August 31, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


You can see how silly the idea is that we should have higher employment rates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Singapore Rising (Hal G.P. Colebatch, 8.31.11, American Spectator)

Unnoticed by the rest of the world, something significant happened in Singapore on Saturday: former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan has, not surprisingly, won victory in a field of five candidates to become the country's seventh president. But it was a narrow victory, with Mr. Tan getting about 35 percent of the 2.1 million votes cast.

This somewhat untidy result, in contrast to the 99.8 percent victories typically recorded by third-world dictatorships, is further evidence of the fact that, if still in many ways harshly authoritarian, Singapore has quietly moved a long way toward genuine democracy. It is, by Asian standards, an open society.

In a world apparently dominated by gloom and disaster and apparently run by people enthralled to irrational ideas, it is refreshing to see Singapore gradually moving from one-party authoritarianism to a genuine multi-party state, and continuing to give its people a good standard of living while doing so.

It does have the advantage of an Anglospheric heritage.
China's historic tragedy will ultimately be seen to be that the Brits never colonized it completely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The Kurdish Problem (Morton Abramowitz, August 30, 2011, National Interest)

This time, however, Turkey's internal Kurdish issue may turn international. Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Iran--Turkey's next-door neighbors, are all agitating.

Turkish elites have always been haunted by the possible establishment of an independent or even autonomous Kurdish entity in Northern Iraq, which took place after the first defeat of Iraq and gained even greater credence with its enormous economic success after the second Iraq war. One might dispute this, but I believe the present, virtually independent and flourishing Kurdish entity has had a major psychological impact on the outlook of the Kurds next door in Turkey as they consider their own position. It has helped make it unclear what will now politically satisfy Turkey's Kurds. Northern Iraq has been also the military home of the PKK, which is allowed to operate, with misgivings, by the Kurdish regional government and receives help from friendly Iraqi Kurds. Erdogan impressively changed Turkey's long-standing isolation policy; rather he embraced Iraq's Kurdish government and invested heavily in the region. The Iraqi Kurds are increasingly troubled by what is happening in Turkey and seemingly caught in the middle. Turkey has pushed the United States hard to help defeat the PKK in Iraq. They have gotten significant American intelligence support but no willingness to attack PKK forces or try to make the Iraqi Kurds do so.

Syrian-Turkish relations have long been troubled. Syria once housed PKK leader and Kurdish idol Abdullah Ocalan until the Turkish government scared the Syrians into expelling him; the Americans found him and turned him over to Ankara. Erdogan embraced Assad, thinking he had the influence to change the Syrian president and ultimately change Syrian-Israeli relations. He either did not or could not because of his own increasing frictions with Israel after the 2008-09 attack on Gaza, and now relations with Syria are in shambles. He remains fearful of what might follow Assad's demise and worried about Syria cooperating with Iran to undermine Turkey on the Kurdish issue. Some two million Kurds live in Syria, so far very meekly, although there are some indications of ferment. Attacks on them and a much greater flow of Kurdish refugees into Turkey could traumatize even today's much-stronger Ankara. Interestingly, President Obama has apparently relied heavily on Erdogan's views on Syria in managing American policy toward Damascus.

The Turkish-Iranian honeymoon has come to an end over Assad. Iran helps to keep Assad going. While Iran has been tough on its own Kurds (and although right now an Iranian counterpart of the PKK operating from Northern Iraq is doing battle with Iran), relations with Turkey have become increasingly testy. An unspoken Turkish-Iranian military coordination against the PKK appears to continue for now, and while one cannot preclude its deepening, there has been increasing concern that Iran is sending signals to Turkey that it could reverse that policy if it so chose. Tehran could also use its assets in Ankara to help generate PKK violence in the cities. Turkey is not without means to counter Iran. This is an important, evolving, highly volatile tale with repercussions for other Turkish-Iranian issues.

So the Kurdish issue now has a bigger canvas. Turkey must see it in a broad, long-term perspective.

One of the big benefits of partitioning Iraq right away would have been that the Kurdistan project would have destabilized surrounding regimes quicker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


The CIA's Islamist Cover Up (Ian Johnson, 8/30/11, NY Review of Books)

Despite the CIA's information blockade, it is clear from interviews with CIA operatives and other countries' intelligence archives that the CIA was courting groups like the Brotherhood as allies in the US's global battle against communism. In Egypt, the charge was often made by the government of Gamel Abdel Nasser that the Muslim Brotherhood was in the CIA's pay. This was also a view of some Western intelligence agencies, which flatly declared that Said Ramadan, the Swiss-based son-in-law of the group's founder, was a US agent. The agency may have--but for this we need access to its archives--colluded with Ramadan in attempting a coup against Nasser.

The CIA certainly did help the Brotherhood establish itself in Europe, helping to create the milieu that led to the September 11 attacks. The mosque in Munich that Ramadan helped found, for example, became a hotbed of anti-US activity. The man convicted as a key perpetrator of the 1993 attack against the World Trade Center had sought spiritual counseling at the mosque before leaving to carry out his attacks. And in 1998, the man believed to be al-Qaeda's chief financial officer was arrested near the mosque and also sought spiritual counseling from the mosque's imam. An investigation based on this arrest traced radical Islamists right to a second mosque--the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg--where three of the four 9/11 pilots worshipped, it but failed to make the final link. This isn't to say that the CIA was behind the September 11 attacks but that US collusion with Islamists in the Cold War bore bitter fruit in later years--making it imperative that we understand exactly what happened in those seemingly distant years of the 50s, 60s and 70s of the last century.

More recently, despite Washington's sometimes hostile public rhetoric toward to the Brotherhood, it is clear that the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have tried to court the movement. Internal CIA analyses from 2006 and 2008, which I obtained, show that the Brotherhood was viewed as a positive force and potential ally--this time not against communism but Islamist terrorism: the Brotherhood was considered a moderate Islamist group and thus able to channel grievances away from violence toward the United States (even if Brotherhood theoreticians did not renounce violence against Israel or US soldiers). The State Department also used US Muslims close to the Brotherhood to reach out to Islamists in Europe. Such support has given these groups legitimacy in the United States and Europe.

The support has certainly paid off in the ideological war against al Qaeda and on the ground in Egypt and Syria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


I was the sun, the kids were my planets (Beverly Beckham, August 27, 2006, Boston Globe)

I wasn't wrong about their leaving. My husband kept telling me I was. That it wasn't the end of the world when first one child, then another , and then the last packed their bags and left for college.

But it was the end of something. ``Can you pick me up, Mom?" ``What's for dinner?" ``What do you think?"

I was the sun and they were the planets.

This sort of self-absorption would be funnier if it weren't so sad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Romney's "Core Constituency" (Jonathan V. Last, August 29, 2011)

Let's revisit Romney's campaigns:

1994: MA Senate Republican primary: Romney 82%, John Lakian 18%

1994: MA Senate general election: Ted Kennedy 58%, Romney 41%

2002: MA Gubernatorial Republican primary: Romney runs unopposed

2002: MA Gubernatorial general election: Romney 50%, Shannon O'Brien 45%

2006: MA Gubernatorial primary: trailing in polls for the general election to Deval Patrick--a guy who'd never run for anything before--Romney declines to seek reelection. I'll count this as a loss; you might be more charitable.

2007: Presidential primaries: I won't go state-by-state, but here's the breakdown: Romney won only three states where the vote was a straight-up primary. Each of these wins was in a place where he had enormous legacy advantages: Michigan, where his father had been governor; Massachusetts, where he had been governor; and Utah, which is overwhelmingly Mormon. (He also won 8 caucus states, though the organizing rules there are much less indicative of electoral strength.)

On other side of the ledger, Romney lost primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, California, Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland. (He also lost a bunch of caucus states, but we won't count those against him since we're discounting his caucus wins.)

Which means that in the 2008 cycle he went 3-16.

Combine that with the rest of his runs and you get a 17-year career average of 5-18. I don't think you could find any other figure in politics who has run this far below the Mendoza line and still managed to get taken seriously as a presidential candidate. In fact, the only reason Romney gets taken seriously is his money. Strip away the $500M treasure room and the willingness to blow large chunks of his kids' inheritance, and he's Ron Paul without the ideological moorings and grassroots support.

But I'd argue that his electoral prospects are even worse than they look from his won-loss record.

He should have stopped being taken seriously when he Palined the people of MA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


New York: What we were before; what we are now. (Peter W. Kaplan, Aug 27, 2011, New York)

[T]here was something entrancing about the End of History. You knew viscerally something was going to give. Things were cozy, quiet, luxe--and slightly fetid. It was impossible not to know.

New York had temporarily stopped, basking in itself, freeze-drying time. Irony was the voice of the city--a voice easily assigned to a town without heroes--smartness without wisdom. Seinfeld's epic whine was our "Leaves of Grass." Sincerity, purpose, emotion were déclassé. Incomes and real-estate prices climbed ceaselessly and so did exhibitionism, steeped in wealth, full of avarice without apology. Needless to say, it was also somewhat of a gas.

Of course part of it was the premillennial intake of breath. It caused a certain amount of anxiety, the shift from MCM to MM. And part of it was the Lamest Generation.

When the baby-boomers finally took the helm, what did they accomplish? Well, they could write a good joke. Or, in the case of our brilliant but priapic first baby-boomer president, could make one; how that happened none of us will ever know. John F. Kennedy called his presidency a long twilight struggle against our adversaries; Bill Clinton envied him his foreign crises--the only long twilight struggle he had was with Newt Gingrich. When George W. Bush was elected president, it seemed the greatest Age of Irony gag of them all--the spoiled, best-educated baby-boomers had elected our own Harding.

One afternoon, in the summer after George W. Bush's inauguration, a few of us were sitting in my little office at the Observer with another editor making up the usual front page and we stopped cold. There was no news left. The era had run cold. How could that be? There were the usual socialite gags and billionaires buying big apartments, there was Harvey Weinstein and Martha Stewart and the sporadic rages of the late days of the Giuliani mayoralty--Rudy was just angry all the time.

We stared at one another. The era had just played itself out. It seemed as though time had stopped cold. That was impossible, of course. Except it wasn't impossible. History was about to turn. You could almost hear the tire screech.

Here's what we put on the front page of the paper:

"Well, this fall already feels like a bracing cold shower. Rudy Giuliani isn't going to take care of us anymore; fashions have turned dark, bohemian, ugly; last year's toys seem malevolent (SUVs) ... The New York Post, often the guilty dessert of many a Manhattan sophisticate, has developed the loud, hacking cough of a barroom smoker. Silicon Alley is a punch line; Hillary and Bill have moved in like obstreperous big-eating out-of-town guests; those saucy, hard-core Bush Girls are in ascendance, while the Gore Girls' dad stumbles darkly around the country, looking like Raymond Burr with beard, plummy oratory and ballooning beer gut. And if there's a New Yorker who feels a drop of resonance with the man in the White House, we haven't met him or her."

The date on the paper was September 10, 2001.

I'll tell you quickly what happened to our news­paper on September 11. There's not a person reading this who doesn't have his or her own story. But the Observer was a sensibility newspaper, and when history changes, so does sensibility, right away.

That morning, the conductor on my train from Westchester told us he could not pull into Grand Central Terminal. There had been a federal emergency. I got off in the Bronx and looked south. There was a little finger of smoke in the air to the south. When I got to the Observer townhouse on 64th Street the reporters were dazed, adversaries were hugging, and the toughest guy in the newsroom was bent over his desk sobbing--he had received an early report of a missing friend.

It was a Tuesday and our top story was the mayoral primary, our cover illustration was to be Michael Jackson's birthday party. I called the artist Drew Friedman, and he faxed in a drawing of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in smoke, which we hand-tinted in the production department. We wrote this headline: ­september 11, 2001 INFAMY: ASSAULT, COLLAPSE AT TWIN TOWERS; CITY GIRDS. The insouciance that had been the Observer's attitude was put in cold storage. Our little insular life had been blown open.

History hadn't ended--as a matter of fact, prehistory had just begun. New York as we knew it had changed immediately that morning in many terrible ways but one thing that changed right away was its state of mind.

...they might notice that the main product of 9-11 was to hasten the End of History in the Arab World and that, providentially, we had the president in place who best grasped the inevitability of the End.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The City: Beijing: Ai Weiwei finds China's capital is a prison where people go mad. (Ai Weiwei, 8/28/11, Daily Beast)

Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People don't care who their neighbors are; they don't trust you. The other city is one of desperation. I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can't even imagine that they'll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they've never seen electricity or toilet paper.

Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses. Each year they build a Beijing equal to the size of the city in 1949. They are Beijing's slaves. They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts--and the restaurants and karaoke parlors and saunas are very rich as a result.

Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings: the Bird's Nest, the CCTV tower. Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights. You will see migrants' schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches--and when they find the patients don't have any money, they pull the stitches out. It's a city of violence.

China's S-Curve Trajectory: Structural factors will likely slow the growth of China's economy and comprehensive national power (Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, 15 August 2011, China SignPost)

China faces costly internal and external challenges that are likely to ease the country onto a structurally-constrained slower-growth trajectory. For all its policy navigation, efforts to guide national development, and claims of exceptionalism, China is not immune to larger patterns of economics and history. As such, it will likely not be able to avoid the S-Curve-shaped growth slowdown that so many previous great powers have experienced, and that so many observers believe the U.S. is undergoing today. [...]

The S-Curve concept comes from a mathematical model that was later applied to other fields including physics, biology, and economics, to show how entities' growth patterns typically change over time. In his seminal work War and Change in World Politics, Robert Gilpin uses the concept of an S-Curve to describe how great powers rise and decline.[10] He argues that a state must inevitably decline because of an historical tendency for national efficiency to decrease as society ages, thereby creating a downward spiral of increasing consumption and decreasing investment that undermines the economic, military, and political underpinnings of a state's international position. A society or country experiences slow growth at its inception, then enjoys more rapid growth as more resources flow into the state treasury.

The process continues until the state reaches its maximum growth rate, an inflection point at which various countervailing forces begin to constrain expansion and set the economy onto a slower growth path or even a state of equilibrium. Domestically, social spending and rent seeking behavior may threaten productive investment and economic growth. Internationally, a hegemon tends to 'overpay' for influence in the international system because of the tendency for allies to 'free-ride,' and the inherent propensity toward technological diffusion may threaten to undermine a hegemon's economic and technological leadership. But differences in national system and circumstances may have profound implications for the creation and maintenance of national power. [...]

Many have argued recently that S-Curve-like factors such as explosive growth in healthcare and pension costs and military/overseas commitments threaten American prosperity and preeminence, but few have considered the possibility that similar factors could constrain China--and perhaps much sooner than commonly anticipated.

China's countervailing forces are not deterministic, but managing them will require major shifts in the country's economic, and perhaps, political structure. This may substantially constrain the country's potential economic growth and proportionately, its ability to invest in education, innovation, the military, and other factors that help determine a country's comprehensive national power.

This analysis divides key challenges that China faces into the following categories: political, demographic, structural, economic, and security. We follow this order because the political system's prior emphasis on 'growth first, other things second' helped produce a variety of the structural issues discussed below (such as high incidences of cancer and other chronic diseases), as well as the economic issues (such as local governments' use of debt), and because civilian and military officials decide China's military strategy and then have to find ways to pay for it, taking into account the financial environment in which they are, and will be.

A key point here is that these problems do not occur in isolation. Rather, they interact as a dynamic system and have real potential to be mutually reinforcing. For example, if the high local government debts end up yielding a large pool of non-performing loans that require the central government to liquidate them, that would effectively remove funds that could otherwise have been used to address chronic diseases or invested in value-accretive items such as education, research and development, or the Chinese military.

The brief rise and precipitous fall of an insignificant power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The I-word: Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff has spent his career fighting inflation. Now he thinks it might just save the economy. (Leon Neyfakh, 8/28/11, Boston Globe)

You might say that Kenneth Rogoff has been one of the guards. As a research economist at the Federal Reserve during the first half of the 1980s, he helped ensure that the word "inflation" would never again flash across American TV screens. His reputation as a conservative-minded inflation hawk followed him from the Fed to the International Monetary Fund to his current position in the economics department at Harvard.

But then came the financial crisis of 2008, and the ensuing slump. And as the economy has continued to stagnate, Rogoff, 58, has become the flag-bearer for an unlikely position: that as we struggle to help the economy find its way out of the darkness, inflation could be the answer. It's time, Rogoff says, to put Reagan's "hit man" to work for the good guys.

Over the past several years, Rogoff has emerged as one of the world's leading experts on the history of financial crises and how they work, a unique perch that has given him a long view on what is happening to our economy and what lies ahead. In the bestselling 2009 book "This Time Is Different,'' he and Carmen Reinhart , currently a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics , laid out a detailed analysis of financial crises that have taken place around the world going back 800 years, and they put forth an alarming idea about our current predicament. What we're going through, they argued - what we've been going through ever since the subprime mortgage crisis - has not been just a typical recession, as our leaders have been treating it, but something much worse, something that demands altogether different tools to stop it.

One of these tools, Rogoff believes, is a temporary burst of inflation. And for the past several weeks, as the stock market has convulsed and debate raged over the Fed's next move, he has been making his case publicly, through syndicated opinion columns, high-profile TV appearances, and numerous interviews. It's an argument that Rogoff himself admits is "radical," and one he says he'd rather not be making. But as he sees it, what's holding the country back from recovery is not just a lack of consumer confidence or suppressed demand, as in a normal recession, but an immense overhang of debt: thanks to the collapse of the real-estate bubble, millions of American families owe so much to banks that they're focusing all their energy on paying down their debts instead of spending their money on new investments. There will be no recovery until the painful process of working through that debt is behind us, Rogoff argues, and an increase in the annual inflation rate, which has floated around 2 percent since the early 1990s,would make it easier for debtors to pay down what they owe.

Inflation was such a massive problem for so long that it's understandable that it has taken folks thirty years top accept that we're in the midst of a deflationary epoch. But the ones--especially gold bugs--who still can't grasp it have no excuse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


STATING THE OBVIOUS (Martin C. Pedersen, August 30, 2011, Metropolis)

Yesterday's New Orleans Times Picayune carried a front page story--fittingly, I guess, on the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina--about the Army Corps of Engineers' new rating systems for the country's levees. The report gave a "near failing grade to New Orleans area levees," despite the $10-billion effort to rebuild them after Katrina. The levees are designed to withstand surges from a "100-year hurricane," or a storm with a one-percent change of happening in any given year. For storms the Corps described as "500-year events," all bets are apparently off. "Larger events, however, would cause flooding," the piece stated, rather bloodlessly. "Reviewers estimated those events could kill as much of 3 percent of the area's population, and inundate as many as 191,180 structures, resulting in $47.7 billion in damage."

It never made any sense to have a large population live below sea level in a hurricane/flood zone. If you wanted to preserve the place for its business and entertainment then just move the people to higher ground and have mass transit to run them into the park.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Why President Obama's Health Care Plan Missed The Mark (Todd Ganos, 8/30/11, Forbes)

Dr. Samir Qamar asked how the business model of primary care would change if compensation were a monthly subscription paid in advance and no insurance was accepted. Immediately, the costs associated with billing at both the provider and the insurance companies would drop out of the system. Dr. Qamar found that this efficiency led to other efficiencies being built into the business model. In the end, a primary care physician need only service a maximum patient base of 2000. Without the fee-for-visit compensation model driving care, there was no clock-watching and no emphasis on volume. Rather, the focus became quality of care. The average time spent with a patient more than doubled. The company is Monterey, California based MedLion, Inc.

The shocking aspect of MedLion's new approach to primary care is its cost: $59 per month for an adult, $39 per month for seniors, and $19 per month for a child. How is this possible? It seems that it is more than just primary care physicians who grasp the costs associated with insurance billing. MedLion approached other medical providers - such as labs, specialists, etc. - with a simple deal: our patients will pay you cash up front for your service instead of you billing insurance. These other providers overwhelmingly preferred this deal to billing insurance.

Major medical is not included in the MedLion model. This is where the insurance companies fit. Major medical is the true risk in health care and providing this coverage is the proper role for insurance companies. Such policies - with a high deductible - might run $150 or so per month. Thus, combining MedLion's direct primary care model with a major medical policy might run $200 to $225 per month. For employers who provide health care benefits to employees, this is a game changer.

...the reality is that you're healthy and comprehensive insurance is a waste of money for most of your life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Black leaders turn up the heat on President Obama (GLENN THRUSH & JOSEPH WILLIAMS, 8/30/11, Politico)

rominent black leaders -- fearing Obama is not only taking them for granted but avoiding them in public -- have turned up the heat on the nation's first African-American president, transforming all-in-the-family concerns into open criticism of the president at a time when they had hoped the completion of a monument to Martin Luther King Jr. near the National Mall would bring a moment of unity.

The leaders are tired, they say, of Obama dog-whistling his support for a broad black agenda rather than explicitly embracing the kind of war on racism, poverty and economic segregation embodied by King.

"You can spend a lot of time trying to win over white independents, but if you don't pay attention to your base, African-Americans, if you have not locked up your base yet, you've got a serious problem," said CNN contributor Roland Martin.

"African-Americans will vote for him again, 88, 92, 95 percent. The question is what's the turnout? I'll vote for you. But will I bring ten other people along, like I did in 2008? That's the danger here for him. He doesn't have the historical factor to lean on as much in 2012 as he did in 2008. ... And the first step is that he has to be willing to speak to this audience, black people."

So we've gone from the content of our character to mau-mauing the poor guy because he won't unite around an exclusively black agenda and speak to his exclusively black audience?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


We're All Cheneyites Now: The dark lord of American politics has a new book out, fiercely defending his Legacy. Lay down your arms, Dick. You won the fight. (Zev Chafets, 8/28/11, Daily Beast)

When he signed the deal in 2009, he was in bunker mentality--an embattled ideologue gearing up to defend a deeply unpopular terrorism policy under constant attack from the left. As his tome arrives in bookstores at summer's end, the battlefield has changed dramatically. His defense brief lands after the court of public opinion has ruled--in his favor. President Obama has largely adopted the Cheney playbook on combating terrorism, from keeping Gitmo open to trying suspected enemies of the state in military tribunals. Obama's drone war, which has quadrupled the number of attacks in the past two years, reflects Cheney's whatever-it-takes approach. The leftist wrath once trained on Bush's veep is aimed at the Democratic incumbent these days. Even the Bush-Cheney pro-democracy doctrine, born as a substitute rationale for the Iraq War after the failure to find WMD, is bearing fruit, toppling dictators from Cairo to Tripoli. The dirty little secret of the last few years is that the man George Bush called "Big Time" won. We're all Cheneyites now.

The analysis is mostly correct, but for one extremely important error: Cheney and the neocons genuinely believed that Saddam was a strategic threat. It was W who presented the war as one of liberation from the get go, in large part because removing the dictator was part of correcting the mistakes his father had made. He only allowed WMD to become the focus when Powell and Blair asked him to help them sell the UN and the Parliament respectively, with the only argument they thought would move those bodies.

The UR has kept some of the Cheneyite tactics but what really matters is that he's bought into the Bushian prodemocracy strategy, as witness continued intervention in and pressure on states that noone even pretends are threats to us.

August 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Why President Gore might have gone into Iraq after 9/11, too (Steve Kornacki, 8/3/11, Salon)

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is almost upon us and the commemorations are well underway. So it's probably not surprising that someone would commission a poll asking Americans how different they think world would now be if their country's response had been guided not by George W. Bush but by Al Gore.

What is surprising is what the poll, conducted by "60 Minutes" and Vanity Fair, found: A clear majority of Americans -- 56 percent -- don't really think anything would be different. This includes 62 percent of independents, 57 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Democrats. Even among Democrats, only 44 percent say they thought the world would be a better place now if Gore had been in the White House back then. we think so little of that we wouldn't expect them to seize an opportunity to rid the Iraqi people of Saddam? Who was the last one not to conduct/continue a war of liberation somewhere? Hoover?

The Iraq War is who we are and what we do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


The Hold Steady covers Huey Lewis & The News

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


The death of Atiyah (Brian Fishman, August 29, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Atiyah's central role in the al-Qaeda network has been clear since the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point in 2006 released a declassified letter from Atiyah to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. That letter indicated not only that Atiyah had been an influential player in jihadi circles for years, but that he had a freedom of movement from Pakistan into Iran that was, if not unique, then very rare. Such freedom of movement was important not just for communications with Zarqawi and the al-Qaeda faction in Iraq, but for communications from al-Qaeda members held under house arrest in Iran, most importantly Sayf al-Adel, who has continued to play a key strategic role for al-Qaeda despite not having absolute freedom.

When you consider that Atiyah reportedly was also a key interlocutor between al-Qaeda's central leaders and jihadis in North Africa (likely because of his ability to communicate with Zarqawi, who was the first al-Qaeda point of contact for the Algerian Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat (GSPC), as well his time spent in contact with Algerian and Libyan jihadis during the 1990s), Atiyah's centrality in the overall al-Qaeda network becomes clear. Atiyah was not the ultimate decision-maker, but he was the information crossroads.

In a covert network, the ability to transmit messages reliably is power. It is now an over-used trope that al-Qaeda has become a horizontally-organized network that communicates virtually, and often transparently. But the reality is that al-Qaeda's covert communication networks have played a critical role in the group's strategic evolution, as declassified communications indicate. Al-Qaeda's operators have been held together not just by the virtual affirmation offered on Internet forums, but private communication distributed carefully and covertly or in public forums using coded language and personas (see Atiyah's letter to Zarqawi, in which he references (pg. 17) an object known only to the two of them, an object that would serve as an identifier in online forums).

Trust also matters in covert networks if communication is to be effective. And Atiyah had that trust with many of al-Qaeda's key actors and affiliates; that is why he will be hard to replace -- perhaps even more so than current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri is a critical leader of the organization, but he operates within a structure that increasingly emphasizes the ability to move information rather than generate authoritative commands. In other words: in al-Qaeda, connectedness is more important than authority and Atiyah was connected.

Atiyah's death, if confirmed, will hasten the demise of al-Qaeda as a functional covert network.

One of the reasons W should have flown back to Washington on 9-11 is to illustrate the reality that none of us are likewise crucial to the functioning of the Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Science getting settled: New, convincing evidence indicates global warming is caused by cosmic rays and the sun -- not humans (Lawrence Solomon, Aug 26, 2011, National Post)

The science is now all-but-settled on global warming, convincing new evidence demonstrates, but Al Gore, the IPCC and other global warming doomsayers won't be celebrating. The new findings point to cosmic rays and the sun -- not human activities -- as the dominant controller of climate on Earth.

The research, published with little fanfare this week in the prestigious journal Nature, comes from über-prestigious CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, one of the world's largest centres for scientific research involving 60 countries and 8,000 scientists at more than 600 universities and national laboratories. CERN is the organization that invented the World Wide Web, that built the multi-billion dollar Large Hadron Collider, and that has now built a pristinely clean stainless steel chamber that precisely recreated the Earth's atmosphere.

In this chamber, 63 CERN scientists from 17 European and American institutes have done what global warming doomsayers said could never be done -- demonstrate that cosmic rays promote the formation of molecules that in Earth's atmosphere can grow and seed clouds, the cloudier and thus cooler it will be. Because the sun's magnetic field controls how many cosmic rays reach Earth's atmosphere (the stronger the sun's magnetic field, the more it shields Earth from incoming cosmic rays from space), the sun determines the temperature on Earth.

One of the charming facets of the Sciencism of the climate alarmists is how anti-Copernican it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


How to make an intelligent blockbuster and not alienate people: In this highly charged polemic, the Observer film writer and 5 Live critic tackles the big-budget producers for their cynical rejection of intelligent movies - and contempt for the ordinary cinemagoers who fill their pockets (Mark Kermode, 8/28/11, The Observer)

How did they get here? The short answer is: Michael Bay. The long answer is: Michael Bay; Kevin Costner's gills; Cleopatra on home video; and the inability of modern blockbusters to lose money in the long run, provided they boast star names, lavish spectacle and "event" status expense. Oh, and they don't try to be funny...

If you don't believe me, ask yourself this question: "Was Pearl Harbor a hit?" The answer, obviously, ought to be a resounding "No". For, as even the lowliest of amoebic life forms can tell you, that film was shockingly poor in ways it is almost painful to imagine. For one thing, it is "un film de Michael Bay", the reigning deity of all that is loathsome, putrid and soul-destroying about modern-day blockbuster entertainment.

"There are tons of people who hate me," admits Bay, who turned an innocuous TV-and-toys franchise into puerile pop pornography with his headache-inducing Transformers movies. "They said that I wrecked cinema. But hey, my movies have made a lot of money around the world." If you want kids' movies in which cameras crawl up young women's skirts while CGI robots hit each other over the head, interspersed with jokes about masturbation and borderline-racist sub-minstrelsy stereotyping, then Bay is your go-to guy. He is also, shockingly, one of the most commercially successful directors working in Hollywood today, a hit-maker who proudly describes his visual style as "fucking the frame" and whose movies appear to have been put together by people who have just snorted two tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium. Don't get me wrong - he's not stupid; he publicly admitted that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was below even his own poor par (his exact words were "When I look back at it, that was crap"), after leading man and charisma vacuum Shia LaBeouf declared that he "wasn't impressed with what we did". But somehow Bay's awareness of his own films' awfulness simply makes matters worse. At least Ed Wood, director of Plan 9 from Outer Space, thought the trash he was making was good. Bay seems to know better and, if he does, that knowledge merely compounds his guilt. Down in the deepest bowels of the abyss there is a 10th circle of hell in which Bay's movies play for all eternity, waiting for their creator to arrive, his soul tortured by the realisation that he knew what he was doing...

But I digress. Back to Pearl Harbor. In early 2001, Pearl Harbor was the most eagerly awaited blockbuster of the summer season. The script was by Randall Wallace, whose previous piece of historical balderdash was the Oscar-winning Braveheart, a movie that allegedly advanced the cause of Scottish nationalism with its shots of lochs, thistles, and men in kilts and blue woad eating haggis to the sound of bagpipes (although most of it was actually shot in Ireland after someone cut a canny deal with the government to use the An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil as extras - Viva William Wallace!). As a writer who appears to have a flimsy grasp of history, and who would have us believe that it is possible for men to deliver defiant speeches whilst having their intestines removed on a rack, Wallace was the perfect choice to pen a movie about the worst military disaster in US history in which "America wins!" The fact that Pearl Harbor (the movie) would attempt this revisionist coup de grâce in the same year that America suffered its worst attack on home soil since Pearl Harbor (the real disaster, rather than the movie) could not have been predicted by the film-makers.

But the fact that they were making one of the worst pieces of crap to grace movie theatres in living memory should have been horribly apparent to anyone who had read that bloody awful screenplay. Bad writing is one thing - bad reading is unforgivable. Wallace may be a rotten screenwriter (he writes lines that even Ben Affleck looks embarrassed to deliver), but it was Michael Bay and Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer who gave him the go-ahead, and who must therefore shoulder the blame.

Anyway, the film got made and released, with the full support of the US navy who gave the film-makers access to their military hardware and staged a premiere party by a graveyard (the eponymous harbour) to the shock and awe of relatives of the dead. Hey ho. The reviews were terrible, though I was personally guilty of the most atrociously contrary humbug by attempting to claim that the movie really wasn't as utterly awful as everyone was saying. What the hell was I thinking? Looking back on it now, I shudder to remember just how lenient I had been - how I had claimed that the film offered a brainless spectacle in the now time-honoured tradition of summer blockbusters, about which I had recently written a stupidly enthusiastic article for some glossy publication from whom I was frankly flattered to receive a commission. It was a shameful misjudgment, which I will carry with me to my grave, and I fully expect to be joining Mr Bay in that multiplex in hell, racked by the guilty knowledge that I just stood by and allowed this horror to happen.

Never trust a critic.

Especially this critic.

Others, however, were more forthright and correctly identified Pearl Harbor for the cack that it so clearly was. Audiences were in agreement - the vast majority of the emailed comments that Simon Mayo and I received at our BBC 5 Live radio show from people who had shelled out good money to watch Pearl Harbor were roundly condemnatory, and many were genuinely flabbergasted by just how boring the movie had been.

So, the film was a flop, right?


Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.


During production, there was much trade-press tooth-sucking about the fact that Pearl Harbor's "authorised starting budget" was $135m, a record-breaking sum back then. Bay and Bruckheimer had originally wanted $208m, and the director was widely reported to have "walked" on several occasions as arguments about how much money the movie should cost continued. As the story of the budget grew, Bay and Bruckheimer very publicly agreed to take $4m salary cuts (in return for a percentage of the profits - clever) to "keep the budget down", thereby giving the impression that every cent spent would be up there on screen. The final cost of the film was somewhere between $140m and $160m, figures gleefully quoted by negative reviewers who spied a massive flop ahoy and predicted chastening financial losses. Yet in Variety's annual roundup of the biggest grossing movies of 2001, Pearl Harbor came in at number six, having taken just shy of $200m in the US alone. By the time the film had finished its worldwide theatrical run, this abomination had raked in a staggering $450m, helping to push Buena Vista International's takings over the $1bn mark for the seventh consecutive year. No matter that almost everyone who saw the film found it a crushing disappointment - as far as the dollars were concerned, Pearl Harbor was an unconditional hit.

It gets worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Yemen's Saleh commits to presidential elections: agency (Reuters, 8/30/11)

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has clung to power despite a wave of protests against his 33-year rule, said on Monday he was committed to holding elections for a new president, the state news agency reported.

Saleh issued his statement from Saudi Arabia, where he has been for medical treatment since an assassination attempt in June, saying the vote should be held as soon as possible.

A political source told Reuters that Saleh had reached an agreement with the opposition to hold the elections within three months, with power transferred to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the meantime. [...]

Saleh issued his statement to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday which ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and starts in Yemen on Tuesday, without saying when he would return.

One notes the association of Westernization with the Muslim holy day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


New Pew Research Center Survey Finds Moderate Attitudes Among Muslim Americans (Pew Research, August 30, 2011)

[A]s found in the Pew Research Center's 2007 survey, Muslims in the United States continue to reject extremism by much larger margins than most other Muslim publics around the world, and many express concern about the possible rise of Islamic extremism. Very few Muslim Americans - just 1% - say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam from its enemies; an additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified in these circumstances. Fully 81% say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified. Comparably small percentages of Muslim Americans express favorable views of al Qaeda, and the current poll finds more holding very unfavorable views of al Qaeda now than in 2007. [...]

Since 2007, Muslim American views of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism have improved. Currently, opinion is divided - 43% say U.S. efforts are a sincere attempt to reduce terrorism while 41% do not. Four years ago, during the Bush administration, more than twice as many viewed U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as insincere rather than sincere (55% to 26%).

...was always that it might reconcile opponents of W to the continuation of his policies unchanged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Score One for Interventionism (ROGER COHEN, 8/30/11, NY Times)

It will be two decades next year since the outbreak of the Bosnian war -- and since the debate on interventionism began to rage, becoming one of the most acrimonious moral questions of our times. Now Libya, a successful Western intervention, will be placed on the scales.

The issue has divided friends and united enemies. Democrats under the age of 30 were almost as eager to go to war in Iraq as Republicans over 65, according to a Pew Research Center poll of October 2002, a moment when liberal hawkishness and conservative American hubris coalesced with disastrous consequences.

It has been the focus of an age-old foreign policy debate between realism and idealism, prompted a deluge of finger-pointing, and proved a catalyst to the U.N.-endorsed notion of a responsibility to protect. At the heart of the polemics lie divergent views on the very nature of American power.

Like many of my generation, I became an interventionist in Bosnia.

Note that the "debate" in question is entirely on the Left, where intervention against dictatorship became safe only once the Soviet Union had fallen. The argument is basically just over whether liberals should support the application of American values abroad. The avatar of this historical moment is Christopher Hitchens, who had never met an anti-Western regime he disapproved of until Reagan rid us of most of the Marxist-Leninist ones the Left identified with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


In Unsettled Times, Media Can Be a Call to Action, or a Distraction (NOAM COHEN, 8/29/11, NY Times)

Using complex calculations and vectors representing decision-making by potential protesters,[Navid Hassanpour, a political science graduate student at Yale,], who already has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford, studied the recent uprising in Egypt.

His question was, how smart was the decision by the government of President Hosni Mubarak to completely shut down the Internet and cellphone service on Jan. 28, in the middle of the crucial protests in Tahrir Square?

His conclusion was, not so smart, but not for the reasons you might think. "Full connectivity in a social network sometimes can hinder collective action," he writes.

To put it another way, all the Twitter posting, texting and Facebook wall-posting is great for organizing and spreading a message of protest, but it can also spread a message of caution, delay, confusion or, I don't have time for all this politics, did you see what Lady Gaga is wearing?

It is a conclusion that counters the widely held belief that the social media helped spur the protests. Mr. Hassanpour used press accounts of outbreaks of unrest in Egypt to show that after Jan. 28, the protests became more spread around Cairo and the country. There were not necessarily more protesters, but the movement spread to more parts of the population.

He called this a "localization process." "You can say it would be hard to measure that," he added, talking about his research, "but you can test it, what happens when a disruption goes into effect."

"The disruption of cellphone coverage and Internet on the 28th exacerbated the unrest in at least three major ways," he writes. "It implicated many apolitical citizens unaware of or uninterested in the unrest; it forced more face-to-face communication, i.e., more physical presence in streets; and finally it effectively decentralized the rebellion on the 28th through new hybrid communication tactics, producing a quagmire much harder to control and repress than one massive gathering in Tahrir."

In an interview, he described "the strange darkness" that takes place in a society deprived of media outlets. "We become more normal when we actually know what is going on -- we are more unpredictable when we don't -- on a mass scale that has interesting implications," he said.

In a dictatorship, no one wants to be the first protestor, so you aren't even going to leave the house unless you know the rebellion is occurring (and throughout the Arab world, not just outside your door, at that), are you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


From 8-28-2011

So, The Wife finally convinced us to go to Europe and, after a few days in Dublin Airport, thanks to Irene, we've made it back.

If nothing else, the trip confirmed every prejudice we've ever had about Europe and Europeans. It's not really possible to wrap your head around just how self-absorbed, inconsiderate and downright rude they are. Eventually, you kind of get used to people pushing and shoving, driving like maniacs, smoking incessantly, and the rest. Perhaps one example of the way in which their lives are coarse will suffice to illustrate the differences between us: Europeans don't tip service workers. In fact, service fees have to be added to bills to get them to give servers anything. And, on the cruise we were on, people were allowed to go and get the service fee refunded. Bad enough that you are not expected to show your gratitude for services performed, what is the inevitable result? Many of the servers don't give a hoot about the quality of the service they provide you. There is essentially an adversarial relationship between the customer and the staff providing services. The exception to the rule is, not surprisingly, that non-European staff tends to be much more solicitous, whether for cultural reasons or because they are so economically/politically vulnerable. The other unsurprising exception is that the Irish--Anglospheric rather than European--were uniformly courteous and helpful. [It's not a bad place to get stuck.]

On the other hand, the sites are terrific. We saw the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, the seaside villas of Santa Marghareta/Portofino, the ruins of Rome and the art of the Vatican, and the remnants of Carthage. [Palermo was such a complete dump that no historical features could redeem it.] If you could just dismantle it all and reassemble it in Orlando it would be awesome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


America's Secret Libya War: The U.S. military has spent about $1 billion on Libya's revolution, and secretly helped NATO with everything from munitions to surveillance aircraft. John Barry provides an exclusive look at Obama's emerging 'covert intervention' strategy. (John Barry, Aug 30, 2011, Daily Beast)

The U.S. military has spent about $1 billion so far and played a far larger role in Libya than it has acknowledged, quietly implementing an emerging "covert intervention" strategy that the Obama administration hopes will let America fight small wars with a barely detectable footprint.

Officially, President Obama handed the lead role of ousting Muammar Gaddafi to the European members of NATO. For this he was criticized by Washington war hawks who suggested that Europeans working with a ragtag team of Libyan rebels was a recipe for stalemate, not victory.

But behind the scenes, the U.S. military played an indispensable role in the Libya campaign, deploying far more forces than the administration chose to advertise.

August 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 PM


Economic Adviser Pick Is Known as Labor Expert (JACKIE CALMES, 8/29/11, NY Times)

In tapping Alan B. Krueger on Monday to lead the Council of Economic Advisers, President Obama has picked an economist well known for his studies of labor markets just as the president is about to announce a renewed push for job creation policies as early as next week. [...]

Conservative economists also applauded the choice, including the top economic advisers under Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush -- Martin Feldstein and Gregory Mankiw, respectively. "Congratulations, Alan. An excellent choice by President Obama," Mr. Mankiw wrote on his blog.

A Future Consumption Tax to Fix Today's Economy (ALAN B. KRUEGER, /12/09, NY Times)
[A] 5 percent consumption tax would raise approximately $500 billion a year, and fill a considerable hole in the budget outlook. In addition, a consumption tax would encourage more saving in the long run. Many economists consider a consumption tax an efficient way of raising tax revenue, especially in a global economy. The prospect of greater revenue flowing into federal coffers would probably help lower long-term interest rates because the government would need to borrow less down the road, and further bolster the economy.

The main downside of this proposal is that taxes reduce economic activity. But the government must make critical trade-offs, and a consumption tax could be the most efficient means to raise revenue to finance essential government functions. Over time, if the budget picture improved, income taxes or corporate taxes could be reduced and the revenue replaced by the consumption tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


The Meaning of Utopia (YVES CHARLES ZARKA, 8/28/11, NY Times)

The modern world was inaugurated by two books with opposing perspectives, published at the same time in the early years of the 16th century: Machiavelli's "The Prince" and Thomas More's "Utopia." Modernity came to a close with the collapse of all those attempts, both collective and liberal, that had been made to bring utopia about in history.

...that our Messianism and skepticism immunized us from the credulousness of the intellectuals. The End of History has basically just been a 250 year process of their accepting that we were right all along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 PM


A Mountain of Trouble: The lush peaks of Iraqi Kurdistan are irresistible to a certain breed of bold backpacker: They're exotic, beautiful, and way off the beaten track. But when three young Americans were arrested by Iranian border guards last July after straying too far down a waterfall trail, the costs of adventure travel got a lot higher. As the hikers languished in their cells, we sent JOSHUA HAMMER to find out how they got into this mess--and what it would take to get them out. Joshua Hammer, 4/21/10, Outside)

For all the hikers have endured, the stateside response has been muted compared with the attention lavished last year on Roxana Saberi, or on Current TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee--who strayed across North Korea's border from China in March 2009 and were sentenced to 12 years' hard labor before being granted amnesty two months later. Few people buy the Iranians' claim that the hikers were working for the CIA. But they lack powerful media sponsors, and they suffer from a widespread perception that their predicament is their own fault.

" 'Hiking' between two countries which are in the news every day, and then calling it 'outrageous' when they are arrested is...completely ridiculous," commented one reader on the Web site of the progressive magazine Mother Jones, to which Bauer has contributed occasional freelance stories. "These morons...deserved to be detained." Many people I talked to about the case expressed bewilderment, even a hint of scorn, at how they could have been so clueless.

For the hikers' families, the calls seemed a hopeful sign that their children might be released within weeks. But, whenever their ordeal ends, it serves as a frightening reminder of the political fault lines that often run along the world's geographical boundaries. The trio's imprisonment has drawn new attention to the dangers of adventure travel in an era when conflict zones can turn overnight into trendy destinations, guidebook writers can't keep up with expanding appetites for edge-of-the-world experiences, and gung-ho vagabonds venture into places where having a U.S. passport can put you at risk.

As I discovered in my own travels through the region, Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal are indeed partly to blame; they went into Kurdi­stan with a shocking lack of preparation. Even so, they were not well served by those they turned to for advice, and they fell victim to a sequence of small mistakes and misunderstandings that snowballed into a catastrophe--and turned them from innocent backpackers into pawns in a high-stakes face-off between implacable enemies.

MOST OF WHAT the country has heard about the Americans' capture has come from the so-called fourth hiker, Shon Meckfessel. A 37-year-old writer, musician, and student of Serbo-Croatian and Arabic now getting his Ph.D. in language theory at the University of Washington, Meckfessel traveled with Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal as far as the regional hub of Sulaymaniyah, a bustling town about 30 miles west of the Zagros Mountains. The night before their camping trip, he came down with a fever and stayed back at the hotel. He last saw his friends on Thursday evening, July 30, as they piled into a taxi for the 90-minute drive up to Ahmed Awa.

Meckfessel and his friends represent an idealistic breed of young American: cosmopolitan, curious, and engaged with the world. Each is the kind of expat--journalist, teacher, activist--who is devoted to bridging the gap between the U.S. and less developed countries, even in unstable areas where anti-American feeling may be rife. These travelers are in many ways the opposite of the ugly American--learning the local language, engaging with people, and debating their country's policies in the bistros of Eastern Europe or the refugee camps of the Middle East. As Meckfessel says, "I'm interested in cultures that people in the U.S. misunderstand."

The four converged in the Middle East through activist circles in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bauer, who grew up north of Minneapolis, and Fattal, who's from the Philadelphia suburbs, met at Berkeley. After graduation, in 2004, Fattal became a staffer at Aprovecho, a nonprofit outside Eugene, Oregon, that designs low-impact stoves for the developing world. Bauer stayed in the Bay Area, trying to get a career as a journalist off the ground. He traveled in the Balkans and the Middle East and protested against the Iraq war.

Around 2005, Bauer met Sarah Shourd, a Berkeley grad from Los Angeles who was teaching English to newly arrived immigrants. The couple soon began living together in Oakland. They also found they had a mutual friend: Shon Meckfessel, another Bay Area resident whom Shourd had met on a relief trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and who knew Bauer from local music clubs and the activist scene.

In August 2008, the couple moved to Damascus, Syria, for a year. The capital of a Baathist police state, Damascus is none­theless a seductive city with a secular atmosphere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


With sovereignty comes responsibility (Ottawa Citizen, August 24, 2011)

The Canadian military and its partners have been conducting ever-bigger operations in the North for several years. One of the government's justifications for these missions is that a military presence is necessary for Arctic sovereignty. The term "Arctic sovereignty" means different things to different people. It can be nothing more than shorthand for a demonstration of might. The idea is that we need to go up there and beat our chests every so often or the Russians or the Danes or the Americans will forget that it's ours.

Theatre does have its value. As sociologist Max Weber put it, statehood requires a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a defined territory. So in a fundamental sense, what makes Resolute Bay part of Canada is that our fighter jets can fly over it and Russia's cannot, at least not without permission.

But sovereignty, in any state and especially in a democracy, also means that the state has responsibility to the people who live in that territory. It means that the Canadian forces must be able to protect Canadians from harm in Resolute Bay, just as they do in Vancouver or Brandon. Given the challenges of travel and equipment in the North, there are very pragmatic reasons why the Canadian forces should practise up there on a regular basis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 PM


Boehner's Surprising Success: Time and again the House speaker has out-maneuvered the president. (KARL ROVE , 8/24/11, WSJ)

Mr. Boehner may not be an inspiring orator, but he has moved the country and Congress in his direction. He has succeeded in large part because he had a more modest view of the post than his recent predecessors. In a private dinner last year in Texas, I was struck by his complaint that only a handful of people mattered in the Democrat-run House--namely, the Speaker and four or five other members. This wasn't the way the Founders intended the House to operate, Mr. Boehner said, with more than a little passion in his voice.

Accordingly, he has ceded power to congressional committees so more of the House's work is done there. He has widened the theaters of operation for younger ambitious House Republican leaders. Mr. Boehner excels at persuading members rather than bribing them with earmarks or threatening them with retaliation. He has long opposed the former; the second is not his nature. All this has paradoxically strengthened his hand.

So Washington's agenda this fall will reflect the priorities not of the glitzy Mr. Obama but of the modest, well-grounded Mr. Boehner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM

Grammy-winning blues guitarist 'Honey Boy' Edwards dead at 96; had ties to Robert Johnson (Associated Press, August 29, 2011)

Born in 1915 in Shaw, Miss., Edwards learned the guitar growing up and started playing professionally at age 17 in Memphis.

He came to Chicago in the 1940s and played on Maxwell Street, small clubs and street corners. By the 1950s Edwards had played with almost every bluesman of note -- including Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Charlie Patton and Muddy Waters. Among Edwards' hit songs were "Long Tall Woman Blues," ''Gamblin Man" and "Just Like Jesse James."

Edwards played his last shows in April at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Miss., Frank said.

"Blues ain't never going anywhere," Edwards told The Associated Press in 2008. "It can get slow, but it ain't going nowhere. You play a lowdown dirty shame slow and lonesome, my mama dead, my papa across the sea I ain't dead but I'm just supposed to be blues. You can take that same blues, make it uptempo, a shuffle blues, that's what rock 'n' roll did with it. So blues ain't going nowhere. Ain't goin' nowhere."

Edwards won a 2008 Grammy for traditional blues album and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2010. His death represents the loss of the last direct link to the first generation of Mississippi blues musicians, Frank said.

"That piece of the history from that generation, people have to read about it from now on," Frank said. "They won't be able to experience the way the early guys played it, except from somebody who's learned it off of a record."

Edwards was known for being an oral historian of the music genre and would tell biographical stories between songs at his shows, Frank said. He was recorded for the Library of Congress in Clarksdale, Miss., in 1942.

'Honeyboy,' A Living Link To The Birth Of The Blues (All Things Considered, 7/09/08, NPR)

August 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Is That All There Is?: Secularism and its discontents. (James Wood, August 15, 2011. New Yorker)

Since the nineteenth century, the disappearance of God has often been considered elegiacally, as a loss or a lack. A century ago, the German sociologist Max Weber asserted that the modern, Godless age was characterized by a sense of "disenchantment." Weber seems to have meant that without God or religion modern man moves in a rational, scientific world, without appeal to the supernatural and salvific, and is perhaps condemned to search fruitlessly for a meaning that was once vouchsafed to religious believers.

Nowadays, elegy has probably yielded to a milder nostalgia--given popular form in Julian Barnes's "Nothing to Be Frightened Of " (in which the novelist confesses to not believing in God but "missing" Him all the same), and complex form in the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age" (2007). In that enormous book, Taylor, a practicing Catholic, presents a narrative in which secularism is an achievement, but also a predicament: modern Godless man, deprived of the old spirits and demons, and thrown into a world in which there is no one to appeal to outside his own mind, finds it hard to experience the spiritual "fullness" that his ancestors experienced.

"The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now" (Princeton; $35), a new collection edited by George Levine, the scholar of Victorian literature, attempts to counter such moping and mourning. Levine explains that the book's aim is to "explore the idea that secularism is a positive, not a negative, condition, not a denial of the world of spirit and of religion, but an affirmation of the world we're living in now; that building our world on a foundation of the secular is essential to our contemporary well-being; and that such a world is capable of bringing us to the condition of 'fullness' that religion has always promised." It is a valuable project, though not without its difficulties. One problem is that it's not always clear what Levine and his contributors mean by secularism. Some of the time, I think they mean just atheism or practical agnosticism (i.e., living without appeal to, or belief in, supernatural agency). Such a life is, of course, civically compatible with the continued existence of organized religion. More often, the working definition here is of secularism as a historical force ultimately triumphant and victorious: a vision of the future as an overcoming of religion.

Another difficulty is that, whether or not people did feel full or enchanted in centuries past, religion cannot be identified with the promise of fullness or enchantment. Both Christianity and Islam harshly challenge the self with an insistence on submission, sacrifice, and kenosis--an emptying out of the self, an exchange of the wrong kind of fullness for the right kind of humility--and Buddhism seeks to undermine the very idea of the sovereign, unified self. Revolutionary asceticism, which is what these religions in different ways embody, could be said to be hellbent on disenchantment.

Using secularism to fill the enchantment void runs the risk of making it at best religiose and at worst merely upbeat and vacuously "positive," and the danger is not always avoided here. For the most part, though, the book valuably works over middle ground, the space vacated by both dogmatic religionists and dogmatic atheists. It is tolerant of, and even interested in, the varieties of religious practice, and maintains an engaged and equitable tone of voice. We might call this the New Secularism. All these qualities are found in the book's first essay, by the Columbia philosopher Philip Kitcher, who establishes many of the terms of the larger discussion. Kitcher dislikes what he calls "Darwinian atheists" (that is, the New Atheists), who too often "think that once the case against the supernatural has been made, their work is done." He implies that philosophy must combat and educate common religious prejudice and, by example, suggests that it is more likely to do this effectively than journalism or propaganda.

Many people, for instance, believe that morality is a deliverance of God, and that without God there is no morality--that in a secular world "everything is permitted." You can hear this on Fox News; it is behind the drive to have the Ten Commandments displayed in courtrooms. But philosophers like Kitcher remember what Socrates tells Euthyphro, who supposed that the good could be defined by what the gods had willed: if what the gods will is based on some other criterion of goodness, divine will isn't what makes something good; but if goodness is simply determined by divine will there's no way for us to assess that judgment. In other words, if you believe that God ordains morality--constitutes it through his will--you still have to decide where God gets morality from. If you are inclined to reply, "Well, God is goodness; He invents it," you threaten to turn morality into God's plaything, and you deprive yourself of any capacity to judge that morality.

