September 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Lost in foreign translation (Nicolas Rothwell, 9/30/11, The Australian)

 SINCE the first triumphs of the Western Desert art movement, which had its origins in remote Papunya 40 years ago this month, a shining dream has haunted the Australian indigenous art market: the dream of international acceptance and global cultural prestige.

Those first, mysterious boards with their elusive symbols painted by the desert men; the grand topographic panels of the mid-1980s; the wild, jagged colour fields poured out in the far western sand-dune communities in recent years: how is it they charm Australian audiences so easily and dominate private collections and state galleries in this country, yet fail to win such concerted admiration in the wider world?

Aboriginal art promoters and enthusiasts, Australian and foreign, have tried repeatedly in the past two decades to overcome the indifference of the fickle, shifting contemporary culture establishment and stage breakthrough shows that would put the indigenous tradition on the map: regularly, a landmark exhibition is held, word spreads, then ebbs away, and all the optimism dies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Obama Wrong to Rub Out Al-Awlaki (Matthew Rothschild, September 30, 2011, Progressive)

He was a U.S. citizen, after all.

He had never been indicted for a crime here, much less convicted of one, much less sentenced to death.

Still, the President rubbed him out.

We are told that he was a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and there is some evidence that his preachings influenced Al Qaeda terrorists, including a few of the 9/11 attackers and the shoe bomber.

He's no angel. No doubt about that.

But does that give the President the right to summarily execute a U.S. citizen?

Did FDR have the right to murder Ezra Pound during World War II for vocally supporting the fascists?

President Obama asserts that right, not just to bump off Al-Awlaki but also other U.S. citizens, too.

On what basis?

Even the Left can't be so soft-headed as to think FDR wouldn't have bombed the broadcast booth Pound used in Italy if he could have.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Population sees increase in 'Hispanic whites' (Cheryl Wetzstein, 9/29/11, The Washington Times)

America's majority-white population kept growing in 2010, thanks to a burgeoning number of "Hispanic whites," the Census Bureau said Thursday.

In a separate report, the bureau said that the nation's black population also grew, spurred by a 76 percent jump in the number of people who said they were biracial or multiracial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM

THIS MUCH WE KNOW...:'re not exactly Viagra for the American soul.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality (Glenn Greenwald, 9/30/11, Salon)

It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki. No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was "considering" indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki's father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were "state secrets" and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner.

Turns out, commanders-in-chief play hardball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


The German Plot to Reinvent Greece and Europe (Jacob Heilbrunn, September 30, 2011, New Republic)

A conspiratorially minded observer would be hard pressed not to conclude that the European financial crisis is a German plot. Southern Europe, indebted beyond its means and facing impoverishment as the bond trading vultures detect easy prey, is now looking to Germany as its savior. The financial mess has completed Germany's redemption from pariah to the leader of Europe. Indeed, it may not be too much to assert that Germany has again become a great power peacefully dictating the European future, this time with Euros rather than bullets. It's trying to end state socialism across the continent and replace it with the austerity of market economics, something that Greece would never have assented to a few year ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Flat Is the New Fair: Is President Obama paving the way for GOP tax reform? (STEPHEN MOORE, 9/30/11, WSJ)

'Suddenly, liberal Democrats are making the same argument about the tax code that I've been making for 20 years," laughs former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey. "Welcome to the party." Mr. Armey, who along with Steve Forbes has been the torch bearer for the flat tax since the early 1990s, believes that the latest applause line from President Obama that "billionaires should pay the same tax rate as janitors" may be the political gateway to sweeping tax reform.

Mr. Forbes sees an opening here too and says: "The flat tax is the perfect issue for these times. It fixes the economy and doesn't cost a dime." He's right. It's the teed-up GOP response to a jobless recovery and the near-universal sentiment among voters that the tax code is corrupt beyond repair.

The Rise Of The Flat Tax Gives Us Morning In Albania (Nathan Lewis, 9/29/11, Forbes)

Today there are at least forty governments with flat tax type systems, most of which made the switch in just the last decade.

These include: Estonia (1994, 21%), Lithuania (1994,15%), Latvia (1995, 23%), Russia (2001, 13%), Serbia (2003, 12%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2004, 10%), Slovakia (2004, 19%), Ukraine (2004, 15%), Georgia (2005, 20%), Romania (2005, 16%), Turkmenistan (2005, 10%), Kyrgyztan (2006, 10%), Albania (2007, 10%), Mongolia (2007, 10%), Kazakhstan (2007, 10%), Mauritius (2007, 15%), Tajikistan (2007, 13%), Bulgaria (2008, 10%), Czech Republic (2008, 15%), Belarus (2009, 12%), Seychelles (2010, 15%) and Hungary (2011, 16%).

A number of these countries have been having problems recently, mostly due to unstable money and the generalized effects of the recent global economic difficulties. We could take 2007 as a representative pre-crisis year. How did the flat tax countries do then? For thirteen countries for which information was available from the IMF, the average GDP growth rate was 10.0%, ranging from 6.2% (Slovakia) to 23.1% (Ukraine).

However, even this impressive number hides more dramatic gains. In my opinion, in high-growth areas, the true rate of growth tends to be hidden by inflationary adjustments. Prices rise, but it is not because of the debauchment of the currency, it is because people are getting richer. Rents, restaurants, hotels, medical services, education and so forth all become more expensive. Thus, the nominal GDP figures give perhaps a better impression of the true rate of growth. The average nominal GDP growth among these thirteen flat-tax countries was 21.8% in 2007.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


National Governments Can't Be Trusted: Barroso Calls for More Power for EU Institutions (Der Spiegel, 9/30/11)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said in an interview that the EU's institutions need to be strengthened to stabilize the euro zone, arguing that national governments can't be trusted to take determined action. [...]

He said that setting rules for a stable euro zone could not only be left to the member states. "That will never work," he said, explaining that national governments "always try to negotiate."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Al Qaeda 'key leader' killed in Yemen (JOSH GERSTEIN & TIM MAK, 9/30/11, Politico)

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and an alleged terror suspect with links to al Qaeda in Yemen, has been killed, a senior administration official confirmed to POLITICO.

Yemeni security officials told the AP that an airstrike took place Friday morning in the country's east, thought to have been carried out by the United States. Tribal elders in the region said that the airstrike targeted an al Qaeda convoy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


USGS Finds World-Class Gold, Iron Deposits in Afghanistan (Shailesh Shrivastava | September 30, 2011, IBD)

The war-ridden country of Afghanistan has got a shot in the arm with the U.S. Geological Survey releasing a report, demonstrating the wealth of the country in world-class mineral resources. The new research may ensure Afghan economy's prosperity which should come into force as normalcy returns after a 10-year duration of war and conflicts.

USGS working with its Afghan counter agency and the Department of Defense "yielded volumes of information about areas of high mineral potential in Afghanistan, including rare earth elements, gold, iron, and copper."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Blue America's Red Gene: Traditionally Democratic groups are receptive to the conservative message. (Michael G. Franc, 9/30/11, National Review)

The liberal coalition may not be as liberal as you'd expect. According to the most recent "Battleground Poll" from the George Washington University and Politico, there are some surprisingly large reservoirs of conservatism among many voter groups typically viewed as card-carrying members of the liberal voting bloc.

In some cases, a majority of these voters actually describe themselves as conservative. And in many ways they have begun to turn on the president's relentlessly liberal agenda. Clearly, much more ideological turbulence is to be found these days on the left than on the right. [...]

The findings on Hispanics are especially interesting. Obama, it is often noted, won two-thirds of Hispanic votes in 2008. But ideologically, this group is up for grabs -- 51 percent are conservative and 49 percent liberal. And the gender gap here is the reverse of the typical dynamic. Usually, women lean more to the liberal side than do men. For example, women who are white, or under age 45, or politically independent tend to be more liberal than their male counterparts. Hispanic women, though, are more likely to be conservative (54 percent) than are Hispanic men (49 percent). The internal data in the Battleground poll reinforce the sense that Hispanics should be very receptive to conservative messages, especially those relating to the economy, jobs, and spending. Hispanic men, in particular, should be a target audience for our message of limited government and pro-growth economic policies -- 87 percent of them list pocketbook issues as their primary concern.

The GOP has to choose between being white or being the majority party.

September 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Best Buy Slashes BlackBerry PlayBook Prices By $200 (Stan Schroeder. 9/29/11, Mashable)

There is little doubt that Amazon's announcement of Fire prompted the price cuts. Granted, the Kindle Fire has half the storage space of the now $299 look-alike Playbook, but most industry watchers have pegged the Fire's combination of price and content access as a winner. At $199, it gives most of the tablets on the market a run for their money.

Furthermore, the fact that HP's soon-to-be-abandoned TouchPad started selling well only after its price fell to $99 and $149 (depending on the model) proved that there is a much bigger market for non-iPad tablets at these price points than at $500 and over, which is how Android tablets are usually priced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


R2P and the Libya mission: When does 'responsibility to protect' grant countries the right to intervene? (Simon Adams, September 28, 2011, LA Times)

One of the issues privately discussed by foreign ministers at the United Nations was the "responsibility to protect," or R2P. This concept was central to the U.N. mandate to protect civilians in Libya, which led to NATO's aerial involvement there. As the dust settles in Tripoli, it has become necessary to refute a powerful myth that has developed among some pundits and politicians. That myth is that R2P bestows "the right to intervene" in Libya.

Even though R2P features in just two paragraphs of the 40-page "outcome document" of the 2005 U.N. World Summit, historian Martin Gilbert has suggested that it constituted "the most significant adjustment to national sovereignty in 360 years."

R2P's core idea is that all governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is primarily a preventive doctrine. However, R2P also acknowledges that we live in an imperfect world and if a state is "manifestly failing" to meet its responsibilities, the international community is obligated to act. It is not a right to intervene but a responsibility to protect.

But it occurred 220 years earlier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Obama's family feud with the left (Sam Youngman, 09/28/11, The Hill)

Liberal voters feel righteous in their hurt feelings. It's almost a distinguishing characteristic for Democrats; a purity requirement that Republicans are now struggling with. Liberals seem to want an apology.

But Obama is far from apologetic. It is not his style, he is the president of the United States and he thinks he is the aggrieved party.

The president sees his administration as transformative. To Obama, fighting over the public option is dumb, self-defeating politics that weakened public opinion over a massive Democratic achievement.

Obama and his aides think they are doing the right thing for the country and for Democrats. It drives them nuts that liberals can't see that.

Despite those feelings, Obama knows he has to make amends. He's just not very good at doing it. At least not the way the left wants him to.

How do we know? Listen to him. Where's the outreach? Watch the president as he reaches out to liberal and minority groups, then tells them to suck it up.

Obama invited BET into the Oval Office then dressed down the interviewer for suggesting that Obama, for lack of a better or less funny phrase, doesn't care about black people.

"The other thing I want to make sure you don't just kind of slip in there is this notion that African-American leaders of late have been critical," Obama said. "There have been a handful of African-Americans who have been critical. They were critical when I was running for president. There's always going to be somebody who is critical of the president of the United States.

"What has always made this country great is the belief that everybody has got a chance. Regardless of race, regardless of creed."

Got that, black America?

Obama wants to be seen as the president of the whole United States. He is not, at least publicly, going to give any one group special attention.

So the left will continue to get its feelings hurt, Obama will continue to wonder why it wants him to lose, and neither side will be truly happy with the other.

But in the end, they both need each other.

...if he isn't serving that interest why do they need him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Free Market Sweden, Social Democratic America (Samuel Gregg on 9.29.11, American Spectator)

ith a non-Social Democrat coalition government's election in 2006, Sweden's reform agenda resumed. On the revenue side, property taxes were scaled back. Income-tax credits allowing larger numbers of middle and lower-income people to keep more of their incomes were introduced.

To be fair, the path to tax reform was paved here by the Social Democrats. In 2005, they simply abolished -- yes, that's right, abolished -- inheritance taxes.

But liberalization wasn't limited to taxation. Sweden's new government accelerated privatizations of once-state owned businesses. It also permitted private providers to enter the healthcare market, thereby introducing competition into what had been one of the world's most socialized medical systems. Industries such as taxis and trains were deregulated. State education and electricity monopolies were ended by the introduction of private competition. Even Swedish agricultural prices are now determined by the market. Finally, unemployment benefits were reformed so that the longer most people stayed on benefits, the less they received.

So what were the effects of all these changes? The story is to be found in the numbers. Unemployment levels fell dramatically from the 10 percent figure of the mid-1990s. Budget-wise, Sweden started running surpluses instead of deficits. The country's gross public debt declined from a 1994 figure of 78 percent to 35 percent in 2010. Sweden also weathered the Great Recession far better than most other EU states. Sweden's 2010 growth-rate was 5.5 percent. By comparison, America's was 2.7 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Copper Fall Hints At Broader Pains (JERRY A. DICOLO, MATT DAY and JONATHAN CHENG, 9/29/11, WSJ)

For a start, copper has been on a powerful bull run since finding its nadir in 2008. Prices had tripled through February of this year, and they hovered near those highs until the recent rout.

As copper began to decline, hedge funds and other speculators bailed out. Data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show that, in late August, speculative investors had more bets copper would fall than rise for the first time since September 2009.

And, as global markets slumped last week, some fund managers were likely closing out their remaining bullish bets, said David Wilson, head of metals research at Société Générale SA.

"A lot of the big commodity hedge funds hadn't really been involved in the metals markets since April. The weak economic backdrop has created an environment where they are considering 'shorting,' " he said.

Many are also looking at China, which accounted for 40% of world refined copper consumption last year.

Copper imports in China this year were down 26% from year-ago levels, China's General Administration of Customs said last week.

That follows HSBC's preliminary gauge of Chinese manufacturing, which showed shrinking industrial activity for a third consecutive month in September.

Additionally, copper prices in China are falling toward the world benchmark set in London. The difference between the two is the smallest since May, indicating China's appetite is waning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Amazon's Fire: A Cloud-Powered Contender: The retail giant is combining several parts of its business with its vast cloud infrastructure to deliver an impressive tablet. (Erica Naone, 9/28/11, Technology Review)

The Kindle Fire tablet doesn't quite match the aesthetics of an iPad. It doesn't sport the same delicate curves or metallic body, for example. But most people won't care. What's most exciting is that it comes close to matching the iPad experience for a fraction of the price--$199 compared to $499 for the basic iPad 2--and it offers easy access to Amazon's vast array of digital content.

Like the iPad, the Fire has a color touch screen, can play video, and runs apps. It uses Google's Android operating system, but it's a heavily modified version of that system, so the experience is very different from that on other Android tablets. But the most important difference is Amazon's use of cloud technology and the content libraries it's built up over the last few years to deliver content to the Fire.

Only electric cars will never go down in price.

September 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


Amazon Cuts Kindle Price to $80 (Sarah Kessler, 9/28/11, Mashable)

As Amazon launched its new tablet product and a touch reader on Wednesday, it announced that it would reduce the price of its original e-ink Kindle to $79 -- effective today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


The Klezmatics: Tiny Desk Concert (Anastasia Tsioulcas, 9/28/11, NPR)

The Grammy-winning band's lineup has changed pretty fluidly over the last quarter-century, but the four Klezmatics who visited us -- Lorin Sklamberg, Paul Morrissett, Matt Darriau and Lisa Gutkin -- epitomize their spirit of amazing musicianship and restless wandering. They kicked things off with a bouncy dance, "Gilad and Ziv's Sirba," and with an alto sax joining guitar, accordion and violin, it took on something of a brassily subversive, Romani Gypsy vibe.

Next up was the dulcet "On Holy Ground," with words by Woody Guthrie. Sklamberg, Gutkin and Morrissett's vocals are sheer roots Americana, but they're beautifully offset by an Eastern European twist of clarinet and the tsimbl, a hammered dulcimer. And, lest we get too wound up in a reflective mood, The Klezmatics brought us back to the dance floor with a wry tune that's a good fit for our own uncertain times: "Maybe if we sing a little louder, we can wake up the Messiah, who obviously is taking a little nap."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Philip Glenister: only people over 40 stay in to watch TV (Anita Singh, 27 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

"I would've thought the majority of people who watch TV drama are late 30s and over-40s, because we're the ones who don't go out and don't have a life any more," said Glenister, 48 and a father of two.

"I don't understand why people are desperate to get kids to watch TV - don't forget them, obviously, but don't pander to them either. Don't forget your core audience."

Glenister's comments are backed up by recent research which shows that the young are losing interest in television. An Ofcom survey found that adolescents would rather give up watching television altogether than survive without the internet or a mobile phone.

The controller of BBC One, Danny Cohen, has acknowledged that the average age of the channel's viewers is 50 and has promised more shows for older audiences.

How about making more conservative programs, like Life on Mars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


More thoughts on Harry Truman (Jacob Heilbrunn, September 28, 2011, National Affairs)

When Harry Truman was about to step down fro the presidency, he reportedly said something. Along these lines to an aide, "Poor Ike! He's used to the military, where everyone follows orders. As president, he will learn that he send out a directive and nothing happens." what Truman meant by that, of course, was that ultimately the bureaucracy rules Washington. The troubling thing about Barack Obama is that he never seemed to grasp that he had to govern as president instead of being a passive observer. The new revelations in Ron Suskin's book about Obama being ignored by his own advisers only compounds the sense of unease surrounding the Obama presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Brutal Haqqani Crime Clan Bedevils U.S. in Afghanistan (Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane and Alissa J. Rubin, 9/24/11, NY Times)

With a combination of guns and muscle, the Haqqani network has built a sprawling enterprise on both sides of a border that barely exists.

The Haqqanis are Afghan members of the Zadran tribe, but it is in the town of Miram Shah in Pakistan's tribal areas where they have set up a ministate with courts, tax offices and radical madrasa schools producing a ready supply of fighters. They secretly run a network of front companies throughout Pakistan selling cars and real estate, and have been tied to at least two factories churning out the ammonium nitrate used to build roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

American intelligence officials believe that a steady flow of money from wealthy people in the gulf states helps sustain the Haqqanis, and that they further line their pockets with extortion and smuggling operations throughout eastern Afghanistan, focused in the provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika. Chromite smuggling has been a particularly lucrative business, as has been hauling lumber from Afghanistan's eastern forests into Pakistan.

They are also in the kidnapping business, with a mix of pecuniary and ideological motives. In May, the group released the latest of a series of videos showing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American infantryman held by the network since June 2009, with a Haqqani official. David Rohde, then a reporter for The New York Times, was held hostage by Haqqani operatives from November 2008 to June 2009.

Over the past five years, with relatively few American troops operating in eastern Afghanistan, the Haqqanis have run what is in effect a protection racket for construction firms -- meaning that American taxpayers are helping to finance the enemy network.

Maulavi Sardar Zadran, a former Haqqani commander, calls this extortion "the most important source of funding for the Haqqanis," and points out that a multiyear road project linking Khost to Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan was rarely attacked by insurgent forces because a Haqqani commander was its paid protector.

"The Haqqanis know that the contractors make thousands and millions of dollars, so these contractors are very good sources of income for them," he said in an interview.

Other road projects in the region have been under constant assault. According to an authoritative report written by Jeffrey A. Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War, Haqqani militants "repeatedly targeted road construction projects which, if completed, would provide greater freedom of movement for Afghan and coalition forces."

But the group is not just a two-bit mafia enriching itself with shakedown schemes. It is an organized militia using high-profile terrorist attacks on hotels, embassies and other targets to advance its agenda to become a power broker in a future political settlement. And, sometimes, the agenda of its patrons from Pakistan's spy service, the ISI.

Last month, Afghanistan's National Intelligence Directorate released recordings of phone calls intercepted during the June 28 attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. In the exchanges, Haqqani network leaders in Pakistan instruct their operatives in the hotel to shoot the locks off rooms, throw in grenades and make sure no one escapes.

Later, as a fire blazes, the recordings capture the voice of Badruddin Haqqani, one of Jalaluddin's sons, who the State Department says is in charge of kidnappings for the network.

On the tape, Mr. Haqqani asks: "How is the fire?"

A militant named Omar replies: "It's a big fire, and the smoke is blinding me." Omar says he will not be able to move away from the fire, and Mr. Haqqani asks if he has bullets.

"Yes, I have a lot of ammunition," Omar says. "God willing, I'm very relaxed, lying on this mattress, waiting for them."

Mr. Haqqani laughs and says: "God will give you victory." More than a dozen people were killed in the attack, which American officials say they think was carried out with some ISI help.

A NATO officer who tracks Haqqani activities in southeastern Afghanistan gave a blunt assessment of the Haqqanis' brutal ways of intimidation, saying: "They will execute you at a checkpoint, or stop you and go through your phone. And, if they find you're connected to the government, you'll turn up in the morgue. And that sends a message."

According to a senior American military official, cross-border attacks by the Haqqanis into Afghanistan have increased more than fivefold this year over the same period a year ago, and roadside bomb attacks are up 20 percent compared with last year.

For years, American officials have urged Pakistan to move against the Haqqanis' base of operations in North Waziristan. They typically are rebuffed by military and intelligence officials in Islamabad, who say that Pakistan's military is overstretched from operations elsewhere in the tribal areas and is not ready for an offensive against the Haqqanis.

As a result, the United States has fallen back on a familiar strategy: missiles fired from armed drones operated by the C.I.A. But because the Haqqani network's leaders are thought to be hiding in populated towns like Miram Shah, where the C.I.A. is hesitant to carry out drone strikes, American officials said that the campaign has had only limited success against the group's leadership.

Can't hide in Miram Shah forever.

September 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM


Rick Perry and the Jews: It was godless leftist societies that made Jews the gypsies of the 20th century, not Rick Perry (Dr. Marcus J. Goldman, September 20, 2011, Canada Free Press)

Uh oh, Governor Perry has a big problem with the Jews. Well, it's not really all about the's about any high profile Christian Republican. The recent excitement amongst conservatives that Jews may suddenly flock to the republican cause is, of course, ill-founded.

I was talking to an amalgam of liberal Jewish friends who noted that Governor Perry, and others like him, were the kind of "God people" who'd historically forced gays and Jews into the gas chambers, and implied that they'd do it again. Aghast at my support for these conservative would-be butchers they ironically proclaimed "God forbid they should be elected."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


8m abortions every year in China: survey (Lu Feiran, 2011-9-26, Shanghai Daily News)

EACH year in China more than 8 million abortions are carried out, according to a recent survey.

More than half the women involved are not undergoing their first abortion, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday, citing the survey by the China Medical Association.

China's Harsh Enforcement of One-Child Policy: Congressional hearing finds tragedy and ominous signs in China's one-child policy (Gary Feuerberg, 9/27/11, Epoch Times)
Pregnant women lacking birth permits are hunted down like criminals by population planning police in China and forcibly aborted. The degree of monitoring and coercion of ordinary women in their reproductive lives in communist China is shocking to persons living in the free world. In a congressional hearing chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.4), Sept. 22, several victims of communist China's one-child policy testified to their experiences of coercion and involuntary abortion.

"For over three decades, brothers and sisters have been illegal; a mother has absolutely no right to protect her unborn baby from state-sponsored violence," said Rep. Smith, who in his 30-year congressional career has chaired 29 congressional human rights hearings focused in whole or in part on China's one-child policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


The birthing of Solyndra (Dana Milbank, September 26 , 2011, Washington Post)

What McConnell neglected to mention is that Solyndra was cleared to participate in this loan-guarantee program by President George W. Bush's administration. He also did not mention that the legislation creating the loan-guarantee program, approved by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2005, received yes votes from -- wait for it -- DeMint, Hatch and McConnell.

This doesn't mean that Bush is to blame for Solyndra or that the Obama administration should be absolved. Obama, whose administration gave the company the loan guarantee, deserves the black eye that Republicans have given him over the half a billion dollars squandered on the company. But the Republican paternity of the program that birthed Solyndra suggests some skepticism is in order when many of those same Republicans use Solyndra as an example of all that is wrong with Obama's governance.

"Loan guarantees aim to stimulate investment and commercialization of clean energy technologies to reduce our nation's reliance on foreign sources of energy," Bush's energy secretary, Sam Bodman, announced in a press release on Oct. 4, 2007. The release said the Energy Department had received 143 pre-applications for the guarantees and narrowed the list down to 16 finalists -- including Solyndra. Bodman said the action put "Americans one step closer to being able to use new and novel sources of energy on a mass scale to reduce emissions and allow for vigorous economic growth and increased energy security."

Bush's Energy Department apparently adjusted its regulations to make sure that Solyndra would be eligible for the guarantees. It hadn't originally contemplated including the photovoltaic-panel manufacturing that Solyndra did but changed the regulation before it was finalized. The only project that benefited was Solyndra's.

The loan-guarantee program for these alternative energy companies, in turn, was created as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 -- sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who has been a leader in the congressional probe of Solyndra's ties to the Obama administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


A Doyle Man (Michael Dirda, 9/21/11, Paris Review)

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle, was the first grown-up book I ever read--and it changed my life. Back in the late 1950s, my fifth-grade class belonged to an elementary school book club. Each month our teacher would pass out a four-page newsletter describing several dozen paperbacks available for purchase. I remember buying Jim Kjelgaard's Big Red and a thriller called Treasure at First Base, as well as Geoffrey Household's Mystery of the Spanish Cave. Lying on my bed at home, I lingered for hours over these newsprint catalogues, carefully making my final selections.

I had to. Each month my mother would allow me to purchase no more than four of the twenty-five- and thirty-five-cent paperbacks. Not even constant wheedling and abject supplication could shake her resolve. "What do you think we are, made of money? What's wrong with the library?"

After Mr. Jackson sent in the class's order, several weeks would pass and I would almost, but not quite, forget which books I had ordered. Then in the middle of some dull afternoon, probably given over to the arcane mysteries of addition and subtraction, a teacher's aide would open the classroom door and silently drop off a big, heavily taped parcel. Whispers would ripple up and down the rows, and everyone would grow restive.

Romantic poets regularly sigh over their childhood memories of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower. But what are daisies and rainbows compared to four sleek and shiny paperbacks? After more than thirty years as a literary journalist, I have seen and reviewed new books aplenty. Ah, but then, then, at my wooden school desk, etched with generations of student initials, I would methodically appraise each volume's artwork, read and reread its back cover, carefully investigate the delicate line of glue at the top edge of the perfect-bound spines.

To this day I can more or less recall the newsletter's capsule summary that compelled me to buy The Hound of the Baskervilles--as if that ominous title alone weren't enough! Beneath a small reproduction of the paperback's cover--depicting a shadowy Something with fiery eyes crouching on a moonlit crag--blazed the thrilling words "What was it that emerged from the moor at night to spread terror and violent death?" What else, of course, but a monstrous hound from the bowels of Hell? When I opened my copy of the book, the beast was further described on the inside display page:

A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smoldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish, be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.

The book's author, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859-1930), wasn't knighted in 1902 for creating its protagonist, Sherlock Holmes, though many readers feel he should have been. The literary journalist Christopher Morley, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, declared that he actually should have been sainted. In fact, Arthur Conan Doyle only reluctantly added Sir to his name--for his services and writings during the Boer Wars--because his beloved mother talked him into it. On his books he austerely remained A. Conan Doyle "without," as he said, "any trimmings." Such modesty is characteristic of this altogether remarkable man, one who gave his own stolid John Bull appearance, down to the military mustache, not to his Great Detective, but to the loyal Dr. Watson.

