peak in the first quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2011 — or 40 percent in real terms — and they still appear to be falling.

In 2005, the newly re-elected President Bush was pushing, as his two main goals, immigration reform and Social Security accounts. The former matters in particular to the set of facts above, because the immediate addition of 14 million new legal buyers to the housing market and the anticipated follow on of some 100 million Americans, from both immigration and fertility, made an expectation of rising housing prices entirely realistic. [Indeed, even without such a massive inflow of new immigrants, we are not currently producing enough housing to meet current population growth.]

The Right needn't have any grasp of human decency nor much of economics to comprehend that if you retard demand you impact prices. Looked at objectively, it seems fair to say that they decided that the recession was a small price to pay for a "whiter" America.

June 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Three-Man Weave: There are underdog stories...and there's what happened in North Dakota in 1988 (Chuck Klosterman, JUNE 8, 2011, Grantland)

More than 23 years ago, a pair of low-profile junior college basketball teams played a forgotten game on a neutral floor in southeast North Dakota. The favored team was a school best known for its two-year forestry program; the underdog was a miniscule all-Native American college whose campus is located outside the Bismarck, N.D., airport. You've (probably) never heard of either school, and — in all likelihood — you will (probably) never hear of either one again. And if you remember this game, you (probably) played in it.

Games described as forgotten typically earn that classification because they deserve to disappear; traditionally, it's a modifier historians use to marginalize or dismiss a given event. But this game is "forgotten" in an actual sense: There's almost no record of its existence. Fewer than 500 people watched it happen. It was not televised and there's no videotape. It wasn't broadcast on the radio. Only a couple of small-circulation newspapers made mention of what transpired, and — because it happened before the Internet — Googling the contest's details is like searching for a glossy photograph of Genghis Khan. The game has disappeared from the world's consciousness, buried by time and devoid of nostalgia. And this, of course, is not abnormal. Junior college basketball games from 1988 are not historic landmarks. We are conditioned to forget who won (or lost) the opening round of the North Dakota state juco tournament because those are moments society does not need to remember. They don't even qualify as trivia.

But something crazy happened in this particular game.

In this particular game, a team won with only three players on the floor. And this was not a "metaphorical" victory or a "moral" victory: They literally won the game, 84-81, finishing the final 66 seconds by playing three-on-five. To refer to this as a David and Goliath battle devalues the impact of that cliché; it was more like a blind, one-armed David fighting Goliath without a rock. Yet there was no trick to this win and there was no deception — the team won by playing precisely how you'd expect. The crazy part is that it worked. [...]

This, it seems, is what paradoxically slew the Lumberjacks: their own tempo. They refused to make the Tribes play half-court defense, which fueled Hall's strategy. The Jacks were designed to outscore people; when I finally managed to locate Mr. Oswald7, he assumed I wanted to ask him about an altogether different game — a 1989 track meet versus Northland College in which the two squads combined for 308 points.8 Taylor echoed that sentiment. "Most of our games were more like 120 to 118," he said. "I made 115 3-pointers as a freshman.9 That was how we played."

When Webster fouled out at the four-minute mark, the Thunderbirds were still ahead by four. The remaining Birds — Miles Fighter, Vernon Woodhall, Roger Yellow Card and Harold Pay Pay — were now faced with the task of breaking the Jacks' press without their best ball-handler (and without anyone to physically replace him). The lead started to melt. Fighter10 picked up his fifth foul with 1:06 on the clock; by now, Bottineau had managed to tie the game at 81. With a two-man advantage, it seemed unfathomable that the Tribes could hold on. But then the Thunderbirds got a break: The Lumberjacks' Mark Peltier was called for charging, giving the rock back to UT. Hall called time out, and the Thunderbirds had to inbound the ball at midcourt.

This is when it happened.

Now, imagine you're Ken Hall or Buster Gilliss. What do you do in this dead-ball situation? Hall had limited options; all he could really do was stack up two of his remaining three players and hope they set screens for each other. But Bottineau made a tragic — yet perhaps understandable — mistake: The Lumberjacks covered the man throwing the ball in, and they surrounded the other two Thunderbirds. It was like a little human prison — they face-guarded the front Bird, they played directly behind the back Bird, and they sandwiched the stack from both sides. Since one Thunderbird had to throw the ball in, it was a four-on-two situation. The Jacks assumed United Tribes would skew conservative and simply try to sneak the ball in-bounds. But that's not what happened; instead, Pay Pay spontaneously broke to the basket. Woodhall11 lobbed the ball over Pay Pay's shoulder, and he converted it into a breakaway layup. United Tribes were now up two with less than a minute go, and it suddenly seemed patently obvious they were going to win. There were still 40 seconds on the clock, but it was over. The Jacks had broken.

The crowd lost its collective mind. It felt like we were watching the Olympics.

"We had a psychological advantage, and that increased as the game went on," says Hall, slightly understating the situation.

...David wouldn't always win.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


USA: A Net Exporter of Natural Gas? (Christopher Mims 06/09/2011, New Geography)

Despite increased demand and a push to replace coal-fired power with natural gas, the U.S. is suffering what experts call a “gas glut.”

“The real problem for shale gas is demand — they don’t know where to put all of it,” says Ben Schlesinger, an independent consultant to the natural gas industry. Meanwhile, Europe is paying two to three times the prices in the U.S., and countries that are entirely dependent on LNG, including Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, are paying even more — between $20 and $30 per million BTU.

Europe also has security and political reasons for wanting access to U.S. gas. Its current primary source, Russia, has shown a willingness to use Europe’s dependence as a bargaining chip. In three of the past five winters, Russia has cut off the supply of gas to some part of Europe in a dispute over prices and other issues.

Currently there are plans for up to three LNG export terminals on the U.S. gulf coast, and one on the Pacific coast of Canada, in Kitimat. Historically, the only LNG export facility in the U.S. was in Kenai, Alaska. LNG ships bound for Japan have departed from the terminal since the 1960s, but it’s slated to be shut down in the near future. If the first two export plants in the U.S., both converted import facilities, come online by 2015 as projected, they would be the first constructed in the U.S. in 40 years.

Whether or not the U.S. will become “the next Qatar,” which is the largest exporter of natural gas in the world, will depend on a number of factors. Together, these variables will determine whether investors think LNG export terminals are worth the risk, and whether or not the U.S. will even be capable of sending its bounty overseas.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Merkel and Obama 'More Similar than They Like to Admit': US-German relations have soured in recent months, a development Barack Obama tried to remedy this week with a glittering state reception for Chancellor Angela Merkel. German commentators on Thursday take stock of the American president's efforts and the message behind them. (Der Spiegel, 6/09/11)

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The relationship between Merkel's Germany and Obama's America was never really bad or plagued by distrust. In fact, the chancellor and the president are more similar than they would probably like to admit. But these relations have changed -- indeed, none of Obama's relationships with other countries work according to the traditional model. Obama doesn't surround himself with his favorites in the way his predecessor George W. Bush did, a man who viewed people as only friends or enemies. Obama is a modern super realist who has one thing in sight -- the situation in his own country..."

...that he isn't Christian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM

SHOULDER-TO-SHOULDER (via The Other Brother):

Lessons We’re Learning Riding Mass Transit (Leo Babauta, Zen Habits)

2. How to walk. Mass transit doesn’t take you everywhere, so we walk more than most families. That’s a great thing. Even my little ones are in pretty good shape and rarely complain about walking. We deal with the weather, which is something most people don’t do, as they’re cut off from the world in their glass and metal boxes. Truthfully, we don’t always walk — we love to race each other up hills and be out of breath. It’s wonderful.

3. How to deal with humanity. We’re often shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, which is something you never experience with a car. We deal with smells, with annoying people, with those who talk loudly, with the mentally challenged, with plain crazy people. In other words, with people. And this is a great thing. We learn that we come in all shapes and sizes, that life isn’t the perfect picket fences you see on TV, that the world is real … and that that’s OK. We’re learning to celebrate differences. [...]

5. That transit can be more convenient than cars. Sure, it’s nice to be able to hop in your car and go somewhere quickly, no matter the weather. That’s convenient. But there are inconveniences with cars that we forget about: the frustrations of parking (especially in San Francisco), traffic jams, rude drivers, car accidents, flat tires, car maintenance, having to stop for gas, having to actually drive instead of relaxing on the trip, sitting all the time instead of moving around, and more. Again, I’m not judging cars, but all of that, if you think about it, makes riding on a bus or train actually seem nice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


Male Brains Aren't Designed To Listen to Female Voices (StyleCaster, Jun 8, 2011, Yahoo)

If you've ever spent time telling a guy a story or asking him a question, only to get a blank stare in response, then you know that there's definitely truth to this claim that guys weren't designed to hear us speak. I had a similar experience at brunch this weekend when I was going on and on to a male friend about something I can't even remember anymore. When I got to the end of my rant and finally asked him if he agreed with me on the topic at hand, his answer was, "sorry, I really wasn't listening to a word you said."

Even though I was incredibly frustrated with him, he did bring up a good point, asking, "would you rather I lie and say I heard you?" This little exchange, as insignificant as it was, did make me wonder exactly what it is that makes it so easy for men to tune us out.

As it turns out, a study published in the journal NeuroImage sought to answer the very same question. Researchers found that there are major differences in the way male and female brains process voice sounds. Different brain regions are activated in men, depending on whether they're hearing a male or female voice.

...which naturally led The Wife to replace the fridge, the floors, etc. I told her to go ahead and do whatever she wanted as long as she never asked me for any input, which would only be ignored and/or get me in trouble.

But she violated this rule and started talking to me about some kitchen-related detail, at the end of which disquisition she nodded her head to the side in that matter that seemed to indicate I was supposed to answer some question. Having not heard a blessed word I had no idea what was expected at this point. So I very politely apologized and said I couldn't respond to said query because my last coherent thought had involved Salma Hayek and a giant vat of butterscotch pudding, rather than the kitchen. There may have been better ways to handle the dilemma....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


Pawlenty Emerges From GOP Pack With a Plan in the Reagan Mold (LAWRENCE KUDLOW, June 11, 2011, NY Sun)

The Wall Street Journal editorial page calls it a “growth marker.” Famed CEO Jack Welsh calls it a vision for America. I think it’s an act of great leadership.

The details of Mr. Pawlenty’s economic program are similar in scope and structure to Reagan’s. Slash tax rates. In particular, the single-best Pawlenty proposal is to take the business tax rate all the way down to 15% from 35%, get rid of all the deductions, and quit taxing foreign earnings of American companies. Critically, he would make small-business S-Corps or LLC partnerships eligible for the new low corporate rate.

Small businesses and brand-new start-ups have faltered during the Obama years. They should be the engine of job growth, but it’s not happening. Under Mr. Pawlenty’s plan, however, their rewards for new pass-the-hat investments among friends and families would be lifted by more than 40% on a take-home-pay basis.

The former college hockey player also would reform the personal tax system by moving to two rates of only 10% and 25%. And, get this: He would abolish taxes on capital gains, interest, dividends, and estates. He’d also sunset all economic regulations. And he’d apply a “Google test,” whereby if you can find a federal government good or service on the Internet, the federal government doesn’t need to run it. That means the Post Office, the Government Printing Office, and Amtrak could be sold off, privatized, or leased out.

The governor also comes out for a strong King Dollar, with a blistering attack on the Bernanke Fed’s loose-money policies. He also offers up an outline for entitlement reform, along with a 5% budget-impoundment approach until such time as the budget is balanced.

Quintessentially, Tim Pawlenty has delivered a private-sector, free-enterprise vision of economic growth and jobs, saying: “Markets work. Barack Obama’s central planning doesn’t.” It’s in this spirit that he would repeal Obamacare, which is one of the greatest job-blockers of all right now, with its maze of tax-and-regulatory interventions into the private economy.

...but adopting his free trade stance and immigration amnesty would help.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Why Can’t More Poor People Escape Poverty?: A radical new explanation from psychologists. (Jamie Holmes, June 6, 2011, New Republic)

In the 1990s, social psychologists developed a theory of “depletable” self-control. The idea was that an individual’s capacity for exerting willpower was finite—that exerting willpower in one area makes us less able to exert it in other areas. In 1998, researchers at Case Western Reserve University published some of the young movement’s first returns. Roy Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne Tice set up a simple experiment. They had food-deprived subjects sit at a table with two types of food on it: cookies and chocolates; and radishes. Some of the subjects were instructed to eat radishes and resist the sweets, and afterwards all were put to work on unsolvable geometric puzzles. Resisting the sweets, independent of mood, made participants give up more than twice as quickly on the geometric puzzles. Resisting temptation, the researchers found, seemed to have “produced a ‘psychic cost.’”

Over the intervening 13 years, these results have been corroborated in more than 100 experiments. Researchers have found that exerting self-control on an initial task impaired self-control on subsequent tasks: Consumers became more susceptible to tempting products; chronic dieters overate; people were more likely to lie for monetary gain; and so on. As Baumeister told Teaching of Psychology in 2008, “After you exert self-control in any sphere at all, like resisting dessert, you have less self-control at the next task.”

In addition, researchers have expanded the theory to cover tradeoff decisions, not just self-control decisions. That is, any decision that requires tradeoffs seems to deplete our ability to muster willpower for future decisions. Tradeoff decisions, like choosing between more money and more leisure time, require the same conflict resolution as self-control decisions (although our impulses appear to play a smaller role). In both cases, willpower can be understood as the capacity to resolve conflicts among choices as rationally as possible, and to make the best decision in light of one’s personal goals. And, in both cases, willpower seems to be a depletable resource.

This theory of depletable willpower has its detractors, and, as in most academic topics studied across disciplinary fields, one finds plenty of disputes over the details. But this model of self-control is now one of the most prominent theories of willpower in social psychology, at the core of what E. Tory Higgins of Columbia University described in 2009 as “an explosion of scientific interest” in the topic over the last decade. Some skeptics correctly emphasize the vital role of motivation, and some emphasize instead that “attention” is limited. But the core of the breakthrough is that resolving conflicts among choices is expensive at a cognitive level and can be unpleasant. It causes mental fatigue.

Nowhere is this revelation more important than in our efforts to understand poverty. Taking this model of willpower into the real world, psychologists and economists have been exploring one particular source of stress on the mind: finances. The level at which the poor have to exert financial self-control, they have suggested, is far lower than the level at which the well-off have to do so. Purchasing decisions that the wealthy can base entirely on preference, like buying dinner, require rigorous tradeoff calculations for the poor. As Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir formulated the point in a recent talk, for the poor, “almost everything they do requires tradeoff thinking. It’s distracting, it’s depleting … and it leads to error.” The poor have to make financial tradeoff decisions, as Shafir put it, “on anything above a muffin.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


The Black Swan of Cairo : How Suppressing Volatility Makes the World Less Predictable and More Dangerous (Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Mark Blyth, May/June 2011, Foreign Affairs)

Why is surprise the permanent condition of the U.S. political and economic elite? In 2007-8, when the global financial system imploded, the cry that no one could have seen this coming was heard everywhere, despite the existence of numerous analyses showing that a crisis was unavoidable. It is no surprise that one hears precisely the same response today regarding the current turmoil in the Middle East. The critical issue in both cases is the artificial suppression of volatility -- the ups and downs of life -- in the name of stability. It is both misguided and dangerous to push unobserved risks further into the statistical tails of the probability distribution of outcomes and allow these high-impact, low-probability "tail risks" to disappear from policymakers' fields of observation. What the world is witnessing in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is simply what happens when highly constrained systems explode.

...a black swan is an event that W warned you about and proposed policies to deal with but you didn't listen? It really is just a matter of the blind spots of the elites.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


US doesn't make cut for happiest nations list: Feel good about yourself and your life? There's a chance you might be Danish (Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale, Douglas A. McIntyre, 24/7 Wall St.)

The happiest people in the developed world get loads of social services without having to work too hard. Having abundant natural resources, a thriving services sector and a fairly homogeneous population helps as well. The OECD study no doubt would have had different results had it included politically unstable countries in the Middle East or large emerging economies where political unrest threatens to bubble over such as China.

24/7 Wall St. also looked at one critical factor that the OECD study overlooked — economic stability. Our measure of this was total national debt as a percent of GDP. The figure helps determine a country's ability to maintain present tax levels and social services. Odds are that countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios are more likely to need austerity policies to reign-in their government spending. Otherwise, their debt costs will soar.

Nations with long-term economic strength can also afford to support employment, education, and make health care widely available. Happiness viewed in this way means that people are more likely to feel better about themselves in Norway, which has almost no debt and great social services, than in Greece, which must slash entitlement spending or risk defaulting on its debt.

Old, stable nations of northern Europe took five of the top 10 spots on our list. These include Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark. Switzerland is also on the list and has many characteristics in common with the Scandinavian countries. The resource-rich, English-speaking countries of Australia and Canada made the cut as well. Noticeably absent from the list are any OECD nations in Latin America, southern and eastern Europe and Asia. Many of the southern European nations like Greece, Portugal, and Spain are in economic trouble and have high unemployment. The employment and education opportunities are not as good in Mexico as in Canada, nor is the access to high-quality health care. Japan and South Korea each have stable societies, but the people in both countries tend to work long hours and have limited leisure time.

The happiest countries seem to be places where there is a good balance of work and leisure time. Not all nations can afford to keep unemployment low through government subsidies. Not all countries can afford to provide universal medical coverage. Not all countries can afford to educate almost all of their children, which in turn supports extremely high literacy rates and builds a population of skilled workers.