The Bible contains several examples of God and Jesus appearing to sanction what seems arbitrary or cruel conduct: the command that Abraham kill his son, the tormenting of Job (a game instigated by Satan, who seems quite chummy with the Lord), Jesus' casual slaughter of the Gadarene pigs. The Old Testament seems to have an apprehension of Plato's dilemma, when it has Abraham plead with a vengeful Yahweh to spare the innocent inhabitants of Sodom. Abraham bargains with God: would He spare the city for the sake of fifty innocents? How about forty-five, or forty, or thirty? He gets Yahweh down to ten, and almost seems to shame Him, or perhaps teach Him, and hold Him to an ethics independent of His own impulses: "Far be it from You!" he chides Yahweh. "Will not the judge of all the earth do justice?"

As frightening as it seems to people, the point is that even God is fallible and He is to be judged by the same morality He commands of us. When God fails to do justice He is not behaving in a godly manner and it is proper for Abraham to call Him on it. Indeed, God is finally reconciled to Man when, as Jesus, He despairs of Himself: "Oh Lord, Oh Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me." But the fact that morality is so hard a task master that no one can measure up to it does not relieve anyone of the obligation to try to do so. It just means that God understands our failure and forgives it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Thomson's "Defense of Abortion" at Forty (Francis J. Beckwith, 8/05/11, Catholic Thing)

In 1971, philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson published "A Defense of Abortion." It is perhaps the most famous and widely republished article in contemporary moral philosophy.

In this article, Thomson introduces us to her famous violinist analogy. You are asked to imagine that you have been kidnapped and rendered unconscious by a vigilante gang of classical music aficionados who have surgically connected you to an unconscious violinist for whom you are alone anatomically suited to be his organic dialysis machine until he fully recovers nine months later. You awake and are told that the violinist will die if you unplug yourself from him.

Thomson argues that even though the violinist has a right to life, you nevertheless have a right to unplug yourself from him. This allows her to make the point that even if X has a right to life, that right by itself does not entitle him to coerce Y to provide bodily aid and sustenance to X, even if such assistance is necessary to keep X alive. So to apply this to abortion, even if the fetus is a human person, it does not follow that abortion is always wrong, since no one, including a fetus, has a right to use another's body against her will.

Although there are many critiques of this argument (I've published a few of them myself), there is a new one that I'd like to suggest: Thomson is not really granting the pro-life view of personhood.

...the Constitutional Law professor I had used the example of the government taking you and hooking you up to the violinist, which makes more sense given that anti-abortion laws are the government requiring you to sustain another's life. He was reluctant even to address the topic of Roe and rather than do so in the class split us up into smaller discussion groups. After having us read the world famous violinist scenario he started off by saying: "I think we can all agree that the government's action here is unjust and you should be able to demand to be released."

I asked: "Why? Setting aside the question of whether it was right or wrong for the government to employ you to save a life, the fact is that you are preserving that life and if you demand your freedom you'll kill another man. Why is your physical freedom of greater import than his life?"

The whole thing deteriorated from there (or ascended) as we were unable to even reach a basic agreement over that question of selfish interests vs obligation to others.

But it's important to keep in mind that this is Ms Thomson's basic point: that I should be allowed to kill the violinist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


A Family Affair: For a new album, Ollabelle overcame family and financial issues (JOHN JURGENSEN, 8/12/11, WSJ)

To make a gig of his new band Ollabelle in 2002, at a bar without a stage in New York's East Village, bass player Byron Isaacs had to dash away from his wife and first-born child--a daughter delivered earlier that day. Ever since, the dueling commitments of band, business and family have marked the development of this acclaimed roots music group, especially during the long gestation of its new album, "Neon Blue Bird."

When recording began four years ago, singer Amy Helm was pregnant with her first child. By the time sessions resumed in 2008, vocalist Fiona McBain was expecting a baby with drummer Tony Leone. Now, with "Neon Blue Bird" set for release on Tuesday, Ms. Helm is about to give birth to a second son.

"We're not finished starting families," Ms. McBain said over breakfast at a Manhattan restaurant last month. That morning, a babysitter had bowed out, so 2-year-old daughter Georgia accompanied Ms. McBain and Mr. Leone to the interview. As they discussed the making of "Neon Blue Bird," Georgia munched on fruit, recalled a trip to the aquarium, then politely requested a diaper change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Sentimentality or Honesty? On Charles Taylor (Mark Oppenheimer, August 29-September 5, 2011, The Nation)

Taylor is particularly animated by the problem of Québécois nationalism, which concerns--and perhaps has determined--two of his chief sympathies: liberal democracy and multiculturalism, not just within societies but among them. Those sympathies conflict, of course. On the one hand, Taylor knows that liberal democracies are supposed to treat all people equally; on the other hand, he is sympathetic to his concitoyens' desire for a French Quebec, an assertion of ethnic chauvinism that mandates legal privileges for one ethnic group and disabilities for another, such as the law prohibiting commercial signs in English.

As Taylor sees it, Quebec is not merely his worry but all of ours. For what he is asking--along with contemporaries like K. Anthony Appiah, Seyla Benhabib and Amy Gutmann--is how the Western liberal can reconcile a preference for liberal democracy with the illiberalism necessary for cultural preservation or self-preservation, which many accept as understandable goals. To those who feel that this tension is not easily resolved, the Jewish character of Israel, say, is not just a case of ethnic chauvinism--it is also the embodiment of a people's aspirations to endure and thrive. At the same time, the believer in cultural preservation will be sympathetic to the Palestinian people--not just as individuals seeking justice but as a community with collective aspirations that could not be fulfilled by citizenship in some other Arab country.

The tension between liberal democracy and certain kinds of preference--whether the preference is construed as ethnic, religious, national or all three--at times feels unbearable for the Western liberal. Americans, as it happens, are particularly ill suited to dealing with the claims of religious and ethnic pride. We get to eat our cake in a country that is basically nice to us all, Scientologist and Sikh alike. The United States, for all its paroxysms of xenophobia, is unusual for being a country where ethnic chauvinism has basically no popular support or institutional sanction.

The point, of course, is that beliefs are nothing like ethnicity and not all beliefs are similar. Americans eschew "ethnic chauvinism," and even religious chauvinism, precisely because we are a Christian nation and believe not only that all men are Created Equal but that all men can conform themselves to the same moral standards set down by the Creator.

And while philosophers fret about these questions the End of History is universally bending men to our views.

August 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM

Thurston Moore Live In-Studio (Mary Lucia, 7/28/11, Minnesota Public Radio)

89.3 The Current was thrilled to welcome Thurston Moore to MPR's UBS Forum for a special solo session. Backed by a band featuring such unlikely choices of instrumentation as a harp and a violin, Moore demonstrates the breadth and depth of his solo work, which stands in stark contrast to Sonic Youth's noisy experimentalism and steely New York cool. Spanning from the lovely "Benediction" and "Never Day" (a plaintive and wistful tune from 2007's Trees Outside the Academy) to the dissonant swirl of sound that frames the awesome "Mina Loy," his set showcases his compositional genius and his deft, casual lyricism.

Moore also chats with Mary Lucia about his musical beginnings, Sonic Youth, his current work and much more. If you've ever wanted to know about Thurston's baptismal teenage KISS concert experience, his transition from electric to acoustic guitar or what instruments he would use to score a horror movie, here's your chance.

Songs played: "Benediction," "Never Day" and "Mina Loy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM

Newport Jazz 2011: Grace Kelly With Phil Woods, Live In Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, August 7, 2011, NPR)

The Boston-area alto saxophonist Grace Kelly is 19. The NEA Jazz Master and alto saxophonist Phil Woods is 79. But the ambitious Kelly has already won over many with impressive command of her instrument -- including the fleet-fingered Woods, who entered the studio with her (and pianist Monty Alexander) in 2010 to make a recording.


August 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM

Newport Folk 2011: Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, Live In Concert (NPR, 7/30/11)

It almost goes without saying that Pokey LaFarge is a man out of time: With his slicked-back hair and vintage clothing, he looks like a grown-up street urchin from early in the previous century. His music matches his look: Recorded with his band The South City Three, the new Middle of Everywhere could have emerged from a decades-old field recording, even as it exudes modern whiz-bang energy. (It's no surprise that the man is putting out his own 78 RPM record.)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Changing The Rules: The incidence of conditions like hypertension and diabetes has skyrocketed in recent years. Some of that increase is real. But some of it is due to changes in the way diseases are defined. In this excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book, a member of the DMS faculty explains the downsides of that trend. (H. Gilbert Welch, M.D., M.P.H., and Lisa M. Schwartz, M.D., M.S., and Steven Woloshin, M.D., M.S., Winter 2010-11, Dartmouth Medicine)

Many modern diseases are defined by a numerical rule. If your blood pressure is above a certain number, for example, you have hypertension. If it isn't above that number, you don't. And hypertension isn't the only condition defined by a numerical rule. There are many diseases that you can be labeled with simply because you are on the wrong side of a number, not because you have any symptoms. Diabetes is defined by a number for blood sugar, hyperlipidemia by a number for cholesterol, and osteoporosis by a number for bone density (called a T score). By establishing these numerical targets, of course, we doctors are trying to get ahead of patients' symptoms--to make diagnoses early in order to prevent bad events such as leg amputation and blindness from diabetes, heart attacks and strokes from high cholesterol, and wrist and hip fractures from osteoporosis.

The conventional wisdom tells us this is good: finding problems early saves lives because we have the opportunity to fix small problems before they become big ones. What's more, we believe there are no downsides to looking for things to be wrong.

But the truth is that early diagnosis is a double-edged sword. While it has the potential to help some people, it also has a hidden danger: overdiagnosis--the detection of abnormalities that are not destined to ever bother us. Some people diagnosed with diabetes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis, in other words, will never develop symptoms or die from those conditions. This is most likely the case for those in whom the condition is mild.

The numerical rules used to define conditions are really important. They typically involve a single number: if you fall on one side of the number you are defined as being well; if you're on the other, you are defined as being ill. These numbers--called cutoffs or thresholds--determine who has a condition and who doesn't. They determine who gets treatment and who doesn't. And they determine how much overdiagnosis occurs.

Cutoffs are set by expert panels of physicians. I wish I could say that their determinations result from purely scientific processes. But they are more haphazard than that: they involve value judgments and even financial interests. The experts who select the cutoffs have particular sets of beliefs about what is important. Because these doctors care greatly about the conditions they specialize in, I believe they sometimes lose a broader perspective. Their focus is to do everything they can to avoid the bad events associated with that condition; their main concern is not missing anyone who could possibly benefit from diagnosis and treatment. So they tend to set cutoffs that are expansive, leading many people to be labeled ill or abnormal. They tend to either ignore or downplay the major pitfall of this strategy: treating those who will not benefit. This is a problem because almost all treatments have the potential to do some harm.

Over the past few decades, many cutoffs have been changed in a way that dramatically increases the number of individuals who are labeled with these conditions and others. It means that the threshold to make a diagnosis has fallen. Even if this is done with the best of intentions--to avoid more bad events--it can lead to an undesirable consequence: more overdiagnosis and thus more treatment of people who won't benefit but can potentially be harmed. [...]

The problem of overdiagnosis was dramatically demonstrated in a recent randomized trial funded by the National Institutes of Health. The trial was designed to determine whether intensively lowering blood sugar reduced the risk of having or dying from a heart attack or stroke. The trial enrolled over 10,000 patients with diabetes who were at high risk for these events. About 5,000 were randomized to receive standard diabetes therapy--treatment to lower their average blood sugar to a more acceptable, though not normal, range. The other 5,000 were randomized to receive intensive drug therapy--treatment to bring their blood sugar down to a normal level. Half of the patients in the latter group achieved the goal: the average blood sugar level of those who got intensive therapy was below 140. Because the average included blood sugars measured right after eating (which tend to be high), it is safe to assume that their fasting blood sugars were considerably lower.

The trial started in 2003 and was supposed to continue to 2009. But on February 6, 2008, the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute issued a press release saying they were "changing" the intensive therapy regimen "due to safety concerns." Changing wasn't the most accurate word to describe what they were doing; stopping would have been a better choice. And the safety concern was that patients receiving the intensive therapy were dying more often than patients receiving the standard therapy. After three years, 5% of the patients receiving intensive therapy had died, compared with 4% of those receiving standard therapy. That is a 25% increase in the risk of death, and the researchers were confident that it was not a statistical fluke. There was little doubt: intensive treatment was worse than standard treatment.

You might wonder how making people's blood sugar normal could end up killing them. It's probably because we can't simply dial a patient's blood sugar to a specific number; our therapies aren't that precise. Instead, blood sugar bounces around, and if we try to have blood sugar bounce around normal, sometimes it will bounce too low. And having your blood sugar too low increases your risk of death. The investigators might argue that hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) was not the cause of the increased risk of death. But by their own admission, they were not sure what explained the increased mortality. In the official report, lead author Hertzel Gerstein wrote: "Despite detailed analyses, we have been unable to identify the precise cause of the increased risk of death in the intensive blood sugar strategy group. . . . Our analyses to date suggest that no specific medication or combination of medications is responsible. We believe that some unidentified combination of factors tied to the overall medical strategy is likely at play."

My view is that if the trial had shown a mortality benefit, the authors would have been quick to ascribe that benefit to intensive control of blood sugar (as I think would have been correct in that case). But since the trial showed a mortality harm, that must also be ascribed to intensive control of blood sugar. That's the point of a randomized trial.

What does this study tell us about where to set the threshold to diagnose diabetes? My take is this: if it's not good to make diabetics have nearly normal blood sugars, then it's not good to label those with nearly normal blood sugars as diabetics. Why? Because doctors will treat them. People with mild blood sugar elevations are the least likely to gain from treatment--and arguably the most likely to be harmed, as Mr. Roberts was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


An Empire of the Mediterranean: There was more to Carthage than her defeat by Rome (ADRIAN GOLDSWORTHY, 7/23/11, WSJ)

'Carthage must be destroyed'--the title of Richard Miles's book was the constant theme of the Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.). In the last years of his long life, Cato became obsessed with Rome's old rival, the city that had unleashed Hannibal on the Roman Republic and brought it to the brink of destruction. Famed for his oratory as well as his stern morality, the old man was frequently asked to give his opinion in the Senate. Regardless of the topic, his last sentence was always the same--"And I think Carthage ought to be destroyed." A rival countered by ending his own speeches with "And I think Carthage ought not to be destroyed," but Cato carried the day, although he died before Carthage was captured in 146 B.C. The city was demolished and the site formally cursed by Roman priests. The oft-repeated story of the ground being sown with salt is a much later invention, but the destruction of Carthage as a political state was total.

The subtitle of the book is the more revealing, for this is not primarily an examination of the three Punic Wars fought between Carthage and Rome but instead a full history of "The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization." Those epic conflicts, and indeed the savage wars fought between Carthaginians and Greeks to dominate Sicily in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., are just part of the bigger story. The campaigns are covered intelligently, but even the biggest battles rarely rate more than a paragraph. Richard Miles is instead concerned with the wider context of these struggles, and his book is all the more valuable for that.

History is proverbially written by the victors. Carthaginian civilization was much older than that of Rome, and its mother city of Tyre in modern Lebanon boasted a sophisticated culture also predating the achievements of Classical Greece. Yet Carthage was destroyed and with it so much of our knowledge of its glories. Greece was also conquered by Rome, but as the poet Horace put it, "captured Greece conquered the fierce captor." The Romans fell in love with Hellenic learning and literature, the passion fueled by a deep-seated sense of their own cultural inferiority. Educated Romans were fluent in Greek as well as Latin. The first Roman historian was Fabius Pictor, and he was inspired to write at the end of the third century B.C. by the war with Hannibal, but he did so in Greek. No Roman was ever inspired to write in the Punic language of Carthage.

Indeed, the Cathaginians themselves produced no great literature in Punic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Multitasking while driving: Can technology make a car uncrashable?: With new safety features and a navigation using Google technology, Audi's new A6 is steering toward a future where drivers can (safely) be distracted.(Doron Levin, 7/26/11, Fortune)

[A]udi has also developed enhanced high-tech safety features that make the A6 more difficult to crash, as well as safer in the event of an accident. Radar and cameras can detect from the front, side and rear of the A6 whether the car is in danger of a collision, and flash a warning on the dash. "A tap on the shoulder," an Audi spokesman calls it.

Milliseconds before a collision the seat belts tense and windows close, as does the sunroof. If a collision is imminent from the rear, the car's software calculates whether to deploy the brakes in order to mitigate a second collision, if sensors show another car is ahead. The airbags still don't deploy unless there's an actual crash.

"These two trends - advanced driver information and active safety - are developing in tandem," said Mark Dahncke, an Audi spokesman. "When you carry your iPhone in the car you have this functionality already. We integrate the features into the car to make them as safe and useful as possible."

Advanced information technology is creating more and more automotive applications, turning cars into rolling computers. Eventually drivers may need to assume less responsibility for actual operation of their vehicles. Last year Google demonstrated a driver-less car that navigated 1,000 miles of California roads, more or less free of incidents. And earlier this month, legislators in Nevada passed a bill authorizing the state's Transportation Department to draw up rules and standards for driver-less cars on state roads.

Volvo has introduced a system called "City Safety" that reduces the chance of low-speed crashes in which the driver fails to brake in time, usually causing a rear-end collision. A laser sensor mounted on the rear-view mirror constantly measures that relative speed with the vehicle ahead, ordering the brakes to apply pressure in the event that driver fails to do so.

Might cars one day be uncrashable? "It will happen at some point," said Dahncke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Peter the Wild Boy: A mysterious child from northern Germany, portrayed by William Kent on the King's Grand Staircase, became one of the sensations of the Georgian age, as Roger Moorhouse explains. (Roger Moorhouse, History Today)

In the summer of 1725 a peculiar youth was found in the forest of Hertswold near Hameln in northern Germany. Aged about 12, he walked on all fours and fed on grass and leaves. 'A naked, brownish, blackhaired creature', he would run up trees when approached and could utter no intelligible sound. The latest in a long line of feral children - in turn celebrated, shunned and cursed through the ages - 'The Wild Boy of Hameln' would be the first to achieve real fame.

After a spell in the House of Correction in Celle, the boy was taken to the court of George, Duke of Hanover and King of the United Kingdom, at Herrenhausen. There the young curiosity was initially treated as an honoured guest. Seated at table with the king, dressed in a suit of clothes with a napkin at his neck, he repelled his host with his complete lack of manners. He refused bread, but gorged himself on vegetables, fruit and rare meat, greedily grasping at the dishes and eating noisily from his hands, until he was ordered to be taken away. He was given the name of Peter, but was variously known as 'Wild Peter', 'Peter of Hanover', or, most famously, 'Peter the Wild Boy'.

In the spring of 1726, after briefly escaping back to the forest, Peter was brought to London where his tale had aroused particular interest. As in Hanover, he caused a sensation and his carefree nature provided an amusing antidote to the stultifying boredom and decorum of court life. He appealed especially to Caroline, Princess of Wales, who persuaded the king to allow Peter to move to her residence in the West End, where he was kept virtually as a pet. Though he insisted on sleeping on the floor, he was dressed carefully each morning in a tailor-made suit of green and red. He was also appointed a tutor, who had him baptised and taught him to bow and kiss the hands of the ladies at court.

Peter quickly became a celebrity. On one level, tales of his antics busied the London gazettes. Jonathan Swift, whose fictional 'Yahoos' Peter appeared to personify, noted sourly that 'there is scarcely talk of anything else'. He was soon the 'talk of the town', his portrait graced the walls of the King's Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace and an effigy of him was erected in a waxworks on the Strand. In 1727 a premature report of his death gave rise to a mocking epitaph in the British Journal. His resemblance to Swift's fantastical characters had clearly not been missed:

Ye Yahoos mourn, for in this Place
Lies dead the Glory of your Race,
One, who from Adam had Descent,
Yet ne'er did what he might repent;
But liv'd, unblemish'd, to fifteen,
And yet, O strange, a Court had seen,
Was solely rul'd by Nature's Laws,
And dy'd a Martyr in her Cause!
Now reign, ye Houynhnms, for Mankind,
Have no such Peter left behind,
None like the dear departed Youth,
Renown'd for Purity and Truth,
He was your Rival, and our Boast,
For ever, ever, ever lost!

But Peter could not to live up to the popular interest invested in him and a fickle public quickly abandoned him in favour of the next unfortunate. His academic progress also failed to match his earlier promise. He was declared 'unable to receive instruction', despite the attentions of 'the ablest masters'. He could say nothing beyond his own name and a garbled form of 'King George'. By 1728, his tutor had given up his efforts and Peter was retired to the country. A home was found for him on a farm near Northchurch in Hertfordshire and a generous crown pension of £35 per annum was supplied for his upkeep. The 'talk of the town' became a humble farm hand.

Though still only an adolescent, Peter faded into provincial obscurity and thereafter rarely troubled the gossip columns. He developed a taste for gin and loved music, reportedly swaying and clapping with glee and dancing until he was exhausted. But he never learned to speak and his lack of any sense of direction gave cause for concern. In 1745, the year of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was arrested as a suspected Highlander and, six years later, he wandered as far as Norwich, where he was thought to be a Spanish subversive. As a result he was fitted with a heavy leather collar bearing the inscription: 'Peter, the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble.' He finally died, aged around 72, in 1785.

Though Peter's life is remarkable enough, what is most astounding is the sheer scale of scientific and philosophical interest that his case aroused. While wits opined that the boy might be corrupted by the sybaritic life of London high society, others saw in him an ideal test case for the nascent sciences of anthropology and psychology.

To the thinkers of the Age of Reason, Peter represented a blank slate. As humanity in its 'raw' state, he was what Jean-Jacques Rousseau called 'the noble savage', man 'unspoilt' by society and civilisation.

Quite. A useless savage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 AM

Noah And The Whale: Tiny Desk Concert (Stephen Thompson, 8/10/11, NPR)

[L]ast Night on Earth, Noah and the Whale's recent third album, is highlighted by the encroachment of a drum machine, which the band used to replace co-founder Doug Fink (brother of singer-guitarist Charlie) after he left to attend medical school. And, lo and behold, Charlie Fink and violinist Tom Hebden turned up at this Tiny Desk Concert as a duo with drum machine in tow. The device's tinny simu-snare takes a little bit of getting used to -- it's thankfully shelved for an exquisite run through "Blue Skies," from The First Days of Spring -- but it does add pep to the two new songs here, "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N." and "Waiting for My Chance to Come." It's not Noah and the Whale unplugged, obviously, but sweet simplicity still reigns.


August 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


The History of Torture--Why We Can't Give It Up (Colin Woodard, 8/09/11, MHQ)

In 1849, pacifists felt history was on their side. A series of idealistic revolutions had shaken autocratic regimes across Europe the previous year, extending universal voting rights in many countries and spurring extensive constitutional reforms in Denmark and the Netherlands. Hundreds of intellectuals, philanthropists, and politicians had gathered in Brussels to discuss how to bring an end to war itself, endorsing arms limitations and a ban on military lending. In August of that year nearly a thousand delegates from Europe and North America convened in Paris to further their plans to bring down "the war system" and replace it with the rational adjudication of a Congress of Nations.

Some 150 years ago, the West all but abandoned torture. It has returned with a vengeance

"A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today," French author Victor Hugo told the Paris delegates. "And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!"

The pacifists were to be disappointed. The Crimean War--a continental-scale conflict, despite its name--broke out four years later, killing 400,000 and foreshadowing the horror of industrialization visited upon the battlefields of the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, and the First World War. The 20th century would see more war deaths than any in history, and the early 21st promised the killing would continue apace.

But Hugo was right about one thing: Torture as a matter of state and military policy had indeed all but vanished from the Western world. Torture--the use of physical coercion to extract information or break down the subject--had fallen out of favor in Europe for a variety of reasons, including the rise of Enlightenment philosophes, revised attitudes to battlefield treatment of prisoners, and new thinking among doctors. By 1851, every country in Europe had banned torture altogether. A few years later, Union armies went to battle with rules for warfare that explicitly condemned prisoner abuse.

Torture by military forces was thought a thing of the past. Indeed, the American historian John Fiske in 1889 declared it almost "as extinct as cannibalism."

Then it came roaring back.

The 20th century saw military forces around the world torturing prisoners as a matter of operational policy, some at a scale that might have shocked Genghis Khan or Vlad the Impaler. Americans tortured and slaughtered prisoners in the Philippines. Japanese raped, tortured, and murdered captives by the tens of thousands in China and dissected Allied prisoners on Pacific islands. German military units were ordered to treat Soviet POWs as subhuman slaves, transferring some to be experimented upon by state-employed medical doctors. In more modern conflicts of every size and type--Korea and Vietnam, the Belgian Congo and Liberia, the Algerian civil war and the bitter Yugoslav split, Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and American-occupied Iraq--soldiers tortured soldiers on the orders of their superiors. "It has reached a scale that dwarfs even the darkest Middle Ages," wrote British foreign affairs columnist Jonathan Power in his 1981 history of Amnesty International.

Why did torture, after nearly vanishing as acceptable military practice in the 19th century, return with such a vengeance? It's a question that has challenged 21st-century scholars, particularly since President George W. Bush condoned the use of certain torture techniques on prisoners held by U.S. military forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba--techniques that allegedly played a role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Their conclusion: The nature of war has come full circle since the early 17th century, from total war to gentlemanly clashes and, beginning around 1900, back again. Counterinsurgency and civil wars have become the norm, making it far more likely that combatants will be regarded as treasonous criminals rather than defeated soldiers. Both developments have resurrected operational torture, sometimes in forms not seen since ancient times.

...if insurgents and terrorists would agree to stop hiding and take the field to settle the differences between them and us via traditional warfare. But, so long as the only difficult part of winning these wars is finding the enemy to begin with, torture has to be tool in the arsenal of democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Divorce reform could save billions in government aid (Cheryl Wetzstein, 8/15/11, The Washington Times)

Now that government belt-tightening has become a national obsession, divorce-reform advocates are making the argument that they can be part of the solution.

Divorce is costly for everyone, they argue, and encouraging troubled couples to try to work things out could benefit the national bottom line.

The average split costs a couple $2,500. A new single-parent family with children can cost the government $20,000 to $30,000 a year. That's $33 billion to $112 billion a year total in divorce-related social-service subsidies and lost revenue. [...]

Even a "modest reduction" in the U.S. divorce rate likely would benefit 400,000 children and save taxpayers significant sums, wrote retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and University of Minnesota professor William J. Doherty, proponents of a new "Second Chances" divorce reform.

"We have to rethink this 'easy-to-divorce' strategy," added Michael McManus, author and founder of Marriage Savers, which promotes a community marriage strategy that has been shown to reduce divorce rates by an average of 17.5 percent.

Americans have consistently supported more restrictive divorce laws. For more than 30 years, the General Social Survey asked Americans if divorce should be "easier or more difficult to obtain than it is now?" The most popular answer is always "more difficult."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Study: Setting eyes on Old Glory moves voters toward GOP (George Lowery, 7/11/11,

Expect even more flags at Republican campaign events. And if the Democrats were wise, they might well strip the stage of flags altogether, suggests a new Cornell study, the first to look at the political impact of the flag's image on Americans.

The research finds that for up to eight months after glimpsing the stars and stripes, voters of all political persuasions shift toward conservative Republican attitudes and voting behavior.

...that the American flags you see flying in your own town tend to be in front of Republican homes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


How do you explain park deaths? You can't: Expert in Yosemite, Grand Canyon fatalities at a loss to explain 'stupid' behavior (Barbara Brotman, July 25, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

Why would three people ignore posted signs and shouted warnings and climb over a metal barricade to stand on slippery rock 25 feet from a massive waterfall in Yosemite National Park?

The woman and two men from a church group who did that last week can't answer. They were swept into 317-foot Vernal Fall and are presumed dead.

Michael Ghiglieri can't answer, either. He still doesn't understand it, no matter how many times he has asked the question. And he has asked it many, many times.

Ghiglieri, a 38-year veteran wilderness guide, is co-author of two books, "Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite" and "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon," which describe every known fatality in those parks. He has spent 12 years examining the ways people have died there.

He and his co-authors have concluded that it is almost always due to the victims' own poor judgment.

Isn't the most likely reason that they fail to grasp that nature is real and threatening, as opposed to being just a man-made amusement park with tons of safety features built-in?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


In the Wonderland of Peru: The Work Accomplished by the Peruvian Expedition of 1912, under the Auspices of Yale University and the National Geographic Society. (Hiram Bingham, This article was originally published in the April 1913 National Geographic)

In 1911, while engaged in a search for Vitcos, the last Inca capital, I went down the Urubamba Valley asking for reports as to the whereabouts of ruins.

The first day out from Cuzco saw us in Urubamba, the capital of a province, a modern town charmingly located a few miles below Yucay, which was famous for being the most highly prized winter resort of the Cuzco Incas. The next day brought us to Ollantaytambo, vividly described by Squier in his interesting book on Peru. Its ancient fortress, perched on a rocky eminence that commands a magnificent view up and down the valley, is still one of the most attractive ancient monuments in America.

Continuing on down the valley over a newly constructed government trail, we found ourselves in a wonderful cañon. So lofty are the peaks on either side that although the trail was frequently shadowed by dense tropical jungle, many of the mountains were capped with snow, and some of them had glaciers. There is no valley in South America that has such varied beauties and so many charms.

Not only has it snow-capped peaks, great granite precipices, some of them 2,000 feet sheer, and a dense tropical jungle; it has also many reminders of the architectural achievements of a bygone race. The roaring rapids of the Urubamba are frequently narrowed by skillfully constructed ancient retaining walls. Wherever the encroaching precipices permitted it, the land between them and the river was terraced. With painstaking care the ancient inhabitants rescued every available strip of arable land from the river. On one sightly bend in the river, where there is a particularly good view, and near a foaming waterfall, some ancient chief built a temple whose walls, still standing, only serve to tantalize the traveler, for there is no bridge within two days' journey and the intervening rapids are impassable. On a precipitous and well-nigh impregnable cliff, walls made of stones carefully fitted together had been placed in the weak spots, so that the defenders of the valley, standing on the top of the cliff, might shower rocks on an attacking force without any danger of their enemies being able to scale the cliff.

The road, following in large part an ancient footpath, is sometimes cut out of the side of sheer precipices, and at others is obliged to run on frail brackets propped against the side of overhanging cliffs. It has been an expensive one to build and will be expensive to maintain. The lack of it prevented earlier explorers from penetrating this cañon. Its existence gave us the chance of discovering Machu Picchu.

On the sixth day out from Cuzco we arrived at a little plantation called Mandorpampa. We camped a few rods away from the owner's grass-thatched hut, and it was not long before he came to visit us and to inquire our business. He turned out to be an Indian rather better than the average, but overfond of "fire-water." His occupation consisted in selling grass and pasturage to passing travelers and in occasionally providing them with ardent spirits. He said that on top of the magnificent precipices nearby there were some ruins at a place called Machu Picchu, and that there were others still more inaccessible at Huayna Picchu, on a peak not far distant from our camp. He offered to show me the ruins, which he had once visited, if I would pay him well for his services. His idea of proper payment was 50 cents for his day's labor. This did not seem unreasonable, although it was two and one-half times his usual day's wage.

Leaving camp soon after breakfast I joined the guide, and, accompanied by a soldier that had been kindly loaned me by the Peruvian government, plunged through the jungle to the river bank, and came to a shaky little bridge made of four tree trunks bound together with vines and stretching across a stream only a few inches above the roaring rapids.

On the other side we had a hard climb; first through the jungle and later up a very stiff, almost precipitous, slope. About noon we reached a little grass hut, where a good-natured Indian family who had been living here for three or four years gave us welcome and set before us gourds full of cool, delicious water and a few cold boiled sweet potatoes.

Apart from another hut in the vicinity and a few stone-faced terraces, there seemed to be little in the way of ruins, and I began to think that my time had been wasted. However, the view was magnificent, the water was delicious; and the shade of the hut most agreeable. So we rested a while and then went on to the top of the ridge. On all sides of us rose the magnificent peaks of the Urubamba Cañon, while 2,000 feet below us the rushing waters of the noisy river, making a great turn, defended three sides of the ridge, on top of which we were hunting for ruins. On the west side of the ridge the three Indian families who had chosen this eagle's nest for their home had built a little path, part of which consisted of crude ladders of vines and tree trunks tied to the face of the precipice.

Presently we found ourselves in the midst of a tropical forest, beneath the shade of whose trees we could make out a maze of ancient walls, the ruins of buildings made of blocks of granite, some of which were beautifully fitted together in the most refined style of Inca architecture. A few rods farther along we came to a little open space, on which were two splendid temples or palaces. The superior character of the stone work, the presence of these splendid edifices, and of what appeared to be an unusually large number of finely constructed stone dwellings, led me to believe that Machu Picchu might prove to be the largest and most important ruin discovered in South America since the days of the Spanish conquest.

A few weeks later I asked Mr. H. L. Tucker, the engineer of the 1911 Expedition, and Mr. Paul Baxter Lanius, the assistant, to go to Machu Picchu and spend three weeks there in an effort to partially clear the ruins and make such a map as was possible in the time at their disposal. The result of this work confirmed me in my belief that here lay a unique opportunity for extensive clearing and excavating.

The fact that one of the most important buildings was marked by three large windows, a rare feature in Peruvian architecture, and that many of the other buildings had windows, added to the significant circumstance that the city was located in the most inaccessible part of the Andes, inclined me to feel that there was a chance that Machu Picchu might prove to be Tampu Tocco, that mythical place from which the Incas had come when they started out to found Cuzco and to make the beginnings of that great empire which was to embrace a large part of South America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History (Kim Zetter, July 11, 2011 , Wired)

On June 17, 2010, Sergey Ulasen was in his office in Belarus sifting through e-mail when a report caught his eye. A computer belonging to a customer in Iran was caught in a reboot loop -- shutting down and restarting repeatedly despite efforts by operators to take control of it. It appeared the machine was infected with a virus.

Ulasen heads an antivirus division of a small computer security firm in Minsk called VirusBlokAda. Once a specialized offshoot of computer science, computer security has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry over the last decade keeping pace with an explosion in sophisticated hack attacks and evolving viruses, Trojan horses and spyware programs.

The best security specialists, like Bruce Schneier, Dan Kaminsky and Charlie Miller are considered rock stars among their peers, and top companies like Symantec, McAfee and Kaspersky have become household names, protecting everything from grandmothers' laptops to sensitive military networks.

VirusBlokAda, however, was no rock star nor a household name. It was an obscure company that even few in the security industry had heard of. But that would shortly change.

Ulasen's research team got hold of the virus infecting their client's computer and realized it was using a "zero-day" exploit to spread. Zero-days are the hacking world's most potent weapons: They exploit vulnerabilities in software that are yet unknown to the software maker or antivirus vendors. They're also exceedingly rare; it takes considerable skill and persistence to find such vulnerabilities and exploit them. Out of more than 12 million pieces of malware that antivirus researchers discover each year, fewer than a dozen use a zero-day exploit.

In this case, the exploit allowed the virus to cleverly spread from one computer to another via infected USB sticks. The vulnerability was in the LNK file of Windows Explorer, a fundamental component of Microsoft Windows. When an infected USB stick was inserted into a computer, as Explorer automatically scanned the contents of the stick, the exploit code awakened and surreptitiously dropped a large, partially encrypted file onto the computer, like a military transport plane dropping camouflaged soldiers into target territory.

It was an ingenious exploit that seemed obvious in retrospect, since it attacked such a ubiquitous function. It was also one, researchers would soon learn to their surprise, that had been used before.

VirusBlokAda contacted Microsoft to report the vulnerability, and on July 12, as the software giant was preparing a patch, VirusBlokAda went public with the discovery in a post to a security forum. Three days later, security blogger Brian Krebs picked up the story, and antivirus companies around the world scrambled to grab samples of the malware -- dubbed Stuxnet by Microsoft from a combination of file names (.stub and MrxNet.sys) found in the code.

As the computer security industry rumbled into action, decrypting and deconstructing Stuxnet, more assessments filtered out.

It turned out the code had been launched into the wild as early as a year before, in June 2009, and its mysterious creator had updated and refined it over time, releasing three different versions. Notably, one of the virus's driver files used a valid signed certificate stolen from RealTek Semiconductor, a hardware maker in Taiwan, in order to fool systems into thinking the malware was a trusted program from RealTek.

Internet authorities quickly revoked the certificate. But another Stuxnet driver was found using a second certificate, this one stolen from JMicron Technology, a circuit maker in Taiwan that was -- coincidentally or not - headquartered in the same business park as RealTek. Had the attackers physically broken into the companies to steal the certificates? Or had they remotely hacked them to swipe the company's digital certificate-signing keys? No one knew.

"We rarely see such professional operations," wrote ESET, a security firm that found one of the certificates, on its blog. "This shows [the attackers] have significant resources."

In other ways, though, Stuxnet seemed routine and unambitious in its aims. Experts determined that the virus was designed to target Simatic WinCC Step7 software, an industrial control system made by the German conglomerate Siemens that was used to program controllers that drive motors, valves and switches in everything from food factories and automobile assembly lines to gas pipelines and water treatment plants.

Although this was new in itself -- control systems aren't a traditional hacker target, because there's no obvious financial gain in hacking them -- what Stuxnet did to the Simatic systems wasn't new. It appeared to be simply stealing configuration and design data from the systems, presumably to allow a competitor to duplicate a factory's production layout. Stuxnet looked like just another case of industrial espionage.

Antivirus companies added signatures for various versions of the malware to their detection engines, and then for the most part moved on to other things.

The story of Stuxnet might have ended there. But a few researchers weren't quite ready to let it go. [...]

one looming question remained, however. Had Stuxnet succeeded in its goal?
If the malware's aim had been to destroy centrifuges in Iran and cripple the country's ability to produce a nuclear weapon, the consensus is that it failed. A physical attack would have been much more effective, though obviously much less stealthy or politically expedient. But if its intent was simply to delay and sow uncertainty in Iran's nuclear program, then it appeared to succeed -- for a time.

Earlier this year, the outgoing head of Israel's Mossad said that unspecified malfunctions had set back Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon until 2015. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said Iran's nuclear program had been "slowed," but added "[W]e have time. But not a lot of time." Albright has noted that Iran has material to build only 12,000-15,000 centrifuges, and if 1,000 to 2,000 were destroyed, this would hasten the demise of its stockpile.

But his and other organizations have also noted that after the centrifuges were replaced, Iran stepped up its enrichment program and its overall production of uranium had actually increased in 2010, despite any effects Stuxnet may have had.

Stuxnet required an enormous amount of resources to produce, but its cost-benefit ratio is still in question. While it may have helped set Iran's program back to a degree, it also altered the landscape of cyberattacks. Stuxnet's authors mapped a new frontier that other attackers are bound to follow; and the next target for sabotage could easily be a nuclear facility in the United States.

No one knows what Stuxnet might have achieved had it never been discovered by VirusBlockAda a year ago. The code contains one attack sequence that researchers say was never enabled in any of the versions of Stuxnet they found. It appeared the attackers were still developing the code when it was uncovered.

They will likely have no second chance to unleash their weapon now. Langner has called Stuxnet a one-shot weapon. Once it was discovered, the attackers would never be able to use it or a similar ploy again without Iran growing immediately suspicious of malfunctioning equipment.

"The attackers had to bet on the assumption that the victim had no clue about cybersecurity, and that no independent third party would successfully analyze the weapon and make results public early, thereby giving the victim a chance to defuse the weapon in time," Langner said.

In the end, Stuxnet's creators invested years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attack that was derailed by a single rebooting PC, a trio of naive researchers who knew nothing about centrifuges, and a brash-talking German who didn't even have an internet connection at home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


How a Great American Artist Vanished From the Critical Scope (TERRY TEACHOUT, 8/04/11, WSJ)

Sooner or later, everyone who writes about John Marin gets around to mentioning the 1948 Look magazine poll of 68 critics, curators and museum directors who, when asked to name America's greatest living painters, put him at the top of the list. Five years later, the headline of Mr. Marin's New York Times obituary described him as "Artist Considered by Many as 'America's No. 1 Master.' " No less a highbrow than the art critic Clement Greenberg concurred, predicting that Mr. Marin and Jackson Pollock would "compete for recognition as the greatest American painter of the 20th century."

So why does Mr. Marin so often get the "John Who?" treatment? For it's better than even money that unless you happen to be a connoisseur of American modernism or an art-history major, his name is unknown to you. It's been 21 years since a major U.S. museum last put together a full-scale retrospective of his work. New York's Museum of Modern Art owns 25 Marins--but not a single one of them is currently on view.

His work is just as well known as any other modernist in America. All we know of Pollack is the dismissive nickname, Jack the Dripper. He's a punchline. Mr. Marin just wasn't ludicrous enough to stick in memory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Who Stole the Mona Lisa?: The world's most famous art heist, 100 years on. (Simon Kuper, Aug. 7, 2011, Slate/Financial Times)

On Monday morning, Aug. 21, 1911, inside the Louvre museum in Paris, a plumber named Sauvet came upon an unidentified man stuck in front of a locked door. The man--wearing a white smock, like all the Louvre's maintenance staff--pointed out to Sauvet that the doorknob was missing. The helpful Sauvet opened the door with his key and some pliers. The man walked out of the museum and into the Parisian heatwave. Hidden under his smock was Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

The art theft of the century helped make the Mona Lisa what she is today. The world's popular newspapers--a new phenomenon in 1911--and the French police searched everywhere for the culprit. At one point they even suspected Pablo Picasso. Only one person was ever arrested for the crime in France: the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. But the police found the thief only when he finally outed himself.

Stealing "La Joconde"--the woman in the portrait is probably the Florentine silk merchant's wife Lisa del Giocondo--was not particularly difficult. The main thing it took was nerve. Like the Louvre's other paintings, she was barely guarded. She wasn't fixed to the wall. The Louvre was closed on Mondays. August is Paris's quietest month. On that particular Monday morning, the few caretakers were mostly busy cleaning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Givers: Tiny Desk Concert (Michael Katzif, July 24, 2011, NPR)

Live, Givers' music is a clatter of percussion, bright tropical melodies, slinky guitar upstrokes and playful vocals that float over polyrhythmic grooves. The songs are wild, loose and fun; there's a feeling of immediacy, especially in the buoyant "Up Up Up." On In Light -- the Lafayette, La., band's debut full-length, following an EP and a few singles -- Givers harnesses some of that raw, celebratory energy, but it also expands its palette and moods in the process. [...]

Singers Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson sing with a sort of push-and-pull interaction as their voices weave in and out of each other's parts: Guarisco's soaring wail rolls his eyes back into his head, as if he's possessed by the moment, while Lamson's voice is raspy and alluring, especially in "Atlantic." It's Givers' spirited chemistry that enlivens this pared-down Tiny Desk Concert performance at the NPR Music offices. The result is a sunny and exuberant set, suitable for dancing and bobbing along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 AM


Pakistan orchestra reinvents jazz classics (BBC, 21 July 2011)

[T]he Sachal Orchestra is sparking something of a revival. Their first jazz album Sachal Jazz was released recently.

The veteran American jazz musician, Dave Brubeck, described their interpretation of one of his tracks as "the most interesting recording of it he has ever heard".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 AM


Iceland's Best Ram Gropers Awarded with Semen (Iceland Review, 8/19/11)

August 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


He served 10 presidents, but died alone in squalor: What happened to Theodoric C. James? (Christian Davenport, August 13, 2011, Washington Post)

Education was always important to the James family. Theo James's grandfather is thought to have been the first African American doctor in Columbus, Miss., and his home is featured as an attraction on the city's conventions and visitors Web site. James's father, a brick mason, attended boarding school and Tuskegee University, according to Avee James, his sister-in-law.

When Theo James was a senior in high school, his family sent him to live with his aunt in the District, where they thought he could get a better education at Western High School -- now the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. After graduation, he attended Howard University, and in the early 1960s he started working part-time for the White House, filing documents. In 1970, he gained admission to Howard's medical school but attended for one year, deciding that his grandfather's profession was not for him. Instead, he took a full-time job with the White House in the Office of Records Management.

He worked his way up to the classification section, which handles "the more-important documents at the White House -- all the things the president sees, with some exceptions," said Phil Droege, the office's director.

That meant that during his career, James likely had an inner look at some of the most important moments in history: the civil rights movement, Watergate, Vietnam, Iran-Contra, the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Whenever we had new people or interns, everybody is busy here, but he would take the time to have a chat with them and tell them the history of this place," said Droege, who worked with James for 19 years. "He lived a good chunk of it."

James, known to close friends as "Sonny," was quiet and dignified. "Whether he was speaking to the president of the United States or the cleaning lady, he treated them with the same amount of respect and interest," Droege said.

He was so self-effacing that some of his neighbors had no idea that they were living near a man who worked in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, had met every president since Kennedy and had pored over some of the most sensitive material of their administrations. "He never talked about his job," said Bernadette Sykes, who for nearly 20 years lived two doors away from him.

Instead, he talked about philosophy and justice, current events and history. "It was never about what the weather was like," she said. "It was serious, and it would go on for half an hour."

James never married or, as far as Dobbins could tell, dated. A slight, skinny man and an early riser, he visited rare-book stores and collected books and magazines. He had little furniture, and the only television he owned was an old black-and-white set Dobbins gave him 25 years ago. Occasionally, he smoked a pipe while sitting on his porch.

In 2006, he was making $62,566 a year and would have built up a solid pension. He gave generously to Catholic Charities.

Evenings after work, he would sweep and rake in front of his home at 1208 Madison St. and then continue on, cleaning up the rest of the block. "We would tell the kids not to litter because Theo would have to clean it up," said Peggy Kennedy, another neighbor. "And then suddenly, he stopped. It was like he was a different person."

He started to withdraw at work, too, and reluctantly retired in 2009.

"It may have been that he realized he was having problems that were going to make it difficult for him to continue working at the White House," Droege said.

After retirement, he cut himself off from almost everyone. He stopped the long sidewalk chats with Sykes. He lost touch with his co-workers. He stopped calling Mississippi to speak with his brother and his two nephews and niece, even as his brother's chronic anemia worsened. His family wrote him letters, begging him to come home, where they could look after him. But he demurred.

They wanted to come to Washington to get him, said Avee James, the sister-in-law. But they had three children to worry about, their means were limited and James's brother was in and out of the hospital. They were in almost daily contact with Dobbins and repeatedly calling the same city agencies that Dobbins had been trying.

"They said they couldn't do anything unless he agreed to it," Avee James recalled. "They said they couldn't force him."

Freedom does not suffice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Solving the Long-Term Jobs Problem (Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz, July 27, 2011, The American)

No matter how aggressively manufacturing output rebounds, and it has done relatively well the past two years, production workers in manufacturing will remain below 10 percent of the labor force. Manufacturing in the United States is so automated that labor input is not really a variable factor of production any more.

It's worth noting that this is a mark of manufacturing's maturation and ascent. It is not, as some would put it, a sign of manufacturing's "decline." American manufacturing is by most measures robust, healthy, and extremely productive. However, with the immense productivity gains over time from new technology and business techniques, fewer employees are needed even as output increases dramatically.

If not in sectors such as finance or manufacturing, where are the jobs that everyone on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue says they want?

The two sectors of the economy that are increasing most as a share of output and employment are education and healthcare. In a new essay in the journal National Affairs, we call these sectors the New Commanding Heights. When Lenin coined the term "Commanding Heights" early in the 20th century, he was referring to critical industries that dominated economic activity, such as mining, farming, electricity, and transportation. While those sectors are still important, the economy today is very different than it was in Lenin's day, or even 20 years ago.

There are many reasons for the rise of these New Commanding Heights but it's enough to know that wealthy industrialized countries such as America will shift their consumption toward education and healthcare over time relative to other goods and services. Growing as they are, the New Commanding Heights of education and healthcare will increase in importance this century while other sectors undergo a relative decline. These sectors are where demand is rising and where there is potential for jobs to be created.

So what's the problem? The problem today is that government policy is impeding innovation and job creation in these sectors. Both education and healthcare are already heavily influenced or controlled by federal and local government. That means that the evolution of those sectors is driven by top-down command and control, rather than by bottom-up innovation.

To revitalize these sectors and revive the American job market, we must open up these industries to competition and entrepreneurial reform. This will require tolerating a certain degree of messy experimentation. But entrepreneurial growth in these sectors is what will get the American economy back to work.

Pardon the skepticism, but does anyone really believe that the health and education sectors will expand once you remove the massive government subsidies? Indeed, one of the chief benefits of restoring normal consumer practices--via HSAs, education vouchers, etc.--is that they will drive spending down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM

Newport Folk 2011: Gogol Bordello, Live In Concert (NPR, 7/30/11)

One of the most demented and infectious live bands in the world, Gogol Bordello assembles something approximating an Eastern European punk-rock circus, suitable for non-stop movement and hearty sing-alongs. Look for the band to showcase songs from 2010's Rick Rubin-produced Trans-Continental Hustle when it plays the 2011 Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I., but don't be surprised by the abundant surprises.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Female moaning spurs fights between male moose (Ella Davies Reporter, BBC Nature)

Female moose may be able to manipulate amorous males - inciting fights between male competitors by moaning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Nationalism Rules: It's the most powerful political force in the world and ignoring it will come at a price. (STEPHEN M. WALT, JULY 15, 2011, Foreign Policy)

What's the most powerful political force in the world? Some of you might say it's the bond market. Others might nominate the resurgence of religion or the advance of democracy or human rights. Or maybe it's digital technology, as symbolized by the Internet and all that comes with it. Or perhaps you think it's nuclear weapons and the manifold effects they have had on how states think about security and the use of force.

Those are all worthy nominees (no doubt readers here will have their own favorites), but my personal choice for the Strongest Force in the World would be nationalism. The belief that humanity is comprised of many different cultures -- i.e., groups that share a common language, symbols, and a narrative about their past (invariably self-serving and full of myths) -- and that those groups ought to have their own state has been an overwhelmingly powerful force in the world over the past two centuries.

It was nationalism that cemented most of the European powers in the modern era, turning them from dynastic states into nation-states, and it was the spread of nationalist ideology that helped destroy the British, French, Ottoman, Dutch, Portuguese, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian/Soviet empires. Nationalism is the main reason the United Nations had fifty-one members immediately after its founding in 1945 and has nearly 200 members today. It is why the Zionists wanted a state for the Jewish people and why Palestinians want a state of their own today. It is what enabled the Vietnamese to defeat both the French and the American armies during the Cold War. It is also why Kurds and Chechens still aspire to statehood; why Scots have pressed for greater autonomy within the United Kingdom, and it is why we now have a Republic of South Sudan.

Understanding the power of nationalism also tells you a lot about what is happening today in the European Union. During the Cold War, European integration flourished because it took place inside the hot-house bubble provided by American protection.

If it were nationalism itself that were the predominate force, we would expect to see some vast divergence among all these "new" nations, with internal systems of governance, etc. that tracked their indigenous "cultures." Instead, their very creation is part and parcel of a convergence along the lines of the End of History, which requires that peoples are entitled to govern themselves, but that they do so in a manner that safeguards the additional rights embodied in capitalism and protestantism. From a historical perspective it is less interesting that Mongolia, Scotland, Kurdistan, Palestine, South Sudan, etc. are nations than that they are going to be indistinguishable from one another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The 'A' Word (William Zinsser, 7/29/11, American Scholar)

I was born into the Northeastern WASP establishment and have never quite stopped pretending that I wasn't. One word in particular has always dogged me unpleasantly. My parents both had charm and humor. In short, they were attractive. Their house was attractive and everything in it was attractive. That was the point of being a WASP: to be attractive. The laws were coded into my metabolism at an early age. Gaudy clothes and flashy cars were out. Understatement was in. A sweater the color of oatmeal was as attractive as you could get. I was careful never to be seen in a green jacket or tan shoes, or to use the wrong terminology. I said "curtains," not "drapes. I said "rich," not "wealthy." [...]

I'm aware that WASPs are a dying class. They are the only ethnic minority that other Americans may safely deride. But I also know that no class has so deeply imprinted its values on the national character: honor, hard work, rectitude, public service. By today's standards of civic and corporate governance those values look good, and I'm proud to be associated with them.

Today I often recognize fellow WASPs of my generation on the sidewalks of New York, a city they no longer own. They are always "nicely" dressed-old men and women facing the day with vigor and good cheer, disregarding the infirmities of age as they hurry to their next hospital board meeting or school tutoring session or fundraiser for some underfunded worthy cause. There's something about them that's-well, attractive.