Appropriately, Conan Doyle once named "unaffectedness" as his own favorite virtue, then listed "manliness" as his favorite virtue in another man; "work" as his favorite occupation; "time well filled" as his ideal of happiness; "men who do their duty" as his favorite heroes in real life; and "affectation and conceit" as his pet aversions. It should thus come as no surprise that Conan Doyle's books are all fairly transparent endorsements of chivalric ideals of honor, duty, courage, and greatness of heart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


China 1911: The Birth of China's Tragedy: As China celebrates the centenary of the 1911 revolution this October Jonathan Fenby reappraises the uprising and argues that its failings heralded decades of civil conflict, occupation and suffering for the Chinese people. (Jonathan Fenby , October 2011,History Today)

As he renounced his presidency Sun hailed Yuan as 'the friend of the Republic, the devoted and valued servant of the cause'. Yuan certainly saw the need to modernise China and centralise power after the dislocation that had followed the rising in October 1911. But he was far from the model republican, alienating Sun who founded the Guomindang Party in August 1912 to oppose him. When Song Jiaoren led the opposition to victory in legislative elections Yuan's agents assassinated him at Shanghai station in March 1913 as he boarded a train to Beijing to claim the position of prime minister.

Yuan banned 'secret organisations', which could mean any groups he did not like, and had himself proclaimed as a new emperor, a step he was forced to annul because of the opposition it aroused. He faced regional revolts. Short of money and needing support he also got into dangerous negotiations with the Japanese, which threatened to hand effective control of much of China's administration to Tokyo.

When Yuan died of blood poisoning in 1916 he was not mourned and his lack of a clear successor set off ten years of warlord anarchy on a national scale. Sun campaigned ceaselessly for national unity, proposing a Northern Expedition from his base in Canton (now Guangzhou) in southern China but failing to make an impression before his death of liver cancer in Beijing in 1925. The following year, however, Chiang Kai-shek, Sun's successor as head of the Guomindang, led his forces out of the south to conquer or buy over the main warlords and founded a nationalist regime based in Nanjing in 1927 that endured, with many travails, until it was defeated by the Communists in 1949 and decamped to Taiwan.

The revolution that began in October 1911 did not, therefore, bring the changes its more ardent proponents had hoped for. Very few of the country's people took part in it. Local power holders - the gentry and army men - remained in place. Instead of the people whose livelihood Sun proclaimed as one of his main concerns, it was the foreign rulers and the local power holders that benefited most from the fall of the Manchus. This was a shift of regime, not a social sea change. The foreigners held on to their concessions and China was unable to keep up with Japan, the rising Asian power.

The institutions of the new republic were feeble from the start - Yuan referred to it as 'a very young baby'. That weakness undermined the fresh attempt in 1927 to launch a functioning national republic. Though there was some progress, Chiang faced recurrent regional revolts and invasion by Japan leading to full-scale war from 1937 to 1945, creating the inherent fragility of the Nationalist administration. It was not until 1949 that real revolution came to China and, when it did, it opened the path to the increasingly deranged schemes of Mao Zedong (1893-1976), leading to the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s, the Great Famine which may have taken more than 40 million lives and then the ten years of the Cultural Revolution. Only since Deng Xiaoping (1904-97) set the country on the course of economic reform in the 1980s has China regained a degree of normality and even then it has been marked by continuing political repression.

The basic question remains unanswered of whether a nation as big as China and with the democratic deficit from which the country has always suffered can be ruled other than by a top-down regime. What is clear is that, for all the celebrations in the mainland and Taiwan this autumn, the revolution of 1911-12 brought no real solution and left China facing decades of suffering.

...but then, neither is China a nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Romney's Secret Weapon Against Perry: Immigration: On immigration, the former Massachusetts governor may have his Texas rival fenced in (David Corn, Sep. 27, 2011, Mother Jones)

It's tough for a Harvard-educated, one-time moderate Republican governor (who used to support gay rights, abortion rights, and gun control) to get to the right of a swaggering conservative Texan who looks as if he walked--make that, strode--straight out of a tea party video. But Mitt Romney has found a way--by targeting Gov. Rick Perry's compassionate conservatism. That is, Perry's support for allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition fees at Texas state colleges. In the days since the issue flared up at last week's Republican presidential debate, the Romney camp has continued to pound Perry on this point.

At that debate, Romney--who in Massachusetts had vetoed legislation that would have permitted the kids of illegal workers in Massachusetts to pay in-state tuition rates--blasted Perry's support for a measure allowing students who had lived in Texas for three years and graduated from a Texas high school to be eligible for those lower in-state rates. Perry responded crisply: "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society." He added that 177 of 181 Texas legislators supported this policy.

September 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


British army will never again be among military superpowers, report claims (Nick Hopkins, 9/26/11, The Guardian)

Thinktank says cuts and Trident plan will leave black hole in finances, but UK will still be able to assist in operations like Libya

Britain's shrinking military will "never again be among the global superpowers" but will have enough capability to assist in operations such as Libya and Afghanistan in the future, a study said on Tuesday.

However, the MoD's finances will be capsized and its resources further diminished unless there is a substantial increase in defence spending to cover the "looming" costs of the replacement for the Trident nuclear deterrent.

Just as we should take nukes away from the enemy by force, we should encourage our friends to give them up willingly. England doesn't need nukes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


Amid new guidelines, Va. woman's deportation case comes down to the last minute (Eli Saslow, September 25 , 2011, Washington Post)

She picked up her cellphone at 7:45 a.m. and called her attorney in Manassas. He spoke little Spanish and she spoke little English, but he was her only chance left. She had gone through four lawyers and $10,000 since November 2009, when a police officer pulled her over for driving with a suspended license and discovered she had entered the country twice without documentation. While the government began to push for her removal, Godoy e-mailed congressmen and took a bus to New York to meet a self-proclaimed immigration specialist who charged her $1,500 and then stopped returning her calls.

Finally, late last month, a friend recommended that Godoy visit Ricky Malik, a young lawyer in Manassas. He told Godoy about the just-released guidelines and helped her apply for a stay of removal for two more years in the United States. He stapled a copy of the guidelines to her request. Godoy had been calling him for updates five or six times every day since.

This time, her call went directly to voice mail, and with 23 hours left Godoy decided to leave another message.

"Señor, por favor," she said. Please.

It was the first day of school for her two sons, so Godoy tried to lose herself in the details of the life she still had. She filled up her boyfriend's car with gas, even though the boyfriend and the car would both be staying behind. She breast-fed her 4-week-old baby, Marilyn Nicole, even though the baby was too young to have received a birth certificate or a passport and would stay in the United States to be cared for by her father.

She drove her two sons, ages 10 and 6, across south Richmond to their elementary school, even though they would need to transfer later in the week if they moved in with relatives. The boys jumped over puddles in the parking lot and followed Godoy into the building. She walked Diego, 10, to his fifth-grade classroom.

"The first day makes me nervous," he said.

"I know," she told him. "Be brave."

The boys wanted to move with Godoy to Guatemala, but she had decided that they would stay in the United States with their grandmother. Godoy finally had built the life she wanted for her family since she crossed the border in 2000, paying a smuggler $6,000 and spending two months traveling on buses and foot trails before finally entering the United States through Texas. Her siblings and cousins lived nearby in Richmond. Despite the sluggish economy, she still managed to clean enough houses to pay the rent on a two-bedroom apartment. Her kids rode around the neighborhood on bikes and came home to play their Nintendo Wii. Two of them were U.S. citizens. Their lives were here.

Paula walked out of the elementary school and returned home. She e-mailed another congressman, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), whom she had seen talking about the new immigration guidelines on TV.

"I am desperate and out of time," she wrote in Spanish. "I don't know if my life will be here or there."

She looked up at the kitchen clock. Almost 10 a.m.

"Dios mio," she said.

Twenty-one hours to go.

She reached for her phone and redialed the lawyer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Goodness has nothing to do with it: Utilitarians are not nice people (The Economist, Sep 24th 2011)

One of the classic techniques used to measure a person's willingness to behave in a utilitarian way is known as trolleyology. The subject of the study is challenged with thought experiments involving a runaway railway trolley or train carriage. All involve choices, each of which leads to people's deaths. For example: there are five railway workmen in the path of a runaway carriage. The men will surely be killed unless the subject of the experiment, a bystander in the story, does something. The subject is told he is on a bridge over the tracks. Next to him is a big, heavy stranger. The subject is informed that his own body would be too light to stop the train, but that if he pushes the stranger onto the tracks, the stranger's large body will stop the train and save the five lives. That, unfortunately, would kill the stranger.

Dr Bartels and Dr Pizarro knew from previous research that around 90% of people refuse the utilitarian act of killing one individual to save five. What no one had previously inquired about, though, was the nature of the remaining 10%.

To find out, the two researchers gave 208 undergraduates a battery of trolleyological tests and measured, on a four-point scale, how utilitarian their responses were. Participants were also asked to respond to a series of statements intended to get a sense of their individual psychologies. These statements included, "I like to see fist fights", "The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear", and "When you really think about it, life is not worth the effort of getting up in the morning". Each was asked to indicate, for each statement, where his views lay on a continuum that had "strongly agree" at one end and "strongly disagree" at the other. These statements, and others like them, were designed to measure, respectively, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and a person's sense of how meaningful life is.

Dr Bartels and Dr Pizarro then correlated the results from the trolleyology with those from the personality tests. They found a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas (push the fat guy off the bridge) and personalities that were psychopathic, Machiavellian or tended to view life as meaningless. Utilitarians, this suggests, may add to the sum of human happiness, but they are not very happy people themselves. rats in their lab.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


Palestinian Moves Reshape Attitudes (BILL SPINDLE, 9/26/11, WSJ)

The Palestinian bid for United Nations statehood, whatever its outcome, is already helping reshape Palestinian attitudes to expect less of negotiations--which most feel have failed to deliver after nearly two decades--and embrace a more confrontational stance toward Israel.

That could mean challenging Israel using boycotts, demonstrations and international diplomatic forums more aggressively--ideas that are gaining currency among young Palestinians. In a year when peaceful demonstrations have radically altered the political landscape of the Arab world, they increasingly embrace notions of nonviolent resistance. [...]

[M]any Palestinians, especially youths who make up the majority of the population, see the U.N. bid as something else: a sharp break with a peace process and the beginning of a new era.

They want their leadership to actively challenge Israel for sovereignty over the West Bank, though not necessarily through an armed struggle. "We're hoping to have a state. Checkpoints should be dismantled. Palestinians will patrol where Israelis do now," said Ahmed Aqtish, a 24-year-old mechanic.

Just declare statehood, hold national elections and act like a state and you are one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


Deflation fears are back (Chris Isidore, 9/26/11, CNNMoney)

Prices of copper, oil and other commodities have been plunging on worries of reduced demand for those basic raw materials. Gold, traditionally a safe haven in volatile markets, suffered its largest single day price decline since 1980 on Friday.

The difference in yields on Treasuries and the inflation-adjusted bonds known as TIPS also has narrowed sharply in the past two months. On July 1, the spread pointed to a 2.3% inflation rate over the next year, a level above the Federal Reserve's target for acceptable inflation. Now, the expectation is for less than 1% inflation over the next year.

That suggests that the drop in bond yields to record lows last week wasn't just because of Federal Reserve's so-called "Operation Twist" or a flight to quality on Europe fears. It may also be due to a change in investors' inflation expectations.

Economics is not an evidence-based discipline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Boeing 787 Dreamliner: The Next-Generation in Flight Has Arrived (Joseph Lazzaro, 9/26/11, IBT)

As most investors/readers know, the 787 saga has been a case study in project delay. Numerous production complications pushed the plane three years behind schedule; the project itself has been under development since 2003.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


The Legendary Dr Fox Lecture - Footage Found! (September 23, 2011, Weird Experiments)

The lecture that Myron L. Fox delivered to the assembled experts had an impressive enough title: 'Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education'. Those responsible for running the University of Southern California School of Medicine's psychiatry department's continuing education programme had taken themselves off to Lake Tahoe in northern California for their annual conference and a continuing education program. There, Fox - who was billed as an 'authority on the application of mathematics to human behaviour' - presented the first paper. His polished performance so impressed the audience of psychiatrists, family doctors and general internists that nobody noticed that the man standing at the lectern wasn't really Myron L. Fox from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine but Michael Fox a movie actor who though having considerable experience in playing doctors in TV shows didn't know the first thing about game theory. (According to the Internet Movie Data Base Michael Fox was the reason Michael J. Fox from back to the future fame inserted the 'J' into his name, as the Screen Actors Guild only allows one person of each name to be registered).

Fox was trained to give this talk only the day before. He was given an article from „Scientific American" on game theory and worked up a lecture from it that was intentionally full of imprecise waffle, invented words and contradictory assertions.

The people behind this spoof were John E. Ware, assistant professor of medical education and health care planning at Southern Illinois school of Medicine, Donald H. Naftulin associate professor and director of the division of continuing education in psychiatry at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and Frank A. Donnelly, an instructor in psychology at the University of Southern California. [...]

Michael Fox didn't think, he would make it through the lecture without being exposed. He had two reasons for being nervous: on one hand he had to give a lecture that was stripped from any real content on the other hand he was sure that most of the people in the audience had seen him before on TV. Fox had been a supporting actor in many Sitcoms, TV series and feature movies. He had played Dr Benson the vet of Inspector Columbo, Captain Ritter in „Hogans Heroes" and Inspector Basch in „Batman".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Perry Is Right: There Is a Texas Model for Fixing Social Security: Public employees in three Texas counties have benefited from an 'Alternate Plan' for 30 years. (MERRILL MATTHEWS, 9/25/11, WSJ)

Since 1981 and 1982, workers in Galveston, Matagorda and Brazoria Counties have seen their retirement savings grow every year, even during the Great Recession. The so-called Alternate Plan of these three counties doesn't follow the traditional defined-benefit or defined-contribution model. Employee and employer contributions are actively managed by a financial planner--in this case, First Financial Benefits, Inc., of Houston, which originated the plan in 1980 and has managed it since its adoption. I call it a "banking model."

As with Social Security, employees contribute 6.2% of their income, with the county matching the contribution (or, as in Galveston, providing a slightly larger share). Once the county makes its contribution, its financial obligation is done--that's why there are no long-term unfunded liabilities.

The contributions are pooled, like bank deposits, and top-rated financial institutions bid on the money. Those institutions guarantee an interest rate that won't go below a base level and goes higher when the market does well. Over the last decade, the accounts have earned between 3.75% and 5.75% every year, with the average around 5%. The 1990s often saw even higher interest rates, of 6.5%-7%. When the market goes up, employees make more--and when the market goes down, employees still make something.

But not all money goes into employees' retirement accounts. When financial planner Rick Gornto devised the Alternate Plan in 1980, he wanted it to be a complete substitute for Social Security. And Social Security isn't just a retirement fund: It's also social insurance that provides a death benefit ($255), survivors' insurance, and a disability benefit.

Part of the employer contribution in the Alternate Plan goes toward a term life insurance policy that pays four times the employee's salary tax-free, up to a maximum of $215,000. That's nearly 850 times Social Security's death benefit.

If a worker participating in Social Security dies before retirement, he loses his contribution (though part of that money might go to surviving children or a spouse who didn't work). But a worker in the Alternate Plan owns his account, so the entire account belongs to his estate. There is also a disability benefit that pays immediately upon injury, rather than waiting six months plus other restrictions, as under Social Security.

Running on the Third Way wins elections in the Anglosphere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


The Reactionary in the White House: Barack Obama, throwback (FRED BARNES, 10/03/11, Weekly Standard)

The Obama administration has adopted the fiscal strategy of the Greek government. The Greeks favor raising taxes on the wealthy and massive borrowing to freeze in place the present size, scope, and spending of the government. So does Obama, thus the reactionary nature of his plan.

The Greeks have balked at laying off a single government worker or privatizing any of the immense assets--in land, resorts, and a lot more--owned by the government. When told recently by a visiting delegation from the EU, IMF, and European Central Bank that Greece must cut spending and the bureaucracy deeply to qualify for another bailout, the Greek finance minister abruptly left the room--and didn't return.

Now Obama has left the room. is speech in the Rose Garden last week vowing to veto any budget compromise without large tax increases means a deal with Republicans is off the table. Assuming he's serious...

Which is an assumption no one can honestly make. He's just mau-mauing for the base.

September 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Study: One-third of Jewish Israelis say Arab citizens aren't Israelis (JTA, September 25, 2011)

One-third of Israel's Jewish population does not consider Arab citizens to be Israelis, a newly released survey says.

In addition, nearly 78 percent of Israeli Jews believe that a Jewish majority should be required for making critical decisions concerning peace and security and even socio-economic issues and issues of governance.

From one racial state to another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


"I think I understand how the typical Protestant feels... (Peter Kreeft, from the chapter, "The Sacraments", in Fundamentals of the Faith.)

To Protestants, sacraments must be one of two things: either mere symbols, reminders, like words; or else real magic. And the Catholic definition of a sacrament -- a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace, a sign that really effects what it symbolizes -- sounds like magic. Catholic doctrine teaches that the sacraments work ex opere operato, i.e., objectively, though not impersonally and automatically like machines. They are gifts that come from without but must be freely received.

Protestants are usually much more comfortable with a merely symbolic view of sacraments, for their faith is primarily verbal, not sacramental. After all, it is the Bible that looms so large in the center of their horizon. They believe in creation and Incarnation and Resurrection only because they are in the Bible. The material events are surrounded by the holy words. The Catholic sensibility is the inside-out version of this: the words are surrounded by the holy facts. To the Catholic sensibility it is not primarily words but matter that is holy because God created it, incarnated himself in it, raised it from death, and took it to heaven with him in his ascension.

...the big problem is that they depend on the idea that we can order God about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


Solyndra's collapse is a tale of too much dazzle: Investors were convinced that the solar company was the harbinger of an alternative-energy boom. But the market changed too swiftly. (Ken Bensinger, Stuart Pfeifer and Neela Banerjee, 9/25/11, LA Times)

[T]o grasp the saga of Solyndra's rapid rise and even faster fall, one has to understand the dazzling appeal of its product. The company's advancement in solar power was hailed as an invention so brilliant that it blinded everyone to the truth: Solyndra never had much of a chance in a fast-changing market.

"It was revolutionary," said Walter Bailey, a former Macquarie Capital investment banker who specialized in green technology and visited Solyndra in 2008. "You had some of the smartest money in the world getting behind it. It was a real company with a huge factory and an extremely unique product.

"The only problem," said Bailey, now a senior partner at boutique investment bank Focus Capital in New York, "was that it never penciled out."

Unlike the increasingly ubiquitous flat solar panel, Solyndra's design completely rethought the process of turning sunlight into electricity, creating a product perfect for flat roofs of warehouses, supermarkets and other commercial buildings.

Its rectangular panels, called modules, are made of dozens of horizontally arrayed cylindrical tubes -- hence the name Solyndra. As the sun tracks across the sky, the curved surfaces stay perpendicular to its rays all day, unlike conventional flat panels. And light reflecting off the roof hits the underside of the tubes, increasing production.

In addition, Solyndra's product weighs much less than flat panels and is far simpler to install. Best of all, said Laura Weilert, a Denver solar engineer, is the way the modules let air circulate through them.

"Wind tends to pull every other kind of panel off a building, but not Solyndra," said Weilert, who has installed Solyndra modules on about 170 buildings in Colorado and had $300,000 of additional modules on order when the company shut down. "For the right market, it's hands down the best thing out there."

Solyndra's founder, Chris Gronet, invented the panels and left his job as an executive at Applied Materials Inc., a major supplier to high-tech companies such as IBM Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Texas Instruments Inc., to focus on solar full time.

He formed his own company in 2005 and lured investors with another selling point of his modules -- the fact that they didn't use silicon, an essential and expensive component of conventional solar cells.

By early 2008, the price of high-grade silicon had reached almost $1,000 a pound, nearly 10 times what it had been just a few years earlier. Venture capitalists raced to get in, making Solyndra one of the hottest bets in Silicon Valley at a time when solar was rapidly expanding in the U.S. and Europe thanks to government subsidies.

"They were considered very exciting," said Shayle Kann, managing director of consulting firm GTM Research's solar practice. "They had the potential to substantially reduce solar costs at the time, and they had attracted an enormous amount of private investment."

One investor, British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Green Fund, bragged that it had selected only Solyndra from a pool of 117 solar companies seeking backing. Other investors included billionaire Oklahoma oil baron George Kaiser, and a fund that manages the money of the family behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Wall Street heavyweight Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was its lead investment banker.

"Very high-profile money was all over that company," said Bailey, the investment banker. "Nobody else had anything as strikingly different as Solyndra."

When the company emerged from what it called "stealth mode" in October 2008, it had already raised $600 million and was the toast of Silicon Valley. It also had applied for the Department of Energy loan guarantee, which would be granted in 2009.

That guarantee, the first approved in the program, made Solyndra a symbolic standard-bearer for the Obama administration's push for investing in green jobs.

Under terms of the deal, the Energy Department would guarantee the loan, issued by the Treasury's Federal Financing Bank and carrying a tiny 1% interest rate. The money would pay the lion's share of a new $733-million factory, the company's second, needed to increase capacity dramatically and streamline manufacturing.

That was key, the company said, because it urgently needed to bring costs down.

By the time the loan was conditionally approved, sinking demand for solar energy had helped drive the price of silicon off a cliff, to less than $100 a pound. Heavily subsidized Chinese flat-panel makers began slashing prices faster than Solyndra could.

Solyndra's prices were 66% higher than competing flat panels in late 2009, according to public documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

No one ever got rich counting on commodity prices to stay high.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Saudi Arabia gives women right to vote (, 25 September 2011)

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has said women will have the right to stand and vote in future local elections and join the advisory Shura council as full members.

"Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others ... to involve women in the Shura council as members, starting from the next term," Abdullah, 87, said in a speech.

"Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote," he added.

A powerful solvent meets a weak adhesive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Caution Fills Obama's Playbook (David Ignatius, 9/25/11, Washington Post)

It was painful to watch President Obama last week at the United Nations, backing away from the goal of Palestinian statehood he had championed when he took office. The best that could be said was that it was a bit of foreign-policy realism, acknowledging the political and strategic fact that the United States will never abandon Israel in the U.N. Security Council.

...of cozying up to folks who are thwarting self-determination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Chinese Christians aim to evangelize Muslim world (Julia Duin, 2/03/11, Washington Post)

Starting several decades ago, Chinese Christians began to strategize how to secretly plant churches along this Silk Road through an initiative called the Back to Jerusalem movement. The idea was to start businesses in countries from India to Iran that would never suspect that the Chinese grocer or restaurant owner down the street would like to convert them.

In the past 20 years, preparations to send teams to these countries has ramped up considerably. In 2000, Chinese house church leaders met in Thailand to strategize this. In 2003, a book "Back to Jerusalem" by New Zealander Paul Hattaway described this initiative where Chinese missionaries are either working in or planning and preparing to go to every nation between eastern China and Jerusalem. I've also heard at least 60 teams have been sent to Burma and a handful into Pakistan. An estimated 1,500 Chinese Christians are in the field but thousands more are in training.

Very little of this has been unreported in the secular media. The sole exception is "Jesus in Beijing," is a 2003 book by David Aikman, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine. He reported that Chinese Christians have enrolled in Arabic- language programs at Chinese universities to work in the Islamic world, filling professional positions such as interpreters, engineers or ordinary laborers. China, he pointed out, is increasingly engaged in the Middle East as its energy needs are dependent on petroleum imports. China is already Saudi Arabia's biggest oil customer. China does arms sales to many rogue regimes and sends its technicians all over the world, often to countries where westerners cannot go. For any enterprising missionary willing to seek employ within the Chinese government, this is an open invitation to missionize in these countries.

Islamic authorities in Muslim states have worked hard to keep their populations from learning about Christianity, which is why visiting westerners are closely watched. They do not suspect a hidden fifth column of Chinese evangelists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Some Japanese Industries Now Requiring English for Job Seekers (Kay Aviles, September 24, 2011, IBT)

Japan is the world's third largest economy and a major export powerhouse. It requires six years of studying English courses in primary and secondary schools. But despite these, its English proficiency is lagging behind Asian countries.

In last year's English proficiency test TOEFL iBT, the island ranked 27th, after Mongolia and Turkmenistan. Recruit Agent told Reuters only nine percent of 1,156 surveyed white-collar workers are literate in English.

Driven by fear of losing their jobs or pressure from finding one, Japanese include English classes as among their expenditures. Last year, English institutes earned $9.8 billion according to data gathered from Yano Institute of Research. It is also expected to increase by 1.8 per cent this year.

"This is just the start of Japan's real globalization. Everyone is feeling that they will see a 'No English-No Job' situation," Reuters quoted Kenki Kamiyama, president of Gaba, an English language institute in Japan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The Side Effects? Well, There Is One... (Tara Parker-Pope, 9/24/11, NY Times)

The reality for many of the 240,000 men in the United States in whom prostate cancer is diagnosed each year is not all that rosy, at least when it comes to their intimate lives. After surgery and radiation treatments, many men quickly discover that sex will never be normal again. Sensations change. Many men can no longer achieve erections without pumps or pills. For some, the ability to have sex goes away entirely.

Yet, for years, men facing prostate cancer surgery have been reassured by their doctors, who could cite studies in prominent medical journals, that their sex lives would be just fine after treatment. Doctors would often boast of sexual recovery rates in excess of 90 percent, but failed to disclose that those numbers applied to a select group of patients rather than to most men who walked in the door.

Now, research published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association finally offers men some straight talk about what to expect from treatment for prostate cancer. The findings, based on a study of 1,000 men in different treatment centers, suggests that surgery and radiation treatments take a far greater toll on male potency than most men are led to believe. Among men in the study who reported good sex lives before cancer, fewer than half were able to achieve normal erections two years after treatment.

Prostate cancer screenings: a second opinion: Doctors are rethinking the value of the tests because the disease is rarely a killer and the treatment can do serious harm. (H. Gilbert Welch, 4/01/09, LA Times))
I probably have prostate cancer.

There's no need to feel sorry for me -- so do about half the men my age (I'm in my mid-50s). We doctors have learned this from microscopic examinations of the prostates of men who are autopsied following an accidental death. And the older men get, the more likely it is that they have prostate cancer. Autopsies of men in their 70s have found that about 80% of them had the disease.

I almost certainly won't die from prostate cancer, however. The lifetime risk of prostate cancer death for American males is only about 3%. So, although the prevalence of the cancer may sound alarming, 97% of men will die from something else.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Whatever Happened to the American Left? (Michael Kazin, 9/24/11, NY Times)

The Tea Party is thus just the latest version of a movement that has been evolving for over half a century, longer than any comparable effort on the liberal or radical left. Conservatives have rarely celebrated a landslide win on the scale of Proposition 13, but their argument about the evils of big government has, by and large, carried the day. President Obama's inability to solve the nation's economic woes has only reinforced the right's ideological advantage.

If activists on the left want to alter this reality, they will have to figure out how to redefine the old ideal of economic justice for the age of the Internet and relentless geographic mobility. During the last election, many hoped that the organizing around Barack Obama's presidential campaign would do just that. Yet, since taking office, Mr. Obama has only rarely made an effort to move the public conversation in that direction.

...when their economic reality is that they're wired and mobile?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Left vs. W.H. over mortgage deal (Edward-Isaac Dovere, September 24, 2011, Politico)

President Barack Obama's liberal base says he's on the verge of selling out to the banks again.