Noting the sameness of the states reveals why the End of History exerts such a powerful influence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


The Room and the Elephant (Sven Birkerts, 6/07/11, LA Review of Books)

In the world according to 2.0, these are deemed to be some of the big changes of our moment. Expertise, authorship, individual creativity: out. Team collaborations, Wikipedia: in. Inevitably: “Knowledge is growing more broadly and immediately participatory and collaborative by the moment.”

And now I come to it, without as much of a drum roll as I’d hoped, the last word, the formulation that penetrated my stimulus screen. Bob Stein gets the last important words, but what an epigram they make. Simply: “The sadness of our age is characterized by the shackles of individualism.”

I leave a space here — a moment in which to re-read and ponder those words.


It may seem odd that I’ve spent so much time summarizing and quoting from a web-posted pro-Wikipedia polemic, but this piece struck me, got down under my skin more irritatingly than most, and I needed to understand why. I think I do now. Here, in one place, I find not only a number of the issues I have been worrying for some time, but also, as I’ve suggested, some of the attitudes and assumptions that inform the situation, compose the climate in which the transformations are taking place. This “climate” has been the hardest thing to isolate for reflection, for it is a totality, an environment, a cultural Zeitgeist. I have tagged it for myself with a re-phrasing of the outworn idiom. “What if the elephant in the room,” I ask, “is the room itself?” Reading Bustillos’ article was the closest I’ve come to identifying that vast intangible for myself. It was there, as much in her definitional jockeying, her style of differentiating between worldviews, as in the thematic implication of the ideas themselves. Reading it, I thought: here are the pieces I need.

“Wikipedia and the Death of the Expert.” The title is as good a place to begin as any other. I note the immediate polarization of concepts — Wikipedia and expert — and the arresting announcement of the death of the latter. And though Bustillos does not establish causality — she has not called it “How Wikipedia killed the expert” — some of that implication inevitably attaches. “The king died and then the queen died is a story,” wrote E.M. Forster in his well-known distinction between a story and a plot. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot.” What Bustillos’ title offers as a story, is, for me, a plot. A causal narrative. Whatever term we decide on, it is a serious matter, one that fills me with some of the queen’s grief.

Let me address the main business straight on. Big as the Wikipedia question is — the question of the collaborative production of information — there are deeper issues still, issues for which Wikipedia versus Britannica, Bustillos’ comparative point of departure, is only the outer sign. And indeed, Wikipedia versus Britannica is not really even a viable polarization. After all, both are, though in clearly differing ways, collectivized enterprises looking to deliver accessible expertise to users. Bustillos’ real agenda, which she gets at by way of issues of said expertise and of collaboration, is to lay out two diametrically opposed conceptions of the human and then, in effect, to cast her vote. Here we have the split, the road-fork issuing in two paths that would with every step take the pilgrim on one further from his counterpart on the other. There is no eventual convergence. The one is the path — the ideal — of the individualized self, the other is the path of the socially and neurally collectivized self, along which, at some undetermined point, the idea of “self” itself must blur away, become a term no longer applicable.

There have been various iterations of this latter idea, starting perhaps with theologian Teillard de Chardin’s spiritualized imagining that there will one day exist what he called a noosphere, a kind of rapture belt of merged human identity girdling the planet. Then there was Forster’s prescient depiction, in his story “The Machine Stops,” of a world of beings living in isolated cells, interconnected by a communications network that is uncannily like the Internet. And, much more recently, we have media theorist Kevin Kelly’s variously expressed ideas about the “hive,” a world in which the electronic connections between people have fused to become a quasi-nervous system, bringing about a kind of cognitive collectivism. It was Kelly, too, who has been most vigorous in advancing the idea of the universalized book: all the world’s texts and data scanned into one vast keyword-searchable database.

Kelly was most certainly the thinker Lanier had in mind when he spoke out against the dangers of the hive mentality. As he put it in “Digital Maoism”: “the hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring.” And: “The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe that the Internet is itself an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.” Kant this is not, granted, but Bustillos exhibits nothing but sneering contempt for the expression, responding: “I guess if we started to believe that the Internet itself were writing Wikipedia we would be in some trouble, or maybe we would be Rod Serling, I don’t know.”


Electronic collectivism has very quickly gone from being a sci-fi imagining to being a plausible scenario that more and more people, at least those active in the computer-culture, would endorse for us all. It will be objected that the ambitions of the cyber-sector don’t have that much to do with the life of the culture at large. But one could similarly say that the decisions made by a few thousand members of the investment banking community don’t affect us either. In fact, there is a connection between the ideas held by that minority and the lives that the rest of us live. The connection is technology, and McLuhan framed it early on:

It is not only our material environment that is transformed by our machinery. We take our technology into the deepest recesses of our souls. Our view of reality, our structures of meaning, our sense of identity — all are touched and transformed by the technologies which we have allowed to mediate between ourselves and the world. We create machines in our own image and they, in turn, recreate us in theirs.

The sage of Toronto, quoted by Bustillos, encapsulates a great deal here, and it is exactly to the point. The cyber-sector, numerically a minority, could be said in important ways to have a majority voting interest so far as the development, promotion and implementation of technology goes. These are the engineers and marketers behind the enormously influential I-technologies, all of the daily-more-sophisticated screen devices that have come to seem indispensable to people the world over — from cell phones to tablets to reading devices of all descriptions. Backed by huge corporate interests, marketed through the global media, these interactive devices (and their consumer images) exert massive collective — and collectivizing — effects, and for the very reasons McLuhan hypothesized. We use them in prescribed ways and they determine not just our obvious external reflexes, our ways of doing business, but they also seep into our deeper selves, what McLuhan quite surprisingly calls our “souls.” And in this way, without even officially signing on to hive-oriented behavior and thinking, we begin to manifest it.

The point is that these technologies are not used in instrumentally isolated ways. Rather, they create a community of users and a complexly self-reinforcing culture of expectations. This culture, this environment — how well we know it — becomes ever more difficult to step away from; and it has various socially coercive implications.

We live in the midst of a set of processes that have, over the past several thousand years, universalized the God of Abraham, the English language, democracy, capitalism, protestantism, etc., and of which the Internet is just the latest instrumentality. But, we all want the moment in which we live to be profoundly unique so we inflate its importance beyond what it will bear.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Hank Greenberg, Reluctant Jewish Hero: Despite His Inclinations, He Excelled as a Power Hitter, Soldier and Community Representative : a review of Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want To Be One
By Mark Kurlansky (Leonard Kriegel, June 08, 2011, Forward)

I worshiped Greenberg for the same reason I worshiped Barney Ross: They both could hit. Anti-Semitism during the 1930s and ’40s was viral, even in the Bronx. And for me, Greenberg, no longer slugging home runs for the Tigers but serving in the Army, embodied physical resistance to it. He was big, he was from the Bronx — and he was a Jew. One didn’t need to be a sabermetrician to rattle off his homers and batting averages through the ’30s — and he was a Jew. Greenberg, the two-time American League MVP, was no prima donna; in 1940, he agreed to switch to the outfield from first base for the good of the team, a move that resulted in the Tigers winning the pennant — and he was a Jew. He had come close to matching an already hallowed baseball statistic, Babe Ruth’s 60 homers in a season — and he was a Jew.

Like Ross, Greenberg embodied what — however politically incorrect the term may be — one can speak of as Jewish masculinity and toughness. And yet, as Kurlansky is at pains to point out, no man was more reluctant to serve as a Jewish example. Praised by Jew and gentile alike for his decision not to play on Yom Kippur during the pennant race of 1934, his second year in the league, Greenberg was as secular as most other children of Eastern European Bronx Jews. His parents were Orthodox, but it was an Orthodoxy already geared toward achieving American success for the children. No doubt they would have preferred Hank become a businessman or lawyer. They probably dismissed his passion for baseball as the instincts of a vilde khaye or crazed person: instincts that were to be avoided — at least until the Tigers offered Greenberg a $9,000 signing bonus, not an insignificant sum in 1929. The pride they learned to take in their son’s stature, from his rookie year in 1933 to his departure for the Army in 1941, as the most feared right-handed power hitter in the game was undoubtedly augmented by how Greenberg had made himself the highest-paid major leaguer of his time.

But it was his ability to hit a baseball, the supreme athletic achievement not only for me and other Bronx Jewish boys, but also for boys in Keokuk, Iowa, and in Savannah, Ga., that was important. By 1934, when Greenberg sat out Yom Kippur in the midst of a pennant race, “both Jews and non-Jews were beginning to see him as a kind of national Jew, a symbol.” I was 1 year old then, but by the time I was 5, that symbol had been passed on to me by a left-wing, trade-unionist, synagogue-scoffing uncle. It didn’t matter that Greenberg just wanted to play baseball. It was “his lot to play baseball in the most anti-Semitic period in American history” that made him important to his fellow American Jews. He had little use for Judaism as a religion. (His attempt to give his children a sense of the spiritual could have been taken out of a Marx Brothers movie. On Yom Kippur, rather than going to synagogue, he took them to the planetarium at the Museum of Natural History.) Yet he was Jewish enough, however secular, to be a “fierce” Zionist, so fierce that it led to a split with one of his sons.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Report documents dramatic shift in immigrant workforce’s skill level (Washington Post. 6/08/11)

The study also found that half of highly skilled immigrants in the United States are working in jobs for which they are overqualified.

“Education credentials and language are big hurdles,” said Matthew Hall, a University of Illinois sociology professor who co-wrote the report.

Many immigrants find their degrees and certifications from abroad are not recognized here.

Luma Ghalib, 42, trained as a doctor in her native Iraq and then went to New Zealand for more training. When she moved to the United States a decade ago, she had to start from scratch.

“When you come here, you know it’s not going to be easy,” she said, adding that she spent several years redoing her basic medical training and retaking exams in the United States before specializing in endocrinology.

The Fredericksburg resident said she has no regrets about the five additional years of study that allowed her to live and work as a doctor here.

“It’s a fair country, unlike a lot of countries,” she said. “If you’re a hardworking person, you get to where you need to be going.”

Some employers may say they prefer immigrants to native-born workers. When Samir Kumar needs to hire employees for his Northern Virginia-based IT business, he often looks overseas. Not only do workers from India and Ukraine have the required training, but their expectations are lower, he said.

“They actually don’t demand a very high amount of salary, and the expectations are kind of grounded and they don’t jump around so much” between companies, said the 39-year-old Ashburn resident, an immigrant from India. U.S.-born technology and business analysts are hard to find and hard to retain, he said, while immigrants with the same skills and education “are much easier to manage.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM

HAZY DAYS OF SUMMER (profanity alert):

Balls Out: How to throw a no-hitter on acid, and other lessons from the career of baseball legend Dock Ellis (Keven Mcalester, June 16, 2005, Dallas Observer)

Thirty-five years ago, on June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirate and future Texas Rangers pitcher Dock Ellis found himself in the Los Angeles home of a childhood friend named Al Rambo. Two days earlier, he'd flown with the Pirates to San Diego for a four-game series with the Padres. He immediately rented a car and drove to L.A. to see Rambo and his girlfriend Mitzi. The next 12 hours were a fog of conversation, screwdrivers, marijuana, and, for Ellis, amphetamines. He went to sleep in the early morning, woke up sometime after noon and immediately took a dose of Purple Haze acid. Ellis would frequently drop acid on off days and weekends; he had a room in his basement christened "The Dungeon," in which he'd lock himself and listen to Jimi Hendrix or Iron Butterfly "for days."

A bit later, how long exactly he can't recall, he came across Mitzi flipping through a newspaper. She scanned for a moment, then noticed something.

"Dock," she said. "You're supposed to pitch today."

Ellis focused his mind. No. Friday. He wasn't pitching until Friday. He was sure.

"Baby," she replied. "It is Friday. You slept through Thursday."

Ellis remained calm. The game would start late. Ample time for the acid to wear off. Then it struck him: doubleheader. The Pirates had a doubleheader. And he was pitching the first game. He had four hours to get to San Diego, warm up and pitch. If something didn't happen in the interim, Dock Philip Ellis, age 25, was about to enter a 50,000-seat stadium and throw a very small ball, very hard, for a very long time, without the benefit of being able to, you know, feel the thing.

Which, it turns out, was one of the least crazy things that happened to him on that particular day.

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June 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Canucks must stop playing the Bruins’ game (Justin Bourne, 6/10/11, Puck Daddy)

The Vancouver Canucks, when not playing like those balloon punching bags with sand in the bottom as they did in Boston, tend to create their offense in a more highlight-reel friendly fashion. At their best, the Sedins make the game look almost elegant, and the team's wealth of skilled defenseman are able to quickly transition their forwards to create a flashier brand of play.

If Vancouver is going to have any hope of winning this series, they have to rediscover that identity.

They've been trying, and failing, to play Boston's game so far.

It's something coaches preach when things aren't going as planned — "we want to play our game," "we want to dictate the style of play." It sounds like general advice, but sticking to your team identity is relatively important when you've spent the past two games getting curb-stomped in every conceivable category. The Canucks look rattled — any time you're utterly infuriated it's a little difficult to focus on making a dainty backhand saucer pass.

Vancouver seems to have forgotten (and kudos to their opponent for getting them to this point) that you can still play physical without playing like a fool, and losing track of that starts with moron moves like biting a guy's finger. Call it karma, but that seemed to be where the Canucks started to switch their focus to the unimportant, petty side of hockey.

Having a pest on your team is effective at times, but it often throws off your own squad as much as your opponent's. Thanks to that, Boston is smart to let Vancouver get caught up in the stuff Bruce Arthur detailed nicely today — biting, slewfoots, and slashes — as long as the Canucks don't turn their focus back to playing actual hockey.

In a sense, the Bruins have been executing a magician's illusion — a little sleight of hand here, a little distraction there, and while the Canucks are looking in the wrong direction, they're deftly slipping the series in their side pocket with the other hand.

They just deserve credit for getting a great team off their game.

Of course, the problem with this analysis is that it was in the first period of Game One, on home ice, that Alex Burrows bit the Bruins best player and four minutes into the second period of that game that their defenseman Dan Hamhuis injured himself throwing a hit at Milan Lucic's knees. It doesn't fit the preconceived narrative, but looked at objectively isn't it possible that the Canucks are a dirty team--hardly unusual in NHL history for gifted skaters to be dirty--and the Bruins the better team?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


-INTERVIEW: 160 million missing girls: ‘Sex selection’ is creating a new endangered species: women. A journalist investigates the countries with too many men.: Mara Hvistendahl, author of 'Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men' (J. Gabriel Boylan, June 5, 2011, Boston Globe)

Over the past few decades, 160 million women have vanished from East and South Asia — or, to be more accurate, they were never born at all. Throughout the region, the practice of sex selection — prenatal sex screening followed by selective termination of pregnancies — has yielded a generation packed with boys. From a normal level of 105 boys to 100 girls, the ratio has shifted to 120, 150, and, in some cases, nearly 200 boys born for every 100 girls. In some countries, like South Korea, ratios spiked and are now returning to normal. But sex selection is on the rise in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

In a new book, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” American journalist Mara Hvistendahl explores how birth ratios got out of hand and looks into the actual and potential effects on the women, men, and social economies of these regions. While for years the myth has held that any choice of sons occurred through rural infanticide, sex selection turns out to proliferate in the middle and upper classes; parents who have access to obstetric services, ultrasound, and abortion are the ones likely to choose boys. [...]

IDEAS: How did modern sex selection begin to take hold in Asia?

HVISTENDAHL: In the 1960s and ’70s population growth was a huge issue, maybe like climate change today. The concern was genuine, but, unfortunately, in searching for ways to solve the problem, population control organizations came up with all sorts of wild solutions. It turned out to be a pretty dark period for reproductive rights. In the ’70s, 6 million men were sterilized in India, some of them forced. When the president of the Population Council wrote an article for Science in, I think, 1969, he ranked the various methods and ranked sex selection as having a high moral value. Sex selection emerged as a method that would be voluntary, and one that would appeal to those in the developing world, as most couples in those places would keep having children until they had a boy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


The day France betrayed its Jews: For years the French glossed over their part in the Holocaust. Now a hit film is forcing them to face their guilt (Simon Round, June 10, 2011, Jewish Chronicle)

On the morning of July 16 1942, some 13,000 Jews were arrested in Paris and sent to internment camps around France. After months of near starvation, the adults and children were separated and deported to Auschwitz. Only 25 of them returned to France at the end of the Second World War.

This may be only a short summary of these horrific events but it is more than you will find in French text books. The Vel d'Hiv round-up (named after the Winter Velodrome, the cycling stadium where the Jews were detained) has been almost totally ignored in France. This appalled investigative journalist and film-maker Rose Bosch, so much so that she spent five years of her life making a feature film about the episode. The resulting movie, The Round Up, has had a massive impact in France. It was one of the top 10 films of 2010, and was seen in cinemas by more than three million people - more than Hollywood blockbusters Schindler's List and The Pianist.

Bosch, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, does not think there was anything accidental about this collective lapse of memory by the French. "It was completely intentional. I've been a journalist on news magazines for many years and I know these things aren't forgotten by accident. There was this terrible shame about what happened."

Bosch explains why this might be. "The French authorities negotiated with the Germans to take Jewish children that the Nazis did not even ask for. Most French people did not realise that there were more than 200 camps in their country. From 1940, Marshal Pétain, the president of the Vichy regime, had sent Jews to those camps without any demands coming from the Germans. He also published anti-Jewish laws before the Germans asked him to."

She adds that France was the only country in Europe which sent thousands of unaccompanied children on trains to the death camps. When they arrived at Auschwitz they were either marched to the gas chambers or machine-gunned to death.