One of my favorite stories about the Grandfather Judd: he lived in Brooklyn, NY his whole life, long after he had become the last white Deacon in his Baptist church, the local grocery had become a bodega, and crime had become epidemic in John Lindsay's New York. Late one night he was rousted from bed by a phone call telling him that his car was in the street because some inept thieves had managed to roll it out of the parking garage but not start it. The police asked him to come move it. So he did. At 2 AM he got fully dressed, right down to the garters he used to hold up his socks and a tie and jacket, reparked the car and returned to bed. It just wouldn't have been proper to appear in public in a state of undress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM

Newport Jazz 2011: Ravi Coltrane Quartet, Live In Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, 8/08/11, NPR)

His bloodline alone makes him something of a prince of jazz. But his legendary father died when he was a toddler, and Ravi Coltrane blazed his own trail on the tenor saxophone; indeed, his ideas about composition and flow and tone sound most at home with his own generation of improvisers.


August 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Documents Reveal Pius XII Saved 11,000 Roman Jews (Jesús Colina, JULY 22, 2011,

The direct action of Pope Pius XII saved the lives of more than 11,000 Jews in Rome during the Second World War, according to documentation recently discovered by historians.

Pave the Way Foundation representative for Germany, historian and investigative researcher Michael Hesemann, discovered a number of very important original documents in his research of the open archives of Santa Maria dell Anima Church, which is the National Church of Germany in Rome.

The U.S.-based foundation, founded by Jew Gary Krupp, announced the findings in a statement sent to ZENIT.

"Many have criticized Pius XII for remaining silent during the arrest and when trains left Rome containing 1,007 Jews who were sent to the death camp Auschwitz," Krupp stated. "The critics also do not acknowledge Pius XII's direct intervention to end the arrests of Oct. 16, 1943."

"New discoveries prove that Pius XII acted directly behind the scenes to end the arrests at 2:00 p.m., on the very day they began, but who was powerless to stop the ill-fated train," he added.

According to a recent study by researcher Deacon Dominiek Oversteyns, there were 12,428 Jews in Rome on Oct. 16, 1943.

"Pope Pius XII's direct action saved the lives of over 11,400 Jews," Krupp explained.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Saving Medicare from Itself (AVIK ROY, Summer 2011, National Affairs)

But if price controls have been a failure, most attempts at market-oriented reforms have not fared much better. In 1982, Congress introduced Medicare Part C, which allows private insurers to administer Medicare plans at 95% of the combined cost of Part A and Part B. The idea was that these private plans could save money because they would integrate Part A and Part B coverage into a single benefit package, and would thus be managed more efficiently by private entities. Part C was popular with retirees; enrollment grew at 30% a year in the mid-1990s, peaking at 16% of Medicare enrollees in 1999. But unfortunately, this system strongly incentivized private plans to "cherry-pick" younger and healthier retirees, leaving the rest to traditional Medicare -- thereby raising, rather than reducing, overall costs (because the larger traditional Medicare program still dominated the health-care market, and so its higher costs meant higher health-care costs overall).

Things changed in 1997, when the Balanced Budget Act introduced a more sophisticated risk-adjustment system so as to curtail cherry-picking. As a result, insurers started to drop out of Part C (since their costs were going to rise), and enrollment stalled. It turned out that, for beneficiaries of equivalent health and age, private plans were slightly more costly than traditional Medicare, because the fragmented community of private insurers lacked the government's market power to negotiate lower rates. The fact that private insurers had to compete in the same market with traditional Medicare put them at an immense disadvantage, yet Medicare's market advantage did not make it any more efficient or cost-effective.

This problem was revisited in 2003, when President Bush signed the Medicare Modernization Act. The MMA increased reimbursements to private insurers in order to compensate for their lack of market power; by 2009, Part C plans (rechristened "Medicare Advantage" plans) were paid 14% more per patient on average than traditional Medicare. In return, private insurers reduced premiums. These changes increased the popularity of privately-managed Medicare plans; by 2010, Medicare Advantage enrolled 11 million retirees, or nearly 25% of all Medicare participants. But again, they did not significantly reduce costs, as they were still playing in a field dominated by a highly inefficient fee-for-service Medicare program.

Market-based reforms cannot have their desired effect -- introducing meaningful competition and consumer pressures to bring down costs -- as long as this traditional fee-for-service structure of Medicare remains the dominant force in the market, because providers still have a powerful incentive to conform their behavior to Medicare's inefficient design. For a market reform to work, it seems, it has to be comprehensive -- either replacing traditional Medicare or turning it into just one option among many. Today's reformers would be wise to keep this lesson in mind.

The most successful cost-control experiment in Medicare -- the relatively new prescription-drug component called Part D -- has been proving this point. The Part D benefit, added in 2003, is a so-called "premium support" program. Seniors are given a set amount of money to apply toward their choice of plan, selected from a menu of private prescription-drug coverage options. If they prefer a more expensive plan, they can make up the difference themselves. Because this premium-support program is the only source of prescription-drug funding in Medicare, it is able to bring real market forces to bear.

The program also contains a further cost-control mechanism that has come to be known as the "donut hole," by which recipients are required to pay for all drug costs above a certain minimum level and below a ceiling -- a design intended to simultaneously make seniors sensitive to prices yet shield them from catastrophic costs. In 2009, the donut hole required retirees to pay 100% of prescription-drug costs above $2,700 and below $6,154, in order to discourage unnecessary spending. (Obamacare would eliminate this element of the program as well -- sparing seniors from the donut hole, but thereby also shielding them from market forces that can help restrain costs.)

These two market-based elements have indeed kept costs down for this component of Medicare. While Medicare Part D has provided drug coverage to most Medicare recipients and is very popular with seniors, it has so far come in more than 30% below the original cost expectations of the Congressional Budget Office. In a recent report, the actuary of Medicare projects that Part D's cost over its first decade will likely be more than 40% below those original estimates.

Some market-based reforms, then, can work. The premium-support model of Medicare Part D has been a great success. But its application has been limited, and overall Medicare costs continue to climb.


Could there be a way to apply the lessons of this "premium support" and cost-sharing approach to the broader program? The history of failed reform efforts includes one intriguing twist that suggests there just might be.

In 1997, as a result of the Balanced Budget Act, Congress organized the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, under the leadership of Democratic senator John Breaux and Republican representative Bill Thomas. The commission's final recommendation, supported by members of both parties, was that Medicare should be converted to a "market-based Premium Support model" similar to the one used in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Under the commission's proposed system, retirees would have been able to choose between private health plans and a traditional government-run fee-for-service plan (a consolidation of Medicare Parts A, B, and C). Thus traditional Medicare would have become one option among many, competing for business. Regardless of what option they chose, beneficiaries would have been expected to pay a premium equal to 12% of per capita health costs, but would have paid no premium at all if they bought a plan that was at least 15% cheaper than the average one. In addition, the commission recommended increasing the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, in harmony with Social Security.

After the commission made its proposal, President Clinton made a counter-proposal, shaped in large part by his Treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers. He proposed "managed competition" for Medicare, in which private insurers would have engaged in competitive bidding for health coverage of the elderly. Retirees who chose plans that cost less than the average bid would have retained three-fourths of the savings. Clinton also proposed new subsidies to encourage employers to retain private-sector health coverage for their retirees, taking some of the burden off of Medicare.

These two sets of proposals were, in many ways, quite compatible. Indeed, according to historian Steven Gillon, President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, along with several prominent Senate Democrats, were close in 1997 to a historic agreement for reforming Medicare along these lines. But after the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted in early 1998, Clinton was focused on defending himself from impeachment, and this required currying the favor of ideological Democrats over pragmatic ones. Thus no serious effort was made to bridge the various reform proposals, and Medicare's problems went unresolved.

Even though it went by the wayside, the basic structure of the Breaux-Thomas commission's proposal -- transforming Medicare into a premium-support system in which retirees have a pre-set benefit they can use toward the purchase of approved private insurance plans -- remains the most plausible approach to addressing Medicare's immense and growing problems. A number of reform proposals offered in the years since the commission's report have followed its lead in general terms, though always with particular tweaks or additions.

The most prominent, and surely the most important, of these is the 2012 budget resolution recently passed (by the Republican majority on a party-line vote) in the House of Representatives. Proposed by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, the budget included a plan to transform Medicare into a premium-support system beginning in 2022. This would mean that all current retirees, as well as people who will retire by that year, would be left in the existing Medicare system (unless he chooses to, no American now over the age of 55 would be transitioned into the system of premium support); a new structure, however, would be established for new retirees from 2022 onward.

Rather than pay all providers a set fee directly, this approach would let retirees use the money (in the form of a premium-support payment that would start at current Medicare rates and grow with overall inflation) to choose insurance plans from a menu of private coverage options. To participate, private insurers would have to agree to accept all Medicare recipients, to charge the same premiums to all beneficiaries of the same age, and to provide at least a minimum benefits package required by the Office of Personnel Management (which runs the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan), with the idea of providing all seniors with guaranteed affordable comprehensive coverage.

The level of premium support would increase with age, and poor seniors and those in the worst health would also get significantly greater support, while the wealthiest would receive less and so need to use more of their own money to buy coverage. And the premium-support model would not be a small experiment overshadowed by traditional Medicare (and thus unable to really change the way insurers and providers do business): It would be the core of the new Medicare system, and the means by which seniors would be guaranteed coverage.

This approach, then, would work like the Medicare prescription-drug benefit (and like the health-insurance program made available to federal employees). Insurers and providers would need to compete for seniors' dollars, and to do so they would be free to find innovative ways to offer better quality at lower costs. That's how markets produce efficiency: by letting sellers find ways to offer buyers what they want at prices they are willing to pay.

Although the precise effect of this approach on overall health-care costs is difficult to predict, there is no question that such a reform would dramatically improve Medicare's fiscal prospects and reduce the burdens it would place on the broader federal budget.

All you really need to know about the difficulty of making Third Way reforms is that Bill Clinton had to punt to curry favor with the Left and the Right despised W for his success on Part D. The two extremes conspire to prevent the sensible middle way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


The world's biggest problem? Too many people (Mary Ellen Harte and Anne Ehrlich, July 21, 2011, LA Times)

[T]he birthrates in developing nations remain high, and the consequences affect us all.

Globally, the effects of overpopulation play a part in practically every daily report of mass human calamity, but the word "population" is rarely mentioned. Wildfires threaten ever more people because expanding populations are moving nearer and into forests. Floods inundate more homes as populations expand into floodplains. Such extreme events are stoked by climate change, fueled by increasing carbon emissions from an expanding global population.

Overpopulation is also fueling desertification and further deforestation around the world. We can dream of drastically decreasing overconsumption by the wealthy, but even realistic potential decreases are voided by sheer human numbers in all countries, rich and poor. Our unsustainable population levels are depleting resources and denying a decent future to our descendants.

What to do? Stop the denial. Perpetual growth is the creed of a cancer cell, not a sustainable human society.

The Ehrlichs are just as ridiculous as Harold Camping, yet somehow the Left takes them seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Dummy Land (Avi Steinberg, 7/25/11, Paris Review)

I'm waiting for the elevator in a medieval-themed hotel in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, when the elevator doors open to reveal a heated exchange between a bald man in a Hawaiian shirt and a puppet shaped like a toucan. My presence brings an uncomfortable end to their private imbroglio. Both stare at me silently as I enter the elevator, and for five awkward floors I'm brought into direct contact with what George Bernard Shaw described as the "unvarying intensity of facial expression" of puppets, an attribute he believed makes them more compelling actors than humans.

I'm at the Vent Haven ConVENTion where, each July, hundreds of ventriloquists, or "vents," as they call themselves, gather from all over the world. For four days, they attend lectures on the business, getting advice on AV equipment, scriptwriting, or creating an audience through social networking. They listen to a keynote address by Comedy Central's ventriloquist-in-residence, Jeff Dunham, who exhorts his notoriously defensive colleagues to "quit complaining that people say we're weird. We talk to dolls. We are weird, ok. Just own it." They eat at a Denny's off the highway and visit the creationist museum down the road. And they don't go anywhere without the accompaniment of their alter egos.

At the convention, the puppets are a slim but boisterous majority. They crowd in around you. They critique you. They grope you. They chatter continuously. Being around them approximates what it would be like to read people's minds. It is a most unpleasant experience--a great deal more unsettling, of course, isn't what they say but that they say anything at all. All over the hotel, in conference rooms, in hallways, at the bar, ventriloquism is practiced in its purest form: not as a stage show, but as an ongoing, unscripted social interaction, a live conversation between humans and their golems. At a drunken party one night, in the hotel's "hospitality suite," I witness one dummy operating another dummy, as the human source of both voices sits silently nearby, pretending to compose a text message. The mini bar has lips, which cruelly insult anyone who walks by, the origin of its voice impossible to determine. Almost as soon as I join the party, I am molested by a busty lady puppet, a faded showgirl. She swoons onto my shoulder. "Godaaamn," she slurs. "Where have you been?" Her vent is a burly, unsmiling dude with a shaved head, a muscle shirt, and camo shorts. He smells strongly of whiskey.

Since ancient times, ventriloquists have been highly prized and despised. While the Biblical writer of the Book of Samuel paints an ugly picture of the Witch of Endor, it is clear that the witch's talent as a necromancer and prophet--or, to be more precise, as a ventriloquist using the dead prophet Samuel as a dummy--earned her a meeting with the great king. Even so, Hippocrates considered ventriloquism a sickness. The history of the ventriloquism is populated by sinister characters like Louis Brabant, a bankrupt courtier of Francis I, who used his ventriloquial skills to conjure up his victims' dearly departed. In this way he managed to hoodwink an heiress into marriage, then terrorize an emotionally vulnerable banker out of his fortune.

But even if ventriloquial voices don't emanate from beyond the grave surely they speak to us from some distant realm. At the convention, I encountered two types of dummies: the Freudian Ids, brightly colored, creaturely puppets who acted out the dormant longings of their masters, and the Superegos, usually wise-cracking boys like the famous Charlie McCarthy dummy, or squinting, censorious characters attired in three-piece suits. In all of these interactions I, at first, played it cool. I'd always address the vent, never the puppet. But it didn't take long for me to begin talking directly to the dummy--to many dummies, in fact, and candidly and for long stretches--because, as odd as it was to talk to dolls, it felt less odd than ignoring them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM

Newport Jazz 2011: Regina Carter's Reverse Thread, Live In Concert (Patrick Jarewattananon, 8/06/11, NPR)

Like many jazz musicians before her, violinist Regina Carter mined her African cultural inheritance through music. Hers is a postmodern approach; her latest record, Reverse Thread, is as likely to source from field recordings of Ugandan Jews as from contemporary Afropop and beyond. It's also delightfully easygoing, intricate yet breezy. Carter and her unique band -- featuring kora (West African harp) and accordion -- are the first act at the main Fort Stage.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Sons and Fathers (Joe Carducci, 19th Jul 2011, Los Angeles Review of Books)

Throughout Dark Knight, Miller cannily extracts drama (and comedy) out of the mismatch between the dark, hard core of Batman and the incorrigible silliness and softness of the American culture in which he is embedded. First and foremost on Miller's list of satirical targets is the media. In Kane's original, newspapermen are merely bumbling fools, blaming Batman for crimes he is on the brink of solving. What concerns Miller is the corruption of truth that the electronic news media yields and wields. The omnipresent faces on screens seem a willful chorus of some sealed-off collective id: reporters barely see the streets, and by the time we get to The Dark Knight Strikes Again we have "News in the Nude" and a holographic president.

While the mediascape grows ever more ludicrous, the streets get darker and tougher. In The Dark Knight Returns, Miller placed Batman in the decaying seventies New York that had inspired films like Death Wish, The Warriors, and Escape from New York: a reminder of his roots in gangland squalor. In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Miller updates the city from the late Lindsay era to the end of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's tenure. One-party Democratic New York had turned to their own dark knight, a Republican, seen as a last hope crime-fighter, and, amazingly, he delivered (to the point that it's now safe for even the suits to claim they miss the old Times Square). As reward, Giuliani was set to exit a lame-duck laughingstock, dragging himself towards divorce and the sideline of punditry. And then super-villains attacked from their secret lair on September 11th.

In the introduction to Absolute Dark Knight, Miller writes:

Much of what I was after was to use the crime-ridden world around me to portray a world that needed an obsessive, Herculean, half-maniac genius to bring order. But that was only half the job. I saved my nastiest venom ... for the vapid, pandering talking heads who so poorly chronicled the gigantic conflicts of the time. What would these little people do if giants walked the Earth? How would they regard a powerful, demanding, unrepentant hero? Or a villain whose soul is as black as death? Fifteen years passed. I found out. I was halfway thru The Dark Knight Strikes Again when the Twin Towers collapsed and thousands of my neighbors were slaughtered.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again couldn't thereafter be the "affectionate romp" he'd originally intended. While the color shifts after 9/11 into an unhinged computer-chromaticized scheme -- not quite air-brush minimal, not quite psychedelic -- the story skids out into end-times for this hero, as Batman, or Bruce Wayne, begins to break down due to age and the increasingly hopelessness of his attempt to bring about a revolution against the corporatized government ruling America.

Even before 9/11, Miller was frankly a man of the right: his vision of the superhero is a fundamentally conservative one, and this is what separates him from his closest peers. In 1980s London, Alan Moore and David Lloyd tried to rationalize terror in V for Vendetta by turning Guy Fawkes (a militant Catholic to the right of Franco) into a Nechaev of style and taste who delivers freedom, via propaganda, by the deed, and succeeds in destroying the structures of bourgeois democracy, something of an idée fixe of both national socialism and international socialism until the cataclysm of the 1940s. Moore and Lloyd surrender to countercultural subterfuge: they subvert the superhero by making him a revolutionary. They make Miller look like a genius for accepting that comics can bear no redeeming. Miller believes that human nature is "immutable," and with this simple declaration he throws off much of the worst political pretense of the twentieth century. The swinging 60s version of Batman was dumbed-down New Left cant, proffered by poli-sci washouts and pseudo-artists who moved in the wake of the old left, the civil rights movement, rock and roll, and R. Crumb. But the only New Man possible in the world of 80s comic book crime-fighters is the next hideous, black-hearted mutant announcing himself with some insane outrage.

Still, the Dark Knight books aren't quite the millennial allegories they strive to be. To his credit, Miller understands that the story of the superhero is a profane version of the story of Christ, and not so far removed from that of those mortals who intervened in the history of their nations -- Fujimori, Pinochet, Franco -- and were rightfully called fascists for their trouble. But those conflicts are specific, and superheroes should be universal; the world of comics should be a single city: the city as planet.

As Mr. Carducci perhaps accidentally points out, Fujimori, Pinochet and Franco, whose societies faced such existential threats that their responses, however troubling, must ultimately be seen as heroic.

The surpassing hatred of such men on the Anglospheric Left and the unfortunate romanticizing of their ilk on the Anglospheric Right are wrong, then, for the same reason: that both fail, or refuse, to appreciate that their action were only justified by the specific peculiarities of their domestic situations.

This leads us to the interesting discussions in James Lothian's book, The Making and Unmaking of the English Catholic Intellectual Community, 1910-1950, of the flirtations with actual leaders like Franco and Mussolini, on the one hand, and the wannabe, Oswald Mosley, on the other. I would, personally, be more forgiving about the former than Friend Lothian, in no small part because they eventually rejected the latter as inappropriate to the situation in England. However worried they were about the state of modern Britain, they were ultimately too decent to imagine that it required a dark knight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


First life: The search for the first replicator: Life must have begun with a simple molecule that could reproduce itself - and now we think we know how to make one (Michael Marshall, 8/15/11, New Scientist)

4 BILLION years before present: the surface of a newly formed planet around a medium-sized star is beginning to cool down. It's a violent place, bombarded by meteorites and riven by volcanic eruptions, with an atmosphere full of toxic gases. But almost as soon as water begins to form pools and oceans on its surface, something extraordinary happens. A molecule, or perhaps a set of molecules, capable of replicating itself arises.

This was the dawn of evolution. [...]

Right now, there's no way to choose between these options. No fossilised vestiges remain of the first replicators as far as we know. But we can try recreating the RNA world to demonstrate how it might have arisen. One day soon, Sutherland says, someone will fill a container with a mix of primordial chemicals, keep it under the right conditions, and watch life emerge. "That experiment will be done."

...will insist to one another that it was all natural, not intelligent design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Swing's Forgotten King (MARC MYERS, 7/20/11, WSJ)

The Lunceford Orchestra had 22 hits in all, including the No. 1 "Rhythm Is Our Business" (1935), and it was the first black band to play New York's mainstream Paramount Theater and tour white colleges. Glenn Miller once said of the band: "Duke [Ellington] is great, [Count] Basie remarkable, but Lunceford tops them both."

Yet today, Lunceford and his recordings are largely forgotten--victims of the cultural demarcation known as World War II. While most major bandleaders of the late '30s kept their names alive by continuing to record decades after the war, Lunceford's orchestra went into decline after 1944 and fizzled soon after his death, listed as a heart attack but more likely the result of racially motivated food poisoning in Seaside, Ore., in July, 1947.

Now Mosaic has released a remarkable seven-CD box, "The Complete Jimmie Lunceford Decca Sessions," featuring material recorded between 1934 and 1945. The 146 remastered tracks not only chronicle the band's role in swing's emergence but also illuminate why so many black and white bands envied Lunceford's orchestra.

Though the Mosaic box does not cover Lunceford's entire output during these years--he recorded for Columbia's Vocalion label in 1939 and 1940--the Decca recordings showcase the evolving skills of the band's arrangers. This group included trumpeter Sy Oliver, alto saxophonist Willie Smith, pianist Eddie Wilcox, trombonist Eddie Durham and trumpeter Gerald Wilson.

"The band could swing anything the arrangers came up with--and a lot of it was tricky stuff, even at slower tempos," said Mr. Wilson, 92, who is believed to be the last surviving member of Lunceford's prewar band.

Name Your Link

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Why Reagan Still Matters to Europe: He helped Europeans understand how a free society fosters more opportunity (Alberto Mingardi Monday, July 11, 2011, American)

For Europeans, here was the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States, of the most almighty states of them all, preaching caution against confidence in the almighty powers.

Those in Europe who dared to question the pervasive state intervention typical of continental economies found in Reagan the words they lacked. He supplied them with the needed vocabulary, imagery, and confidence. Those who defended European social democracies perhaps despised Reagan but were forced to check their principles.

Political parties, think tanks, and organizations that openly embrace the free market are still rare in most of continental Europe. However, those who brought them about got from Reagan's years an unbreakable confidence: the United States was indeed the bright light to look to as they searched for freedom-generating economic policies. That confidence is shaken today, for the legacy of both President Obama and President Bush cannot foster a sense of allegiance to the venerable principles of free markets and limited government.

Winston Churchill famously said that America will always do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options. After the bankruptcy of Keynesianism in the 1970s, Reagan's emphasis on the principles of limited government seemed to be precisely the right choice, after all the others were tried. Lessons are learnt the hard way in politics, in Europe as well as the United States. Let us hope this centennial celebration could at least remind us that the right choices may still be embraced, at least after others have failed.

In fact, governing parties across Northern Europe embrace "free markets," but as the instrumentality for putting the social welfare state on firmer financial footing, not as an end in themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Albert Camus might have been killed by the KGB for criticising the Soviet Union, claims newspaper: Car crash in which French literary giant was killed in 1960 was no accident, claims new theory (Kim Willsher, 8/07/11, The Observer)

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has now suggested that Soviet spies might have been behind the crash. The theory is based on remarks by Giovanni Catelli, an Italian academic and poet, who noted that a passage in a diary written by the celebrated Czech poet and translator Jan Zábrana, and published as a book entitled Celý život, was missing from the Italian translation.

In the missing paragraph, Zábrana writes: "I heard something very strange from the mouth of a man who knew lots of things and had very informed sources. According to him, the accident that had cost Albert Camus his life in 1960 was organised by Soviet spies. They damaged a tyre on the car using a sophisticated piece of equipment that cut or made a hole in the wheel at speed.

"The order was given personally by [Dmitri Trofimovic] Shepilov [the Soviet foreign minister] as a reaction to an article published in Franc-tireur [a French magazine] in March 1957, in which Camus attacked [Shepilov], naming him explicitly in the events in Hungary." In his piece, Camus had denounced the "Shepilov Massacres" - Moscow's decision to send troops to crush the Hungarian uprising of 1956.

A year later, Camus further angered Soviet authorities when he publicly supported the Russian author Boris Pasternak, a fellow Nobel laureate and author of Doctor Zhivago, a work banned by Stalin. Corriere della Sera concludes that there were enough reasons for "Moscow to order [Camus's] assassination, in the usual professional style of its KGB agents". If true, it would reopen wounds among the millions of devotees of Camus's work. At the burial of the author of L'Etranger (The Outsider), La Peste (The Plague) and Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus) in the Lourmarin Cemetery near Vaucluse on the Côte d'Azur, one of Camus's coffin-bearers was a celebrated anarchist. The local football team also turned out, demonstrating his status as a man of the people as well as an intellectual.

...the point is really that he'd have been about the only European intellectual they felt the need to kill. Most of the rest were mouthpieces for the regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Only Takes 2,000 (or 3,000) Pages to Explain U.S. Immigration Rules (Stuart Anderson, Jul. 24 2011, Forbes)

Nothing belies the myth that it's "easy" for U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals and immigrants better than a new book produced by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Business Immigration Law & Practice, by Daryl Buffenstein and Bo Cooper, both partners at Berry Appleman & Leiden, spends over 2,000 pages explaining the complexities of immigration law - and that's just to other lawyers.

Explaining the law to business owners would take many more pages, as well as hours of individual discussions. (The AILA book can be found here.)

I asked Daryl Buffenstein why the book needed to be so long. "Explaining just the principal aspects for each category accounts for the more than 2,000 pages in the book," said Buffenstein. "Experienced attorneys in other areas of the law are often shocked to learn how complex immigration law can be, and how it can be fraught with negative consequences for what appear to be small and seemingly meaningless differences in approach or strategy."

Which is why even that "good immigrant" you like was illegal too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Country Music's Gutsy, Modern Traditionalist (BARRY MAZOR, 8/09/11, WSJ)

At a time when new country acts are so regularly culled from prime-time talent contestants, the ranks of pop or film stars, or aspiring business majors, Ms. Shepherd's route to recognition has itself been more traditional--singing at county fairs, rodeos and local competitions; opening for John Conlee, Charlie Daniels and Ronnie Milsap by the age of 10, with an early repertoire heavy on Patsy Cline material learned from the record collection of her aunt, a beauty-shop operator. A self-made record at age 15 led to an invitation to make demos in Nashville, the trip financed by a loan from a neighborhood bank. She was soon signed as a writer and singer. She arrived on the scene with a love and knack for understated traditional country, despite coming of age in the era of Shania Twain and Garth Brooks pop theatricality.

"I was always a little behind my time," she notes, "because I had a couple of big brothers 10 and 12 years older than me, and they listened to older country music from George Jones and Keith Whitley. And when I was in school rawer country from Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis were still pretty present on the radio." (With the unmistakably greasy, R&B-influenced Deep South tinge to some of Ms. Shepherd's vocals, it will not be a surprise to learn that she's also spent time taking in the music of The Black Crowes, Etta James and Elvis Presley.)

The rural references in Ms. Shepherd's songs are unsurprising in the sense that she and husband Roland Cunningham routinely return home to Alabama and cows that need milking, but they're not the core content of many of today's pop country records. Neither is a native twang as rich as hers, and for today's radio that can sometimes be raised as an issue in itself.

"It has been," she admits. "There's so much politics and so much business that go into the music business, and sometimes I think that can water things down too much. I can't go into Nashville and make a record and not think about whether it's radio-friendly; doing that's just smart business. But you don't give up any of your music because of it. I definitely don't believe in sacrificing who you are, or how you want to sing--or anything like that. So I'm proud that I can go, 'You know, this really is my own sound, and these songs really don't sound like anybody else's.'"

It's pleasing to picture Ms. Shepherd at home on the porch with a guitar, writing her songs, solo, and many of her slow, personal ballads were born right there. But she's recently found Music Row style co-writing, working with such proven hit-making veterans as Dean Dillon and Bobby Pinson--an energizing alternative, especially for the faster songs on her record.

Ashton Shepherd: Country Music With Roots (NPR, July 29, 2011)
In these days of citified, even glamorous country singers, Ashton Shepherd lives the life other country stars just sing about. Her new album, Where Country Grows, is her second, but Shepherd hasn't moved to a big spread outside Nashville. She still lives in Alabama. She sells vegetables out of the back of her pickup truck when she's not on tour.

"Me and my husband are still living on six acres, in a single-wide trailer," Shepherd says. "I'll get depressed out on the road simply because I'm not being the mama that's cooking supper every night, or that's fixing my husband's plate and my baby's plate. You miss those things, and I miss them. It makes me feel good to grow things in the garden and put things up in jars."

A lot of the stories Shepherd tells in her songs are true stories -- none more so than the one in "Rory's Radio."

"Rory was my brother Jeff's best friend," she says. "Jeff lost his life in a car accident in 1999. I was 13 years old. And Rory was still there. It was really nice to have somebody that came by to see Mom and Daddy. That really was plugging such an empty space in our life at that time."

Shepherd says the song doesn't mention the sadness of her brother's death; it's about remembering the innocence she and Rory and her family had before he died.

"It doesn't drag you down," she says. "It actually lifts you up."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


How Did Robert E. Lee Become an American Icon? (James C. Cobb, July/August 2011, Humanities)

Needless to say, the story of how anyone becomes a heroic role model to a nation that he has made war upon is likely to be a bit complicated, but in this case it is well worth telling simply for what it says about the extraordinary elasticity of historical symbols when they can be bent to the aims of a cohesive, purposeful set of interests in the present.

Postbellum white southerners borrowed the term "Lost Cause" from Sir Walter Scott's romantic depiction of the failed struggle for Scottish independence in 1746. For them, however, memorializing their recent and bitter defeat at the hands of the Yankees was no mere flight into escapist fantasy. Rather, it was part of a willful strategy, aimed at both restoring white supremacy in the South and regaining the economic and political power needed to insulate white southerners from any future northern interference in their racial affairs. If this could be achieved, insisted Lost Cause advocate Edward A. Pollard, the South might yet triumph "in the true cause of the war, with respect to all its fundamental and vital issues."

And the only issue that mattered was the subordination of blacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Electric NASCAR Racing? Yes, It Could Happen Soon (Jim Motavalli, August 1, 2011, B-NET)

[N]ASCAR is definitely going green. Spokesman Scott Warfield points to E15 ethanol fuel in the tanks of all three national series, to solar initiatives at Pocono and other tracks, and to big recycling ongoing programs. Infineon is in ultra-green northern California, which perhaps helps to explain the lawn-mowing sheep in the infield and the Panasonic solar arrays (providing 41 percent of the track's electricity) on six buildings.

Infineon Raceway's Page says that track operators and NASCAR officials are "throwing some ideas around, though we get blank stares from some people. The cars will need to have enough range to be credible." The EV Cup races are only 25 miles, compared to 350 to 400 miles for many NASCAR races. One way to make electric races longer is with fast-change battery swapping, which could be quite an exciting pit visual. Crews change tires in seconds, and they could undoubtedly do a battery pack in a minute. Safety standards are in the works for just such swapping.

NASCAR won't say much on the record about electric racing on the record, though it is looking into it. According to spokesman John Schwartz, "We're constantly evaluating ways to reduce our sport's impact on the environment."

Early Attempts at Experimenting

In the meantime, NASCAR tracks are dipping their toes in the water with exhibition races and special events. One thing's for sure, electric motors have total torque right off the line, and these cars aren't slow. The Westfield iRacer developed for the EV Cup series has a zero to 60 time under five seconds. At Laguna Seca last week, a Mission Motors electric cycle set a track record with a one-minute, 47-second lap. The Rocket electric drag racer has seven-second quarter-mile times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Best Places to Live: Money's list of America's best small towns (CNN/Money)

6. Hanover, NH

Top 100 rank: 6
Population: 8,600
Unemployment: 4.4%*

Dartmouth College, located in this hamlet near the White Mountains, gives Hanover an economic, social, and cultural advantage rare in towns so far from major urban centers. Unemployment in town is less than 3%, about half the statewide average (Dartmouth and its top-rated medical center provide over 12,000 jobs). Graduate programs spin out entrepreneurial start-ups in almost every industry. Housing--which ranges from century-old Victorians to new construction--isn't cheap, however. And students account for some fraternity-style rowdiness. --P.N.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


BMW Shifts Into Electric Gear: Electric vehicles are breaking into the luxury market. (David Zax 08/08/2011, Technology Review)

One thing that's getting people particularly emotional about these cars is their novel frames, which are made of carbon-fiber with an aluminum underbody. These materials make the cars considerably lighter, which is essential in an EV, since the electric drive system (made up of the battery, motors, and electronics) is considerably heavier than the drivetrain of a typical gasoline-fueled car.

According to Automobile Magazine, the electric-drive system can be as much as 440 pounds heavier. But by using the carbon-fiber frame, the BMW team trimmed over 550 pounds, more than compensating for the increased battery weight. Draeger called this a "revolution in automotive design," which I suppose he would, but he also had a point, seeing as this was, as he said, "the first volume-produced car featuring bodywork largely made of carbon."

The i3 goes from 0 to 60 mph in about eight seconds; the i8 does the same sprint in about five. The sports car can hit a top speed of about 135 mph, and surely would be capable of going faster, but an electronic governing system prevents it from doing so. For the i3 buyer, a specification other than top speed is more important: the battery achieves an 80 percent charge in only one hour. To further clean up the sub-brand and its supply chain, BMW announced that its plants would rely on renewable resources: hydroelectric power at the Moses Lake, Washington, plant that prepares the carbon fiber, and a windmill at the Leipzig, Germany, plant where assembly will take place.

August 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Why America's Young And Restless Will Abandon Cities For Suburbs (Joel Kotkin 07/20/2011, New Geography)

For well over a decade urban boosters have heralded the shift among young Americans from suburban living and toward dense cities. As one Wall Street Journal report suggests, young people will abandon their parents' McMansions for urban settings, bringing about the high-density city revival so fervently prayed for by urban developers, architects and planners.

Some demographers claim that "white flight" from the city is declining, replaced by a "bright flight" to the urban core from the suburbs. "Suburbs lose young whites to cities," crowed one Associated Press headline last year.

Yet evidence from the last Census show the opposite: a marked acceleration of movement not into cities but toward suburban and exurban locations. The simple, usually inexorable effects of maturation may be one reason for this surprising result. Simply put, when 20-somethings get older, they do things like marry, start businesses, settle down and maybe start having kids.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


President Discusses the Future of Iraq (President George W. Bush, 2/23/2003, Washington Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C.)

The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East. A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America's interests in security, and America's belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq. (Applause.)

The first to benefit from a free Iraq would be the Iraqi people, themselves. Today they live in scarcity and fear, under a dictator who has brought them nothing but war, and misery, and torture. Their lives and their freedom matter little to Saddam Hussein -- but Iraqi lives and freedom matter greatly to us. (Applause.)

Bringing stability and unity to a free Iraq will not be easy. Yet that is no excuse to leave the Iraqi regime's torture chambers and poison labs in operation. Any future the Iraqi people choose for themselves will be better than the nightmare world that Saddam Hussein has chosen for them. (Applause.)

If we must use force, the United States and our coalition stand ready to help the citizens of a liberated Iraq. We will deliver medicine to the sick, and we are now moving into place nearly 3 million emergency rations to feed the hungry.

We'll make sure that Iraq's 55,000 food distribution sites, operating under the Oil For Food program, are stocked and open as soon as possible. The United States and Great Britain are providing tens of millions of dollars to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, and to such groups as the World Food Program and UNICEF, to provide emergency aid to the Iraqi people.

We will also lead in carrying out the urgent and dangerous work of destroying chemical and biological weapons. We will provide security against those who try to spread chaos, or settle scores, or threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq. We will seek to protect Iraq's natural resources from sabotage by a dying regime, and ensure those resources are used for the benefit of the owners -- the Iraqi people. (Applause.)

The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected. (Applause.)

Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more. America has made and kept this kind of commitment before -- in the peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom. In societies that once bred fascism and militarism, liberty found a permanent home.

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. (Applause.) The nation of Iraq -- with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people -- is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom. (Applause.)

The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the "freedom gap" so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater politics participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region. (Applause.)

It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world -- or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim -- is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror. (Applause.)

Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state. (Applause.) The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated. (Applause.)

Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders. (Applause.) True leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people. A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror. (Applause.)

For its part, the new government of Israel -- as the terror threat is removed and security improves -- will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state -- (applause) -- and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end. (Applause.) And the Arab states will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel. (Applause.)

The United States and other nations are working on a road map for peace. We are setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It is the commitment of our government -- and my personal commitment -- to implement the road map and to reach that goal. Old patterns of conflict in the Middle East can be broken, if all concerned will let go of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and get on with the serious work of economic development, and political reform, and reconciliation. America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Chinese Innovation Is a Paper Tiger: A closer look at China's patent filings and R&D spending reveals a country that has a long way to go. (ANIL K. GUPTA AND HAIYAN WANG, 7/28/11, WSJ)

[M]ore than 95% of the Chinese applications were filed domestically with the State Intellectual Property Office--and the vast majority cover "innovations" that make only tiny changes on existing designs. A better measure is to look at innovations that are recognized outside China--at patent filings or grants to China-origin inventions by the world's leading patent offices, the U.S., the EU and Japan. On this score, China is way behind.

The most compelling evidence is the count of "triadic" patent filings or grants, where an application is filed with or patent granted by all three offices for the same innovation. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, there were only 473 triadic patent filings from China versus 14,399 from the U.S., 14,525 from Europe, and 13,446 from Japan.

Starkly put, in 2010 China accounted for 20% of the world's population, 9% of the world's GDP, 12% of the world's R&D expenditure, but only 1% of the patent filings with or patents granted by any of the leading patent offices outside China. Further, half of the China-origin patents were granted to subsidiaries of foreign multinationals.

China has all the disadvantages that Japan did and lacks the few advantages--being an island and an ally of the US.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


The Question of Barghouti: Is He a Mandela or an Arafat? (Karl Vick, July 17, 2011, TIME)

Barghouti's popularity is grounded in years of grassroots organizing, and his ability to reach across the factional divides that bedevil Palestinian politics. A member of secular Fatah -- and, significantly, a Fatah member who remained among his people while others spent years in relatively lavish exile -- his name is prominent on the list of prisoners that Hamas wants released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier kidnapped five years ago. "It's very important to note Marwan Barghouti is not a leader sitting in an office," says his wife Fadwa, seated at desk in her own. The Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners has a suite atop a new office tower overlooking Arafat's tomb. "He's a leader in the streets," she says, "Everywhere in the streets." (See photos of the Palestinian 'Day of Rage.')

Six years ago he was also on the ballot, running for Arafat's post as president of the Palestinian National Authority while behind bars. He withdrew in favor of Mahmoud Abbas, the Western favorite widely known as Abu Mazen. Barghouti says he emphatically supports Abbas' strategy of negotiating with Israel for an end to the occupation while building the institutions of statehood championed by PA prime minister Salam Fayyad. But Abbas, 76, insists he will not run again in elections promised within the year.

Barghouti's positions all but define the Palestinian mainstream. The reconciliation announced in Cairo was presaged in 2006 by Prisoner's Document, a watershed statement of shared intent initialed by Barghouti and jailed leaders of all other major factions. The declaration calls for negotiating with Israel for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. "He might be even more pragmatic than Abu Mazen and Fayyad," says Amos Oz, the acclaimed Israeli novelist who sent the prisoner an Arabic translation of his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness. "This story is our story," Oz inscribed on the copy he sent to Barghouti. "I hope you read it and understand us better, as we attempt to understand you. Hoping to meet soon in peace and freedom."

Inside the prison, Barghouti spends half of his day reading, writing or teaching other prisoners, most of whom share communal blocs and elect leaders according to faction. In ways the setting recalls Robben Island, the apartheid South African penal colony that doubled as a university for leaders of the African National Congress. But, says Oz, "I don't like the comparison. Mandela never mentioned the right way to put an end to apartheid was to kill civilians, and Barghouti did." Mandela did, however, create the ANC's armed wing, arguing that nonviolence had its limits. To prepare, the future Nobel laureate read The Revolt, an account by another future Nobel peace laureate, Menachem Begin, of the underground Jewish resistance that carried out bombings against the British government in Palestine in the 1940s. Begin was Prime MInister of Israel from 1977 to 1983. Says Oz: "There are so many heads of state who were involved in armed struggle before they became heads of state -- it's not unusual in history -- including some of the leaders of the state of Israel."

Comparisons with Arafat are more apt. Barghouti's graffito portrait stands beside Arafat's likeness on the most prominent stretch of The Wall, beside the Qalandia checkpoint that separates Ramallah from Jerusalem. The younger man is shown in his iconic moment, hoisting his manacled wrists overhead in both defiance and triumph, his incarceration available as a metaphor for Palestine's. "He's a man," says Osama Shougan, 21, who stands a little straighter at the mention of Barghouti's name during an interview in Ramallah's downtown vegetable market. "He's a leader." whether he's Begin or Lieberman?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Protestant French Village that Resisted Vichy: With History of Discrimination, Chambon-sur-Lignon Stood Up (Robert Zaretsky, July 22, 2011,Forward)

Ever since the Louis XIV's revocation in 1685 of the Edict of Nantes, which had imposed a century of religious tolerance, the low and sturdy stone houses had been a haven for the Huguenots, or French Protestants. Hunted by royal troops and hounded by Catholic inquisitors, the Huguenots nevertheless held fast to their faith. Their ministers led Sunday services in the craggy folds of the Cévennes, and their military leaders led a guerrilla war against the Bourbon battalions. As a result, even after the Revolution of 1789, which emancipated and enfranchised both them and French Jews, the Huguenots remained deeply marked by the so-called "years of the desert."

A remarkable minister, André Trocmé, embodied the historical wisdom accrued over the centuries by the Protestants.

Scarred by the murderous reality of World War I, Trocmé was a committed pacifist when he arrived in Chambon in 1934 to assume the ministry. Four years later, with the help of his colleagues Edouard Theis and Roger Darcissac, Trocmé founded the Cevenol school. His motivation reflected the same mixture of hard-nosed practicality and spiritual sublimity that later informed his actions during World War II: to teach the pacifist ideals central to the work of the Gospel, but also to create a steady source of revenue that the students could provide, and without which the small village would soon wither and die.

When republican France was routed, the Germans occupied the northern half of the country, while the newly created French state, known as Vichy, ruled the southern half. Vichy quickly passed a series of anti-Semitic laws, forbidding Jews from practicing most professions, from studying at universities and from owning businesses. They also had to register with the authorities, laying the legal and psychological foundations for the French police's notorious rafles, or roundups, of foreign and French Jews in the summer of 1942.

Well before most of France, Trocmé and his flock in Chambon were acutely aware of the future that Vichy was preparing for the Jews. In 1940, an utterly dispirited nation had embraced Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of Vichy. Yet Trocmé kept his distance, refusing in 1940 to sign the oath of allegiance to Pétain or to sound the church bells in 1941 to mark his birthday. In these and similar cases, Trocmé avoided confronting the authorities directly: holding fast to his beliefs, but not endangering his church.

All this changed, though, when a mounting stream of Jews -- in 1941 they were ordered to wear the yellow star on their outer garments -- quit the Occupied Zone and began to find their way to Chambon by train. In order to shelter these men, women and children, Trocmé realized that a more systematic, and much more dangerous, resistance was required. In his moving account, "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed," published by Harper & Row in 1979 and revised in 1994, Philip Hallie emphasizes that Trocmé and his fellow villagers were amateurs. There were no teachers, primers or even resistance pamphlets for them to consult. Establishing lines of communication with other clandestine groups, finding safe houses and creating aliases for the refugees, and forging papers and identity cards all demanded an extraordinary degree of planning and care. Yet, the practical and organizational aspects to the work of saving the lives of others always remained a work in progress.

Equally significant, however, were the less practical elements of resistance. While the villagers groped toward developing an effective organization, they did not hesitate over the need to resist. Their clarity of vision resulted in part from the historical experience of the Huguenot community, but, no less important, it reflected an ethical stance that Trocmé had practiced his entire adult life. Resistance is, first and foremost, a way of seeing the world, one that makes manifest the moral imperative to acknowledge and respect the dignity of each and every fellow human being.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Don't Turn Left!: A new kind of intersection eliminates dangerous, time-wasting left turns. (Tom Vanderbilt, Aug. 1, 2011, Slate)

In 2007, for example, the Federal Highway Administration reported there were 2.4 million crashes at intersections, representing 40 percent of all crashes, and one-fifth of all fatal crashes. Most intersection crashes fall under the category of "crossing paths," and the most common path-crossing crashes, according to federal statistics, involve left turns.

Left turns are the bane of traffic engineers. Their idea of utopia runs clockwise. (UPS' routing software famously has drivers turn right whenever possible, to save money and time.) The left-turning vehicle presents not only the aforementioned safety hazard, but a coagulation in the smooth flow of traffic. It's either a car stopped in an active traffic lane, waiting to turn; or, even worse, it's cars in a dedicated left-turn lane that, when traffic is heavy enough, requires its own "dedicated signal phase," lengthening the delay for through traffic as well as cross traffic. And when traffic volumes really increase, as in the junction of two suburban arterials, multiple left-turn lanes are required, costing even more in space and money.

And, increasingly, because of shifting demographics and "lollipop" development patterns, suburban arterials are where the action is: They represent, according to one report, less than 10 percent of the nation's road mileage, but account for 48 percent of its vehicle-miles traveled.

So what, per Bel Geddes, can be done? What can you do when you've tinkered all you can with the traffic signals, added as many left-turn lanes as you can, rerouted as much traffic as you can, in areas that have already been built to a sprawling standard? Welcome to the world of the "unconventional intersection," where left turns are engineered out of existence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Tripling America's Fuel Production: Most alternatives to oil are pipe dreams. This one is not. (Robert Zubrin, 7/27/11, National Review)

If we are to break free of the crushing economic burden and national-security threat that oil dependency imposes, we need to triple our liquid-fuel production. There is no realistic way that this can be done through expanding domestic drilling for oil, multiplying the yield of corn ethanol (which now accounts for 20 percent of domestic liquid-fuel production), or a combination of the two. Rather, we need a new source of liquid fuel, one that can be produced easily and economically, from resources available to us, and on the vast scale required to address the deficiency.

Fortunately, such a fuel is available. It is methanol, also known as wood alcohol. In contrast to algae oils and cellulosic ethanol, methanol is not a futuristic pipe dream touted by researchers seeking funding. Rather, it is one of the world's top five chemical commodities, with an operating global annual production capacity of 27 billion gallons, and a current spot price, without any subsidies, of $1.28 per gallon. While methanol contains only about half the energy per gallon of gasoline, its excellent octane rating of 105 allows it to be burned more efficiently, making $1.28-per-gallon methanol equivalent to $2-per-gallon gasoline. All in all, a very competitive price.

The resources available to support expanded methanol production are vast. In contrast to gasoline -- which can be made economically only from petroleum -- or ethanol -- whose mass production requires the use of sugars or starches -- methanol can readily be made from any carbon-containing material. To list a few of methanol's potential sources: oil, natural gas, coal, urban garbage, or any kind of biomass without exception.

The United States possesses around 4 billion metric tons (29.5 billion barrels) of proven oil reserves. This would barely be enough to support a fully fuel-independent America for four years. In contrast, our proven coal reserves exceed 270 billion tons, and our natural-gas reserves may be nearly as great. North America currently produces about 40 billion metric tons per year of biomass, of which 2 billion tons are harvested as farm and forestry products and 1 billion tons discarded as agricultural and forestry waste. We also discard approximately a quarter-billion tons per year of carbonaceous urban trash. Thus, taken together, our resources for methanol production not only are up to fully replacing our current oil imports, but are up to supporting the growing demands of an expanding economy for decades or centuries to come.

Methanol burns cleaner than gasoline, causing much less particulate pollution. It is also safer -- it is much less likely to catch fire in the event of a crash, and its fumes contain none of gasoline's rich mixture of carcinogens. While, unlike ethanol, methanol is not edible, it is not especially toxic. In fact, windshield-wiper fluid is one-third methanol, and, because it is readily biodegradable, it has been handled by the public and released onto roads worldwide in vast quantities for decades without any impact on public health or the environment.

If we could convert our auto fleet to run on methanol, the $500 billion per year we are now paying foreign potentates for oil could go instead to American businesses and workers to produce our fuel right here at home.

August 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Jesus: Democratic King: Our most cherished democratic values are grounded in Jesus' sovereign authority. (John Witte Jr., 7/29/2011, Christianity Today)

While Christ's kingdom is not of this world, Christ still rules in this world. But, in extraordinary defiance of every handbook on royalty, Christ rules through fragile, weak, and sinful people. Christ appoints us to be his royal witnesses and ambassadors on earth. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people," Peter wrote to the new Christians (1 Pet. 2:9, NRSV). Each of us is called to represent and reflect, to embody and embrace God's royal prerogatives and divine rights on earth.

These rights belong to God the Father, who created humans in his own image and commanded them to worship and obey him. These rights belong to God the Son, who embodies himself in the church and demands the full and free exercise of this body on earth. And these rights belong to God the Holy Spirit, who is "poured out upon all flesh" and governs the consciences of all persons in Christ.

As image bearers of God, each of us is called to reflect the Father's glory and majesty in the world, to represent God's sovereign interests in church, state, and society. As prophets, priests, and kings of God the Son, each of us is given the spiritual duty and right to speak and to prophesy, to worship and to pastor, to rule and to govern in the communities we inhabit. As ambassadors of God the Spirit, each of us is given the duty and right to "make disciples of all nations" by word and sacrament, by instruction and example, by charity and discipline.

Here, in the Bible's teaching about the triune God, we have a key source for some of our most cherished democratic values: popular sovereignty as a reflection of the absolute sovereignty of God the Father; freedoms of speech, religion, and rule, because we all are prophets, priests, and kings of Christ; rights to serve, evangelize, and teach, because we all have the privilege to discharge the Great Commission aided by the Holy Spirit.

Our common calling as God's royal ambassadors is another sign of our radical equality. As Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28, NKJV). The New Testament is a leveler of the human race, a standing rebuke against false hierarchy. All have vocations that count. All have prophetic voices to be heard. All have priestly services to render. All have kingly gifts to be cherished.

This common calling is also a sign of our radical freedom. The New Testament is chock-full of bracing declarations on freedom: "For freedom, Christ has set us free." "You were called to freedom." "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." We have all been given "the glorious freedom of the children of God." As God's creatures and ambassadors, we are utterly free in our innermost being. We are like the greatest king or queen on earth, above and beyond the power of everyone. We enjoy a sovereign immunity that no authority can touch or trespass.

But while utterly free, we are not untutored. Christ has taught us how to serve as God's royal ambassadors on earth. The touchstones are there in the Gospels: that we remain close to the ground, that we live with humility and grace, that we care for the poor and sick, that we embrace the sojourner and stranger, that we seek out the needy and lost, that we teach by word and example, that we work to heal what is broken, that we share generously of our talents and gifts, that we deal fairly with our neighbors and friends, that we forgive those who do us harm, that we love even our enemies.

This is not a formula for weakness, a resume of the supine. There are times to rebuke the fools and blasphemers in our midst, to prophesy loudly against injustice, to kick out the merchants and harpies from our temples and homes, to exorcise the demons and devils from our community. Not out of pride, anger, or impulse, not out of pretended authority, but out of our inherited divine right and divine prerogative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Newport Folk 2011: Mavis Staples, Live In Concert (NPR, 8/01/11)

[S]he also possesses an incredibly easy-going and pleasant nature that makes her a natural star on stage -- she's like the mayor of gospel music. Staples' newest album, 2010's You Are Not Alone, was recorded with the aid of a younger icon, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. Hear Staples perform live at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Was General Franco a catastrophe for Spain?: To me it seems he tried to defend the Spain he knew from people who wanted to destroy it (Francis Phillips, 21 July 2011, Catholic Herald)

[I] have been reading Christopher Howse's book, A Pilgrim in Spain, and although he alludes to the Civil War - it would be difficult not to - he also tries to be neutral, like the BBC. I confess to ignorance on the subject. I have an English friend who lived in Spain for several years under Franco's dictatorship and who is dismissive of those in this country who abhor his memory; for her Franco was simply "a Nationalist". Other friends - Labour voters, interestingly - call him a "Fascist". Stuart Reid of this parish recently described him, if I recall correctly, as looking like "a constipated toad" - which is unfair to toads. I also recall an acrimonious exchange on the Letters page of the Herald a couple of years ago, over a book review which had been favourable to the Republican side.