This time, the problem is a subprime mortgage settlement that his administration is pressuring state attorneys general to sign off on -- a deal that could stop many state investigations and prosecutions about mortgage lending practices.

That settlement, a collaboration between the Justice Department and the 50 state attorneys general much like the one that produced the landmark 1998 agreement with tobacco companies, would mean a lump-sum payment from the banks in exchange for a release from liability. But with negotiators in Washington this week trying to finalize a deal, it's become the latest flashpoint of left-wing disenchantment with Obama.

"The least charitable view ties it directly to campaign donations," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which this week began mobilizing its 700,000 supporters against the broader deal. "The most charitable view, it's a bunch of Wall Street hacks in the position of economic advisers who truly believe that giving billions to banks will trickle down to the middle class. The most charitable view is that they're just wrong." that this is how a Republican president should be expected to act.

September 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


'Parent Trigger' Law to Reform Schools Faces Challenges (JENNIFER MEDINA, 9/25/11, NY Times)

The promise sounded alluring and simple: if enough parents signed a petition, their children's struggling school would be shut down and replaced with a charter school.

So, using a new state law known as the parent trigger, organizers at an underperforming school here in Compton collected hundreds of signatures from parents who said they were fed up. Parents were eager, they said, to turn it into a charter school, where students would spend more time in class with a staff of new teachers.

After months of legal battles, the status of that petition remains tied up in court. But in the meantime, a new charter school has opened just blocks from the struggling school, and parents at more than a dozen other schools in California are hoping to take advantage of the trigger law, demanding that their schools radically improve.

In essence, the law creates a parents' union, which advocates say will provide powerful and needed counterweight to teachers' unions and district bureaucracies. If 51 percent of parents in a persistently failing school sign a petition, they can force the school to change into a charter, close it entirely or replace the principal and teachers.

Similar legislation has passed in Texas, Ohio and Connecticut and is being considered in nearly a dozen more states -- but California, the earliest adopter, is furthest along. [...]

There is strong resistance to this whole notion from teachers' unions, which have long relied on steadfast support from parents against budget cuts and other changes. In many ways, the parent trigger can directly undermine their efforts.

At a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers this summer, the lobbyist for the Connecticut chapter delivered a presentation outlining the ways that the union was able to weaken the law after unsuccessfully trying to kill it. The presentation made it clear that the union saw the law as a threat.

At the end of the day it's just a matter of whether schools exist to educate kids or provide benefits for public employees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


The Nawab of Pataudi (The Telegraph, 23 Sep 2011)

When Pataudi went in to bat, with a contact lens in his near-sightless right eye, he found he was seeing two balls, six or seven inches apart. By picking the inner one, he managed to reach 35. At this point he removed the contact lens, and, keeping the bad eye closed, succeeded in taking his score to 70.

A month later, in December 1961, he made his Test debut for India against England in Delhi. In his first four Test innings he registered scores of 13, 64, 32 and 103 (the latter in only 140 minutes), contributing largely to India's first victory in a series against England.

This was a truly heroic achievement. By the end of the season Pataudi reckoned that he had discovered the best means of overcoming his handicap, pulling the peak of his cap over his right eye to eliminate the blurred double image he otherwise saw.

He still had difficulty, though, in judging flight against slow bowlers. Inevitably, genius lost something to caution and orthodoxy.

Naturally, his record begs the question of what he might have achieved with two good eyes. Yet Pataudi never made excuses, or indulged in self pity. In his autobiography, Tiger's Tale (1969), he admitted simply that he had had to abandon his early ambition of becoming one of the greatest batsmen. Instead, he wrote: "I have concentrated on trying to make myself a useful one, and a better fielder than my father was."

The son of the 8th Nawab of Pataudi, he was born Mohamed Mansur Ali Khan on January 5 1941 at Bhopal, of which his maternal grandfather was Nawab. Pataudi, some 30 miles south-west of Delhi and about the size of Rutland, had been granted to a forebear who supported the British during the Indian Mutiny.

The boy grew up in a palace boasting 150 rooms, run by well over 100 servants -- eight of whom were employed as personal attendants to the son and heir, known from infancy as "Tiger". There was also a personal tutor, who ensured that he could speak English as well as Urdu.

His father ruled his tiny state as absolute monarch, albeit ultimately under British supervision. A talented cricketer in his own right, he had scored 238 not out for Oxford against Cambridge in 1931. Subsequently he played for England against Australia on the tour of 1932-33, making a century on his Test debut in Sydney. It was said, though, that he disapproved of Douglas Jardine's bodyline tactics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


The United States of Adderall (Lawrence Diller, 9/9/11, AOL Healthy Living)

Given the current CDC data, one can safely estimate (based on previously detailed distribution curves) that one of six 11-year-old white boys with medical insurance currently take a stimulant drug at least during the school week. Is this over medication or simply good medical care for children with a previously undiagnosed and untreated condition? What I do know is that we are the only society currently managing our under performing/misbehaving children with drugs to this degree.

While the diagnosis of ADHD/ADD can seem ephemeral, the production of prescription stimulants, whose use is closely tied to the diagnosis, is monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Since 1996 the annual amount of Ritalin type drugs approved for production by the DEA multiplied 4000 times to 50 million kilograms, and for Adderall 10000 times to 26 million kilograms. In more common terms, 83,776 tons of legal speed were approved for production in 2010 equaling more than half a pound for every man, woman and child in America.

The U.S. is a signatory to a 1972 United Nations treaty monitoring the production and sale of potentially addicting substances. The U.N.'s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) based in Vienna, monitors the production of legal stimulants worldwide. INCB data shows that in 2009 the U.S., representing 4 percent of the world's population, produced 88 percent of the world's legal Ritalin type drugs. Canada uses a third per capita of prescription stimulants compared to the U.S. -- Germany, one eighth, the U.K. one twelfth, Japan, one fiftieth.

These drug production amounts do not separate child from adult use and clearly there has been a surge in adult ADHD/ADD and their use of stimulants in America in the last decade as well. Still the CDC study marks a continued increase in the diagnosis and use of these drugs in children. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

I suppose it comes down to values. Amphetamine when used (in low doses) immediately improves focus and attention in anyone (including ADHD/ADD children) who takes them. Specific behavioral interventions (especially by parents) and educational interventions (by schools and teachers) also improve the performance and behavior of ADHD/ADD children.

Pills, however, place value on efficiency -- they work quickly and are relatively less costly. The non-drug interventions value engagement with the child; they require more time, more involvement by adults and initially cost more money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


Left Behind: How Democrats Are Losing the Political Center (William Galston, September 24, 2011, New Republic)

Overall, it's hard to avoid concluding that the ideological playing-field heading into 2012 is tilted against Democrats. This reality only deepens the strategic dilemma the White House now confronts. The conventional strategy for an incumbent is to secure the base before the general public gets fully engaged and then reach out to the swing voters whose decisions spell the difference between victory and defeat. By contrast, the Obama team spent most of 2011 in what turned out to be a failed effort to win over the Independent voters who deserted Democrats in droves last November, in the process alienating substantial portions of the base. To rekindle the allegiance and enthusiasm of core supporters, the president now finds himself having to draw sharp ideological lines, risking further erosion among Independents and even moderate Democrats. Tellingly, a number of at-risk Democratic senators up for reelection in 2012 have already refused to go along with key elements of the president's recent proposals.

...because a Republican leader who is pandering to the base is appealing to the great Christian majority of the country, whereas a Democrat is appealing to discrete special interest groups and alienating everyone not in the given cohort with each pander.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


The Phony Solyndra Scandal (JOE NOCERA, 9/23/11, NY Times)

If Brian Harrison and W. G. Stover, the two Solyndra executives who took the Fifth Amendment at a Congressional hearing on Friday, ever spend a day in jail, I'll stand on my head in Times Square.

It's not going to happen, for one simple reason: neither they, nor anyone else connected with Solyndra, have done anything remotely criminal. The company's recent bankruptcy -- which the Republicans are now rabidly "investigating" because Solyndra had the misfortune to receive a $535 million federally guaranteed loan from the Obama administration -- was largely brought on by a stunning collapse in the price of solar panels over the past year or so.

The company's innovative solar panels, high-priced to begin with, became increasingly uncompetitive in the marketplace. Solyndra didn't have enough big commercial customers to create the necessary economies of scale. And although Harrison and Stover remained optimistic up to the bitter end -- insisting six weeks before the late-August bankruptcy filing that the company was going to be fine -- they ultimately failed to raise additional capital that would have allowed Solyndra to stay in business.

The Republicans are trying to make that optimism appear sinister, but if we've learned anything from the financial crisis, it is that wishful thinking in the face of a collapsing market is not a crime.

Yeah, but they've got nothing else.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


My Father Was a Communist (Erik Tarloff, Sep 21 2011, The Atlantic)

My father, Frank Tarloff, a Hollywood screenwriter, was blacklisted by the entertainment industry in 1953, at the height of the McCarthy era. For those unfamiliar with the blacklist, here's a brief explanation of its workings: People in the industry who were named by others as having had Communist affiliations were subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and interrogated in open hearings about their political beliefs. They were also required to identify others who held similar beliefs. Witnesses who cooperated were usually able to resume their careers. Witnesses who refused to cooperate found themselves instantly unemployable1; their names were listed in a variety of publications (Red Channels being the most famous), and they were thereupon treated as radioactive by talent agencies, producers, studios, and sponsors.

Despite the grim consequences, a large majority of the witnesses refused to cooperate. Frank, like many others in his position, testified to the committee that while he would answer any questions about his own beliefs, he would not throw former colleagues to the wolves in order to salvage his career. [...]

Now, let's flash forward to some time in the mid-'90s. Frank was invited to appear on an LA radio show to talk about his experiences of the blacklist. By then, Joseph McCarthy, the movement he led, and the blacklist that resulted were all in total disrepute, and my father agreed to the interview with the reasonable expectation that he would be treated as a victim of a deplorable aberration in American history.

That isn't quite what happened. The interviewer began the dialogue by asking if my father would feel equal outrage had the blacklist targeted Nazis rather than Communists. Wrong-footed, Frank fumfered some sort of response. After the interview, both my parents emerged from the studio in high dudgeon. "How dare he?" was the gravamen of their scandalized indignation. And when they told me about the interview later that day, I made matters worse by suggesting the interviewer had posed a legitimate question. There was a distinct chill in the parental household for some time thereafter.

But it is a legitimate question. Unless one is prepared to defend Communism on its merits, or, alternatively, is merely defending one's comrades out of a kind of tribal loyalty2, then one is, I think, obliged to consider whether punishing people for their political beliefs is always wrong, or wrong only when it's one's own side that is being persecuted3.

Now, I concede there's one important distinction to be made here. Americans of my parents' generation joined the Communist Party out of genuine idealism, no matter how misplaced. With 25 percent unemployment, Jim Crow laws in operation in the South and de facto segregation common elsewhere, and fascism on the rise in Europe and effectively unopposed by the continent's democracies, Communism might have looked like a reasonable political recourse. Whereas it's hard to imagine anyone becoming a Nazi out of anything anyone would recognize as idealism.

In addition, my parents' and their friends' notion of what Communism actually consisted of was not especially highly evolved. When we were teenagers, my great friend Zachary Leader asked my father if he had ever read Das Kapital. Frank replied, "Are you kidding? No one could read that [****]. We invented our own Communism." The Communism they invented was a system where everything was fair, everyone was nice to everyone else, and nobody suffered deprivation. That it contradicted human nature, ignored history, and defied the laws of economics were considerations they chose to ignore. They meant well.

But good intentions can excuse only so much. By 1938, it took a rather willful blindness to deny that the Soviet Union was perpetrating barbarities on a scale that rivaled Hitler's Germany. And it took a comparable refusal to face facts to fail to notice that, far from being independent and home-grown, the American Communist Party was taking its orders directly from Moscow.

That last bit is, of course, treason, by definition. The refusal to help crush the domestic Communist movement warranted stiffer punishment than private blacklisting. The real question is whether it was appropriate for the federal government not to seek such punishment against the conspirators.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Can religion tell us more than science?: Too many atheists miss the point of religion, it's about how we live and not what we believe, writes John Gray., 9/16/11, BBC Magazine)

Just as you don't have to believe that a scientific theory is true in order to use it, you don't have to believe a story for it to give meaning to your life.

Myths can't be verified or falsified in the way theories can be. But they can be more or less truthful to human experience, and I've no doubt that some of the ancient myths we inherit from religion are far more truthful than the stories the modern world tells about itself.

The idea that science can enable us to live without myths is one of these silly modern stories. There's nothing in science that says the world can be finally understood by the human mind.

If Darwin's theory of evolution is even roughly right, humans aren't built to understand how the universe works. The human brain evolved under the pressures of the struggle for life.

Through science humans can lift themselves beyond the view of things that's forced on them by day-to-day existence. They can't overcome the fact that they remain animals, with minds that aren't equipped to see into the nature of things.

Darwin's theory is unlikely to be the final truth. It may be just a rough account of how life has developed in our part of the cosmos. Even so, the clear implication of the theory of evolution is that human knowledge is by its nature limited.

It's been said that the universe is a queerer place than we can possibly imagine, and I'm sure that's right. However rapidly our knowledge increases, we'll always be surrounded by the unknowable.
Graham Greene Rational argument did not lead Graham Greene to Catholicism

Science hasn't enabled us to dispense with myths. Instead it has become a vehicle for myths - chief among them, the myth of salvation through science. Many of the people who scoff at religion are sublimely confident that, by using science, humanity can march onwards to a better world.

...and then it's up to you not to choose the ugliest ones to believe in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The Lost Girls: China's One-Child policy is an epic disaster. Why does it have so many cheerleaders? (JONATHAN V. LAST, 9/26/11, Weekly Standard)

And then there were the forced abortions and sterilizations. On this score, the Chinese government had help from the West. In 1979, as China prepared to roll out One-Child, the government signed an agreement with the United Nations Population Fund, which pledged $50 million to help control births--a euphemism that in practice meant groups of government workers rounding up pregnant women and forcing them to have abortions. The U.N.'s presence opened the door for other Western organizations, including the Ford Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which poured resources into China in an effort to kill babies. These groups were not unaware of what was happening. The IPPF's Benjamin Viel wrote admiringly, "Persuasion and motivation [are] very effective in a society in which social sanctions can be applied against those who fail to cooperate in the construction of the socialist state."

Others were less enamored by what they saw. In January 1980, an official from the IPPF sent a memo of caution to the group's director. "[V]ery strong measures [are] being taken to reduce population growth--including abortion up to 8 months," the memo said, before continuing:

I think that in the not-too-distant future this will blow up into a major Press story, as it contains all the ingredients for sensationalism--Communism, forced family planning, murder of viable fetuses, parallels with India, etc. When it does blow up, it is going to be very difficult to defend.

Planned Parenthood's leadership ignored the warning. But although the story did ultimately blow up, it turned out that it wasn't so hard to defend after all. Just ask Tom Friedman. Just ask Vice President Biden.

The overall result of this concerted effort is a Chinese fertility rate that now sits somewhere around 1.54, depending on who's doing the tabulating. Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt notes, "In some major population centers--Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin among them--it appears that the average number of births per woman is amazingly low: below one baby per lifetime."

All of which brings us to the practical problems of One-Child. For starters, even when you consider the contemporaneous fears of overpopulation, One-Child was not particularly helpful. The Chinese government claims that One-Child has prevented 400 million births over the last 30 years. And it's possible they're right. But that number assumes that the Chinese fertility rate would have remained at its 1970 level without the policy. Which seems unlikely.

Chinese fertility was already falling when One-Child was instituted, and the policy certainly steepened the curve. Other projections suggest that it has prevented 100 million births, which isn't nothing. But either way, One-Child has been a gigantic failure by demographic standards. Whether One-Child was the driving force, or simply responsible for the fertility decline at the margin, the country is now on the brink of radical population shrinkage. By 2050, China will be losing, on net, 20 million people every five years.

And whatever effect One-Child had on China's fertility rate, it also produced two unexpected changes in the country's demographic profile.

First, One-Child created an enormous sex imbalance in the population. In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But in China (and other Asian countries) there is a strong cultural preference for sons. Once Chinese were limited to one or, at most, two children, it became enormously important to parents that their one child be a male heir. The combination of ultrasound technology, which allowed sex-determination in utero, with industrial-scale abortion created an atmosphere in which it was thoroughly routine for mothers to abort female babies. This practice has become so widespread in China that there are a mind-boggling 123 boys born for every 100 girls.

This grisly reality is behind the Associated Press's happy talk about China being a paradise for girls. The relative scarcity of girls has meant that women are prized and treated exceptionally well by parents, who can devote all their resources to them, and suitors who want to marry them. Things really are great for Chinese girls--if they survive until birth.

China's sex imbalance means that the country has a large cohort of men for whom marriage will be a statistical impossibility. By the late 2020s nearly one in five Chinese men will be "surplus males." This has all sorts of cultural consequences--increased violence and political instability historically attend gender imbalances. But from a demographic standpoint, it means that China's already low fertility rate is functionally lower than it looks--because of the sex disparity among children who are born, many fewer than half will be females who have the opportunity to reproduce.

The other unintended consequence is that One-Child has radically altered China's age structure, giving it many more old people than young. In 2005, the country's median age was 32-years-old. By 2050, it will be 45-years-old, and a full quarter of the populace will be over 65. That means 330 million senior citizens, most of whom will have little or no family to care for them.

China has no pension system to speak of and will have only 2 workers per retiree--which isn't much of a tax base from which to build one. The age ratio may cause a labor shortage, too: In the next 10 years, the number of Chinese aged 20 to 24 will drop by 45 percent. All age-cohorts will shrink, except among the elderly. It is a looming demographic catastrophe--Eberstadt calls it a "slow-motion humanitarian tragedy." All of these problems are as obvious as they are unavoidable; yet they are rarely acknowledged in the West.

...we have no peers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Cameron, Sarkozy 'Accidental heroes' of Libya (Jack Phillips, Sep 23, 2011, Epoch Times)

A new report released on Friday said that French President Nicholas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron are "accidental heroes" for the roles they played in the Libyan war, which resulted in the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a London-based think tank, said the two heads of state were more lucky than anything else, due to the success of NATO air strikes on Gadhafi-held targets throughout the conflict.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Boeing 787 Dreamliner: The Era of Next-Generation Air Travel Begins Monday (Joseph Lazzaro, September 23, 2011, International Business Times)

The 787 Dreamliner costs $185.2 million to $218.1 million each, depending on model configuration, and seats 210 to 290 people, depending on seat configuration. It's a mid-sized, wide-body plane with a lightweight carbon composite airframe. Flying range: 7,650-9,780 miles or 14,200-15,700 kilometers.

Analysts expect the plane to use roughly 20 percent less fuel than comparable planes and that will represent a substantial savings for airlines: jet fuel usually ranks second or first in flight expenses, just behind/ahead of employees salaries.

Further, as noted, one can't underscore the importance of the 787 for the United States. Commercial aviation represent one, critical, high-value-added export for the world's largest economy. Sales of commercial planes are vital to the United States' effort to end its trade deficit and start recording trade surpluses -- a key component of any nation's wealth. Commercial plane construction is also responsible for hundreds of thousands of domestic U.S. jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Why does a broken leg mean the end for a horse?: Senior vets explain why it is often impossible to save an animal after an injury that would hardly ever threaten a human's life (Chris Cook, 23 September 2011, The Guardian)

In search of explanations, I pitched my naive questions to two well-respected vets at the British Horseracing Authority. Professor Tim Morris is their director of equine science and welfare while Jenny Hall is a vet based in Lambourn who will be veterinary services manager at the Olympics next year. I'm very grateful for their time and patience.

1) Most humans recover easily from broken legs. Why can't horses?

"The problem is, because their bones have become lighter," Hall told me. "They're very strong, to carry their weight, yet they're light, for them to be able to go fast. So, unfortunately, sometimes, when they break, they just shatter."

When that happens, it is not possible to repair the bone, and not just because it is now in lots of little pieces that won't heal together. Another issue is what Hall called "plastic deformation", meaning that the bone bends before it breaks and it is the bent shape that is preserved in the pieces. Even if it were possible to put the pieces back together, you would end up with a madly bent bone.

Hall continued: "When you look at their lower limbs, which is where a high incidence of these injuries are, there's very little soft tissue covering the bone. So unfortunately, often, if there's a fracture, it may well be that the bone penetrates the skin, which turns it into an open fracture.

"Even in people, that makes it a much harder situation to get good healing. So you can imagine, with a horse, no matter how quickly a jockey pulls it up, it's hard for the skin not to get damaged and also for the blood supply to get damaged."

"And living tissue needs blood," Morris added. "If there was a fracture there, there's all the tendons, the nerves and the blood vessels that a sharp edge of bone could cut. So, down the rest of the leg, there's no blood supply to it, so the tissue may die, let alone having enough blood supply to heal."

Even if there were a remote possibility that the bone might heal, it may not be a good idea to wait and see, because of the complication of laminitis.

September 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


In Egypt, Islamists Reach Out to Wary Secularists (EMAD MEKAY, 9/21/11, NY Times)

Egypt, a fecund breeding ground for Arab and Islamic ideologies, is witnessing the birth of yet another: Islamic liberalism.

Nageh Ibrahim, the ideologue of the Islamic Group, an umbrella organization for Egyptian militant student groups that in the 1980s and 1990s took up arms against President Hosni Mubarak, was one of the first to use the term, in an apparent bid to woo secularists into a rapprochement.

"Liberalism has so many good sides that do not run afoul of the universal principles of the Islamic Shariah," he told an audience drawn from the Wafd Party in July. "We have to search for a form of Islamic liberalism compatible with the norms of Egyptian society while not alienating other forces."

Mr. Ibrahim, whose books advocated violence as a means for changing the Mubarak regime, now argues that Islamists and secularists have more common ground than differences. [...]

Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar, the bastion of Sunni Islam scholarship that prides itself on a moderate form of Egyptian Islam, issued a document that seeks to marry secular attitudes with conservative theories.

The Azhar Charter, drafted in August, declares that a civil state governed by law will not contradict Islam and that individual liberties should be guaranteed in the future constitution and laws.

The charter eased the way for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organized political group, which is widely expected to win the coming parliamentary elections, to promise not to monopolize the drafting of the constitution. The Brotherhood has said that all political orientations, including the country's six million Christians, should take part.

There are a substantial number "of similarities between Islamists and liberals," Amr Hamzawi, one of the rising secular stars, told a Wafd Party gathering. "At a minimum, both sides are looking for a country where the rule of law and real citizenship prevail while peaceful change of power is guaranteed."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Sagrada Família gets final completion date - 2026 or 2028: Barcelona's intricate temple to God to be ready for centenary of architect Antoni Gaudí's death ... or thereabouts (Giles Tremlett, 9/22/11,

Barcelona's emblematic Sagrada Família church finally has a completion date -- 2026 or 2028, more than 140 years after it was started.

Joan Rigol, president of the committee charged with finishing the building by Antoni Gaudí, said it should be finished in time for the centenary for the architect's death - or, if not, two years later.

Five huge towers are being added to the eccentric building, which is among Spain's most-visited tourist attractions.

Gaudí died in 1926 after being runover by the city's No 30 tram. He had been living on the Sagrada Familía building site and looked so impoverished that it took several hours for doctors to realise who he was. The tram driver thought he had hit a drunken tramp.

Originally paid for by subscription, the church was always set to take a long time to build. "My client is in no hurry," Gaudí once said, referring to God.

Doesn't the ongoing nature of the project enhance the sense that the building is organic?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Watching 'Moneyball' With Bill James: A legendary baseball mind, once ignored, gets the Hollywood treatment. It took Bill James only 35 years (Ira Boudway, 9/22/11, Bloomberg Business Week)

Moneyball, the movie, had a couple of false starts--a pair of directors came and went before Bennett Miller came aboard--and James didn't know what to expect. "At one time, I think I was supposed to be a cartoon character," he recalls. In the end, he says, they got the details right. "That's what the offices look like. That's the way the conversations go. That's the way the meetings and the phone calls go." The crusty scouts are real too: "You point something out that's true; you don't expect it to take 25 years for people to accept it." But James is not holding a grudge. "I never felt that baseball hated me," he says. "I was pretty sarcastic myself, as I recall. I wrote some things about players and scouts that probably delayed the acceptance of my core ideas by 10 or 15 years."

Even so, there a few things James would like to clear up. First, the failure of Billy Beane's Oakland A's to win a World Series, he insists, does not represent the failure of the Moneyball approach: "It worked at that moment because he was ahead of the game. And then that moment passed because you can't stay ahead of the game."

Second, he does not think statistics are the be-all, end-all: "My work is trying to figure out how to quantify something that has previously been regarded as intangible. It's not to say that there aren't true intangibles. People think that you start with the statistics, which was never true. You start with a question and you end up with a statistic."

James watches the revelers stream into the after-party and says that the thing people need to understand is that he's not as big a deal as Moneyball makes him out to be. "It's somewhat exaggerated, but my contributions to the game have been a bit exaggerated for quite a while now."

Not that he's complaining. "I thought it was a terrific movie. Among all the baseball movies of the last generation, this was the baseballest."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


'Job-Killing' Tax Hikes May Not Be So Lethal: Low rates on the rich can help the economy--but it takes a long time (Mike Dorning, 9/22/11, Forbes)

"There's very limited evidence to support the claim that increased personal income tax rates on higher-income people would reduce hiring," says Joel Slemrod, who served as senior tax economist for President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers. Cutting taxes on upper incomes may have economic benefits, but it's not an especially powerful way to create a lot of jobs quickly.

The big difference between the rich and everyone else is that they are more likely to save money from a tax cut since they already have enough to live on, says Alan Viard, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. They may buy a yacht, but plenty is left over for their portfolio. In the long run, all the money the rich save as a result of lower tax rates means there is more available to be invested in business through banks or the stock market. That should eventually lead to higher standards of living--and, yes, more jobs. But it takes time for that to be felt.

If politicians are looking to create jobs right away, they'd be better off concentrating their efforts lower down on the income ladder. The poor and middle class are more apt to spend extra money, maybe on groceries or a new refrigerator, helping to spur the economy immediately. The No. 1 reason small business owners say they're not hiring is poor sales. A Congressional Budget Office report looking at economic multipliers found tax cuts for low- and middle-income families are more than twice as powerful in stimulating immediate demand as tax cuts for the wealthy. "The short-run/long-run is the critical thing," Viard says. "If the goal is to have more jobs 6 months, 12 months from now, you want to increase aggregate demand. If the goal is to have a high standard of living 10, 20 years from now, you want to increase national savings." just give us all debit cards with expiration dates, if they were looking to stimulate the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Book Review: David Goldman's "How Civilizations Die" (Reuven Brenner, 9/21/11, Forbes)

For Goldman demography is almost destiny. He argues that demographics shed light on the rise and fall of nations, tribes, and civilizations. Goldman views the decision to have children as being a matter of religious faith, or at least reflecting optimism about the future. Where religions fail, fertility declines, and these civilizations fall into oblivion.

This leads him to one of his "universal laws," namely, that "The history of the world is the history of humankind's search for immortality." A large part of the book is about the intricate ways in which this law interacts with demographic changes, and sheds light on national/tribal destinies from antiquity to our days.