They're going to need someone to cleanse the banlieues for them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Romney to Skip Iowa Straw Poll (JEFF ZELENY, 6/10/11, NY Times)

Mitt Romney will not participate in the Iowa Straw Poll in August, his campaign announced Thursday evening, a departure from four years ago when he invested millions of dollars and criticized fellow Republicans who skipped the event that is a traditional test of organizing in the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


How Newt Gingrich's Campaign Imploded: The former speaker's top aides bolted en masse Thursday, leaving his campaign in tatters. Peter J. Boyer on staffers’ complaints about Gingrich’s rogue inclinations, the Greek cruise with wife Callista that was the final straw—and whether the candidate has any chance of recovering. (Peter J. Boyer, 6/10/11, Daily Beast)

Almost from the start, Gingrich’s campaign team had fretted that their candidate lacked the patience and discipline to accommodate himself to the exacting process of running a presidential campaign. The first sign of his inclination to go rogue was his May 15 appearance on the NBC broadcast, Meet the Press, during which he entangled himself in a controversy over the House Republican budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, which he criticized as “right-wing social engineering.” The Ryan plan has become Republican orthodoxy, and Gingrich found himself having to explain, and then apologize for, his remarks.

“It’s not a hobby. This is a full-time, 80-hour-a-week job.”

One Gingrich staffer, no longer with the campaign, noted Thursday that the Meet the Press appearance, which came just four days after Gingrich announced his candidacy, was booked by Gingrich himself—and was hardly the ideal venue for a candidate trying to win conservative hearts.

The final straw for some in the campaign was Gingrich’s decision to suddenly absent himself from the fray earlier this month to take a luxury Greek cruise with his wife, Callista—an odyssey one Gingrich insider called, “the Greek tragedy.” Some on Gingrich’s campaign staff had strongly urged the candidate not to abandon the field for an opulent vacation.

Gingrich’s insistence on taking the cruise reflected the deep disconnect between his staff’s idea of what was required to win the nomination, and Gingrich’s own. Gingrich sometimes “seemed almost annoyed at the process,” one top staffer said.

Some of the blame for that disconnect has been laid at the feet of Callista Gingrich, who didn’t appreciate the demands that a presidential campaign places upon the candidate and his family. “It’s how much time that his wife thinks that he should spend on this,” the staffer said. “It’s not a hobby. This is a full-time, 80-hour-a-week job.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM

WOULDN'T FRENCH TIME... (via Matt Murphy):

Academic: Are the Smurfs Crypto-Fascists? (Tristan Berteloot, June 08, 2011, TIME)

[T]he Smurfs have also caught the attention of a controversial French academic who says there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to the pint-sized characters. Hidden behind their charming veneer are some pretty dark undertones, argues Antoine Buéno, whose work "Le Petit Livre Bleu" (The Little Blue Book) accuses the Smurfs of being maybe just a bit fascist.

Buéno, who is both a senior lecturer at SciencePo University in Paris and a novelist, never set out to destroy the magical energy that emanates from these blue-colored characters. Nevertheless, he analyzes their society and ideology — Smurfology — through an unforgiving political lens.

"Le Petit Livre Bleu" focuses specifically on the man behind the cryptic cartoons, original Smurf author Pierre Culliford, aka Peyo. Whether he meant it or not, Culliford endowed his magical little creatures with some Stalinist, racist and anti-Semitic leanings, argues Buéno.

Buéno first questioned the Smurfs' biological nature and sexuality: by the way, why is there only one Smurfette? Then, he tried to show that Smurf society is the archetype of a totalitarian utopia marked by Stalinism and Nazism.

...be better spent studying the pathologies of the French than of cartoon characters?

June 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


The Rise of Benefit Corporations (Jamie Raskin, June 8, 2011, The Nation)

[A] promising alternative is emerging: an entity called the Benefit Corporation, which has been written into law in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and Vermont, and is moving quickly in other states too. The new laws permit companies to join the profit motive with the purpose of making a “positive impact on society and the environment.” In their articles of incorporation, Benefit Corporations declare their public missions—things like bringing a local river back to life, providing affordable housing, facilitating animal adoptions or promoting adult literacy. Under the law they must go regularly before a third-party validator like B Lab, the visionary Philadelphia-based alliance of more than 400 so-called B Corps across the country, to prove that they are not only meeting their goals but treating their employees, customers, communities and local environments with the same respect as their shareholders. Benefit Corporations can lose their B Corp title and their legal status for not doing right by these standards. [...]

[H]aving Benefit Corporation status sends a powerful message to shareholders, employees, business partners and consumers about what kind of company you’re running. The signal generates instant branding, internal cohesion, consumer enthusiasm and links to a vibrant national B Corp network that brings in more than $4.5 billion in revenues. (Some B Corps are even worker-owned, like Vermont’s famous King Arthur Flour, which has almost 200 employees and may become the poster child for companies doing well in commerce, doing good in society and doing justice in the workplace.) The key to success here is a growing consumer demand for responsible commerce.

In a political sense, the surging popularity of B Corps will change the way people think about business. We can have a market economy without having a market society, and we can have prosperous corporations that act with conscience. Our besieged labor unions and nonprofits should bolster these businesses—green, local, progressive, entrepreneurial, community-focused—as an alternative to an economy controlled by massive state-subsidized corporations that are too big to fail and whose executives are too rich to jail.

...they're an alternative to unionization.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


Newt Gingrich’s staff resigns en masse (Jim Galloway, June 9, 2011, AJC)

The Associated Press has just moved an alert reporting that GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s staff has resigned en masse:

Gingrich press spokesman Rick Tyler told AP that he’s resigned along with campaign manager Rob Johnson, senior strategists and aides in key early primary states.

Other officials said Gingrich was informed that his entire high command was quitting in a meeting earlier in the day.

He inspires mutiny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


U.S. Is Intensifying a Secret Campaign of Yemen Airstrikes (MARK MAZZETTI, 6/08/11, NY Times)

Concerned that support for the campaign could wane if the government of Yemen’s authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, were to fall, the United States ambassador in Yemen has met recently with leaders of the opposition, partly to make the case for continuing American operations. Officials in Washington said that opposition leaders have told the ambassador, Gerald M. Feierstein, that operations against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula should continue regardless of who wins the power struggle in Sana.

The extent of America’s war in Yemen has been among the Obama administration’s most closely guarded secrets, as officials worried that news of unilateral American operations could undermine Mr. Saleh’s tenuous grip on power. Mr. Saleh authorized American missions in Yemen in 2009, but placed limits on their scope and has said publicly that all military operations had been conducted by his own troops.

Mr. Saleh fled the country last week to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after rebel shelling of the presidential compound, and more government troops have been brought back to Sana to bolster the government’s defense.

“We’ve seen the regime move its assets away from counterterrorism and toward its own survival,” said Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But as things get more and more chaotic in Yemen, the space for the Americans to operate in gets bigger,” he said.

Lawless areas just mean we don't even have to pretend to respect "international law."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Pawlenty’s Transit Strike: Facing unsustainable union retirement benefits, Pawlenty chose to fight. (Katrina Trinko, June 9, 2011, National Review)

Peter Bell, a Pawlenty appointee, is chairman of the Metropolitan Council, charged with overseeing public transportation in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area. Bell recalls that “the heart of the issue was retiree health-care benefits.” Some workers were eligible for lifetime health-care benefits as soon as they had worked as little as ten years and were 55 or older. Bell, with Pawlenty’s approval, wanted to start requiring those already working for the transit system to be employed for 17 years before they were eligible for any retirement health-care benefits. For new employees, he wanted to eliminate retirement health-care benefits entirely.

Compensation and current health-care benefits were also matters of dispute between the union and the Council. But behind it all was the unfunded liability of $255 million caused by the retiree health-care benefits. “This unfunded liability was really the Pac-Man in our transit budget,” Bell says. “It was going to eat up all our resources.” [...]

In the end, partially thanks to the money saved by not running the buses for a month and a half, the bus drivers were given a more generous compensation package than the Council had originally offered. But the union compromised, too. On retiree health-care benefits, the status quo remained in place for current employees, including lifetime benefits after ten years of service. For new hires, though, there would be no retirement health-care benefits, a major defeat for the union.

On current health-care costs, the union got a better deal, winning the fight over whether to retain the existing health-care plan and premiums. (The new premiums were slightly lower, offset by new doctors’-visit co-pays and a hike in drug co-pays.) On wages, the Council agreed to a slightly higher raise than originally offered, and agreed to give employees a one-time bonus.

Ultimately, Bell says, “we got what we needed to get.”

Pawlenty was also pleased with the outcome. “The [bus] drivers were well-meaning people,” he wrote in Courage, “but over the years management and labor officials had enabled them, and each other, to create a system with a benefit that was excessive and unsustainable. The gig was up, and it had to change.”

“The union understood,” he added. “Crisis over. The buses started rolling again.”

Mitch Pearlstein, president of Center of the American Experiment, a Minnesota think tank, says that Pawlenty “prevailed.”

“You’re never going to get everything,” Pearlstein acknowledges, but speaks favorably of what Pawlenty did achieve. “He took a long strike that was very inconvenient for a lot of people and . . . he clearly won.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


More Trade and More Aid (MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER and ROBERT Z. LAWRENCE, 6/08/11, NY Times)

Our proposal to resolve the trade impasse: more trade and more aid. More trade means that President Obama should immediately submit, and Congress should immediately ratify, the pending free-trade agreements. Colombia and Panama already enjoy unfettered access to our market, and South Korea has negotiated free-trade deals with the European Union and India; we cannot afford to fall behind.

More aid means Congress and the president should replace T.A.A. with a broader safety net that helps workers regardless of why they lost their jobs. Unemployment insurance, introduced in the early 1930s, has not really changed since then; it should be merged with T.A.A. Today, unemployed workers face challenges far greater than T.A.A. or unemployment insurance alone can address: getting matched with a new employer, often in a new industry; upgrading or learning new skills, often at reduced wages; and coping with lost benefits, especially health coverage.

A new American Adjustment Program should combine the best elements of unemployment insurance, T.A.A., and training programs authorized by the Workforce Investment Act. This approach would include a wage-loss insurance program for workers 45 and older, to speed their rehiring by supplementing their income if they take work at lower pay; helping workers receiving unemployment insurance to pay for coverage under Cobra (which allows workers who lose their jobs to keep group health benefits for limited periods); and enabling unemployed workers to make penalty-free withdrawals from savings accounts like 401(k)’s and I.R.A.’s to finance costs like occupational retraining and relocation.

...and that 45 year old worker would have wealth on hand designed for exactly the situation, instead of drawing down retirement savings..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Blue Labour: a Republican critique (Stuart White, 8 June 2011, OpenDemocracy)

The Labour party is starting to have a real discussion of its philosophy. One idea more than any other has helped to kick the discussion off: ‘Blue Labour’. Maurice Glasman, Jonathan Rutherford, Jon Cruddas and Marc Stears have all written articles setting out the perspective (though the specific term is Maurice Glasman’s). It has attracted a great deal of both supportive and highly critical commentary. Lawrence and Wishart has published an e-book on the subject with core papers by Glasman, Stears and Rutherford and a range of responses, including one on which I draw here. [...]

I think the following five ideas are central to Blue Labour:

(1) A politics of conservation. Radical politics ought to be centrally about the protection of identities and sources of personal meaning based on place and/or work. In particular, radical politics is about protecting them against erosion by mobile capital.

(2) A politics of participatory democracy. Second, radical politics should look to popular self-organization to defend the integrity of these identities and sources of meaning. This (according to Blue Labour) has always been what the labour movement, at its best, is about. Today, this tradition of self-organization to restrain capital finds expression in community organizing of the kind practiced by Citizens UK.

(3) A politics of ownership. Third, radical politics must take the ownership of property seriously. The power of capital within the firm should not be that of an unaccountable sovereign, but a power that is balanced by workers’ rights. Capital should not be entirely footloose, but entangled and grounded within specific places, e.g., by vesting local civil society with the ownership of productive assets.

(4) Less moral abstraction. Fourth, radical politics should not base its claims in ‘abstract’ notions like fairness, equality, social justice or rights which are remote from people’s life experiences and immediate concerns. It should base itself on concrete grievances and historical traditions that are part of people’s identity.

(5) Less emphasis on state welfare. Fifth, radical politics should give less emphasis than social democracy conventionally does to redistribution, welfare transfers and the state as a financer and provider of services. [...]

[W]hile critical of the welfare state, Blue Labour has relatively little to say about the form and structure of the political state. It tends to see the disconnects and lack of trust between politicians and other citizens as a dispositional or cultural problem on the part of an overly liberal-minded elite, rather than as a structural problem related to the way political representation is organised. It honours a tradition which proclaims our ‘ancient liberties’. But it does not show a great deal of curiosity about the way basic liberties have been curtailed and threatened by the state, until very recently under Labour’s direction.

Even on its own terms, can Blue Labour afford to be so apparently uninterested in the reform of political structures? If Blue Labour is about empowerment in work and place, can it rest content with an institutional conservatism in this sphere? Doesn’t such a conservatism jeopardise the very local empowerment it seeks? Can we be empowered citizens in, say, Birmingham, if we remain subjects of an executive that can reorder local authority structures at its centralised whim?

If we want a democratic politics of the kind Tawney had in mind, a democracy of confident popular self-assertion rather than passive ‘voting fodder’, then we need much more scrutiny of the state in these areas.

We will need less invoking of Edmund Burke, and a lot more of the spirit of Tom Paine.

The particular genius of the "conservative" Left/"liberal" Right is to use the redistribution of property--via universal savings accounts--to empower citizens economically and make them more invested in the community, therefore more conservative politically.

June 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Psychic led police to Texas mass grave hoax? (Benjamin Radford, 6/08/11, LiveScience)

The chaos that ensued Tuesday (June 7) as helicopters, reporters and onlookers descended upon what a "psychic" claimed was the scene of a grisly mass murder at a rural farmhouse in Houston, Texas, may suggest that psychics help out police on tricky cases.

Well, in this particular case, what the woman claiming to be a psychic insisted would be dozens of dismembered bodies, including those of children — a la "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" — turned out to be nothing.

So not only was the tip unhelpful, it was all a waste of time and energy. "There's no validity to the report," one law enforcement official confirmed.

Part of the reason that Houston police took the psychic seriously is that they initially found some evidence corroborating her claims, including blood on the ground and the smell of decomposition on the property.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Ozzie Guillen Challenges Sean Penn to Move to Venezuela (Caitlin Dickson, 6/08/11, Atlantic Wire)

Opening Serve: Guillen's beef with Penn dates back to March of last year, when Penn, during an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, defended controversial Venezuelan president-for-life Hugo Chavez. "Every day this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it and accept it. And this is mainstream media, who should--truly there should be a bar by which they--one goes to prison for these kinds of lies," he told Maher. The outspoken White Sox manager, a native of Venezuela, took offense to Penn's comments and tweeted: "Oh God, you are very crazy. Go and move to our country. You will change your mind," and "Sean Penn defended Chavez is easy when you have money and [don't live] in [our] country shame on you mr penn."

Return Volley: Penn, apparently, did not take Guillan's words to heart, as he had further praise for the Chavez government in a Huffington Post editorial this week. Penn insists the Chavez's dictator reputation is manufactured by the U.S. government and media and amounts to "defamation, not only to President Chavez, but also to the majority of Venezuelan people, poor people who have elected him president time and time again." The actor urges Americans to "call for a moratorium" on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act which being applied to Venezuela "until such time as a congressional hearing may be convened and strategic benefits evidenced in balance with the historic effects of similar sanctions in other developing and impoverished nations."

It didn't take long for this post to reach Guillen, who gave Penn a piece of his mind, once again, via Twitter. "Sean penn if you love venezuela please move to venezuela for a year," Guillen suggested, early this morning. "But rent a house in guarenas or guatire to see how long you last clown."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


The Spectator's Notes (Charles Moore, 4 June 2011, The Spectator)

It remains a risky thing to say, but is it possible that, in Libya, the West may be about to have a foreign policy success on its hands? Criticism of the Nato bombings has been based on the idea that the allies had no real knowledge of what they were doing. This is not true. The targeting seems to have been accurate, and so does the intelligence about the state of the Gaddafi regime. Defectors tell us useful things. No Arab nation tries to save the dictator. He is desperately trying to buy his way out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Evolutionary reasons for believing in luck (Cynthia Mills, 6/07/11, PhysOrg)

Superstition is an evolutionary surprise -- it makes no sense for organisms to believe a specific action influences the future when it can't. Yet superstitious behavior can be recognized in many animals, not just humans, and it often persists in the face of evidence against it. Superstitions are not free -- rituals and avoidances cost an animal in terms of energy or lost opportunities. The question becomes how can natural selection create, or simply allow for, such inappropriate behavior?

"From an evolutionary perspective, superstitions seem maladaptive," said Kevin Abbott, biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and co-author with Thomas Sherratt of a recent study published in Animal Behaviour.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


LED light bulbs have a bright future: They look odd and are expensive, but LEDs could someday replace compact fluorescent lights as the main alternative to incandescent bulbs. (Troy Wolverton, June 8, 2011, LA Times)

They don't contain mercury, are truly instant-on, and the new 60-watt-equivalent bulbs typically can be dimmed.

Meanwhile, LED bulbs are expected to have life spans that are several times that of even CFLs. And they have been designed to emulate the light of incandescent bulbs.

At about 12 to 13 watts, they use slightly less energy than CFLs, and less than one-quarter of the energy of a 60-watt bulb. And unlike CFLs or incandescents, they're based on the same rapidly improving semiconductor technology found in the chips inside your PC and smartphone.

Thanks to that, LED bulbs should get more efficient in coming years. The Energy Department has set a target to have a 60-watt-equivalent bulb use just 10 watts — and some folks in the industry say they can get the energy use down even lower in coming years.