Howse remarks, "What can be made of the Spanish Civil War? Among the death-dealing disasters of the 20th century its violence baffles reason." He recommends Catholicism in the Second Spanish Republic (1996), by Mary Vincent, and quotes her as writing: "In April 1931 Salamanca was merely one conservative province among several whose populations were prepared to give the Republic a chance. By October 1936, that electorate and its clerical pastors were among General Franco's most fervent supporters."

Why? It seems that the Republic tried to stamp out systematically all public manifestations of the faith that had been central to Spanish life and culture for many centuries. This was much more than a secular agenda to separate Church and state. The Communists got involved and George Orwell, who was no friend to Fascism and who fought on the Republican side, was highly critical of them. It is agreed that terrible atrocities were committed on both sides. Mary Vincent laments that the Church became too identified with Franco's regime. Howse remarks that "Franco was no defender of traditional Spain... He was, when he took power, a symptom of the modern age, one of the many catastrophes of the 20th century."

This puzzles me: if Franco was defending the Spain that he knew from the Republic that wanted to destroy it, then surely he was defending traditional Spain and its ancient faith? True, he was a dictator, but would several members of the lay apostolate Opus Dei have been content to work in his government if his regime had been thuggish? On his death the country passed bloodlessly into a constitutional monarchy within a democratic system; surely this must be counted as one of his achievements? And if the Nationalists had not challenged the Republic and Spain had become a Communist country, as predicted, would Howse have been given the opportunity to wander freely round the place for over 20 years and describe its genius loci so affectionately? Look what Communism did to Eastern Europe. Etc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Purity: Youth Restored: Modern man is like the character Marcus in the book Quo Vadis. He no longer knows what his body is for. (ANTHONY ESOLEN, 7/23/11, The Catholic Thing)

Marcus has just returned from a triumphant campaign against the barbarians in the east. He is a man in the full vigor of his youth, passionate, impetuous, and accustomed to getting what he wants. And what he wants now is clear enouh.

It is a lovely girl named Ligia, whom he watches through the arch leading to the inner garden. She is playing ball with a little boy, the son of her adoptive parents, Aulus and Pomponia. Aulus is an upright Roman of the old republican sort. He still pays homage to the household gods and to the great gods of the empire. Pomponia belongs to a strange and suspicious new sect, one that has sprung up, like so many other diseases, from the orient.

Marcus has heard terrible rumors about them, that they hate mankind, they sacrifice children to their god and consume their flesh, and that they are traitors to Rome. He cannot believe such rumors of Pomponia. She is a rarity in Rome, univira, a one-man woman, still married to her first and only husband. Her grace and peace are like a gentle perfume spread throughout the household. Even the servants are soft-spoken, and loyal to their mistress. No, it cannot be that Pomponia is a Christian.

That is the stage set in Henryk Sienkiewicz's masterly novel, Quo Vadis. Marcus will fall in love with Ligia, or what the spoiled men of his patrician class called love - a furious lust, sometimes longing to give up all his ambitions just to enjoy her presence, her lithe body, the scent of her hair, and sometimes longing to crush her spirit and chain her to his will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


The Tree of Life (James Bowman, 7.18.11, American Spectator)

Like the poet John Milton in Paradise Lost, Mr. Malick sets out "to justify the ways of God to man" but seemingly without any recognition of the same disproportion between question and questioner that eludes Derek Parfit and Peter Singer. Like them, Mr. Malick is a man who does not know his own place in the scheme of things -- which is inevitably one of humility before the Creator or at least the reality principle. And just as we suspect they cannot have much to tell us about ethics, so Mr. Malick has little to tell us about God, save for a few banalities about bigness.

Theodicy implies this essential recognition of disproportion. God, we must understand, simply by taking up the subject, is our Judge and not to be judged by us -- by putting "God in the Dock " in C.S. Lewis's words. The most we can hope for is to give some account of Him that will make Him marginally less inscrutable to our fellow creatures. There is no such humility or sense of proportion in The Tree of Life. Terrence Malick himself assumes the role of God, his camera showing us what only God could see, including the formation of the earth's surface from primordial volcanic eruptions, the early aeons of evolution and the destruction of the dinosaurs by the silent impact -- perhaps since none but dinosaurs are around to hear -- of what we surmise is the asteroid supposed to have caused the Cretaceous extinction. Mr. Malick's CGI dinosaurs smell of popcorn and Junior Mints, however, and look annoyingly like Jar Jar Binks . No wonder God smote them with the asteroid.

There are also various star-scapes and space-scapes placed side-by-side with what appear to be microscopic views of life on earth ("The ant's a centaur in his dragon world/Pull down thy vanity," as Uncle Ezra Pound once put it in words that Mr. Malick should take to heart), but such insistence on disproportion between man as questioner and the cosmos does not bring God any closer to us and to our human understanding, as Milton seeks to do, but instead just drives us further apart from Him. The justification of God to man here is that God is too remote from man to be justified. Like Derek Parfit, Mr. Malick is reduced to asking questions of the cosmos only to show us that he's wise enough to know there are no answers. What's the use of that? It looks like disingenuous posturing to me.

...that when He set out to justify the ways of Man to Hisownself, God ended up justifying His own to us.

"Forgive them Father, they know mnot what they do."

"Oh Lord, oh Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


What Darwin Got Wrong: Brainwash Done Right (Suzan Mazur, 3/21/10, Scoop_

Let's begin with the facts: The days of evolutionary science being an exclusive old boys club are over. The public is a party to the discourse now and knows the emphasis in evolutionary science is on VISION and not textbook rules. And while Rutgers philosopher Jerry Fodor's and University of Arizona cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's new book What Darwin Got Wrong does not showcase amateur evolutionary theories, the authors do indeed reach out to the public "hop[ing] to convince" through Fodor's sublime ability to argue a point and Piattelli-Palmarini's wit, charm and biophysics savvy that we as a people have got to move on because the central story of the theory of evolution -- natural selection -- is wrong in a way that "can't be repaired". They are careful not to say what the public also knows, i.e., that a critical mass of people is simply tired of Darwin's vision. It's out of vogue.

Fodor loves opera, and the book at times is infused with enough of that kind of passion that I sometimes actually wanted to applaud, like when the authors admit they "don't know what the mechanism [PROCESS] of evolution is" and don't think anyone else does either. Yes, it's been said before, but not before quite like this. [...]

What happens next as the neo-Darwinist house of cards collapses and the turnaround in evolutionary science proceeds with the circle drawn wider and wider to include more of the public? "The Jerry Coyne crowd will just fade into the background," one evolutionary scientist whispered to me. . .

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Nation of Faith, Nation of Immigrants (Charles J. Chaput, August 16, 2011, Public Discourse)

America's laws and institutions come from a moral worldview shaped by Christian belief. They depend not on where her people came from, but on what they are willing to sacrifice to keep the experiment alive. Adapted from a keynote address delivered to the national gathering of CALL (Catholic Association of Latino Leaders).

Demography is destiny. The next America will be increasingly Latino. That's simply a fact, and it's also a blessing, because I believe Hispanic faith and culture are very great goods for our Church and for American life in general. Unfortunately, as facts go, it may also be an indictment, because social data show that Latinos leave the Catholic faith at the same rate as every other ethnic group. So the idea that more Latinos automatically mean a more "Catholic" America is just pious self-delusion.

The late Avery Cardinal Dulles was one of the great American theologians of my lifetime. He grew up in a Protestant family that was very prominent on the national scene, both socially and politically. His conversion to the Catholic faith was viewed by some at the time as rather shocking. But he knew exactly what he was doing, and why. He once wrote that, "The greatest danger facing the Church in our country today is that of an excessive and indiscreet accommodation." I think he wrote those words with a heavy dose of irony, because he deliberately chose to leave the morally exhausted WASP establishment at the same time so many American Catholics were desperately trying to force their way into it.

My point is this: For all of its greatness, America has a huge capacity to homogenize new immigrants; to bleach out their personality, their character and especially their beliefs. In the decades ahead, being a Catholic will need to be a conscious choice. The day when culture, ethnicity and habit could sustain a Catholic life is gone--and it's not coming back. Being truly "Catholic" in 2011--whether we trace our roots to Mexico or France or Ireland or Korea--means one thing: It means living a life of sacrificial witness. And the privilege of that witness will fall especially on leaders. [...]

Precisely because of America's homogenizing power, Latinos need to protect those qualities--like the importance of family, faith and community--that make up so much of the Hispanic experience. But the Catholic faith is not a subset of ethnicity. Faith, not ethnicity, is the fundamental category of life, which is why Archbishop Jose Gomez so often warns us against a purely "cultural Catholicism."

Dr. Reyes puts it this way: "Faith, and only faith, is what holds the People of God together. Even during the brutal fights between Irish and German Catholics over public schools, Americanization and similar issues in the late 19th century, they still saw their disputes as being an argument within the Catholic family. If we make ethnicity our defining issue, then a shared worldview is impossible. What we get instead is an illusion of unity built around some form of liberal multiculturalism. And that isn't a real worldview at all, but just a rhetorical strategy to justify either particular political goals or the cult of the imperial self."

Here's the final thought. Again, in the words of Dr. Reyes, "there's an irreconcilable difference between America's radical individualism and the Hispanic commitment to community. American Catholic life, as it stands today, has already been undermined by the cult of the self. We see it in every distorted appeal to personal conscience. We see it in the kind of 'cafeteria Catholicism' that throws out the inconvenient parts of Catholic belief but tries to keep the Catholic label. Any project of Hispanic integration with American life needs to expose this problem. Hispanics need to protect their own natural sense of community, but they also need to attack the spirit of self-absorption, practical atheism and consumer vanity that has turned so much of American Catholic witness into just another toothless, religious version of secular culture."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Geek Theologian: Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly talks to CT about the Amish, heaven, and why he doesn't own a smart phone. (Interview by Katelyn Beaty, 7/15/2011, Christianity Today)

Is God guiding the progress of the technium as it unfolds?

I would definitely say that progress is a reflection of the divine.

What do you mean by that?

In the same way we would say the beauty of nature reflects God, the technium reflects something of God's character. Not that the technium is without blemish, because anything we invent can be weaponized and made evil. But overall the technium has a positive force, a positive charge of good. And that good is primarily measured in terms of the possibilities and choices it presents us with. That's the metric I use to measure goodness.

For instance, love is good. I define love as not just an emotion but an action that helps others achieve some possibility. By love we give people opportunities to express their unique set of God-given gifts. In a certain sense, if you had to objectively measure the love in someone's heart, what would that look like? I think it would look like increasing choices and possibilities for others.

While reading the book, I couldn't help thinking about Genesis 1:28, that God gives humans the opportunity to create beyond themselves, and that this is "very good," a part of what it means to bear the imago Dei.

Yes. God has given us free will--true free will, not a phantom free will--and he wants us to surprise him. We are here to surprise God. God could make everything, but instead he says, "I bestow upon you the gift of free will so that you can participate in making this world. I could make everything, but I am going to give you some spark of my genius. Surprise me with something truly good and beautiful." So we invent things, and God says, "Oh my gosh, that was so cool! I could have thought of that, but they thought of that instead."

So yes, there is a positive charge within the technium, in the same way that organic life is good and that more life is better. That's not to say there isn't horror in biological life--animals ripping each other apart. It's just to say that overall, life creates 1 percent more than it destroys every year.

Is that something you have calculated?

No, I'm saying that even if the rate of improvement is as low as a 10th or a 100th of a percent, there is actually more good accumulated in the world than there is evil. That small difference is all it takes.

Why do you believe there is more good than evil?

Because the world is a better place now than it was 1,000 years ago. Whatever quantifiable metric you want to give to me about what's good in life, I would say there's more of it now than there was 1,000 years ago. There're fewer war casualties per capita, there's less violence. We think that some of these atrocities of war today are sickening, but Genghis Khan--you don't even want to hear about what they were doing. There is less disease, more longevity, more literacy, education, women's rights, more creativity, more food, more people, less hunger, fewer slaves, more leisure. You name it.

But what about the central Christian belief that the human heart is perpetually evil--that we are not progressing toward goodness, but that we need a Savior to intervene dramatically?

The fallibility of the human condition means that we tend to destroy as much as we create every year. We cannot even begin to be mostly good. But the good news is that by God's grace we can, and should, improve our lives a little tiny bit over time. That incremental crawl in the direction of good is all we can expect theologically, and it's the reason almost no one gives up the advancements of today. In what way would Christ's redemption be at work if we moved a little bit toward evil every year?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM

Paul Jacobs: Tiny Desk Concert (Tom Huizenga, 8/11/11, NPR)

Organists, it seems, don't get a lot of respect, even in the classical world. But the enterprising Jacobs is doing his best to turn that around. At 23, he played all of Bach's organ works in an 18-hour marathon concert. He's also played the complete organ works by the French mystic Olivier Messiaen in marathon performances. It was with Messiaen's music that Jacobs won a Grammy earlier this year -- the first organist to do so. Jacobs, who heads the Juilliard School's organ department, is widely considered one of today's great organists, and he's not yet turned 40.

Just take a look at all he can do simultaneously -- especially in the familiar Bach Invention in F major. The arrangement is by early-20th-century composer Max Reger, who transferred to the feet what Bach originally wrote for the keyboardist's left hand. Thanks to the Tiny Desk "foot-cam," you can watch Jacobs as he practically tap-dances on the pedals, playing several musical lines and rhythms at once in both hands and feet, all in a sparklingly reedy registration.

Jacobs makes an impassioned speech here about the power and durability of Bach's music. And you can hear what he's talking about in the gorgeous "Arioso," which occupies a different realm than the complex, interlocking fugues. It's a surprisingly romantic-sounding piece, and in Jacobs' hands (and feet), its long, flowing lines unfold like a song you hope will never end.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 AM


Zero Tariffs Across the Atlantic: A new study suggests a U.S.-EU free trade initiative would increase combined GDP by $180 billion within five years. (PETER S. RASHISH , 8/19/11, WSJ)

According to a report by the Brussels-based European Center for International Political Economy, a trans-Atlantic zero-tariffs initiative would increase combined U.S.-EU gross domestic product by $180 billion within five years. That's more added growth than either would receive from the completion of the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks. And while Doha is facing serious obstacles to its completion, a "Trans-Atlantic Zero" deal could be signed quickly. The issues that have held up bilateral trade pacts in the past--social, labor and environmental standards--should not matter between the U.S. and EU, which share roughly similar ways of organizing their societies.

Since one-third of trans-Atlantic trade occurs between branches of the same firm, eliminating tariffs on that trade would cut costs for both American and European companies and make them more competitive in global markets. That could help trans-Atlantic firms respond to the rise of Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and other emerging-market firms without resorting to protectionist measures.

Whatever other policies emerge from Brussels and Washington, trade liberalization can only add to the economic potential of America and Europe. So why have we heard so little about it in the debates on either side of the Atlantic, even from leaders who have championed freer trade in the past?

One reason could be a fear that if these two economic behemoths move forward on dismantling trade barriers, they could divert attention from the sagging Doha Round. But with countries on both sides of the Atlantic urgently in need of economic growth, we do not have the luxury to wait for a Doha success, however desirable that would be. And just as the North American Free Trade Agreement helped spur the conclusion of earlier global trade talks--for instance the 1990s Uruguay Round--a trans-Atlantic zero-tariffs initiative may galvanize action on other trade deals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 AM


Feeding The Masses On Unicorn Ribs Walter Russell Mead, 8/19/11, American Interest)

The belief that green jobs would drive a new era of American prosperity was -- like the large majority of green policy chat -- intellectually incoherent. The goods that drive renewable energy industries, like so much else in this world, are far cheaper to construct in Asia. As the NYT piece describes, SolFocus, a widely-celebrated solar power company based, only has 90 employees at their San Jose headquarters. The solar panels are assembled in China. Whether a product is an ordinary t-shirt or an admirable piece of world saving green technology like a wind turbine has zilch, zero, nada influence on the mind of the manufacturer trying to decide where it should be made.

There are perhaps some green jobs that would be exceptions; we could eliminate all forms of welfare and food stamps and offer the unemployed minimum wage jobs pedaling stationary bicycles hooked up to electric generators, solving our budget, poverty, obesity and energy independence problems all at once -- but these are not the jobs either the President or his supporters have in mind.

It's understandable and even forgivable that a political candidate would talk about green jobs on the hustings, especially when the Democratic Party is divided between job hungry blue collar workers and fastidious greens who break out in hives in the presence of coal. What worries me isn't that the President's team advised him to make a few speeches on this subject; if a candidate can't throw chum to the base now and then what's the point of having elections? What worries me is that they didn't understand that making something this bogus a central plank of his actual governing plan on an issue as vital as jobs would have serious costs down the road.

Many liberals want green jobs to exist so badly that they don't fully grasp how otherworldly and ineffectual this advocacy makes the President look to unemployed meat packers and truck drivers.

Let me put it this way. A GOP candidate might feel a need to please creationist voters and say a few nice things about intelligent design. That is politics as usual; it gins up the base and drive the opposition insane with fury and rage. No harm, really, and no foul.

But if that same politician then proposed to base federal health policy on a hunt for the historical Garden of Eden so that we could replace Medicare by feeding old people on fruit from the Tree of Life, he would have gone from quackery-as-usual to raving incompetence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 AM


Chronic fatigue syndrome researchers face death threats from militants: Scientists are subjected to a campaign of abuse and violence (Robin McKie, 8/20/11, The Observer)

The full extent of the campaign of intimidation, attacks and death threats made against scientists by activists who claim researchers are suppressing the real cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is revealed today by the Observer. According to the police, the militants are now considered to be as dangerous and uncompromising as animal rights extremists.

One researcher told the Observer that a woman protester who had turned up at one of his lectures was found to be carrying a knife. Another scientist had to abandon a collaboration with American doctors after being told she risked being shot, while another was punched in the street. All said they had received death threats and vitriolic abuse.

In addition, activists - who attack scientists who suggest the syndrome has any kind of psychological association - have bombarded researchers with freedom of information requests, made rounds of complaints to university ethical committees about scientists' behaviour, and sent letters falsely alleging that individual scientists are in the pay of drug and insurance companies.

"I published a study which these extremists did not like and was subjected to a staggering volley of horrible abuse," said Professor Myra McClure, head of infectious diseases at Imperial College London. "One man wrote he was having pleasure imagining that he was watching me drown. He sent that every day for months."

Which merely confirms that they're mentally ill, not physically.

August 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


No, the US Isn't Japan: Fears the US economy is becoming the new Japan are misplaced, argues James Pach. US policymakers have far more options at their disposal than their Japanese counterparts. (James Pach, 8/17/11, The Diplomat)

[T]he point is, whether or not it actually chooses to exercise them, the United States still has policy options that Japan now lacks.

Let me explain. In 2009, the United States had a population of 307 million, Japan had 127 million. In 2050, the US is projected to have a population of 393 million, according to the middle series estimate of the US Bureau of the Census. Japan, by contrast, will have just 95 million people, according to its Ministry of Health. So, over the next 40 years, if these projections hold, the US population will grow by about 30 percent, while Japan's will shrink by 25 percent.

The effects of this contraction on Japan are so profound that no reasonable discussion of macroeconomics can exclude them. Picture yourself as a Japanese manager. What would your thinking be as you made long-term plans for your company's growth? That's right, unless they operate in emerging sectors, Japanese companies are shuttering domestic facilities and taking their investment overseas. In disclosure after disclosure, companies are announcing bluntly that they see no more growth in Japan, and are looking abroad. Japan Inc. is becoming a holding company.

Of course, for many companies in Japan's uncompetitive service sector, competing in foreign markets isn't realistic. Even for companies that do have an offshore option, overseas expansion can be a slow process. In the meantime, cost cutting and mergers are the only paths to earnings growth. In fact, corporate Japan in the post-bubble era has done these things very well--earnings are generally good. But investment is weak. The upshot is that Japanese companies have been hoarding cash, so that roughly half have more cash than debt.

No investment means no demand for borrowing. This in turn means that monetary policy, whether lowering interest rates or flooding the banks with cash, is ineffective, because the surplus money never leaves the financial system to enter the real economy, at least not through the private sector.

The same lack of investment also contracts the economy, which must be offset by government spending, even as the reduced private sector activity lowers tax revenues. That's what the Japanese government has been doing for the last two decades, and that's why it has the world's largest public debt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


Symptoms of the Bush-Obama Presidency: The Saved and the Sacked David Bromwich, 8/19/11, Tom Dispatch)

Is it too soon to speak of the Bush-Obama presidency?

The record shows impressive continuities between the two administrations, and nowhere more than in the policy of "force projection" in the Arab world. With one war half-ended in Iraq, but another doubled in size and stretching across borders in Afghanistan; with an expanded program of drone killings and black-ops assassinations, the latter glorified in special ceremonies of thanksgiving (as they never were under Bush); with the number of prisoners at Guantanamo having decreased, but some now slated for permanent detention; with the repeated invocation of "state secrets" to protect the government from charges of war crimes; with the Patriot Act renewed and its most dubious provisions left intact -- the Bush-Obama presidency has sufficient self-coherence to be considered a historical entity with a life of its own. [...]

Meanwhile, back at home...

The usual turn from unsatisfying wars abroad to happier domestic conditions, however, no longer seems tenable. In these August days, Americans are rubbing their eyes, still wondering what has befallen us with the president's "debt deal" -- a shifting of tectonic plates beneath the economy of a sort Dick Cheney might have dreamed of, but which Barack Obama and the House Republicans together brought to fruition. A redistribution of wealth and power more than three decades in the making has now been carved into the system and given the stamp of permanence.

Only a Democratic president, and only one associated in the public mind (however wrongly) with the fortunes of the poor, could have accomplished such a reversal with such sickening completeness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


The Tea Party's Achilles' Heel: A posture of bold fiscal conservatism simply isn't compatible with timid evasions on Medicare reform. (YUVAL LEVIN AND PETER WEHNER, 8/19/11, WSJ)

[T]he next test, and the real test, for the tea party movement is whether it can channel its energy into entitlement reform--and specifically the reform of Medicare. The reason is simple: Our debt explosion is a health-entitlement explosion. Between now and 2050, according to the Congressional Budget Office, spending on federal health programs--Medicare, Medicaid and the new ObamaCare entitlement--will grow to 13% of gross domestic product from 5.6%, while all other federal spending combined will actually decline as a share of the economy.

The crushing and unprecedented coming debt crisis--which will see the national debt grow to more than twice the size of the economy, strangling our economic future--cannot be averted unless health-care costs are brought under control, and that cannot be done unless the basic structure of the Medicare program is reformed. If we ignore Medicare, we ignore the debt problem.

Unless the tea party movement is willing to step up to the plate on this issue, its members cannot really be considered champions of limited government or defenders of America's future prosperity.

The point of the tea party is to cut elsewhere in order to guarantee funding for the New Deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


Georgetown basketball exhibition in China ends in brawl (Gene Wang, 8/18/11, Washington Post)

What began as a goodwill trip to China for the Georgetown men's basketball team turned violent Thursday night when its exhibition game against a Chinese professional club deteriorated into a benches-clearing melee in which players exchanged blows, chairs were thrown and spectators tossed full water bottles at Hoyas players and coaches as they headed to the locker room.

Georgetown Coach John Thompson III pulled his players off the Olympic Sports Center Stadium court with 9 minutes 32 seconds left in the game and the scored tied at 64 after a chaotic scene in which members of the Georgetown and Bayi Military Rockets teams began swinging wildly and tackling one another.

His old man's 1984 team could have taken on the Red Army.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 PM


Obama in the Valley (CHARLES M. BLOW, 8/19/11, NY Times)

In 1970, the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori coined the phrase "uncanny valley." In the field of robotics, and increasingly in computer animation, it refers to the theory that people feel good about robots -- up to a point. When they start to look almost real, but not quite, we experience an eerie and unsettling sense of revulsion. [...]

[O]ne person I never thought would fall into this valley was Barack Obama, the charismatic candidate who electrified the electorate in 2008 and whom many saw as the fulfillment of the dream of the even-more-electrifying Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet here Obama is, down in the valley, struggling to connect with the American people and failing, increasingly coming across as dispassionate to some and outright revolting to others.

The clothes have no emperor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Single people may die younger, new study finds: Single men could die about a decade earlier than married men. Single women don't fare much better, new research finds (Joan Raymond, 8/2011,

Although many studies point to the fact that singles just don't fare as well in terms of health and longevity compared to the married, this new research shows "just how poorly the singles do," explains lead author David Roelfs, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Louisville, Ky.

The researchers analyzed the data from some 90 previous studies, which included about 500 million people, and compared the risk of mortality for singles from those studies -- defined as those who never married -- to that of a married group, excluding those who are divorced or widowed.

The researchers found the risk of death was 32 percent higher across a lifetime for single men compared to married men. Single women face a 23 percent higher mortality risk, compared to married women.

In real numbers, "under the worse-case scenario," single men could die about eight to 17 years earlier than their married male friends, says Roelfs, citing that nearly all of the data was gleaned from studies conducted in the last 60 years. Women don't fare much better. They could die seven to 15 years earlier than their married female counterparts.

Atomization isn't healthy? Whodda dreamt?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM


It's Not What We Ought To Do, But What We Can Do: Rory Stewart says humanitarian intervention is like mountain rescue--protecting lives doesn't require destructive adventures. (Fred Kaplan, Aug. 19, 2011, Slate)

If NATO is dropping bombs on Libya, why not on Syria? Aren't the two regimes equally murderous?

...a better question is why we've tolerated the regime in North Korea?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 PM


Gene Watson On Mountain Stage (NPR, Oct. 20, 2010)

Hit country singer Gene Watson has been recording for nearly 40 years now. Since the beginning of his career, he has had multiple hits, including "Paper Rosie," "Farewell Party," and "Love in the Hot Afternoon," all included here with Watson's Farewell Party Band.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Ana Marie Cox and ‘I Became a Prostitute’ (Mark Judge , 02/16/2011, Daily Caller)

Many pieces about the Twilight Sad include references to the melancholy of the band’s sound and the lyrics of singer James Graham, who has hinted that the often-oblique lyrics refer to things that he experienced growing up in Scotland. That would seem like rich soil to explore issues of human suffering and the ability to alchemize such pain into a divine art — music. Instead, critics only write about how the Twilight Sad’s songs affect their standing in the pop universe. There are lots of examples, but the best is probably this review by Jonathan Garrett, from the respected rock critic site Pitchfork, of the band’s single “I Became a Prostitute”:

Twilight Sad songs have always seemed to teeter on the brink of broader appeal — probably because a fair number of their influences, U2 and My Bloody Valentine chief among them, reside on the more melodic and, some might say, commercial end of the guitar-rock spectrum. But if they truly aim for something universal, their dissonance-ravaged guitar tones frequently object. Yet it’s precisely the conflicted nature of their songs, the tension between commercial impulse and arty recalcitrance, that provides the drama. “I Became a Prostitute”, rather than making good on its title’s threat, plays like a sly acknowledgement of the internal discord. Erupting with a massive, sky-scraping roar of feedback, the song quickly pulls back, ceding the spotlight to James Graham’s vocals. For the most part, “Prostitute” is content to vacillate back and forth between the urgent opening gambit and the more sinister verses. But it’s the closing stretch that shows the strain, with guitarist Andy MacFarlane taking the central hook and twisting it into a series of unrecognizable shapes. The song doesn’t end so much as drop off, but true to form, they never let it break.

One needn’t be a born-again Christian awaiting the rapture to feel that there is something missing here. “I Became a Prostitute” is a staggeringly powerful song, indeed a work of art. And the radiating guitars, sorrowful vocals and close, tight drums work not only as a beautiful wall of noise in and of itself, but as the aural expression of a great moral tragedy — the loss of a person’s God-given dignity to the sex trade. The tension in the song has nothing to do with the Twilight Sad’s position between hipster favorites and U2-sized superstars (what a facile and idiotic reading!). The tension, indeed the near chaos, of “I Became a Prostitute” is between what our conscience tells us is right and wrong and the horrible tragedy of what can happen to us in the real world. More, the sound may reflect the moral meltdown in singer and bandleader James Graham’s experience. He has said his songs are about stuff that happened to him growing up. It’s possible he and some buddies may have gone to a prostitute, and the experience left him feeling morally soiled. That’s not a stretch when you consider the lyrics:

We’re all fine in the back of our minds
As we can do what we like
We could be with you tonight
And if we bleed you dry
We’re taking half you time
And taking all your tide

You are the bearer of a womb without love
But oh you could have had it all
Is that what you said?
Is that what you said on a low ride?

How could anyone reduce this to a puerile debate about “commercial impulse vs. arty recalcitrance”? This is like when Egypt recently erupted in revolution, and back home all the pundits could talk about was how it would affect President Obama. It is a sentiment that is completely removed from the real drama at hand. It’s also brings to mind a line of Chesterton’s: “Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked…It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal and that you are a paralytic.” Or a rock critic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Evolutionary Ethics (Michael Ruse, 8/03/11, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

In basic theory, explaining morality is not so difficult. The devil, as always, is in the details. For a long time, people (starting with Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection) thought that the key was something labeled (by us today) as "group selection." It is for the good of the group that we be moral, and so we are. But group selection, as evolutionists today recognize--and as Charles Darwin sensed and stressed from the first--is fallacious. It is too open to cheating. If everyone has adaptations for the good of the group, even though it occurs at their own discomfort and cost, someone who cheats--who uses the help of others but does not reciprocate--is going to be ahead in the evolutionary game and so will survive and reproduce better than others. Before long, their genes will be the norm, and cooperation will have collapsed.

However, in the past 50 years, Darwinian evolutionists have devised all sorts of models to explain cooperation as an adaptation that benefits the cooperator--"individual selection." One of the most famous is so-called "kin selection." Inasmuch as one helps relatives one is helping oneself (biologically), because one shares the same genes and if they reproduce one is oneself reproducing vicariously. Another mechanism, one spotted by Darwin in the Descent, is "reciprocal altruism." You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. (Still the best book on all of this is Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene.)

Backing the theory is a massive amount of empirical evidence about the widespread nature of cooperation in the animal kingdom. The hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps) work together. So at the other end of the scale (not a progressive or linear scale!) do our closest relatives the chimps. And in between. Birds, for instance, work together a huge amount.

Now, simply cooperating is not morality. Ants are not moral. I am not sure birds are. Although I don't want to say that there is no non-human morality or proto morality. Probably it is just because I am English-born, but dogs seem to me to get pretty close at times.

So the hypothesis (backed increasingly by theory and evidence) is that to get us humans to cooperate, we have special kinds of emotions. Emotions that tell us that we "should" work together, and that not to do so is "wrong." You might ask why we cannot just be "genetically determined" to cooperate, like the ants. The reason is simple. Ants are determined in their actions. But if something goes wrong, they cannot recoup and try again or another strategy. It doesn't really matter, because the loss of a few hundred nest mates is no big thing. Humans have gone the route of having but a few offspring that we cherish. We cannot afford to lose a few hundred kids if something goes wrong. So we have dimensions of freedom not possessed by ants, and part of our biological apparatus is having moral sentiments that guide us in familiar and in new social situations. (This incidentally has nothing to do with free will versus determinism. Mars Rover is determined but has a dimension of freedom when encountering obstacles. We are the same.)

So summing up: The scientific claim is that morality is natural. It is an adaptation produced by natural selection to make us good cooperators.

We are all designists now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The upside of Jürgen Klinsmann's retro numbers game (When Saturday Comes, 8/17/11)

Klinsmann, however, has proven himself even more retro than Bradley by stepping back several decades to abolish squad numbers. For the foreseeable future, the US will line up numbered one through 11, with no names printed on the backs of their shirts.

"One of the goals of the roster for this game and moving forward is to create competition at each position," Klinsmann said before his debut match against Mexico, a mediocre clash that ended 1-1, and which never stood a chance of replicating June's mighty Gold Cup final between the same two teams. "There are many players who are established, as well as many players who will get opportunities, and we want there to be a healthy contest for spots on the roster." In other words, it was a standard coaching move to state that we're starting again, and that past reputations will count for nothing. Whether the enthusiasm was so high at the US Soccer Federation and shirt manufacturer Nike - both financial beneficiaries of the inexplicable habit among fans of having a sportsman's identity branded on their backs - is another question. But having seemingly satisfied Klinsmann's principal demand of complete control over the US programme, there's not much they can do about it.

As with American football, just get the system right. The players don't matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


The Question: How long can Spain's football dynasty last?: The success and technical expertise of Spain's youth sides suggest the country will rule football for the next decade at least (Jonathan Wilson, 16 August 2011, The Guardian)

So what caused the decline? Domenech never seemed an easy fit for the job. The transition from a great generation to the next is never easy. There was, fairly evidently, a loss of hunger from the older, successful generation, and a sense of entitlement from younger players, born into an environment in which winning was the norm. But there was something also about the way the game was played that raised questions about Clairefontaine, something Matt Spiro explains in detail in issue two of The Blizzard.

There were suggestions that players were being picked for physical rather than technical qualities. The 5ft 7in Marvin Martin, who has impressed recently for the senior side, failed to get into Clairefontaine because he failed one test: the x-ray that predicts growth. As Spiro makes clear, it is slightly more complex than that, and Clairefontaine actually seems more open to small technical players than many of the club academies, but the whole race row that erupted in April had its roots in a discussion over whether French youth football was too focused on physicality. And although France have failed to reach the finals of three successive European Under-21 Championships, the performance of the Under-20 side in reaching the semi-finals of this World Cup suggests not too much is amiss (even if they were thumped 4-1 by Colombia in their opening game).

Still, the 5ft 7in detail resonates, given that is the height of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva and Lionel Messi, the players who have guided Spain and/or Barcelona to world domination. Francisco Filho, the coach who was instrumental in establishing Clairefontaine before moving to Manchester United in 2001, is adamant that La Masia, the training facility that is the heart of Barcelona's youth system, follows similar principles to the French academies: drilling technique, playing constant small-sided games, having players train constantly with the ball rather than running laps or shuttles or working in the gym. The difference seems to be that it, and the Spanish game in general, is more prepared to give smaller players their chance. Seven of Spain's starting XI against Brazil in the Under-20 quarter-final were under 6ft.

It is a simplistic theory, but perhaps, particularly at youth level, smaller players have to think more than their larger opponents, and so they develop football intelligence earlier. (England, I note with a shudder, had the tallest squad at the Under-20 World Cup). Since the heyday of Clairefontaine, the offside rule has been radically liberalised, something that has had the effect of stretching the effective playing area from around 35-40 yards to around 60, creating more space and allowing smaller players to play.

And yet teams still try to play the offsides trap? Obviously defenses should switch to a system with two central defensive backs in front of the goal and two defensive midfielders in front of them. Because these players are going to be less mobile they can be bigger and as offenses are forced to play balls in from the wings, instead of making direct runs, the shrimps up forward will be useless against the defensive giants. This evolution is particularly well suited to Amnerica, which can easily field bigger and more physical players at both ends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM



Someone told me that if I really wanted to understand how Cuba was changing I should visit Papito the hairdresser. I ended up in a quiet Old Havana street of shuttered houses in varying states of repair. Some were literally falling down, but there was building work in progress here, too: further evidence of the restoration programme that is bringing some of the near-mortally neglected buildings back to life.

I reached what I thought must be Papito's door. Two chickens caged under an upturned crate clucked gently on the cobbles outside. Some kids who had been playing baseball in the street capered past me up some crumbling stone steps and into an adjacent doorway. At the end of the street I could make out the imposing shadow of a statue of General Máximo Gómez on his horse. Behind it, Atlantic spray shot up in the air over the cars that puttered up and down the Malecón.

The salon would be discreet (there is no sign) were it not for the plaque outside the front door that commemorates what Gilberto Valladares Reina, known to all as "Papito", has done for this neighbourhood--which gives you a clue that he's more than your average barber. Climb the creaking stairs to his first-floor premises and you begin to get the picture. This is not just a salon, but also a commissioning art gallery (the theme is hairdressing). It's also a museum of social history, showcasing ancient cameras and typewriters (and hairdressing equipment) that might still be in service elsewhere in Havana, but have here been accumulated and displayed for their historical interest. And it's also a hairdressing school.

"Hairdressing is what saved me," says Papito, who is gym-built and charismatic, and sports a bewilderingly complicated utility-belt of hair-related tools. "I hated school. I ran away a lot. I got into trouble. And if someone hadn't taught me this trade I think I would be in worse trouble right now. So I wanted others to benefit from the advantages I had."

He currently has 11 pupils, all recruited from the deprived streets immediately surrounding the salon. He's already opened a second salon across the street where his students can train, and, in a third building, a second art gallery that also doubles as a community gym. In a way he's a kind of magnate, with two crucial distinctions: first, every one of his premises has at least two different uses; second, every one of his businesses benefits the community at large. Which might explain why, after initial suspicion, the state has so enthusiastically sanctioned his projects.

"If they see that this kind of social enterprise works, and that it's good for the community, they'll be better prepared for the next thing that comes along," he says. "But they need to be shown the examples."

This is trailblazing stuff. Cuba nationalised retail business in 1968, after which any form of private enterprise, from renting out a room in your house to selling bananas from a barrow, could be deemed "speculation". Everybody broke the rules, because you couldn't not if you wanted to survive, but if you were dobbed in by a "reliable source" you were in trouble. However, since late 2010, and facing public-sector redundancies, the government has been tentatively encouraging small-scale private enterprise. Things are moving slowly, partly because old bureaucratic habits die hard (the red tape is excruciating), but now you can apply for a licence to run a coffee shop or a snack bar that will be more than just a workers' collective.

People call the protean language of the regime Granmática (Granma being the state newspaper that is named after the implausible little pleasure boat that brought Fidel, Che and 80 other revolutionaries over from Mexico to start the revolution). And the expression favoured by Granmática when the issue of reform comes up is "updating the revolution". It is reform born of necessity: changes are made not because the regime wants to make them, but because it has to. That Cuban resourcefulness extends from those in high office stretching their definition of what revolution actually means, to people like Papito, who will benefit most from the new entrepreneurial spirit because they're the ones most prepared to test its limits. As so often before, Cubans are evolving, and adapting, and making the best of the situation. They have, after all, known worse times than these.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


The World's Best Soccer Team: Using Math to Crack the Barca Code (Cordt Schnibben, 8/12/11, Der Spiegel)

Pincers Engulfing the Opposition

This seemingly automatic passing game results from a system drilled into the team through thousands of hours of training. Regardless of whether Barcelona is playing Real Madrid, FC Copenhagen or Arsenal, the total passes completed during the 90 minutes -- printed by the tracking system onto a sheet of paper -- yields the same image; compact like an oil painting and identical like a fingerprint. The center circle always appears as an interconnected hub of passes, and further forward a pair of pincers appears that engulf the opponents. After 90 minutes, other teams leave behind a much less uniform image that reflects an increasingly haphazard passing game. Real Madrid sometimes paint a passing network that is thicker on the left than on the right or vice versa, and sometimes it is very tightly concentrated around the penalty box, but it always depends on the opposing team and its tactics.

This basic geometric order is the constant in Barcelona's game, whereas the disorder of street football is often found in that of other teams. After minutes of routine passing the team can launch into attacks with extreme speed, attacks that are as unpredictable as a lightning strike. Football players who have faced Barcelona on the pitch tell of how inaccessible their opponents were, how seamless their game was, and how quiet they were.

Barcelona's players communicate through their passes; every pass speaks physically to their team mates. "Our grouping isn't right," says a ball that Xavi allows to bounce back to his passing team mate. "Wait a bit," "Now we're positioned just right," "Run to this area," "Heads up, we're about to make a dash for goal," "Attack!" -- this is how they speak amongst themselves when they play cross passes, back passes, hard passes, diagonal passes, and passes down the pitch.

This alternation between geometry and anarchy is the allure of their style, and because the team lets this strategy playfully run wild, the repetition of the same pass patterns over and over can be rather entertaining. Nevertheless, danger always lurks behind this easy-going, relaxed façade. The strategy is meant to wear out the opponents by forcing them to run after the ball time and again; "negative running," as the coaches call it, is demotivating. Occasionally Barcelona meet a team that can endure this mental torment, whose trainer is well-versed in psychological warfare. When this happens, the methods used to entrance and disarm opponents against a violent and sudden sprint towards goal can backfire, leading to a self-hypnosis of the Barcelona players.

A Repetitive Dull Passing Game

This is precisely what happened in the second half of the cup final. Barcelona passed and passed, created angle upon angle, let the ball run, created scoring opportunities, scored an offside goal, but the longer the game went on, the more their wonderful passing game became pointless, repetitive, dull.

This time the Madrid players appeared to be immune to the mockery of the long ball retention and the derision of the Barcelona fans, who cheered every pass as if Barca were the elegant torero and Madrid the witless bull. Mourinho's players grouped together and moved forward as one unit, as if there were ropes strung between them. In addition, Real hardly committed any fouls -- unlike normally against Barcelona, when they invariably end up with 10 men or less on the field.

Mourinho had drilled contempt for this endless passing game into his players. For him, ball possession in games against Barcelona means little. As coach of Inter Milan in last year's semi-finals his team had beaten Barcelona, proving how a continuous carousel of passing can be rendered useless. Let them play until they get dizzy from their constant passing, and then start scoring.

Once when he was asked what his idea of beautiful football was, Mourinho took a piece of paper and drew four thick lines from side to side. Vertical, horizontal, vertical, horizontal, goal. This is how FC Porto, Chelsea, and Inter Milan all played under his leadership, and this is how he won six league titles the Champions League twice with his various teams. It is how Real Madrid managed to win 1-0 in extra time in the cup final. Vertical, horizontal, vertical, horizontal. Then Ronaldo with the header.

Counter-attacking and dominating are the two primary systems for football teams worldwide. Teams with a good attacking game attempt to maintain ball possession and beat their opponents through a series of passes, while those who favor the first strategy let the other team keep the ball, wait for a mistake, and then pounce to exploit it.

When not playing against Barcelona, Real Madrid rack up around 60 percent ball possession in the La Liga and Champions League games. But when his players face Barca, Mourinho goes on the counter-attack and accepts his team's temporary inferiority. However, before and after the games he alleges that Barcelona, their advertising partners UNICEF and Uefa, the game's governing body in Europe, are all biased against his team.

Mourinho Stirred Up Hatred

Mourinho stirred up hatred -- and there is no other word for it -- between the two clubs before the first semi-final game in the Champions League by predicting that Barcelona would have one chance to beat Madrid: if his side lost a player to a red card.

And that is exactly what happened in the 61st minute to Pepe, who is usually key in breaking up opponents' attacks from his position in the center of defense; up until then Madrid had seen 144 successful passes and 56 failed attempts, while Barcelona had managed 467 successful passes and 56 failed attempts. However, Barca only created five scoring opportunities, while Madrid managed three by playing on the counter-attack. Despite 70 percent ball possession, Barcelona had proven to be no better at scoring than Madrid. In any case, Barcelona's performance appeared to be so oppressively superior that the Madrid fans, a rather non-committal and unenthused audience, cheered every clearance their team made, even if it went out of play.

Up until the 61st minute Barcelona played exactly as they always do. The carousel of passes was better than in the first half of the Cup Final because they better resisted Madrid's attempts to break up their plays, and they also sought out more one-on-one physical duels, which they normally consider to be beneath them. In this game they fouled even more than Mourinho's players.

Barcelona added physical roughness to the psychological terror of their passing and in so doing stole the self-confidence away from Madrid, the same team that had weathered the constant waves of attacking in the cup final with stoic imperturbability.

(1) You basically don't ever have to have watched a game to be able to come up with the strategy that thwarts the best team in the world.

(2) Teams can't stick to that strategy because they're too frail psychologically.

(3) The ref will decide the game because he'll always favor the bigger team.

Childish, girlish, and crooked is a tough sell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Newport Jazz 2011: Joey DeFrancesco Trio, Live In Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, 8/06/11, NPR)

Not much in jazz combines the churchy moan and shaking hip quite like a Hammond B-3 organ. And Joey DeFrancesco is one of its modern masters -- he grew up around the instrument since birth (his father is also a jazz organist), cut his first major-label album in his teens and has been honing his innate swing instincts since then


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Ortega y Gasset’s Metaphysical Cure for Invertebrate Cultures (Pedro Blas González, winter 2011, University Bookman)

Ortega is quick to point out that all political, in fact, all social activity always recoils back into metaphysics. His collected work exhibits a measured and rational account of reality that is often absent from other thinkers who dabble in political philosophy. It is precisely for this reason that The Revolt of the Masses is anathema to the political catch phrases of the twentieth century. Ortega juxtaposes words like mass, minority, rebellion, and social justice with such currently unpopular, yet timeless ideas as nobility of spirit, meritocracy, duty, individuality, and character. To judge this profound and nuanced book by its cover, one would think that materialists of all denominations would be enthralled with such a work, or at least its alluring title. That is not the case.

There is no denying that man is imbued with a metaphysical—and hence an existential—subjectivity that allows for individuality. This basic existential reality is grounded in our ability to view ourselves as conscious entities. In other words, man is capable of self-knowledge. This auto-knosis cannot be separated from our ability to fashion values for ourselves. In addition, our existential condition is temporally driven: man is a future-oriented being. Ortega argues that this pole of human existence is always put to the test by the conditions brought about by human agglomeration. Therefore, the matrix of Ortega’s dual notions of mass man and noble man is rooted in the understanding that man is an existential being that can transcend his own temporal circumstances.

One reason The Revolt of the Masses does not receive the attention it merits is that Ortega’s thought is a refutation of philosophical materialism. He embraces metaphysical conceptions of personhood and the perennial, anthro-philosophical question, “What is man?” It is appropriate to point out that Ortega rejects the sociological view of man founded on the model of the natural sciences. His thought does not begin with societal institutions and only subsequently acknowledge the role of the individual, as do social-political materialists. Instead, his concern is with the nature of the individual, in both his splendor and his depravity, and only then with the contribution the individual makes to society.

This understanding is criticized by positivists as being nothing more than a bourgeois metaphysical supposition. But from the first page of The Revolt of the Masses the author asserts, “It is important from the start to avoid giving to the words, ‘rebellion,’ ‘masses,’ and ‘social power’ a meaning exclusively or primarily political.” Ortega’s attempt at creating a constructive and rational foundation for political philosophy is basis enough for Marxists, socialists, and even today’s liberals to brand him with a slew of spirited names in attempts to discredit his work. This is lamentable. Fortunately, Ortega is not alone in this respect. In scholarship, as in all other interpersonal human endeavors, the role that good will plays must remain a prerequisite of engagement.

The import of his disclaimer in the opening pages of this classic philosophical text is to make clear that his terms mass man and its counterpart, noble man, apply irrespective of social standing, formal education, wealth, race, or gender. Ortega’s thought is the result of careful philosophical analysis. In turn, he views the mass mind as believing “that it has the right to impose and to give force of law to notions born in the cafés.” Having asserted this, he begins his essential assault on the sacred cows of philosophical materialism.

Ortega traces the nature of the masses back to the Roman Empire. The masses, as a matter of sheer number, have always existed, but he contends that they did not begin to direct the course of history until the French Revolution:

The individuals who made up these multitudes existed, but not qua multitude. Scattered about the world in small groups, or solitary, they lived a life, to all appearances, divergent, dissociate, apart.

This pattern, he argues, has shifted and has consequently inverted the order of human reality. The movement of the masses into the “places of relatively refined creation of human culture” has meant that the place of the noble man has been relegated to that of the “chorus.”

However, in true Ortegan fashion, he makes his case with metaphysical reflection, not with political ideology. He writes of the masses, “The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and impose them wherever it will.” The mass man, he reasons, is that character type who refuses to demand more of himself—one who does not attempt to transcend himself in lieu of objectifying material forces, and who expects the same attitude in others. Instead, the mass man “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified, and select.” Hence, the concept of the multitude is often nothing other than the reality of quantitative agglomeration being guided by social inertia. Ortega refers to this condition as indicative of “the social mass.”

It is the success of capitalism we have to fear, not its failure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


America's Greatest Mystery Writer (Joseph Bottum, May 1, 2007, First Things)

There is a case to be made that the Uncle Abner stories--the twenty-two tales of the Virginia hills written by Melville Davisson Post between 1911 and 1928--are among the finest mysteries ever written.

Ellery Queen certainly thought so, calling the stories "an out-of-this-world target for future detective-story writers." In Cargoes for Crusoes, a failed attempt back in 1924 to teach literary critics about the quality of the fiction that was appearing in popular magazines, Grant Overton called the publication of Post's "The Doomdorf Mystery" a major literary event. In a later survey of the genre--the 1941 Murder for Pleasure, a book that succeeded where Overton's had failed, convincing critics to take mysteries more seriously as literature--Howard Haycraft declared that Uncle Abner was, after Edgar Allan Poe's Arsène Dupin, "the greatest American contribution" to the cast of fictional detectives. When William Faulkner, discouraged by slow sales of his highbrow fiction, tried his hand at thrillers, Post was the model to which he turned.

And yet, high as Post's tales rank in general mystery fiction, they stand at the very top of the subgenre of religious mysteries. In the deliberate tone of the stories and the matching of the writing's pitch to its subject, in the uniting of the religious element with the detective's action and the sense of good's battle against evil in the solution of a crime, only G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown belongs beside Melville Davisson Post's Uncle Abner.

The stories starring Uncle Abner are hard to find. When Post brought eighteen of them out as Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries in 1918, the volume stayed in print for almost twenty years--and then seemed suddenly and mysteriously to disappear, despite the praise it continued to receive from discerning critics like Haycraft. A 1962 reprint with an introduction by Anthony Boucher made little impression before slipping away. A University of California volume from the 1970s, long ago exhausted, is the only complete edition, adding the four magazine tales Post wrote after 1918. A partial collection in Dover Press' mystery reprint series is out of stock, with no apparent plans for republishing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM

Newport Jazz 2011: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Live In Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, August 7, 2011, NPR)

In New Orleans, jazz is a building block, a musical foundation. Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, fully embraces the future-funk and grimy rock backbeats which bring crowds to their feet. But at his core, he's also a phenomenal jazz trombonist and singer from the Tremé neighborhood. Stardom awaits with the upcoming release of For True; here, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue preview their headlining Newport Jazz Festival set with this more intimate Quad Stage show.


Amazon: Trombone Shorty

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM

Newport Folk 2011: Trampled By Turtles, Live In Concert (NPR, 7/31/11)

The Duluth, Minn., band Trampled by Turtles is built for speed, harnessing both the blazing pace of punk and the impeccable dexterity of bluegrass. But there's real charm and melody to the songs on its breakthrough album Palomino, which starts fast -- with the irresistibly accelerating "Wait So Long" -- and keeps the energy up throughout.


August 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


We are coming to the end of modernity (David Warren, 8/07/11, Ottawa Citizen)

My little treatise for today - which I will entitle, De fato ("On destiny") - is inspired by a Dutchman from the 17th century. Huig de Groot, or Hugo Grotius as we say in Latin or English, is as large a figure in the history of international law as one might hope to see. As ever, given my day job as a political commentator, often on international affairs, I was trying to understand the legal principles which lie behind, or might possibly lie behind, the life of nations. You know: war and peace, stuff like that. (Libya and Syria were on my mind.)

Also as ever, I found myself distracted by an issue quite different from the one which I was supposedly researching. Not, Hugo Grotius and the legal basis for the intervention of one state into the affairs of another; but rather, Hugo Grotius and the whole idea of what is a state.

He did not write or even draft international law, such as it is. The world does not work like that; one man never decides everything. What made him such a pioneer was his ability to ask very interesting questions. (His answers to them were subsequently amended over centuries of European debate.)

But what interests me about him today, is not what he questioned but, as it were, what he didn't question. He didn't question the "nation state" as the irreducible responsible unit in world affairs. And his failure to question this was, to my mind, perhaps his greatest intellectual innovation. [...]

I puzzle often about the origin of things. I do so because, unless we can understand how, when, where, and why things started, we cannot begin to think behind, around, and ahead of them. We will, in this case, take the "nation state" entirely for granted, as something that always was, and therefore always will be. When in fact, under current circumstances, its days are numbered.

...only a little over a century after his death, we had already established the idea that war is just wherever the state is not governed by popular sovereignty. What we're nearing is the end stages of the realization of that fundamental principle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Realpolitik in a Fantasy World: How George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels explain our foreign policy. (ALYSSA ROSENBERG | JULY 18, 2011, Foreign Policy)

When George R.R. Martin began his epic fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, back in 1996, he started with a domestic story about a king who was struggling to manage the country he'd seized in rebellion and the man he chose to help him rule. Fifteen years after the publication of the first book in that series, A Game of Thrones, Martin's series is an Emmy-nominated HBO show of the same name, the fifth New York Times-bestselling book has just been released (A Dance With Dragons, out last week), and the story has evolved from a dark domestic fairy tale of wicked queens and kings to a sweeping geopolitical mega-saga with complex and shifting rules of engagement -- and a surprisingly large number of lessons for the foreign-policy-inclined reader.