According to Goldman, when a tribe or a nation suddenly realizes its demise into insignificance, whether defeated in war or leapfrogged by newcomers who accidentally stumble on better ideas, institutions, or technology, reproduction declines. When the fertility of the tribe or nation falls below replacement level, its civilization eventually disappears. At times, the tribe gradually dies out, literally speaking.

In other instances the tribes' unique features disappear as its members emulate the leapfrogging civilization's institutions and are absorbed in larger entities. These leave their tribal/national cultures behind for historians to explore the "death of births."

In spite of the recent pessimism pervading the U.S. (and Goldman is a severe critic of present and past administrations' policies), he is carefully optimistic about the U.S., India, and China, but not about Europe, and certainly not at all about Muslim countries. The latter, in his view, will not have the luxury of time to catch up, and populous nations such as China and India will leapfrog them.

Their present numbers notwithstanding, Muslim countries will fall further and further behind with their already plunging fertility rates. The survivors will have to adopt the more successful civilizations' features, a transition that will not happen peacefully, and cannot happen "democratically," as democracy has no roots in these societies. According to Goldman, the Bush administration's idea that "democracy" can be easily exported was a big blunder.

Another implication of his analysis is that since much of the world is now even more unsettled than the U.S., the U.S. has a window of opportunity to put its political and fiscal house in order and to become, once again, the civilization that emerging countries want to emulate. The U.S. appears to be the only country that stumbled upon a model of society that managed to link successfully an increasing number of people of different backgrounds to create a unique "American tribe."

Much as we enjoy reading them, folks like Spengler and Mark Steyn, like Whittaker Chambers before them, drastically underestimated the capacity of Anglo-American values to penetrate and change other societies.

September 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Friend Ed Driscoll has a post that seems to about Amy Winehouse moving to Emunclaw.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


'Ground Zero Mosque' Furor a Faint Memory at Park51 Opening (Mark Jacobson, 9/22/11, New York)

Once planned as a fifteen-story structure, what opponents called "the Triumphalist Islamic Supremacist Mega-Mosque at Ground Zero" is still housed in the low-slung edifice that was once occupied by the Burlington Coat Factory. But while the gray-and-green carpeted "prayer space" that is primarily used by taxi-drivers and local merchants for Friday services remains the same, an ample exhibit hall been constructed. On the freshly painted sheet rock walls hung a series of photographs showing charmingly posed children from 160 different countries, but now living in New York. The portraits, taken by Danny Goldfield, were a manifestation of the project's overriding message, which Park51 chairman, Sharif El-Gamel, described as inclusion, community building, and diversity."

All in all, with the New York Arabic Orchestra and its four-oud section playing as guests imbibed non-alcoholic drinks and lamb balls, it was a relaxed, deeply secularized ceremony, an experience not wholly unlike one might have at the 92nd Street Y, the facility that El-Gamel says he wants to emulate.
...but, thankfully, In America you can't keep them angry.

[If you're one of the folks who lost the myriad side bets on this facility ever opening, hats in size 8", shirts in XXl. Email me for the address. Thanks.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


No place to hide: The value of surveillance cameras (Chicago Tribune, September 22, 2011)

They analyzed crime data in two similar Chicago neighborhoods, Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park. In Humboldt Park, they found, the cameras cut the crime rate by 12 percent. In West Garfield Park, however, they found no change.

What accounts for the divergence? The report suggests that "residents in West Garfield Park believed police weren't consistently monitoring" the video feeds. If law-abiding residents think no one's watching, the thugs probably reach the same conclusion -- and see no need to change their behavior.

West Garfield Park also had a lower concentration of cameras, "which could have influenced officers' ability to interrupt crimes in progress, intervene, make arrests and deter potential offenders."

Even so, the total money spent on the cameras was far less than the savings in criminal justice costs and harm to victims. "Our results provide compelling support for Chicago's use of public surveillance cameras," say the researchers.

Washington and Baltimore offer additional mixed evidence. In Baltimore, the cameras produced "significant declines in total crime, violent crime and larceny" in the downtown area where the gadgets were installed. But in the nation's capital, which had the fewest cameras, there was no improvement.

Which is why freedom depends on faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern (Jason Palmer, 9/22/11, BBC News)

The result - which threatens to upend a century of physics - will be put online for scrutiny by other scientists.

In the meantime, the group says it is being very cautious about its claims.

"We tried to find all possible explanations for this," said report author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration.

"We wanted to find a mistake - trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects - and we didn't," he told BBC News.

"When you don't find anything, then you say 'Well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this.'"

The speed of light is the Universe's ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics - as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity - depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it.

Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

But Dr Ereditato and his colleagues have been carrying out an experiment for the last three years that seems to suggest neutrinos have done just that.

Kind of quaint the way the Sciencists demand obeisance to their temporary paradigms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Palestinians Declare Independence from U.S. (Henry Siegman, September 22, 2011, National Interest)

According to the prevailing rules, every aspect of the Palestinians' existence depends on Israel. Whether Palestinians can travel from town to town within the areas to which they are restricted, open a new business venture, see their homes demolished by an Israeli bulldozer--indeed whether they will live or die--are Israeli decisions, often made by armed Israeli eighteen-year-olds just out of high school.

The Oslo Accords, requiring as they do that Israel withdraw its occupation in stages from the West Bank, were intended to change that reality. But Oslo was quickly undermined by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who declared--"unilaterally"--that the dates established in the accords for the withdrawals are not "holy" and can be ignored by Israel. Furthermore, as noted by Uri Savir, who headed Israel's Foreign Ministry at the time, Rabin had no intention of returning the Jordan Valley or of sharing Jerusalem. (He might well have changed his views on these issues, as he did on some others, had he not been assassinated by a settler.)

Although the Oslo Accords did not mention a Palestinian state, statehood was the goal implicit in the agreement's terms and the permanent-status issues slated for negotiations between the parties. But the peace process overseen by the United States was based on an unstated principle that fatally undermined the achievement of a Palestinian state: that any change in the Palestinians' status as a people under Israel's occupation depended entirely on Israel's consent. This effectively excluded everyone other than the occupiers from a role in deciding the Palestinians' fate. The UN, which was established to assure compliance with international law and to facilitate the self-determination of peoples living under colonial domination, was shunted aside. Above all, this principle excluded the Palestinian people themselves.

To be sure, President Obama recently proposed that negotiations begin at the 1967 lines, with territorial swaps. What he failed to say is that if the parties cannot reach agreement on the swaps, the lines will be drawn by the Security Council. Indeed, he said the opposite--that peace terms cannot be imposed on Israel. His proposal therefore changed nothing. Netanyahu can continue to make demands he knows no Palestinian leader can accept, and the occupation persists.

The real meaning of the Palestinians' decision to defy the United States is that they will no longer accept their occupier's role in their quest for statehood. They demand national self-determination as a right--indeed, as a "peremptory norm" that in international law takes precedence over all other considerations--and not as an act of charity by their occupiers.

The one up-side is that the more America and Israel resist the inevitable the more significant the accomplishment will seem to the Palestinians. It also provides us with that delicious raft of stories about waning US influence in the Middle East as demonstrated by the citizenries demanding that their states be just like ours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Obama's Tax Déjà Vu (MATT BAI, 9/22/11, NY Times)

After several dispiriting months of watching their president try and fail to find consensus with Republicans, liberals are once again feeling buoyant this week. That's because President Obama has at last adopted a defiantly populist tone, unveiling a proposed tax increase on the wealthy as his signature issue --for however long this particular phase of his peripatetic presidency lasts.

Even as he reassures the Democratic faithful, however, Obama is taking a significant political risk. That's because both parties always find themselves confined, to some extent, by historical narratives left over from the 20th century. If you're a Republican, for instance, you might just have some great idea for reforming social programs for the poor or elderly, but the problem you confront is that Republicans are always vulnerable to charges of not caring about the poor. Even an especially moderate Republican who advanced such proposals would probably spook a lot of independent voters who remember Ronald Reagan's "welfare queens" and ketchup as a vegetable. That's why it took Bill Clinton, a Democrat, to sell welfare reform -- a Republican idea.

Tax increases are the Democratic equivalent. No matter how popular such a tax increase may be in isolation, Obama's proposal is very likely to affirm the fears of some sizable contingent of voters who pulled the lever for him last time -- fears that he is, at bottom, a conventional liberal of the 1970s variety.

...that governing like a Republican has gotten him in so much trouble with his own base that he has to try and convince them he's a conventional '70s liberal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Toyota takes on the myth of the above-average driver (Alex Taylor III, 9/22/11,FortuneMagazine)

The research being coordinated by Toyota in North America highlights two problem populations -- newly licensed teens and seniors with failing faculties -- and one physiological issue: driver distraction, whether it comes from an electronic device or the person riding in the passenger seat.
Car of the Year: Early picks

Some of the findings are frightening. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has been monitoring newly licensed drivers with small video cameras mounted in their cars. They show teens phoning, texting, and applying makeup, oblivious to their surroundings -- and then being jolted into awareness by a collision. One recording shows a distracted young driver being ejected through the driver's side window in an accident. Feeling immortal, teens seem to believe that seatbelts aren't meant for them -- even though they are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than their adult counterparts.

Anybody who has a teen or knows one can list the causes: inexperience, immaturity, night driving, and passenger distraction. It's enough to make you want to raise the driving age to 21.

One solution: Virginia Tech's real-time monitoring provides an opportunity to intervene immediately when it reveals signs of speeding, abrupt lane and speed changes, and drinking. But that's not practical for a large population. Toyota is offering a free two-and-a-half hour hands-on defensive driving program for teens and their parents. Some 90 teens who go through the program will be monitored for the first six months after they get their license to see how effective it is.

Teens aren't the only age group singled out in accident statistics. After a driver turns 75, the frequency of fatal accidents increases dramatically -- twice as often as a 65- to 74-year old. The simple physiological factors of aging are largely to blame: impaired visual function, slowed reflexes, reduced flexibility, and so on.

One area that has attracted researchers from Virginia Tech is "useful field of vision." It turns out that the amount of information a person can take in at a glance grows smaller with age -- by as much as 30%. Previous research indicates that the useful field of vision can be improved through training. Drivers play video games requiring them to identify objects that flash in the periphery of their vision.

VTTI and Toyota are cooperating on a three-year project to test and compare the benefits of brain fitness training to improve field of vision. Seniors will be measured on a variety of driving tasks, including speed modulation, intersection behavior, and lane changes.

One fault common to motorists of all ages is driver distraction. It isn't surprising: Driving is simple and boring much of the time, so drivers do other things while they are behind the wheel. In one study, 54 of 69 crashes were inattention-related.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Ginger McCain: Ginger McCain, the racehorse trainer, who died yesterday aged 80, won three Grand Nationals with Red Rum and then, more than quarter of a century later, took the race for a fourth time with Amberleigh House (The Telegraph, 19 Sep 2011)

Famously plain-speaking, his comically exaggerated crimes against political correctness made for entertaining interviews. Within the racing world, however, McCain suspected that his failures when it came to "kissing bottoms and b[*****]ing" meant that he was never "considered a really good trainer".

If his "big mouth" was at fault, he was the first to accept that he only had himself to blame. "I've been hoist by my own petard many times," he mused. "But if I think a thing is not right, I have my say. I don't do it to offend. I just say it as I see it."

His unvarnished opinions resounded to most notorious effect in 2005, when he suggested that "horses do not win Nationals [when] ridden by women". Carrie Ford, who went on to finish fifth in that year's race, was, he said, "a broodmare".

In fact women in general were often the targets of his barbs, particularly if they dared step too far into his world. He dismissed one woman starter as a "silly cow with the hat and the skirt". But it was clear that, like his most famous horse, McCain liked to perform when in the limelight. When he remarked that "there are women I respect. I can't think of any, apart from the Queen, but there must be some," only the most determined to be offended took him seriously.

He was serious about his horses, however, and like to remind his detractors within racing that when he had got his hands on Red Rum in the August 1972 sales (for 6,000 guineas), the bay was a largely unfancied gelding with what a succession of vets considered an incurable bone disease - pedalostitis.

At the time McCain's prospects as a trainer were equally dim. He was making his living as a taxi-driver in Southport, where he kept a small stable between a used-car showroom and a Chinese restaurant. Having seen Red Rum run in the Scottish Grand National he convinced a client, Noel Le Mare, to take a chance on the horse.

He was already in Le Mare's debt: "As a taxi driver, I used to drive Noel Le Mare to a dinner-dance in Southport every Saturday night," McCain said. "We used to talk about the National and he said it was his great ambition to win it. His first National horse was Glenkiln, but I cocked up the entry and he couldn't run. Noel was then 85 and I thought I was a right pillock and he'd probably never live long enough to have another runner in the race."

Initially it seemed certain that, even if Le Mare lived to his 100th year, he would not see Red Rum at Aintree. The horse was increasingly lame. But McCain had an idea. "I used to see an old cripple of a horse pulling a cart for the shrimpers. He was a crock but when he went into the water he was a different horse. That stuck in my mind."

The trainer started exercising his new charge on the sands of Southport beach. More importantly, he let the horse frolic in the surf too. "It had taken me years to realise that I had the best natural all-weather gallop and the best swimming pool," McCain said. The combined training regimen had a miraculous effect, and soon the sight of Red Rum being led down the middle of the road to the beach became familiar in the coastal town: "He would always walk up the middle of the road, though sideways on. It was like a gunman coming out on to the street in the Wild West and bystanders scurrying to the sidewalk. The road just emptied."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Poll: Obama slips with black voters (TIM MAK, 9/22/11, Politico)

African Americans appear to be cooling their support for President Obama, with "strongly favorable" views of the president dropping dramatically from 83 percent five months ago to 58 percent today, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows.

The drop in support among black voters mirrors the declining support for Obama among all groups.

September 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Israel and America on the Wrong Side of History (Gareth Evans, 2011-09-20, Project Syndicate)

For all his deep emotional attachment to the idea of Israel embracing all of historical Judea and Samaria, Rabin knew that the only way to ensure a democratic Jewish state with viable, secure borders was to accept a Palestinian state alongside it, equally secure and viable. They would share Jerusalem as a capital, and find a mutually acceptable solution to the enormously sensitive issue of the return of Palestinian refugees.

Rabin's murder was a catastrophe from which the peace process has never recovered. No Israeli leader since has shown anything like his far-sighted vision, commitment, and capacity to deliver a negotiated two-state solution.

Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert came close, but not close enough. And since then Binyamin Netanyahu has lived down to every expectation of his statesmanship. His routine capitulation to the demands of the most extreme elements of a manifestly dysfunctional Knesset, and his continuing support of his impossibly divisive and pugnacious foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have earned him little praise at home or abroad. One need not be naïve or in denial about the Palestinians' multiple problems and missteps over the years to recognize that most of the recent obstacles to progress have been erected in Israel.

Now, with negotiations at an impasse, settlement building continuing unabated, no end in sight to the never-ending humiliation of occupation, and all other forms of leverage evidently exhausted, the Palestinians are going to the United Nations to seek recognition in some form of their statehood. They want full UN membership, but - facing inevitable veto of that option by the United States in the Security Council - are willing to accept as a fallback a majority vote by the General Assembly recognizing Palestine as a non-member "observer state," the status now enjoyed by the Vatican.

Rabin could have negotiated with Arafat until the sun exploded and gotten nowhere. The tragedy is the stroke to the Israeli leader who isn't even mentioned there--Ariel Sharon would have unilaterally imposed a state on the Palestinians, long before they got this opportunity to unilaterally impose one on Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Face the Nations: By asking the United Nations to fulfill their national aspirations, the Palestinians are following a script Israel's founders wrote in the 1940s (Samuel Moyn, September 21, 2011, Tablet)

It's further proof of the law of unintended consequences. This week's showdown over the creation of a Palestinian state is playing out at an institution some of whose most fervent early adherents hoped would be a vehicle for transcending nationalism entirely. Indeed, though the United Nations--a collection of all the world's nation-states--played a critical role in the establishment of the State of Israel in the late 1940s, a group of Jews committed their lives to building a world organization that would be focused instead on protecting individuals from state power rather than making new states.

Influenced by the state-sponsored barbarism of the Holocaust, these Jewish activists believed that the nation-state should be supplemented by a system of international, not state-based, human rights. And the United Nations would be the body through which this new world order would be birthed.

"I wanted to work for something which was permanent, of universal importance, and indestructible," Moses Moskowitz, one of the most dogged of these Jewish internationalists, said in an oral history. "I didn't believe it will bring the redemption, but I believed that we could not proceed unless this principle [of human rights] was established solidly in an international treaty."

But the international regime of human rights that Moskowitz and others had imagined, he bitterly reported, "died in the process of being born." Indeed, the very treaty that founded the United Nations, though its preamble references universal human rights, made it clear that the main fulcrum of world order would remain statehood. Ironically for Jewish internationalists, the most significant thing the United Nations would soon do for the Jews would be to abet the creation of the Jewish nation-state--marginalizing Jewish internationalism and paving the way for a cascade of new states that the Palestinian Authority hopes could now result in one more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Jeb Bush and Florida's Education Success (Carl M. Cannon - September 21, 2011, Real Clear Politics)

When the 2012 presidential campaign season began, some GOP insiders thought their best candidate, all things being equal, might be the former governor of another Southern state. Jeb Bush was an unalloyed conservative and proven vote-getter who'd presided over a strong economy in a big state while posting a record of legislative achievement so impressive that his nickname was "King Jeb."

His name was the two-term Florida governor's problem when it came to any possible aspirations of national office: Not the Jeb part, or even the showy modifier, but rather the surname. It was universally believed, apparently by Jeb Bush himself, that four years wasn't enough time to counteract the "Bush fatigue" attendant to his oldest brother's last year in the White House.

Unexpectedly, however, a governor who walks and talks a lot more like George W. Bush than his own brother and who served under Bush in Austin has emerged as the 2012 presidential front-runner.

It's probably too late for Jeb Bush to reconsider his 2012 options, but it's certainly not too late to give his record in Tallahassee a second look. And in no area did Bush have more of an impact than in education policy.

"Governor Bush has been at the forefront of education reform," said Michael W. Grebe, president of the Bradley Foundation, which has donated generously to education reform projects, while honoring Jeb Bush earlier this year. "During his administration and since, Florida students have made incredible gains."

Today, improving America's public schools is a cause ostensibly embraced by both political parties. Twelve years ago, however, when Jeb Bush became governor of the Sunshine State, it was a partisan minefield -- and there was little reason to believe that government could turn things around quickly or decisively. That's what seems to have happened in Florida, however, with ripple effects that have spilled out across the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Kindle Connects to Library E-Books (JULIE BOSMAN, 9/21/11, NY Times)

For years the availability of free e-books from libraries was something of an underground secret.

But Amazon significantly increased the potential visibility of library e-books on Wednesday when it opened up its popular Kindle device to these books for the first time.

"Libraries are a critical part of our communities," Jay Marine, director of Kindle at Amazon, said in a statement. "And we're excited to be making Kindle books available at more than 11,000 local libraries around the country."

The introduction of the Kindle, the biggest-selling e-reader, opens up library e-books to a wider audience, heightening the fears of publishers that many customers will turn to libraries for reading material.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Deon Grant falls to turf, feigns injury against Rams, but NFL won't discipline NY Giants safety (Ralph Vacchiano, 9/21/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

Deon Grant won't get an Academy Award for his performance on Monday night. He won't get punished by the NFL either.

That's because Tom Coughlin toed the company line Tuesday and said he believed Grant wasn't faking an injury when the veteran safety mysteriously dropped to the ground and stopped a Rams drive late in the first quarter of the Giants' 28-16 victory. And according to an NFL spokesman, a player can't be punished for faking an injury unless there is an admission of guilt.

"Well, from my standpoint on the sideline I thought he was cramped," Coughlin said. "At that point in time, all I noticed was a player down."

Actually, it was two players down, and "at that point in time" it was exactly what the Giants needed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


R.E.M., Alt-Rock Progenitor, Calls It Quits (JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr., 9/21/11, NY Times)

R.E.M., the underground band from Athens, Ga., that helped invent the alternative-rock sound of the 1980s, announced Wednesday its members were splitting up after 31 years of making music together.

"A wise man once said 'The skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave,' " Michael Stipe, the group's lead singer and lyricist, said in a statement posted on the band's Web site.

Document was a great album, but the last good one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Sorry, But With Global Warming It's The Sun, Stupid (Larry Bell, 9/20/11, Forbes)

Man-made global warming crisis crusaders are now facing a new threat. Their anti-fossil carbon-based premise for alarmism is being challenged by new scientific evidence of important solar influences upon climate that can't readily be blamed on us. Not that there wasn't lots of good evidence of this before. Actually, there has been, and it has been routinely denigrated and ignored.

Only this time, the high-profile international source will be impossible for the entrenched scientific establishment to casually dismiss. No, not after experiments at the world's leading physics laboratory, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland recently revealed an inverse correlation between periodic changes in sunspot activity levels, and quantities of cosmic rays entering Earth's atmosphere that trigger surface-cooling cloud formations. [...]

Astronomer Royal, William Herschel, noticed a correlation between sunspots and the price of wheat in England two centuries ago. Some scientists have also observed that sunspots all but disappeared for 70 years during the frigid "Little Ice Age" around the 17th and 18th centuries. Yet the notion didn't begin to receive any real attention, albeit mostly negative, until 1995. That was when Danish physicist, Henrik Svensmark, decided to explore the matter after coming across a 1991 paper by fellow Danes Eigil Friis-Christensen and Knud Lassen that charted solar variations and global surface temperatures since 1860. Svensmark then teamed up with Friis-Christensen to review solar activity, cloud cover and cosmic ray levels recorded using satellite data available since 1979. The connections seemed clear.

Responses to their findings by prominent members of the climate science community were unwelcoming. When presented at a 1996 conference in Birmingham, England, Svensmark recalls that "everything went completely crazy...It turned out that it was very, very sensitive to say these things already at that time." Upon returning to Copenhagen he was greeted by a statement quoting Bert Bolin who was then chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): "I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely naïve and irresponsible."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Mideast's New Superpower: Will Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally convince the Middle East to embrace democracy? (Owen Matthews, 9/20/11, Daily Beast)

As Turkey's relationship with Israel has disintegrated, there's been a lot of talk of Turkey moving away from its old alliance with the U.S. But in reality, what's striking is how much common ground Ankara still has with Washington--and how closely allied the two nations' agendas are. In 2003, in the run-up to the Iraq war, George W. Bush spoke of the U.S.'s "freedom agenda" in the Middle East. The regimes set up in Iraq and Afghanistan after Western interventions didn't--to put it mildly--do much to advertise the benefits of democracy. But now, nearly a decade after the U.S. set out to reset the vicious cycle of despotism and political dysfunction in the Middle East, Bush's agenda is finally coming to pass. And Erdogan is far better placed than Bush to promote real, lasting democracy in his neighborhood.

"During the Bush administration, 'freedom' and 'democracy' even became dirty words in the Middle East, for they sounded as euphemisms for sinister Western designs," says Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol author of a new book, Islam Without Extremes. "Arabs needed to hear a 'freedom agenda' from ... a fellow Muslim in whose faith and politics they would trust."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Palestinian statehood resolution presents Obama with vexing diplomatic challenge (Scott Wilson, September 20, 2011, Washington Post)

As he returns Wednesday to address the General Assembly, Obama is facing a vexing diplomatic challenge: to explain how his hopes of last year square with his opposition this year to a Palestinian bid for statehood.

Obama will specifically address, his advisers say, the lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue he made a priority on taking office. Obama will seek to draw a distinction between his support for Palestinian statehood and his opposition to pursuing that goal through the United Nations.

The matter is before the UN because we keep denying the Palestinians exactly what we claim to want for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


A future for drones: Automated killing (Peter Finn, September 19, 2011, Washington Post)

One afternoon last fall at Fort Benning, Ga., two model-size planes took off, climbed to 800 and 1,000 feet, and began criss-crossing the military base in search of an orange, green and blue tarp.

The automated, unpiloted planes worked on their own, with no human guidance, no hand on any control.

After 20 minutes, one of the aircraft, carrying a computer that processed images from an onboard camera, zeroed in on the tarp and contacted the second plane, which flew nearby and used its own sensors to examine the colorful object. Then one of the aircraft signaled to an unmanned car on the ground so it could take a final, close-up look.

Target confirmed.

This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans.

U.S. assembling secret drone bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula, officials say (Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller, September 20, 2011, Washington Post)
The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said.

One of the installations is being established in Ethi­o­pia, a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country. Another base is in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of "hunter-killer" drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somalia from there.

The U.S. military also has flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from bases in Djibouti, a tiny African nation at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. In addition, the CIA is building a secret airstrip in the Arabian Peninsula so it can deploy armed drones over Yemen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The Challenge of Technology (Barry Mills, September 19, 2011, Inside Higher Ed)

Remember the movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," when the bridge keeper asks Sir Robin to name the capital of Assyria? Well, back then, if you didn't know the answer, the only option was to ask the other guys standing at the bridge before being catapulted into the abyss. Later, one might look it up in an encyclopedia, in an almanac (remember almanacs?), or in a card catalog in the library. Today, Sir Robin would pull out his iPhone and have the answer in a heartbeat, avoiding an untimely demise.

And in a more modern context, I always ask students from far off states how they found their way to Bowdoin. In years past, it was frequently about camp in Maine, a Bowdoin graduate who was their teacher, NESCAC, the Fiske Guide, or the Princeton Review or when Tony Soprano visited Bowdoin. This year, for the first time, the answer -- from more than a few students I met in matriculation -- was Google. And remarkably and importantly, more than a quarter of our applicants are now students we have never seen on campus or who have no contact with us before they apply.

My point is that we are storing, sorting, and filtering information today in ways that are vastly different than we did even 50 or 25 or maybe even 10 years ago.

Now, I am very willing to concede that it is just not the same to do art history research without traveling to a dark archive in France and looking directly at a priceless piece of art. And I am also willing to concede that generations have found it invaluable to walk through the stacks in the library and to locate books and treatises that they didn't even know existed. I understand the power of these experiences and this scholarship, but one must also concede that the transmission and organization of facts and information has changed, and has changed forever.

In the future, we are less likely to be limited by one surprising find in a library, there because a librarian decided to purchase a particular book. Instead, we will be surprised because an algorithm has placed a particular source at the top of our search list on Google, or the next Google. Of course, the future will decide if the process of discovery is as equally rewarding.

And, let me point out that in a world where there is persistent attention on the cost of higher education, the cost of books for our most expensive first-year seminar this year is over $150, and all of those books may be bought online for less than half the cost. Saves money, saves the environment and lightens back strain from the backpack. At this point, online textbooks are a work in progress -- but there are educators and entrepreneurs working today to deliver in the near term a new generation of online textbooks that focus on information, "accessibility, searchability and collaboration." These textbooks will not merely provide information, but provide it in a variety of learning and teaching modes that will make learning more accessible for their readers. One of our faculty colleagues reminds me often that our mission here is not to teach, but to learn. Recognizing that different people, including students, learn in different ways is essential. And, these new advances will allow us to become more effective if we are open and willing.

Where I am headed with all this is that I am convinced that we cannot responsibly ignore the changing dynamics in the way that information is stored and delivered, because these changing dynamics will undoubtedly change our role as educators. The imperative to supply information is being supplanted -- or more likely refocused -- by the availability of the information if sorted and organized responsibly.