LED bulbs have been around for many years, but the initial 60-watt-equivalent bulbs mostly were made by off-brands and start-up companies and sold only by enthusiast websites. While you could find some LED bulbs in major stores over the last year or so, they tended to be for use in recessed lighting or for replacing lower-output incandescents.

Now they're being produced by major lighting companies, including Philips and Sylvania, and are being backed by major retailers, including Home Depot and Lowe's.

Lowe's started selling Sylvania's 60-watt-equivalent bulb online late last year and recently began offering it in its stores. In addition to the Philips bulb, Home Depot has begun selling a 60-watt-equivalent LED bulb from Lighting Science Group Corp. in some of its stores under its house brand, EcoSmart.

In recent months, I've been testing both the Philips and the EcoSmart bulbs. The best thing I can say about them is that as strange as they may look — the Philips bulb has yellow glass segmented by three metal grooves and the EcoSmart bulb has what looks to be a squashed glass head — the light they give off is unremarkable. It's bright and warm, but, to my eye at least, basically indistinguishable from what would be produced by an incandescent light.

The bulbs give off more light — measured in lumens — than a standard 60-watt bulb. And the coatings used on their glass are designed to filter the light they emit so that it appears more "natural."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


The scandal of France: power and shame: The arrest in New York of the head of the International Monetary Fund and leading French politician on charges of sexual misconduct is a confusing and revelatory moment in France's public life. Whatever the legal outcome of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s case some uncomfortable truths have to be faced, says Patrice de Beer. (Patrice de Beer, 8 June 2011, OpenDemocracy)

[I] feel personally ashamed, sorry, and flabbergasted (and I could use many other expletives). Ashamed as a Frenchman that this (mis)behaviour by one of my most prominent compatriots - whatever the legal findings - has tainted us all. The séducteur image long attached to us, which made us so popular in movies (see Maurice Chevalier or Charles Boyer) and to which we love to cling to, should only ever float on personal charm and consensuality and never be abused by force or predation.

But I also feel ashamed of myself as one of very many who - from the depth of our belief that Nicolas Sarkozy had harmed French society and of our desire to see the left win next elections - almost deliberately closed our ears and eyes to what we knew or had heard of DSK's predilections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Gretzky (the son of) and Gaedel (the tall one) are drafted by MLB (Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY)

Trevor Gretzky, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound son of Wayne Gretzky, was drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Cubs.

Kyle Gaedel, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound great nephew of Eddie Gaedel, was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres.

June 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM


GM CEO calls for $1 gas tax hike (Chris Isidore, June 7, 2011, CNNMoney)

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson said his company and his industry would be helped, not hurt, if consumers paid higher gas taxes.

In an interview published in Tuesday's Detroit News, Akerson floated the idea of a $1 a gallon increase in the gas tax as a way to encourage buyers to purchase smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Greg Martin, spokesman for GM's Washin

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Jon Stewart: Weinergate not his finest hour (David Zurawik, 6/07/11, Baltimore Sun)

Let's be honest about this: Stewart has behaved badly when it comes to Weiner the past few days. In fact, he's looked kind of confused and pathetic at times, particularly in his wrongheaded criticism of the media.

The early locker-room jokes in the May 31 video don't matter much. Nor do all the middle-school references to size. What matters to me is Stewart's criticism of media coverage, particularly CNN's, which he really goes after during the last 90 seconds or so of the video. Pay special attention to the way he singles out Dana Bash and John King, who I think did excellent work. You can read my analysis of CNN's performance here.

Stewart was dead wrong in his criticism of the way the mainstream press was trying to get at the story that came to light yesterday. Bash and her producer were exemplary, in fact. But Stewart tried to ridicule their efforts.

I'd like to think that perhaps his friendship with the creepy Weiner clouded Stewart's judgment, but he has been wrong in his media criticism before -- and no one called him on it. My take on why he gets a free pass is that many media critics aren't sure of their own values and standards. The one thing they know, though, is that they are scared to death of being ridiculed by Stewart.

And Stewart never is accountable in his media criticism, is he? When he is wrong, he goes into the tap dance of saying he's only a comedian and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


Bachmann strategist blasts Palin: 'Not serious' (Ben Smith 6/07/11, Politico)

Michelle Bachmann's new top consultant, Ed Rollins, began his tenure with scathing criticism of potential Bachmann rival Sarah Palin.

"Sarah has not been serious over the last couple of years," Rollins told Brian Kilmeade on his radio show, Kilmeade and Friends. "She got the Vice Presidential thing handed to her, she didn't go to work in the sense of trying to gain more substance, she gave up her governorship."

He suggested that the contrast would favor Bachmann.

...it's the defense that's impossible. Sure, Ms Bachmann is not similarly a quitter, but she's not a leader and can't even win a statewide, nevermind a nationwide, race. They're just window dressing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


The Future of Power (Joseph S. Nye Jr., 6/05/11, The Chronicle Review)

Two great power shifts are under way—power transition and power diffusion. Power transition from one dominant state to another is a familiar historical process, and many analysts explain it with a narrative of American decline, replete with historical analogies to Britain and Rome. But Rome remained dominant for more than three centuries after its apogee, and even then it did not succumb to the rise of another state, but died a death of a thousand cuts inflicted by internecine conflict and external attacks by barbarian tribes. Indeed, for all the fashionable predictions of China's, India's, or Brazil's surpassing the United States in the next decades, the greater threat may be modern barbarians and nonstate actors.

The second shift is power diffusion. While states will remain the dominant actors on the world stage, that stage will become more crowded and difficult to control. More and more people have access to more and more information. What we see in the Middle East today is an example of how fast and affordable communication technology can empower previously disenfranchised elements in societies. International affairs are no longer the sole province of governments. Individuals and private organizations—corporations, NGO's, terrorists—now play a direct role in world politics.

Today, global power resources are distributed in a pattern that resembles a three-dimensional chess game. On the top chessboard, military power is unipolar, and the United States will remain supreme for the foreseeable future. But on the middle chessboard, economic power has been multipolar for more than a decade, with China, Europe, Japan, and the United States as the major players. The bottom chessboard is the realm of transnational relations, where multinational corporations transfer vast sums of money, terrorists transfer weapons, and hackers threaten cybersecurity. There is also the challenge of pandemics and climate change. On this bottom board, power is diffused, and it makes no sense to speak of unipolarity, multipolarity, hegemony, or empire.

Just as Rome shifted East, to Constantinople, for awhile, it later shifted West, to London and Washington. If we disregard the technical questions about whether America is a physical empire, it is obvious that we are an ideological one. The universal enfranchisement of the global population -- in politics, religion, and economics -- is a simple function of the Christian and republican ideals that were born in Rome but ultimately vindicated and extended by the Anglosphere.

Physical power is not, and will not be, distributed equally among all nations or all peoples, but that, of course, is not the goal of the Anglo-American model. We care only about liberty, in keeping with out Roman antecedents. It was the French/continental model that was concerned with equality and it was a miserable failure.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


China, Patents and U.S. Jobs: A new report suggests better intellectual property protection by Beijing could create 2.1 million American jobs. (MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER , 6/06/11, WSJ)

Last month the U.S. government issued a remarkable report that details how one policy change could eventually create up to 2.1 million U.S. jobs. Oh, and it wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime in new government spending. Thanks to higher payroll tax receipts it would probably help close, not expand, America's massive fiscal deficit.

The report? "China: Effects of Intellectual Property Infringement and Indigenous Innovation Policies on the U.S. Economy," by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). And the policy change? Getting China to better protect the intellectual-property rights of American companies.

The ITC surveyed 5,051 U.S. companies in industries such as high-tech manufacturing, publishing and software to gauge the incidence and extent of infringement of their copyright, trademark and other intellectual-property rights in China. Firms say infringement there is widespread, and it affects not just large multinational firms but many small and medium-sized U.S. companies as well. Extrapolating from survey responses, ITC estimates that all U.S. IP-intensive firms lost at least $48.2 billion in 2009 alone—perhaps even as much as $90.5 billion—from foregone sales, royalties and license fees.

The surveyed companies report that improved intellectual-property rights protection in China could boost their annual revenue there by as much as 20%—more than $100 billion a year—thanks to both higher U.S. exports and higher local-market sales by their Chinese affiliates. More revenue, in turn, would expand their U.S. labor demand by as much as 5%—which could mean over 900,000 new U.S. jobs.

And thanks to supplier linkages, expansion by IP-intensive firms would boost sales and hiring in dozens of U.S. industries.

...if it weren't bureaucrats blaming others for their own underperformance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Italians not having kids, and now, not getting married either: new stats (Hilary White, 6/03/11, LifeSiteNews.com)

The archetypal Italian family, with mamma and papa presiding over a noisy dinner table, surrounded by rambunctious children and grandchildren, has become a cultural artifact of the past. Not only are Italians not having children, they are increasingly not even bothering to get married, according to recently released government statistics. [...]

The decrease can mainly be seen in a decline in first marriages, particularly among people under 35. In just two years, the number of first marriages across the country has dropped by 30,000. At the same time, while abortion rates remain relatively low compared to other countries, Italy continues its birth-rate spiral, with only 1.39 children born per woman.

The crude marriage rates in Italy (the number of marriages per 1,000 individuals in the population), fell between 1970 and 2007 from 7.35 to 4.21.

The government Istat report found that while increasing numbers of “de facto unions” and cohabitation before marriage influenced the numbers, the main reason for the drop in marriage is the “prolonged stay of young people in the family of origin.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Why Newspaper Paywalls Are Still a Bad Idea: They may work at big papers, but at smaller publications, cordoning off content invites online competitors to provide the material for free (Mathew Ingram, 6/06/11, Business Week)

A month or so after it launched its paywall, the newspaper said it had racked up about 100,000 new subscribers, and NYT executives have said the paper hopes to increase that figure to about 300,000 by the end of the year. Despite those rosy numbers, however, even an optimistic view of the paywall's financial outcome produces only $35 million or so in revenue—a drop in the bucket for a media company whose overall revenue is more than $500 million.According to Reuters media blogger Felix Salmon:

"I hear that the brass at the New York Times expect its paywall to be revenue neutral—the amount of money they expect to bring in from online subscriptions is pretty much equal to the amount of money they expect to lose from online advertising."

They'd rather have fewer people read the content, but charge for it like it's still a newspaper, than just make their money off of more people looking at the ads, like tv.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


MIT Figures Out a Way to Refuel Electric Cars With Liquid Fuel (Adam Clark Estes, 6/06/11, Atlantic Wire)

A group of young MIT students have developed a new type of battery that runs on a rechargeable liquid fuel. The inventors call the fuel "Cambridge Crude," and if the technology makes it to market, refueling an electric car could be as easy as pulling up to a pump. The batteries are powered by semi-solid flow cells, an innovative architecture in which charged particles floating in a liquid electrolyte between two containers--one for storing energy and one for discharging energy. Separating out the functions and other innovations make the new battteries ten times as efficient as similar existing technology and cheaper to manufacture than lithium-ion batteries. In short, the new batteries make irrelevant the size and cost limitations that have kept this kind of technology out of electric cars to date.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Airlines lose economy passengers as soaring fuel bills force up ticket prices (Dan Milmo, 6/07/11, guardian.co.uk)

That back-of-the-cabin pilgrimage to Ibiza or Miami this summer will be a little less cramped than usual, according to the airline industry's leading trade body, as economy class passengers balk at higher fares due to rising fuel costs and aviation taxes.

June 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Hebert writes what he knows — this region (Sarah Trefethen, 6/04/11, Keene Sentinel)

Ernest Hebert’s ninth novel will be published in September. Titled “Never Back Down” and set in Keene, it chronicles 40 years in the life of a French-Canadian member of southern New Hampshire’s working class.

“It’s my life if I hadn’t gone to college,” Hebert says.

Hebert, who turned 70 in May, is a tenured professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, where he heads the creative writing program. But his road to the Ivy League was long — and it ran almost entirely through the Monadnock Region.

“The Dogs of March,” Hebert’s first novel, was published when he was in his 30s and working as a reporter for The Sentinel. [...]

Hebert’s stories are subtly funny, character-driven dramas of New England life. The plot of one Darby book — according to its dust jacket — revolves around a special town meeting on a proposal to build a shopping mall.

But if the stories are mundane, the themes are as lofty as they come.

“Religion, race and class — what else is there, really?” Hebert asks. [...]


How do you feel about being compared to William Faulkner?

Answer: “I hate being compared to William Faulkner — this kind of uppity, snooty southerner with his turgid prose based more or less on the Bible. I can’t bear to read Faulkner. It makes me want to puke, and you can quote me on all that. I just loathe Faulkner’s writing.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Fox News swaps Palin photo with Tina Fey (Dylan Stableford, The Cutline)

Fox News flubbed a photo of Sarah Palin on Sunday, televising an image of Tina Fey's Palin impression on "Saturday Night Live" instead of the former Alaskan governor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Ending Medicare 'As We Know It' (Robert Samuelson, 6/06/11, Real Clear Politics)

[T]wo things are clear.

First, as Medicare goes, so goes the entire health care system. Medicare is the nation's largest insurance program, with 48 million recipients and spending last year of $520 billion. About 75 percent of beneficiaries have fee-for-service coverage. If Medicare remains largely fee-for-service, the rest of the system will too.

Second, few doubt that today's health care system has much waste: medical care that does no good; high overhead costs. In a paper, Cutler documented some evidence. In one survey, 20 percent of patients reported that doctors repeated tests because records were unavailable; the health care sector has twice as many clerical workers as nurses and nine times as many as doctors; care of patients with chronic conditions is often slapdash, so that, for example, only 43 percent of diabetics receive recommended treatment.

Fee-for-service is open-ended reimbursement; the government's main tool to control Medicare's costs is to hold down reimbursement rates. Doctors and hospitals respond by ordering more services to offset the rate limits. For all its flaws, say Ryan's critics, this system beats his. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that in 2022, Ryan's plan would be more than a third costlier than the status quo, because Medicare's size makes it more effective at restraining reimbursement rates.

If CBO is correct, Ryan's plan fails; beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs would roughly double to cover the added cost. But CBO may be wrong. When a voucher system was adopted for Medicare's new drug benefit, CBO overestimated its costs by a third; the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' overestimate was 42 percent. When fundamental changes are made to a program, the green eyeshade types can't easily predict the results. Moreover, as health expert James Capretta notes, "managed care" plans in the Medicare Advantage program in 2010 did not have higher costs than Medicare's fee-for-service for similar coverage.

Under Ryan's plan, incentives would shift. Medicare would no longer be an open ATM; the vouchers would limit total spending. Providers would face pressures to do more with less; there would certainly be charges that essential care was being denied.

...and, instead, you have to draw down money from your own HSA to pay for this nonsense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


Natural Gas Entering 'Golden Age' (GUY CHAZAN, 6/05/11, WSJ)

The increasing abundance of cheap natural gas, coupled with rising demand for the fuel from China and the fall-out from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, may have set the stage for a "golden age of gas," the International Energy Agency said Monday.

Under a scenario set out by the IEA, global consumption of natural gas could rise by more than 50% over the next 25 years, with it accounting for more than a quarter of global energy demand by 2035, up from 21% now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Skin color: Handy tool for teaching evolution (A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Penn State )

Variations in skin color provide one of the best examples of evolution by natural selection acting on the human body and should be used to teach evolution in schools, according to a Penn State anthropologist.

"There is an inherent level of interest in skin color and for teachers, that is a great bonus -- kids want to know," said Nina Jablonski, professor and head, Department of Anthropology, Penn State. "The mechanism of evolution can be completely understood from skin color."

The reality is that the variations in skin color within our species effectively argue against Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Who's Afraid of the Chinese? (Amitai Etzioni, June 6, 2011, National Interest)

Many of China’s latest military acquisitions are either upgraded knock-offs of old Soviet equipment or purchased from the former USSR—hardly state-of-the-art technologies. Others are unlikely to achieve full operational capability for years to come, including the headline-grabbing Chinese stealth fighter, the J-20. And perhaps the greatest perceived Chinese military threat, anti-aircraft—a.k.a. “carrier-killer”—ballistic missiles, have yet to be publicly tested over water against a maneuvering target.

China’s yet-to-be-deployed first aircraft carrier was purchased from Ukraine in the ‘90s. (The U.S. has eleven.) China’s newest attack jet, the J-15, is an updated version of a Soviet one China dissected to learn its secrets. It carries less fuel than a U.S. model and, as a take-off method, requires flying off a ski-jump-style runway. When Russia refused to sell China nuclear submarines, China attempted to build its own and they turned out to be noisier than those built by the Soviets thirty years ago.

Whatever advancements China has made in its military, it is simply no match for the U.S. and will not be for decades. According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, the U.S. spent six times more than China on its military in 2010. While the Chinese have built up their nuclear stockpile to a couple hundred, the U.S. will have 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads, even after the reductions required by the new START treaty. As Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution noted: “There is no serious military man in China or in the United States who thinks that China has any prayer of dominating the U.S. militarily in the coming three or four decades."

And all this assumes there will be a reason for the U.S. and China to come to blows. However, it’s far from clear that China has aggressive intentions, and even less so beyond its own region. Actually, China has plenty more to worry about at home than abroad. China’s military spending competes with its efforts to address its widening income inequality, environmental degradation, aging population, ethnic tensions, high levels of corruption—all threatening to burst Beijing’s bubble. China may be the world’s second-largest economy in overall terms, but in per capita terms, it’s on par with Algeria and El Salvador.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Why Bill Keller Stepped Down As Times Executive Editor — And How the Paper’s Staffers Staged an Intervention Over His Column (Gabriel Sherman, 6/2/11, New York Magazine)

He hadn't planned on starting his new job as columnist before his old one ended, but then Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren asked Keller to write for the relaunched weekly. Keller initially proposed mainly covering foreign leaders, but his column soon became notorious as an expression of old-media id. In March he wrote a piece about aggregation and the Huffington Post in which he called bloggers "media recyclers" and media reporters "oxpeckers." Of AOL's $315 million purchase of the Huffington Post, he wrote: "Buying an aggregator and calling it a content play is a little like a company's announcing plans to improve its cash position by hiring a counterfeiter."