It turns out that, apart from the dragons and giant magical wolves, the Westeros of Martin's novels is a familiar place: The challenges of international relations are pretty much the same whether you're an American president or a feudal king; whether your national debt is due to the Chinese government or to a mystically powerful foreign bank that employs professional assassins; whether your unsavory trading partners are oil cartels or slavers; and whether your enemies are motivated by a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam or by a priestess who sees the future in sacrificial fires.

The novels are framed by a very sophisticated and complex IR philosophy, which questions the efficacy of moral statecraft in a world scorched by dragons and stalked by zombies -- and, worse, by truly evil men and women. As combatants who range from Bush-era idealists to Muammar al-Qaddafi-style pragmatists battle for supremacy, it's difficult to make final judgments about what approach will win out: The game of thrones is far from over (Martin plans two more books in the series). But the crucial point, at least up through these first five books, may actually be about soft power. If you want to keep a firm grip on the throne, don't let supposedly tangential things like trade, diplomacy, and immigration issues fall by the wayside. Herewith, a look at the brutal, practical foreign policy of Martin's rough-and-tumble world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Where Are All the Islamic Terrorists? (Charles Kurzman, 7/31/11, The Chronicle Review)

In the fields of Middle East and Islamic studies, bad news is good for business. The more that non-Muslims fear Islam, the more security threats are hyped, the more attention my colleagues and I get. Journalists want insights from "Islam experts" and "Middle East specialists," regardless of how remote our area of research is from the day's news. Universities are hiring--there were more than 40 tenure-track jobs last year in Middle East and Islamic studies. Federal research grants are plentiful, especially from the military and the Department of Homeland Security.

It all points to an inescapable conclusion: Martin Kramer was right. A decade ago, just after 9/11, he accused scholars of profiting from the Islamist violence that their political correctness prevented them from taking seriously: "How many resources within the university could they command if their phones stopped ringing and their deans did not see and hear them quoted in the national newspapers and on public radio? And how would enrollments hold up if Muslim movements failed to hit the headlines?"

Scholars are not the only ones to benefit from these headlines. Kramer, a former professor who now holds positions at two think tanks, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, benefits, too. Just like university deans, think-tank administrators and donors allocate resources based in part on presence in the news media. Kramer exemplifies this arrangement. Every time he sounds an alarm about Islamic radicalism, he helps raise public vigilance, and increase financial support for his institutions.

By contrast, I am in the awkward position of undermining the importance of my own field. My research finds that Islamic terrorism has not posed as large a threat as reporters and the public think--certainly not as large a threat as Al Qaeda and its affiliates intended. They routinely complain about the failure of Muslims to join their movement.

Of the 56 million people who die each year around the world, around two million die from HIV/AIDS. Nearly one million die from malaria. Almost three quarters of a million die from violence. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, terrorism peaked in 2007 with 23,000 fatalities, half of them in Iraq--a terrible toll, but not a leading cause of death.

In the United States, 15,000 people are murdered each year. Islamic terrorism, including the Beltway sniper attacks, has accounted for almost three dozen deaths in America since 9/11--a small fraction of the violence that the country experiences every year.

Islamophobia is a lucrative gig for the scaremongers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


When is a Window also a Touch Screen?: When Toyota, Fiat, and Cadillac decide the old-fashioned, noninteractive car window isn't good enough. (David Zax 07/30/2011, Technology Review)

We are entering an age when an image surrounded by a frame -- on your laptop, on your TV, on your tablet -- is almost expected to be interactive. Why then, hasn't that happened yet with windows? Several projects in the works, from car companies and designers, envision a time in the not-too-distant future when windows will be more like touchscreens. [...]

[Glasgow University's project] is slightly different -- rather than serving as a souped-up Gameboy to pacify the impatient passenger, GU wants to make the next generation of "heads-up displays" already familiar from the world of military aviation. These would be computer-screen like windshields for the driver of the vehicle to glean data (speed, fuel levels), without having to take his or her eyes off the road.

As The Engineer recently reported, it's a quest that's involving researchers across Europe, including the automaker Fiat and the glassmaker Saint-Gobin. At the heart of the project is an effort to commercialize 3-D nanostructures on the windows surface that "affect the brightness and direction of the light." Rather than projecting the display on the windshield, LEDs would emit light at the windshield's edge; the nanostructures imprinted on the glass would then emit the light in the proper locations to display information. The whole process would be more energy efficient than an old-school projection method. If the project works, it could also lead to brighter LED screens and even "dumb" windows that nonetheless let in more natural light (hence Saint-Gobin's interest).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


A stand against the fake and self-serving (Gerald Dawe, November 27, 2010, The Irish Times)

For those who come to Hill without prior notice a perfect place to start is with the Penguin Selected Poems; for those who know the Hill Country the announcement that his Collected Poems 1952-2012 will appear from Oxford University Press in 2013, marking his 80th year and 60 years of making poetry, is timely good news indeed.

Under the generic title of The Daybooks , Hill has also published (or in due course will have) a cluster of five volumes of which Oraclau/Oracles is the latest to appear; this in a fine hardback edition, under the imprint of Clutag Press.

Hill has been a force of, and forceful presence for, poetry, reminding the contemporary world of poetry's capacity to function as poetry; an art form that stands up for itself against the fake and the culturally self-serving. In a perhaps ironic sense Hill's very authority, based on his poetry's assumption of the continuing pressure of certain "big" issues - religious meaning and faith in a secularised society, the question of morality and community, the structure of history and the play of memory - may no longer register today. With shifting generational and popular expectations of poetry moving ever closer to an instantaneous responsiveness and emotional availability, an interior decoration equal in value to other forms of expression and adornment, Hill's demonstration that poetry can invoke and evoke greater demands upon the reader might be simply a thing of the past. While there are those who challenge the criteria on which Hill's own poems stand - cerebral, austerely introverted, politically retrospective and lost in an irretrievable time of England's imagined past - one can only say how much is unheard or unseen in such a reading. For Hill's poems are teeming with his present, and the cinematic vision of his writing shoots images on the mind's eye with spectacular video effect (he wrote Improvisations for Jimi Hendrix, after all).

In Oraclau/Oracles Hill explores the newly uncovered Welsh inheritance of his family background as the autobiographical finds its way in and out of local and imagined landscapes drawn from his life and reading: "A gale from out of Ireland ploughs up rough / Cardigan Bay: a following splendid rain / Beats us indoors."

And though the elegiac note of lament for those dead, such as BS Johnson, is never too far away, Oracles - shaped, it looks like, upon the template of John Donne's A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day, t hough extended into 144 stanzas - has all the dramatic beat of one man talking - to himself, to his love, in this time and place, but tracking back to his imaginative beginnings: "I who have swum in love-words shore to shore!"

A great poet of vision, Hill is obsessed with the lasting possibility of seeing things in the light of what is best in our cultural past and our understanding of what such a problematical term should mean, or once meant to a man such as Hill.

REVIEW: of Canaan by Geoffrey Hill (, 1/03/02)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Benedict XVI on Europe's future (George Weigel, Catholic Difference)

In remarks to Croatia's religious, political, business and cultural leaders in Zagreb's National Theater, the pope refined into six digestible propositions the case he has been making about religion-and-society ever since his election to the papacy in 2005:

1. Religious conviction is not something outside society; it is part of society's inner core: "Religion is not a separate area marked off from society ... (but) a natural element within society, constantly recalling the vertical dimension: attentive listening to God as the condition for seeking the common good, for seeking justice and reconciliation in the truth."

2. The human element in religion is imperfect and flawed; there is no shame in admitting this, for reason can help refine religious passion: "Religions need always to be purified according to their true essence in order to correspond to their true mission."

3. Ancient religions should welcome the political achievements of modernity while calling modernity to open its windows and doors to a world of transcendent truth and love: "... the great achievements of the modern age--the recognition and guarantee of freedom of conscience, of human rights, of the freedom of science and hence of a free society--should be confirmed and developed while keeping reason and freedom open to their transcendent foundation, so as to ensure that these achievements are not undone. ... The quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure on this critical point--conscience, on the way it is understood and the way it is informed."

4. "Conscience" is not a matter of determining what I want to do and then doing it; "conscience" is my search for truths that can be known to be true and then binding myself to those truths, which stand in judgment on me and on society: "If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse upon itself. If, on the other hand, conscience is rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings--in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny--then there is hope for the future."

5. Europe detached from its Christian roots will wither and die, for, in the name of a dessicated secularism, it will have cut itself off from one of the sources of its cultural vitality...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books (NPR, 8/11/11)

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

...and for an SF Top 10, I'd put:

The John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Dune by Frank Herbert (and none of his sequels)

1984 by George Orwell

The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons

The Children of Men by P.D. James

The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


Gaby Moreno: Tiny Desk Concert (Jasmine Garsd, August 15, 2011, NPR)

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Guatemalan musician Gaby Moreno at a venue in New York. It was a noisy place, and the artists who preceded Moreno were drowned out in the thick noise of bar patrons talking and laughing. And then Moreno took the stage, grabbed the mic, and chastised the audience for being disrespectful. Naturally, no one paid attention. And then she started belting out her songs, as if she had the voice of Louis Armstrong trapped in the tiniest possible body. The place went silent.

No matter how many times I listen to Gaby Moreno, I always react as if it were the first time: She's simply breathtaking. Her voice is passionate and stylistically malleable as she glides back and forth easily between bossa nova and bluesy rock. But she's not just a fantastic singer: Her lyrics have depth, a narrative storytelling style well beyond her years, and a passion that outshines her contemporaries.

August 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM

The five-albums test (Steven Hyden July 19, 2011, AV Club)

In practically every discussion that's taken place about pop music over the past 40 years, two rubrics have been used to assess an artist's greatness. The first is "popularity," which is the sum total of record sales, radio airplay, television appearances, social-media prominence, bedroom wall posters, and T-shirts worn by attractive high school girls and/or thirtysomething male burnouts. On this scale, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin (along with Bon Jovi and/or Iron Maiden) are the greatest bands of all time.

The second rubric is "critical respectability," which is the accumulation of positive record reviews, mentions in other bands' reviews as an important influence (often with the "-esque" modifier), and descriptions by Rolling Stone's David Fricke as "seminal" or "incendiary" in books and documentaries. Here, the greatest artists ever, again, are The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, along with The Velvet Underground, The Beach Boys, David Bowie (in his Berlin phase), and possibly Can or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

I'd like to humbly suggest a third rubric: the five-albums test. Here the ranks of great bands include, yes, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin ... and the MILF-serenading, one-hit-wonder Fountains of Wayne. [...]

My three favorite musical artists ever are Bob Dylan, Guided By Voices, and The Rolling Stones, and as much as I want them to pass the five-albums test, I'm not sure they deserve to. Let's look at GBV first: Everybody who cares about Robert Pollard's voluminous musical output pretty much agrees that he hit his peak with 1994's Bee Thousand, 1995's Alien Lanes, and 1996's Under The Bushes Under The Stars. In order to get to five straight records that are at least very good, we either have to include 1992's Propeller (which is great) and 1993's Vampire On Titus (which I like but it's not exactly great), or 1997's Mag Earwhig (great) and 1999's Do The Collapse (like it, not exactly great).

As for Dylan and the Stones, as much as I love almost everything they put out, if I'm thinking objectively, I don't think they pass, either. Dylan's epochal early run of '60s folk-singer records is marred by his-not-quite-not-there-yet self-titled debut and the preachy The Times They Are A-Changin', while his blazing late-'60s output falls just short with the pretty but slight Nashville Skyline. (Again, I love all of these records, but to preserve the sanctity of the five-albums test, I can't ignore their inherent weaknesses, even if I suspect that this will cause strangers on the Internet to make patronizing statements about my intelligence.)

With The Stones, there's a possible consecutive streak that begins with 1968's brilliant Beggars Banquet and ends with 1973's Goat's Head Soup. But Goat's Head Soup is really the first great "bad" Stones record, kicking off a series of great "bad" Stones records that includes 1974's It's Only Rock 'N' Roll and culminates with one of the best "bad" records ever, 1976's Black And Blue.

(Not to get sidetracked, but I feel like I need to briefly explain what a great "bad" record is: It's a record where the creators are clearly not fully engaged with the project, which is reflected in the degraded quality of the songwriting and musicianship and an overall feeling of boredom, detachment, or extremely undisciplined self-indulgence that's palpable in the music. That makes it "bad." But instead of making the record less enjoyable, this "badness" actually makes the album more fascinating--so long as the artist in question is a genius--because it provides insight into what makes the artist's "great" records great, and demonstrates how functional he or she is even when operating on a lower level of artistry/sobriety. That makes it great. Dylan's infamous 1970 debacle Self-Portrait is the Sgt. Pepper of great "bad" albums; the closest to a modern master of the form is Ryan Adams.)

I'm not saying the five-albums rubric is the superior measure of a musical artist's greatness (I'm not an idiot) nor am I saying that Dylan and the Stones don't deserve to be ranked among the greatest rockers ever. (Seriously, I'm not an idiot.) I just think that the five-albums test is an interesting lens through which to examine music history. But why five albums, instead of four or six? First of all, it's a nice round number, and nice round numbers are helpful for arbitrary (but fun!) discussions about music. Second, it just feels right, perhaps because there's a handy parallel with TV shows, which generally have to survive for five seasons in order to reach 100 episodes, which is the magic number for syndication.

Now, I realize that being widely syndicated isn't a perfect standard for TV quality--otherwise Becker would be a more important show historically than The Prisoner--and there are plenty of iconic shows that only lasted for a season or two, just as there are plenty of great bands that flamed out early but still burn bright in retrospect. You can liken the U.K. version of The Office with the Sex Pistols, Arrested Development with Nirvana, Freaks And Geeks with The La's, Deadwood with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Chappelle's Show with The Notorious B.I.G., The Honeymooners with Elvis Presley's Sun period, and the pioneering first season of NYPD Blue that starred David Caruso with the original 1969-70 incarnation of Neil Young and Crazy Horse that included the late guitarist Danny Whitten. But generally, the greatest and most beloved TV shows in history--Gunsmoke, Bonanza, 60 Minutes, All In The Family, M*A*S*H, Saturday Night Live, Cheers, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, ER, The Sopranos, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Friday Night Lights, and so on--held it together at a high level of quality for at least five seasons.

Huh? We'll concede The Simpsons and Gunsmoke, but, revealingly, MASH was unwatchable after Henry and Trapper left at the end of Season 3 and Cheers had peaked by the time Diane dumped Frazier at the end of Season 3. Three would seem the maximum you can get out of a show (The Wire, wisely, had finished its story arc by the end of Season Three and changed to different stories), though two looks optimal (see Life on Mars and Crime Story) and Lost was essentially done after the first episode of Season Two.

As for bands, only a handful of albums have ever had more than about four decent songs and it might be that no one has ever had five consecutive with as many as four, though we could be convinced otherwise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM

VERMONT GRITTY (via Nic Doak):

Brattleboro: Vermont's Hotbed Of Fictional Crime (Neda Ulaby, August 1, 2011, NPR)

Brattleboro, Vt., is a bucolic town -- pricked with picturesque church steeples -- and home to a vibrant arts community. So it's an unlikely setting for gruesome murder and gritty crime, but that's just what goes on in Archer Mayor's Brattleboro-based Joe Gunther detective series. [...]

Mayor's definitely a local celebrity -- it's not uncommon for people to stop him on the street to ask for autographs. But one of the problems with setting mysteries in this quaint, red-brick Victorian town is that it's actually so nice here, says Mayor.

"Brattleboro, and Vermont in general, is such an inordinately pleasant place," Mayor says. "I'll take you to a bad part of town and you will be astonished at how pleasant it looks."

The "bad" part of town includes an old parlor organ factory, a row of somber slate buildings, and some mildly dilapidated rooming houses. Mayor calls one of them the Misery Hilton. It appeared in his book Gatekeeper, about a surge in Vermont's heroin traffic. A crumbling old cemetery sits atop a hill where Mayor says you can get "a birds eye view of what the dead can see ... if only they could." Sometimes real police work goes on in the cemetery, Mayor says.

"People do illicit things in graveyards for obvious reasons -- they're off the beaten path, a lot of people find them creepy and therefore don't visit them much," Mayor says. "So if you want to do an illicit transaction of one nature or another you might as well do it in a cemetery."

Back in downtown Brattleboro, Mayor points out Arch Street, which he says, "is really not a street at all but a crumbling mess of debris and compacted soil alongside and parallel to a curve of the railroad that runs through the backside of Brattleboro."

There are broken windows, graffiti. Maybe even a crumpled up Ben & Jerry's ice cream wrapper on the ground. This is Vermont-style gritty.

Amazon Archer Mayor Page

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


We haven't done this in awhile, but always get some good suggestions when we ask what you're listening to, reading and watching:

(1) iPod:

(2) Bookshelf:

(3) TV:

Rick Stein's Spain

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Arturo O'Farrill And The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra On JazzSet (Becca Pulliam, 7/21/11, Jazz Set)

"After years of trying, finally getting [to Newport] was special," the driven and accomplished bandleader/pianist Arturo O'Farrill says as he thinks back on this sweltering set from August 2010.

O'Farrill is at the center of a dynasty between his father, composer Chico O'Farrill (1921-2001), and his son Adam, on trumpet here today. Zack, a younger son, plays drums, while Arturo's wife, Alison Deane, is a classical pianist and professor at City College in New York.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Critics slam low-cost CT scans for smokers as marketing ploy (Phil Galewitz, 8/16/11, Kaiser Health News)

Hospitals have marked down the CT scan - which typically costs as much as $1,000 -to help cash-paying customers. The test is not covered by Medicare or private insurers. Neither the American Cancer Society nor the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts that examines the effectiveness of preventive tests, has recommended the screening, although both groups are studying the issue.

"You have to ask the question whose interests are being served here," Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice researcher who studies cancer screening. "Screening tests are a great way to recruit new patients that produce revenues with follow up biopsies and procedures."

Welch and other experts worry that hospitals pushing the low-cost CT scans will focus on promoting the benefits of the lung cancer study to patients rather than warn about its costs and complications.

The biggest risk of the test is the possibility of false positives -- a scan that finds an abnormality in the lung that turns out not to be cancer. Nearly one in four people in the national study had a false positive from the CT scans, which often can lead to a biopsy or other invasive procedures that carry their own health risks. Another concern is added radiation exposure from scans.

In addition, there are economic considerations: The results of the study suggest that more than 300 heavy smokers will need to be screened to prevent just one death from lung cancer over a five-year period.

Dr. Peter Bach, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who evaluates testing for the cancer society, said the hospitals offering the low-cost CT scans may be unfairly inducing patients to have a test they don't need.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


A Health Care Scourge We Can Eliminate Now (James K. Glassman, Jul. 21 2011 , Forbes)

At a time when health care costs are soaring and the health system is under enormous pressure to reduce expenditures, HAIs are an obvious target. Sometime in the future, we may be able to find a cure for pancreatic cancer or Alzheimer's, but right now we have the tools to attack the infections that are killing tens of thousands in hospitals.

The sources of those infections are well-known. They include "indwelling" medical devices such as catheters, the transmission of communicable diseases between patients and health care workers, and the overuse or improper use of antibiotics.

"There's no silver bullet" that can eliminate HAIs, wrote Mark Chassin, president of the the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits health care organizations and programs, and Edward Ludwig, chairman of BD, a large medical technology company. But employing a series of best practices can lead to success, they say. It's up to the private sector and government to mobilize the solutions.

Start with the main problem. The World Health Organization has found that three-fifths of HAIs are caused by drug-resistant bacteria. These culprits are causing urinary tract and bloodstream infections and pneumonia.

The trick is to find quickly which antibiotics work and don't work. If bacteria are resistant to an antibiotic, they allow patients to be infectious longer. And these infectious patients spread resistant bacteria to other patients in a hospital setting.

Technology is providing some effective answers. Electronic clinical surveillance systems allow doctors to identify drug-resistant bacteria in patients quickly and stop infections before they get out of hand. One such example, Hospira's TheraDoc Platform, pioneered the technology at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in 2003, and now the software is in use at the Mayo Clinic and about 300 other institutions.

Pennsylvania implemented a mandatory reporting program for HAIs that included such surveillance systems and found that in 2009 HAI rates dropped 12.5% at the state's acute-care hospitals.

A major success story is the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System, which, working with the CDC, cut MRSA infections by 60%. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that's resistant to the antibiotics typically used for treatment.

How? CDC Director Frieden cites measures that include "strict attention to hand hygiene, enhanced surveillance for infections, effective use of isolation rooms, and behavior modification techniques for healthcare workers to emphasize the importance of the new procedures."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Autumn of the Empire (Joshua Clover, 18th Jul 2011, Los Angeles Review of Books)

It is the pivot of the early seventies that concerns Robert Brenner, arguably capital's most lucid contemporary historian, as well. He lingers there with remarkable and sustained insight in The Economics of Global Turbulence. The brute situation, far more striking than most will admit, can be summarized in a single stark fact: During the "Long Boom" of 1948-1973, the lowest annual profit rate in the U.S. industrial sector was still higher than the highest such rate in the ensuing period, the "Long Bust." This fact is all the more shocking for being so contrary to the largely accepted story -- often centered around the Reagan presidency, or Clinton's "new economy," depending on one's party preference -- of recent American history as one of minor falls and major lifts.

Brenner's argument about how this came to pass is rigorous and buttressed by extraordinarily careful empirical research. With the Long Boom came an intensification of capital's intrinsic logic. Brutal competition between industrial firms led to accelerating investment in the latest technology, the newest factory -- or Fabrik, to use the more suggestive German word. This endlessly expensive struggle over fabrication methods replaced workers with machines, drove down profit margins, and correspondingly forced companies to increase the scale of production in order to earn anything at all. Less profit per widget, ergo more widgets! But alas, fewer industrial workers to buy them up: a version of the "general glut" that nineteenth century economists mostly believed was impossible.

To this point, Brenner's study follows rather closely the theory of capitalist crisis developed by Karl Marx around the ambiguously named "Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Decline." Marx's theory presented a challenge to the various prophets of equilibrium. Two centuries ago, French political economist Jean-Baptiste Say forwarded the proposition that supply and demand always balance themselves, because "products are paid for with products." Marx disproved "Say's Law" rather decisively. Marx being anathema to the doxa of professional economists, it would have to be disproved yet again, this time by a fellow bourgeois economist, John Maynard Keynes himself, before it could be put away (only to return, zombie-like, surviving against the massive weight of evidence in some quarters -- cough Chicago cough).

Marx argued that the tendency toward volatility and crisis was an intrinsic contradiction in capitalism's mode of generating value. On the one hand, real profit (that is, systemic accumulation, as opposed to one merchant merely getting the better of another) could only arise from the extraction of surplus value from productive labor, to be realized as profit in the market. On the other, the coercive competition among enterprises compelled a struggle for greater productivity -- which meant more and more efficient machines, organizational forms, and use of raw materials, requiring ever fewer productive laborers. Agribusiness is the great historical example of this, from the cotton mill to the "green revolution," but the tendency exists across the economy. Since productive laborers are both the lone source of new value and are ceaselessly expelled from the production process, crisis is inevitable.

To resolve this dynamic, a quite different kind of equilibrium was proposed. This is the "creative destruction" celebrated by its Austrian apostle, Joseph Schumpeter, in which the economy shakes itself apart amidst much destruction of value and great human immiseration, then reassembles itself so as to renew the process of accumulation. As profit plummets toward zero, a given line -- automobiles, say, or consumer electronics -- should "shake out," with the weaker firms folding up their factories and heading home. Such a fratricidal fab-war, according to the theory, should restore profitability and even serve as a forcing house for the invention of new lines to tempt the consumer.

Why, then, did this not happen in the seventies, as the U.S. economy went through a bruising series of shocks and declines? In an irony of position, Brenner's history from the left approaches, as if the political spectrum were a torus, the far right ideas of the Austrian School of Economics (in particular their "liquidationist" belief that the government should never intervene against the failure of businesses, lest inefficiencies be unnaturally preserved). But Brenner is less interested in libertarian prescriptions than in a fact-based description of what happened and why. He persuasively debunks the idea that industrial profits were squeezed by wages; indeed, real wages have stagnated and even decreased in the last four decades. This has been concealed only in the sphere of rhetoric: Statistics about "household earnings" desperately hope you won't notice that households now require multiple incomes to keep up. That wasn't feminism sending women into the tender mercies of the labor market -- or rather, it was, but at the same time the migration to the workplace was part of a protracted disaster for the working classes, masquerading as opportunity.

So, let's review: beginning in the late-60s/early 70s, you have a revolution in which women demand that they be added into the workplace. This at the exact same time that blacks have finally defeated Jim Crow and are themselves being fully integrated into the workforce. Incredibly enough, the US economy manages to do all this, though at the inevitable cost in productivity and profits. After all, you can't just add millions of employees for purely social, rather than economic, reasons and expect it not to impact your bottom line. Now, if your primary goal as a society was profits and individual income rates, this could indeed be seen as a disastrous result. But, if your primary goal was self-fulfillment, or what we might call "the pursuit of happiness," then it seems more like a spectacular success.

Of course, as we might have predicted, women aren't finding that employment makes them all that happy after all, while men are discovering that not working doesn't suck, and families are finding that having both parents working doesn't increase happiness. Meanwhile, technological innovation and globalization have served to drive down the cost of living and vastly improve the quality of life, and home ownership, IRAs, 401ks, etc. have sky-rocketed household wealth. It is against this backdrop that we've shaken off a good bit of our excess employment and corporate profits have managed to boom despite an ostensible Depression.

This is exactly what creative destruction feels like.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Rick Perry's Army of God: A little-known movement of radical Christians and self-proclaimed prophets wants to infiltrate government, and Rick Perry might be their man. (Forrest Wilder, August 03, 2011, Texas Observer)

On September 28, 2009, at 1:40 p.m., God's messengers visited Rick Perry.

On this day, the Lord's messengers arrived in the form of two Texas pastors, Tom Schlueter of Arlington and Bob Long of San Marcos, who called on Perry in the governor's office inside the state Capitol. Schlueter and Long both oversee small congregations, but they are more than just pastors. They consider themselves modern-day apostles and prophets, blessed with the same gifts as Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles.

The pastors told Perry of God's grand plan for Texas. A chain of powerful prophecies had proclaimed that Texas was "The Prophet State," anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government. And the governor would have a special role.

The day before the meeting, Schlueter had received a prophetic message from Chuck Pierce, an influential prophet from Denton, Texas. God had apparently commanded Schlueter--through Pierce--to "pray by lifting the hand of the one I show you that is in the place of civil rule."

Gov. Perry, it seemed.

Schlueter had prayed before his congregation: "Lord Jesus I bring to you today Gov. Perry. ... I am just bringing you his hand and I pray Lord that he will grasp ahold of it. For if he does you will use him mightily."

And grasp ahold the governor did. At the end of their meeting, Perry asked the two pastors to pray over him. As the pastors would later recount, the Lord spoke prophetically as Schlueter laid his hands on Perry, their heads bowed before a painting of the Battle of the Alamo. Schlueter "declared over [Perry] that there was a leadership role beyond Texas and that Texas had a role beyond what people understand," Long later told his congregation.

So you have to wonder: Is Rick Perry God's man for president?

Schlueter, Long and other prayer warriors in a little-known but increasingly influential movement at the periphery of American Christianity seem to think so. The movement is called the New Apostolic Reformation. Believers fashion themselves modern-day prophets and apostles. They have taken Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on ecstatic worship and the supernatural, and given it an adrenaline shot.

The movement's top prophets and apostles believe they have a direct line to God. Through them, they say, He communicates specific instructions and warnings. When mankind fails to heed the prophecies, the results can be catastrophic: earthquakes in Japan, terrorist attacks in New York, and economic collapse. On the other hand, they believe their God-given decrees have ended mad cow disease in Germany and produced rain in drought-stricken Texas.

Their beliefs can tend toward the bizarre. Some consider Freemasonry a "demonic stronghold" tantamount to witchcraft. The Democratic Party, one prominent member believes, is controlled by Jezebel and three lesser demons. Some prophets even claim to have seen demons at public meetings. They've taken biblical literalism to an extreme. In Texas, they engage in elaborate ceremonies involving branding irons, plumb lines and stakes inscribed with biblical passages driven into the earth of every Texas county.

If they simply professed unusual beliefs, movement leaders wouldn't be remarkable. But what makes the New Apostolic Reformation movement so potent is its growing fascination with infiltrating politics and government. The new prophets and apostles believe Christians--certain Christians--are destined to not just take "dominion" over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the "Seven Mountains" of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world. They believe they're intended to lord over it all. As a first step, they're leading an "army of God" to commandeer civilian government.

In Rick Perry, they may have found their vessel. And the interest appears to be mutual.

...couldn't we immanentize the eschaton?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Gaudí may have used psychiatric hospital to test designs (Stephen Burgen, 8/11/11,

In what appears to be an early application of art therapy, new research suggests that the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí used the garden of a psychiatric hospital as a testing ground for his revolutionary designs, with the patients serving as his artisans.

The grounds of the hospital at Sant Boi, south of Barcelona, are littered with Gaudí-esque constructions, the most outstanding of which is a bench similar to those in Park Güell , finished with broken tiles in a style known as trencadís that was pioneered by Gaudí.

The relative crudeness of the work suggested until now that the works were copies, but research published in the magazine Sapiens by the architect David Agulló and the geologist Daniél Barb shows that they pre-date Gaudí's signature buildings and were in fact prototypes for features in Park Güell, the Sagrada Familia and the nearby Colònia Güell, all of which Gaudí was working on at the time.

The work is poorly executed, the researchers claim, because Gaudí's workers were in fact patients.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Newport Folk 2011: The Decemberists, Live In Concert (NPR, 7/30/11)

Hear The Decemberists' members reach back into their rich catalog live at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I.


August 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 PM


World Bank Says Famine in Horn of Africa Is Manmade (Reuters, 8/16/11)

The famine in the Horn of Africa is manmade -- the result of artificially high prices for food and civil conflict, the World Bank's lead economist for Kenya Wolfgang Fengler told Reuters Tuesday.

"This crisis is manmade," Fengler said in a telephone interview. "Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policymaking for that to lead to a famine."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake: Circa 1972 (Recipe by Sharon Miller, as reported by Helen Dollaghan, June 25, 1972, The Denver Post)

1 3/4 cups boiling water
1 cup uncooked oatmeal (quick or old-fashioned)
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 stick ( 1/2cup) margarine
2 extra large eggs
1 3/4 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 package semi-sweet chocolate bits (12 ounces)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour boiling water over oatmeal. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Add brown and white sugar and margarine. Stir until margarine melts. Add eggs. Mix well. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa. Add flour to sugar mixture. Mix well. Add about half of the package of chocolate bits. Pour batter into pan. Sprinkle walnuts and remaining chocolate bits on top. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The Science of Attention Spans: Cathy Davidson's new book argues that we perceive only a fraction of everything going on around us, and this attention blindness ill prepares us for the multi-tasking Internet age. (Casey Schwartz, Aug 17, 2011, Daily Beast)

Cathy N. Davidson remembers a lunchtime lecture at Duke University a while back in which the speaker, someone from the university's medical school, told the audience he would play a video of people tossing balls back and forth and asked everyone to keep a close count of how many throws were made. Davidson, a Duke professor--and dyslexic--didn't even try. Instead, she leisurely watched the tape. In about 30 seconds, a figure in a gorilla suit wandered across the screen, stopped, beat its chest and wandered off. It turned out only Davidson noticed this creature--everyone else had been focused exclusively on the assigned task.

That experiment on "attention blindness" is at the heart of Davidson's new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. Attention blindness--the fact that we perceive only a fraction of everything going on around us--is a basic characteristic of the human brain. It's also a saving grace, because we'd be incapacitated by the amount of information assaulting us if we noticed it all.

And yet, in her new book, Davidson argues that our attention blindness is a big problem that must be addressed--especially now that the Internet has come along and changed everything about how our lives work. The Internet, she notes, has thrust us into an interconnected, collaborative existence, marked by the total breakdown of barriers between work and leisure, public and private, home and office, domestic and foreign, and so on. She argues that although our lives have been irrevocably altered, our most important institutions are not. Those core institutions--school and work--are behaving for the most part as if nothing epochal has occurred.

Consider how bizarre it is that we still test kids by pretending that they need to be able to summon up information from their own memories even though there is no setting (outside of Gilligan's Island) in which this will ever be required, even though we know human memory is faulty to near uselessness for such purposes, and even though in real life settings we'll want them to be able to access information and collaborate with others instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Saudi Arabia vs. the Arab Spring (Bernard Haykel, 2011-08-16, Project Syndicate)

Saudi Arabia, a self-proclaimed bulwark of Islamic conservatism, where popular democracy has never been considered a legitimate form of rule, has been more aggressive in some arenas than in others. Domestically, the royal family struck quickly, adopting a ban on public demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience. The Kingdom's traditional interpretation of Islam construes political legitimacy in terms of a ruler's proper application of Islamic law. In return, his subjects owe him obedience within the constraints of Sharia religious law.

Dissent, should it arise, must always take the form of well-intentioned advice given to the ruler in a private setting. Public demonstrations of dissent are regarded as contrary to Islam, because they foster divisiveness and lead to civil strife. The highest council of Saudi religious scholars recently declared demonstrations to be categorically un-Islamic. Confronted with the possibility of mass demonstrations on March 11 - the so-called Day of Rage on a Facebook page - the Saudi rulers enforced that ruling by deploying massive numbers of security forces in the streets.

They also played the Shia card, an effective trump in Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia. The rulers argued that public protests throughout the region were being orchestrated by Shia Iran, and were anti-Sunni and sectarian. The threat of chaos, evident now in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, also weighed in the royal family's favor. The House of Saud has a long historical claim on rule in Arabia, and its promise of stability remains key to its durability.

A massive government subsidy package also accounted for domestic calm. Abruptly, some $130 billion was added to spending projections over the next five years. Salaries for all public servants, a majority of the national work force, were raised, as was the total number of public-sector jobs. King Abdullah pledged large numbers of new housing units, an important gesture in a country where young people, especially young married couples, cannot easily access the housing market.

...why should the lowly Shi'a enjoy democracy but not the Sunni Arabs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Corey Feldman: Pedophilia is 'Hollywood's Big Secret' (International Business Times, August 12, 2011)

Former child star Corey Feldman said in a televised interview that "the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia."

In an interview with ABC's Nightline, Feldman said that pedophiles "surrounded him" like "vultures" when he was a young actor in Hollywood. He asserts that the casting couch culture exists even for young boys, and many high-profile members of the entertainment business pray on the naivete of children.

The vultures cluster anywhere they have access to and power over children.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 AM


He's Must-See TV: Bradley Catches Eye of Valley Golf Public (Greg Fennell, 8/16/11, Valley News)

Jerome Doherty has little reason to turn on his television. He had the service shut off two years ago.

But he was watching Sunday night.

Knowing his most famous former pupil from the Woodstock Union High School golf team was in the hunt for a PGA Championship title, Doherty and his wife, Patrice, stationed themselves at the Woodstock Inn with another couple, Mary and Carl McQaig of South Woodstock.

It was there that they saw history.

"They were driving back from the other side of New Hampshire, heard about Keegan's play and came running into the inn just in time to see the last deciding holes," the former Wasps golf coach recalled in an e-mail yesterday of Bradley's historic win at Atlanta Athletic Club, built on a comeback from a five-shot deficit over the last four holes of regulation play and a win of an ensuing three-hole aggregate playoff.

"We all jumped around yelling and fist-knocking each other, which soon turned into heartfelt hugs of sheer joy for 'our young lad.' We were so happy to see the whole Bradley family on the green celebrating. We commented that they always were a 'smiling family.' "

Bradley has a way of producing that reaction in people, even eight years after leaving the area following his 11th-grade year at Woodstock High. Because of that, the 25-year-old had the Upper Valley golf community's rapt attention on Sunday as he rallied past Jason Dufner for his first major championship and his second win in his rookie PGA Tour season.

August 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 PM


My zero tolerance for these politicised police chiefs (Graeme Archer, 17 August 2011, New Statesman)

It's always ironic to misuse the word "ironic", and I may be about to do so. But isn't there something ironic in the sight of police "leaders" decrying the Tory insight (that what we partly need is some citizen-directed political control over policing priorities, via elected commissioners), by taking to the airwaves and the blogosphere to indulge in, ah, politics? The officers' officer corp has been anything but apolitical since last Monday.

The inverted commas around "leaders" is at least partially deserved, I think. Last Monday, the police held back and didn't use force to quell the rioters. On Tuesday, they behaved like a police force again, and within 36 hours the riots were extinguished. When the PM made this point -- I don't claim its undeniable truth, but he spoke for many of us in the boroughs affected -- he didn't receive an apology or explanation from the acting Met commissioner Tim Godwin; instead, he received political abuse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Astronaut Captures Perseid Meteor Shower From His Perch on the ISS (Dan Nosowitz, 08.16.2011, Popular Science)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Bachmann corrects Elvis gaffe, does a little 'shagging' (Union Leader, Aug 16, 2011)

In Spartanburg, S.C., on Tuesday, Michele Bachmann wished Elvis Presley a happy birthday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Rick Perry's entry is no surprise; his skill will be -- to some (Editorial Board, August 16, 2011, Corpus Christi Caller)

The question remains: Can Perry stand up to it?

Only he can answer it, but if past behavior is an indicator, all who doubt him are in for a surprise. Our own experience says he deserves much scrutiny and criticism and that the possibility of him as the Republican nominee -- and as president -- is real.

Doubters should ask Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Last year, she looked like the gubernatorial candidate to end his career -- on paper, until he wadded her up in the primary. He out-campaigned her and -- this is the hard part for critics including ourselves to accept -- outsmarted her.

He has never lost an election. Luck is among the reasons. Dumb luck is not. He has an instinct for knowing voters' hearts and minds before they and his opponents do.

He's a scripted candidate who refused to debate his Democratic gubernatorial challenger and wouldn't meet with newspaper editorial boards. Those who interpret that as an inability to think on his feet, veer from his script or win a debate should prepare for a surprise.

Perry already surprised the national media by attracting 30,000 people to his Aug. 6 prayer meeting in Houston. The media predictions were less than a third of that. What before was deemed a foolish gamble that would fail became, in hindsight, a bold stroke and a success.

Throwing in with the extremely evangelical Christian element appears now to be an inspired move to win the nomination that could turn into a liability in a general election. That's a logical viewpoint. It might be more logical to entertain the possibility that Perry has figured out something that logical viewpoint-holders don't know. Those 30,000 participants aren't 30,000 maybes and they aren't just votes. They'll be 30,000 zealous volunteers. They may not outnumber those who disagree with them but Perry probably has calculated that, on Election Day, they will.

Those -- we -- who suspect cynicism in Perry's courting of the evangelicals can't deny that he has proved to them that they can count on him. He doesn't just know the right verses. The sonogram bill he proposed is now state law. They actually can trust him -- and how many politicians can claim that, truthfully?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Visa Exposed As Massive Credit Card Scam (The Onion, August 15, 2011)

According to indictments filed in U.S. District Court, Visa posed as a reputable lender, working through banks to peddle a variety of convincing-looking credit cards carefully designed to dupe consumers into spending far more money than they had. The criminal group would then impose a succession of escalating fees on unpaid balances, allegedly bilking some $300 billion from victims in the past year alone.

"This is criminal behavior of the most vile sort," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press conference following the arrests, estimating that one in three Americans have fallen for the scam since its inception in the 1970s. "By masquerading as a legitimate business, this illicit syndicate was able to prey on helpless citizens for decades, charging unfathomable interest rates on the order of 15, 20, even 30 percent or more. It's staggering. Nobody could afford that."

"The actions of the Visa crime ring amount to nothing less than mass extortion," Holder continued. "Anyone who's holding a Visa card has most likely already been ripped off."

Calling the scam's breadth and sophistication "unparalleled," Holder said the ringleaders of the plot carefully portrayed themselves as top-level financial executives, spent untold sums of victims' money on a luxurious high-rise headquarters in San Francisco, and employed scores of graduates from elite business schools--all as a means to perpetuate an elaborate confidence game.

†Investigators said Visa often targeted vulnerable individuals, such as those with limited financial resources, students, and even the elderly. The group's typical con involved direct solicitation through letters supposedly written by the CEO himself, which often praised the recipients by name and stated that they had been hand-selected for favored treatment.

"I needed to pay off some medical bills, and this seemed like a good option," said Visa cardholder Eileen Carlson of Phoenix, explaining that her initial skepticism of the offers was worn down by the barrage of official-looking mail she received almost daily from the criminal organization. "But before I knew it, they were demanding at least $900 a month, which I couldn't pay. They knew I didn't have any money to begin with--what did they expect?"

One useful reform that Congress could pass is a usury law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Diary of August 15, 2011 (James Bowman)

The headline news in the London Daily Telegraph over the weekend read: "Young thugs 'should fear the police' says David Cameron's new crime adviser." Gosh, ya think? Who is this "new crime adviser" with a gift for stating the obvious? He turns out to be none other than our own Bill Bratton, former head of the Boston, New York and Los Angeles police forces, who has been spoken of as a candidate for the vacant position of head of the London Metropolitan Police.

Speaking in New York, Mr Bratton, 63, said police forces should be more assertive in their dealings with offenders, leaving no doubt that crime would always meet a firm response. "You want the criminal element to fear them, fear their ability to interrupt their own ability to carry out criminal behaviour, and arrest and prosecute and incarcerate them," he said. "In my experience, the younger criminal element don't fear the police and have been emboldened to challenge the police and effectively take them on." Some critics believe that British forces have been cowed by threats of legal action and a lack of political support for robust policing. Mr Bratton said officers should leave no doubt that they were ready and willing to use force when required. "What needs to be understood is that police are empowered to do certain things -- to stop, to talk, to frisk on certain occasions, to arrest if necessary, to use force," he said.

Not exactly controversial stuff, you might think. But in Britain, it appears, it is -- and for the same reason I mentioned in my last post about discipline in schools, namely the fear of fear. On that occasion I argued, as I take Mr Bratton to be arguing here, that fear -- also known as "respect" -- is the foundation of good discipline. This kind of healthy fear is not the same as abject terror nor even, I would argue, the sort of insecurity we all feel before arbitrary fate, since the fear I mean, if properly engendered, carries with it a certain confidence that good behavior has nothing to fear. But your modern progressive mind is absolutist about fear. Indeed, the progressive project often seems to me to start from the assumption that it is the function of government, as of morality and decency, to abolish fear.

That's close to it in a nutshell

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The Clear Case for the Gas Tax (NY Times, 8/15/11)

Unless Congress extends it, the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax will expire on Sept. 30. Allowing that to happen would be tremendously destructive. It would bankrupt the already stressed Highway Trust Fund, with devastating effects on the country's highways, bridges, mass transit systems and the economy as a whole.

Reports suggest that some House Republicans may push to let the tax lapse or use the threat of expiration as leverage in the budget wars. This is a dangerous idea. If anything, the tax should rise to maintain a system that constantly needs upkeep -- the backlog of bridges needing repair is estimated at $72 billion -- creates jobs and encourages drivers to buy more fuel-efficient cars.

Excise taxes on motor fuels account for nearly nine-tenths of the $37 billion trust fund. The fund has lately required annual infusions from the Treasury Department to break even, and its obligations are growing. The gas tax has not increased since 1993, and its buying power, accounting for inflation, is now only 11 cents. Meanwhile, Americans are driving many more miles, placing greater stresses on the highway system.

It should at least be doubled.

August 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


Fixing the economy: We got it wrong: Our economic issues are worse than expected, and our solutions haven't worked. We need to start anew. (James K. Galbraith, August 15, 2011, LA Times)

The sensible thing would have been to paint the bleakest possible picture, emphasizing the extraordinary crisis, and so justify the largest possible policy action. Then if things turned out all right President Obama would have gotten credit, and any excess actions could easily have been cut back. Instead, the president set himself and his policies up for blame.

Obama's approach contrasts sharply with how President Reagan handled the recession of 1981-82 -- with massive tax cuts enacted in 1981. I did not like Reagan's tax cuts, but everyone could see that they implied a truly massive stimulus. This was politically smart, as Reagan's reelection proved. And when the message had been delivered, the cuts were trimmed in 1982, 1984 and 1986.

Obama's economists had more hubris and less ambition than Reagan's. They thought they could predict events accurately and put just the right policies into place. And that was before politics interfered, cutting the actual package to well below what Romer thought necessary. Larry Summers, however, was later quoted saying that he still thought the stimulus was about right, which raises the question: Why didn't it work as planned?

In fact, stimulus alone was never going to bring recovery. This crisis was caused by financial collapse, rooted in massive banking fraud. The financial system is our economic motor and when it fails it cannot be revived simply by pouring money on it, any more than a wrecked reactor can be restarted just by adding fuel. Team Obama faced a situation not seen since the 1930s -- a worldwide banking meltdown. The financial system needed to be rebuilt -- and it still does. But Team Obama chose to overlook this.

The result was debt-deflation. Falling asset prices tipped more and more households into insolvency, business stagnated, tax revenues dropped, states and localities cut their budgets and deficits widened.

Had we simply paid off all the subprime mortgages the fraud wouldn't have mattered and the poor would be solvent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Can Rick Perry maintain his good ties with Muslims as a GOP candidate?: As governor of Texas, Rick Perry has a long record of warm relations with Muslims. Could that be a liability in a GOP presidential field in which several candidates question US Muslims' loyalty? (CS Monitor, 8/15/11)

An evangelical Christian and self-described social conservative who recently led a Christian prayer rally in Texas, Perry has had a surprisingly warm relationship with Muslims as governor, says Mohamed Elbiary, founder of the Freedom and Justice Foundation, a Muslim public policy organization in Texas.

"We've seen him for 20 years at state level, as lieutenant governor and state governor," Mr. Elbiary says. "Throughout that whole history, he's never taken an anti-Muslim or anti-Islam position. He's a live-and-let-live type of Texan, and relations have been good."

In fact, Perry's relations with Ismailis, a Shia sect of Islam whose adherents number between 30,000 and 40,000 in Texas, have been particularly positive, says Mahmoud Eboo, President of the Ismaili Council for the USA.

Conservatives Begin to Fret About Rick Perry (Elspeth Reeve, 8/15/11, Atlantic Wire)
A 14-point memo detailing the flaws in Texas Gov. Rick Perry's record is circulating among conservatives in Iowa, Politico's Molly Ball reports. Just a couple days after Perry declared he's 2012 candidacy, he sat down for an interview with a Des Moines radio station, during which the host said he'd been "deluged" with more than 150 copies of the memo. So had the station's callers.

Callers to the program confronted Perry with aggressive, statistic-filled queries about his support of an anti-cancer vaccine, his push for toll roads, conspiracy theories about a Nafta superhighway and a pan-American currency, and his attendance at a meeting of the Bilderberg Group.

It's almost as if he takes his Christianity seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Despite Bachmann's Success, the Real GOP Race is Now Perry vs. Romney (Beth Reinhard, August 14, 2011, National Journal)

Until now, the biggest question looming over the 2012 Republican primary was who would emerge as the leading alternative to the nominal front-runner, Mitt Romney.

We now know the answer to that question: Rick Perry.

Sure, Perry jumped into the race only one day ago and needs to prove he's worthy of the national stage. Yes, Michele Bachmann is the one who boxed Tim Pawlenty out of the race with her triumph in the Iowa Straw Poll on Saturday.

But it is the governor of the great big state of Texas, not the Minnesota congresswoman, who poses the biggest threat to Romney from here on out. That's because Perry boasts that killer combination of assets: the power to grab hold of voters -- which Bachmann shares -- plus a concrete record of creating jobs. It's the rhetoric plus the results, the inspiration layered on top of the perspiration.

The bright side of the current two man race is that both are open borders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


We have a winner: British Columbia's carbon tax woos sceptics (The Economist, Jul 21st 2011)

DURING Canada's 2008 federal election campaign Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, warned that an opposition promise to introduce a carbon tax would "screw everybody". Partly for that reason, Mr Harper is still the prime minister. But in the same year, the provincial government in British Columbia introduced a carbon tax of its own. Despite the levy, its economy is doing well. What is more, the tax is popular: it is backed by 54%, says a survey in the province by Environics, a pollster. Gordon Campbell, the Liberal premier who introduced the tax, won a provincial election the next year.

When arguing for the carbon tax, Mr Campbell faced the same political obstacles that have stymied such plans elsewhere. Only environmentalists were enthusiastic. Businesses feared it would add to costs and slow the economy. The leftish New Democratic Party (NDP) worried it would hurt the poor. But these fears have proved groundless. "The carbon tax has been good for the environment, good for taxpayers and it hasn't hurt the economy," says Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa.

It helped that the law introducing the levy required its proceeds to be recycled back to individuals and companies as cuts in income taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Pawlenty realizes he wasn't what GOP voters were looking for (Amy Gardner, August 14, 2011, Washington Post)

Pawlenty, 50, and his political team had known when he began his campaign in the spring that he would bring less money, less name recognition and less stagecraft to the effort than some of his Republican rivals. But they had believed that he would be the tortoise of the field, the contender whose economic program, "aw-shucks" likability and success in governing a left-leaning state for eight years would slowly but surely draw voters looking above all else to defeat President Obama next year.

They were wrong -- and Pawlenty's supporters and strategists said as much after he announced his withdrawal Sunday on national television. At a time when conservative Republican primary voters were looking for red-meat rhetoric and tea party-style confrontation, Pawlenty offered them an entirely different personality and record.

That helps explain why fellow Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Tex.) each garnered more than twice the number of votes as Pawlenty at the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday with rousing messages criticizing Obama and steadfast pledges never to compromise.

"It's not that he isn't a fighter; he's won more battles than anyone else on that stage," said a source close to the campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The way he's run his fights is through policy and legislative battles once he's been elected. But the races were actually pretty tame. They weren't bloody campaigns. They were bloody legislative battles."

Pawlenty acknowledged the disconnect between what he had to offer and what voters seem to want.

"What I brought forward, I thought, was a rational, established, credible, strong record of results, based on experience governing -- a two-term governor of a blue state," he said on ABC's "This Week." "But I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different."

It was always going to be a tough needle to thread, because he had to win IA based solely on organization (a la Jimmy Carter) and the Mitt was going to win NH anyway, so he had to turn a win and a second into a strong SC showing. Without name recognition or money that strategy depends on the press and they aren't overly interested in rational and competent. Cute, dumb, and bug-eyed gets you magazine covers, qualified doesn't cut it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


The E-Reader of Sand: The Kindle and the Inner Conflict Between Consumer and Booklover (Mark O'Connell, August 15, 2011 , The Millions)

[I] know when I use my Kindle that, even though there are important ways in which it can't even hope to compete with civilization's greatest invention, there are equally important ways in which it effortlessly surpasses it, and that these are the reasons why the e-reader will end up replacing the bound book.

This was brought home to me recently when I received a copy of Adam Levin's colossal debut novel The Instructions, which I recklessly agreed to review for a newspaper. The thing is over a thousand pages and is, in its hardback edition, considerably larger and heavier than any other book I currently possess (including a Norton Complete Shakespeare that, until The Instructions arrived, did bestride its narrow shelf like a Colossus, and ruled it with an iron fist). By way of illustrating the physical magnitude of Levin's novel, let me make the following peculiar admission: during a moment of whimsical distraction one day last week, I discovered that it was possible to insert into the generous space between the book's spine and its inner binding not one but two standard-sized mouth organs that happened to be lying on my desk as I read it. Whatever obscure advantage might be gained from being able to secrete two wind instruments inside the binding of a book, any object of that size is going to be difficult to carry around (with or without mouth organs). And if you're reading a 1,030 page novel to a reviewing deadline, you're faced with a tricky conflict of practicalities: in order to get it read, you want to be able to take it with you if you have to leave the house, but lugging the thing around on a train or a bus is no joke, given that its volume and weight are roughly comparable to that of a hotel minibar.

So I did the obvious thing, and decided to see whether I could download The Instructions from the Kindle Store. When I found that the e-book version wasn't yet available, I was briefly seized by that most contemporary (and stupid) of irritations: that of being denied a convenience that didn't even exist until very recently. Granted, Levin's novel is an extreme example, but it got me thinking about the unassuageable forces that the book as an object, as a cultural artifact, is up against. The history of what we call progress is a catalogue of ways in which the desire for convenience has trumped almost every other concern. As I've said already (and perhaps even overstated to a suspicious degree), I love books, and I would rather not live in a world where they might end up as little more than interior décor affectations or, like vinyl records, fetish objects for a small but dedicated coterie of analogue cultists. E-books are not perfect, and the experience of reading them is, I think, still inferior enough to that of reading a real book that, all things being equal, I'd almost always choose the former. But the CD, as any audiophile will gladly tell you, is a far superior format to the MP3 in terms of sound quality and fidelity, and when was the last time you bought a CD? When was the last time anyone you know even bought a CD? Even my dad gets his music from iTunes now. I still have a small bookcase filled with CDs, but I haven't added to it for years at this stage and, because I don't even have a CD player anymore, they basically just sit there reminding me of a rapidly receding past in which recorded music used to have a physical presence.