The last dot I want to connect is the work of Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor who has done work throughout his career studying "disruptive change." Christensen studies industries that are convinced that they are serving their clients and customers well, innovating to serve their most important needs. These industries are, in fact, doing so. Until one transformative moment, their clients are willing to pay the high costs of the service or product they deliver. Then, one day, the business is replaced by a lower cost, more effective model, often driven by the power of technology. And the mature, well-conceived, high-quality, high-cost supplier is suddenly an anachronism.

Christensen's examples include PCs displacing mainframes, department stores yielding to Walmart, and Fidelity overtaking conventional investment banks, among others. Not surprisingly, Christensen has focused on technology as the disruptive change agent for education at the K-12 level. Also, given the economics of higher education and the skills required of our workforce, Christensen sees the advent of distance learning as a powerful change agent for higher education.

Christensen's focus in higher education is more directed at institutions that are educating vast numbers of students less than effectively at high cost. His thesis, borne out by current trends, is that the substance of the education these institutions provide will likely be delivered in the future much more through distance learning and possibly through for-profit education that is more cost effective and directed to skills and education that translates into job readiness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Energy switching: Why the customer inertia? (Tom de Castella, 9/20/11, BBC News)

Energy regulator Ofgem found in a survey this year that four out of five consumers are failing to shop around for gas and electricity, costing themselves an extra £100 a year.

So why are people so reluctant to save money on bills when they delight in bargains at the supermarket or online?

For some it's a lot of hassle thinking about what, for most people, is a fairly dull subject.

There is also the possibility that the public is suspicious of firms who try to lure them away from their current provider. In July, a committee of MPs said that energy firms were using "Del Boy" tactics to get consumers to switch provider.

Consumer experts also say that many consumers wrongly fear that by moving, their service may be interrupted. In most cases - broadband apart - this worry is false.

Energy is the most glaring case because the product - gas in the pipes and electricity in the wires - is identical whichever provider you opt for. The only difference is the cost and the call centre you have to deal with.

Tom Lyon, energy expert at price comparison site, says it takes no more than 15 minutes to change energy provider. "It's not particularly sexy or fun thing to do. But if you've never switched before you could save £300 to £400 a year."

Homo economicus is as real as Piltdown Man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Rick Perry, Evangelical: His appearance at Liberty University last week was very much in keeping with the direction of his religious life. (Mark Tooley, 9.21.11, American Spectator)

Evangelicals are a key constituency for Republicans, and a Texas evangelical running for president seems a likely favorite. Rick Perry's appearance last week at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, confirmed the Texas governor's ease when speaking about his "faith journey" to fellow evangelicals.

"I wasn't one of those people who knew at the age of 12 that he wanted to be doctor, a lawyer, or for that matter a governor or a president," Perry told over 10,000 students and faculty at Liberty, which touts itself the world's largest Christian university. "I spent many a night pondering my purpose, talking to God, wondering what to do with this one life... what I learned as I wrestled with God was I didn't have to have all the answers, that would be revealed to me in due time, and that I needed to trust Him."

Perry recounted having been "lost spiritually emotionally" at age 27 while a U.S. Air Force officer. He turned to God not "because I wanted to -- it was because I had nowhere else to turn."

"As spiritual beings we are meant to live in relationship with our Creator and with one another -- and the happiest moments I've ever experienced are when I am in communion with God and in community with others," Perry told the receptive students. He reassured his audience of God's plan for them. "He knows you by name; you're never alone, even when you feel like it, and He doesn't require perfect people to execute his perfect plan," he observed. "God uses broken people to reach a broken world. The mistakes of yesterday say nothing about the possibilities of tomorrow." And he encouraged them to become politically active: "You have the right like every American to speak your mind, you have the right to insist on change, to tell the people in power that you will not have your inheritance spent.... Your voice matters; use it. This country is your country as well."

In what was more an inspirational pep talk than direct political plea, Perry surmised: "America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is going to be whose values." He prefers "those Christians values this country was based upon." Mentioning the "Arab Spring," he implored that America "must do as Ronald Reagan did at the apex of the Cold War, which is to speak past the oppressors and illegitimate rulers and directly to their people." He insisted: "Regardless of tribe or tongue people desire to be free." And, "America must continue to be the world's leading advocate for freedom speaking the truth to adversaries and dictators and in keeping with our democratic values."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Henning Mankell and The Man from Beijing (Benny Morris, September 20, 2011, National Interest)

Over the past few years, the image of Mao Tse-Tung, China's legendary Communist leader, has taken a severe beating, from which I doubt it will recover. Recent works--most notably Frank Dikkoter's Mao's Great Famine; the History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe and Jung Chan's and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story --have convincingly portrayed Mao as an unfeeling and, ultimately, foolish tyrant, the greatest mass murderer of modern history.

Dikkoter says Mao was responsible for as many as 45 million deaths in his misguided Great Leap Forward, the state-run economic revolution of 1958-1962 that led to mass starvation and much deliberate, brutal murder besides. Some apologists claimed that Mao didn't know. But Chinese documents unearthed by Dikkoter proved otherwise. In one speech Mao said: "It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more were murdered during Mao's second great initiative, the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969, in which much of the middle class was purged and sent to re-education prisons, millions of lives being ruined. Mao allegedly said of the many thousands driven to suicide: "It is not as if we cannot do without a few people."

Which brings me to the Swede, Henning Mankell's, recent thriller, The Man from Beijing, which deals with the slaughter of nineteen innocents in a remote Swedish village by a Chinaman avenging his family's slighted honor in an incident a century before. Mankell is a continuously best-selling writer--his books have sold millions of copies in dozens of languages--who is a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause. Last year he famously took part in the Turkish-Islamist-orchestrated Gaza flotilla. In Man from Beijing he offers up a whitewash of Mao, who was a hero to much of Western Europe's youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In the last Wallander novel, The Troubled Man, Mankell frets about Sweden having collaborated during the Cold War with...(wait for it)...the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Voters Want State Government Reform: Polling in 10 states shows that Americans want politicians to cut spending and reduce public employee benefits before they raise taxes. (DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN, 9/20/11, WSJ)

Americans believe that bold action to restrict spending is necessary to stabilize the finances of state government. [...]

The top priorities for resolving current fiscal issues are to cut government spending (47%) and to ask for greater sacrifice from current public employees, by having them contribute more towards their benefits (31%). By almost two-to-one, they think that current public employees should have to contribute more toward their pension benefits because of budget problems.

A majority (51%) say they would not be willing to cut "social service programs provided by your state" to maintain the compensation of public employees; and 60% say that "education and health care" should not be cut so that "the salaries and benefits of public employees could be paid at current levels."

Further, by 48% to 40%, voters say that public employees' salaries should be "frozen," and they should be required to contribute more towards their benefits when states face the type of crises they are now facing. Close to two-thirds (64%) say they would not be willing to have their taxes raised as a means of keeping salaries and benefits of current employees at current levels.

September 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


Is Barack Obama the American Neil Kinnock? (Nile Gardiner, September 20th, 2011, The Telegraph)

Barack Obama reminds me of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock when they were Labour Party leaders in the 1980s, both out of touch politicians stuck in the language of class war, and devoid of any real ideas to create jobs and generate wealth. Back in June 1983, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a terrific response to the rather pathetic class war warriors of the Labour Left, telling ITN:

The really divisive policies are those of the Labour Party who start to talk about 'class war', 'class struggle'--all the old Marxist language. That is outdated. It is not suitable for Britain. I thought when the first Parliament which I came into, in Harold Macmillan's time, we got rid of all that stuff. It is ridiculous--it belongs to a different age. They brought it back and it's they who deliberately set out to be divisive. We are British and I do not divide between one group and another.

Divisive class war rhetoric didn't convince voters in Britain a generation ago, and it certainly won't succeed in America today. This is an extraordinarily foolhardy approach to take for a president in a nation that prides itself as a land of freedom and opportunity, where the vast majority of people aspire to succeed and reach the top regardless of background.

The Progressivity of the Tax System (Greg Mankiw, 9/20/11)
If you can remember only one fact, make it this one: The middle class (middle quintile) pays 14.1 percent of its income in federal taxes, while the rich (top tenth of one percent of the population) pay 30.4 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


New Fields May Propel Americas to Top of Oil Companies' Lists (SIMON ROMERO, 9/19/11, NY Times)

Brazil has begun building its first nuclear submarine to protect its vast, new offshore oil discoveries. Colombia's oil production is climbing so fast that it is closing in on Algeria's and could hit Libya's prewar levels in a few years. ExxonMobil is striking new deals in Argentina, which recently heralded its biggest oil discovery since the 1980s.

Up and down the Americas, it is a similar story: a Chinese-built rig is preparing to drill in Cuban waters; a Canadian official has suggested that unemployed Americans could move north to help fill tens of thousands of new jobs in Canada's expanding oil sands; and one of the hemisphere's hottest new oil pursuits is actually in the United States, at a shale formation in North Dakota's prairie that is producing 400,000 barrels of oil a day and is part of a broader shift that could ease American dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

For the first time in decades, the emerging prize of global energy may be the Americas, where Western oil companies are refocusing their gaze in a rush to explore clusters of coveted oil fields.

"This is an historic shift that's occurring, recalling the time before World War II when the U.S. and its neighbors in the hemisphere were the world's main source of oil," said Daniel Yergin, an American oil historian. "To some degree, we're going to see a new rebalancing, with the Western Hemisphere moving back to self-sufficiency."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


The Tsuris: Barack Obama is the best thing Israel has going for it right now. Why is that so difficult for Netanyahu and his American Jewish allies to understand? (John Heilemann, Sep 18, 2011, New York)

In attempting to apply tough love to Israel, Obama is trying to make a stalwart ally see that undertaking the painful and risky compromises necessary for peace with the Palestinians is the only way to preserve the Zionist dream--which is to say a future as a state both Jewish and democratic. His role here is not that of the callous assailant but of the caring and sober brother slapping his drunken sibling: The point is not to hurt the guy but to get him to sober up.

The suspicions regarding the bone-deepness of Obama's bond with Israel were present from the start, and always rooted in a reading of his background that was as superficial as it was misguided. Yes, he was black. Yes, his middle name was Hussein. And yes, in his time in Hyde Park, his friends included Palestinian scholars and activists, notably the historian Rashid Khalidi. But far more crucial to Obama's makeup and rise to prominence were his ties to Chicago's Jewish milieu, whose players, from real-estate powerhouse Penny Pritzker to billionaire investor Lester Crown, were among his chief supporters and financial patrons. In 2008--after herculean efforts by his campaign to reassure the Jewish Establishment that he was, er, kosher and stamp out the sub-rosa proliferation of the lie that he is a Muslim--he won 78 percent of the Jewish vote, four points higher than John Kerry's total four years earlier.

This background meant that, although Obama was hardly an old hand on Israel when he became president, he was well attuned to the Jewish community and its views. "With the kind of exposure he had to Jewish backers, Jewish thinkers, in Illinois," says deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes, "he came into office with a deeper understanding of Jewish culture and Jewish thought than, I would argue, any president in recent memory."

Like all those presidents, Obama placed a high priority on pursuing a deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where he departed from his predecessors was on a number of premises. When there were differences between America and Israel, Obama wanted to address them: "We're not gonna be saying one thing in public and another in private," he told his team. And in the effort to bring the parties to the negotiating table, pressure would be applied equally to both sides.

Obama also believed that it was critical to begin the process immediately; thus on his third day in office did he name Mitchell to his post. "Our view of Bush was, yeah, Annapolis was great, but he started in his last year in office, and that was just too late," recalls former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "So our theory coming in was that [Obama] was gonna put his foot on the gas from day one."

The problem with that theory was the situation on the ground: During Obama's transition, the Israelis and the Palestinians had been at war in Gaza. So Mitchell began traveling in the region, searching for a series of measures that might change the climate sufficiently to get the two sides talking again. What he heard uniformly from the Arab states was that a halt to the construction of Israeli settlements was key.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Bachmann's campaign pitch is off-key (Michael Finnegan, 9/19/11, Los Angeles Times)

On her visit to a traffic-signal plant Monday, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann called it an example of how President Obama's policies are "continuing to dig us deeper into the hole toward another recession."

Standing before a row of shiny orange trailers carrying portable solar-powered traffic lights, she said her plans for a smaller government with fewer rules and lower spending would help OMJC Signal Inc. "grow, grow, grow, grow, grow."

"That's my goal -- to see you succeed wildly," the Minnesota congresswoman told a gathering of OMJC workers on the plant floor here in the central Iowa town where she grew up.

But OMJC thrives on the kind of road and bridge spending that Obama has promoted as a key remedy to the nation's economic slowdown. As much as 80% of OMJC's revenue comes from government, according to the company's chief executive, Arlen Yost.

Of course, she's a federally funded project herself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


The single currency's true fatal flaw (Gideon Rachman, 9/20/11, Financial Times)

If you want to understand why the euro is in such trouble forget, for a moment, debt and sovereign bonds - and take a look at the bank notes. The images on euro notes are of imaginary buildings. While national currencies typically feature real people and places - George Washington on the dollar bill, the Bolshoi theatre on the Russian rouble - European identity is too fragile for that. Selecting a place or a hero associated with one country would have been too controversial. So the European authorities chose vague images that represented everywhere and nowhere.

Now, a decade after euro notes first emerged from cash machines across the continent, this lack of a common identity is the fatal flaw that may sink the common currency.

Twice on our trip we found 20 Euro bills lying on the ground and we concluded that the things are so silly that folks don't even treat them like money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


In search of Nirvana: Twenty years ago an album that wreaked havoc on the conventional music industry was released. Lauren Spencer, who was among the first to hear Nevermind, reminisces with the surviving band members, and returns to Seattle to hear how Kurt Cobain changed music for ever (Lauren Spencer, 9/17/11, The Observer)

Twenty years ago on a hot, smelly mess of an August day, the kind New York City does so well, I crossed the lobby of a swanky hotel in Manhattan to interview a band. They were in town to promote their first major-label release, Nevermind, and because I worked for Spin magazine, I'd been sent an advance of the music. It had caused me to miss my stop on the subway so confused and smitten was I by the soft and hard edges of the tunes and lyrics coming through my headphones. So I was heading up to meet these guys who called themselves Nirvana and find out for myself how they put heaven and hell into each of the songs.

When I stepped into their closet-sized room - twin beds, one chair, one table - I was met by Kurt Cobain, singer- songwriter, guitarist, and David Grohl, the man of drums. Bassist Krist Novoselic had a prior engagement and was not able to join us. That they looked not so much like up-and-coming rock stars as kids whose parents had left them to their own devices - and whose activities may have included bouncing on the beds and making prank phone calls - was heartening, as I was thoroughly sick of the slick interviews I'd been encountering with top-40 rock outfits. Our conversation encompassed homemade tattoos and why Cobain chose the K symbol for his, representing the Washington indie label of the same consonant; that night's free-for-the-fans Metallica party at Madison Square Gardens that they were eager to get into; and how much they loved the trailblazing Sonic Youth.

The fact that within the next few years Nirvana would pave the way for Sonic Youth and other like-minded alternative groups to find a larger audience, as Nevermind toppled pop giant Michael Jackson from his number one spot on the US Billboard charts, was impossible to forecast from this early 90s vantage point, where Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" had been dominating both British and American airwaves for weeks. There was something in this Seattle-based band's songs, live performance and attitude that quickly set the rock 'n' roll industry on its ear, so that what had once been considered an underground sound would emerge to wreak havoc on conventional record chart rankings and traditional music business models.

...consider how m uch heavier the lift was for The Clash, who had to snap us out of a decade of dreck.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Is the Egyptian-Israeli Relationship Over?: Unleashed Populism Spells Trouble (Daniel C. Kurtzer, September 18, 2011, Foreign Affairs)

In some important ways, the recent mob violence in Cairo does not represent a new phenomenon but brings into even sharper relief a problem that has existed for a long time: namely, the gap between the views and policies of the region's leaders and the attitudes of the Arab street. For years, the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East feared their own citizens more than putative enemy neighbors; now, the Arab uprisings of the past year have unleashed these populist mobs from the constraints of government restrictions. And the picture is not pretty.

In Egypt, the public is motivated by a mix of real grievances and irrational hatreds. More than 30 years of emergency rule, enacted by former President Hosni Mubarak in the aftermath of Anwar Sadat's 1981 assassination -- including arbitrary arrests, human rights violations, and corruption -- transformed the Egyptian masses into a seething cauldron of discontent. Egypt's rulers, from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Sadat and then Mubarak, deflected this anger away from themselves by allowing anti-Israel (indeed, anti-Semitic) forces almost free rein to infect the public with hateful ideas about Israel and Jews. The ebb and flow of the Arab-Israeli conflict contributed to this mix, as the Egyptian press explained away or simply ignored every Palestinian misdeed and highlighted and exaggerated every Israeli one. Palestinian terrorism against Israeli citizens was described as the work of freedom fighters, while Israeli actions in self-defense were the nasty work of an occupier.

As long as an authoritarian government ruled Egypt, this boiling cauldron could be kept under control, largely through the same means of repression that stifled political opposition of any stripe. However, when Mubarak fell from power in February and the authoritarian grip of the government relaxed, the anger in the street erupted. So far, it has been directed as much at Israel as at the ancien régime. Although the uprising in Tahrir Square had nothing to do with Israel, a substantial segment of the Egyptian public considers Israel to be Egypt's number one enemy -- and thus Egypt's top foreign policy priority.

...but Anglo-Israeli support for the regime that oppressed them, why would Egyptians continue it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Online gamers crack AIDS enzyme puzzle (AFP, Sep 18, 2011)

Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade.

The exploit is published on Sunday in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, where -- exceptionally in scientific publishing -- both gamers and researchers are honoured as co-authors. [...]

Developed in 2008 by the University of Washington, it is a fun-for-purpose video game in which gamers, divided into competing groups, compete to unfold chains of amino acids -- the building blocks of proteins -- using a set of online tools.

To the astonishment of the scientists, the gamers produced an accurate model of the enzyme in just three weeks.

And we're supposed to worry that they don't know cursive?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


The Unemployed Won't Work in Slaughterhouses (Iceland Review, 9/20/11)
Of the 140 employees hired by the food processing company Nordlenska to work in its slaughterhouses in Húsavík, northeast Iceland, and Höfn, southeast Iceland, during the current slaughtering season, approximately 90 are foreign laborers.

"We try to hire Icelanders but there isn't much interest. [...]," managing director of Nordlenska Sigmundur Einar Ófeigsson told Morgunbladid.

September 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


NH students shine in SATs (GARRY RAYNO, 9/19/11, New Hampshire Union Leader)

New Hampshire's graduating seniors who took the 2011 SAT once again did better than their national counterparts.

New Hampshire's 2011 graduates also had average scores slightly higher than the preceding class in the three categories: critical reading, math and writing.

The average score for state students in critical reading was 523, compared with the national average of 497. Last year's average score was 520, and it was 523 in 2009, 521 in 2008 and 2007, and 520 in 2006.

The average mathematics score this year was 525, while the national average was 514. Last year's score was 524, and it was 523 in 2009 and 2008, 521 in 2007, and 524 in 2006.

The state average writing score was 511, while the national score was 489. Last year's average writing score was 510, the same as in 2009, and it was 511 in 2008, 512 in 2007, and 509 in 2006.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


A Pro-Trade Agenda for U.S. Jobs (Matthew J. Slaughter, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Business and Globalization, Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, Thomas A. Daschle, Senior Policy Adviser, DLA Piper, Andrew H. Card, Acting Dean, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, September 17, 2011, Wall Street Journal)

If there is a single issue on which Republicans and Democrats in Washington should be able to agree, it is that expanded trade is vital for U.S. economic growth and job creation. Exports accounted for more than a third of U.S. economic growth in 2010 and have helped keep the economy out of recession in 2011.

Over the past five years, growth in the big developing economies like India, China and Brazil has been eight times faster than in the advanced economies. America's economic future depends on it becoming a more successful trading nation, selling U.S.-made goods and services into the world's fastest-growing markets.

Yet the United States--the country that fathered the modern world trading system--today has no real trade policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Obama Rejects Obamaism (DAVID BROOKS, 9/19/11, NY Times)

I'm a sap, a specific kind of sap. I'm an Obama Sap.

When the president said the unemployed couldn't wait 14 more months for help and we had to do something right away, I believed him. When administration officials called around saying that the possibility of a double-dip recession was horrifyingly real and that it would be irresponsible not to come up with a package that could pass right away, I believed them.

I liked Obama's payroll tax cut ideas and urged Republicans to play along. But of course I'm a sap. When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill.

It recycles ideas that couldn't get passed even when Democrats controlled Congress. In his remarks Monday the president didn't try to win Republicans to even some parts of his measures. He repeated the populist cries that fire up liberals but are designed to enrage moderates and conservatives.

He claimed we can afford future Medicare costs if we raise taxes on the rich. He repeated the old half-truth about millionaires not paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. (In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. People in the richest 1 percent pay 31 percent of their income to the federal government while the average worker pays less than 14 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.)

This wasn't a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I'm a sap for thinking it was possible.

Yes, I'm a sap.

Where's Christopher Buckley's mea culpa?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Crime in decline, but why? Low inflation among theories (Miguel Llanos, 9/19/11,

[V]iolent crime across the U.S. dropped 6 percent, marking the fourth straight annual decline. Property crime was down for the eighth straight year, falling 2.7 percent. [...]

Low inflation. Rosenfeld says he's found a tie between inflation and crime. "Crime rates tend to rise during inflationary periods and fall, or experience a slower increase, when the inflation rate drops," he says, and "inflation ran at historically low levels during the recent economic downturn -- prices actually decreased in 2009 for the first time in over 50 years."

In contrast, inflation and the crime rate were both high during the recession of the 1970s and early 1980s.

"A key mechanism linking inflation to crime is the price of stolen goods," he adds. "Price increases make cheap, stolen goods more attractive and therefore strengthen incentives for those who supply the underground markets with stolen goods. The reverse occurs when inflation is low."

Moreover, "involvement in property crime is a risk factor for violence" -- so that an increase in thefts can translate into more violent crimes, he says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


Chicago's Mayor Challenges Teachers Union (MONICA DAVEY, 9/17/11, NY Times)

"It's a nightmare," said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who added that Mr. Emanuel lived up to his reputation for foul language in a recent meeting in his stately office at City Hall. "You expect this stuff out of Republicans." [...]

Some union leaders here had other worries about Mr. Emanuel's true goals to begin with; even before he took office, he supported a bill in the Legislature that would make it easier to get rid of poor teachers and harder for teachers to strike. It would also give him more leeway in extending the school day.

Why, union leaders asked, was Mr. Emanuel so insistent on pushing this through immediately when school officials have the power to impose a longer day next year when the current contract runs out? (Why wait, Mr. Emanuel's aides counter.)

And how, union leaders demanded, was Mr. Emanuel and his education team able to afford to offer these bonuses to "Pioneer" schools when the school board has rescinded some pay raises expected by teachers, citing a $712 million budget gap? (The cost of the pay raises would have been $80 million, Mr. Emanuel's aides say, while the price of teacher bonuses, even if every elementary school in the city were to agree to lengthen the school day immediately, would total only $30 million.)

On the city's North Side, outside the Disney II Magnet Elementary School, which announced on Tuesday that it was the seventh school to choose a longer school day, parents said they were pleased with what this would mean for their children, even if they were not thrilled with the growing war between City Hall and the teachers' union.

In recent days, Mr. Emanuel has shown his trademark impatience with all the public discussion over whether or not he cursed during his last meeting with Ms. Lewis (the meeting ended with a hug, he has noted), whether his move is an attack on unions and what to make of the daily announcements by schools, one by one, that they have agreed to a longer day even as the union seethes.

"This is all an attempt to distract from the core subject," Mr. Emanuel said of issues that he deemed questions of process, not substance. "This is not about tactics. This is about kids going from last place on education time."

He added: "This is what I said I was going to do, and I'm doing it. I'm actually executing exactly what I said I was going to do on the campaign, which is what people voted for. I didn't do a bait-and-switch."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Some of the cast of Radio 4's dramatisation of Life and Fate. (Pete Naughton, 19 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

You could almost smell the apprehension on Radio 4 on Sunday afternoon, as Vassily Grossman's Life and Fate - a thirteen-part dramatisation of a great but underexposed Russian novel written in 1959 and set during World War Two - began on the network. Nothing quite like it had ever been attempted by the BBC before, and Radio 4 had done much to grease the wheels prior to transmission, with a special edition of Start The Week, a documentary mini-series about the author and enough on-air mentions and trailers to make even a casual listener realise that Something Big was afoot. But the question remained: how would audiences respond to eight hours of dark and challenging material, spread over every single drama slot on Radio 4 (bar the Archers) for an entire week?

On one level, the jury is still out, as - at the time of writing - less than half of the episodes have gone to air. But if I were the BBC's attorney I'd advise them to rest easy and bide their time until the next Sony Awards: Life and Fate is fabulous, mind-expanding drama, brilliantly adapted from Grossman's book by Mike Walker and Jonathan Myerson and delivered with great subtlety by a big-name cast. I'd be staggered if it's not an enduring hit, and if sales of the novel don't spike dramatically as a result.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


SPIEGEL Interview with Palestinian Prime Minister: 'An Independent Palestine Will Be Inevitable' (Der Spiegel. 9/19/11)

In a SPIEGEL interview, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, 59, discusses controversial plans by the Palestinians to apply for member state status at the United Nations this Friday and why he believes the action should not be considered a unilateral move.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, will you go down in history as the founding father of Palestine?

Fayyad: I don't know if there will be a Palestinian state during my term in office, but I have no doubt that it will happen.

SPIEGEL: In recent years, you have been busy building schools and roads, reforming the administration and moving toughly to combat terrorism. Is Palestine ready for independence?

Fayyad: Yes, we are ready. And it's not just me saying that -- it is also organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. They already confirmed in April that the Palestinian Authority had crossed its threshold for relevance for statehood. To me, this is a birth certificate for our state. Even if Israel hasn't ended its occupation, the reality of Palestinian statehood projected on the ground is going to create so much de facto pressure that an independent Palestine will be inevitable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


It's already happened (James Meek, 9/22/11, London Review of Books)

They still do hips at Wrightington, and knees, and elbows, and shoulders. They deal with joint problems that are too tricky for general hospitals. There's a sort of blazer and brogues testosterone in the corridors, where the surgeons have a habit of cuffing one another's faces affectionately. At the end of a hallway lined with untidy stacks of case notes in wrinkled cardboard folders Martyn Porter, a senior surgeon and the hospital's clinical chairman, waited in his office to be called to the operating theatre. He fixed me with an intense, tired, humorous gaze. 'The problem with politicians is they can't be honest,' he said. 'If they said, "We're going to privatise the NHS," they'd be kicked out the next day.'

The Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto promised: 'We are stopping the top-down reconfigurations of NHS services, imposed from Whitehall.' Two months later, the new health secretary, the Conservative Andrew Lansley, announced his plans for a top-down reconfiguration of England's NHS services, imposed from Whitehall.

The patient whom Porter was about to operate on was a 60-year-old woman from the Wirral with a complex prosthesis in one leg, running from her knee to her hip. She'd had a fracture and Porter had had a special device made at a workshop in another part of the NHS, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore in Middlesex. The idea was for the device to slide over the femoral spur of the knee joint, essentially replacing her whole leg down to the ankle. 'The case we're doing this morning, we're going to make a loss of about £5000. The private sector wouldn't do it,' he said. 'How do we deal with that? Some procedures the ebitda is about 8 per cent. If you make an ebitda of 12 per cent you're making a real profit.' You expect medical jargon from surgeons, but I was surprised to hear the word 'ebitda' from Porter. It's an accountancy term meaning 'earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation'.