Keller's columns infuriated some members of the newsroom, especially the Times' media desk, who felt that the executive editor should be a kind of impartial honest broker. Times media editor Bruce Headlam and media columnist David Carr had an intervention with Keller to explain how his columns were hurting their ability to cover the industry. "I heard from Bruce, Dave, and Brian [Stelter] after the Arianna column had complicated their lives, which it was not intended to do," Keller told me. "Even though I knew I would cause a certain amount of consternation in the building, I decided that was okay because it was worth having a conversation about this."

Then, last month, Keller wrote a column critical of Twitter, calling it "the enemy of contemplation." Inside the Times, the column set off more alarms. Social-media staffers complained that Keller was signaling that he didn't like Twitter even as the paper was trying to encourage reporters to embrace the new tool.

...not to be scrutinized ourselves!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Thoughts within thoughts make us human (Liz Else, 6/03/11, New Scientist)

Cogito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am - was coined by René Descartes in 1637. He was struggling to find a solid philosophical basis for how we know about reality and truth.

This is also turns out to be of the most famous examples of recursion, the process of embedding ideas within ideas that humans seem to do so effortlessly. So effortlessly and so skilfully, in fact, that it's beginning to look like the one true dividing line between animals and humans that may hold up to close scrutiny.

That's the hope of Michael Corballis, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His new book, The Recursive Mind: The origins of human language, thought, and civilization, is a fascinating and well-grounded exposition of the nature and power of recursion. [...]

So how did recursion help ancient humans pull themselves up by their cognitive bootstraps? It allowed us to engage in mental time travel, says Corballis, the recursive operation whereby we recall past episodes into present consciousness and imagine future ones, and sometimes even insert fictions into reality.

We are on our own with this degree of recursion. Chimps, bonobos and orangutans just don't tell stories, paint pictures, write music or make films - there are no great ape equivalents of Hamlet or Inception.

In the Beginning was the Word....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Message to US State Dept: evil is evil is evil: How do you fashion a public diplomacy strategy if you do not believe that America stands for true human dignity? (Robert R. Reilly | Monday, 6 June 2011, MercatorNet)

We might pause here to reflect more accurately upon what exactly it was that did bring down the Berlin Wall as, actually, MTV broadcasts did not reach into eastern Germany. We are so far into the global war on terrorism that the conflict that defined most of the century that preceded it has almost receded from view, along with the role ideas played in bringing it to an end. As a foot soldier in the Cold War, I did not think I would live to see its conclusion.

I vividly remember the day in 1990 when I read a statement in the Soviet press by Alexander Yakovlev, the Politburo chief of Soviet ideology, that he had come to understand that Leninism was based upon class struggle and hatred, and that this was “evil.” The chief of Soviet ideology had used the exact same word to describe the Soviet system as had President Ronald Reagan. Excitedly, I faxed his remark around Washington. Yakovlev’s words meant the end of the Cold War and the Soviet empire. The actual deeds of its dissolution soon came in their wake.

Words and the restoration of their relationship to reality were critical to the Communist collapse. This was no small thing since, for many in the West, words had lost their meaning. Therefore, the huge lie about humanity in Communism remained undetected by them. A recovery of meaning was essential before a real challenge could be presented to the East. No single individuals did more for this restoration than John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, who insisted upon calling things by their proper names. Naming Communism for what it was required, first of all, the refutation of modern nominalism and radical skepticism. You cannot use “evil” as an adjective until you know it as a noun.

Everyone now celebrates “our” victory over Communism, conveniently forgetting that the struggle was not only with Communism, but within the West as to what Communism meant. The anti-anti-Communists in the West were frightened by the Pope’s and Reagan’s vocabulary for the Soviet Union because they feared it might lead to war, but also because the use of the word “evil” had implications for themselves with which they were extremely uncomfortable. As English writer Christopher Derrick once said, the only real iron curtain runs through the soul of each one of us. If we can know what “evil” is, how then does that apply to our own lives? Rather than face up to the answer to that question, many preferred to attack the people using it and to explain the Cold War away as just another variation of power politics and realpolitik. Communism was simply a mask for traditional Russian imperial expansionism and could be dealt with similarly. Power dealing with power can reach an understanding.

So long as this view was regnant in the West, Communism was a form of absolutism fighting a form of relativism. As such, Communism had the clear advantage, and gained it on the field with stunning geographic advances in Central Asia, Africa, and Central America, and strategic advances in both conventional and non-conventional weaponry. So great was the progress of the Soviet Union in the 1970s that anyone looking at these factors alone would have expected it to win. Those expectations were defeated by a factor outside of those calculations.

Reagan was the first political leader to use the moral vocabulary of “evil” to describe the Soviet empire in the recent era. The reaction was hysterical. How reckless could Reagan be? Yet the President calmly responded that he wanted them, the Soviets, to know that he knew. This acknowledgment inspired great hope behind the Iron Curtain. Then, finally, the Soviets used the term about themselves. Once the proper vocabulary was employed, it was over. Semantic unanimity brought the end not in the much-feared bang, but a whimper. Truth turned out to be the most effective weapon in the Cold War. Truth set free the imprisoned peoples of the evil empire.

Part of that truth was expressed religiously. The religious alliance against the Soviet Empire could be broad because the contest was between atheism and religion of any kind. The US Cold War strategy used religion to undermine the Soviet bloc – Jews in Russia; Muslims in Afghanistan; and Christians in Poland, for example. Who could imagine during the Cold War that religion could be turned against the United States, not so much within it, as in alienating Muslims in large parts of the Islamic world key to US strategic interests? Unlike the Cold War, the contest with Islam is in terms of one kind of religion against something else, either secularism or another religion, or, in Islamic terms, between belief and unbelief.

The Islamist vision of America

It is essential in a war of ideas to understand the ideas one is at war with. This includes an understanding of how we are seen from the Islamist side. What is it about United States or the West that so repels the Islamists that they are driven to destroy it? Read the following statement and then guess who said it.

"This great America: What is its worth in the scale of human values? And what does it add to the moral account of humanity? And, by journey's end, what will its contribution be? I fear that a balance may not exist between America's material greatness and the quality of its people. And I fear that the wheel of life will have turned and the book of time will have closed and America will have added nothing, or next to nothing, to the account of morals that distinguishes man from object, and indeed, mankind from animals."

When I was recently lecturing to a group of mid-career American officers, one of them guessed it was Winston Churchill. Wrong. The answer is Sayyid Qutb, the chief Egyptian ideologue of the radical Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks our destruction. In Arabic, qutb means the pole around which the world revolves on its axis. The entire Islamist world revolves around the thinking of this man, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966, but whose thought has spread from the Philippines and Indonesia to Morocco. You can be sure to find his writings at the foundation of any radical Muslim group today, including al-Qaeda.

The value of Qutb’s quote is that it so clearly illustrates the moral judgment on America that is behind the Islamist movement. [...]

Confusion over these matters are sure signs that the United States is suffering from the same kind of conflict within itself over the nature of the threat that it is facing that it suffered from during the Cold War. There exists the same reluctance to name things for what they are and therefore to do the things that are necessary.

One reason for this reluctance resides in President Obama's relativism. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he discussed the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He wrote, "Implicit in [the Constitution’s] structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism,’ and any tyrannical consistency that might block future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition..." In other words, truth leads to tyranny.

Truth does not set you free; it imprisons. This statement would have amazed the American Founders, including John Adams who, when reflecting back upon the principles of the American Founding, claimed that “those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature. And I could safely say consistently with all my then and present information that I believe they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles.”

How do you fashion a public diplomacy strategy based upon the belief that the United States does not represent any permanent truths? As was mentioned earlier regarding the Cold War, a form of absolutism fighting a form of relativism always has the upper hand. Who wants to die to prove that nothing is absolutely true? How exactly is one supposed to promote this idea?

Why would anyone expect the Left, which does not believe in the basic tenets of our Founding, to seek to defend and extend them abroad?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


For Kurds in Turkey, Autonomy in Music (MICHAEL KIMMELMAN, 6/01/11, NY Times)

Turkey is holding elections in a few days. For months pro-Kurdish activists have been staging rallies that during recent weeks have increasingly turned into violent confrontations with the police in this heavily Kurdish region of the southeast. Capitalizing on the Arab Spring and the general state of turmoil in that part of the world, as well as on Turkey’s vocal support for Egyptian reformers, the Kurds here have been looking toward elections to press longstanding claims for broader parliamentary representation and more freedoms, political and cultural.

Not that there’s ever much difference between politics and culture for this country’s Kurds. Since the 1920s, when Turkey started forcibly assimilating its Kurds, roughly 20 percent of the population, in a struggle to forge a nation-state out of the broken remnants of the Ottoman Empire, they have resisted. Since the mid-1980s tens of thousands on both sides have died. This must now be the world’s longest bloody conflict.

In March a Turkish movie, “Press,” opened in Istanbul, recounting the torture and killing of dozens of investigative journalists working for Ozgur Gundem, a newspaper here at the epicenter of the Kurdish struggle. More than 75 of its employees were killed from 1992 to 1994, when the paper was shut down by the government. Only just recently it went back into print. Still, the movie’s 38-year-old director, Sedat Yilmaz, told me recently, the police wanted to make sure he used fake copies of Ozgur Gundem, not real ones.

“It is now at least possible to talk about issues a little more openly,” Mr. Yilmaz said. We spoke over a din at the film’s opening in a basement theater in Istanbul, amid a crush of young Turks engulfed, as usual, in a thick nimbus of blue cigarette smoke. “The best way to do this is through films and plays and music, which is finally starting to happen.” At the Istanbul International film festival in April “Press” won the Turkish equivalent of an Oscar for its exploration of human rights abuses.

But change comes slowly, incrementally, if at all here. Concessions by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2009 made way for the first Kurdish national television station, and the government also permitted the teaching of Kurdish language classes in private universities (but not public ones). Token gestures, they made front-page headlines: first because they were signals to the outside world that a democratic state run by an Islamic leader will not automatically become xenophobic or tribalist, and second because even small steps toward acknowledging Kurdish culture can provoke political firestorms inside the country. Turkish nationalists raised a ruckus. Nationalists regard even the most basic Kurdish demand — that their language also be allowed in grade schools and at official settings where Kurds are involved — as treason.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Interview: Michael Spence: The Stanford economist talks to Newsweek’s R. M. Schneiderman about American inequality, the Chinese economy, and how to score a Nobel. (R.M. Schneiderman, 6/06/11, Daily Beast)

Is this battle for resources a zero-sum game?

No, unless you assume that technology is stagnant. The high prices are part of the solution as well as part of the problem. To have a future that works, we’re going to have to live with considerably higher energy efficiencies. High prices create pretty big incentives, especially if they stay relatively high. There are a lot of alternative energies that become economic with $60 to $70 barrels of oil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


wo Approaches to Fuel Choice: Open Fuel Standards is the right choice. (Robert Zubrin, 6/06/11, National Review)

Americans are currently being heavily taxed by the governments of the OPEC cartel, who are using a policy of restricting oil production to drive up prices. Indeed, with prices inflated to the $100-per-barrel range, America’s 5 billion barrels per year of petroleum imports will cost our economy $500 billion, an amount equal to 25 percent of the federal government’s tax receipts or, alternatively, the nation’s whole balance-of-trade deficit.

The only way to break the power of the oil cartel to set global liquid-fuel prices is to open the market to competition from non-petroleum-based fuels. With this in mind, two bipartisan bills have recently been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. One is H.R. 1380, known as the “New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act,” or “NAT GAS Act” for short. The other is H.R. 1687, the Open Fuel Standards Act. The approaches adopted in these two pieces of legislation are very different. [...]

In contrast, the Open Fuel Standard bill does not choose a single winner, and would not cost the treasury anything. Instead, it stipulates that within several years the majority of new cars sold in the U.S. must give the consumer fuel choice by being any one of the following: full flex fuel (i.e., capable of using methanol, ethanol, and gasoline), natural gas, plug-in hybrid, or biodiesel compatible. Of these, the cheapest to produce will be flex fuel (zero to at most $100 additional cost per car), as many gasoline-powered vehicles now sold in the U.S. are already built with flex-fuel capability in mind, and need only a software upgrade to realize it. However, should consumers wish to spend their own money for the other alternatives, they will have every right to do so.

That said, it is the flex-fuel car’s methanol capability that will truly open up the source market for liquid fuels, as methanol can be made cheaply from coal, natural gas, or biomass. In fact, if the goal is to open up the vehicle-fuel market to natural gas, that can be much more readily accomplished, in a much bigger way, by the Open Fuel Standard legislation than by the NAT GAS Act, without any cost to the taxpayers at all — provided, of course, that natural-gas-sourced methanol continues to beat coal- or biomass-sourced methanol on price. This is as it should be.

...so just hike gas taxes and then let the market decide the alternative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


A New Class of Consumers Grows in Africa: Market on Par With China's and India's (PETER WONACOTT, 6/05/11, WSJ)

Sustained economic growth in Africa has produced for the first time a broad middle class, one that cuts across the continent and is on par with the size of the middle classes in the billion-person emerging markets of China and India.

The rise of a middle class in the world's poorest continent is a dramatic marker for the global economy. At a time when the U.S., Europe and Japan are struggling to grow, Africa is beginning to beckon as a consumer of what other nations produce, thanks in part to a young population more upwardly mobile than ever before.

Over the past decade, the number of middle-class consumers in Africa has expanded more than 60% to 313 million, according to a new report from the African Development Bank Group. The study—one of the first efforts to document the contours of Africa's emerging consumer class—brings into focus a potentially huge and enticing frontier market for global investors.

June 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Pedro Passos Coelho set for big election win as Portugal swings right (Giles Tremlett, 6/05/11, guardian.co.uk)

Portugal has moved sharply to the right after a general election saw socialist prime minister José Sócrates ousted by opposition leader Pedro Passos Coelho as the country voted under the shadow of a €78bn euro bailout package.

Television exit polls gave Passos Coelho's centre-right social democrats a sweeping victory with a lead of some 12 percentage points over the socialists. [...]

Only five left-wing-led governments now remain among the 27 member states – in Spain, Greece, Austria, Slovenia and Cyprus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


The Kucinich Republicans (WSJ, 6/05/11)

House Republicans have made much of their devotion to the Constitution, and on Friday they showed how wise the Founders really were. The House debate on Libya was a fiasco of evasion and posturing that vindicated the Founders for not trusting Congress with the power to run a war.

The most remarkable spectacle was the emergence of the Kucinich Republicans, who voted for Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich's resolution that would stop U.S. military action in Libya within 15 days. At least Mr. Kucinich is consistent in opposing U.S. force against dictators and other enemies no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

But what is the explanation for the 87 Republicans, including the likes of Indiana's Dan Burton and Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner, who transform themselves into isolationists when a Democrat takes over the White House? Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota tea party favorite, also voted for the Kucinich retreat, which means she will start her campaign to become Commander in Chief by running to the left of President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Teddy Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Bachmann is not.

They're isolationist for the same reason they're nativist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM

Sasquatch 2011: City And Colour, Live In Concert (Andy Hess, 6/02/11, NPR)

The Ontario singer-songwriter, one of the founding members of the post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire, balances the simple beauty of the music with cutting, confessional lyrics. City and Colour's third album, Little Hell, comes out June 7.

Recorded live at The Gorge on Sunday, May 29, City and Colour performs here as part of the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival outside Seattle, Wash.


Dallas Green as self-critical as ever despite success of City and Colour (Nick Patch, 6/05/11, The Canadian Press)

He delves into his wife's nightmares, into the way he relates to his parents, into fleeting moments of relationship-related despair and into the mental-health struggles endured by his sister.

He says writing about his innermost feelings is not new for him, but he continues to strive for universality even in his most personal pieces.

"When I write songs like that ... I guess I think I write them in a relatable enough way that anyone who's been through something with someone they love, you can easily listen to that song and just replace the word 'sister' with brother, mother, father, or uncle, aunt, anything."

On "The Grand Optimist" — by turns winsome and foreboding — he sings about the schism between his own pessimistic view of the world and his father's upbeat perspective. The title track is about the "ups and downs" in all relationships, and the pain that can be inflicted by two people who love each other ("Could it be that I am meant to cause you all this grief?" he wonders).

The gut-wrenching "O' Sister," meanwhile, finds Green addressing his sister directly, exploring his guilt over being absent on tour while she fought against the "blackness in (her) heart."

"My sister, a few years ago, was going through some mental health issues," he explains. "It was really bothering me and affecting me, mostly because I wasn't home, I was away on tour."

"I couldn't help but write that song, and it was sort of my way of dealing with it, because I wasn't there to deal with my family."

"And it's better now, and ... people say: 'How does your sister feel about that?' She loves it. She loves the song."

He says the same of his wife, "So You Think You Can Dance Canada" host Leah Miller. "Fragile Bird" is about the "really, really weird nightmares and night terrors" that Green says she endures regularly.

"It can be very funny but a lot of times it can be really horrifying," he said. "When you're sleeping next to someone who all of a sudden wakes up and starts screaming, doesn't know where they are."

"Everybody's like: 'Should you be singing about that?' She loves it. She's into it."