No matter how badly I want to, I can't quite imagine a possible future in which ink and paper books might somehow avoid the same fate. The insatiable desire for ever more and ever newer forms of convenience that drives our global economy and our technological culture leaves a scattered trail of obsolescence in its wake. As much as I don't want my bookshelves to become part of this trail of obsolescence, I can already see early warning signs of my own desire for convenience -- for instantly getting what I want, for not having to deal with mere objects in all their cumbersome actuality -- beginning to outrank my love of the book as a physical thing. I don't want my identity as a consumer, as a ruthless pursuer of the most user-friendly and cost-effective option, to supersede my identity as a booklover. I don't look forward to a future in which my Kindle (or whatever device inevitably succeeds it) is the only book on the shelf. But it's a future I'm fairly convinced is awaiting us, and it's one that I, as a consumer, am playing my part in advancing us toward. There are moments when I wish I could follow the lead of Borges' retired librarian and bury my book of sand on some obscure shelf in a library basement and just forget all about it. But then I realize that the thing is just too useful, too crazily convenient a tool to not embrace. And then I tell myself that it's not possible, anyway, to shelve the advance of technology, and that history is filled with examples of beautiful things being supplanted by more efficient versions of those things. Ultimately, you're never going to win an argument against convenience, no matter how much you love the anachronistic, heavy, unwieldy, and beautiful thing you want to save.

August 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


A Tribute To Douglas Ertel And The State Workers Who Made His Life A Little Easier (John Zogby, 8/10/11, Forbes)

Douglas Ertel passed away on Aug. 6. He was 59 years old and you have never heard of him. He was my wife's younger and loving brother - and for the past 52 years was, in technical terms, a "ward of the state." Severely mentally retarded, he was placed in a New York State dormitory facility at the age of 7 because his family had no other options for his care in the 1950s. Since 1998, he was a resident of an independent residential alternative group home. [...]

It is so fashionable to bash "state workers," to hate unions, to tell isolated favorite stories of nameless bureaucrats who earn too much, have benefits that many of us do not have (and for which we are paying), who carp endlessly about grievances on the job, and are mean to us who are simply looking for basic customer service. This stereotypical state worker never entered Doug's life. He was blessed with state-funded caretakers who were folks who loved him as much as we did.

And they have names like Katy, Lisa, Frank, Sandy, Colleen, Brian, Marie and Lynn. There are many more, too. Kathy tells me how heartbreaking it was for her (at age 8) and her parents to have Doug moved from his family home into a state facility. It still haunts her to this day. Through much of his life he was in a dormitory facility and the heartbreak would be relived each Sunday (without fail) when they all came to visit. Geraldo Rivera may be a controversial and at times polarizing figure, but he exposed the horrible abuses, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, N.Y., in the 1970s. It was Geraldo's important work that led to necessary reforms in our treatment of thousands of people like my brother-in-law. We should all be grateful that the state governing system responded with a more humane and effective program of group homes, day clinics, and outpatient services.

...and OGJ.

One of the Grandfather Judd's peculiarities as a judge was that he wouldn't send anyone to a jail unless he'd personally checked out the conditions to ensure they were humane. One tale holds that after having to send a guy to Lewisburg sight unseen, he drove the Grandmother Judd there for a visit and while she was talking to the warden they lost track of him. He was found speaking to the guy he'd sent there and asking how they were treating him. At any rate, while he closed The Tombs, we never saw him more shaken than after he visited Willowbrook.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


Bull kills its third man in 10 years during festival in eastern Spain (Associated Press/, Sunday 14 August 2011)

An inquiry was launched on Sunday after a 29-year-old man was gored to death by a bull during a festival in eastern Spain.

The man, whose name was not released, died at a hospital in the town of Xativa on Saturday.

A regional government official said an investigation into the goring had been opened.

The 500 kilogram bull - named Raton - has killed two other members of the public during festivals over 10 years. Because of the animal's reputation, his owners reportedly earn €10,000 (£8,750) each time it appears at a festival.

"He's the one that gets the highest prices," owner Gregorio de Jesus said of Raton. "But still he works out the cheapest because wherever he goes organizers double the ticket price."

Send him to Tottenham.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Dark matter may be an illusion caused by the quantum vacuum (Lisa Zyga, 8/11/11,

One of the biggest unsolved problems in astrophysics is that galaxies and galaxy clusters rotate faster than expected, given the amount of existing baryonic (normal) matter. The fast orbits require a larger central mass than the nearby stars, dust, and other baryonic objects can provide, leading scientists to propose that every galaxy resides in a halo of (as yet undetectable) dark matter made of non-baryonic particles. As one of many scientists who have become somewhat skeptical of dark matter, CERN physicist Dragan Slavkov Hajdukovic has proposed that the illusion of dark matter may be caused by the gravitational polarization of the quantum vacuum.

"The key message of my paper is that dark matter may not exist and that phenomena attributed to dark matter may be explained by the gravitational polarization of the quantum vacuum," Hajdukovic told "The future experiments and observations will reveal if my results are only (surprising) numerical coincidences or an embryo of a new scientific revolution."

Like his previous study featured on PhysOrg about a cyclic universe successively dominated by matter and antimatter, Hajdukovic's paper on a dark matter alternative is also an attempt to understand cosmological phenomena without assuming the existence of unknown forms of matter and energy, or of unknown mechanisms for inflation and matter-antimatter asymmetry

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Muslims tackle looters and bigots: British Muslims' reaction to the riots should dispel any continued demonisation in the media. (Robert Lambert, 12 Aug 2011, Al Jazeera)

"When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian", a Muslim student explained to me. He was commenting on the media reportingof the death of three young Muslims in Birmingham on Tuesday night. Like many other Muslims, they were bravely defending shops and communities as rioters went on a violent rampage of looting.

In recent days Muslim Londoners, Muslims from Birmingham, and Muslims in towns and cities around England have been at the forefront of protecting small businesses and vulnerable communities from looting. Having worked closely with Muslim Londoners, first as a police officer and more recently as a researcher, for the last ten years this commendable bravery comes as no surprise to me. But their example of outstanding civic duty in support of neighbours is worth highlighting - especially when sections of the UK media are so quick to print negative headlines about Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts.

On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked 'East London Mosque' took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters. This was the most visible manifestation of their pro-active response to fast moving and well co-ordinated teams of looters. Less visible was the superb work of Muslim youth workers from Islamic Forum Europewho used the same communication tools as the looters to outwit and pre-empt them on the streets.

While senior Westminster politicians started to pack and rush back to London from foreign holidays I watched Lutfur Rahman, the Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, offering calm leadership and support in the street as gangs of looters were intercepted and prevented from stealing goods in his presence.

Most important to emphasise is the extent to which everyone in Tower Hamlets was a beneficiary of streetwise, smart Muslims acting swiftly to protect shops, businesses and communities against looters. It is often wrongly alleged that Muslims lack any sense of civic duty towards non-Muslims and especially towards the LGBTcommunity. I wish peddlers of that negative anti-Muslim message had been present to see how all citizens in Tower Hamlets were beneficiaries of Muslim civic spirit and bravery on Monday night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Pawlenty to quit presidential race (Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro, 8/14/11, NBC)

Unless Jeb gets in, it's Mitt vs. Perry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Whatever Happened to Stem Cell Research? (Austin Ruse, 8/12/11, Catholic Thing)

The backlash was immediate, fierce, and long-lasting. Though relieved that Bush did not permit the death of hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos, even the Catholic Bishops complained that paying for experimentation on embryos already killed for their stem cells, still cooperated in evil. Many said Bush was gambling with his reelection.

His policy did not end the political controversy. Recall the speeches at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Almost every one mentioned embryonic stem cell research. John Kerry announced he would fully fund it and received thundering applause. Even Ron Reagan Jr. was invited to speak in favor of embryo-destructive research. The Democratic Party was certain they had a social wedge issue all their own.

But something was already happening, something the Bush policy nurtured. William Hurlbut of Stanford was circulating an idea he called Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT), a form of cloning he postulated would create pluripotent stem cells without a human embryo.

Hurlbut was invited onto the President's Bioethics Commission, along with such stalwarts as Professor Robert George of Princeton, but also with opponents like Michael Sandel of Harvard and Michael Gazzaniga of UC-Santa Barbara. When Hurlbut presented ANT to the Commission, Gazzaniga mocked him, "So, we're going to take the soul out and put it back in later?"

Hurlbut's ethical proposal was not the only one. Donald Landry of Columbia University said we could medically recognize embryo death and then harvest their stem cells ethically, not unlike organ transplantation. At the same time, a whole host of scientists were having multiple successes with adult stem cells. Here were actual scientists grappling with profound ethical questions and working within ethical boundaries.

Often, a lack of rules results in wider chaos while narrow rules result in greater creativity - and even beauty. That is Bush's great contribution. He encouraged scientists - and gave them room - to catch up to the ethics.

The political pressure remained, but Bush was at his bravest. Congress passed an embryo-destructive stem cell funding bill in 2006. Bush stood in the White House again, this time surrounded by "snow-flake babies," children adopted as frozen embryos and implanted in adoptive mothers. He said, "These boys and girls are not spare parts." A veto override was defeated the next day, largely owing to Hurlbut's idea that embryonic stem cells could be derived ethically.

Not long after, Shinya Yamanaka announced that he had derived pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from the manipulation of adult stem cells that were reprogrammed into embryonic stem cells.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Madrid begins search for bones of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes: Historians and archaeologists hunt for writer's remains in city centre convent with approval from Madrid's archbishopric (Giles Tremlett, 7/25/11,

Historians and archaeologists plan to reveal the true face of the author of Don Quixote of La Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes, as they embark on a quest to find the lost bones of one of western literature's key writers.

The project to seek Cervantes' bones, which lie buried somewhere in the walls or floors of a convent in central Madrid, would allow forensic archaeologists to reconstruct the face of a man only known from a picture painted by artist Juan de Jauregui some 20 years after his death.

The bones may also reveal whether Cervantes, who is believed to have died of cirrhosis and was accused by rivals of being a notorious tippler, drank himself into the grave. "They may not just help us to discover what he looked like, but also why he died," said historian Fernando Prado.

"It is said that he was very ill late in life, but that is also when he was very productive as an author."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


JFK's Berlin blunder (George F. Will, August 12, 2011, Washington Post)

Fifty years ago, a metaphor became concrete. Beginning on Aug. 13, 1961, along West Berlin's 27-mile border, the Iron Curtain became tangible in a wall of precast slabs of concrete. It came down 22 years ago, but the story of how it rose, as told in Frederick Kempe's book "Berlin 1961," compels an unflattering assessment of John Kennedy. His serial blunders that year made it the most incompetent first year of any presidency.

In a State of the Union address just 10 days after his inauguration, Kennedy seemed exhilarated by hysteria. He said that "in this brief 10-day period" he had been "staggered" by "the harsh enormity" of the "trials" ahead:

"Each day the crises multiply. Each day their solution grows more difficult. Each day we draw nearer the hour of maximum danger, as . . . hostile forces grow stronger. . . . Our analyses over the last 10 days make it clear that . . . the tide of events has been running out." Lunging for an equivalence with Lincoln, Kennedy said that during his term Americans would learn whether a nation such as ours "can endure."

Actually, since Election Day he had learned that the "missile gap" he had accused President Eisenhower of allowing to develop was fictitious.

Indeed, the notion of the USSR as a military peer was nonsense. Yet, JFK still acted as if the Cold War was an evenly matched struggle that we might lose, instead of either keeping quiet like Ike, who was tired of winning wars, or declaring our victory imminent and inevitable and proceeding to win it, as Reagan did. The phrase for which he is best known--Ich bin ein Berliner--was an appalling expression of weakness.

August 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Hardy hydrangeas: This summer favorite comes in an ever-expanding array of varieties that can thrive in a colder climate. (Carol Stocker, August 14, 2011, Boston Globe)

These are exciting times for hydrangea lovers. Colored varieties will now bloom in the North where once only white hydrangeas flowered dependably. It started with the blue mophead Endless Summer, a freak of nature found in a Minnesota backyard in the 1980s and made widely available to gardeners less than a decade ago.

Endless Summer touched off a hydrangea hybridizing frenzy that has since produced such colorful, hardy Northern hydrangeas as red and green Pistachio, rose pink Double Delights Perfection, and the blue lacecap Double Delights Star Gazer. There are also new varieties of peegee hydrangeas (the plant's botanical name, H. paniculata Grandiflora, is the source of the nickname peegee) that are more colorful and compact than the familiar 20-foot arching shrubs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Welcome back to the glitzy cast of the Premier League, flawed but still the greatest show on earth: After all that summer stuff, the greatest show on earth returns on Saturday and the sigh of relief can be heard from Anfield to St James' Park. (Henry Winter, 8/13/11, The Telegraph)

The Premier League's great persuader, its chief executive Richard Scudamore, argues that his division does not squirm in La Liga's shadow. "If you look at Barcelona, Spain has the individual sale of TV rights, which gives Barcelona and Real Madrid a huge economic advantage,'' said Scudamore. "One club can have 20 times the income of another smaller club.

"Spain don't have anything like our football development rules. They opt out of that, so they have the pick of their country's talent, whereas we try to bring a developed 92-club-wide youth development system. I wouldn't swap our league in total for what Spain have. We have much more strength in depth and a stronger competition."

Yet a galaxy stretches from Castille to Catalonia. "It depends how much room there is in the sky for how many stars,'' countered Scudamore.

"You can't leave these shores without seeing that we are the league that people want to watch around the world. Of course Barcelona and Real Madrid are recognised around the world. But if you go to the Americas and to Asia, as much as the individual stars, it's the clubs that people are drawn towards.

"The shock to me this year was Chelsea on their pre-season trip to Asia. The interest in Chelsea was unbelievable, even compared to the Liverpool experience of four years ago.'' That was pure Bootlemania. Chelsea's visit echoed such scenes. "There were queues outside their hotel,'' continued Scudamore. "You can talk about stars in Spain, but the reality is that we still manage to combine huge, huge interest around the world and we are still the league that people want to watch all around the world."

Why? The mistakes, the pell-mell football, the essential honesty despite the occasional dives, and the sheer relentless commitment to victory makes the Premier League the best footballing entity for top-to-toe, 90-minute entertainment.

...which team he should follow, now that the EPL is becoming omnipresent on US tv.

Here are a few suggestion:

(1) If you like the Yankees (of the 30s, 40s & 50s in particular), your team is Manchester United. They have completely dominated the League under their manager Alex Ferguson, whose main skills are monetary and metaphysical: he spends so much money that the team has unusual depth but, more important, he instills an arrogance that intimidates other teams into playing defensively and then pours on the pressure late in games to snatch results in the final minutes.

(2) If you prefer the Sox (pre-'04) and the Cubs, your team is Liverpool, which is even owned by the Red Sox at this point. With a major EPL contract coming to NESN, this is the market that will really drive the mainstreaming of the game and with the once great but now very much also ran Liverpool they've got a team that summons all the psychodrama that the long suffering Sox Nation used to be known for. And like many of those old Sox teams, they have the best offense in the game but are so fragile in central defense that you can already see how they'll blow games.

(3) If you root for a perennial cellar dweller, one good feature of European soccer is that if you really do finish in the cellar you actually get booted from the league, so there tends to be more interest at the end of the season in whop avoids that fate than in who won the title. Two teams that have been fighting the drop every year recently but have great managers and play a style that will appeal to us Yanks are Wolverhampton and Wigan.

(4) And perhaps the most American team in the League, one whose coach (Tony Pulis) we should have hired for the US Men's Team, is Stoke. They play a very rugged and physical style in front of both goals, which obscures just how good they are in possession. They're kind of like the old Islanders, even though Potvin, Gillies, Nystrom, Trottier, etc. were the toughest guys in the NHL, the team was also gifted offensively. As good as they were last year they wasted too much time and energy on pursuing the FA Cup and this year they face a similar distraction in the form of the Europe League (don't ask). If they have sense enough to get eliminated from both early on they could be a surprise challenger for a top spot in the League.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Less political rebellion, more mollycoddled mob (Brendan O'Neill, 8/10/11, The Australian)

What we have on the streets of London and elsewhere are welfare-state mobs. The youth who are shattering their own communities represent a generation that has been suckled by the state more than any generation before it. They live in urban territories where the sharp-elbowed intrusion of the welfare state during the past 30 years has pushed aside older ideals of self-reliance and community spirit. The march of the welfare state into every aspect of urban, less well-off people's existences, from their financial wellbeing to their child-rearing habits and even into their emotional lives, with the rise of therapeutic welfarism designed to ensure that the poor remain "mentally fit", has undermined individual resourcefulness and social bonding. The antisocial youthful rioters are the end-product of this antisocial system of state intervention.

The most striking thing about the rioters is how little they care for their own communities. You don't have to be a right-winger with helmet hair and a niggling discomfort with black or chavvy yoof (I am the opposite of that) to recognise that this violence is not political, just criminal. It is entertaining to watch the political contortions of commentators who claim the riots are an uprising against the evils of capitalism, as they struggle to explain why the targets have been Foot Locker sports shops and why the only "gains" made by the rioters have been to get a new pair of trainers or an Apple laptop. In the Brixton race riots of 1981, looting and the destruction of local infrastructure were largely incidental to the broader expression of political anger, by-products of the main show, which was a clash between a community and the forces of the state. But in these riots, looting and smashing stuff up is all there is. It is childish nihilism.

Many older members of the urban communities rocked by violence have been shocked by the level of self-destruction exhibited by the rioters. Some shop owners have got together to defend their property, even beating up rioters who have turned up with iron bars. In one video, a West Indian woman in her 50s braves the rubble-strewn streets to lecture the rioters: "These people worked hard to make their businesses work and then you lot wanna go and burn it up. For what?" On Twitter, the hashtag #riotcleanup is being used by community members to co-ordinate some post-riot street-cleaning, to make amends for what one elderly Tottenham resident described as "the stupid behaviour of the young".

But it is more than childish destructiveness motivating the rioters. These are youngsters who are uniquely alienated from the communities in which they grew up. Nurtured in large part by the welfare state, financially, physically and educationally, socialised more by the agents of welfarism than by their own neighbours or local representatives, these youth have little moral or emotional attachment to their communities. Their rioting reveals not that Britain is in a time warp in 1981 or 1985 with politically motivated riots against the police, but that the tentacle-like spread of the welfare state into every area of people's lives has utterly zapped old social bonds, the relationship of sharing and solidarity that once existed in working-class communities. These riots suggest that the welfare state is giving rise to a generation happy to s[***] on its own doorstep.

This is not a political rebellion; it is a mollycoddled mob, a riotous expression of carelessness for one's own community. And as a left-winger I refuse to celebrate nihilistic behaviour that has a profoundly adverse affect on working people's lives.

...that David Cameron is trying to hire a former NYC police chief to fix the problem. The situation cries out for a transition from PC policing to a broken windows policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


A Land Without Children: Why Won't Germans Have More Babies? (Der Spiegel, 8/12/11)

Last week, Germany's Federal Statistical Office determined that the country has the smallest percentage of children of all European countries. Over the last decade, the number of Germans under the age of 18 has declined by 2.1 million. In terms of percentages, this population segment fell from 18.8 percent in 2000 to only 16.5 percent in 2010. Roderich Egeler, the organization's president, warns: "This downward trend will continue."

Ursula von der Leyen, the current labor minister who introduced parental leave benefits when she was still family minister, had imagined things would go very differently. But the fact that nothing seems to be working raises a number of questions: What's causing Germany's low birth rates? Is it a lack of infrastructure, such as too few daycare spots? Are workplace conditions to blame? Is it a money issue? Or is it something difficult for politicians to address, such as a certain mood in the country?

They answer their own question by looking at material questions when their problem is spiritual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Why No Democrat Will Challenge Obama: Should Obama be primaried? Liberals are fed up with the president, but no Democrat is threatening to challenge him. And one reason, reports Eleanor Clift, is race. (Eleanor Clift, Aug 12, 2011, Daily Beast)

Anyone contemplating a run against Obama must consider the consequences of not only defeating the president, but the likely repercussions to his or her own career. "If he were white, he would have a progressive challenger," says Bill Schneider of the Democratic group Third Way. Because Obama is this historic figure, challenging him would hamper the prospects of anyone who wants a future in elective Democratic politics. "Blacks would be deeply offended by a challenge, and that's no way to score points in the Democratic Party," says Schneider. African-Americans are the Democrats' most loyal constituency, and while they too are disappointed in what Obama has been able to accomplish, they are not going to abandon him.

Why do we consider the success of a man that is based solely on his "race" to be a victory over racism? Consider that had he chosen to be white not a single step in his career would have been possible for him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


The 'Yobs' Are the Problem: What's a "yob"? Teacher and author Francis Gilbert explains how knowing the definition of "yob" is crucial to comprehending the London riots --and how educators can help. (Francis Gilbert, Aug 11, 2011, Daily Beast)

[T]o understand where I'm coming from, it helps to understand the word "yob," which is Victorian slang for "boy," and has come to mean anyone (usually a young man) who is loutish in his behavior, whether this is in the way he talks, his verbal abuse, or in his physical aggression.

Like many secondary-school teachers, I've encountered my fair share of teenage yobbery. When I first started teaching in Stepney Green, east London, not far from where some of the London riots took place, the kids at the school would run up behind me and hit me on the back of the head, frequently yelling abuse or mocking me. My classes were riotous during my first years; objects were regularly thrown, abusive language was commonplace, and, during one lesson, all the furniture was pushed out of my room. At another school, the teenage boys would often fire pea-shooters at me when my back was turned; some threw pins, other put ripped cans on my chair. Vandalism, theft, and verbal threats were everyday occurrences. As teachers, we became hardened, perhaps even brutalized, by the atmosphere; either you left, or you put up with it.

During my first decade as teacher I learned that your classic yob in school looks for "special occasions" which give permission for them to be particularly foully behaved: school trips, break-times or even certain lessons. The worst behavior I've seen often occurs on last days of term. I've just published a novel, The Last Day Of Term, which depicts one of these nightmarish days; threaded through it are things I've seen first-hand and stories culled from colleagues. The departing pupils shoot fireworks at their teachers, causing one of them to have a heart attack, and they smash the glass façade of their shiny new school. The chief instigators are a gang, led by a charismatic leader who stirs everyone else up to cause mayhem.

This is exactly how incidents like the London riots happen: a few persuasive yobs use a particular event as justification--in this case it was the police shooting of Mark Duggan--and exhort their mates to "kick off."

August 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Clive James on... The Proms, Wallander and The Impressionists (Clive James, 8/11/11, )

In the international, electronically connected world of police procedurals, only the Scandinavians are truly exotic. By now there are knock-offs of Law & Order coming out of Hong Kong, but it still takes Sweden to make a true Wallander (BBC Four). The British have had a go by casting Kenneth Branagh in the same role, but even with the area around his eyes further abraded with sandpaper he still comes over as Red Skelton when compared with Krister Henriksson in the all-Swedish original. Henriksson starred in a particularly fine episode last week. His protégée, the young girl cop Isabelle (Nina Zanjani), always apt to go barging in when ordered not to, this time emerged with all the reasons for her psychological volatility on cruel display. You see, she once, when only 14, was forced to...

Ah, but you don't want to know, and if you do you can watch it on BBC iPlayer. The great thing about the current season is that the lonely Wallander, the man whose face is the silent version of a howling dog, has at last been given a soulmate, in the person of his graceful prosecutor - played with lofty distinction by Lena Endre - but they aren't hurrying. Nothing hurries in that part of Sweden. That's the whole secret of Scandinavian Cultural Imperialism, which I know I promised to publish a study of soon: the pace is not a cracker. The pace is barely a ripple. It maintains a lethargy that can scarcely be described.

..the final Wallander novel--The Troubled Man--reaches LeCarre-esque levels of hilarity as the reader realizes that the eponymous man is Mankell and what he's troubled by is that Sweden was an ally of the US against the Soviet Union. No, seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


An excuse for slashing entitlements (Matt Stoller, August 9, 2011, Politico)

Let's note, at the start, that this downgrade was absurd. The credit rating of the United States is not in jeopardy. The U.S. government prints dollars -- it can no more run out of dollars than a bowling alley can run out of strikes.

What's really happening is an attempt by both parties to justify slashing Social Security and Medicare. Republicans have long wanted to roll back the New Deal. What is relatively new is that a Democratic president is now dead set on cutting these programs as well.

President Barack Obama, in his speech Monday about the downgrade, used the market turmoil as an excuse to do just that.

If Democrats need to pretend there's a metaphysical crisis in order to justify their vote for the right thing, where's the harm?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Obama's No Good, Very Bad Week: There was opportunity in some of last week's bad news, but the president failed to seize it. (KARL ROVE, 8/10/11, WSJ)

Rather than holding out for a "grand bargain" on entitlements, Mr. Obama could have proposed passing reforms one or two at a time, building confidence inside Congress for even more difficult actions. As his own outgoing Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee said Sunday, "Can't we wait on the things that we're going to yell at each other about and start on the things that we agree on?"

The president could have pledged to reform the tax code to produce more robust growth that will create jobs and raise more revenue without hiking rates. Everyone knows Mr. Obama wants higher tax rates. Everyone knows the Republican House won't pass them. So why not focus on what is possible?

Off-camera, Mr. Obama could have taken two other important steps. First, stop teeing off on congressional Republicans whose help he needs to accomplish anything this year. And second, attend far fewer fundraisers until Congress goes out in December. He must rescue his presidency by spending more time on his job, not his politics. These steps, however, are probably beyond the president. This West Wing is almost completely focused on the president's re-election, not on policy.

Because they cannot defend his record, Team Obama will attempt to "kill" their political opponents, as one Democratic strategist told this week. These are difficult days for our president. Buffeted by events, he looks weak, dazed and over his head.

The Left demanded that he lash out at Republicans, so he did, thus making even going on the offensive seem proof of feebleness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


GM may be close to its Holy Grail (Doron Levin, August 11, 2011, Fortune)

"This is the wave of the future," said Michael Robinet, an analyst for CSM Worldwide in Northville, Michigan. "GM may finally be able to accomplish what it's been trying to for a long time." He offered GM's Celta small car, one of the most popular in Brazil, as an example of a car now built on a platform that is destined to eventually disappear. When the next version of Celta appears, he said, it will be built on the same basic mechanical structure as the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, which is about to be introduced in the U.S.

GM's appointment earlier this year of Mary Barra to run worldwide product development now appears to be a management move by Akerson designed, in part, to enable the rationalization of manufacturing cost. Barra came from GM's manufacturing organization rather than product development, which would have been a more conventional promotion.

The difficulties of creating common platforms, tools and supply relationships have stymied successive GM managements since the 1980s. Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC), with their relatively simple and spare manufacturing practices, profoundly upended the economics of automaking. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that led to the 1991 book "The Machine that Changed the World" famously analyzed why the Japanese auto industry was building cars at much lower cost than Detroit. But when GM executives attempted to institute commonality, they often stumbled over resistance from an entrenched status quo. Attempts tha made it out of planning and into factories, meanwhile, failed.

Toyota's Corolla, one of the best-selling cars worldwide, is much the same in most parts of the world with only minor variations. Corolla plants can buy tools from the same suppliers and move skilled managers from one plant to another -- all of which cuts costs dramatically. In contrast, earlier versions of the Chevy Malibu actually differed from European models enough that they duplicated lots of development costs.

This time, Akerson and Barra will be helped by new regulations worldwide that more closely emulate the safety, air quality and efficiency standards in Europe and the U.S. The new Celta, for example, needs an airbag to meet Brazilian requirements, Robinet said, which precludes using the current platform. Not so in future versions.

August 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 PM


The Untransformational President: Barack Obama hoped to elevate American politics. Instead, our politics may destroy his presidency. (Michael Tomasky, Aug 7, 2011, Daily Beast)

The problem rests in the realm of political philosophy. Obama has beliefs about democratic governance, and about himself as president, that dictate his behavior in battles like the debt-ceiling brawl. These beliefs were a big part of what made him so inspirational to so many people before he won the 2008 election, but they have served him--and his voters, and the country--poorly since he took office, and especially since the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives.

Obama believes in civic virtue, and in the idea that in a democracy it's the duty of responsible leaders to reason together on behalf of something they all agree to call the common good. The fancy name for this theory of government in political-philosophy circles is civic republicanism: the "civic" part refers to action taken in the public sphere, while "republican" (a small-r republican and a big-R Republican are very different animals) signals a concern with tyrannical majorities and a faith that reasoned debate will produce a balanced result.

You might be laughing already, but the concept has played a crucially important role in American history. Thomas Jefferson cherished and advanced civic-republican beliefs, as did James Madison. Not bad: the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the thinker who produced some of the most important Federalist Papers written in defense of the U.S. Constitution of 1787. In the early 19th century, these ideas were still alive enough that we had a brief period of more or less civic-republican government under James Monroe. Dubbed the "Era of Good Feelings" by journalist Benjamin Russell in 1817, it began after the War of 1812 and the collapse of the Federalist Party. During this period, President Monroe made many patronage appointments without regard to political loyalty, for example.

A return to that kind of civic culture is what Obama hoped to bring about--all that talk about transforming politics. And that vision was key to his appeal during, and before, the campaign. The most famous sentence in Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention speech--"there's not a liberal America and a conservative America, there's the United States of America"--is a textbook civic-republican sentiment. After the thuggish, with-us-or-against-us posture of the Bush administration, it was something millions of Americans wanted to hear, and believe in.

Well. This many years later, it's pretty clear that Barack Obama isn't going to transcend liberal America and conservative America.

George W. Bush believed in exactly the same civic republicanism and hoped to transcend the partisan politics of the Beltway as he had in Texas. But, the partisan lunacy of folks just like Mr. Tomasky prevented him form being able to do so. Indeed, in the wake of Florida no Democrat would join the Administration, leaving poor Norm Minetta in a token role as a cabinet holdover.

Of course, the big difference is that W was so adept a politician that even after Jim Jeffords decided to switch parties he still managed to pass his tax package, NCLB, and a slew of other major reforms, leading not only to the GOP retaking the Senate but to his own re-election. Sadly, 9-11 and the War on Terror so poisoned the well that Democrats could never be reconciled to the most progressive president of the modern era and the partisanship, after a brief lull, returned to levels that were certainly no better than those Mr. Obama faces and probably worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Postal Service asks Congress to allow 120,000 layoffs, overhaul benefits (Laurie Segall, August 11, 2011, CNNMoney)

Hundreds of thousands of postal workers could soon lose their jobs, or face drastic changes to their benefits.

According to documents obtained by CNNMoney, the United States Postal Service is appealing to Congress to remove collective bargaining restrictions in order to lay off 120,000 workers. It also wants congressional approval to replace existing government health care and retirement plans.

The post office claims it needs to eliminate 220,000 positions, or more than 30% of its staff by 2015, but only 100,000 of those positions can be made through attrition. The other 120,000 must come from lay offs, according to the documents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Perry not a true conservative (Tom Tancredo, August 11, 2011, Politico)

When I ran for president in 2008, I tried to pressure the Republican candidates to take a hard line against illegal immigration. For this, Perry called me a racist.

When he first took office as governor in 2001, Perry went to Mexico and bragged about his law that granted "the children of undocumented workers" special in-state tuition at Texas colleges, the first state in the nation to do so.

"The message is simple," Perry concluded, "educacion es el futuro, y si se puede." Education is the future, and (echoing Cesar Chavez's slogan) yes we can.]

Just a few weeks ago, Perry defended his decision to give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. He said "to punish these young Texans for their parents' actions is not what America has always been about."

Perry opposed Arizona's tough anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070. "I have concerns," he explained, "with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas."

He spoke out last year against using E-Verify to prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs as state employees, who get their paychecks from the taxpayers. He insisted it "would not make a hill of beans' difference."

Numbers USA, a group that supports immigration control, gives Perry a "D-" for his positions supporting amnesty, open borders, and opposing border security.

Perry, in a speech in Mexico in 2007, said he supports completely open borders, calling for the "free flow of individuals between these two countries who want to work and want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico."

Mr. Tancredo's views being irreconcilable with Christianity, they can not be a measure of conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM

Foster The People On World Cafe (NPR, 8/11/11)

Los Angeles's Foster the People seemingly appeared out of nowhere, taking the blogosphere and Top 40 radio by storm with the viral single "Pumped Up Kicks," a breezy summer jam with a subtly sinister edge.

Bandleader Mark Foster grew up in Cleveland and moved to Los Angeles after high school to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. After years on the fringes of the industry, Foster and his band finally broke through with the polished, genre-hopping sound that made them a WXPN "Artist to Watch."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM

60-40 NATION:

Poll: Pro-choicers oppose late-term abortion (Michael Foust, 8/10/11, BP)

[5]2 percent of pro-choicers and 90 percent of pro-lifers favor making abortion illegal in the second trimester. Eight states have passed laws in the past 18 months prohibiting abortion beginning at 20 weeks.

In addition, pro-choicers and pro-lifers favor laws:

-- requiring a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion (60 percent of pro-choicers and 79 percent of pro-lifers favor it).

-- requiring parental consent for minors (60 percent pro-choicers; 79 percent pro-lifers).

-- banning partial-birth abortions (63 percent pro-choicers, 68 percent pro-lifers).

-- making abortion illegal in the third trimester (79 percent pro-choicers, 94 percent pro-lifers).

-- requiring informed consent for abortion patients (86 percent pro-choicers, 87 percent pro-lifers).

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and all the major abortion groups oppose each of those restrictions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Without Saudi support, President Bashar al-Assad's brutal dictatorship in Syria looks doomed (Con Coughlin, 11 Aug 2011, The Telegraph)

In recent years, the Saudis have sought to improve relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, which represents many Syrian Sunnis, and Riyadh's decision to cut relations with Damascus reflects the royal family's revulsion at Assad's treatment of their co-religionists.

Certainly, the Saudis are not the only people who think the region's prospects would be greatly improved if Assad were driven from power. For a start, a Sunni Muslim government in Damascus would be unlikely to provide the same level of unstinting support for Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed militia that controls large swaths of neighbouring Lebanon.

Syria's long-standing alliance with Iran has been driven to a large extent by the fact that Tehran's Shia Muslim ayatollahs have been prepared to accept the legitimacy of Assad's Alawite cult, whereas most Sunnis regard the Alawites as heretics. The overthrow of the Alawites would remove the raison d'etre of Syria's alliance with Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Romney's 'Corporations' Comment Not Incorrect, But Not Smart Politics, Either (Sophie Quinton, August 11, 2011, Hotline)

Mitt Romney's not expected to compete heavily in Iowa. But that doesn't mean he isn't making news in the Hawkeye State.

"Corporations are people too, my friend," the former Massachusetts governor said in a testy exchange at the Iowa State Fair's soapbox Thursday.

Of course it's also incorrect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Alan Simpson on Obama's Leadership: The president needs to put forth a budget plan. (national Review, 8/11/11)

As a former senator who served under four different presidents, Alan Simpson (R., Wyo.) is perplexed at the way the current one has "led" since taking office in 2009. "One thing that's puzzled me from the beginning of this administration is that, on every major piece of legislation, he's said, 'Let Congress decide,'" Simpson tells National Review Online. "With every other administration in the past, whether it was Carter, Reagan, Bush, or Clinton, whenever they wanted to do something big, those of us in Congress would always say, 'Okay, where's the White House bill?' They always had a plan to show us."

Unfortunately, Simpson argues, President Obama has failed to adopt this approach, opting to let Congress take the lead on legislative matters, even those of paramount importance, such as health care, the federal budget, and -- most recently -- the debt ceiling. "I've never seen that done before," he says. "Congress is never going to hammer out a sensible bill if they don't know what the White House is going to do with it."

...Governor Carter, Governor Reagan, Vice President Bush, and Governor Clinton. What did he expect from junior Senator Obama? All he'd ever done before in politics was vote yes, no, or present (though he was often absent) on other peoples' bills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


C.C. Sabathia: Just How Big a Problem? (Allen Barra Mon., Aug. 8 2011, Village Voice)

How refreshing it was when Ralph Kiner was a regular broadcaster for the Mets and didn't hesitate to raise such issues about any player. I remember in the early 1980s when the Pirates had John Candelaria, who, like Sabathia, was 6-7. The Pirates usually listed Candelabra's weight as around 220-230, but once the season started it was obvious he was much heavier -- 250-260, I'd say. I can't remember the year, but one season he came back from a month-long injury and had obviously put on 20-25 pounds. Kiner didn't mince words. Steve Zabriskie, I think it was, was doing the game with Kiner and was a bit embarrassed, responding, "Well, you know, he's had a knee injury and hasn't been able to work out." "Does he eat with his knee?" Kiner shot back.

Through much of his late career, Kiner was kind of like the ditzy uncle who you only see a couple of times a year but when he's at the Thanksgiving dinner table doesn't think twice about saying out loud what's on everyone's mind.

On Sunday afternoon's Braves game, Kiner was on the air with Ron Darling, who obviously gets a kick out of doing a game with Uncle Ralph. Kiner went through a list of major league sluggers who haven't hit for much power this season. But, Darling commented, "Some of these guys hit for average." After a pause, Darling added, "But you like home runs, right?" "Yeah," said Kiner, "I like home runs. You hit a home run, you get at least a run."

Kiner also loves to shoot holes in perceived baseball wisdom. "These stolen base hot shots," he remarked, referring to the fastest runners on both the Braves and Mets. "If they're so good at stealing bases, just let them steal. I never figured out why it was considered smart for a batter to swing at a pitch he didn't like in order to 'protect' the runner? If the runner is good enough to steal, why does he have to be 'protected'? They always talk about how many bases so-and-so steals, but they never tell you how many outs the batters had to sacrifice to help them get those stolen bases." Point taken.

And here's another: "One of the worst things they ever did to relief pitching was invent the 'save' category. If they hadn't done that, managers would bring in their best relief pitchers at the point in the game where he could do his team the most good. Casey Stengel used to do that, and so, a lot of times, did Leo Durocher. Now you're paying the relief aces for saves, and you can only bring them in in save situations where your team is already ahead. They show you how many games a relief pitcher saves, but they never tell you how many games a team loses because a manager didn't use his best reliever in the toughest situation."

And so ancient wisdom meets Bill James-type modern analysis. We could use more of that, and frankly, we could use a lot more Ralph Kiner, who's 88. If he slips up and says something offensive -- you know, something non-PC -- now and then, I'm sure we can cut him a little slack. I'm even more sure Ron Darling is fast enough on his feet to cover for him.

August 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


George W. Bush, Health Reformer: Flat Medicare Drug Premiums Show That Choice and Competition Work (Avik Roy, 8/10/11, Forbes)

Yesterday, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data on average premiums for Medicare Part D, also known as Medicare's prescription drug benefit. The average Medicare Part D premium in 2012, HHS projected, would be around $30.00, compared to the 2011 average of $30.76. "The announcement was based on bids submitted by Part D plans for the 2012 plan year," HHS stated.

Stop right there and think about that. With all the teeth-gnashing about the inexorable rise of health costs, when have you ever heard about a health care program whose costs go down? Where are the celebratory articles from health wonks, pointing out that we may have found a way to bring the explosive growth of health spending under control?

There's a reason you haven't seen those articles: because Part D proves wrong the progressive conventional wisdom, that rising costs is a Rubik's Cube that only boards of government-appointed experts can solve. Plus, Medicare Part D was passed at the behest of a certain former President who progressives don't like. (Hint: his middle name is Walker.)

It may well be that the only national political leader with the nous to effect similar reforms to the rest of the entitlement programs is his brother.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 PM


Immigrants love this country more than we do (Cristina Odone, 10 Aug 2011, The Telegraph)

In Southall, west London, a crowd of turbaned Sikh men stood guard outside their temples last Tuesday night. Some held swords, others hockey sticks as they defied the looters to approach. None dared.

Over in Whitechapel, rioters were held back by 1,500 Muslim men - mostly Bengali, but also Somalis - emerging from the mosque after evening prayers. In Ealing, Monika Gnoinska, a Pole who came here 20 years ago, and her daughter Agneska, 27, decided that they couldn't stand by and "watch these gangs wreck the country". Armed with brooms and dust-pans, they joined their eastern European neighbours in a collective clean-up operation: "The street was full," Monika said, "and everyone was saying, 'We work hard, and we're grateful to Britain for what it's done for us. We won't allow any more nonsense.' " Turks in Dalston, Poles in Ealing, and Kurds in Haringey stood up to the thieving thugs at night, then spent the day helping repair the damage.

Across the country, ethnic communities have emerged as the heroes of the week's riots - and, in the case of the three Muslim youths who were killed as they defended their neighbourhood in Birmingham, its martyrs. They have shown themselves to be not just as law-abiding as the Anglo-Saxons, but far more inspiring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


A Test for Obama's View of a One-Term Presidency (HELENE COOPER, 8/10/11, NY Times)

It was a year and a half ago when President Obama told Diane Sawyer of ABC News in an interview that he would rather be a good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.

Now, coming off one of his worst weeks since taking office, Mr. Obama is nearing a decision on whether he really meant that. Is he willing to try to administer the disagreeable medicine that could help the economy mend over the long term, even if that means damaging his chances for re-election? [...]

"The problem for Obama is that right now, the United States is either at a precipice or has fallen off it," said David Rothkopf, a Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration. "If he is true to his commitment to rather be a good one-term president, then this is the character test. In some respects, this is the 3 a.m. phone call."

Mr. Obama, Mr. Rothkopf argues, has to focus in the next 18 months on getting the economy back on track for the long haul, even if that means pushing for politically unpalatable budget cuts, including real -- but hugely unpopular -- reductions in entitlement programs and the military, in exchange for a "grand bargain" in which the cuts would come in exchange for significant job-creating stimulus and increased tax revenues.

He seems too small a man to even imagine that he can effect events, like Jimmy Carter, who described the malaise accurately, but left it to Ronald Reagan to dispel the miasma.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


Tribune Co. will reportedly offer free tablets to subscribers (Evan MacDonald, Aug 10, 2011, Consumer Reports)

The Tribune Co., which owns papers such as the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun, is reportedly readying a plan to offer subscribers a free touch-screen tablet in exchange for a two-year subscription to one of its print newspapers.

The tablet is expected to run a modified version of Google's Android OS and prominently feature content from the customer's hometown newspaper. The company is reportedly looking to Samsung to provide the hardware. Both the Chicago Sun-Times and CNN cited anonymous sources who were current and former Tribune Co. employees for the information.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


London riots: 'Bleeding, I called 999. A tired man told me to go home': Andrew Gilligan reports on his own experiences of the lawlessness that swept across much of London and elsewhere. (Andrew Gilligan, 10 Aug 2011, The Telegraph)

Even on Monday, the victims of Tottenham, black and white, were already tired of outsiders blaming racism, police brutality, or cuts. (What were they rioting about in prosperous, suburban Enfield - rising season-ticket prices?) The real reason for the rioters' behaviour is much simpler: because they can.

Forget BlackBerry Messenger. After seeing -- on television -- how much leeway the looters of Tottenham were allowed, every criminal and every excitement-seeking child in London took note.

By the next day, critical mass had been achieved. Disorder had erupted on a scale much more difficult to suppress than the original outbreak.

There are, and always have been, plenty of people keen to break the law. On my taxi ride, I saw many other youngsters in twos and threes, hoods up, looking for the next crowd to join.

These are sights, with variations, that I have seen in foreign conflict zones: the loss of state authority and the loss of individual inhibition from being in a big group. But in London, the geography of fear is particularly potent.

Unlike Los Angeles or Paris, the riots are not happening in ghettos where nobody goes. They are happening amid the organic gastropubs and latte bars. Alongside poverty, inner London is full of the sort of middle-class progressives who agree with Ken Livingstone that the rioters "feel no one at the top of society, in government or City Hall, cares about them or speaks for them".

I predict a lot of those people, as they cower behind their sash windows, are revising their views tonight. The hardening of liberal opinion in London is palpable, and is taking even the likes of Boris Johnson by surprise.

One thing about rioters who aren't actually desperate, they're easily cowed. The question is does Sam Tyler's police force any longer have the capacity to be Gene Hunt when it needs to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Exasperated House liberals back Pelosi, point finger at President Obama (Mike Lillis, 08/09/11, The Hill)

Half of the House Democratic Caucus rejected the final deal, while 73 percent of House Republicans voted for it.

The bipartisan deals on the CR and the debt have complicated Pelosi's effort to win back the House because it is difficult to criticize Republicans for backing deals that Obama signed into law. Moreover, the presidential race will be center stage next year, and House Democrats have grumbled that Obama's actions in 2011 clearly illustrate that winning back the House is not among his top priorities.

A growing number of liberal Democrats and policy groups say the White House has left Pelosi little choice through the budget debates. They're blaming Obama's deal-making style for undermining most of the leverage held by Pelosi and other House Democrats.

"Of all the Democratic leaders in the room, it's a pretty safe bet that Nancy Pelosi is doing the most to exert leverage on behalf of progressive priorities," Adam Green, head of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in an email. "That's a bit tough to do, though, when the Democratic president has no idea how to fight or exert leverage, and is giving away the store."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


It's Not the Economy, Stupid!: Yesterday's flash rally, following Monday's flash crash, demonstrates the truth of today's markets--they no longer reflect economic reality on the ground. (Zachary Karabell, Aug 10, 2011, Daily Beast)

The sell-off that began last week brought out a host of commentators who jumped on the bad news of the markets and used that to tell grim stories of a global economy on the brink. Sell-offs produce bad news the way sinking ships produce rats; on days of vertiginous decline, the odds of hearing someone preach the gospel of growth and prosperity are decidedly slim.

It was no surprise to see Nouriel Roubini burnishing his brand as Dr. Doom on Monday, warning not just of a recession in the United States and a near-collapse of the Eurozone, but also a sharp slowing of global manufacturing stretching from China through India, Brazil, and Germany. One analyst on CNBC, cheering on the rise in gold prices, predicted that the financial system would soon become so perilous that the president of the United States would be forced to confiscate European gold holdings stored in the vaults of New York in order to maintain American economic viability once cash currencies collapsed completely.

Even facts were subject to the optic of impending collapse. China released a raft of economic data late Monday night, showing inflation at an expected 6.5%, industrial production up 14%, and retail sales up 17%. That sounds like an economy charging ahead - and in a fast-growing economy, you want healthy inflation (not too much, but God forbid too little) to augment domestic spending. But one Goldman Sachs analyst out of Asia captured Wall Street sentiment perfectly when he described the data as proving that China was "weakening." Why? Because industrial production was expected to reach 14.9% and retail sales were shy of the predicted 17.7%.

Only in the midst of a sell-off tinged by group-think could these numbers be made to be bad. Yes, China is likely slowing relative to periods of even more torrid expansion over the past five years, but so what? It is still consuming global commodities with a nearly insatiable appetite and in turn focusing on domestic markets and innovation (including a move toward renewable and alternative energy parallel to its voracious consumption of carbon). The sell-off in equities and China's own discontent with its dependency on the U.S. dollar did nothing to alter any of that.

And as for the looming U.S. recession that generated a bandwagon of consensus so full it's a wonder it didn't tip over, Disney reported results that showed its theme parks did 12% more business, and ad sales were up healthily in its entertainment divisions. That matched reports of other media companies that saw better ad revenue over the past months. Ad revenue and theme parks don't see those trends unless domestic consumers are spending money; companies don't increase advertising budgets on slumping sales, and theme parks don't fill with bodies if people can't spend.

The reality has been and remains that part of the United States is mired in recession, depression, or whatever word you wish to use for a protracted period of stagnation, unemployment, declining wages and waning spending power. A numerically smaller portion is thriving, and a very small portion is really thriving. Whether the "economy" grows 2.5% or 0% for the next year won't change that reality, and all the recent analysis about whether we enter a recession misses the point that the recession never ended for tens of millions and hardly ever existed for millions more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


The Rick Perry that Texans know (Dan Balz, August 9, 2011, Washington Post)

Paul Burka, the veteran political writer for Texas Monthly, recently wrote an article called "Dear Yankee." It was a plea for all the Northern reporters from national publications who will be making the pilgrimage to Austin not to deal in old and foolish stereotypes in assessing Perry -- or Texas.

Burka, who has come to understand Perry's strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone in the state, had much to say of value. Among other things, he noted that the handsome Texas governor with the big head of hair should not be dismissed as a "soft or feckless" pretty boy, as if he were a Republican version of the Democratic Breck Boy, John Edwards.

"Perry is a hard man," Burka wrote. "He is the kind of politician who would rather be feared than loved -- or respected. And he has gotten his wish. Perry does not have many friends in the [Texas] Legislature."

Asked what non-Texans may understand least about Perry, McKinnon said: "What they don't know is that he's probably much more tested than people think. He's been through some very, very tough campaigns. He's pretty battle-tested. The national scene is a different deal, but he is a vigorous, aggressive, disciplined campaigner -- and knuckles-out."

He has never lost an election and as a Republican he has never hugged the center -- a potential problem in a general election but not in the primary of the current Republican Party. Instead he has developed near-perfect pitch with the party's conservative base. He has what another Texan calls "an instinctual read" on the Republican Party, something few people say about Romney.

Perry sounded the tea party's bugle even before most people understood what a force that movement would become within the Republican Party. When he talked about secession back in 2009, Democrats saw it as a blunder by a lightweight. But it resonated with conservatives fed up with Washington.

There is wide agreement in Texas political circles that it was his instinct for where the party was moving at the time, along with his attack politics, that made it possible for him to demolish Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in their 2010 gubernatorial primary, a race that only a year earlier appeared to be hers to lose.

"He obliterated her with his anti-Washington message," said Matthew Dowd, who was a top adviser in both of Bush's presidential campaigns. "He's honed that, and that's going to be a big part of who wins the Republican race."

Many people may wonder whether the country, or the Republican Party, is ready for another Texan. Those who know Perry, however, say that he is not George W. Bush. It's well known that there is little love between the Bush and Perry camps, but personal relationships aside, the two have approached governing in the Lone Star State with divergent styles.

"Bush by nature, in Texas, wanted to be a conciliator," said one Texas strategist, who requested anonymity to give a candid assessment of Perry. "I think he wanted to be somewhat bipartisan. I don't think Perry's particularly interested in those things. I don't think he's afraid to be partisan. I don't think he's afraid to be tough and mean when he has to."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


In Wisconsin Recall Fight, Republicans Hold the Line (Adam Sorensen, August 10, 2011, TIME)

National advocacy groups funneled tens of millions of dollars into nine races, seven of which have now been decided, turning a parochial skirmish into an all-out proxy war between Tea Partying conservatives and labor-backed liberals. But the historic recall effort, launched in the wake of intense union protests in February and March, ultimately fell one seat shy of reestablishing Democratic control of the state senate.

There is no political price to pay for the war on public unions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Driverless Pod Cars Transport Passengers Around London's Heathrow Airport (Rebecca Boyle, 08.09.2011, Popular Science)

Driverless cars are just catching on in this country, but they're already zooming around London's main airport, ferrying passengers from their people-driven cars to the terminal.

Twenty-two of these automated pods are operating at Heathrow's Terminal 5, the shiny new terminal occupied by British Airways. They were built to replace a duo of diesel buses that formerly drove in a loop from the car parks to the terminal, pausing at various stations no matter how many people were present.

The electric-power pods, which can accommodate up to four travelers and their bags, travel up to 25 mph along 2.4 miles of paved guideways, which can be customized to fit any path. They don't require a special railway or magnetic field -- just lines that can be used for optical navigation.

August 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


A New Strategy for Economic Growth: Growth is not just about economics. Growth unleashes human potential. (KEVIN WARSH AND JEB BUSH, 8/10/11, WSJ)

A pro-growth strategy is decidedly long term in orientation. It aims for higher standards of living five, 10 and 20 years out, long past the next election cycle. It replaces the false promise made to the next generation of entitlement-program recipients with a solvent, dependable model that encourages work and savings. Reforming Social Security before costs multiply and uncertainties spread is both fairer and more growth-oriented. And enacting consumer-driven health-care policies represents the best way to control costs and improve patient care.

An effective growth strategy confronts tough challenges before they become intractable. The strategy is a threat to those who take refuge in our burdensome tax code, and it is a great source of encouragement to those who seek higher rates of return on physical and human capital. Hence, fundamental tax reform--dramatically lowering tax rates for individuals and companies while eliminating loopholes, deductions and credits--is critical to economic growth.