'Last year we did about 1400 hip replacements,' he said. 'The worrying thing for us is we lost a million pounds doing that. What we worked out is that our length of stay' - the time patients spend in hospital after an operation - 'was six days. If we can get it down to five days we break even and if it's four, we make a million pound profit.'

I felt as if I'd somehow jumped forwards in time. Lansley has not yet, supposedly, shaken up the NHS. He'd barely been in power a year when I talked to Porter. But here was a leading surgeon in an NHS hospital, about to perform a challenging operation on an NHS patient, telling me exactly how much money the hospital was going to lose by operating on her, and chatting easily about profit and loss, as if he'd been living in Lansleyworld for years. Had the NHS been privatised one day while I was sleeping? [...]

At the moment, hospitals aren't allowed to compete with each other on price, and are rewarded with extra money from the commissioners if they do a particularly good job. Procedures are categorised as 'healthcare resource groups', each with a code and a price. Any hospital anywhere in England, NHS or private, that carried out procedure HA11C on an NHS patient last year - treatment of a routine hip fracture - got a base payment of £8928 from the outfit that commissioned it, and £9373 if it followed 'best practice'. A maternity unit clocks £1324 for a regular birth, NZ01B; putting in an artificial heart, EA43Z, earns £33,531. But this isn't the amount they actually get. The sum is adjusted according to a local 'market forces factor', which takes account of the variation in cost of labour and assets between different areas. The codes and prices are worked out, in turn, according to the actions taken and materials used by typical hospitals. The set tariff for treating a stroke might be calculated from the price of nine days being nursed in a ward at £170 a day, a couple of X-rays at £20 each, ten pathology tests at £6 each and six sessions of therapy for £235 - a total of £1865. If the hospital can treat the patient for £1600, it keeps the difference. The incentive to send the patient home as soon as possible is high.

Under the new system, state money will 'follow the patient' wherever the patient chooses to take it, even when that is outside the NHS. Patients with chronic conditions like diabetes will increasingly be given, not treatment, but money to spend on treatment. All NHS hospitals will be obliged to become 'foundation trusts', turning them into semi-commercial operations, able to borrow money, set up joint ventures with private companies, merge with other hospitals - and go broke. The contracts they make with GP groups will be legally binding. They will find themselves competing not only with other NHS hospitals and private hospitals but potentially with the GP groups themselves, which may set up local clinics to provide diagnostic tests or minor surgery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


There's no romance left in espionage (Max Hastings, 9/16/11, Financial Times)

[T]he British think spying is something we excel at. We may not be as rich as Americans, as good at making things as Germans, as cultured as the French or as energetic as the Chinese. But John Buchan was only the first of many writers to tell us that we play The Great Game jolly well.

There is something in this. But as a historian I am doubtful about the performance of British spies both before and after their glory days in the second world war. Keith Jeffrey's history of M16 from its foundation in 1909 to 1949, published last year, shows the service employed many exotic personalities and staged some wizard japes. But it seems questionable how much intelligence it generated that was both true and useful to governments. MI5, the security service, on the whole did better.

In the post-war decade, Kim Philby betrayed almost every significant MI6 operation against the Soviet bloc. Only later did British successes in running some key Soviet personnel as double agents - Oleg Gordievsky was the most notable - revive the service's confidence and prestige.

The greatest British achievement was not the work of spies - so-called "humint" - but of "sigint" at Bletchley Park, home of the codebreakers who gave the 1939-45 allies an unprecedented view of the enemy's hand. I once put it to Professor Harry Hinsley, a Bletchley man who became chief official historian of wartime intelligence, that his volumes suggest that amateurs, enlisted for the duration, produced better results than the career men. "Of course they did," he responded tartly. "Surely you wouldn't want to think that in peacetime the nation's best brains wasted their time in intelligence?"

The correct model for intelligence is the Iowa Markets/Wikipedia, not 007. The greater the de-institutionalization the better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Lucian Freud's death marks the end of an era: It was not just his skill as a painter that marked out Lucian Freud, but his surprisingly unfashionable focus on the human form. (Charles Saumerez Smith, 23 Jul 2011, Telegraph)

[I]t was precisely the observation of the human form that obsessed Freud over the next 67 years - even if it may sometimes be felt that he depicted it with the descriptive dispassion of a dead bird. Yet now that he is gone, it is as though the figurative tradition has gone with him. There are others still alive who maintain it, but none have remotely the same kudos as Freud, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, the three friends who were lumped together, somewhat factitiously, as the "School of London" in the early Eighties.

Some other names do spring to mind - John Wonnacott is a figurative painter who is able to handle portraiture with confidence. And there are a small number of younger artists who carry on the tradition, such as James Lloyd, whose work has recently been shown in Germany, and Stuart Pearson Wright, whose early work, painted on small blocks of wood, had some of the same observational qualities as the work of the young Freud.

But it is hard to argue that these artists are part of the mainstream. Pearson Wright's work, for example, was dismissed by his tutors at the Slade as mere illustration, as if skill in painting was meretricious and to be distrusted. Then there is Leonard McComb, the last surviving member of the Royal Academy to have been elected as a draughtsman. I am a great admirer of his work. But when he was Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools, and tried to maintain the requirement to learn life drawing, the students rebelled, regarding it as unnecessary. Only the Prince of Wales's drawing school in Shoreditch keeps alive the idea, which for hundreds of years was central to the practice of art, that to be an artist, it is essential to learn to draw the human figure.

The death of Freud, then, marks the end of an era: not just the death of a great artist, who had an extraordinary career in the single-minded pursuit of the observation of human form; but the death of the idea that it was felt to be perfectly natural for an artist to concentrate day after day, right up until the time of his death, on the demanding task of portraiture, requiring his models to make themselves available for long hours of sittings, sometimes far into the night. Whether a young girl or fat lady sprawled on a couch, or the Duke of Devonshire, or even the Queen, his subjects were all subjected to the same merciless, and sometimes faintly cruel, gaze.

I remember one Royal Academician telling me how pleased he was that our Summer Exhibition no longer contains a single portrait. It is not quite true this year: there are three quick observational oil sketches by Humphrey Ocean (including one of my son). But I am not totally convinced it is a good thing that we have so completely eradicated the ancient expectation that one of the tasks of art should be the depiction - and, in Freud's case, the dissection - of the human form.

And then they're surprised that the citizens of the Anglosphere hold intellectuals in contempt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


China 'faces subprime credit bubble crisis' (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 17 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

Monetary tightening in China threatens to pop the $1.7 trillion (£1.07 trillion) credit bubble in local government finance and expose the country's simmering "subprime" crisis, according to the Communist Party's economic guru.

Cheng Siwei, head of Beijing's International Finance Forum and a former deputy speaker of the People's Congress, said interest rate rises and credit curbs to cool overheating were inflicting real pain on thousands of companies used by local party bosses to fund the construction boom.

"The tightening policy is creating a lot of difficulties for local governments trying to repay debt, and is causing defaults," he told a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Dalian. "Our version of subprime in the US is lending to local authorities and the government is taking this very seriously."

"Everybody assumes that they will be bailed out by the central government if they default, but I disagree with this. It means that the people will ultimately pay the bill for it all, at a cost to the broader welfare."

European investors are fleeing to America, not the PRC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Two Cheers For A Big U.S. Trade Deficit (David Bier and Ivan Osorio, 9/18/11, Forbes)

While a "deficit" in trade sounds bad, no real deficit exists. Most trade statistics simply fail to account for foreign investment. Foreign investors do not sit on their dollars. If they do not buy American goods and services, they invest in dollar-denominated assets like stocks and bonds, real estate, or even government debt.

The trade deficit has helped the U.S. maintain the highest level of foreign direct investment in the world by far. In 2010, foreigners invested almost $2.6 trillion in U.S. banks, businesses, real estate and, to a lesser extent, the government -- more than 4.5 times the level of foreign investment in China last year. Companies invest this foreign capital in research and development, factories, and workers. This creates new wealth and jobs, driving economic growth and raising living standards.

Trade imbalances don't harm the economy. Lower trade deficits have accompanied low levels of economic growth. During the Great Depression, for example, the U.S. actually ran trade surpluses every year. By contrast, real GDP since 1980 grew 3.5 times faster when the deficit rose than when it declined, as a study by the Cato Institute notes. Over the same period, employment, manufacturing, and the stock market all also increased the fastest alongside a widening trade gap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


An Explanation and Some Reflections (Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, 9/19/11)

Dear Orrin,

I messed up. I owe you an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something - like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores - do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us). So we moved quickly into streaming, but I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn't have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.

So here is what we are doing and why.

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. DVD is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection of movies.

I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolves, without maintaining compatibility with our DVD by mail service.

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.

It's hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to "Qwikster". We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name "Netflix" for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, but now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the and websites will not be integrated.

There are no pricing changes (we're done with that!). If you subscribe to both services you will have two entries on your credit card statement, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix. The total will be the same as your current charges. We will let you know in a few weeks when the website is up and ready.

For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that lovely red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be similar for many of you.

I want to acknowledge and thank you for sticking with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.

Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

Respectfully yours,

-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix

p.s. I have a slightly longer explanation along with a video posted on our blog, where you can also post comments.

It's always a good thing to realize quickly when you screwed up and try to make amends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


The Case for Parallel Universes: Why the multiverse, crazy as it sounds, is a solid scientific idea (Alexander Vilenkin and Max Tegmark, July 19, 2011, Scientific American)

Another key aspect of the new worldview derives from string theory, which is at present our best candidate for the fundamental theory of nature. String theory admits an immense number of solutions describing bubble universes with diverse physical properties. The quantities we call constants of nature, such as the masses of elementary particles, Newton's gravitational constant, and so on, take different values in different bubble types. Now combine this with the theory of inflation. Each bubble type has a certain probability to form in the inflating space. So inevitably, an unlimited number of bubbles of all possible types will be formed in the course of eternal inflation.

This picture of the universe, or multiverse, as it is called, explains the long-standing mystery of why the constants of nature appear to be fine-tuned for the emergence of life. The reason is that intelligent observers exist only in those rare bubbles in which, by pure chance, the constants happen to be just right for life to evolve. The rest of the multiverse remains barren, but no one is there to complain about that.

Some of my physicist colleagues find the multiverse theory alarming. Any theory in physics stands or falls depending on whether its predictions agree with the data. But how can we verify the existence of other bubble universes? Paul Steinhardt and George Ellis have argued, for example, that the multiverse theory is unscientific, because it cannot be tested, even in principle.

Surprisingly, observational tests of the multiverse picture may in fact be possible. Anthony Aguirre, Matt Johnson, Matt Kleban and others have pointed out that a collision of our expanding bubble with another bubble in the multiverse would produce an imprint in the cosmic background radiation--a round spot of higher or lower radiation intensity. A detection of such a spot with the predicted intensity profile would provide direct evidence for the existence of other bubble universes. The search is now on, but unfortunately there is no guarantee that a bubble collision has occurred within our cosmic horizon. can be shown by the fact that we can look for them, though we may not find them if they don't exist. Cosmic comic gold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Blue Labour is over but the debate has just begun: To give voice to the mood of the country, Labour must be both conservative and radical(Jonathan Rutherford, 29 July 2011, New Statesman)

Labour's future does not lie with Blue Labour, nor does it lie with New Labour, but with a synthesis of ideas and politics. It means understanding the conjuncture we are in in order to create a winning electoral politics that will transform the country for the better.

I would argue that this conjuncture requires Labour's politics in England to be both conservative and radical. If Labour can inhabit this paradox and capture its insights it will give voice to the mood of the country. The future is conservative. I do not mean it will be Conservative with a political upper case 'C' - the right has no understanding of this moment. Nor do I mean it will be conservative with a lower case social 'c'. Rather it will be characterised by a social and cultural mood that Raymond Williams calls a 'structure of feeling'. This mood exists on the edge of our collective vocabulary and it has yet to find articulation in politics. If Labour can give it a voice, it has the opportunity to construct a new hegemony.

This mood is about a desire to conserve, protect and improve the fundamental elements of social life which are people's relationships and family, their sense of belonging and identity, the continuity of home and place, and the human need for social security. When individuals have these goods they can aspire and strive for something more in their lives.

The problem with vocalizing this politics--which thoroughly dominates the Anglosphere and most of Northern Europe--is that the ends sound too squishy for the Right while the means sound too edgy to the Left. But the cold hard fact is that people do indeed desire social/financial security and the only efficient and reliable way we've found to deliver it is via broadly capitalist structures.

It's hardly surprising that our most eloquent politicians--Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, W--have been the best at moving the project forward, nor that all were, therefore, ultimately hated by their own parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Fallen off Olympus, Obama stammers (Charles Hurt, 8/10/11, The Washington Times)

The most shocking thing about President Obama's political implosion from bright supernova to deadened black hole has been the complete undoing of his ability to speak.

Remember when he was famous for speaking? Voters by the tens of thousands would gather for hours in the rain to hear him speak.

More than 80,000 people streamed into the Denver Broncos arena to hear Mr. Obama deliver his nomination-acceptance speech. Standing on the tippy-top of Mile High Stadium, you could see lines of people snaking in from miles away. It looked like something from Roman times.

And he did not disappoint.

Except that even his most devoted water carriers on the Left acknowledged that the convention speech fell flat, as did the Inaugural, as did the Berlin speech, which left Europe mystified as to why he had a reputation as a good speaker. Of course, those were all improvements on his Reverend Wright debacle, where he was forced to give a series of clarifications and follow-up talks, including absolving his own grandmother of racism. The notion of his being a capable speaker was always just a matter of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


So You Want To Be A Rock Star: Jazz Artists On Five Classic Pop-Rock Sides (David Brent Johnson, 7/27/11, NPR)

The Rolling Stones Feat. Sonny Rollins

Album: Tattoo You
Song: Waiting on a Friend

The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World meets the Saxophone Colossus. The Rolling Stones asked Sonny Rollins to play on the band's 1981 Tattoo You album after a mutual friend brought Mick Jagger to see Rollins at the Bottom Line in New York City. Rollins called his appearance "an experiment (that) worked out as far as I was concerned," though he turned down a subsequent offer by the band to tour with it. His spiraling, street-savvy saxophone parts help put across the song's melancholic sense of lovelorn loneliness in the midst of urban plenty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Texas Democrats' conservatism widespread outside of Austin (Jason Stanford, 7/27/11, Statesman)

Texas Democrats are more conservative than anyone in Austin might imagine.

Bryan Dooley, a Democratic pollster with Hamilton Campaigns out of Florida, says that Texas Democrats are more conservative than Democrats in Georgia, but more moderate than Democrats in Alabama and Mississippi.

Yet most Austin Democrats have no problem demanding that their statewide candidates take positions to the left of Nancy Pelosi and think the reason we don't win is that we didn't yell loudly enough.

You can rally at the Capitol on a sunny day and think the blue skies go all the way from El Paso to Texarkana, but Texans get pretty conservative when you leave Austin's city limits.

As much as we might hate to admit it, Austin Democrats might have more in common with our moderate Republican neighbors than with our partisan brothers from out of town.

Here in Austin, we all know Republicans who are pro-choice. But in Texas, 43 percent of Democratic primary voters are anti-abortion rights. In Austin, we get excited when we discover that our new carpet was made from recycled two-liter bottles and get angry at the thought that the Forumla One racetrack might pollute our air.

Yet 30 percent of Texas Democrats think environmental regulations hurt the economy.

Despite what my friend said, 45 percent of Texas Democrats in 2008 would choose a candidate who opposes gay marriage and favors civil unions over one who supports gay marriage.

Dooley, the Democratic pollster, says Texas Democrats continue to fit the mold of Southern conservatives because socially conservative Hispanics and blacks replaced the Dixiecrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Spending in Disguise (DONALD B. MARRON, 7/23/11, National Affairs)

With the United States on track for a third year of trillion-dollar deficits, public debate is now focused on getting America's fiscal house in order. The challenge is straightforward: The federal government spends much more than it collects in tax revenue each year and will continue to do so even after the economy recovers.

The argument over how to close that gap is often dominated -- sometimes debilitated -- by sharp disagreements about how much should come from spending cuts and how much from tax increases. But that division can be misleading. A great deal of government spending is hidden in the federal tax code in the form of deductions, credits, and other preferences -- preferences that seem like they let taxpayers keep their own money, but are actually spending in disguise. Those preferences complicate the code and often needlessly distort the decisions of businesses and families. The magnitude of these preferences raises the possibility of a dramatic reform of the tax code -- making it simpler, fairer, and more pro-growth -- that would amount to simultaneously cutting spending and increasing government revenue, without raising tax rates.

Such a reform would not eliminate the need for serious spending cuts, of course, nor would it take tax increases off the table. But it could dramatically improve the government's fiscal outlook and make the task of budget negotiators far easier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


No Wonder Obama Is Losing Support from the Left (Matthew Rothschild, July 23, 2011, The Progressive)

On health care, he abandoned single payer, and even the public option.

On the banking and housing crisis, he bailed out the banks without extracting any meaningful concessions, such as a moratorium on foreclosures or a 25 percent write-down of the principal on all existing mortgages.

On the stimulus package, he came in well short of what the economy needed, as he was repeatedly warned by Nobel Prize winners in economics Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz and his own Christina Romer, who was chair of his Council of Economic Advisers.

On taxes, he caved on the Bush breaks for millionaires.

On labor, he sat on the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill to make it easier for workers to organize themselves into unions.

On civil liberties, he continued the Bush policies, extending the Patriot Act, not modifying the Military Commissions Act or the NSA spying act, holding suspects indefinitely at Bagram Air Force Base (and actually increasing the numbers held there by a factor of three), siccing the FBI on leftwing solidarity activists, and announcing that he has the right to assassinate anyone--including American citizens--that he deems a threat.

On foreign policy, his rhetoric has been less macho than Bush's but the substance has been the same. His State Department backed the coup makers in Honduras. While he has been critical of Netanyahu in Israel, he hasn't backed that up with any reduction in aid. He was slow to rally to the support of the Arab Spring, and he coddled Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. He escalated the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has pressed for keeping some troops in Iraq. And he launched an illegal air war against Libya.

This week, when he shamefully agreed to raise the retirement age for Social Security and cut benefits for recipients by monkeying with the cost of living (concessions that we were spared only by the obtuseness of the Republican Party), Obama again showed his readiness to give away almost the entire progressive store.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


If we have the courage, more tyrants like Gaddafi will fall: Those who have argued that the Arabs aren't ready for democracy are being shown up as hypocrites. (Janet Daley, 27 Aug 2011, The Telegraph)

Those of us who urged on the Anglo-French initiative which succeeded in pulling a reluctant US president and an ambivalent Nato into support for this revolution have some right to feel vindicated. What was so widely predicted only weeks ago - the "inevitable" humiliation of the West being forced to accept a seemingly immovable dictator and a country either engaged in indefinite civil war or having to be (in the great colonial tradition) partitioned - has evaporated with bizarre suddenness.

There is still much sighing and elaborate despair from the other side - that is, the other side of our argument here in Britain, as opposed to the more robust disagreement on the ground in Libya. The voices which insisted that no good could come from this intervention - that this was none of our business, that we should learn the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and stay away, or we would be trapped in a military quagmire with no exit - persist in their fatalism. It is relatively easy, they say, to displace one dictator and his henchmen (although it hadn't looked easy at all just days before it happened), but installing anything resembling stable democracy will be beyond any of our efforts.

The naysayers do not pull their punches: they make no attempt to conceal the frank racism or, if you prefer, post-colonial contempt for the peoples in question. These are not Europeans, they sneer. They cannot be expected to construct (even, presumably, with the help and guidance of the West) accountable governing institutions. The rule of law and the concept of government by the people and for the people are alien to the tribal culture of this region, with its inherited enmities and traditions of vengeance. These are Arabs, they say knowingly - and Arabs don't do democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


A Short Primer on the National Debt: With a return to 1990s growth rates, the debt-to-GDP ratio could drop to 56.7%, about where it was in 2000, in just one decade. (JOHN STEELE GORDON, 8/29/11, WSJ)

It's the debt's size relative to gross domestic product that matters, just as personal debts must be measured against a person's income before they can be properly evaluated. The GDP of the United States was $15.003 trillion at the end of the first quarter in 2011. That makes the public debt equal to 66.1% of GDP and the intra-governmental debt 31.1%. Total debt is now 97.2% of GDP and climbing rapidly.

And it's the climbing rapidly part that is worrisome, not the debt's current size relative to GDP. Indeed, the debt has been substantially higher by that measure in earlier times. In 1946, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, it was 129.98% of GDP. But while the debt had increased enormously during the war (it had been 50% of a much smaller GDP in 1940), it did not increase substantially over the next 15 years. It was $269 billion in 1946 and $286 billion in 1960. The American economy grew so much in those years that the debt, while slightly up in absolute terms, was down to only 58% of GDP by 1960.

The debt grew to $370 billion in the next decade, but again economic growth (and, towards the end of the 1960s, inflation) continued to reduce it relative to GDP. In 1970 it was a mere 39%, the lowest it had been since the depths of the Great Depression. And while the debt nearly tripled in the 1970s (to $909 billion), the raging inflation of that decade caused the debt to continue to decline to 34.5% of GDP.

Which just goes to show how little relation there is between debt and the health of the nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Immigration and the Texas Miracle (E.D. Kain, 8/24/11, Forbes)

Critics of the Texas model, such as Paul Krugman, argue that the state owes its success to a growing population as opposed to any miracle policies. Other detractors have argued that population growth should be taken out of the equation altogether. Under that scenario, Texas ranks dead last in job creation.

Leader of the pack?

Michigan - home to the slowly dilapidating auto industry and the city of Detroit, a metropolitan area hardly known for its economic vibrancy.

If anything, this proves how important population growth is to a robust and growing economy - exactly the opposite point that Think Progress is fumblingly attempting to make. Controlling for population growth misses the point altogether. As Kevin Williamson notes, "A booming population leads to growth in jobs. But there is another half to that equation: A booming economy, and the jobs that go with it, leads to population growth."

The secret to the Texas miracle is keeping things cheap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Israel's epic chess game (STEVEN M. GOLDBERG, 07/24/2011, Jerusalem Post)

Israel is engaged in a war for survival that started even before its declaration of independence and continues to this very day. [...]

[T]he Palestinian Authority, knowing that its leadership status is failing and that the clock is about to run out, has announced its intention to seek recognition as a state from the United Nations. This desperate gambit flatly abrogates both the Oslo Accords and UN Resolution 242, providing Israel with the legal justification to cancel both agreements and simply annex portions of Judea and Samaria.

TO WIN this chess game, Israel must correct the lifethreatening mistake it made by agreeing to a Palestinian state. The land west of the Jordan River can hold a Jewish state or another Arab state; it can't hold both.

Israel's leaders, including Yitzhak Rabin, recognized this truth before weakening in the face of international pressure. It's time to declare categorically that there will never be a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria.

The Arabs who live there may continue to be residents of Israel with full civil and religious rights and local autonomy, but any national or political rights must be exercised in affiliation with Jordan - the already existing Palestinian state.

Taking advantage of the Palestinian blunder by terminating all discussions of Palestinian statehood won't be easy.

As Mr. Goldberg accidentally makes clear, the only existential struggle here is Palestine's. But it too has already won. All that remains is crossing the t's and dotting the i's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Pakistan's Bitter, Little-Known Ethnic Rebellion (CARLOTTA GALL, 8/23/11, NY Times)

The Baluch insurgency, which has gone on intermittently for decades, is often called Pakistan's Dirty War, because of the rising numbers of people who have disappeared or have been killed on both sides. But it has received little attention internationally, in part because most eyes are turned toward the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas.

Mr. Bugti insists that he is a political leader only, and that he is not taking a role in the armed uprising against the government. He was caught up in a deadly struggle between his grandfather, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former minister and a leader of the Bugti tribe, and Pakistan's military leader at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, over control of Baluchistan's rich natural resources and the establishment of military bases in the province.

Baluch nationalists have never accepted being part of Pakistan and have fought in five uprisings since the country's formation. Their demands range from greater control over Baluchistan's gas and natural resources, fairer distribution of wealth (Baluchistan suffers from the lowest health, education and living standards in the country), to outright independence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


The Truth Comes Out in Honduras: A commission established by the Organization of American States shows that Manuel Zelaya precipitated the crisis that led to his ouster. (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 7/23/11, WSJ)

A truth commission established under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) released its report earlier this month. But the zelayistas didn't quite get the condemnation they sought. Instead, the report is a solid indictment of the former president as the provocateur of the crisis and a corrupt head of state. Given the intense international pressure to produce something that would save face for Zelaya backers, this can mean only one thing: The evidence against him was overwhelming. [...]

It finds that "the political crisis was set off" in January 2009. That's when officials from the president's office met with congressional members of his own Liberal Party and "threatened them with the rupture of the constitutional order if they did not choose--as supreme court justices--lawyers who were not on the list of 45 supreme court candidates" officially nominated through a legal selection process. According to the full report, Mr. Micheletti testified that U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens was party to this pressure on Congress to break the law.

In the year and a half before the crisis, the report finds, Mr. Zelaya had already demonstrated a propensity to abuse power. It says his actions were an "infringement" on the powers of the other branches of government. By June 2009, Mr. Zelaya had made it clear that he planned to hold a referendum to overturn the legal limits on his term in office, even though such a vote is expressly prohibited in the constitution.

Honduran institutions, the report says, "were not effective in resolving the crisis . . . not for lack of actions and resolutions taken but because the authorities' decisions were ignored and were not acted upon by [the president] who personally took the actions required to execute the referendum." The human-rights commission, the prosecutor, the attorney general, the electoral tribunal and the Supreme Court all took measures to try to stop Mr. Zelaya.

The crisis was "detonated" when he fired the head of the army for backing a Supreme Court decision against him, and then led a mob that broke into the air force base where he had stored referendum ballots. The report notes that a vibrant democracy requires that "no citizen, regardless of his office, is above the law. Equality before the law is an indispensable condition of democracy and the rule of law."

September 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 PM


Cockpit crisis: In five years, over 50 commercial airplanes crashed in loss-of-control accidents. What's going on? (Chris Sorensen, August 24, 2011, Macleans)

Statistically speaking, modern avionics have made flying safer than ever. But the crash of Flight 1951 is just one of several recent, high-profile reminders that minor problems can quickly snowball into horrific disasters when pilots don't understand the increasingly complex systems in the cockpit, or don't use them properly. The point was hammered home later that year when Air France Flight 447 stalled at nearly 38,000 feet and ended up crashing into the Atlantic, killing all 228 on board. Investigators recently released transcripts from the Airbus A330's cockpit voice recorder. It reveals a flight crew gripped by confusion as they tried to diagnose and respond to what should have been a manageable mid-air emergency, but instead resulted in a terrifying 3½-minute plunge in total darkness. "I don't have control of the airplane anymore," the co-pilot at the controls said at one point. "Now I don't have control of the airplane at all."