Perhaps it helps that the song is groovy and sensual, an upbeat highlight of a record that found Green occasionally veering from the delicate folk on which he's made his name as a solo artist.

It used to be that Green's uptempo songs would be a natural fit for his regular gig as lead singer for the mega-popular post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire, while City and Colour was used as an outlet for his quieter reflections.

Yet even aside from "Fragile Bird," the tempo picks up often here: there's the rootsy sway of "Natural Disaster," or the electrified lament "Weightless," or the stormy closer "Hope For Now."

And while no one would confuse any of the material on "Little Hell" for the caffeinated chaos regularly conjured up by Alexisonfire, Green acknowledges that the former distinction between his two projects feels increasingly antiquated.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


The awfulness of FIFA: An embarrassment to the beautiful game (The Economist, Jun 2nd 2011)

Under Mr Blatter’s predecessor, João Havelange, a wheeler-dealing Brazilian, FIFA became a mechanism for using revenues from the World Cup, the biggest sporting event on earth, to sustain a global network of patronage. Mr Blatter has honed the system as FIFA’s revenues from broadcasting and marketing rights have multiplied to more than $4 billion over a four-year cycle. In the four years up to 2010, after its contribution to the costs of the World Cup in South Africa, FIFA made a profit of $631m and kept a handsome $707m for its own operating expenses, while dispensing $794m to its 208 grateful member football associations, many of them poor and dependent on FIFA’s largesse. Each member association, regardless of its size, has one vote at FIFA’s congress, which elects the president. The other 23 members of the executive committee that runs the organisation are chosen by the regional confederations. Few in what Mr Blatter nauseatingly refers to as the “football family” have any interest in challenging the status quo.

Thanks mainly to muck-raking British journalists, a deep culture of corruption within FIFA has been exposed. Last year two members of the executive committee were suspended for soliciting bribes from undercover reporters. This year, following the vote to give Russia the 2018 World Cup and the bizarre decision for the competition in 2022 to be hosted by tiny, hot but extremely rich Qatar, the allegations have mounted. First, a whistleblower who worked for the Qatar bid team revealed that two executive committee members were each paid $1.5m for their backing. Then Lord Triesman, one-time leader of England’s 2018 bid, spoke of “improper and unethical” conduct by four more committee members. And last week, Chuck Blazer, an American FIFA bigwig, claimed two fellow members of the committee, Jack Warner and Mr Bin Hammam, had offered $40,000 bribes to Caribbean officials to vote against Mr Blatter. After both men were suspended, Mr Warner disclosed that he had received an e-mail from FIFA’s general secretary, Jerome Valcke, saying that Qatar had “bought” the World Cup. Mr Valcke admits sending the e-mail but disputes Mr Warner’s interpretation of it. All those accused deny any wrongdoing.

...until they commit a crime in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Bulb In, Bulb Out (ANDREW RICE, 6/03/11, NY Times Magazine)

The notion of light as a thoughtless commodity would have seemed fanciful to our distant ancestors. Before electricity, light was expensive, a product of exhaustible sources like whale oil. It was Edison who finally took it to the masses in limitless quantities. On Dec. 31, 1879, the inventor invited a crowd of thousands to his laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., to witness a demonstration of his fantastic innovation, described in a patent as an “electric lamp for giving light by incandescence.” Building on the experimentation of others, Edison had devised a practical method for generating illumination by running a current through a rudimentary filament — a carbonized strip of cardboard — encased inside a vacuum-sealed glass bulb. When the inventor lighted the lamp, it glowed orange, “like the mellow sunset of an Italian autumn,” a contemporary newspaper said.

Almost immediately, though, there were complaints. Some detractors saw electric light as unnatural and reddish, lacking the comforting attributes of a gas flame. But with further refinements — the cardboard filament was replaced by bamboo, and later tungsten — quality improved. At first, bulbs were fairly expensive: in 1891, one went for 44 cents, more than $10 when adjusted for inflation. But Edison accurately predicted that costs would plummet as electricity vanquished all competing technologies.

After that, advancement in home lighting more or less came to a halt. A century ago, incandescent lamps with tungsten filaments lasted about 1,000 hours (same as today’s), were only slightly dimmer and sold in the familiar varieties of 40, 60 and 100 watts. Edison didn’t worry about how many watts they consumed; after all, he also owned an electric company. Efficiency wasn’t an issue until the energy crisis of the 1970s, which inspired compact fluorescents, but they went over poorly and never made much of a dent in the incandescent’s market domination.

The compact fluorescent’s failings were a matter of price — the first ones sold for $25 to $35 a bulb — and taste. American consumers seem to prefer incandescence, for reasons connected to the science of light. “What we term ‘light’ does not exist without the human eye — it’s just radiation,” says Nadarajah Narendran, a professor at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Your eye is a detector that senses this energy coming to it at different wavelengths.” Those wavelengths are perceived as colors. Natural light combines all the colors of the visual spectrum. When people complain that fluorescent light is cold, what they’re really describing is an overload of radiation at the bluish wavelengths.

“I don’t think it’s cultural; I think it’s much deeper than that, that our reaction to long-wavelength light is warm and short-wavelength light is cold,” David DiLaura says. Humans don’t see all wavelengths equally well; DiLaura says the eye’s “sensitivity curve” is adapted to the spectral composition of light on the African savanna. The light that surrounds us can have psychological and physical effects. Research has suggested that altering wavelengths can affect students’ attention and that patients on the south side of a hospital, which gets more light, recover more quickly than those on the north. So it’s hardly surprising that the incandescent phaseout has prompted a visceral reaction.

Boosters say L.E.D.’s can be calibrated to create light that’s just as good as — maybe better than — natural. They have long been used for low-intensity applications, like the digits on your microwave, but it was only about a decade ago that a cadre of physicists began to awaken the industry to their wider potential. Roland Haitz, a scientist associated with Lumileds, argued that just as computer chips were becoming exponentially more powerful, L.E.D.’s were getting brighter and cheaper at a predictable rate, a proposition now known as Haitz’s Law. Transitioning to L.E.D.’s, Haitz forecast, would cut the amount of electricity used for lighting by more than 50 percent worldwide, eliminating some 200 million tons of carbon emissions a year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Saturday's crowd at PNC largest ever (Jenifer Langosch and Laura Myers, 6/05/11, MLB.com)

Saturday night's Pirates-Phillies game at PNC Park was played before the largest crowd in stadium history.

The announced attendance for the night was 39,441, which beat the previous record of 39,392, set on Aug. 11, 2001, against San Diego.

"Everybody loves to play in front of a big crowd," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It can give you an adrenaline boost, there's no doubt. And then when bigger situations -- those game-changing situations -- come up, it just works. I've always loved it; there's no player that doesn't love it."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Antiques Roadshow discovery shocks owner and expert alike (Roya Nikkhah, 05 Jun 2011, The Telegraph)

When Jill Cousins tuned in to a recent episode of the programme, she could scarcely believe her eyes when Geoffrey Munn, one of the show's jewellery experts, held up a series of watercolour sketches of jewellery designs by William Burges, the Victorian architect and designer who created Cardiff Castle.

Mr Munn announced that the six brooches in the designs were his "most wanted" items in the world, for which he had been searching for more than 20 years.

But as there was no evidence to suggest that they had ever even been made, with jewellery by Burges extremely rare, he felt sure that he would never see any of the brooches in the sketches, which are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Mrs Cousins raced upstairs to the jewellery box on her dressing table, to inspect a broken silver brooch, set with a heart-shaped garnet and turquoises fashioned as forget-me-nots that had lain neglected at the bottom of her jewellery box, and her mother's before her, for more than 40 years.

When she realised that the brooch matched the sketches that Mr Munn had shown on the Antiques Roadshow, she was stunned.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


A woman, her little dog, and a twister: No, not that story, but close. From Springfield, a tale of green skies, sheer terror, and the random power of fate (Kevin Cullen, June 5, 2011, Boston Globe)

Katie went home and waited for her 17-year-old son Michael to get ready for work. Then she drove him to the Friendly’s on Page Boulevard. After she dropped Michael off, she saw the sky had turned a weird color and the wind was getting crazy. She walked back into the Friendly’s and watched a tornado go by in the distance.

Maureen walked into her house on Arcadia Boulevard and called her son Jeremy, who just graduated from the University at Buffalo.

“Mom,’’ he said, “I’m in Amherst. There’s a tornado watch.’’

Maureen turned on the TV and realized a tornado was headed her way. She looked at the big plate-glass window that affords a sumptuous view over Watershops Pond and decided it would be safer in the basement. It sounded like a train was rumbling overhead, so she grabbed Scruffy and went into the small basement bathroom and closed the door.

The toilet gurgled. The drains in the sink and the shower sounded like vacuums. The pressure made Maureen think her head was going to explode, that her heart would burst, that blood would spurt from her ears. Scruffy buried her head into her midsection.

It would be wrong to say Maureen Lessard thought she was going to die, because the truth is she didn’t know what to think. She endured four minutes of sheer terror.

A few miles away, Katie Orellana stood in the Friendly’s on Page Boulevard while the sky turned green and black and yellow. Her son made Fribbles. The waitresses cried.

When the sun came back, Katie rushed home to Forest Park Avenue, expecting the worst. But when she got there, she found her teenage daughters in the living room, oblivious to the tornado that missed them by a few streets.

“They were clueless. They didn’t even know there had been a tornado,’’ Katie said. “I looked up and down our street and nothing looked out of place. Nothing. There weren’t even leaves on the ground.’’

On the other side of Forest Park, it looked like Arcardia Boulevard had been carpet-bombed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Dems sing new tune on finances: Last year, they decried the GOP's secret donors. But after last fall's thumping, they've joined the club. (Dick Polman, 6/05/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Last autumn, President Obama and his political allies insisted that secret donations were a "threat to democracy." On the eve of the 2010 congressional elections, key Republicans such as Karl Rove were raising and spending millions of bucks from anonymous donors, and the Democrats were crying foul. Obama said, "The American people deserve to know who's trying to sway their elections," and deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton warned that "unless a bright light is shined on the shadowy activity of these outside groups, people aren't going to know the facts."

One flip-flop later, here's the deal today:

Obama's closest allies - most notably Burton, newly freed from his White House job - have created new organizations that will raise secret money. Just like Rove and his conservative friends, these Obama-allied nonprofit groups are taking advantage of a tax loophole that allows donors to pony up as much money as they want - without any requirement that these donors be publicly revealed.

In other words, the Democrats were against this "shadowy activity," this "threat to democracy," before they were for it.

Isn't the--obviously absurd--suggestion here that the Democrats, in general, and the UR, in particular, had been running on "clean" money up until just now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


How E.B. White Wove Charlotte’s Web: A new book explores how the author of the beloved children’s book was inspired by his love for nature and animals (Chloe Schama, June 03, 2011, Smithsonian.com)

Not long before E.B. White started writing his classic children’s story Charlotte’s Web about a spider called Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur, he had a porcine encounter that seems to have deeply affected him. In a 1947 essay for the Atlantic Monthly, he describes several days and nights spent with an ailing pig—one he had originally intended to butcher. “[The pig’s] suffering soon became the embodiment of all earthly wretchedness,” White wrote. The animal died, but had he recovered it is very doubtful that White would have had the heart to carry out his intentions. “The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig,” he wrote in the essay.

That sentiment became part of the inspiration for Charlotte’s Web, published in 1952 and still one of the most beloved books of all time. Now a new book by Michael Sims focuses on White’s lifelong connection to animals and nature. The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic explores White’s encounters with frogs and field mice, rivers and lakes, stars and centipedes, to paint a portrait of the writer as a devoted naturalist—the 20th-century heir to Thoreau, perhaps. White once wrote of himself, “This boy felt for animals a kinship he never felt for people.” Examining White’s regard for nature and animals, Sims unpacks the appeal of Charlotte’s Web.

Sims originally conceived of his book as a larger project, one that would examine how authors of children’s books, such as Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne, had been inspired by nature, but he came to focus entirely on White, he recently told me, because White’s preoccupation with the natural world outweighed that of most other authors. “Certain writers have an empathy for the world,” Sims said. “Their basic writing mode is personification. E.B. White is that kind of writer; he could animate a splash of sunlight.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM

Sasquatch 2011: The Flaming Lips, Live In Concert (Eamonn Fetherston, 6/02/11, NPR)

While playing the landmark 1999 album The Soft Bulletin nearly in full, Coyne chatted genially with the audience, taking frequent breaks during "The Spiderbite Song" to relate the anecdotes behind the song's lyrics. Another set highlight, "Waitin' for a Superman" — stripped down to a delicate piano and voice arrangement — was introduced as a tribute to departed icon Elliott Smith. Although the band was forced to exclude a couple of songs due to time constraints, it delivered a personal version of what many consider its finest album.

Recorded live at The Gorge on Sunday, May 29, the band performed its 1999 album The Soft Bulletin live at the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival outside Seattle, Wash.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Hubris and humility: Sarah Palin and Robert Gates on tour (Dana Milbank, June 3, 2011, Washington Post)

Actually, there is a tour underway that highlights the great things about America, but it isn’t Palin’s. It’s the farewell tour of Robert Gates, defense secretary to presidents George W. Bush and Obama, whose work over the past 41 / 2 years has dramatically improved the state of the U.S. military. While Palin played cat-and-mouse with the press corps on Interstate 95, Gates set off on a tour of Asia and Europe, where he is receiving the gratitude of soldiers and the acclaim of allies.

Gates, who remained on the job at Obama’s request, took on sacred weapons programs at the Pentagon, fired ineffective generals, won the surge in Iraq, revived a crumbling war effort in Afghanistan and got Osama bin Laden.

During that same time, Palin quit midway through her term as Alaska governor, then went on to a life of $100,000 speaking fees, reality TV shows and incendiary political speech.

The week’s dueling tours of Gates and Palin show the best and worst in American public life. Both call themselves Republicans, but he comes from the best tradition of service while she is a study in selfishness. He’s self-effacing; she’s self-aggrandizing. He harmonized American foreign policy; she put bull’s-eyes on Democratic congressional districts and then howled about “blood libel.”

It says something about the infirmity of our politics that Gates can’t wait to go home while Palin is again being taken seriously as a prospective presidential candidate.

...just as he did after the last time he left the public service. And he, of course, sells access, whereas she has none.

But her decision to quit when governing got hard does mean she can't be taken seriously as a candidate. Nor is she except by Mr. Milbank's press peers.

June 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Al-Qaida militant killed in US strike in Pakistan (ISHTIAQ MEHSUD, 6/04/11, Associated Press)

A top al-Qaida commander and possible replacement for Osama bin Laden was killed in an American drone-fired missile strike close to the Afghan border, a fax from the militant group he heads and a Pakistani intelligence official said Saturday.

Ilyas Kashmiri's apparent death is another blow to al-Qaida just over a month after bin Laden was killed by American commandos in a northwest Pakistani army town.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


The Bullish Case for the U.S. Economy: Investment strategist Robert Doll says America's edge is faster population growth, companies that are global in scope, and a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. (JAMES FREEMAN , 6/04/11, WSJ)

It's been a dreary week for economic news: slow job creation, falling home prices, lagging auto and consumer sales, and a sell-off in stocks. So it seems like a good moment to check in with one of Wall Street's leading perma-optimists, BlackRock Chief Equity Strategist Bob Doll, to see if he's still bullish on America.

To my considerable relief, he doesn't disappoint. "Credit markets are sound. Money growth is good," says Mr. Doll, whose optimism has been the right market call since March 9, 2009, when stocks hit their post-crisis lows. The Dow has since risen more than 85%, and Mr. Doll expects the slow economic expansion to continue.

As intriguing in this moment of U.S. pessimism is the 56-year-old uber-investor's long-term bullishness on American companies and U.S. competitiveness. "You could say we're the best house in a bad neighborhood," says the man who has spent 28 years managing money. "We have fewer problems and more solutions than Europe or Japan." [...]

"Over the next 20 years, the U.S. work force is going to grow by 11%, Europe's going to fall by five, and Japan's going to fall by 17. This alone tells me the U.S. has a huge advantage over Europe and a bigger one over Japan for growth," he says. "And the reason for this is pretty simple. We have higher immigration than both of these, and we make more babies. We have a higher fertility rate. And they are the long-term determinants of population growth and therefore work force growth." Mr. Doll and his wife seem to be doing their part with three children.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Hetherington Doctrine: In light of the death of his great friend and frequent collaborator Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger reflects on Tim’s legacy and his theories about Middle Eastern turmoil, as well as the role the United States—and all Western democracies—must take to ensure an end to radicalism. (Sebastian Junger, June 3, 2011, Vanity Fair)

Last week at the First Presbyterian Church of New York my friends and colleagues and I said good-bye to photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed in combat in Misrata, Libya, a month earlier. My wife and I sat behind Tim’s parents and siblings and watched their shoulders shudder with quiet sobs as people spoke. Tim grew up in England and the family had flown over for the service. Behind us were three journalists who had been in Misrata and miraculously survived the mortar that had landed in their midst killing not only Tim but an American photographer named Chris Hondros and several Libyan rebels. Across the aisle was Idil, Tim’s girlfriend of one year whose parents had emigrated from Somalia.

Tim had been schooled by Jesuits and perhaps as a result had gone through his life profoundly unreligious, so the service was secular. Following a rendition of Schubert’s heartbreaking Trio #2 in E Flat, two reggae musicians played Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and “One Love” between eulogies. I watched the pastor’s eyebrow arch in concern and then appreciation as Marley’s message of human understanding filled the church. Finally four American vets stood up, men from Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne who had been under fire with Tim and me many times in eastern Afghanistan. They filed out of their pew carrying two folded American flags that had been sent by Senator John McCain, himself a veteran of Vietnam. The young men presented my country’s flag to the Hetherington family and then to Idil.