Achieving strong growth requires the free flow of capital, goods and ideas. We have world-class products and services to sell to the growing middle class in emerging markets. We must find our voice to resist the rising tide of economic protectionism and recognize the job-creating benefits of our pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

The growth strategy also demands an abiding respect for the rule of law, and stable, cost-effective rules of the road from regulators. A constantly changing regulatory regime kills investment and limits economic growth. The strategy also demands investing in our own natural resources, such as shale gas and the commensurate infrastructure to re-industrialize our country, creating jobs here in the U.S. rather than shipping hundreds of billions of dollars abroad.

Finally it means ensuring that the opportunities presented by a growing economy are matched by the skills of the next generation. We need to transform our education system through higher standards, merit-based teacher compensation and school choice. No grand strategy will prevail unless far more of our high-school graduates are college or career ready.

Stronger economic growth is not just about economics. Growth unleashes human potential.

Run, Jeb, run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Responding to Syria: The King's statement, the President's hesitation (John Hannah, August 9, 2011, Foreign Policy)

The floodgates of Arab diplomatic restraint on Syria have finally been breached. In the past few days, both the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab League issued their first official statements on the situation, expressing alarm at the Syrian government's excessive use of force and calling for an immediate end to violence. Even more important, the Gulf's most influential leader, Saudi Arabia's plainspoken King Abdullah, followed up with his own personal blast at the Assad regime, declaring that "What is happening in Syria is not acceptable to Saudi Arabia" and calling for a stop to "the killing machine." For good measure, the King recalled his ambassador from Damascus, a step immediately echoed by Kuwait and Bahrain. (Fellow GCC member, Qatar, actually closed its embassy last month).

True, none of the various statements called on Assad to step down. All urged the regime to implement meaningful reforms immediately. But don't be fooled. For the extraordinarily cautious Abdullah to move out against Assad so aggressively -- after almost five months of sitting idly on the sidelines -- is a sure sign that he's betting the Syrian tyrant's days are numbered.

The final straw for the Saudis appeared to be Assad's Ramadan Rampage, during which Syrian troops have laid waste to the cities of Hama and Deir az-Zour. Up to 300 civilians may have been slaughtered, making it by far the deadliest week of the five month old uprising, where the death toll now stands in excess of 2,000 souls. And no doubt most distressing of all for the Saudi monarch is the fact that the vast majority of the victims are fellow Sunnis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


Dalai Lama hands power to Harvard graduate Lobsang Sangay (AFP, August 09, 2011)

LOBSANG Sangay, a 43-year-old Harvard scholar, took office yesterday as the Dalai Lama's political successor, vowing to free his homeland from Chinese "colonialism".

After being sworn in as head of the Tibetan government in exile at a ceremony in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, Mr Sangay warned China that the Tibet movement was "here to stay" and would only grow stronger in the waning years of the Dalai Lama.

In an historic shift from the dominance of Tibetan politics by religious figures, the new Prime Minister, who has never set foot in Tibet, is assuming the role relinquished by the 76-year-old Dalai Lama in May.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Chris Christie Says Jersey's Safe From Shariah (Jeffrey Goldberg, 8/08/11, Bloomberg)

Even Placido Domingo has the occasional off night. But when Christie settles on a suitable target, his scorn can scatter his enemies like crows from the trees.

Such was the case last week, when he directed a blast of righteous anger at a campaign to thwart the appointment of a prominent Muslim lawyer to the Superior Court in Passaic County, mainly on grounds that the lawyer is, well, a Muslim. "I just thought this was a ridiculous and disgusting situation," Christie told me when I called him this past weekend, a couple of days after his explosion. "I think it is terrible to try to exclude someone from office based only on his religion, and that's what was happening here."

A bit of background: The lawyer in question is an Indian- born Seton Hall graduate named Sohail Mohammed, who represented, while in private practice, Muslims who had been detained by the FBI after the Sept. 11 attacks. None of the men was ever charged with anything related to terrorism. During that tumultuous period, Mohammed also served as a liaison between New Jersey's Muslim community and law-enforcement agencies. This is how Christie, who became the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey soon after the attacks, first came to know him.

Earlier this year, Christie nominated Mohammed to the Superior Court. Almost immediately, the anti-Muslim blogosphere erupted. Pamela Geller, the doyenne of Web-based anti-Muslim prejudice, wrote, "Governor Christie looked and sounded like he could be presidential. He's not. He's in bed with the enemy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


Dark winters 'led to bigger human brains and eyeballs' (Judith Burns, 7/27/11, BBC News)

Humans living at high latitude have bigger eyes and bigger brains to cope with poor light during long winters and cloudy days, UK scientists have said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Obama's Tipping Point (Cenk Uygur, 8/9/11, Huffington Post)

I have been saying for a long time now that President Obama is the world's worst negotiator and has absolutely no interest in fighting for progressive principles. I didn't make this up out of the whole cloth. I voted for the guy and I desperately wanted him to succeed. But my job is to cover politics and when you cover Obama all you see is him running for cover. [...]

Can anyone name Obama's principles? Something he will not bend on? A progressive priority he will defend to the end?

Does Obama even think of himself as a progressive? He once pointed to a glass half-filled with water and told Sen. Bernie Sanders, "That's the problem with you progressives. You see this as half-empty." You progressives?

But does anyone think that the guy who hired Tim Geithner, Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, William Daley, Peter Orszag, Ben Bernanke, etc. is remotely progressive? If you looked throughout the whole country, could you find more conservative, establishment Democrats? Barely, if at all. And, of course, some of those guys aren't even Democrats.

To look for principles is to misunderstand him in the first place. He's all about hisownself as the principal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Obama plan: Destroy Romney (Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin, August 9, 2011, Politico)

Barack Obama's aides and advisers are preparing to center the president's reelection campaign on a ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney's character and business background, a strategy grounded in the early-stage expectation that the former Massachusetts governor is the likely GOP nominee. [...]

In a move that will make some Democrats shudder, Obama's high command has even studied former President George W. Bush's 2004 takedown of Sen. John Kerry, a senior campaign adviser told POLITICO, for clues on how a president with middling approval ratings can defeat a challenger.

"Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney," said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.

The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama's reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama's advisers in about a dozen interviews, "weird."

One hardly expects political savvy from the Obamanauts, but do they really not get that they're about to go negative on a guy who can't win the nomination because of the stuff they're attacking on?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Mr. Cool turns cold (Richard Cohen, August 8, 2011, Washington Post)

Obama has always been the man he is today. He is the very personification of cognitive dissonance -- the gap between what we (especially liberals) expected of the first serious African American presidential candidate and the man he in fact is. He has next to none of the rhetorical qualities of the old-time black politicians. He would eschew the cliche, but he feels little of their pain. In this sense, he has been patronized by liberals who looked at a man and saw black... [...]

Obama is the very soul of common sense. As he talks, I nod my head in agreement. Mostly, I think, he has done the right thing.

That's comic gold right there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Indecisive President: Obama's Weakness Is a Problem for the Global Economy (Gregor Peter Schmitz, 8/08/11, Der Spiegel)

[I]t is precisely now, in the middle of a serious crisis, that the planet needs a determined voice in Washington -- a city which is still in many ways the world capital.

Weak leadership could cost Obama the next election. But it is not just a problem for the US president. Neither is it just a problem for America. Obama's weakness is a problem for the entire global economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The welfare state wins this budget war (Robert J. Samuelson, August 7, 2011, Washington Post)

The real budget story is how protecting these vast retiree benefits dominates policymaking. If you shield almost half of spending and still want to cut, pressure intensifies on everything else. Along with defense, the budget deal also squeezes that catch-all category, "domestic discretionary spending." This covers many programs: roads, food safety, financial regulation, grants to states and localities, and much more.

We are penalizing general government to protect all retirees, no matter how healthy or wealthy. Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office projected that domestic discretionary spending would drop 30 percent -- as a share of the economy -- from 2011 to 2021. The budget deal will deepen that. President Obama keeps saying this spending will fall, again as a share of the economy, to its lowest level since Eisenhower. Why is he bragging about this?

The conventional wisdom holds that Republicans, hostage to the Tea Party, prevented a larger and more "balanced" deal by their rejection of any tax increases -- ever. Not so. It's true that Republicans were unbending on taxes and, at times, reckless in their rhetoric. It's also true that, even with sizable spending cuts, tax increases will ultimately be needed to balance the budget. But it's not true that only the right blocked a more comprehensive agreement.

Although Obama said he was willing to trim "entitlements" -- presumably, Social Security and Medicare -- he never laid out specific proposals or sought public support for them. There was more talk than action. Even if Obama had been more aggressive, he probably wouldn't have carried most liberals, who adamantly oppose cuts. They regard Social Security and Medicare as sacrosanct. Not a penny is to be trimmed from benefits.

This is an extreme, even fanatical stance.

This is where the UR's unsuitability to the office matters. A Democratic president who can't pass reforms that gouge the rich is truly useless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Dark past of the real Downton Abbey duchess: A new book reveals that nothing in the Downton Abbey TV series could match the scandal at Highclere. (Christopher Wilson, 09 Aug 2011, The Telegraph)

Almina, Countess of Carnarvon ruled Highclere - much as Downton's Lady Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern, does - between 1895 and 1923. Her husband, the 5th earl, was the famous Egyptologist who perished, according to legend, as a victim of the Curse of Tutankhamun.

Lord Carnarvon's wealth came from his wife - which came from the man said to be her father, Baron Alfred de Rothschild, a flamboyant member of the banking family who left her his entire fortune but who never acknowledged paternity.

The whole of Lord Carnarvon's great expedition to Egypt, which resulted in history's greatest archaeological find, was paid for with Almina's Rothschild money. So, too, were the expenses at Highclere, the ruinously expensive family pile in Berkshire, and Almina felt entitled to live the life she chose.
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That included, according to rumour, an affair with her husband's best man, Prince Victor Duleep Singh, the Eton-educated son of the Maharaja of Lahore. The debate continues as to whether Prince Victor was, in fact, the father of Almina's son, the 6th Earl.

"Her husband was slow to do his duty as a husband," explains William Cross, author of The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon, a rigorously-researched account which itself is worthy of a film. "The earl was not impotent, but he didn't find Almina attractive. His wife felt a similar revulsion. But the couple needed to beget an heir. Was Almina seduced by Prince Victor in April 1923, or set up by her husband?"

The answer to Cross's question matters not - the heir was there, the couple could now go their separate ways. Almina stayed at home while her husband started out on his ultimately fatal odyssey to Egypt.

The Carnarvons had been married for 28 years but within months of her husband's death in Egypt, Almina married Ian Dennistoun, an effete Guards officer whose promotion to lieutenant colonel was largely due to his first wife Dorothy's seduction of Sir John Cowans, the Army's Quartermaster General.

Dennistoun met Almina in Paris three years before her husband died, and almost immediately found himself set up in a smart cottage by his new best friend. For Almina, only money talked - she wanted to hire a suitable male companion, and the newly divorced Dennistoun would do. He was also useful for money-laundering. Almina often sold jewels and works of art she inherited from papa Rothschild and, looking for a hidey-hole away from the taxman's gaze, she used Dennistoun's accounts to "lose", in a single year, £5 million in today's money.

Almina enjoyed the attentions of another lover, Tommy Frost, a friend of her son. Frost was also the lover of Dorothy Dennistoun, and what had once been a friendship between the two women turned into an intense rivalry that ended in social disgrace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Ironically, many seek safety of Treasury (Steven Syre, August 9, 2011, Boston Globe)

Investors are running away from risk like no time since the bleak days of 2008, and there aren't very many places to hide. [...]

And one place investors moved their money? To US Treasurys.

"That's ironic, right?'' asks Andy Johnson, senior bond fund manager at Neuberger Berman.

No. But it does demonstrate what a sideshow the debt kerfuffle was.

August 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


Is Obama Smart?: A case study in stupid is as stupid does. (Brett Stephens, 8/08/11, WSJ))

Much is made of the president's rhetorical gifts. This is the sort of thing that can be credited only by people who think that a command of English syntax is a mark of great intellectual distinction. Can anyone recall a memorable phrase from one of Mr. Obama's big speeches that didn't amount to cliché? As for the small speeches, such as the one we were kept waiting 50 minutes for yesterday, we get Triple-A bromides about America remaining a "Triple-A country." Which, when it comes to long-term sovereign debt, is precisely what we no longer are under Mr. Obama.

Then there is Mr. Obama as political tactician. He makes predictions that prove false. He makes promises he cannot honor. He raises expectations he cannot meet. He reneges on commitments made in private. He surrenders positions staked in public. He is absent from issues in which he has a duty to be involved. He is overbearing when he ought to be absent. At the height of the financial panic of 1907, Teddy Roosevelt, who had done much to bring the panic about by inveighing against big business, at least had the good sense to stick to his bear hunt and let J.P. Morgan sort things out. Not so this president, who puts a new twist on an old put-down: Every time he opens his mouth, he subtracts from the sum total of financial capital.

Then there's his habit of never trimming his sails, much less tacking to the prevailing wind. When Bill Clinton got hammered on health care, he reverted to centrist course and passed welfare reform. When it looked like the Iraq war was going to be lost, George Bush fired Don Rumsfeld and ordered the surge.

Mr. Obama, by contrast, appears to consider himself immune from error./blockquote> when's the last time we had a not-smart guy who was also a lousy president? Truman?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


Interview: Mark Steyn on After America (Ed Driscoll, 8/08/11, PJM)

Mark discusses what H.G. Wells' Victorian-era Time Traveler would think about life amongst the "Eloi" of the 21st century. He offers his take on's presumably unintentionally hilarious headline yesterday, "Geithner Says European Nations Must Get 'Fiscal House' in Order." And he'll answer the question that's been on Thomas Friedman's mind in recent weeks -- "Can Greeks Become Germans?"

All this and much more of the most fun you'll have contemplating the Spenglerian collapse of a nation near you. (And watch this space for a transcript of the interview, hopefully online tomorrow.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


The most powerful man on Earth? (Dana Milbank, August 8, 2011, Washington Post)

A familiar air of indecision preceded President Obama's pep talk to the nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Leap of Faith: The making of a Republican front-runner. (Ryan Lizza, August 15, 2011, The New Yorker)

Bachmann's comment about slavery was not a gaffe. It is, as she would say, a world view. In "Christianity and the Constitution," the book she worked on with Eidsmoe, her law-school mentor, he argues that John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams "expressed their abhorrence for the institution" and explains that "many Christians opposed slavery even though they owned slaves." They didn't free their slaves, he writes, because of their benevolence. "It might be very difficult for a freed slave to make a living in that economy; under such circumstances setting slaves free was both inhumane and irresponsible."

While looking over Bachmann's State Senate campaign Web site, I stumbled upon a list of book recommendations. The third book on the list, which appeared just before the Declaration of Independence and George Washington's Farewell Address, is a 1997 biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins.

Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North. This revisionist take on the Civil War, known as the "theological war" thesis, had little resonance outside a small group of Southern historians until the mid-twentieth century, when Rushdoony and others began to popularize it in evangelical circles. In the book, Wilkins condemns "the radical abolitionists of New England" and writes that "most southerners strove to treat their slaves with respect and provide them with a sufficiency of goods for a comfortable, though--by modern standards--spare existence."

African slaves brought to America, he argues, were essentially lucky: "Africa, like any other pagan country, was permeated by the cruelty and barbarism typical of unbelieving cultures." Echoing Eidsmoe, Wilkins also approvingly cites Lee's insistence that abolition could not come until "the sanctifying effects of Christianity" had time "to work in the black race and fit its people for freedom."

In his chapter on race relations in the antebellum South, Wilkins writes:

Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . . The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith.

For several years, the book, which Bachmann's campaign declined to discuss with me, was listed on her Web site, under the heading "Michele's Must Read List."

Sadly, our slavery was chattel rather than classical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


Swedish lesbians forced to pay more for sperm (The Local, 8 Aug 11)

Artificial insemination costs vary widely across Sweden, forcing some same-sex couples to pay significantly more than heterosexual couples who save thousands of kronor by bringing their own sperm.

Perhaps naive, but you wouldn't think Swedish lesbians would have that much difficulty harvesting the stuff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM

First Listen: Janacek, The Cunning Little Vixen (Anastasia Tsioulcas, August 7, 2011, NPR)

Recorded live at Avery Fisher Hall in June 2011, Vixen is no kiddie fairy tale. Instead, this opera is an extended, strange meditation on lust, love, brutality, contentment and fleeting life.The opera tells the tale of a young female fox - the Vixen - as she is captured by the forester, taken into humiliating captivity as a pet, escapes back into the forest, discovers blissful love and the smaller pleasures of family life, and finally sinks into her inevitable death.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


Romney defends silence during debt limit debate (Lucy Madison , 8/08/11, CBS News)

Presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday defended claims that he sat out the debt ceiling debate, pointing out that he signed a GOP-backed "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge related to a debt bill that passed the House but was swiftly shot down in the Senate.

It's August, no one is listening anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Treasury's $2 Trillion Man: David A. Graham on how John Bellows, the interim appointee who caught a $2 trillion error Standard & Poor's made in downgrading the U.S. credit rating, went from writing esoteric papers to blasting the agency's math. (David A. Graham, Aug 7, 2011 , Daily Beast)

It was quick thinking by a little-known Treasury functionary that nearly saved the U.S. credit rating on Friday--but didn't quite.

After Standard and Poor's informed the government of its intention to downgrade the national rating from a pristine AAA to AA+, Treasury officials in Washington huddled to look over the ratings agency's draft press release. It was reportedly John Bellows who noticed within minutes that S&P had made a glaring error that placed its calculations about the U.S. deficit off by about $2.1 trillion.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner quickly pushed back at S&P, pointing to the error. The agency acknowledged its mistake, then said it was charging ahead with the ratings change anyway. Later that evening, it officially downgraded American debt.

The tense Friday has cast the spotlight on Bellows, who is the acting assistant secretary for economic policy. After spotting the error, he took to the Treasury Department blog Saturday to blast S&P's decision in dry but biting language. "After Treasury pointed out this error--a basic math error of significant consequence--S&P still chose to proceed with their flawed judgment by simply changing their principal rationale for their credit rating decision from an economic one to a political one," he wrote.

The most amusing aspect of the whole kerfuffle is that S&P is essentially trying to punish Washington because, while the system worked, they found the process visually dissatisfying. If we had a nickel for every column that's been written saying that, "the final bill was a good one despite how we got there," we could retire the debt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Why government cuts won't hurt growth (Shawn Tully, August 8, 2011, Fortune)

Congress may have narrowly escaped a debt debacle last week, but it couldn't agree on enough cuts to satisfy Standard & Poor's, which downgraded U.S. sovereign debt after the deal's $2.1 trillion in proposed cuts came in below the $4 trillion the rating agency felt was necessary to warrant a triple-A rating.

Still, it's the beginning of a much needed shift towards fiscal austerity. But now economists and pundits are warning that curbing government spending now, with growth in a rut, is a major mistake. It's totally obvious by pure economic math, they argue, that lower federal outlays will shrink GDP.

Americans are hearing this argument from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, his Princeton colleague Alan Blinder, and Fed chief Ben Bernanke, who recently cautioned that quick, severe reductions in government outlays could prove a job and growth killer. Supporters of President Obama, including Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post, worry that when the cuts take hold in 2012, the slowdown they'll inevitably produce could endanger the President's prospects for reelection.

But the Keynesian argument that lower government spending automatically hampers GDP growth, right now, is far from the sure thing its champions keep trumpeting. Many eminent economists, from Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago to Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon, take a totally different view. And the utter failure of the $862 billion "stimulus" to produce a robust recovery should encourage Americans to listen carefully to the view that more spending did little or nothing to raise GDP in the past two years, and lowering it will no virtually nothing to hamper expansion going forward.

We have been running an enormous and very expensive experiment for the last three years," says Kenneth French, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. "Although the stimulus seems to have produced none of the effects predicted by its Keynesian advocates, they remain as adamant as ever about their policy prescriptions. And more and more of the press and the public seem to be buying their arguments. One wonders what evidence would make people question the conclusion that more government spending will improve economic conditions."

What has evidence to do with ideology?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


ITV filming Inspector Morse prequel (Belfast Telegraph, 3 August 2011)

Inspector Morse is returning to our screens 25 years after the character's first appearance on television, in a one-off show about the detective's early career.

The new programme, which will be filmed in Oxford and will go on air next year, stars Shaun Evans in the role made famous by John Thaw.

Shaun said: "Morse as a young man is a wonderful character that I'm very excited to be playing. My hope is that we can complement what's come before, by telling a great story, and telling it well."

The programme, set in 1965, revolves around a hunt for a missing schoolgirl and gives viewers the chance to see where the detective's love for crosswords, classical music, real ale and classic cars comes from.

ITV drama commissioner Laura Mackie said the programme, called Endeavour after Morse's first name, was "a beautifully written story".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Iowa vs. New Hampshire (David Shribman, 8/07/11, RCP)

The Iowa Straw Poll, held on the baking plains in the oven-heat of summer, is even less democratic than the Iowa caucuses, which usually occur on the coldest night of the year. It is an event where issues are barely spoken but displays of political power -- none of which has anything to do with the budget deficit, the debate about taxes, the future of entitlements, the role of American power in the world or the fate of democracy around the globe -- are rewarded.

If you doubt the lack of soundness and sense inherent in this event, let me remind you that the Rev. Pat Robertson won this spectacle in 1987 and that Sen. Phil Gramm tied for the lead in 1995. Such worthy figures as Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Elizabeth H. Dole dropped out of the GOP race after poor showings in this event, which is a tractor pull for policy wonks. [...]

But the gulf between the Iowa and New Hampshire contests has never been as great as it is this time.

Iowa is about abortion and fealty to a new Republican ideal of conservatism that melds social issues with ferocious fiscal discipline. New Hampshire, days later, reacts to Iowa -- and so it is about whether the tea party impulses that are so strong in Iowa will resonate here and whether the verities of old New England conservatism (thrift, rectitude, even such nonpolitical elements as modesty and character) still have a place in a state that is swiftly becoming suburbanized and in a country that seems determined to remain polarized.

As Washington burned last week, Republicans here in New Hampshire were conferring quietly by telephone with Gov. Rick Perry of Texas -- he was 40 minutes on the horn with freshman U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, according to one account -- and debating whether former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts was a wiz or a dud as a job creator during his years as governor between 2003 and 2007.

This tells us that as Iowa leans toward its Saturday appointment with pointlessness, the race in New Hampshire has yet to take shape. The principles are there -- Obama is a disaster and the national economy is still in the doldrums, despite a state unemployment rate that is unusually low, around 5 percent -- but the principals are not.

It's not that anyone here is pining for former Gov. Sarah Palin -- she attracts remarkably little interest in New Hampshire -- or even that desperate for Perry, who as a Texan is the very definition of an alien to these parts, to join the fray. It's simply that it will likely boil down to a struggle between Romney, who owns a vacation home here, and whoever is selected by Iowa.

And there's nothing more appealing about Mitt Romney for New Englanders than the fact that he's keeping his own counsel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Faith: Freedom and Islam: Muslims need liberalism, not just democracy (Mustafa Akyol, August 7, 2011, The Daily)

Despite all the assumptions to the contrary, there were proto-liberal schools of thought in classical Islam, which valued individual rights, rationality and pluralism. These schools were eclipsed by the more communalist, dogmatic and intolerant interpretations of the faith. Things got even worse in the 20th century, as European colonialism triggered an anti-colonial reaction and an anti-liberal mood throughout the Muslim world. Soon, an even more definitive curse befell the Middle East, with the vicious cycle between secular dictators and their Islamist enemies.

Today, in order to go beyond those extremes, and to rediscover Islamic liberalism, I call on my fellow Muslims to embrace three basic freedoms:

First, "freedom from the state," or the acceptance of secular (not secularist) governments. Yes, Prophet Muhammad happened to be the head of a state, but none of us mortals are divinely guided as we believe that he was. Thus, none of us should impose our own limited understanding of Islam, via the state, as "the real Islam."

Second, there is the need to accept "the freedom to sin." Not because we endorse sin, but because when we try to ban it with authoritarian means, all we create is hypocrisy, not genuine piety.

Third, we Muslims should recognize "freedom from Islam." If any of our coreligionists choose another religion, in other words, we should just respect that choice. That would be a much bigger service to our faith, rather than depicting it as a club with a free entry but no free exit.

Muslims do not need to abandon the core of their faith in order to accept these freedoms. But they certainly need to recognize them, if they wish to build truly liberating democracies.

August 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


Scolded by Another Federal Judge, 'Birther' Lawyer Orly Taitz Blames Court Clerk for Bad Filing (Martha Neil, 7/26/11, ABA Journal)

A California lawyer known for failed "birther" litigation against President Barack Obama that resulted in a $20,000 sanction from a U.S. District Court judge in Georgia has now irritated another member of the federal bench in the nation's capital, according to the Orange County Register.

Attorney Orly Taitz "is either toying with the court or displaying her own stupidity," wrote U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Arthur Murray, Test Pilot, Is Dead at 92 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, August 4, 2011, NY Times)

It was May 28, 1954, and Maj. Arthur Murray, test pilot, would wrestle for the next 15 terrifying seconds with a rocket plane racing over 1,400 miles an hour and spinning wildly, supersonically out of control. In the turmoil, he would fly higher than any human being had ever been, 90,440 feet over the earth.

Finally, Major Murray's plane, a Bell X-1A, sank back into heavier air, and he had time to look at the dark blue sky and dazzling sunlight. He became the first human to see the curvature of the earth. At the time, he was called America's first space pilot. [...]

Mr. Wolfe wrote of how a plane at supersonic speed and high altitude could "skid into a flat spin like a cereal bowl on a Formica counter." That left a pilot only one question, he added: "What do I do next?"

That was exactly the experience Mr. Murray described in The Saturday Evening Post in 1955, an experience he shared with the legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, who flew a chase plane behind Major Murray when he broke the altitude record.

Mr. Yeager started the space race when be broke the sound barrier on Oct. 14, 1947. In 1957, the Soviet Union would put the first satellite in orbit, and in 1961 it sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the world. Alan B. Shepard Jr., a test pilot, became the first American in space in 1961. The next year, John Glenn, another test pilot, was the first orbiting American.

Major Murray's many test flights, including 14 in the Bell X-1A, helped build the foundation for America's exploration of the heavens. He further contributed as manager of the Air Force's program to develop the X-15, a more advanced rocket plane, from 1958 to 1960. Two X-15 flights exceeded 100 kilometers in altitude, meeting the international definition of space flight. [...]

The last thing Mr. Murray's wife told him before he left for the edge of outer space was to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home. He remembered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


The Rise of the Macro-Nationalists (Thomas Hegghammer, 7/31/11, NY Times)

While Mr. Breivik's violent acts are exceptional, his anti-Islamic views are not. Much, though not all, of Mr. Breivik's manifesto is inspired by a relatively new right-wing intellectual current often referred to as counterjihad. The movement's roots go back to the 1980s, but it gained substantial momentum only after 9/11. Its main home is the Internet, where blogs like Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs and Gates of Vienna publish essays by writers like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Bat Ye'or and Fjordman, the pseudonym for a Norwegian blogger. Mr. Breivik's manifesto is replete with citations of counterjihad writers, strongly suggesting that he was inspired by them.

Of course, by advocating the mass murder of European politicians, Mr. Breivik goes much further than any counterjihad ideologue has ever done, and his manifesto contains ideas and information that have no precedent in the counterjihad literature. For example, he provides extensive advice on how to build bombs and plan terrorist attacks. The leading counterjihad writers have virtually never advocated violence, and several of them have condemned Mr. Breivik's actions.

He also claims to be a member of a knightly order called the European Military Order and Criminal Tribunal, which he describes as a reincarnation of the Knights Templar and which he says he founded in London in 2002 with activists from eight countries across Europe.

Indeed, the more belligerent part of Mr. Breivik's ideology has less in common with counterjihad than with its archenemy, Al Qaeda. Both Mr. Breivik and Al Qaeda see themselves as engaged in a civilizational war between Islam and the West that extends back to the Crusades. Both fight on behalf of transnational entities: the "ummah" -- or "community" of all Muslims -- in the case of Al Qaeda, and Europe in the case of Mr. Breivik. Both frame their struggle as defensive wars of survival. Both hate their respective governments for collaborating with the outside enemy. Both use the language of martyrdom (Mr. Breivik calls his attack a "martyrdom operation"). Both call themselves knights, and espouse medieval ideals of chivalry. Both lament the erosion of patriarchy and the emancipation of women. [...]

Countering extreme macro-nationalists like Al Qaeda and Anders Breivik is difficult because the causes they espouse often enjoy a certain popular support, even if their prescription -- mass murder -- is almost universally rejected. Just as Al Qaeda exploited widespread Muslim opposition to American policies in the Middle East, so does Mr. Breivik tap into a relatively large reservoir of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe.

The other thing that links them is especially revealing, the belief that the culture they claim to defend is so weak that it is on the brink of destruction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


A Moral Flip-Flop? Defining a War (Paul Starobin, 8/06/11, NY Times)

HAROLD HONGJU KOH, the former dean of the Yale Law School, has been one of the country's foremost defenders of the notion that the president of the United States can't wage wars without the approval of Congress. During the Bush administration, he was legendary for his piercing criticisms of "executive muscle flexing" in the White House's pursuit of the so-called war on terror.

Even more, he was described by those who knew him as the inspiration for a generation of human rights activists and lawyers passionately committed to a vision of a post-imperial America as a model of constitutional restraint. His colleagues viewed him as not only a brilliant scholar but a "liberal icon."

Suddenly, though, Mr. Koh seems to be a different person.

Just over two years ago, he became legal adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton's State Department, and in that job, he has become the administration's defender of the right to stay engaged in a conflict against Libya without Congressional approval. He argues that the president can proceed because the country is not actually engaging in "hostilities." Because "hostilities" is "an ambiguous standard," he has argued, the president need not withdraw forces to meet the resolution's requirement of an automatic pull-out, 60 days after "hostilities" begin, absent express Congressional approval for the war. The conflict is in its fourth month, and no such consent has been given.

Mr. Koh's allies, speaking more in sorrow than in anger, are mystified and disheartened to see their hero engaging in legalistic "word play." To them, it's as if he has torn off his team jersey, midgame, and put on the other side's. Mary Ellen O'Connell, a Notre Dame law professor who has known Mr. Koh for a quarter-century, is seeking an answer to this question: "Where is the Harold Koh I worked with to ensure that international law, human rights and the Constitution were honored during the Bush years?"

Mr. Starobin misses the only difference that matters to such folks: Obama, not Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


What Happened to Obama? (Drew Westen, 8/06/11, NY Times)

IT was a blustery day in Washington on Jan. 20, 2009, as it often seems to be on the day of a presidential inauguration. As I stood with my 8-year-old daughter, watching the president deliver his inaugural address, I had a feeling of unease. It wasn't just that the man who could be so eloquent had seemingly chosen not to be on this auspicious occasion, although that turned out to be a troubling harbinger of things to come. It was that there was a story the American people were waiting to hear -- and needed to hear -- but he didn't tell it. And in the ensuing months he continued not to tell it, no matter how outrageous the slings and arrows his opponents threw at him.

The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to "expect" stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought. Our species existed for more than 100,000 years before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the majority of humans would know how to read and write.

Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and "news stories" that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories; the holy books of the three great monotheistic religions are written in parables; and as research in cognitive science has shown, lawyers whose closing arguments tell a story win jury trials against their legal adversaries who just lay out "the facts of the case."

When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.

In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety. What they were waiting for, in broad strokes, was a story... [...]

But there was no story -- and there has been none since.

Everything the UR had to say was elucidated by the oath. All that interests him is the fact of his presidency. There is nothing, nor was there ever, that he wants to do with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


True Believers, All of Us (FRANK BRUNI, 8/06/11, NY Times)

We all have our religions, all of which exert a special pull -- and draw special fervor -- when apprehension runs high and confusion deep, as they do now. And if yours isn't a balanced-budget amendment and a government as lean as Christian Bale in one of his extreme-acting roles, it might well be a big fat binge of Keynesian stimulus spending. Liberals think magically, too, becoming so attached to a certain approach that they wind up advocating it less as option than as panacea.

It has always been thus, all around the world and all through history. Marxism was supposed to be the answer to everything. Prohibition was supposed to redeem America, and unionization was supposed to guarantee a decent life for workers forevermore. Not all worked out exactly as planned.

Even lesser, more specific initiatives command a reverence out of proportion with actual facts. Look at the early-education program Head Start. Unimpeachable in its goals and seemingly sound in its logic, it's one of the most celebrated, cherished antipoverty initiatives of the last half-century. Discussion about it has almost always centered on how best to protect or, ideally, expand it, because it so surely accomplishes such great good.

Except maybe it doesn't. As Joe Klein reported in Time magazine earlier this summer, a comprehensive impact study for the Department of Health and Human Services raised questions about whether Head Start in its current form had all that much lingering benefit to its participants. That the department did so little to acknowledge or publicize these findings suggests the extent to which the program is considered gospel.

In government and so much else there are a multitude of options to weigh, a plenitude of roads to take and a tendency to puff up the one actually taken, because doing so squelches second-guessing and quells doubt.

"The minute you decide to buy the Toyota, your evaluation of it goes up," said Jon A. Krosnick, a social psychologist at Stanford University who studies attitude formation. "You overly romanticize it."

The same goes for religious creeds, political theories or, for that matter, management philosophies. Corporate America embraces one eureka approach after another, be it employee ownership or management by objective or the cult of the charismatic C.E.O., and when such movements begin, "They're considered like the invention of fire," said Eric Abrahamson, who teaches at Columbia University's graduate business school. "They do everything, they work everywhere, with great consequences. Just like religions, they give a whole explanation of the world." That is, until they are swept aside in favor of the next movements, to be clung to as fiercely and blindingly as their predecessors.

...which is how these beliefs don't resemble religion. They're scientific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Does class size really matter?: Parents are dying to get their kids into smaller classes. But research shows they may be panicking over nothing (Peg Tyre, 8/06/11, Slate)

[T]here is a substantial body of research to suggest that kids in small classes don't necessarily learn more. In the range of things that schools can do to improve outcomes for your child, reducing class size may rank a distant fourth behind solid teacher training, a clear and well-sequenced curriculum, and a staff that is well supported and regularly evaluated. For decades, class size was largely a function of a community's population. A lot of kids born in a particular year? The local school found a way to cram them into classrooms. In the 1970s, though, as the discussion of the achievement gap sharpened and schools began to be seen as an instrument of racial oppression, "overcrowding" became a catch-all concept for the inequities between poor and middle-class kids in public education. Writers like liberal activist Jonathan Kozol decried the antiquated, crumbling, and overcrowded classrooms where poor children had their dreams denied. "The overcrowded classroom" was associated with poor performance, high truancy, and high rates of juvenile crime.

In the last twenty years, legislators have tried to institute state-wide standards in an effort to keep teacher-student ratios low, especially in poor and underperforming schools. Currently, thirty-two states now set aside funds for a voluntary or mandatory reduction in class size. These policies have had a substantial effect. In the last ten years, class size in America has declined -- and continues to drop. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average class size of U.S. elementary schools has been reduced from twenty-four pupils in 1993 to twenty pupils in 2007. Currently, not all poor kids are in overcrowded classes. In schools that serve rural poor kids, for instance, class sizes tend to be small. Urban schools that serve impoverished kids tend to be larger than their more affluent suburban counterparts, though. In public schools in inner-city Chicago, for example, kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms are 14 percent larger than the average-size classrooms throughout Illinois (and considerably larger than the teacher-student ratio in schools in the affluent suburbs that ring the city). In New York City, fourth-grade and eighth-grade classroom sizes are 10 percent and 17 percent higher, respectively, than the average classroom size in the rest of the state.

Americans got adequate educations when every grade was crowded into the same one room schoolhouse, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood holds vote in public (REUTERS, 08/06/2011)

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood held a public internal election on Saturday for the first time in its history in a display of openness before a parliamentary election in November.

The Brotherhood, Egypt's most popular and organized political force, was banned and often harassed, but semi-tolerated, during the 30-year rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by an uprising in February.

"The group is doing this now as it wants to set a model in democracy and transparency ahead of the parliamentary vote," Mustapha al-Sayyid, political science professor at Cairo University, said of the Brotherhood's public vote.

"Having an internal election in public will certainly increase the credibility of the group among the public," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


The Rick Perry I Know (Matthew Dowd, August 5, 2011, National Journal)

Having observed and known the governor, both as a Democrat and as a Republican, through 13 election cycles, I offer a primer on Perry in five key points:

1. He is an extremely astute politician with a keen sense of where voters are, and he has great instincts on message. Perry has ruthless discipline and communication. They say in politics, "Don't let your boot off an opponent's neck till Election Day." Perry doesn't take his boot off till a year after the votes have been counted and the opponent has faded into oblivion. He is actually a better campaigner than George W. Bush (Perry's predecessor as Texas governor) was when he first entered the national scene.

2. Perry has surrounded himself with a very loyal staff. His aides believe in him, and he in them. He is involved in campaign decisions, but he delegates well and doesn't stop being loyal because a mistake might be made. This is a huge advantage in the ebb and flow of presidential campaigns.

3. His statements related to possible Texas secession actually helped him in his recent race in 2010, and will help him in a national campaign in the Republican primaries and caucuses. In an environment where Republican voters despise the federal government, anti-Washington rhetoric is music to their ears. Conversely, this talk will hurt him in a general-election race. Moderate voters in the Midwest will see it as off-putting.

4. Although he has run many times for both district and statewide office in Texas, Perry has never been fully vetted by the media. He underwent some scrutiny in his races for governor, but he has never endured the full-court press that happens in a presidential race. What the media discovers will not be as important as how he and the campaign handle the intense spotlight for the first time. Perry and some of his staffers are known to have thin skins. They will need to grow calluses if they are to succeed in the show.

5. Perry has never lost a race. While many immediately list this as a positive (and it is laudable and suggests huge talent), losing at some point in your career makes you better when the inevitable problems hit. I have learned more from my losses in life and politics than from my victories. It's the losses that really cause self-reflection and growth. President Obama and former Presidents Bush (father and son), Clinton, Reagan, and Nixon learned enormous amounts from setbacks in their political careers, and those losses eventually helped them win the White House. We know Perry can win. The real question is: Can he suffer defeat and rise to the next battle?

Even setting aside his Jefferson Davis act and the problem it causes in a general, rumors about his sexuality will have to be addressed in the primaries (they were fatal to Charlie Crist) and he's going to lose at least one of the first two primaries, so he'll have to respond better than a Howard Dean or a Bob Dole.

August 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Friend Jeffery Anderson offers The Fabulous New Recession Political Drinking Game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


Obama's Glamour Can't Fix Charisma Deficit (Virginia Postrel, 8/05/11, Bloomberg)

What happened? In 2008, after all, not just political pundits and regular folks were expecting big things of Obama. So were certified leadership gurus. Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California and Andy Zelleke of Harvard praised Obama for possessing "that magical quality known as charisma."

This charisma, they predicted, would give Obama "the transformational capacity to lift the malaise that is paralyzing so many Americans today" because "a charismatic leader could break through the prevailing orthodoxy that the nation is permanently divided into red and blue states ... and build a broader sense of community, with a compelling new vision."

There was only one problem. Obama wasn't charismatic. He was glamorous -- powerfully, persuasively, seductively so. His glamour worked as well on Bennis and Zelleke as it did on voters.

What's the difference? Charisma moves the audience to share a leader's vision. Glamour, on the other hand, inspires the audience to project its own desires onto the leader (or movie star or tropical resort or new car): to see in the glamorous object a symbol of escape and transformation that makes the ideal feel attainable. The meaning of glamour, in other words, lies entirely in the audience's mind.

That was certainly true of Obama as a candidate. He attracted supporters who not only disagreed with his stated positions but, what is much rarer, believed that he did, too. On issues such as same-sex marriage and free trade, the supporters projected their own views onto him and assumed he was just saying what other, less discerning voters wanted to hear.

Even well-informed observers couldn't decide whether Obama was a full-blown leftist or a market-oriented centrist. "Barack has become a kind of human Rorschach test," his friend Cassandra Butts told Rolling Stone early in the campaign. "People see in him what they want to see." [...]

If you think of Barack Obama as a charismatic president, it is hard to explain why his supporters are so angry. He should be able to win them over. But if you understand his appeal as glamour, then his problems aren't surprising.

With glamour, any specific action that stands outside the fantasy breaks the spell, alienating supporters who disagree. Even trying to remain above the fray, as Obama often does, infuriates those who want a fighter.

A well-established sales tool, glamour is a tremendous asset if you're running for office. But once you have to govern, it's a problem. Although charisma can continue to inspire, glamour is guaranteed to disillusion. The only thing surprising about Obama's predicament is how few people expected it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM


Merle Haggard recorded an ode to Ron Washington (D.J. Short, Aug 6, 2011, NBC Sports)

You may be familiar with the phrase, "That's the Way Baseball Go." It was uttered by Rangers manager Ron Washington last season and became something of a rallying cry for the team during their first-ever World Series run. Well, now it is forever immortalized in song.

That's right, the Rangers unveiled a song before last night's game called "That's the Way Baseball Go," performed by Merle Haggard. It is a play on Haggard's 1983 hit "That's the Way Love Goes."

...though Blind Man in the Bleachers and Dropkick Me Jesus come close.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Arctic 'tipping point' may not be reached (Matt McGrath, 8/04/11, BBC World Service)

Scientists say current concerns over a tipping point in the disappearance of Arctic sea ice may be misplaced.

Danish researchers analysed ancient pieces of driftwood in north Greenland which they say is an accurate way to measure the extent of ancient ice loss.

Writing in the journal Science, the team found evidence that ice levels were about 50% lower 5,000 years ago.

They say changes to wind systems can slow down the rate of melting.

They argue, therefore, that a tipping point under current scenarios is unlikely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Syria: Not a state? (Adel Al Toraifi, 8/06/11, Asharq Alawasat)

Nobody wants to describe their own country as a "failed state", or see it transformed into a battlefield. Anybody whose country has experienced a bloody civil war knows what it is to be an exile, or not to be allowed to return home. What is happening today in Syria can only be described as a civil war; with a partisan army and sectarian armed militia confronting the peaceful majority. When watching hundreds of unarmed protesters being shot and killed by pro-regime forces, one can only ask: how can this happen in a modern civil state?

In an interview with Dr .Muhammad al-Houni, the long-time adviser to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi stated that the situation in Libya was destined to become a civil war, unlike the Egyptian and Tunisian cases where the military sided with the demonstrators to protect the state against collapse. Dr. al-Houni stated that "Libya is a country without a constitution, an army, a parliament, or [political] parties. Libya is a country without a president or vice president. Libya is not a state." [Al Majalla Magazine, 19 July issue].

This might seem a harsh description of Libya and the Libyan people; however in reality Libya is not alone in this, indeed there are a number of Arab republics that can be viewed as countries ruled by authoritarian regimes but which cannot be considered civil states that possess constitutional legitimacy and sovereignty, unless we are judging this by the criteria of "Westphalian sovereignty". As for the concept of modern states - namely a state of institutions that possesses constitutional legitimacy and follows secular conventional laws - no such state exists in the ranks of modern Arab republics.

Globalization is Anglofication.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


US has 'snatch-and-grab' plan for Pak's nuclear weapons (PTI, Aug 6, 2011)

The US has a contingency plan to "snatch-and-grab" Pakistan's nuclear weapons, if and when the President believes they are threat to either America or its interests, a media report has said, amid strains in bilateral ties.

August 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Illegal immigrants are first 'mothers and fathers, sons and daughters,' says Archbishop Gomez (Marianne Medlin, Aug 4, 2011, CNA/EWTN News)

Archbishop Gomez made his remarks at the Knight of Columbus' 129th annual convention, this year held in downtown Denver, Colo. from Aug. 2-4.

"Many of you are fathers or mothers," he told members of the order. "So the question to have to ask yourselves is this: What wouldn't you do to provide for your loved ones? To feed hungry mouths? To give your children a better future?"

"Our perspective on this issue will change if you begin to see these 'illegals' for who they really are - mothers and fathers, sons and daughters - not much different from yourselves."

The archbishop said that if everyone in North America traced their genealogies, it would "lead us out beyond our borders to some foreign land where each of our ancestors originally came from."

"In my personal case, the first members of my family came to what now is Texas in 1805," he noted.

Archbishop Gomez underscored that our "inheritance" as American citizens comes "to us now as a gift and as a duty," which means that we must have "empathy for this new generation of immigrants."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Hillary for president (Christopher Sprigman, August 5, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

During the 2008 presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton ran an ad called "3 a.m. phone call." The ad juxtaposed pictures of sleeping children with the insistent ring of a telephone. A grave voice asked us to consider who we would want in the White House when the phone rang at 3 a.m. with news of trouble. The message was clear: Barack Obama lacked the strength to be president.

I remember how angry that ad made me. I was newly hired as a junior professor, working hard to get tenure. My nonworking hours were, however, devoted almost entirely to getting Obama elected. [...]

I'm not a political expert, so I don't know if Obama can be re-elected. I only know he shouldn't be. He has broken with the faith that has sustained Democrats since the 1930s -- faith in the power of government to soften inequality, and to provide some measure of security for the old, the poor and the sick.

Hillary, I'm sorry for not listening to you back in 2008. But perhaps you'll give me another chance. Resign as secretary of state, and run against Obama in 2012. I will work my heart out for you. And I bet that millions of other angry Democrats will be with me.

Dude, it's mid-2011, you're just figuring this out now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Shrinking Population, Growing Poverty: Germany Offers Alarming Statistics on Children (Der Spiegel, 8/04/11)

For Germany, the figures are the warning signs of a demographic time bomb in a fast-graying society. The number of children under the age of 18 in Germany sank to 13.1 million in 2010, down 14 percent from 2000, the German Federal Statistical Office reported Wednesday. The drop came despite considerable efforts by the German government to reverse the declining birthrate through subsidies made directly to parents and for their childcare.

As a percentage of the overall population, Germany has fewer children than any other country in Europe. Only 16.5 percent of the population is younger than 18 years of age. In other European countries, like France, Great Britain and the Netherlands, those figures are over 20 percent. In Turkey, almost one-third of the country's population of more than 72 million people is younger than 18. The countries in Europe with the smallest populations of children are Germany, Bulgaria (16.7 percent) and Italy (16.9 percent).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


'Man is more than an overdeveloped monkey': Raymond Tallis tells spiked why he has declared a war of words on the trendy ideas that underpin 'neuromania' and 'Darwinitis'. (Tim Black, 8/04/11, spiked review of books)

In part, anger does underlie his writing. 'My primary desire is to understand things', he says, 'but then there's a secondary anger at people who misrepresent things'. And his latest book, 'the book I have been trying to write all my life', is no exception to this life-long, sometimes ire-fuelled striving for truth. Which is good news because it has made Aping Mankind - Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity into both a much-needed rebuke and a re-assertion of precisely what does make us human.

First, the rebuke. As the title indicates, the objects of Tallis's anger are those twin poles of contemporary scientism: neuromania and Darwinitis. Although it should to go without saying, given Tallis's medical past, it is still worth stating: he is no enemy of science itself, let alone neuroscience. As he puts it in Aping Mankind, neuroscience is 'one of the greatest intellectual achievements of mankind'. Rather what he objects to, what might, pre-retirement, have driven him to get up at unearthly o'clock for a frantic writing session, is the abuse of science. In this case, it means the attempt to reduce humanity to little more than unthinking matter, as utterly subject to the same laws of evolution, indeed of physics, as every other material object, organic or otherwise.

Given the ubiquity of neuromania, Tallis must be piqued daily. Newspapers carry seemingly weekly stories about the discovery of some part of the brain which is responsible for love, or humour or even God. Almost unfailingly, that all-too-familiar image of an MRI scan showing primary-coloured neural activity will sit atop the text. But these images and 'findings' are proof less of the identity of firing neurons and, say, love, than the contemporary determination to reduce our thoughts and feelings, our ideas and dreams, to a purely physical process occurring in a part of the brain. 'One gets the impression', Tallis tells me, 'that both within academe, both within science and the humanities, in the republic of letters, in the world at large and in the newspapers, there is the belief that we are our brains, and that to understand us the best way is to peer into the intracranial darkness in our skulls'.

Rest assured, however, that wherever someone is trying to penetrate the intracranial darkness, Darwinitis is never far behind. Because if the prevailing belief, no matter how half-baked, is that all mental states are physical states, then all that physical stuff - the neural impulses, the circuitry, the localised functions - and with it, our mind, has itself a causal ancestry that stretches back prior to one's own discrete physical existence. It is here that neuromania meets Darwinitis. As Tallis explains, if the mind is no more than an evolved physical organ, then its cause, like the rest of nature, is natural selection. The purpose of our mind, then, is simply to increase the likelihood that our genetic material will survive. Our mind is nothing more than a physical instrument promoting organic survival.

After a couple of drinks, Tallis provides a colourful characterisation of such rampant Darwinitis: '"For years we have thought of ourselves as special, that we have been ordained as such by God. So let's have a corrective to that and acknowledge that we're just animals. The truth about us is that we [****], we [****], we eat, we die, and anything else that matters must be related to [***]ing, [****]ing, and eating and dying, so art must be a reflection of the [***]ing, eating, [****}ing and dying complex and so on."' Tallis concludes: 'It seems true to too many people right now that we're nothing more than slightly overdeveloped chimps.'

It all just boils down to the perfectly natural desire to avoid the responsibilities that our humanity imposes on us so we can justify behaving like animals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM

DARLINTON (appropriateness alert):

Those Darlins On World Cafe (NPR, August 4, 2011)

Tennessee band Those Darlins have an infectiously catchy sound combining Southern rockabilly, tough '60s girl-group pop, and the upbeat punk bash of The Ramones. Like that band of phony brothers, the trio who make up the core of the group -- Jessi, Nikki and Kelli -- all adopted the stage surname Darlin. (Their drummer, Linwood Regensburg, graciously declined.)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Oozing Biofuel: Algae Could Solve World's Fuel Crisis (Von Philip Bethge, 7/28/11, Der Spiegel)

A green algae liquid sloshes back and forth in culture vats and circulates through shiny bioreactors and bulging plastic tubes. The first tests of algae-based fuels are already being conducted in automobiles, ships and aircraft. Investors like the Rockefeller family and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are betting millions on the power of the green soup. "Commercial production of crude oil from algae is the most obvious and most economical possible way to substitute petroleum," says Jason Pyle of the California-based firm Sapphire Energy, which is already using algae to produce crude oil.

The established oil industry is also getting into the business. "Oils from algae hold significant potential as economically viable, low-emission transportation fuels and could become a critical new energy source," says Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at Exxon Mobil. The oil company is investing $600 million (€420 million) in genetic entrepreneur Craig Venter's firm Synthetic Genomics.

The technology holds considerable promise. Indeed, whoever manages to be the first to sell ecologically sustainable and climate-neutral biofuel at competitive prices will not only rake in billions, but will also write history.

Do-it-yourself diesel barons launched the biofuel industry decades ago when they used old French-fry grease to fuel modest agricultural machines. Today, hundreds of thousands of cars run on ethanol derived from grain. In the United States, for example, more than 40 percent of gasoline contains ethanol additive. The fuel is produced in huge fermenters the size of blimps, by fermenting a mash of corn or rye with yeast.

But ethanol as a biofuel has a bad reputation. One hectare (2.47 acres) of corn produces less than 4,000 liters of ethanol a year, and 8,000 liters of water are required to produce a liter of ethanol. Besides, crops grown for ethanol take away valuable farmland for food production. The last growing season marked the first time US farmers harvested more corn for ethanol production than for use as animal feed. One of the adverse consequences of the biofuel boom is that it is driving up food prices.

For this reason, many environmentalists now believe that growing energy plants is the wrong approach. Algae, on the other hand, do not require any farmland. Sun, saltwater, a little fertilizer and carbon dioxide are all the undemanding little organisms need to thrive. And because they consume about as much CO2 during photosynthesis as is later released when the oil they produce is burned, algae-based fuels are also climate neutral.

Algae are also astonishingly productive. A hectare of sunny desert covered with algae vats can yield almost eight times as much biofuel per unit of biomass in a year than corn grown for energy purposes.

August 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM

SPEAKING TRUTH TO CRAZY (via The Other Brother):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Curb Your Enthusiasm's game of cultural chicken (Robert Cushman Aug 3, 2011, National Post)

The Palestinian Chicken episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, shown two Sundays ago, ended in a classic stand-off. On one side of the screen, a group of Los Angeles Jews, protesting the opening of a Palestinian restaurant next door to a deli, this apparently being the Californian equivalent of a mosque at Ground Zero. On the other side, a group of Palestinians protesting the protest. And in the middle, Larry David, his allegiances hopelessly split, partly by his lust for Palestinian chicken, but more by his lust for a Palestinian chick, who had given him the best sex of his life and called him a dirty Jew while giving it. He had first attracted her attention by getting into a fight with a co-religionist who had tried to enter a similar restaurant while wearing a yarmulke. Larry, it seems, likes a little bit of trangressiveness but draws the line at outright provocation.