Despite being responsible for the lion's share of passenger deaths over the past decade, it's only recently that the industry has begun to treat so-called "loss-of-control" accidents as a serious issue. Sunjoo Advani, an expert in flight simulation and the president of a Netherlands-based simulation and engineering consulting firm, says he received puzzled looks when, back in 2007, he suggested that Britain's Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), an influential safety group, hold a conference on the issue. Not anymore. Advani has spent the past two years coordinating the International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes, or ICATEE, a panel of experts asked by the RAeS to look into stalls and other loss-of-control accidents and find ways to prevent them. "Many of these accidents are recoverable," he says. "They simply shouldn't have happened. In many incidents, the airplane has gone into a stall and every automated safety procedure kicked in, but the pilots failed to recognize the situation and failed to recover."

Why is it happening? Some argue that the sheer complexity of modern flight systems, though designed to improve safety and reliability, can overwhelm even the most experienced pilots when something actually goes wrong. Others say an increasing reliance on automated flight may be dulling pilots' sense of flying a plane, leaving them ill-equipped to take over in an emergency. Still others question whether pilot-training programs have lagged behind the industry's rapid technological advances.

It's a vexing problem for airlines, and a worrisome one for their customers. Unlike mechanical failures that can be traced to flawed design or poor maintenance, there is no easy fix when experienced and highly trained pilots make seemingly inexplicable decisions that end with a US$250-million airplane literally falling out of the sky. "The best you can do is teach pilots to understand automation and not to fight it," Advani says, noting that the focus in recent years has, perhaps myopically, been on simplifying and speeding up training regimes, secure in the knowledge that planes have never been smarter or safer. "We've worked ourselves into a little bit of a corner here. Now we have to work ourselves back out."

In the past five years alone, there have been more than 50 stalls and other loss-of-control accidents involving commercial airlines, nearly all of them fatal, according to the International Air Transport Association. Unlike a car or truck, a plane stalls when its wings stop producing lift--effectively transforming it from an elegant flying machine into a giant brick. That happens when the angle of attack (the angle of the wing relative to the direction the plane is flying) becomes too extreme. In most cases, stalls occur because a pilot is flying too slowly to maintain altitude, although they can theoretically occur at any speed. To recover, pilots are taught to apply thrust and to lower the nose of the aircraft. A 2010 study by Boeing found that 20 different loss-of-control accidents were responsible for nearly 1,850 deaths between 2000 and 2009, nearly double the number of fatalities of the next biggest category, "controlled flight into terrain," which is basically the flying of a plane into the side of a mountain. That makes loss of control, including stalls, both the single most common cause of fatal airline crashes, and by far the most deadly.

But stalls needn't be fatal events. Pilots are taught how to recover from them in basic flight school, and many modern planes are equipped with systems designed to prevent them from occurring in the first place. In modern Airbus-built planes, for example, an electronic fly-by-wire control system means a pilot who hauls back on the side-stick controller, a joystick-like device that has replaced a traditional control yoke in Airbus cockpits, will not be permitted by the computer to put the plane and its passengers in a dangerous situation.

And yet loss-of-control crashes continue to bedevil the industry. And several recent accident investigations reveal a disturbing trend: highly trained pilots who, when faced with a stall, not only fail to correctly diagnose the problem, but take actions that make their predicaments far worse.

Man wasn't meant to fly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


'High School Physics' (WSJ, 9/18/11)

That's how Al Gore described the science of climate change this week, by which we suppose he meant it's elementary and unchallengeable. Well, Mr. Vice President, meet Ivar Giaever, a 1973 physics Nobel Laureate who resigned last week from the American Physical Society in protest over the group's insistence that evidence of man-made global warming is "incontrovertible."

In an email to the society, Mr. Giaever--who works at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute--wrote that "The claim (how can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?) is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me . . . that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this 'warming' period." least the stasis they do observe excuses the failure to observe Darwinism in action during human history. There's nothing to adapt to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Amid All Our Disasters, Why Are the Only Revolutionaries on the Right? (Rochelle Gurstein, September 16, 2011, New Republic)

When I think about our current crises, it doesn't seem far-fetched to notice that there has been at least the potential for a "revolutionary situation" in America beginning six summers ago with Hurricane Katrina--those dismal images that poured out of New Orleans of miserable men, women, and children abandoned to the full force of the hurricane without sufficient food and water, without sanitary living conditions, and most telling, without the protection of the police or the National Guard. I still feel our nation's shame when I recall the interviews I saw with people who did not have the means to leave the city, typically African-American, all too often morbidly obese, who said they were suffering from diabetes and/or high blood pressure and had run out of the medications that they needed.

I was dumbfounded by the utter failure of President Bush and his administration to respond to this emergency--the paralysis of the "ruling class" being one of the conditions of a "revolutionary situation"--and felt there was a kind of perverse justice in the spectacle of Cuba offering aid to America. Naively, I believed we were at a turning point in our history. I was convinced that our representatives in Congress would have to drop everything and make the fight against poverty our one and only mission; that, as the saying goes, the whole world was watching and we could not simply blunder on in the old way. [...]

Who would have thought that the revolutionary change in popular consciousness would be the belief that the root of all our social and economic troubles and the enemy of ordinary people is our hobbled welfare state?

Stuck in old habits of thought, I realized that I had relegated the Sarah Palins of our impoverished political world to the outer region of the not-to-be-taken-seriously bible-thumpers, that in my complacency I had failed to see that Tea Party militants were far better organized and more willing to stand up for what they believe than any Leftist these days. And who knows? Even though they speak for only a small minority, they might very well pull off their revolution. The Left has never succeeded in getting one of their own to run for president under the banner of the Democratic party--Ralph Nader had to run as a third-party candidate--but this time around the Republican establishment is fielding such bona fide right-wing radicals as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.

...when kids had to be evacuated from the city that Democrats maintained below sea-level in a hurricane zone many were sent to Houston schools, in the Bible-thumping state governed by Bush/Perry, where they were absorbed without lowering test scores to Louisiana levels. Maybe that's why Rick Perry stands a decent chance of being our third consecutive Republican president from Texas, whereas no Democrat from Louisiana could ever be elected. Americans have seen the two models in action and decided between them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Cleaver: If Obama wasn't president, we would be 'marching on the White House' (Alicia M. Cohn - 09/18/11, The Hill)

Unhappy members of the Congressional Black Caucus "probably would be marching on the White House" if Obama were not president, according to CBC Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

The one big reason to welcome an Obama presidency was that his policies were going to be Republican but without the Leftwing hysteria. He and they have performed according to script.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM

Season 2/Episode 1 of Downton Abbey just posted at The Box. Invites available on request.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Steven Pinker: the optimistic voice of science: In his landmark new book, the Harvard professor argues we are much less violent than our ancestors. It could lead to much academic bloodletting (Andrew Anthony, 9/17/11, The Observer)

In The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes, the celebrated evolutionary psychologist and bestselling author argues that we - the human race - are becoming progressively less violent. To the consumer of 24-hour news, steeped in images of conflict and war, that may sound plain wrong. But Pinker supports his case with a wealth of data.

Drawing on the work of the archaeologist Lawrence Keeley, Pinker recently concluded that the chance of our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors meeting a bloody end was somewhere between 15% and 60%. In the 20th century, which included two world wars and the mass killers Stalin and Hitler, the likelihood of a European or American dying a violent death was less than 1%.

Pinker shows that, with notable exceptions, the long-term trend for murder and violence has been going down since humans first developed agriculture 10,000 years ago. And it has dropped steeply since the Middle Ages. It may come as a surprise to fans of Inspector Morse but Oxford in the 1300s, Pinker tells us, was 110 times more murderous than it is today. With a nod to the German sociologist Norbert Elias, Pinker calls this movement away from killing the "civilising process".

That life gets ever more sedate as the Anglosphere imposes its ethos universally is a given, the interesting question is will this sap mankind of our vitality. And, for a Darwinist like Pinker, the obvious question is why Culture is so powerful that Nature can't withstand it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


United States targets Australia after Irish upset at World Cup (The Associated Press, 09/18/2011)

Australia's surprise loss to Ireland at the Rugby World Cup has made life more difficult for the Wallabies in many ways, not least raising the ambition of their next Pool C opponents, the United States.

In normal circumstances, the U.S. Eagles might grant themselves little hope of challenging a world rugby power such as two-time World Cup champion Australia. But Ireland's 15-6 win on Saturday has changed their outlook, boosted their confidence and encouraged them to pursue their own American dream.

The United States and Australia meet in Wellington on Friday, both with 1-1 records in pool matches to date.

Asked Sunday whether the United States had any hope of emulating Ireland, captain Todd Clever told reporters: "It's not impossible, is it?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


Austere Italy? Check the Traffic> (RACHEL DONADIO, 9/18/11, NY Times)

COMITINI, Italy -- With only 960 residents and a handful of roads, this tiny hilltop village in the arid, sulfurous hills of southern Sicily does not appear to have major traffic problems. But that does not prevent it from having one full-time traffic officer -- and eight auxiliaries.

The auxiliaries, who earn a respectable 800 euros a month, or $1,100, to work 20 hours a week, are among about 64 Comitini residents employed by the town, the product of an entrenched jobs-for-votes system pervasive in Italian politics at all levels.

"Jobs like these have kept this city alive," said Caterina Valenti, 41, an auxiliary in a neat blue uniform as she sat recently with two colleagues, all on duty, drinking coffee in the town's bar on a hot afternoon. "You see, here we are at the bar, we support the economy this way."

But what may be saving Comitini's economy is precisely what is strangling Italy's and other ailing economies throughout Europe. Public spending has driven up the public debt to 120 percent of gross domestic product, the highest percentage in the euro zone after Greece's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


A U.N. vote on Palestinian state just might offer a way forward (Trudy Rubin, 9/18/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)

As Israelis know well, their entire region is in flux in ways that make them very nervous. The status quo has crumbled within most Arab countries, nor will it last within the West Bank and Gaza.

The Oslo peace process is dead. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the coup de grace was delivered by relentless Israeli settlement expansion on the West Bank. With the end of Oslo, chances are fading for a two-state solution whereby Israel and Palestine would coexist side by side.

Many Palestinians (and much of the "street" in Arab states that are undergoing upheaval) have given up on the idea of two states. So have most Israelis. Yet the death of the two-state concept and the peace process that went with it creates existential dangers for the Jewish state.

Previous Israeli leaders knew that failure to create two states meant Israel would be left in control of a Palestinian population that would eventually outnumber Israeli Jews. That was the nightmare that drove the hawkish Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to embrace the Oslo formula.

Rabin understood that a "one-state option" would create unacceptable choices for Israel: It could become an apartheid state, controlling a majority of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza cantons; or it could give the Palestinian majority full citizenship and lose its Jewish character.

Either option promises endless bloodshed: Each community would want to dominate the other if they were forever entwined in the same state.

The one-state option becomes even more risky in the era of the Arab awakening; the spectre of permanent Israeli occupation will doom relations with her Arab neighbors. It will sour relations with much of the world and further isolate Israel.

Palestinians have been watching tens of thousands of their Arab brethren in Cairo, Tunis, and Syrian cities carry on nonviolent demonstrations and they are bound to do likewise, sooner rather than later. What will Israel do? Permanent occupation is simply not viable for Jerusalem in the long run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


Why the Eurozone Will Come Apart (Bill Watkins 09/18/2011, New Geography)

In Europe, the countries are just too diverse to create a long-lasting currency zone. Languages and cultures are very different across European countries.

A large currency zone works better in the United States. There are fewer differences between, say, New York and California than between, say, Greece and Germany.

Still, even in the United States, states would choose different monetary policies if they could. For instance, California today would prefer a more expansionary policy than would Texas. This is because the Texas economy is doing far better than is California's, and Texas has fewer fiscal challenges than California faces. An expansionary monetary policy would presumably stimulate California's economy, while simultaneously allowing the state to inflate away part of its debt.

This reflects the trilemma. Here's an abbreviation of how Mankiw described the trilemma in a 2010 New York Times op-ed:

"What is the trilemma in international finance? It stems from the fact that, in most nations, economic policy makers would like to achieve these three goals:

Make the country's economy open to international flows of capital.
Use monetary policy as a tool to help stabilize the economy.
Maintain stability in the currency exchange rate.

But here's the rub: You can't get all three. If you pick two of these goals, the inexorable logic of economics forces you to forgo the third."

As Mankiw goes on to say, the United States has chosen the first two options, while China has chosen the second and third, and Europe has chosen the first and third. Right now, Greece and many of the other peripheral countries would like the ability to use the second option.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


The once-broke 'Downton Abbey' writer who riles his Left-wing critics: Is Julian Fellowes, creator of 'Downton Abbey', really Britain's biggest snob? (William Langley, 18 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

Last week he was fingered as "the biggest snob in Britain", and with the second series of ITV's smash hit period drama arriving tonight, those critics of a certain persuasion - the ones Fellowes portrays as "socially insecure, Left-wing nitpickers" - are mustering for a new onslaught.

Downton tells of life at the fictional stately pile of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, but is heavily overlaid with the class attitudes of the Edwardian era. The look is lush and the dialogue clever, but it is Fellowes's sympathetic view of the aristocracy's treatment of the lower orders that has caused upset in the reliably liberal arts-and-media world.

"For all that Fellowes pays lip-service to the social revolution that will come with the Great War," sniffed the New Statesman, "his working-class characters say things like: 'Just because you're a lord, you think you can do what you like with me!' The script oozes nostalgic approval for the days when people not only knew the difference between an Earl and a Duke, but cared about it, too."

Fellowes makes no secret of either his big or small C conservatism. A lifelong Tory, he used to write speeches for Iain Duncan Smith, and earlier this year was elevated to the peerage by David Cameron. These achievements alone would make him something of a rarity in his profession, but it's the way that he trumpets his old-fashioned toffishness that really gets up his detractors' noses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 AM


Bank deposits soar despite rock-bottom interest rates (E. Scott Reckard, 9/17/11, Los Angeles Times)

Americans are pumping money into bank accounts at a blistering pace this year, sending deposits to record levels near $10 trillion on escalating fears that the U.S. economy is on the verge of another implosion.

There's no sign that the flood into checking, savings and money market accounts is slowing down. In the last three months, accounts at U.S. commercial banks have increased $429 billion, or 10%, almost double the increase for all of last year.

There's one big problem: Banks don't want your money.

"Banks and credit unions are doing everything they can to get rid of the cash except make loans," said Mike Moebs, a Lake Bluff, Ill., banking consultant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Obama to Propose Tougher Tax Regime for Wealthy (DAMIAN PALETTA and CAROL E. LEE, 9/18/11, WSJ)

The White House will likely try to use the plan, which aides call the "Buffett Rule" after billionaire Warren Buffett, to create a populist frame for the debate over deficit reduction that is likely to again consume Washington for the next few months. Democrats have pushed the White House in recent weeks to assert itself in the debt-ceiling talks in an effort to steal momentum away from Republicans.

The idea, which has been raised before by Democrats, is likely to be a non-starter with Republicans who had consistently opposed raising tax revenue as a way to tackle America's debt. The move is also evidence of how the work of the Congressional supercommittee, which is charged with devising a plan to cut the deficit, has become inextricably linked with the 2012 election season.

Few details about how such a plan would work could be learned, including whether there would be a new tax bracket at this elevated level. The White House is likely to urge congressional negotiators to use the concept as part of their talks, but isn't expected to go into great detail about how the new tax rule might work, people familiar with the plan said.

In other words, they've got nothin'.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Desmond FitzGerald (The Telegraph, 16 Sep 2011)

The Knight of Glin, also called the Black Knight, is one of three ancient Irish hereditary titles dating from the 13th and 14th centuries and recognised by Irish Republican governments. (FitzGerald's kinsman, Adrian FitzGerald, the 24th Knight of Kerry, is known as the Green Knight; Maurice FitzGibbon, who died in 1611, was the 12th and last White Knight.)

The Black Knights descend from a younger or illegitimate son of John FitzGerald, 1st Baron Desmond, grandson of Maurice FitzGerald, a companion-in-arms of Strongbow, the 12th century Norman conqueror of Ireland. Glin, an estate which once encompassed more than 30,000 acres, was granted to this branch of the FitzGerald family in the early 14th century by their overlord at the time, the FitzGerald Earl of Desmond.

Unlike their ill-fated overlords, the Knights of Glin survived both the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland and the Cromwellian and Jacobite wars, even though they were invariably on the losing side. In 1567 the then Knight of Glin, Thomas FitzGerald, was hanged, drawn and quartered and had much of his estate confiscated for his role in the Desmond Rebellion against Elizabeth I. Legend has it that his mother seized his severed head and drank his blood before gathering his body parts for burial. In the Jacobite wars of the 17th century another Knight was told that if he did not surrender, then his six-year-old son (who had been kidnapped and tied to a cannon) would be blown to bits. He replied that as he was virile and his wife was strong, it would be easy to produce another son.

Other colourful ancestors include "The Cracked Knight", who is said to have ridden his horse up the back stairs; "The Big Knight", who took solace in the whiskey bottle; and "The Knight of the Women", who was reputed to have fathered at least 15 illegitimate children, but was forgiven because he was a Gaelic scholar (and native speaker) revered by the local people.

But Desmond FitzGerald would refer to the "general improvidence" of his ancestors. For generations the Knights of Glin kept debt collectors at bay by setting a mob on to them, although the 21st Knight, Richard, spent time in a Dublin prison for unpaid monies. By the time the 24th Knight, Colonel John Bateman FitzGerald, inherited the castle in 1781, the debts could no longer be avoided. The original medieval castle of Glin was a ruin and the Knights had moved into a new "castle" -- in reality a long thatched house overlooking the River Shannon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Bahrain Boils Under the Lid of Repression (ANTHONY SHADID, 9/15/11, NY Times)

In the revolts that have roiled the Middle East this year, toppling or endangering a half-dozen leaders, Bahrain, an island kingdom once best known for its pearls and banks, has emerged as the cornerstone of a counterrevolution to stanch demands for democracy. While the turmoil elsewhere has proved unpredictable -- the ascent of Islamists in Egypt, the threat of civil war in Syria and the prospect of anarchy in Yemen -- Bahrain suggests that the alternative, a failed uprising cauterized by searing repression, may prove no less dangerous.

The crackdown here has won a tactical and perhaps ephemeral victory through torture, arrests, job dismissals and the blunt tool of already institutionalized discrimination against the island's Shiite Muslim majority. In its wake, sectarian tension has exploded, economic woes have deepened, American willingness to look the other way has cast Washington as hypocritical and a society that prides itself on its cosmopolitanism is colliding with its most primordial instincts. Taken together, the repression and warnings of radicalization may underline an emerging dictum of the Arab uprisings: violence begets violence.

"The situation is a tinderbox, and anything could ignite it at any moment," said Ali Salman, the general secretary of Al Wefaq, Bahrain's largest legal opposition group. "If we can't succeed in bringing democracy to this country, then our country is headed toward violence. Is it in a year or two years? I don't know. But that's the reality."

For decades, Bahrain's relative openness and entrenched inequality have made it one of the Arab world's most restive countries, as a Shiite majority numbering as much as 70 percent of the population seeks more rights from a Sunni monarchy that conquered the island in the 18th century. But February was a new chapter in the struggle, when the reverberations of Egypt and Tunisia reached Bahrain and, after bloody clashes, protesters seized a landmark known as Pearl Square, where they stayed for weeks.

The toll of the ensuing repression was grim: in a country of about 525,000 citizens, human rights groups say 34 people were killed, more than 1,400 people were arrested, as many as 3,600 people were fired from their jobs and four people died in custody after torture in what Human Rights Watch called "a systematic and comprehensive crackdown to punish and intimidate government critics and to end dissent root and branch."

There won't be stability until there's self-determination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Hills Alive With Sound of Huckleberries (RICHARD SANDOMIR, 9/16/11, NY Times)

Seventeen years ago, on a baseball field outside Vienna, Phil Rizzuto tried to wedge a batting helmet onto his head. "What you really need is a square one," Ralph Branca cracked from his seat in the dugout, a former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher incongruously wearing a Yankees uniform.

Nearby, Yogi Berra stood at home plate and lunged for a ceremonial first pitch. Then he went out and played second base.

At first base, Whitey Ford turned to a video camera and said: "Isn't life wonderful, folks? Austria on a Sunday afternoon. We're beating the Austrians, 10-4, and we're having a lot of fun." With "My Way" blasting from a loudspeaker, Ford turned to a camera to add, "And Frank Sinatra's singing!"

Watching Rizzuto, Ford and Berra -- in video never seen publicly -- on a diamond in Austria during a baseball season appears to make little sense. After all, Rizzuto still had a job then as a Yankees announcer.

But this was mid-September 1994. Major leaguers had been on strike for more than a month and the World Series was about to be canceled.

And thousands of miles away, in Austria, some aging Yankees players and some other retired major leaguers were in Yankees road grays in the village of Stockerau to play an exhibition game against an Austrian team in a country far better known for skiing than baseball.

Branca was there. So were Bill White, the former St. Louis Cardinals player and National League president, as well as a former broadcast partner of Rizzuto's; Joe Pignatano, the former Mets coach; Ron LeFlore, the former Detroit Tigers player; and Enos Slaughter, a Cardinals Hall of Famer.

Berra in a Yankees uniform was a rare sight at the time. He had exiled himself from Yankee Stadium after he was dismissed as the team's manager by George Steinbrenner early in the 1985 season.

The game that day was a baseball version of the film "Cocoon." White said, "Our average age was 60."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Dead Tropical Plants Induce Massive Carbon Release from Soil: Study (International Business Times, August 15, 2011)

Tropical plants, long considered a major counterforce to human-induced increase in global carbon dioxide, may not yield such a big net reduction effect after all.

Tropical plants (and plants in general) absorb carbon dioxide and water to produce sugar and oxygen. But a new study from the University of Cambridge asserts that dead tropical plant materials also trigger the release of massive amounts of carbon from soil.

September 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


US links militant group to Pakistan government (ABC Wires, September 18, 2011)

The US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, claims there are links between the Pakistani government and high-profile terrorist group the Haqqani network.

In blunt comments broadcast by state-run Radio Pakistan, Mr Munter said: "Let me tell you that the attack that took place in Kabul a few days ago that was the work of the Haqqani network," he said, referring to a deadly miltant attack in on Tuesday.

"There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop."

The drones need to target offices, not tents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Egghead and Blockheads (MAUREEN DOWD, 9/17/11, NY Times)

Having grown up with a crush on William F. Buckley Jr. for his sesquipedalian facility, it's hard for me to watch the right wing of the G.O.P. revel in anti-intellectualism and anti-science cant.

I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University. -William F. Buckley, Jr.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Why Obama should withdraw Steve Chapman, September 18, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

The vultures are starting to circle. Former White House spokesman Bill Burton said that unless Obama can rally the Democratic base, which is disillusioned with him, "it's going to be impossible for the president to win." Democratic consultant James Carville had one word of advice for Obama: "Panic."

But there is good news for the president. I checked the Constitution, and he is under no compulsion to run for re-election. He can scrap the campaign, bag the fundraising calls and never watch another Republican debate as long as he's willing to vacate the premises by Jan. 20, 2013.

That might be the sensible thing to do. It's hard for a president to win a second term when unemployment is painfully high. If the economy were in full rebound mode, Obama might win anyway. But it isn't, and it may fall into a second recession -- in which case voters will decide his middle name is Hoover, not Hussein. Why not leave of his own volition instead of waiting to get the ax?

It's not as though there is much enticement to stick around. Presidents who win re-election have generally found, wrote John Fortier and Norman Ornstein in their 2007 book, "Second-Term Blues," that "their second terms did not measure up to their first."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


President Obama, to Ron Suskind: 'I was very comfortable with a technocratic approach to government ... Carter, Clinton and I all have sort of the disease of being policy wonks (Mike Allen, 9/16/11, Politico)

"Enough was enough, [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel decided. ... He summoned the two competing super-egos, [economic adviser Larry] Summers and [budget director Peter] Orszag, and told them to make peace. After all, they were each responsible for huge swaths of the federal government. And they were fighting at every turn. After a bit of delicate negotiations, it was decided that they'd meet once a week for dinner and see how it worked. So, that night, Orszag settled into a white-clothed table at the Bombay Club, a posh Indian restaurant across Lafayette Park, a favorite of lobbyists and White House officials.

"Summers walked in, slightly late, but not impolitely so, and met Orszag at the table. And then it was the two of them. Orszag hoped that this time the White House would be less fraught with strife than the last go-round during the 1990s. Summers said it kind of came with the territory. This talk of their shared history seemed to thaw things out. They both grabbed for the plate of flatbreads ... and tore corners at the discus-sized breads. 'You know, Peter, we're really home alone.' Over the past few months, Summers had said this, in a stage whisper, to Orszag and others as they left the morning economic briefings in the Oval Office. ... 'I mean it,' Summers stressed. 'We're home alone. There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.'"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


Poll: Obama's Favorability Rating Upside-Down for First Time (Steven Shepard, September 16, 2011, National Journal)

For the first time, more Americans have an unfavorable opinion of President Obama than have a favorable opinion of him, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll released late Friday, an indication that dissatisfaction with the president's job performance and the direction of the country is dragging down how Americans view Obama personally.

Just 39 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 42 percent view him unfavorably

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Why Israel Should Vote for Palestinian Independence: A Cautious Case for Supporting the UN Bid (Isaac Herzog, September 16, 2011, Foreign Affairs)

[R]ather than oppose the resolution, Israel should seize the initiative and use it to its advantage by agreeing to support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN. Voting for Palestinian statehood may finally open the door for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, strengthen the possibility of a two-state solution, and greatly improve Israel's position in the region and in the international community.

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has all but disintegrated over the past two years. The cooperative spirit of the Oslo process during the 1990s and the two rounds of serious permanent status negotiations over the last decade gave way to mutual distrust and blame.

This stalemate has proven dangerous to Israel. It has energized radicals on both sides of the conflict, fueled anti-Israel sentiment, harmed Israel's international status, and jeopardized Israel's alliances. But rather than attempt to break the deadlock and rescue Israel from these debilitating circumstances, Israel's current leadership has resisted taking the lead. Last September, for example, Netanyahu refused U.S. President Barack Obama's request that Israel extend its ten-month settlement freeze for an additional 60 to 90 days, harming Israel's relations with its most important ally and painting the country as an obstacle to peace. Should Israel continue down this road, it may risk having a final settlement imposed on it by the international community.

To reverse course and revive the peace process, Israel should support Palestinian aspirations at the UN -- but only in exchange for several preconditions to be agreed on with the Palestinians, who bear equal responsibility for moving negotiations forward. Israel should announce its support for the UN resolution on the condition that the Palestinians agree to return to the table as soon as possible and without preconditions, fully backed and supported by the international community, and to determine the final settlement through bilateral negotiations. The UN resolution must reflect this aspiration and include Israel's perspective as well. In addition, the two parties must agree to a framework for an interim process that will allow for negotiations based on Israel's recognition of a Palestinian state. This formula will defuse tensions and may prevent wide-scale violence from erupting.

As part of these understandings, Israel should affirm the parameters that former U.S. President Bill Clinton set in 2000 and which President Barack Obama further developed in May 2011: a two-state solution that realizes both the right to self-determination for both Jews and Palestinians, ends all historic claims, and establishes a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps and security arrangements that meet Israel's vital security needs. This will allow Israel to annex major settlement blocs and Jewish holy places -- areas that most Israelis agree should remain part of their country.