I missed most of that beautiful moment because I was crying too hard, but later I did savor one comforting thought: this may be one of the few countries in the world where a senator would see fit to present the national flag to a woman of Somali origin in honor of an Englishman killed in Libya.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 AM


Pakistan marches to Saudi tune (Brian M Downing, 6/03/11, Asia Times)

Ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are long-standing but for the most part have not stood out in the turbulent affairs of the region. However, increased tensions with Iran, the Arab Spring, and growing disenchantment with the United States are making the relationship more expansive, more prominent, and more dangerous.

The Saudis are supporting the Pakistani army's militant client-groups, hiring its soldiers, and seeking to benefit from the country's nuclear weaponry. This is bringing increased tensions with both Iran and the US - no mean feat today given their adversarial positions.

Those are just positions, not the reality.

June 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


MI6 attacks al-Qaeda in 'Operation Cupcake' (Duncan Gardham, 02 Jun 2011, The Telegraph)

British intelligence has hacked into an al-Qaeda online magazine and replaced bomb-making instructions with a recipe for cupcakes.

The cyber-warfare operation was launched by MI6 and GCHQ in an attempt to disrupt efforts by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular to recruit “lone-wolf” terrorists with a new English-language magazine, the Daily Telegraph understands.

When followers tried to download the 67-page colour magazine, instead of instructions about how to “Make a bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom” by “The AQ Chef” they were greeted with garbled computer code.

The code, which had been inserted into the original magazine by the British intelligence hackers, was actually a web page of recipes for “The Best Cupcakes in America” published by the Ellen DeGeneres chat show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian dies (AP, 6/03/11)

Morganroth says Kevorkian was conscious Thursday night and the two spoke about leaving the hospital and getting ready for rehabilitation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


What Paul Ryan's Critics Don't Know About Health Economics: A premium-support system would create the right incentives for cost cutting without putting undue burdens on seniors. (ALAIN ENTHOVEN, 6/03/11, WSJ)

It's clear that Medicare-spending growth must be curtailed and eventually limited to the growth rate of GDP—if not below. The big question now is how to do it. Unfortunately, the debate on Capitol Hill and in the media is too often fueled by partisan fear mongering instead of a thoughtful examination of the facts.

Health care in America is extremely wasteful. A 2005 report by the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine found that 30-40 cents of every dollar spent on health care are spent on costs associated with "overuse, underuse, misuse, duplication, system failures, unnecessary repetition, poor communication, and inefficiency." Medicare is especially vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.

No amount of price cutting or central-government dictates will mitigate these problems. Their cure requires detailed local knowledge, incentives and fundamental organizational change so that curing them is in the interest of providers and patients.

At the root of the waste and excess is Medicare's open-ended fee-for-service system, which pays health-care providers for doing more and more costly services, whether or not they're in the patients' best interests. [...]

A better way to encourage accountable care is the "premium-support" model proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, among others. This is a managed competition model in which government would make a defined contribution and beneficiaries would have a choice from a variety of health plans with no discrimination based on health status. Standard coverage contracts would make comparisons possible for ordinary people. Competition would drive health plans to innovate in ways that cut waste and improve quality. And the use of exchanges would drastically reduce marketing costs, so insurance companies would not be taking 20% off the top, as is currently the norm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Commodity Prices and the Mistake of 1937: Would Modern Economists Make the Same Mistake? (Gauti Eggertsson, 6/01/11, Liberty Street Economics)

In 1937, on the eve of a major policy mistake, U.S. economic conditions were surprisingly similar to those in the nation today. Consider, for example, the following summary of economic conditions: (1) Signs indicate that the recession is finally over. (2) Short-term interest rates have been close to zero for years but are now expected to rise. (3) Some are concerned about excessive inflation. (4) Inflation concerns are partly driven by a large expansion in the monetary base in recent years and by banks’ massive holding of excess reserves. (5) Furthermore, some are worried that the recent rally in commodity prices threatens to ignite an inflation spiral.

While this summary arguably describes current trends, it is taken from an account of conditions in 1937 that appears in “The Mistake of 1937: A General Equilibrium Analysis,” an article I coauthored with Benjamin Pugsley. What we call “the Mistake of 1937” was, in broad terms, a decision by the Fed and the administration to implement a series of contractionary policies that choked off the recovery of 1933-37 and brought on the recession of 1937-38, one of the worst on record. What is particularly noteworthy is that the inflation fears that triggered the Mistake of 1937 were largely driven by a rally in commodity prices. These circumstances invite direct comparison with our own time, when a substantial recent rise in commodity prices (which now seems to be abating somewhat) stoked inflation fears and led some commentators to call for an increase in the federal funds rate.

The question for the contemporary reader is this: If we could transport a modern-day economist back to 1937, would he or she have made the same mistake?

...the Right would.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Unrest in Syria inspires Kurdish activism (Chris Zambelis, 6/04/11, Asia Times).

Like others in the Arab world toiling under decades of authoritarianism, Syrians are protesting against the absence of democratic freedoms, the disregard for human rights and the corruption pervading their society. As legitimate grievances engendered over time define a discourse of dissent, underserved segments of Syrian society, including persecuted ethnic minorities such as the sizeable Kurdish community, are also finding their voices.

Encompassing all corners of the country, the unrest in Syria has reached the northern and northeastern provinces where most of the country's ethnic Kurdish minority population reside, particularly in Aleppo, al-Raqqa, and, especially, al-Hasakah province, which borders Kurdish-dominated regions of Turkey and Iraq. Kurdish neighborhoods and towns across other parts of Syria are also witnessing displays of dissent.

The specter of Kurdish nationalism continues to haunt governments in the region that rule over restive Kurdish populations, namely Turkey, Iraq and Iran, as well as Syria. Initially, there was little evidence to indicate that Syrian Kurds were expressing their grievances amid the current uprising through an ethno-nationalist lens analogous to the calls for autonomy or independence by Kurds in Turkey and Iran, which are experiencing Kurdish insurgencies, or Iraq, where Kurds enjoy a quasi-independent status guaranteed through Iraq's federalization.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 AM


La Rafle (David-Pryce-Jones, June 2, 2011, National Review)

For a long time the French have been unable or unwilling to face their collaboration with the occupying Nazis. Marcel Ophuls’ pioneering film Le Chagrin et la Pitié was for years virtually boycotted. The films Au revoir les Enfants and Lucien Lacombe broke the taboo, and French historians at last began to research occupation and collaboration. The Round Up is based on the reality of the first mass arrest of Jews in Paris in July 1942. The Germans did not have the manpower or the desk-work intelligence for this, but relied on the French authorities, the police and the transport systems, to do it for them. The Vichy politicians, Marshal Pétain and Prime Minister Laval, are depicted in this film as the deliberate accomplices in crime that they were. Jean Leguay was a civil servant who organized the eventual deportations to Auschwitz, and he too is portrayed here truthfully. He’s the sole Frenchman ever accused of crimes against humanity, but he managed to escape justice. When I interviewed him for my book Paris in the Third Reich he was still trying to excuse and justify himself.

Annette Monod was a heroic and devoted nurse, a Protestant assigned by the Red Cross to help the Jews. Her eye-witness account of that July round up and deportation is a moving document in itself, and serves as the peg for the film — Melanie Laurent impersonates her beautifully and the well-known actor Jean Reno magisterially plays the part of the Jewish doctor with whom she works. In the film, as in real life, children were separated from their parents, and deported by themselves, some too young to know their names. This horror could not be hidden completely. Pastor Boegner, head of the Protestant church, protested to Laval who knowingly lied that the children were to be agricultural workers in Poland. Boegner left a rebuke which should be remembered, “Je lui parlais meurtre, il me répondait jardinage,” that is, “I was speaking to him of murder, he answered about gardening.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 AM


U.S. to face world champion Spain (Steve Davis, 6/01/11, Sports Illustrated)

The stylish Spaniards are certainly a crowd draw. Who wouldn't want to see a side that moves the ball even better than Argentina, which thoroughly flummoxed a helpless United States defense for a half in March? The game will apparently set state attendance records at a venue that hasn't necessarily drawn that well recently. The U.S. team tends to pop up frequently in Foxboro, Mass., but the last 10 matches at Gillette have averaged just over 18,000 in attendance. Contrast that to the 57,500 tickets already snatched up for Saturday's clash.

It would all arrange a wonderful start to the summer international season but for that tricky timing. Bradley's own 23-man selection -- with Alejandro Bedoya having replaced the injured Benny Feilhaber in camp -- gets just two days of rest before opening Gold Cup play. One of those is a travel day as the team scoots over to Detroit to face mercurial Canada on Tuesday. Counting Saturday's match, the U.S. could play seven matches over 22 days -- essentially once every third day over three weeks.

Yes, rolling out a weaker version against Spain could spell widely-watched disaster. On the other hand, Canada has some talent and isn't exactly a pushover, and a bad result Tuesday in Detroit could put the summer in crisis mode right off the bat. Bradley has long stressed the Gold Cup importance for its ultimate reward, a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, a World Cup test run that gives the small field of participants a leg up for Brazil 2014. Or so the theory goes.

With six substitutions allowed Saturday (standard for friendlies), the coach has some wiggle room. So it's possible that some first-teamers start but get lifted at halftime. Either way, expect the minutes to be carefully managed for Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and others.

So the myriad U.S. questions begin getting a fresh round of answers on Saturday. Is Bradley still committed to the 4-2-3-1 experiment that just can't achieve liftoff? Is center back Oguchi Onyewu still a commanding presence, or has Tim Ream lapped him? Can Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley finally gain requisite synchronization as a central midfield tandem? Is there growth and improvement in young strikers Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo? Can the MLS star Chris Wondolowski graduate into a difference-maker status at this level?

More specifically against Spain, the back line will be under special duress. Spain's midfielders, even without the absent Xavi Hernandez, are masters at holding possession and then finding strikers in good places. Lapses in concentration tend to be punished severely. Steve Cherundolo remains the solid incumbent at right back, but what Bradley does with the other three spots is anybody's guess. And, as always, left back remains a puzzle, one especially ripe for exposure Saturday. Eric Lichaj finished his season at Leeds at left back, so he might possibly be a solution.

Playing a formation like a club about to be relegated would against Man U is unAmerican.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 AM


Yellow Brick Philosophy: A review of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 100th Anniversary Edition (Books of Wonder) by L. Frank Baum (Ellen Handler Spitz, New Republic)

Beyond this -- beyond magic, fantasy, and psychological verisimilitude -- Baum brings to his pages a plenitude of intellectual puzzles. Subtly and with great charm, he explores in children's terms the realms of ontology, epistemology, and ethics. He actually helps children learn to think. The philosopher Gareth Matthews, in Philosophy and the Young Child, points especially to the Tin Woodman. This character may trouble children, who cringe inwardly at the thought of limbs being chopped off and cannot help wondering whether they could still be themselves if their parts were replaced. In a similar way, Matthews observed, Plutarch recounted the ancient paradox of the ship of Theseus, which, on display at Athens, had its planks supplanted when, one after another, they rotted away, until the entire ship was replaced, whereupon, the question arose as to whether what was now on display could still be deemed the ship of Theseus. Even a young child can thus grasp the power of Baum's metaphor. A welter of complex emotions arises when we cannot hold fast to a stable and continuous identity.

Dorothy and her readers learn similarly from encounters with the Lion. After she slaps his nose and he withdraws weeping (and, in Denslow's illustration, wiping his tears away with his tail), she asks him what makes him a coward: this is a child's quintessentially philosophical question. The Lion answers that it is a mystery: he was born that way. But when the Tin Woodman intervenes to suppose that, since the Lion's heart beats so fast when he is afraid, maybe he is suffering from a heart disease, the Lion responds meditatively: "Perhaps ... if I had no heart I should not be a coward." It is easy to miss the gravity of this line.

Later in the same scene, Dorothy makes an observation to the Lion that all the other beasts in the forest must be more cowardly than he, since they allow him to scare them so easily. To which, the Lion replies: "They really are ... but that doesn't make me any braver." Thus Baum asks to us to consider whether virtue may be a matter of absolute rather than relative standards: a sophisticated idea for a children's book. His Lion wants to feel his bravery on his own terms.

Toward the story's end, the Wizard's actions raise serious questions in the domain of ethics. Dorothy, now bitterly disappointed and justifiably angry at the apparently fierce, chameleon-like Wizard for his failure to keep his promises to her and her friends (even though they have fulfilled his demand and have destroyed the Wicked Witch of the West) tells him he is "a very bad man." He answers her by saying that in fact he is really a very good man but a very bad wizard. This answer, as the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle might have pointed out, is a category mistake. Whereas, Dorothy is speaking of goodness in a moral sense, the Wizard is referring to badness or incompetence in a purely technical sense.

Later in the story, after the hot air balloon has burst its strings and ascended, leaving Dorothy stranded in Oz with Toto, and the Wizard has vanished beyond the clouds, Dorothy, despite her disillusionment and remorse, absolves the Wizard and forgives him. She says that, after all, he was a good man, even though he was truly a bad Wizard. She does this with the thoughtful justification that "he had done his best." Thus, Dorothy -- wise child -- helps sort out the category confusion by intuitively grasping that, whereas, in ethics, intention is central to our judgment of what is good and what is not and must be taken into account, in the realm of action we weigh results, quite apart from intention. Wanting to do well does not carry the same weight as wanting to do good.

Another philosophical theme: Dorothy's three friends, as we realize almost from the start of their journey, possess unawares the boons they seek from Oz. By employing this conceit -- the "brainless" Scarecrow, for example, turns out to be the one who conceives the ingenious idea of chopping down a tree to make a bridge across the gulf they must cross in order to escape the ferocious Kalidahs -- Baum asks us to ponder the value of self-knowledge and self-awareness. He makes us reflect on the relevance of these capacities in education and in other spheres of life and, indeed, in any pilgrimage that can be conceived as an adventure along a yellow brick road. He treats here, in his way, the theme made famous by Eliot's luminous lines from The Four Quartets, penned over forty years later: "We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 AM


Bruins Boosted by Surging Popularity Back in Boston, As Reflected in Huge Ratings for Game 1 (Douglas Flynn, Jun 2, 2011, NESN)

The Bruins' first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final in 21 years drew monster ratings for Game 1's 1-0 loss on Wednesday, especially in Boston. According to NBC, the broadcast drew a 25.5 overnight rating and a 39 share in Boston, easily topping the Boston rating of a 19.1/34 for Game 1 of last year's NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers.

That's just the latest sign of the surging popularity of the city's hockey team, which is trying to join the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots in winning a championship in the last decade.

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June 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Destroying Detroit (in Order to Save It): It took over 300 years to build this city. It'll take about four to knock it down. Howie Kahn rides shotgun with the men who are demolishing the abandoned, godforsaken homes of Detroit—all 70,000 of them—and paving the way for one last shot at the future (Howie Kahn, May 2011, GQ)

In 1950, with nearly 2 million people living within its boundaries, Detroit was the fifth-largest city in America. Over a forty-year period, the auto industry had boomed in a way that changed the country, and Detroit's population more than sextupled. But starting in the '50s, the city fell into decline. Factories closed. Jobs vanished. In the wake of the 1967 riots, race relations collapsed and the city became increasingly segregated. By 1980 the population had dwindled to 1.2 million. With far fewer Detroiters to shelter, many of the city's houses were orphaned, threatening the existence and safety of everything around them. Blight metastasized across town, leaving much of the housing stock better suited for crackheads and squatters than for legitimate investors, possible gentrifiers, or working-class families with any remaining desire to stay. Today only 700,000 souls call Detroit home, and nearly a fourth of the city's houses—a number approaching 72,000 units—are empty.

In March 2010, after ten months in office, Detroit's mayor, Dave Bing—former Piston, NBA Hall of Famer, multimillionaire founder of Bing Steel—gave his first State of the City address. In it, he made residential blight public enemy number one. "Tonight," he said, "I am unveiling a plan to demolish 3,000 dangerous residential structures this year and setting a goal of 10,000 by the end of this term." The de-blighting started immediately. The city had averaged only about 1,000 annual residential demolitions over the previous five years, and the mayor knew he had to pick up the pace. This was his problem now.

Detroit politicians have been delivering Save Detroit sermons for as long as I can remember. (I was born there in 1978.) But there was something different about Bing's speech. The mayor talked about the city as a whole, not just the nugget of Downtown that local leaders have been cradling, coddling, and polishing since the '70s. The notion of "bringing Detroit back" has always focused on several square miles of partially occupied office buildings, luxury-boxed sports stadiums, and casinos—and on keeping solvent the city's most iconic contemporary-era building, the Renaissance Center, which looks like seven stacks of obscenely waxed tires. (It has been the headquarters of both Ford and General Motors.) Meanwhile the neighborhoods, the places where the people actually live, have been almost uniformly scrubbed from public awareness. This neglect left everywhere but Downtown withered and has long set the rest of the city up for a comeback.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


The essential public purpose of marriage: To understand this purpose we must ask: What is owed to the child? (Jennifer Roback Morse, 2 June 2011, MercatorNet)

The essential public purpose of marriage is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. To see the importance of this purpose, we must take the perspective of the child: What is owed to the child? Unlike adults, the child does not need autonomy or independence. The child is entitled to a relationship with and care from both of the people who brought him into being. Therefore, the child has a legitimate interest in the stability of his parents’ union. But no child can defend these entitlements himself. Nor is it adequate to make restitution after these rights have been violated. The child’s rights to care and relationship must be supported pro-actively, before harm is done, for those rights to be protected at all.