The appeal of Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it displays everybody in the worst possible light; it's the most misanthropic American comedy since, I should think, W. C. Fields.

...because it consists of expressing what you secretly feel, not what you say in public. Larry is our id.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Trade Deals Clear Hurdle in Senate (TOM BARKLEY, 8/03/11, WSJ)

Senate leaders said Wednesday they had reached a bipartisan agreement to renew funding for trade-related unemployment benefits, likely clearing the way for passage of three delayed free-trade pacts once Congress returns in September.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in a joint statement they had found a "path forward" for the Senate to take up trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama along with the job-retraining program when Congress returns from a month-long recess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


England in the Age of Vikings: Alfred was great, but his grandson was also instrumental in cobbling together a country from its fractious parts. Tom Shippey reviews "Æthelstan: The First King of England." (Tom Shippey, 8/01/11, WSJ))

Now comes Sarah Foot with a biography of Alfred's grandson Æthelstan, whose 15-year reign (924-39), the author says, has never received its historical due. In Æthelstan's youth, what is now England was roughly divided into five or six main sections. There was Wessex, securely English and Christian as a result of Alfred's victories, but accounting for only about a quarter of England's land and manpower. The kingdom of Mercia, or "the Mark," was double the size of Wessex, but its king had fled from the Vikings to Rome. Mercia was split between the Danish-controlled north and east, and a dozen still-Christian English-speaking counties, ruled in Alfred's time by his son-in-law, the mysterious Alderman Æthelred.

It was the achievement of Edward and his sister Æthelflæd (married to Æthelred) to take over those Christian counties of Mercia, thus doubling the wealth and manpower of the Wessex kingdom. The next section to be picked off was East Anglia, not very big but quite rich; it was Danish-occupied but not securely. That left the Five Boroughs of Danish Mercia, with the Viking stronghold of York behind them. Beyond York lay the rest of Northumbria, still English, still Christian, but isolated, fragmented and mixed up with competing Celtic states.

The conventional English history is that Æthelstan annexed York in 927, having cowed Danish Mercia, and went on to force submission from the Scots, Welsh and English Northumbrians at a ceremony in far-north Cumberland later the same year. When an attempt was made by a Viking-Celtic alliance to break free 10 years later, Æthelstan and his half-brother Edmund defeated them decisively at the Battle of Brunanburh. "They left the corpses behind for the raven," says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "never was there greater slaughter in this island."

That is the story, and Ms. Foot stays with it, in support of her contention that while his father Edward was "king of the English," but not the other ethnic groups, Æthelstan was "king of England" and even "ruler of all Britain."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The Long War and the Budget (R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., 8.4.11, American Spectator)

We are engaged in a long war -- actually two long wars. The first and most commonly accepted of our wars is the long war against Islamofascists. It is not a war against vast armies. Comparatively speaking it is just a war against a handful of thugs, but they want to strike at our heart, wherever we are ill-prepared, and if they can they will cause incalculable destruction. This we discovered on September 11, 2001​. We are on the hem of wiping al-Qaeda out, but there are other thugs waiting. We must be vigilant against them. It will be a long war.

The second long war is at home on budgetary matters.

The war against Islamicism was just the coda to the Long War and it's over now, as the Cold War ended before North Korea, Cuba, China, Syria and Iraq fell. Just as after the prior phases, we find ourselves having accumulated some increased debt (though far smaller than following the big battles) and now we stand to reap another peace dividend that will win Mr. Tyrrell's second "war."

The whole process was ridiculously predictable.

August 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 PM


Make the Dollar-for-Dollar Rule Permanent: Matching debt increases with spending cuts will balance the budget in a decade without raising taxes. (ROB PORTMAN, 8/02/11, WSJ)

With this latest debt-limit increase, Congress--at the wise suggestion of House Speaker John Boehner--adopted a new standard: that the bill raising the debt limit must also cut an equal amount of spending over the following decade. In this instance, rather than accede to President Obama's demand as recently as this spring for a "clean" debt-limit increase, Congress matched a $2.4 trillion increase with at least $2.4 trillion in spending savings over the decade.

My hope is that Congress and the president will make further structural spending reforms to respond to the fiscal crisis. But at a minimum, lawmakers should commit to making the "dollar-for-dollar" rule a permanent debt-limit policy. Using Congressional Budget Office data, I have calculated that if we apply this every time we reach the debt limit over the next 10 years, we will balance the budget by 2021 without raising tax rates over current rates.

That's more than $5 trillion in spending cuts over the decade. And because many of these spending reforms would necessarily carry over past 2021, the savings in the following decade would be even larger. If this framework were followed, starting in 2021 budget surpluses would end the era of debt-limit increases.

The ease with which it can be done shows how minor the problem is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 PM


Get your PQ: The following 40-question quiz allows you to calculate your Political Quotient. (The book contains a 10-question quiz, which gives a less precise calculation of your PQ. You can access that quiz by clicking on the "About the Book" tab above.) At the end of the quiz, we list politicians who have PQs similar to yours. (Tim Groseclose)

PQ Survey Results

Here's your PQ: 28.9

Politicians with similar PQs are:

Jack Kemp (R.-N.Y., 1971-86) PQ=20.4
Charlie Stenholm (D-Tex, 1979-2004) PQ=28.5
Ron Paul (R-Tex, 1976-2009) PQ=31.8
Rick Lazio (R-N.Y., 1993-2000) PQ=34.4
Tom Ridge (R-Penn., 1983-1994) PQ=37.4

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


A Bullish View on U.S. Treasuries: Interviewee: Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Interviewer: Christopher Alessi, Associate Staff Writer, August 3, 2011, CFR)

Do you think investors still see U.S. bond markets as being more stable than emerging markets, such as Latin America or China?

China has an inflation problem they are still wrestling with. In parts of the country, they have a housing bubble and a rising cost of living. China is going to increase food imports as a way of dampening the rise of the price of food. So you could see China, in attempting to deal with some of these things, slowing its growth a bit--although I don't see China allowing its growth rate to slip below 8 percent. It's more difficult to know exactly what investments would be there when you don't have a convertible currency. The system is more opaque. You don't have the same rule of law that you do in Europe, the United States, and many parts of Latin America.

With regard to Brazil, that looks like a more stable opportunity, but again, they have to keep their eye on both inflation and the fact the real has been pushed up by a good deal of foreign investment--some of it foreign direct investment, which will be good for the long term, but some of it portfolio investments that are really responding to the higher interest rates there. South Africa, which is a new BRIC country--China added it recently--I don't think that's a major investment opportunity. Russia is very much still a commodity exporter and would depend heavily on those markets. India has enormous long-term promise, but again doesn't have the deeper markets that you would want. All things considered, there's going to remain a significant demand for U.S. treasuries. PimCo [Pacific Investment Management Company, the world's largest mutual fund], which had gotten out of U.S. treasuries, is now getting back into them, thinking that is a better long-term deal.

There's been some speculation that if the United States was downgraded from its AAA status, there could be a move from the dollar as the world's reserve currency. Is that on the horizon?

I don't see it coming in the near term. The big alternative to the dollar was the euro--and that, right now, looks considerably less attractive. You could see many years in the future, twenty years in the future, if China were to continue to [grow] and if China were willing to allow its currency to be convertible and so forth, there might be a greater range of currencies in which you would invest. People certainly do invest in Swiss francs, but there's just not enough of them to be an alternative to the dollar. If there's a [credit] downgrade, that would not have a major impact on the attraction of U.S. treasuries, which would continue to be viewed as the best bet.

I think in the end that Congress will deal with the long-term fiscal challenge that we face. I'm not saying that a downgrade is a good thing--it's not. And it would be an historic change that would certainly be a big symbol. But the bigger the symbol, the more the United States often reacts in a very positive way.

Well, that's no way to scare Washington into the minor reforms required.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Norway's right-wing on defensive after attacks: Country's Progress Party tries to distance itself from former member Anders Behring Breivik (KARL RITTER, Associated Press)

No longer a maverick opposition group, the Progress Party now boasts support that few of its counterparts in Europe can match. It won 41 of the 169 seats in Parliament in the 2009 election, its best result ever. Only the Labor Party is bigger, with 64 seats.

But the July 22 terror attacks, which shook Norway to the core, have generated a wave of sympathy for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's Labor Party, the apparent target of the attacks. Polls show its support surging, ahead of local elections in September.

Jensen said Breivik kept a low profile in the party and never revealed his murderous plans.

"He didn't say much, he didn't do much, he didn't take part in our activities at all," Jensen told AP in her wood-paneled office decorated with an American flag -- a gift from Republicans Abroad -- and a tiny bust of President Ronald Reagan. "So we could not foresee any of this."

In his manifesto, Breivik says he left the Progress Party after concluding "that it would be impossible to change the system democratically." Describing himself as a defender of Europe's Christian heritage, he couldn't accept that once homogenous Norway is now an increasingly diverse nation, where more than 12 percent of the 5 million residents are immigrants or children of immigrants -- about half of them from Asia, Africa or Latin America.

The number of Muslims is unclear because people aren't registered by religious affiliation, but estimates range between 2 percent and 4 percent of the population.

...considering that he single-handedly created 3 million new American citizens, over half the population of Denmark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


The Strike That Busted Unions (JOSEPH A. McCARTIN, 8/03/11, NY Times)

THIRTY years ago today, when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace.

More than any other labor dispute of the past three decades, Reagan's confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.

By firing those who refused to heed his warning, and breaking their union, Reagan took a considerable risk. Even his closest advisers worried that a major air disaster might result from the wholesale replacement of striking controllers. Air travel was significantly curtailed, and it took several years and billions of dollars (much more than Patco had demanded) to return the system to its pre-strike levels.

But the risk paid off for Reagan in the short run.

While Paul Volcker rightly gets much of the credit for wringing inflation out of the economy, Reagan gets far too little, especially in light of the degree to which wages drive the number.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Israel's secular middle class strikes back: The protest started over property prices, but has widened into a popular uprising that is worrying Netanyahu's rightwing coalition (Carlo Strenger, 8/02/11,

Israel's liberals were hardly to be heard: protests against the laws were limited to the press, academia and some public intellectuals. The public was silent.

The reason for this was that Israeli liberals were largely identified with the left and its attempts to bring peace with the Palestinians. Israel's electorate has never forgiven the left for its promise that peace was at hand, a promise ripped apart by endless suicide bombings in Israel's cities during the second Intifada from 2000 to 2003. The citizenry was further angered when, after Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, this area became the launching pad for years of rocket-shelling of Israel's south. Peace seemed a hoax; liberals looked hopelessly naive at best.

Lieberman and Netanyahu rode this wave of anger and depicted Israeli liberals as anti-Zionist collaborators with Israel's enemies. And it seemed as if nothing could stop the wave of totalitarian measures they implemented. [...]

[T]he apolitical character of the protest is being challenged. Netanyahu is already claiming that the protesters are driven by political motivations. His intent is clear: he wants to delegitimise them and claim that their real goal is to topple his government. This, he hopes, will weaken nationwide support for their demands. On Monday, members of the Likud central committee started to say that the demonstrators are just a bunch of sushi eaters with nargilas (Arab pipes) - ie leftist radicals - and that the media was exaggerating their numbers.

Because the process so far has been rather chaotic, it is very difficult to predict what it will lead to. If the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu step up their attack, the protesters will not have any choice but to confront the current coalition in the political arena as well.

They will have to say that taxpayers' money in Israel has been spent lavishly in the occupied territories; that billions of shekels go to child support for the ultra-Orthodox, most of whom do not contribute to the economy; that the silent collusion of Israel's governments with the settlers is ruining the country morally, politically and economically. In the end, the call for social justice and the demand to reinstate liberal values in Israel cannot be separated.

Once these demands are politicised, anything can happen. Netanyahu may be able to delegitimise the protests as an undemocratic attempt to topple his government, and support for the uprising may fizzle.

But it could also be that Israel's secular middle class will feel this is its last chance to assert its rights against the coalition of national-religious, extreme right and ultra-Orthodox parties, and that this is the moment to stop Israel's move to the right that is pushing the country towards an apartheid regime, moral, economic and political bankruptcy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Gmail Phone Calling: Now Cheaper and in 38 Languages (Ben Parr, August 2, 2011, Mashable)

In addition to the international rollout, phone calls will be getting cheaper for calls to more than 150 locations around the world. "For example, it's now only $0.10 (or €0.08) per minute to call mobile phones in the U.K., France or Germany (landlines are $0.02/min), $0.15/minute to call mobile phones in Mexico and $0.02/min to call any phone number in China and India," Google product manager Pierre Lebeau explained in a blog post.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


TURKISH MILITARY STEPS BACK: Sign of a maturing democracy (The Boston Globe, August 3, 2011)

WHEN PROMOTERS of democracy depend on the steady hand of the military, the balance is always uneasy. This approach may have reached its limits in Turkey, where the military's longstanding role as the guardian of secular democracy has now been decisively rejected.

After decades in which the armed forces were the ultimate arbiter of politics, Turkey's popularly elected civilian leadership has now taken control. The military has, so far, accepted its demotion. Though the Islamic flavor of Turkey's government makes some Westerners nervous, the extension of civilian control should be seen as a healthy sign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Muslims Are Loyal to U.S. And Hopeful, Poll Finds (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 8/02/11, NY Times)

"It's not a completely rosy picture," said Mohamed Younis, senior analyst with the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies in Washington and an author of the study.

"The prejudice and discrimination are definitely there, and that's something we have consistently seen in the data," Mr. Younis said. "But at the same time many of the people in the Muslim-American community seem to be doing relatively well, and part of their doing well is being able to be full-fledged Americans, to participate in the American experience."

The poll found that Muslim Americans were the most likely of any religious group to express confidence in the fairness of elections. [...]

Almost half of Muslim Americans said that they had experienced religious or racial discrimination in the last year. That was far more than the members of any other religious group. About one-third of Mormons said they had experienced discrimination in the last year, putting them second in that category after Muslims. About one-fifth of Jews, Catholics and Protestants said they had experienced prejudice.

On many key questions in the poll, it was American Jews whose answers most resembled those of Muslims. Jews were the most likely of any religious group besides Muslims to say that Muslims are loyal Americans, and that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Jews were just as likely as Muslims to say that American Muslims face prejudice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Alabama church leaders filed lawsuit to stop state's new immigration law (Kent Faulk, 8/01/11 The Birmingham News )

The lawsuit names Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and Madison County District Attorney Robert L. Broussard as defendants in the civil lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for northern Alabama.

"Motivated by God's mandate that the faithful are humbly bound to welcome and care for all people, the leaders of the Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches of Alabama respectfully request this Court to stop the enforcement of Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states that it seeks to prevent "irreparable harm" to the 338,000 members of the three churches in Alabama. It calls Alabama's new law "the nation's most merciless anti-immigration legislation."

"If enforced, Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law will make it a crime to follow God's command to be Good Samaritans," according to the lawsuit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


The myth of colonic cleaning (Dr Christian Jessen, 3 Aug 2011, Evening Standard)

Well, here's a surprise - new research says colonic irrigation is of no benefit to our health.

Who would have thought squirting water up your bottom to remove "toxins" doesn't do anything, and that our guts do the job of expelling waste without the need for yards of tubing and a woman in a white coat pointing out the possible origins of faecal matter?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Nissan Rolls Out a System that Lets Your Electric Car Serve as a Backup Battery for Your House (Clay Dillow Posted 08.02.2011, AFP)

The Nissan Leaf can run 70-plus miles on a single charge. Now, it can also power a family home for two days if it needs to. The "Leaf to Home" project Nissan is rolling out in Japan allows the electricity stored in the Leaf's lithium-ion battery to be fed back into a home, running major appliances for up to two days.

The "Leaf to Home" system simply allows for a quick charging port to be mounted on the home's electricity distribution panel to receive energy from the car. Those 24 kilowatt hours stored in a fully energized Leaf can run the average Japanese household for two days, even when the refrigerator, climate control, and other large appliances are running at the same time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Immigration and the 'Next America': Perspectives From Our History (ARCHBISHOP JOSÉ H. GOMEZ 08/01/2011, National Catholic Register)

G.K. Chesterton said famously that "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed." And that "creed," as he recognized, is fundamentally Christian. It is the basic American belief that all men and women are created equal -- with God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Every other nation in history has been established on the basis of common territory and ethnicity -- the ties of land and kinship. America, instead, is based on this Christian ideal, on this creed that reflects the amazing universalism of the Gospel. As a result, we have always been a nation of nationalities. E pluribus unum. One people made from peoples of many nations, races and creeds.

Throughout our history, problems have always arisen when we have taken this American creed for granted. Or when we have tried to limit it in some way. That's why it is essential that today we remember the missionary history of America -- and rededicate ourselves to the vision of America's founding "creed."

When we forget our country's roots in the Hispanic-Catholic mission to the New World, we end up with distorted ideas about our national identity. We end up with an idea that Americans are descended from only white Europeans and that our culture is based only on the individualism, work ethic and rule of law that we inherited from our Anglo-Protestant forebears.

When that has happened in the past, it has led to those episodes in our history that we are least proud of -- the mistreatment of Native Americans; slavery; the recurring outbreaks of nativism and anti-Catholicism; the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; the misadventures of "manifest destiny."

There are, of course, far more complicated causes behind these moments in our history. But, at the root, I think we can see a common factor -- a wrongheaded notion that "real Americans" are of some particular race, class, religion or ethnic background.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The invasive species war: Do we protect native plants because they're better for the earth, or because we hate strangers? A cherished principle of environmentalism comes under attack (Leon Neyfakh, July 31, 2011, Boston Globe)

The reasons to fight invasive species may be economic, or conservationist, or just practical, but underneath all these efforts is a potent and galvanizing idea: that if we work hard enough to keep foreign species from infiltrating habitats where they might do harm, we can help nature heal from the damage we humans have done to it as a civilization.

In the past several months, however, that idea has come under blistering attack. In a polemical essay that appeared in the leading science journal Nature in June, a biologist from Macalester College in Minnesota named Mark Davis led 18 other academics in charging that the movement to protect ecosystems from non-native species stems from a "biological bias" against arbitrarily defined outsiders that ultimately does more harm than good. According to Davis and his co-authors, the fight against invaders amounts to an impossible quest to restore the world to some imaginary, pristine state. The world changes, they argue, and in some cases, the arrival of a new plant or animal can actually help, rather than hurt, an ecosystem. The whole idea of dividing the world into native and non-native species is flawed, the article says, because what seems non-native to one generation might be thought of as a local treasure by the next. Instead we should embrace "novel ecosystems" as they form, and assess species based on what they do rather than where they're from.

"Newcomers are viewed as a threat because the world that you remember is being displaced by this new world," Davis said recently. "I think that's a perfectly normal and understandable human reaction, but as scientists we need to be careful that those ideas don't shape and frame our scientific research."

The article in Nature joined similar arguments that had recently appeared in the journal Science as well as the op-ed page of The New York Times, where an anthropologist who had recently become a naturalized US citizen likened the control of invasive species to the anti-immigration movement.

It is interesting that the very same folks who claim to believe that nature evolves also think it appropriate to try to impose stasis upon it.

August 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


A Fuel-Efficiency Wager: I'll bet you methanol beats gasoline. (Robert Zubrin, 8/02/11, National Review)

On July 27, I published an article on National Review Online in which I claimed that methanol could provide the United States with an alternative liquid fuel that is substantially cheaper than gasoline. This claim was greeted with skepticism by some, who countered that, if methanol were a more economic fuel, the free market would have already implemented it.

Talk is cheap, so -- in the tradition of Julian Simon's famous 1980 wager with Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren that five crucial natural resources would not become dangerously scarce by 1990 -- I am willing to back up my assertion with hard cash. I am willing to wager up to ten people $10,000 each that I can make my 2007 Chevy Cobalt run with substantially superior fuel economy on methanol than it does on gasoline. The Cobalt is not a flex-fuel car, but, like all other recent GM cars, it includes all the hardware necessary for flex-fuel operation.

According to the EPA, the 2007 Cobalt can get 34 miles per gallon on the highway running on gasoline. The current spot price (i.e., before taxes) of gasoline is $3.16 per gallon. Methanol is currently $1.28 per gallon. If my Cobalt can get 24 miles per gallon running on methanol, that will come out to 18.75 miles per pre-tax fuel dollar, 74.2 percent better than the 10.76 miles per pre-tax fuel dollar achievable using gasoline.

He's going to be taking the money from folks who think there have been no advances in glaziery since 1850.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


A Murderer's Manifesto and Me: Anders Behring Breivik, Norway's mass murderer, was a fan of my writing. Here's what I found within his perverse 1,518-page manuscript. (PHILLIP LONGMAN, AUGUST 1, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Breivik's worldview, if we can call it that, is not easily characterized. Some have branded him a "Christian terrorist." He does write that he hopes the "Church gains more or less [a] monopoly on religion in Europe," but also that "it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings." In keeping with this latter view, he lauds the work of Princeton University molecular biologist Lee M. Silver, who is an advocate of stem cell research and human cloning. So Breivik can't easily be described as a religious fundamentalist.

Breivik also wants a big cut in aid to developing countries in the hopes that this will reduce world population by 4.5 billion -- an exercise in population control I don't think the pope, much less Scandinavia's Lutheran Church, would favor. Without pause, he voices admiration for the United States' Tea Party, while calling for more regulation of capitalism and a "Scandinavian light model" of redistribution, including "giving women more incentives to have children in the form of various welfare incentives."

One could call him a fascist, and he does subscribe to Arian racial theory. But Breivik also makes fulsome denunciations of Hitler and belittles today's neo-Nazis as fools. He is certainly hostile to Islam and quotes many right-wing authors and bloggers who obsess about the coming of "Eurabia." But his rants against feminism, Marxism, and Western sexual mores are little different from those made by Osama bin Laden. He doesn't call for Western women to be put behind the veil. But he estimates that 50 percent have slept with more than 20 men and are thus "sluts," thinks society should "discourage" all women from having full-time careers, and blames "current destructive matriarchal policies" for most of what he sees as wrong with Europe.

Tellingly, the targets of his murderous rage were not Muslims, but mostly young, white, progressive Norwegians whom he regarded as tyrants of "political correctness." Indeed, Breivik doesn't anywhere have much good to say about white people in today's Europe, except that he finds attractive those who have "Nordic" features, such as "blond hair, blue eyes, high forehead, [and] sturdy cheekbones." He says he's proud to have descended from Vikings, but apparently only because it has brought him what he regards as his good looks. Breivik even criticizes European imperialism, which is something I thought the Vikings used to excel at back in the day.

It's entirely typical of the Right to eschew the Christian culture of their society in favor of science (after all the former recognizes their hatreds as sins while the former classes them as biological imperatives), but then rage against multiculturalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Klinsmann on style: 'America likes to decide on its own what is next' (Mike Woitalla, August 1st, 2011, Soccer America)

"Studying your culture and having an American wife and American kids, mainly right now my understanding is that you don't like to react to what other people do," he said. "I think this is maybe a starting point. I think America never really waits and sees and leaves it up to other people to decide what is next. I think America always likes to decide on its own what is next. This guides maybe towards a more proactive style of play where you would like to impose a little bit the game on your opponent instead of sitting back and waiting for what your opponent is doing and react to it."

Klinsmann is credited for changing the German national team's style, from a patient build-up game to a quicker, attack-minded approach, when he took over in 2004 and guided Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup, at which Germany was the highest scoring team and one of the few that resisted a one-forward lineup.

"We re-defined that in Germany in 2004, which was a very, very difficult process but we worked through that process and now it's settled, that style of play," he said.

Settling on a soccer philosophy in the USA, he says, is "quite a challenge, because you are such a melting pot in this country, so many different opinions, and ideas floating around.

"Every coach has his own ideas, then you have the whole challenge of youth soccer being based on a very different model than anywhere else in the world. Your educational system is completely different than in the rest of the world. One of my challenges will be to find a way to define how a U.S. team should represent its country. What should be the style of play? Is it a more proactive and aggressive kind of forward-thinking style of play, or is a more reacting style of play?

"That comes with the players you have at your disposal but also with the people who you're surrounded with and the people who have an opinion in this country, like the media, like coaches - and there's such a wealth of knowledge in this country. ...

"I think it's important over the next three years and especially in the beginning that I have a lot conversations with people involved in the game here to find a way to define that style.

"What suits us best? What would you like to see? What would you like to identify with?"

Klinsmann cited the U.S. women, who lost to Japan in this summer's Women's World Cup final on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie, but had played exciting attacking soccer in the final.

"I think this was how Americans wanted to see their girls play that game. And they did an awesome job."

There's real insight there. Bob Bradley's team was never more dangerous than when they were behind (which they frequently were early because he tried to play counterattack but only briefly [in the Confederations Cup] got his defensive alignment straight) nor more vulnerable than when they were ahead (see that Cup final against Brazil and the recent Gold Cup final loss) because he'd take his foot off the gas. Likewise, even people who never watch the game, but who got caught up in the Women's World Cup, asked in bewilderment why the US didn't keep attacking with the lead, given how awful our defenders were (as well as why we didn't just play crosses into the box given our huge height advantage.)

Mr. Klinsmann is an unlikely choice to fix the problem at the back, but he just might be the right guy to Americanize the game, and that could accidentally solve those problems. A more attacking formation, especially one that uses the two outside defenders to bring the ball up the wings, would not only suit our character and play to our strength in athletics and fitness, but it would force a greater emphasis on sturdy central defenders paired with two capable defensive central midfielders. In effect, you'd put the same sort of box in front of goal that the Boston Bruins use to such good effect. After all, goals aren't scored from out wide and a big physical defense can dominate when you try to play it in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The Racist Scourge (ROGER COHEN, 8/01/11, NY Times)

As a South African Jew, watching blacks without passes being bundled into the back of police vans was discomfiting. But this was not mass murder after all. You tried to look away.

Racism is a mind game. It makes its victims grateful for small mercies until such time as they rise in uncontainable anger.

I was schooled early by South Africa in racism's poison. The Michels, my maternal family, lived in a spread only half-jokingly referred to as Château Michel. From beach to pool to barbecue the living was large, with its undertow of disquiet.

I felt as an infant the I-might-drop-you hostility in a black maid's arms. I wondered at the blacks swimming in a filthy harbor when whites-only sand stretched for miles. I caught the illicit glances as an adolescent, flirtation as crime. I listened to the meat-chomping justifications, bigotry dressed up as scientific theory.

Years later in Lagos, watching Fela Kuti in a disco where I was the only white among a thousand blacks, I understood the word "minority." [...]

Hatred of Muslims in Europe and the United States is a growing political industry. It's odious, dangerous and racist. Thanks to my colleague Andrea Elliott, we now know the story of the orchestration of the successful anti-Shariah campaign in the United States, led by a Hasidic Jew named David Yerushalmi who holds that "most of the fundamental differences between the races are genetic." The rightists in Europe using anti-Muslim rhetoric are true heirs to the Continent's darkest hours.

I'm glad that at an impressionable age my Dad told me of a dumb white cop with power telling a smart young black woman with promise she was "really just a Kaffir." The settings change, the vile stupidity does not.

Except you can just walk out of a disco.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Tea Party Sees No Triumph In Compromise (DOUGLAS A. BLACKMON And JENNIFER LEVITZ , 8/02/11, WSJ)

[A] chorus of tea-party activists and leaders across the country denounced the agreement on Monday, saying it included little in the way of the change they actually sought.

"People are saying, 'These tea partiers, aren't they wonderful, they are changing the conversation,'" said Ellen Gilmore, a leader of the LaGrange Tea Party Patriots in Georgia. "Well, we got absolutely squat--except for the conversation."

[T]he deal struck Sunday falls far short of many tea-party groups' stated goals of no increase in the debt ceiling, vastly larger budget cuts and passage of a balanced-budget amendment. The central question facing the loose-knit tea-party movement today, two years after it sprang into existence, is whether its organization and leadership can grow to match its ideological force.

...the entitlements they receive were left untouched after they killed the reforms that would have led to read budget savings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Syphilis up among US minority gay and bisexual men (Reuters, August 02, 2011)

The new findings, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, show that minorities -- and young men, in particular those who are gay or bisexual -- are being hit hardest by syphilis, which can be easily cured by antibiotics in the early stages but may not show symptoms early on.

The bottom line in prevention among gay and bisexual men is awareness, said lead researcher John Su, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC.

"First, you have to know you're at risk. Then have a frank discussion about it with your healthcare provider," he told Reuters Health. geared towards obfuscating the self-destructive pathologies of gay sex.

August 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


FDA finds drug research firm faked samples, documents (Reuters, 7/27/11)

The FDA inspected Cetero in May and December last year and found falsified records about studies.

Specifically, in at least 1,900 instances between April 2005 and June 2009, laboratory technicians identified as conducting certain studies were not actually present at Cetero facilities at that time, the FDA said in its May report.

The FDA also said at the time that Cetero might have "fixed" studies to get the desired result, or did not include failed results in their report.

"Cetero's May 2010 and December 2010 responses are inadequate because the scope of their internal investigation was far too narrow to identify and adequately address the root cause of these systemic failures," the regulators said.

The fatal flaw of the scientific method: humans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Getting Bin Laden: What happened that night in Abbottabad. (Nicholas Schmidle August 8, 2011, The New Yorker)

The Abbottabad raid was not DEVGRU's maiden venture into Pakistan, either. The team had surreptitiously entered the country on ten to twelve previous occasions, according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid. Most of those missions were forays into North and South Waziristan, where many military and intelligence analysts had thought that bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders were hiding. (Only one such operation--the September, 2008, raid of Angoor Ada, a village in South Waziristan--has been widely reported.) Abbottabad was, by far, the farthest that DEVGRU had ventured into Pakistani territory. It also represented the team's first serious attempt since late 2001 at killing "Crankshaft"--the target name that the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, had given bin Laden. Since escaping that winter during a battle in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan, bin Laden had defied American efforts to trace him. Indeed, it remains unclear how he ended up living in Abbottabad.

Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could "fight their way out of Pakistan." Twenty-five additional SEALs from DEVGRU, pulled from a squadron stationed in Afghanistan, sat in the Chinooks that remained at the border; this "quick-reaction force" would be called into action only if the mission went seriously wrong. The third and fourth Chinooks were each outfitted with a pair of M134 Miniguns. They followed the Black Hawks' initial flight path but landed at a predetermined point on a dry riverbed in a wide, unpopulated valley in northwest Pakistan. The nearest house was half a mile away. On the ground, the copters' rotors were kept whirring while operatives monitored the surrounding hills for encroaching Pakistani helicopters or fighter jets. One of the Chinooks was carrying fuel bladders, in case the other aircraft needed to refill their tanks.

Meanwhile, the two Black Hawks were quickly approaching Abbottabad from the northwest, hiding behind the mountains on the northernmost edge of the city. Then the pilots banked right and went south along a ridge that marks Abbottabad's eastern perimeter. When those hills tapered off, the pilots curled right again, toward the city center, and made their final approach.

During the next four minutes, the interior of the Black Hawks rustled alive with the metallic cough of rounds being chambered. Mark, a master chief petty officer and the ranking noncommissioned officer on the operation, crouched on one knee beside the open door of the lead helicopter. He and the eleven other SEALs on "helo one," who were wearing gloves and had on night-vision goggles, were preparing to fast-rope into bin Laden's yard. They waited for the crew chief to give the signal to throw the rope. But, as the pilot passed over the compound, pulled into a high hover, and began lowering the aircraft, he felt the Black Hawk getting away from him. He sensed that they were going to crash.

One month before the 2008 Presidential election, Obama, then a senator from Illinois, squared off in a debate against John McCain in an arena at Belmont University, in Nashville. A woman in the audience asked Obama if he would be willing to pursue Al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan, even if that meant invading an ally nation. He replied, "If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable, or unwilling, to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national-security priority." McCain, who often criticized Obama for his naïveté on foreign-policy matters, characterized the promise as foolish, saying, "I'm not going to telegraph my punches."

Four months after Obama entered the White House, Leon Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., briefed the President on the agency's latest programs and initiatives for tracking bin Laden. Obama was unimpressed. In June, 2009, he drafted a memo instructing Panetta to create a "detailed operation plan" for finding the Al Qaeda leader and to "ensure that we have expended every effort." Most notably, the President intensified the C.I.A.'s classified drone program; there were more missile strikes inside Pakistan during Obama's first year in office than in George W. Bush's eight. The terrorists swiftly registered the impact: that July, CBS reported that a recent Al Qaeda communiqué had referred to "brave commanders" who had been "snatched away" and to "so many hidden homes [which] have been levelled." The document blamed the "very grave" situation on spies who had "spread throughout the land like locusts." Nevertheless, bin Laden's trail remained cold.

In August, 2010, Panetta returned to the White House with better news. C.I.A. analysts believed that they had pinpointed bin Laden's courier, a man in his early thirties named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Kuwaiti drove a white S.U.V. whose spare-tire cover was emblazoned with an image of a white rhino. The C.I.A. began tracking the vehicle. One day, a satellite captured images of the S.U.V. pulling into a large concrete compound in Abbottabad. Agents, determining that Kuwaiti was living there, used aerial surveillance to keep watch on the compound, which consisted of a three-story main house, a guesthouse, and a few outbuildings. They observed that residents of the compound burned their trash, instead of putting it out for collection, and concluded that the compound lacked a phone or an Internet connection. Kuwaiti and his brother came and went, but another man, living on the third floor, never left. When this third individual did venture outside, he stayed behind the compound's walls. Some analysts speculated that the third man was bin Laden, and the agency dubbed him the Pacer.

Obama, though excited, was not yet prepared to order military action. John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism adviser, told me that the President's advisers began an "interrogation of the data, to see if, by that interrogation, you're going to disprove the theory that bin Laden was there." The C.I.A. intensified its intelligence-collection efforts, and, according to a recent report in the Guardian, a physician working for the agency conducted an immunization drive in Abbottabad, in the hope of acquiring DNA samples from bin Laden's children. (No one in the compound ultimately received any immunizations.)

In late 2010, Obama ordered Panetta to begin exploring options for a military strike on the compound. Panetta contacted Vice-Admiral Bill McRaven, the SEAL in charge of JSOC. Traditionally, the Army has dominated the special-operations community, but in recent years the SEALs have become a more prominent presence; McRaven's boss at the time of the raid, Eric Olson--the head of Special Operations Command, or SOCOM--is a Navy admiral who used to be a commander of DEVGRU. In January, 2011, McRaven asked a JSOC official named Brian, who had previously been a DEVGRU deputy commander, to present a raid plan. The next month, Brian, who has the all-American look of a high-school quarterback, moved into an unmarked office on the first floor of the C.I.A.'s printing plant, in Langley, Virginia. Brian covered the walls of the office with topographical maps and satellite images of the Abbottabad compound. He and half a dozen JSOC officers were formally attached to the Pakistan/Afghanistan department of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center, but in practice they operated on their own. A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. "Everything they were working on was closely held," the official said.

The relationship between special-operations units and the C.I.A. dates back to the Vietnam War. But the line between the two communities has increasingly blurred as C.I.A. officers and military personnel have encountered one another on multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. "These people grew up together," a senior Defense Department official told me. "We are in each other's systems, we speak each other's languages." (Exemplifying this trend, General David H. Petraeus, the former commanding general in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now the incoming head of the C.I.A., and Panetta has taken over the Department of Defense.) The bin Laden mission--plotted at C.I.A. headquarters and authorized under C.I.A. legal statutes but conducted by Navy DEVGRU operators--brought the coöperation between the agency and the Pentagon to an even higher level. John Radsan, a former assistant general counsel at the C.I.A., said that the Abbottabad raid amounted to "a complete incorporation of JSOC into a C.I.A. operation."

On March 14th, Obama called his national-security advisers into the White House Situation Room and reviewed a spreadsheet listing possible courses of action against the Abbottabad compound. Most were variations of either a JSOC raid or an airstrike. Some versions included coöperating with the Pakistani military; some did not. Obama decided against informing or working with Pakistan. "There was a real lack of confidence that the Pakistanis could keep this secret for more than a nanosecond," a senior adviser to the President told me. At the end of the meeting, Obama instructed McRaven to proceed with planning the raid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


Most of Newt Gingrich's Twitter Followers Are Fake (John Cook, 8/01/11, Gawker)

[I]f Newt is winning the Twitter primary, it's because of voter fraud. A former staffer tells us that his campaign hired a firm to boost his follower count, in part by creating fake accounts en masse:

Newt employs a variety of agencies whose sole purpose is to procure Twitter followers for people who are shallow/insecure/unpopular enough to pay for them. As you might guess, Newt is most decidedly one of the people to which these agencies cater.

About 80 percent of those accounts are inactive or are dummy accounts created by various "follow agencies," another 10 percent are real people who are part of a network of folks who follow others back and are paying for followers themselves (Newt's profile just happens to be a part of these networks because he uses them, although he doesn't follow back), and the remaining 10 percent may, in fact, be real, sentient people who happen to like Newt Gingrich. If you simply scroll through his list of followers you'll see that most of them have odd usernames and no profile photos, which has to do with the fact that they were mass generated. Pathetic, isn't it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


You Say Torture, I Say Coercive Interrogation: The conversation about torture we should have had 10 years ago. (Dahlia Lithwick, Aug. 1, 2011, Slate)

This weekend, I had the privilege of moderating a discussion about law and the war on terror hosted by the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo. The participants were: Bill Bratton, former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and former commissioner of the New York Police Department; professor David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center; Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general of the United States and White House counsel; Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU; and Professor John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general at the Office of Legal Counsel. [...]

Romero: "There is no greater threat to securing the homeland than America's willing abdication of her moral authority at home and abroad, and the utter lawlessness of the Bush years, beginning with the surveillance of American citizens without congressional approval or the review of the judiciary; the detention of American citizens without charges or trial, apprehended on American soil as enemy combatants; the establishment of black sites, where torture was committed--not enhanced interrogation techniques, not these lovely little euphemisms for that which is unconstitutional, illegal, and war crimes; and the absence of ensuring accountability for crimes committed by Americans and authorized at the highest level of our government. And that breakdown of the rule of law is equivalent to the meltdown of the financial system. The complete legal system turned on its head. Boxes were broken. Rules were changed. ...

"There is no greater set of conversations that needs to be had; this is a set of issues that is too often done behind closed doors among reified parts of the American government ... and perhaps the most important thing we can do is break open this conversation ... and thrash out these issues openly ... about the country we want to live in. ...

"I think the Obama administration also deserves to be called on the carpet for its unwillingness to take on these issues with the seriousness they deserve. ... This president has come too short, too little, often too late. ... That effort of putting one's head in the sand and the effort to push forward will only mire us in the past."

Yoo: "I don't think the biggest threat to American security is a claim that there is some kind of lawlessness or broad unconstitutionality going on here."

One either fears America's enemies or America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


India-Japan Pact Comes Into Effect; Aims to Double Bilateral Trade (PRASANTA SAHU, 8/01/11, WSJ)

A comprehensive economic partnership between India and Japan came into effect Monday, aiming to grant greater access to each other's markets and to more than double bilateral trade to $25 billion by 2014.

Tokyo has scrapped with immediate effect import taxes on 87% of the goods that it sources from India, while New Delhi has dropped tariffs on 17.4% of what it imports from Japan.

The annual bilateral trade between India and Japan is currently worth $12.6 billion, but it wasn't immediately clear what the value of India's imports from Japan is, or vice versa.

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which was signed on Feb. 16, is India's first with any developed economy that seeks to eventually abolish 94% of bilateral tariffs in 10 years' time.

Re-open the borders and resume growth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


U.S. Political Ideology Stable With Conservatives Leading (Lydia Saad, 8/01/11, Gallup)

Americans' political ideology at the midyear point of 2011 looks similar to 2009 and 2010, with 41% self-identifying as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 21% as liberal.

If this pattern continues, 2011 will be the third straight year that conservatives significantly outnumber moderates -- the next largest ideological bloc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


Five cuts the debt commission might make to Medicare, Medicaid (Suzy Khimm, 8/01/11, Washington Post)

1) Raise the Medicare eligibility age, increase premiums for wealthy recipients, and increase deductibles and co-pays. President Obama backed all of these changes during the negotiations last month, echoing the details of the deficit-reduction plan from Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which would save $600 billion in Medicare spending. The Lieberman-Coburn plan is "the most likely model for Medicare cuts from a bipartisan fiscal committee," says Tevi Troy, a former George W. Bush staffer and health policy expert. Those changes would elicit howls from liberals and make it tougher for Democrats to cast themselves as the program's staunchest defenders, but the White House's backing could override these concerns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


China Blames Foreign-Trained Separatists for Attacks in Xinjiang (MICHAEL WINES, 8/01/11, NY Times)

Authorities in China's troubled Xinjiang region charged Monday that the leader of the first of two lethal assaults over the weekend had trained in Pakistan, an unusually specific accusation that could hint at growing Chinese impatience with Pakistan's inability to control radical groups operating within its borders.

The accusation, made by local authorities in the historic city of Kashgar, came as the head of Pakistan's national spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, was completing a visit to Beijing at which rising violence by predominantly Muslic, ethnic Uighur separatists in Xinjiang was almost certain to have been discussed. [...]

[T]he Chinese, who view Uighur separatist sentiment as a dire threat, have become increasingly concerned about Pakistan as a haven for radicals. A Pakistani terrorism expert, Muhammad Amir Rana, said last month that Pakistani intelligence officials had traveled to Beijing in early June to reassure the Chinese of their commitment to weed out Uighur separatists from their territory.

Whether Kashgar officials cleared their statement with the central government in Beijing is not known. Local and regional governments frequently act without central government approval on issues both large and small. The attacks came less than two weeks after Uighur assailants invaded a police station in Hotan, a Xinjiang desert town, killing four civilians and reportedly displaying separatist banners before being gunned down. Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, was the scene of Uighur rioting in July 2009 that killed nearly 200 people, many of them members of China's majority ethnic group, the Han, a focus of Uighur resentment.

Chinese officials frequently attribute ethnic strife in Xinjiang to foreign militants rather than to domestic discontent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


Why any debt-ceiling deal will squeeze the states (Suzy Khimm, 8/01/11, Washington Post)

Among the biggest items on the chopping block in Congress are education and Medicaid spending -- federal dollars that make up the largest parts of most states' budgets. Nearly every state government has already set its budget for the next year -- some for the next two years -- under the assumption that federal spending would remain more or less consistent. If such money is abruptly pulled, states won't suddenly be able to change their spending obligations or raise taxes.

"They're going to have to eat that in some way, and many will pass [the cuts] onto local governments," said Frank Shaforth, director of the Center for State and Local Government Leadership at George Mason University.

Amid the recession and dropping revenues, there's already been an uptick of bankruptcy filings by cities, towns and rural districts across the country over the past two months and there could be more if Washington follows through on its promise to slash spending as soon as possible.

"The cities and counties that already in bad shape -- they're the first ones to go," White said.

Even if state governments hold special sessions to cut spending further, their cuts will still "filter through to the local government," he added. "Public-sector workers get laid off."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


TV: Israel agrees to negotiate over pre-'67 lines (IAN DEITCH, 8/01/11, Associated Press)

In a speech about the Middle East in May, Obama proposed negotiations based on the pre-1967 line with agreed swaps of territory between Israel and a Palestinian state. Netanyahu reacted angrily, insisting that Israel would not withdraw from all of the West Bank, though that was not what Obama proposed.

Now Netanyahu is basically accepting that framework, according to Channel 2 TV, offering to trade Israeli territory on its side of the line for West Bank land where its main settlements are located.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, January 7, 2010 , Center for American Progress)

he historical experience of legalization under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act indicates that comprehensive immigration reform would raise wages, increase consumption, create jobs, and generate additional tax revenue. Even though IRCA was implemented during an economic recession characterized by high unemployment, it still helped raise wages and spurred increases in educational, home, and small-business investments by newly legalized immigrants. Taking the experience of IRCA as a starting point, we estimate that comprehensive immigration reform would yield at least $1.5 trillion in cumulative U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. This is a compelling economic reason to move away from the current "vicious cycle" where enforcement-only policies perpetuate unauthorized migration and exert downward pressure on already low wages, and toward a "virtuous cycle" of worker empowerment in which legal status and labor rights exert upward pressure on wages.

This report uses a computable general equilibrium model to estimate the economic ramifications of three different scenarios: 1) comprehensive immigration reform that creates a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants in the United States and establishes flexible limits on permanent and temporary immigration that respond to changes in U.S. labor demand in the future; 2) a program for temporary workers only that does not include a pathway to permanent status or more flexible legal limits on permanent immigration in the future; and 3) mass deportation to expel all unauthorized immigrants and effectively seal the U.S.-Mexico border. The model shows that comprehensive immigration reform produces the greatest economic benefits:

Comprehensive immigration reform generates an increase in U.S. GDP of at least 0.84 percent. Summed over 10 years, this amounts to a cumulative $1.5 trillion in additional GDP. It also boosts wages for both native-born and newly legalized immigrant workers.
The temporary worker program generates an increase in U.S. GDP of 0.44 percent. This amounts to $792 billion of cumulative GDP over 10 years. Moreover, wages decline for both native-born and newly legalized immigrant workers.
Mass deportation reduces U.S. GDP by 1.46 percent. This amounts to $2.6 trillion in cumulative lost GDP over 10 years, not including the actual cost of deportation.

Immigration reform would have been the best stimulus package the Democrats could have passed when they took power. In its absence, nothing else they did mattered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Barack Obama the Pessimist: His lack of faith in American exceptionalism has dashed any hope of a 'transformational' presidency. (FOUAD AJAMI, 8/01/11, WSJ)

Events would supply evidence of Mr. Obama's break with the history of America's faith in liberty in distant lands. The herald of change was at heart a man who doubted the ability of political freedom to skip borders, and to bring about the emancipation of peoples subjected to brutal tyrannies. The great upheaval in Iran in the first summer of his presidency exposed the flaws and contradictions of the Obama diplomacy.

A people had risen against their tyrannical rulers, but Mr. Obama was out to conciliate these rulers. America's support wouldn't have altered that cruel balance of force on the ground. But henceforth it would become part of the narrative of liberty that when Iran rose in rebellion, the pre-eminent liberal power sat out a seminal moment in Middle Eastern history.

In his encounters with the foreign world, Mr. Obama gave voice to a steady and unsettling expression of penance. We had made our own poor bed in distant lands, Mr. Obama believed. We had been aggressive and imperial in the wars we waged, and in our steady insistence that our way held out the promise for other nations. In that narrative of American guilt, the Islamic world was of central importance. It was in that vast, tormented world that Mr. Obama sought to make his mark, it was there he believed we had been particularly egregious.

But the truth of it, a truth that would erupt with fury in the upheaval of that Arab Spring now upon us, is that the peoples of that region needed our assistance and example. This was the Arabs' 1989, their supreme moment of historical agency, a time when younger people broke with their culture's history of evasion and scapegoating. For once the "Arab Street" was not gripped by anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism, for once it wasn't looking beyond its geography for alien demons. But we could not really aid these rebellions, for our touch, Mr. Obama insisted, would sully them. These rebellions, his administration lamely asserted, had to be thoroughly indigenous.

We had created--and were spooked by--phantoms of our own making. A visit last month to Syria's embattled city of Hama by U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford ought to have shattered, once and for all, the thesis of a rampant anti-Americanism in Arab lands. The American envoy was given a moving reception, he was met with flowers and olive branches by those struggling to end the tyranny of the Assad family. News of America's decline had not reached the streets of Hama. The regime may have denied them air and light and knowledge, but they knew that in our order of nations America remains unrivalled in the hope it holds out for thwarted populations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Election Predictor Calls 2012 a Tossup (JUSTIN LAHART, 7/31/11, WSJ)

With his model, Mr. Fair has analyzed data from every presidential election since 1916. The model has--after the fact--accurately named the winners of all but two races--the 1960 election, when Richard Nixon lost to John Kennedy, and the 1992 election, when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. Actual vote shares are usually within 2.5 percentage points above or below what the model predicts.

The model includes three economic variables:

• The per capita growth rate of gross domestic product in the three quarters before the election--voters apparently care more about how the economy has been doing recently than they do about how it did over a president's entire term. Economists' forecasts imply GDP per capita will grow at a 1.95% annual rate in the first three quarters of 2012

• Inflation over the course of the entire presidential term, as measured by the GDP price index. Economists' forecasts indicate an annual inflation rate of 1.63%.

• The number of quarters during a presidential term that per capita GDP growth exceeds 3.2%. Mr. Fair added this after his original model predicted President George H.W. Bush would win the 1992 election over Bill Clinton by a wide margin. There has been no such "good news" period on Mr. Obama's watch so far, and economists' forecasts for moderate growth through 2012 imply that there aren't any in the offing.

The model takes into account other factors, including an edge for incumbents, a tendency for Republicans to do a bit better at the ballot box, and voter fatigue when one party has held the White House for a while.

...or to be saved by the GOP's nomination. A truly reformist bill on entitlements would have fit the bill, but in its absence his best bet is to ditch Biden and replace him with someone like Joe Manchin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Why Canada Is Beating America: It shrank government, and now unemployment and debt are declining. (JASON CLEMENS, 8/01/11, WSJ)

While the U.S. remains mired in debt and slogs through a subpar economic recovery, Canada is moving ahead steadily. Its unemployment rate peaked at a little over 8.5% and is now 7.4%, and there were no bank bailouts. Real GDP growth is expected to be roughly 3% this year.

Now with the first majority government since 2004, and the first Conservative majority since 1993, the country has an opportunity to vault forward. The Conservatives led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper have a chance to build on the reforms begun under previous Liberal governments that Americans can only look at with envy.

Canada's government, for example, has grown smaller over the last 15 years. Total government spending as a share of the economy peaked at a little over 53% in 1993. Through a combination of spending cuts in the 1990s and spending restraint during the 2000s, it declined to a little under 40% of GDP by 2008. (It's currently about 44% due to the recession.)

Reductions in government spending allowed for balanced budgets and the retiring of debt. Federal debt as a share of the Canadian economy was almost halved from nearly 80% to a little over 40% over the same period.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Obama's Deficit Bargain Lost Out to 2012 Politics With Shifting Priorities (Margaret Talev and Mike Dorning, 8/01/11, Bloomberg)

As late as last week, President Barack Obama was still calling for one, broad debt agreement that included cuts, entitlements and taxes.

That's not what will go before Congress this week, and Obama's strategic positioning contributed to the missed opportunity for a potentially historic bipartisan deal, said Democrats, retired lawmakers and former White House advisers with experience in bipartisan negotiations. [...]

As Gergen sees it, Obama made an early error when he failed to adopt the findings of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The Obama-appointed commission headed by Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, in December recommended a combination of spending cuts, entitlement program adjustments and tax changes to cut $3.8 trillion from the deficit.

White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told CNN on July 28 it was clear House Republicans weren't willing to accept the Simpson-Bowles recommendations.

Gergen said the prospects of Republican resistance may have been only one factor in the White House decision. "I suspect that the politics of 2012 had a lot to do with it," Gergen said. "He wasn't anxious to tie himself, I'm sure, to some aspects of entitlement reform that would have stirred up his base."
Ryan Budget

The president waited to release his own deficit-reduction proposal until House Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin unveiled a 10-year plan that cut spending on Medicare -- drawing accusations from Democrats that Republicans would weaken health insurance coverage for the elderly. Though that helped Democrats politically, it narrowed the time window for a large-scale deal, Galston said.

The White House defends its handling of the Simpson-Bowles report. By forcing Republicans to write their own deficit reduction plan, Obama gained more negotiating leverage when the public rejected it. Had Obama endorsed the commission's recommendations, Republicans would have simply seized on the proposed cuts and forced negotiations on the commission's recommendations rather than revealing their own intentions.

"OK, so he smoked them out," Galston said. "What did it get him? If your objective is to be a president who achieves transformational change, then I'm not sure waiting from December to mid-April is wise," Galston said.

He didn't support the Commission because he didn't support entitlement reform yet. By the time he decided he could he and his party had already demagogued the issue and he couldn't get the toothpaste back in the tube.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Markets continue to soar after debt deal (JENNIFER EPSTEIN, 8/1/11, Politico)

Markets in Asia and Europe surged on Monday after President Barack Obama and congressional leaders announced a last-minute deal to raise the debt ceiling, and futures for the U.S. markets suggest that they will also open up.

While the Right, for now, prevented the big reform deal that was on the table, the relative ease with which our system reached a sensible compromise is why it is the envy of the world.