Marriage is adult society’s institutional structure for protecting the legitimate interests of children. Without this public purpose, we would not need marriage as a distinct social institution.

We often hear the objection that some marriages don’t have children. This is perfectly true. However, every child has parents. Depriving a child of relationships with his or her parents is an injustice to the child, and should not be done without some compelling or unavoidable reason. The objection that some marriages don’t have children stands the rationale for marriage on its head. It views marriage strictly from the adult’s perspective, instead of from the child’s perspective.

Same sex couples and opposite sex couples are obviously different with respect to this essential public purpose of marriage. And treating different things differently is not discrimination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Jasmine revolution now plays out in China's Inner Mongolia (B Raman, June 02, 2011, Rediff)

China's Inner Mongolia, where Mongolians are in a minority of only 20 per cent out of the total population of 23 million, has been going through a Jasmine-type revolution since May 10. There have been widespread protests in different towns following the death of a herdsman by the name Mergen who was allegedly killed by a Han Chinese truck driver during a protest against mining operations in their area. Mergen was among a group of Mongolians who attempted to block a caravan of coal-hauling trucks in Xilingol.

The protests, which started spontaneously in a fit of rage over Mergen's death, have not so far seen demands for political reforms or independence. The protests till now have been against the modern way of life imposed on the Mongolians -- a nomadic group that loves their grasslands -- by China's craze for development.

The Mongolian youth, who came out of their universities and schools to protest against the death of Mergen, are now protesting against the widespread damage to their environment, grasslands and nomadic way of life due to the large-scale exploitation of coal in the area through open-cast mining to feed the power stations in the rest of China.

There has been large-scale destruction of their grasslands due to mining and infrastructure development. Their nomadic way of life is being destroyed by the modern way of life brought in by the Han Chinese who have come from outside the province and settled down there.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM

Sasquatch 2011: Modest Mouse, Live In Concert (Eamonn Fetherston, 5/30/11, NPR)

As one of the Pacific Northwest's most esteemed rock bands for the past 18 years, Modest Mouse was a perfect fit for the headlining slot on the third night of the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival in central Washington state. Although their set did feature two new songs, "Lampshades on Fire" and "Poison," the band drew heavily from its first three albums. Earlier songs like "Cowboy Dan" have an undercurrent of fear and isolation on record, but the band performed them with a considerably more aggressive tone, bristling with energy. Despite some time off the road between album releases, Modest Mouse sounded tight and focused from the main stage at the Gorge Amphitheatre.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 AM


Spaniards outraged over favourable Franco biography: Admirer of the Spanish dictator was commissioned to write entry in dictionary of national biography (Giles Tremlett, guardian.co.uk)

Spain's royal academy of history has triggered a row after publishing a publicly funded dictionary of national biography which includes an admiring description of the country's bloodiest 20th-century figure, General Francisco Franco.

After 12 years' work and more than €6.5m (£5.7m) in taxpayers' money, the first volumes of the encyclopaedia were unveiled last week only for readers to discover that the dictator's biography had been written by Professor Luis Suárez, an 86-year-old Franco apologist who is better known as a medievalist.

The entry describes how Franco "became famous for the cold courage which he showed in the field" while a young officer in Africa, and goes on to say that his brutal years in power saw him "set up a regime that was authoritarian, but not totalitarian."

...and outperformed most of the rest of Europe economically but that was poised for an easy and successful transition to democracy.

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June 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


Study finds many corporations pay tax rate of effectively zero (Bernie Becker, 06/01/11, The Hill)

A number of U.S. corporations had an effective tax rate of less than zero in recent years, a new study has found.

They, like the rest of us, should be taxed on their consumption.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM

Sasquatch 2011: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Live In Concert (Andy Hess, 6/01/11, NPR)

Recorded live at The Gorge on Monday, May 30, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears perform here as part of the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival outside Seattle, Wash.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


High-Speed Rail Can Cover Its Operating Costs: While paying for its hefty infrastructure costs may be ambitious, many high-speed rail systems cover their operating costs and even turn a small operating profit. (Michael Scott Moore, 6/01/11, Miller McCune)

Just three weeks after Florida Gov. Rick Scott made a point of thumbing his nose at $2.4 billion in Washington subsidies for a short high-speed rail line, saying it would be a money hole, his own state’s Department of Transportation released a study claiming quite the opposite.

The Florida DOT had commissioned an independent study on ridership and profitability for the proposed high-speed link between Orlando and Tampa. The research groups, Wilbur Smith Associates and Steer Davies Gleave, projected healthy ridership for the train and a $10.2 million operating surplus for 2015, the line’s first operating year.

The study flew in the face of conventional wisdom about high-speed rail, which is that it’s a nice idea but prone to expensive boondoggles. According to this conventional wisdom only the main Shinkansen line in Japan (Tokyo-Osaka) and the main TGV line in France (Paris-Lyon) — of all high-speed lines everywhere in the world — have turned a profit.

So how could a little train in Florida be so immediately and lavishly profitable?

The truth is that plenty of high-speed lines turn a profit in the sense of earning more every year than their annual operating costs. Their operational profits make them the flashy flagship attractions on trundling, heavily-subsidized, workhorse national railroads.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Can Bill Simmons Win the Big One? (JONATHAN MAHLER, 5/31/11, NY Times Magazine)

A brief, reductive history of modern sportswriting in America might look something like this: Practitioners of the craft during the first two-thirds of the 20th century paid for their unfettered access to athletes by glorifying them, “Godding up those ballplayers,” as one sportswriter memorably put it. In the 1970s, sportswriters stopped protecting athletes and started demythologizing them. As they did, their access diminished. The gulf between ballplayers and fans widened.

Enter Simmons and his legion of imitators, whom you won’t find loitering in a locker room, trawling for quotes or sitting at the press tables of an N.B.A. game, where rooting is forbidden. At the center of Simmons’s columns is not the increasingly unknowable athlete but the experience of the fan. His frame of reference is himself. He might not be able to tell you how a ballplayer felt performing a particular feat, but he can tell you how he felt watching it, what childhood memories it evoked, the scene from the movie “Point Break” it brought to mind, which one of his countless theories — newcomers to his column can consult a glossary on his home page — it vindicates. There’s a vaguely metaphysical quality to this approach: the sportswriter Robert Lipsyte calls it “the tao of Bill.”

Simmons is more than just a fan; he is the fan, the voice of the citizenry of sports nation. In a larger sense, what he’s doing is nothing new. In much the same way that newspaper columnists call out callous politicians and crooked businessmen, Simmons rails against greedy owners, the commissioners who invariably side with them, overpaid players and dysfunctional franchises. Recently, he lambasted the Maloof brothers, the owners of the Sacramento Kings, for neglecting the team, and David Stern, the N.B.A.’s commissioner, for allowing them to do so. “Once you get approved to purchase an N.B.A. franchise, for whatever reason, David Stern seemingly yields all control over your behavior unless you criticize his officials,” Simmons wrote. “Anything else? Knock yourself out. Buying into the N.B.A. is like buying a house: Once you move in, feel free to disgrace the neighborhood however you want.”

Simmons is a funny, intelligent and original writer. He comes up with surprising angles and conceits — in a column last month, he applied quotes from “The Wire” to moments in the N.B.A. playoffs — that may not always work but certainly prevent him from becoming predictable. He is especially good at describing sports moments, a dying art since the arrival of nonstop sports highlights.

But Simmons’s rise has been fueled by broader forces too. The recent explosion of the sports industry — the emergence of 24-hour sports networks, sports-radio shows, Web sites, fantasy leagues, video games — has been geared foremost toward creating and satisfying the demands of the consumer. The fan became the engine of the sporting world.

Simmons not only benefited from this new populism; he also had a hand in its creation. When he began writing for AOL, the term “blogger” didn’t even exist. Since then, his self-referential, stream-of-consciousness style has left countless readers with the mistaken impression that they could do what he does. Thanks to the Internet, nothing has stopped them from trying.

Simmons is ambivalent about what he spawned. When I asked him once how sportswriting had evolved since he first started, he questioned the implication. “Is it better?” he asked. “I’m not so sure. The worst thing that’s happening now is that people are writing things just to drive traffic and get attention.”

There is an obvious irony to the author of a column headlined “Is Clemens the Anti-Christ?” criticizing his peers for being excessively provocative. Then again, we have reached a point at which sports Web sites are posting photographs said to show Brett Favre’s penis.

In some respects, Grantland is meant as an antidote to the revolution Simmons helped start. The site will more closely resemble a traditional print publication than a Web site. Its name is a homage to the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice; its designer is a former art director for New York magazine and Esquire. Unlike news aggregators like The Huffington Post, Grantland will feature only exclusive content. Stories will run long and often include original reporting.

In addition to sports, Grantland will dwell heavily on Simmons’s other obsession, pop culture. In truth, though — and Simmons had a hand in this too — sports now is pop culture, or a huge part of it anyway, every bit as dominant in the entertainment world as, say, pop music. Athletes are no longer gods, they’re celebrities, marketing their brands, starring in reality TV shows and providing fodder for Web sites like Deadspin and TMZ.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Memorial Day: The War in Iraq (Walter Russell Mead , 5/29/11, American Interest)

After the Vietnam war, a divisive conflict that tore this country apart and failed to prevent Communist triumph in Vietnam and genocide in Cambodia, the country groped its way toward a compromise way to remember the dead and honor the veterans. Regardless of the merits of the war, those who did honorable service in it or laid down their lives at their country’s call, deserve our respect and our thanks.

That was better than nothing, and a way to reduce the damage that the memory of Vietnam did in the US long after the shooting stopped; there are signs that we are aiming to repeat a compromise of that kind when it comes to the war in Iraq. Those who opposed the war and those who supported it can unite in tribute to the loyalty, the courage and the sacrifice of those who served there.

That is something, but it is not enough. The Americans who served, suffered and died in Iraq — and who still serve there today — changed the world and won a great and a difficult victory. No account of their service, no commemoration of the dead that ignores or conceals this vital truth is enough.

To celebrate a momentous victory in Iraq is not to acknowledge that President Bush was right to go into Iraq when and how he did; it is not to justify or excuse the years of poor choices and strategic fumbling before the President found the generals who knew how to win. (One can say the same thing, of course, about President Lincoln. Like most great leaders, he failed his way to triumph.) I supported the invasion because I believed Colin Powell’s solemn assurances about weapons of mass destruction; I continued to support the war despite the absence of such weapons and the chaos and incompetence attending the occupation because I believed that vital issues were at stake in Iraq, that defeat was unacceptable, that victory was not nearly as unattainable as the hand wringing, pseudo-smart choruses of despairing ex-hawks so cluelessly and insistently asserted, and that if nothing else we had a duty to the Iraqis and to ourselves not to leave the country without giving it a fair chance to shape the future for itself.

Because of President Bush’s steadfastness, because of the military genius of General Petraeus (or Betray Us as the keen wits and intellects at Moveon.org so memorably called him as, to their frustration and fury, the evidence of victory began to appear) and his associates, because of the professionalism and honor of American officers, and above all because of the dogged courage, patriotism and humanity of the extraordinary men and women who served in the ranks, we won the war.

...the war would not be worthy of commemoration.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Sasquatch 2011: Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings, Live In Concert (Stephen Thompson, 5/30/11, NPR)

It's almost unfair to put Sharon Jones on a bill with a bunch of mopey young indie-rock whippersnappers: The savvy soul veteran's energy, power, control and almost supernatural on-stage confidence are liable to blow away anyone who surrounds her. On albums like last year's crisply cool I Learned the Hard Way, studio polish has a way of muting the singer's force-of-nature fury. But put Jones in a festival setting with the Dap-Kings horn section, and look out.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM

Sasquatch 2011: The Decemberists, Live In Concert (Stephen Thompson, 5/31/11, NPR)

Recorded live at The Gorge on Monday, May 30 as part of the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival outside Seattle, Wash., The Decemberists' members made this appearance at a heady time: Multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee is only weeks removed from a breast-cancer diagnosis. She wasn't expected to tour with the band in May or June, but she nevertheless made the trip as she prepares to undergo further treatment.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Muscle Shoals - The legendary studio where soul was born: Fifty years ago, in the poverty-struck deep South, Rick Hall created a sound that defined Aretha, Etta, the Stones and more. (John Clarke, 27 May 2011, Independent)

Soul singer Wilson Pickett was at the height of his fame in the mid-1960s when Jerry Wexler, a partner of the New York-based Atlantic Records, sent him to record at a studio he'd recently discovered. The studio wasn't in New York or Chicago or Philadelphia, or indeed in any major conurbation. It was 780 miles away in the middle of nowhere in Alabama, a state where, up to 1955, black people couldn't even use the same bus as white folks, on land that didn't exist until a dam in the 1920s turned the then dangerous Muscle Shoals into dry land.

Pickett told reporter Mark Jacobson: "I looked out the plane window and there's these people picking cotton... This big Southern guy was at the airport. I said, 'I don't want to get off here, they still got black people picking cotton'. The man looked at me and said: 'Fuck that. Come on, Pickett, let's go make some hit records.'"

And they did. Within days Pickett had recorded "Land Of a Thousand Dances", one of his biggest hits, in the studio created, controlled and inspired by Rick Hall the "big Southern guy" who remains one of America's undiscovered musical heroes. "A po' boy from the bottom of the agrarian ladder", as Wexler described him, he managed to found a recording centre that was to cater for everybody from Aretha Franklin to The Osmonds, from Bob Dylan to Paul Simon and from Etta James to the Rolling Stones.

Hall was born in 1932, in rural poverty in Freedom Hills, 40 miles away from Muscle Shoals, to a father who worked in a sawmill and a mother who left home when he was five. He dabbled in country music and lost his first wife in 1957 when she died in a car crash 18 months after they married. Two weeks later, his father died when his tractor overturned. He found solace in music.

"He has a titanic love of music," says Dean Rudland, of London-based Ace Records, which is planning a massive reissue programme of material recorded by Hall. "When you look at this place, there was one road going in and one road coming out. That it became a major recording centre was all down to him."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Are orthodox Jews colonising Israeli towns? (Nathalie Rothschild, 6/01/11, spiked)

Ramat Aviv, a district in northern Tel Aviv, is known as an affluent, liberal-left neighbourhood. It is home to Tel Aviv University as well as to one of Israel’s swankiest shopping malls. It was the setting of a long-running soap opera, Ramat Aviv Gimel - Israel’s answer to Beverly Hills 90210. Most Israelis would be surprised to find out that Ramat Aviv is slowly being infiltrated and taken over by ultra-orthodox Jews.

The claim of an ultra-orthodox takeover is being made by a group of self-avowed secular activists who are setting up the Forum of Secular Communities (FSC). On their website, called Hiloni (meaning ‘secular’), the community activists state that ultra-orthodox groups are invading neighbourhoods in Ramat Aviv and other districts and towns across Israel, taking over buildings and public areas, infiltrating the education system and luring young people into religious schools, sometimes with the help of sweets.

FSC’s founder, Ram Fruman, a Ramat Aviv native and the manager of a venture capitalist fund, explains to me that 95 per cent of Ramat Aviv’s 20,000 residents are secular but that the district has also long been home to a small community of Dati’im Leumim, nationalist religious Jews. They have lived in coexistence with their liberal and mostly left-leaning neighbours, says Fruman. However, this religious section of Israeli society has in recent years split, with the emergence of so-called Haredim Leumim, ultra-orthodox nationalist Jews. Along with the Haredim, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews, the Haredim Leumim have begun moving into secular areas around Israel with the intent of changing their character, say Fruman and his fellow pro-secular activist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Video: How to Make a Truck Jump 332 Feet (Amanda Schupak, 05.31.2011, Popular Science)

When I talked to Tanner Foust a few days before he attempted to break Johnny Greaves’s 2009 four-wheel jump record of 301 feet, there was one question I had to ask: Really? The three-time X Games gold medalist, Hollywood stunt driver (Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, Dukes of Hazzard, Bourne Ultimatum) and host of the History channel’s Top Gear USA laughed. “Yeah. Why are we doing this? It looks daunting on paper, but when you break down the science – certain miles per hour over this distance, ramp like this – you just make sure you hit that mark and let physics do its job. For a jump like this, it’s all just science.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM

Sasquatch 2011: Wilco, Live In Concert (Stephen Thompson, 5/21/11, NPR)
,blockquote>Recorded live at The Gorge on Monday, May 30, Wilco performs a two-hour, festival-closing set as part of the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival outside Seattle, Wash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 AM


The Case for an Iranian-Oil-Free Zone: We can punish the mullahs by disallowing imports that used Iranian oil in blending or manufacture. (REUEL MARC GERECHT AND MARK DUBOWITZ, 5/31/11, WSJ)

If we buy oil from despotic states, are we somehow complicit in their crimes? Even after the Arab Spring has highlighted tyranny in the Middle East, Americans and Europeans still generally remove oil and natural gas from their moral calculations.

But what if we could do a lot of good by sanctioning Iranian oil? Is it possible, moreover, for Europeans to continue to buy Iranian crude but give the Iranian regime less money? And could China and India, major oil customers of Tehran who couldn't care less about the regime's behavior, purchase as much crude as they want and still hurt the mullahs' ability to translate oil wealth into nefarious actions?

The answer to all three questions is "yes." All buyers need is more incentive to shop ruthlessly whenever they buy from Tehran. Washington could provide it by declaring the United States an Iranian-oil-free zone. Any company that exports an oil-based product to America—gasoline, plastics, petrochemicals, synthetic fibers—would have to certify that no Iranian oil was involved in its manufacture.

...why don't they care about Nigerians, Venezuelans, Arabs and the rest?