To begin the interim negotiating process, Israel should take several meaningful steps, such as transferring additional security responsibility in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, freezing settlement construction on the other side of the security fence, offering compensation to Israeli settlers who wish to move back to Israel proper, and releasing prisoners of Fatah held in Israeli jails. The Palestinians, meanwhile, must agree to continue security cooperation in the West Bank, refrain from launching an international legal campaign against Israel, and avoid a power-sharing arrangement with Hamas. Questions regarding the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees should be determined once both sides have taken these interim steps and begun negotiating borders and security.

Israel should back a Palestinian state (Philip Stephens, 9/15/11, Financial Times)
[T]he Palestinians' carefully-crafted case for statehood asks for essentially what has been long promised by the international community and, incidentally, by past Israeli governments: a two-state solution based around 1967 borders and a shared capital in Jerusalem. Unless I am mistaken, this is the long-held stance of the Quartet, as well as of the European Union and of Mr Obama's administration.

Israel, of course, has fundamental concerns - notably about security and about the status of Palestinian refugees. Any declaration of Palestine statehood must be framed in the context of absolute guarantees of Israel's future. The irony is that such legitimate worries are lost to the anger and frustration generated by Mr Netanyahu's intransigence.

For all its prime minister's bombast, Israel has rarely looked so beleaguered. Mr Netanyahu's premiership has drained Israel of what the American scholar Joseph Nye has called "soft power". Israel has lost its capacity to carry its argument by persuasion and example. Its prime minister has seemed to relish his isolation.

The Arab uprisings have toppled important pillars of Israel's strategic security. As last weekend's violent attacks on its embassy in Cairo attested, Israel can no longer depend on Egypt. The turmoil in Syria threatens instability to the north. just as Hamas in Gaza stirs violence in the south.

Mr Netanyahu, of course, has no control over upheavals in the Arab world, but this is surely not the time to make enemies of friends. In Europe, he has broken the patience even of Germany's Angela Merkel. William Hague, a lifelong friend of Israel and Britain's foreign secretary, does little to hide his exasperation. Mr Netanyahu's relationship with Mr Obama runs along a spectrum from sour to abysmal.

This week's visit to Cairo of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Mr Netanyahu's reckless disregard of old alliances.

Spring arrives everywhere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


Easy-Bake's lightbulb moment (Erika Niedowski, 9/15/11, Associated Press

This is not the Easy-Bake Oven you remember.

The latest version of the famous toy oven first marketed in 1963 with a carrying handle and a fake stove top is now all curves and purple and snazzy graphics. And - perhaps most shocking of all - it comes with a new instruction: No lightbulb necessary.

Chalk it up as an unintended consequence of the federal government's move to phase out the incandescent lightbulb. The compact fluorescents that are becoming the new standard for household use are so energy efficient that they're useless for baking a brownie - or any of the other miniature treats the Easy-Bake has been cooking up for nearly 50 years.

Initially, news of the death of the 100-watt bulb prompted rumors that the Easy-Bake might meet the same fate. Instead, the toy got its 11th redesign, at the heart of which is a new heating element much like that of a traditional oven. [...]

Hasbro says the product, voluntarily recalled in 2007 because of reports of burns, meets all safety regulations. Nearly a million ovens were recalled after reports of children getting their fingers or hands stuck in its opening and suffering sometimes serious burns; a 5-year-old girl was injured so badly that she had to have part of a finger amputated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Suskind On Chicago and Obama (Timothy Noah, September 16, 2011, New Republic)

[I]n September 2008, as polls were starting to show that Obama was the likely winner, a meeting was called with three former Clinton chiefs of staff: John Podesta (who would later be Obama's transition chief), Leon Panetta (now defense secretary) and Erskine Bowles (later co-chairman, with former Sen. Alan Simpson, R.-Wy., of Obama's deficit commission). Obama was there, along with a trio of Chicagoans--Valerie Jarrett (now senior White House adviser), David Axelrod (until recently a White House senior adviser, now dispatched to prepare the 2012 campaign), and Daley, who was then an executive at JP Morgan Chase. Also present was Pete Rouse, a non-Chicagoan but an Obama insider who served as his Senate chief of staff; Rouse would subsequently serve temporarily as White House chief of staff after the departure of Rahm Emanuel (another Chicagoan, not present at the meeting).

Obama asked the former top Clinton aides for advice about what to do if he became president. Bowles immediately answered: "Leave your friends at home. They just create problems when you get to Washington." The other two former chiefs of staff nodded in agreement. Axelrod and Jarrett, Suskind writes, "looked on, dumbfounded." Suskind doesn't describe what reaction, if any, Daley had to this declaration.

According to Suskind, after Panetta and Bowles talked awhile about the qualities Obama would need in a chief of staff, Obama cut them off and said, "Sounds like you're talking about Rouse" (who before working for Obama was chief of staff to Sen. Tom Daschle, D.-South Dakota and Senate Democratic leader, defeated in 2004). Rouse begged off for personal reasons. The group then proceeded to discuss other names for chief of staff. According to Suskind, Emanuel's name never came up.

The point of the story is that Obama did not follow the former Clinton chiefs' advice. surround himself with competent peers. Consider the contrast to W, who hired former chiefs of staff and governors to fill out his team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Slang-Free Zones: Why Jihadists and Nazis don't use slang (Jonathon Green, September 15, 2011, Dabbler)

The true believer cannot loosen his grasp on language any more than he can on those who speak it. The aim of his speech is language as handcuffs. What seems leaden is presumably inspiring, since to the ideological mind, to borrow from Orwell, 'freedom is slavery'. It is unlikely that the jihadi camps teach their idealistic young volunteers any new words. They have a theological script, and like all such scripts, that is self-sufficient. But it has no place for humour, for deviation, and certainly not for slang.

Yet given slang's role as a counter-language, its hardwired antagonism towards the established order, one might have proposed it as a useful lexis for the revolution. No, not at all; or not if an old boss, as it were, has invariably to be replaced by his new version. Because slang does not like uniforms, nor mantras of belief. It resolutely refuses to take sides, and pops off at every target; far too creative of what the euphemism of our modern imperium has long been calling 'collateral damage'. It comes from the street, and for the believer the street must, no matter what the ideology, do what it is told. Slang is unimpressed. The first word slang learnt was 'no'; the first emotion it felt was doubt. Slang does not do respect nor obedience; and very definitely, slang does not do submission.

Making it no coincidence that the universalization of English has corresponded with the toppling of all the isms. Each new medium just extends the message further.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


A national epidemic that hurts the young (Luke Johnson, 9/13/11, Financial Times)

I wonder if Italy is suffering aspects of the same disease that afflicts Japan. Both have staged extraordinary recoveries from the devastation of the second world war, but have stagnated for the past decade - or more. Each suffers from disastrously low fertility rates, negligible economic expansion, huge public debts, incestuous ties between politicians and industry, and each is dominated by cadres of elderly men, content to manage decline. Yet both Japan and Italy are manufacturing and export powerhouses, inventive places that have formed many of the best-known brands in the world. Why are they not growing?

Neither country has renewed itself because vested interests have failed to take the tough decisions. Their traditional cultures have not caught up with modern lifestyles. The male bureaucrats, policymakers and bankers who run all the important institutions must be forced to take radical steps to unleash the energy and imagination of their young, because in both countries they are very pessimistic. Many cannot obtain the job security and standards of living their parents took for granted. Traditional employees enjoy cast-iron protections, so companies are reluctant to create such positions. So, only temporary or part-time work is available for most newcomers to the workplace. Consequently, young Japanese and Italians pursue increasingly cautious lifestyles. Nearly 80 per cent of unmarried Japanese between the ages of 18 and 35 live with their parents. The ratio is nearly as high in Italy.

Such unadventurous living means people do not grow up, and do not take risks - such as having children or starting a business. Meanwhile, their parents bask in comfortable retirement, busy consuming their considerable savings.

Looked at objectively, the manner in which we "helped" the vanquished after WWII appears far more punitive than Versailles.

September 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 PM


Friday Night Lights: The oil-patch town of Odessa, Texas, lives for one thing: the start of the high school football season (H.G. Bissinger, 9/17/1990, Sports Illustrated)

The faithful sat on little stools of orange and blue under the merciless lights of the high school cafeteria, but the spartan setting didn't bother them a bit. Had the booster club's Watermelon Feed been held inside the county jail, or on a sinking ship, or on the side of a craggy mountain, these fans still would have flocked there.

Outside, the August night was cool and serene, with just a wisp of West Texas wind. Inside, there was a sense of excitement and also relief, for the waiting was basically over--no more sighs of longing, no more awkward groping to fill up the empty spaces of time with golf games and thoroughly unsatisfying talk about baseball. Tonight the boys of Permian High School in Odessa would come before the crowd, one by one, to be introduced. And in less than two weeks, on the first Friday night in September, the march to state--to the Texas high school championship finals--would begin with the first game of the season.

By the time the Watermelon Feed began, there were about 800 people crammed into the cafeteria. They had come dressed up for the event, not in black tie or anything outlandish like that, but in Permian Panther black--black caps, black shirts, black pants, black jackets. They cheered for Ivory Christian, the hulking middle linebacker who preached on Sundays. They cheered for Brian Chavez, the tight end who was as good in the classroom as he was on the field. They cheered for Mike Winchell, the painfully shy quarterback who hated crowds.

And they cheered for Boobie.

Of all the players on the 1988 team, he was the one most destined to be a star. Fullback James (Boobie) Miles ran with flair, and at six feet and 200 pounds, he looked imposing in a football uniform. But it was something extra that made him a blue-chip college prospect, a kind of inextinguishable fire that burned within him, a feeling that no one on the field, no one, was as good as he was.

A person like me can't be stopped. If I put it in my mind, they can't stop me...ain't gonna stop me.

See if I can get a first down. Keep pumping my legs up, spin out of it, go for a touchdown, go as far as I can.

That was how it was when Boobie got the ball and tucked it under his arm. It was a magical feeling. And it was made all the more magical by the setting in which Permian played, that gorgeous stadium that had cost $5.6 million, with its artificial-surface field and its two-story press box, and its stands full of people who didn't just love high school football but had become irrevocably tied to it.

As local real estate agent and loyal Permian booster Bob Rutherford put it, echoing the sentiments of thousands: "Life really wouldn't be worth livin' if you didn't have a high school football team to support."

For 65 years, since the discovery of oil in West Texas, Odessa had been caught up in the unstable cycle of boom and bust. It had become a town of transients, a place to go to make money when the boom was on and then to leave as quickly as possible when the bust inevitably set in. There wasn't much else to entice a person to stay.

Situated 350 miles west of Dallas, Odessa was--even to those who lived in it--unusually ugly: surrounded by stubby patches of mesquite, with a constant wind and choking dust storms that, at their worst, could turn the place dark in the middle of the day.

Larry McMurtry, in his novel Texasville, called Odessa the "worst town on earth." Molly Ivins, a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, called the place an armpit, which, as the Odessa American cheerfully noted, was a step above the usual comparison to a rectum. The magazine Psychology Today, in a 1988 ranking of 286 U.S. cities according to stress levels, rated Odessa the seventh-worst in the country.

But from the 1920s through the '80s, whatever Odessa had lacked, it had always had high school football. "I think it's Odessa's ticket to success," said H. Warren Gardner, vice-president of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, in Odessa. "[Residents] can go anywhere in the state and brag about it. They get kicked around on the social fabric. They get kicked around on the terrain--it is flat and has no trees. But they sure play great football."

In 1927, as story after story in the Odessa News heralded new strikes in the oil fields, the only non-oil-related activity that regularly made the front page was the exploits of the Odessa High Yellowjackets. In 1946, when the population of Ector County was about 30,000, Fly Field in Odessa was routinely crammed with 13,500 fans, many of whom saw nothing odd about waiting in line all night to get tickets to a football game.

In the '60s and '70s and '80s, after the tradition of great high school football was transferred from Odessa High to Permian, people didn't just wait all night for tickets; sometimes they waited two days. Among the devoted was Ken Scates, who in 1983 refused painkillers after heart surgery in Houston so he could stay awake to receive regular phone updates on the score of Permian's game with archrival Midland Lee. Then there was Carl Garlington, who spent hours poring over microfilm of old newspapers at the Odessa public library to prepare a book that contained individual and team statistics for each game that Permian had played since it opened in 1959. And there was Beverli Everett, who in her 1983 divorce settlement with her ex-husband, Eddie Echols, had it spelled out that she would get two Permian season tickets and he would get two. And there was retired grocery store executive Jim Lewallen, who said that Permian football "is just something that keeps me goin'. It helps you survive all this sand, the wind, the heat. I wouldn't live any other place."

Such devotion helped create one of the most successful sports dynasties in America. From 1965 to 1987, the Permian Panthers won four state championships, went to the state finals a record eight times and made the Texas high school playoffs 15 times. Over that time span their worst season record was 7-2.

Expectations were high every year, and in 1988 they were, if possible, even higher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


Netanyahu's Partners, Democracy's Enemies (CARLO STRENGER, 9/16/11, NY Times)

ISRAEL is at a fascinating, and frightening, crossroads. In the last two years the Knesset has proposed and passed laws that seriously endanger Israel's identity as a liberal democracy.

It began with a law forbidding public commemoration of the Palestinian refugee crisis of 1948, known as the Nakba; it continued with the demand for all new Israeli citizens to swear a loyalty oath to a Jewish and democratic country, and recently culminated in a bill outlawing calls to boycott any Israeli group or product -- including those from the occupied territories. [...]

His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has a very different worldview. Mr. Lieberman's open disdain for European leaders and diplomats is not a failure of diplomacy; he is a shrewd man, who first and foremost seeks to cultivate an image of a strong leader for his right-wing constituency. He believes that the West's hegemony has come to an end, and that the future lies with autocratic governments like those ruling Russia and China. Hence he believes that Israel has no reason to pander to the West's values.

To him, liberal democracy represents weakness and he contends that Israel should evolve into a stronger state with less individual freedom. At the same time, he is completely secular: his constituency is primarily of Russian origin, and many of its members are not accepted as Jewish by Israel's Orthodox rabbinical establishment.

The national-religious parties in the governing coalition, meanwhile, are based on the belief that the Jewish people have a God-given right to what they call the Greater Land of Israel. In the long run, they want Israel to be a theocracy based on biblical law. Their participation in the democratic game is based on the prediction that Israel's demography will inevitably lead to an Orthodox Jewish majority, and that they simply need to make sure that Israel doesn't give up the West Bank before they rule the country.

The ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and Yahadut Hatorah, also want Israel to become a theocracy in the long run. Until a decade ago, they did not necessarily claim that Israel should hold on to the occupied territories, but they realized that their electorate is right-leaning, and they need space for the rapidly expanding families of their constituency. They see liberal elites as their primary enemies.

The paradox, of course, is that Mr. Lieberman and the religious parties are on opposing ends of the spectrum in other ways. Mr. Lieberman wants a secular state; the religious parties want a theocracy. What unites them is that, for completely different reasons, they have no investment in the values of liberal democracy, which are one of the major stumbling blocks for Israel's annexation of the West Bank. As Israeli liberals have repeated ad nauseam, such annexation will either lead to a binational state without a Jewish majority, or to an apartheid regime.

The coalition partners have found a modus vivendi primarily by uniting in their hatred for the institutions that uphold liberal democratic values: Israel's Supreme Court, its largely liberal academic community and its human rights organizations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Jon Stewart and the Burden of History: He's not so funny anymore, and it's not only because he's come to take himself seriously. It's because in the Obama era, we're starting to see the price of refusing to stand for anything. (Tom Junod, 9/15/11, Esquire)

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to have as our guest Jon Stewart. We all know Jon -- he's the comedian and media critic who for the last ten years has pretty much decided who's a dick and who's a douchebag in our politics and in our culture, all without ever himself coming across as a dick or a d --

Wait a second (hand to imaginary earpiece) -- excuse me, folks. What's that? What about the Chris Wallace interview?

Well, what about it? Okay, so a few months ago, Stewart went to Fox News and gave an interview to the Fredo of the twenty-four-hour news cycle, Chris Wallace. Of course he did. That's why we love him -- that's why he's been able to transform himself from late-night comedian to liberal conscience. He does what nobody else does. He goes into the lion's den and does that thing -- that Jon Stewart truth-to-power thing. He manages to be the voice of reason while still being funny, manages to be sharply critical while still being affable, manages to be...

Wait. He wasn't funny? He wasn't affable? He kind of spoke power to truth when Wallace dared to point out that Stewart seems to crave political influence? He sort of pulled rank on Wallace, and was smug and condescending without bothering to be funny at all? He even started saying, "Are you suggesting that you and I are the same?..." in the same tone he would have used if Wallace had gotten a little schmutz on Stewart's shirt?

O-kay. Well, Stewart had his reasons, I'm sure. After all, he's really not the same as Wallace, is he? I mean, Stewart's the coolest guy in the room, any room, by definition, while Chris Wallace wouldn't look cool next to the guys in hats riding little cars at a Shriner's Convention. He's the very embodiment of the self-important yet dim-witted -- or is that dim-witted yet self-important? -- media creature whom Stewart has made a living schooling over the last tumultuous decade. So if Jon Stewart can't be smug and contemptuous and superior with Chris Wallace, who can he be smug and contemptuous and superior with? It's not like he came right out and said he's better than Chris Wallace...

Oh. Wait. He sorta did? He said, "What I do is much harder than what you do"? But just last year didn't he tell Rachel Maddow that what he did was less honorable than what she did? Ah, well, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little talk-show hosts. It's not like he started comparing himself to, like, Mark Twain or someone like that...

No! He did that too? He actually asked Wallace, "What am I at my highest aspiration? Who am I? Am I Edward R. Murrow or Mark Twain?" And then he told Wallace: "I've existed in this country forever. There have been people like me who have satirized the political process... I've existed forever. The box that I exist in has always been around."

Come on! He did not say that! He's Jon Stewart, for God's sake. And Jon Stewart did not go on Fox News Sunday and say that He Is Music, and He Writes the Songs...

...they're both serious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


Obama Is 20 Days Away from Beating Bush's Scandal-Free Record (Elspeth Reeve, 9/16/11, Atlantic)

Mark it on your calendars: if President Obama has just 20 days to go -- October 6! -- in order to claim the record as the most scandal-free president since 1977. The prior record holder is also his predecessor: George W. Bush, who in the appraisal of Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan, hit the first scandal of his presidency on October 5, 2003, with the Valerie Plame affair. Nyhan's study this past May predicted that Obama was due for a scandal any day and the Solyndra loan matter may just be the issue that attaches the first S-word to Obama. how cleanly we govern ourselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM

Sigur Rós: Festival from Sigur Rós on Vimeo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


A dose of reality for the HPV debate (Michael Gerson, September 15, 2011, Washington Post)

If Republican presidential candidates want to debate sexual health and hygiene, it would be nice if they displayed more collective knowledge and judgment than your average eighth-grade family-life class. During the Tampa debate, a viewer longed for a blunt, part-time football coach -- or whomever they draft into teaching health classes nowadays -- to mount the stage and present the facts of life.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a nasty, sexually transmitted disease contracted by about three-quarters of Americans at some point. You can have it, and spread it, without knowing it. In some women, the virus causes abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that can develop into cancerous lesions. Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. There is, however, a vaccine that is highly effective against the most dangerous HPV strains. The main side effect, as you'd expect in a procedure involving a needle, is fainting. The Cen­ters for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all girls should get it anyway.

Here's the simple reality: if HPV gave guys erectile dysfunction the vaccine would be universal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM

First Listen: Wild Flag, 'Wild Flag' (Rachel Smith, 8/28/11, NPR)

When they're not singing out loud, Brownstein and Timony's guitars speak volumes: They're two of the most wonderfully lyrical players out there. Add Weiss' exuberant beats, Cole's keyboard flourishes, and some killer multi-part vocal harmonizing by all four, and you've got a supergroup superball sound that bounces between Television, Wire, and The Go-Gos but always lands in a place very much their own.

The album is a no-frills affair, recorded live (except for the vocals) in The Hangar, a cavernous Sacramento recording studio that occasionally doubles as a skate park. It sounds live, as hard to imagine as that is: a real live record with a beating heart, a record that needs you as much as you need it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills (Alexis Madrigal, Sep 14 2011, The Atlantic)

They died in their sleep one by one, thousands of miles from home. Their median age was 33. All but one -- 116 of the 117 -- were healthy men. Immigrants from southeast Asia, you could count the time most had spent on American soil in just months. At the peak of the deaths in the early 1980s, the death rate from this mysterious problem among the Hmong ethnic group was equivalent to the top five natural causes of death for other American men in their age group.

Something was killing Hmong men in their sleep, and no one could figure out what it was. There was no obvious cause of death. None of them had been sick, physically. The men weren't clustered all that tightly, geographically speaking. They were united by dislocation from Laos and a shared culture, but little else. Even House would have been stumped.

Doctors gave the problem a name, the kind that reeks of defeat, a dragon label on the edge of the known medical world: Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome. SUNDS. It didn't do much in terms of diagnosis or treatment, but it was easier to track the periodic conferences dedicated to understanding the problem.

Twenty-five years later, Shelley Adler's new book pieces together what happened, drawing on interviews with the Hmong population and analyzing the extant scientific literature. Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind Body Connection is a mind-bending exploration of how what you believe interacts with how your body works. [...]

Drawing on all this evidence, Adler makes the provocative claim that the Laotian immigrants of the 1980s were in some sense killed by their powerful cultural belief in night spirits. It was not a simple process.

"It is my contention that in the context of severe and ongoing stress related to cultural disruption and national resettlement (exacerbated by intense feelings of powerlessness about existence in the United States), and from the perspective of a belief system in which evil spirits have the power to kill men who do not fulfill their religious obligations," Adler writes, "the solitary Hmong man confronted by the numinous terror of the night-mare (and aware of its murderous intent) can die of SUNDS."

Her argument amounts to a stirring and chilling case for the power of the nocebo, the flipside to the placebo effect. While placebo studies have grown in importance, the nocebo effect has not been studied well in scientific literature, in part because of the ethical issues involved in deliberately doing something that might harm people. Limited studies suggest that it is real and it is powerful. For example, doctors have found that patients made to feel anxious need larger amounts of opiates after surgery than other people. They've found that pretending to expose people who say they are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation to cell phone signals can give them debilitating headaches. Even patients' level of side effects from arthritis medication seem determined by those patients' beliefs about those medicines. Logically speaking, if the evidence shows the upside of belief, why wouldn't we believe in the downside, too? And why wouldn't we believe that the intensity of the downside would vary with the intensity of the belief, even if those beliefs were about something unscientific, like spirits or astrology?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


China' s GDP On Par With 1949 Levels (Epoch Times, Sep 15, 2011)

China's economy may have grown to become the world's second-largest, but its share of global gross domestic product has only reached a level comparable to when the Communists first came to power in 1949, a prominent Chinese economist has said.

China's GDP accounts for but 5 to 6 percent of the world's economic activity, which is a level China last reached six decades ago, notes Hu Xingdou, professor of economics at Beijing Institute of Technology.

According to a recent Radio France International report, China's aggregate economy amounts to US$4.5 trillion, while the United States' is triple that at US$14 trillion; America's per capita income swamps China's by 14 times.

Just in time for them to start their decline into oblivion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Democracy and the Bush Doctrine (Charles R. Kesler, Winter 2004, Claremont Review of Books)

George W. Bush's first presidency, devoted to compassionate conservatism and to establishing his own bona fides, lasted less than eight months. On September 11, 2001, he was reborn as a War President. In the upheaval that followed, compassionate conservatism took a back seat to a new, more urgent formulation of the Bush Administration's purpose.

The Bush Doctrine called for offensive operations, including preemptive war, against terrorists and their abetters--more specifically, against the regimes that had sponsored, encouraged, or merely tolerated any "terrorist group of global reach." Afghanistan, the headquarters of al-Qaeda and its patron the Taliban, was the new doctrine's first beneficiary, although the president soon declared Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (to be precise, "states like these, and their terrorist allies") an "axis of evil" meriting future attention. In his stirring words, the United States would "not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most dangerous weapons."

The administration's preference for offensive operations reflected a long-standing conservative interest in taking the ideological and military fight to our foes. After all, the Reagan Doctrine had not only indicted Soviet Communism as an evil empire but had endeavored to subvert its hold on the satellite countries and, eventually, on its own people. The Bush Administration's focus on the states backing the terrorists implied that "regime change" would be necessary, once again, in order to secure America against its enemies. The policy did not contemplate merely the offending regimes' destruction, however. As in the 1980s, regime change implied their replacement by something better, and the Bush Doctrine soon expanded to accommodate the goal of planting freedom and democracy in their stead.

Captive Nations

On this point, the bush doctrine parted company with the Reagan Doctrine. Although the Reagan Administration's CIA and other agencies had worked to build civil society and to support democratic opposition groups in Eastern Europe, Central America, and other strategic regions, these efforts were directed mostly to helping "captive nations" escape their captivity. That is, they presupposed a latent opposition against foreign, usually Soviet, oppression, or as in the satellite and would-be satellite countries, against domestic oppressors supported by the Soviets. The Russian people themselves counted as a kind of captive nation enslaved to Marxism's foreign ideology, and Reagan did not flinch from calling for their liberation, too. He always rejected a philosophical détente between democracy and totalitarianism in favor of conducting a vigorous moral and intellectual offensive against Communist principles.

But as a practical matter, the Reagan Doctrine aimed primarily at supporting labor unions, churches, and freedom fighters at the Soviet empire's periphery--e.g., Poland, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Grenada--rather than at its core. Even in these cases, the Administration regarded its chief duty to be helping to liberate the captive nations, that is, expelling the Soviets and defeating their proxies, rather than presiding over a proper democratization of the liberated peoples. Not unreasonably, the Reaganites thought that to those freed from totalitarian oppression, America's example would be shining enough, especially when joined to their visceral, continuing hatred for the Soviet alternative.

In countries where bad or tyrannical regimes were homegrown or unconnected with America's great totalitarian enemy, the administration's efforts in support of democratization were quieter and more limited still. These involved diplomatic pressure, election-monitoring, and occasional gestures of overt support, such as the administration's endorsement of "people power" in the Philippines. Most importantly, Reagan wanted to avoid the Carter Administration's hubris in condemning the imperfect regimes of America's friends, while neglecting the incomparably worse sins of America's foes.

The distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, classically restated by Jeane Kirkpatrick in her article that caught Reagan's eye, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," provided intellectual support for his administration's policies. Authoritarian regimes, like Iran's Shah or Nicaragua's Somoza, though unsavory, were less oppressive than totalitarian ones, Kirkpatrick argued. What's more, countries with homegrown monarchs, dictators, or generalissimos were far more likely to moderate and perhaps even democratize themselves than were societies crushed by totalitarian governments. And it was this potential of non-democratic but also non-totalitarian states to change their regimes for the better, in their own good time, that helped to justify America's benign neglect of or, at most, episodic concern with their domestic politics. Once freed from the totalitarian threat, countries like Nicaragua or Afghanistan could more or less be trusted to their own devices.

The wave of democratization that occurred in the 1980s, especially in Asia and South America, seemed to confirm the wisdom of the administration's approach. Even when America was called to play a role, as it was in the Philippines, our intervention was short and sweet, confined mainly to persuading Ferdinand Marcos to leave office.

By comparison, the Bush Doctrine puts the democratization of once totalitarian, quondam authoritarian, and persistently tribal societies at the center of its objectives. The case of Afghanistan shows, to be sure, that the Reagan Doctrine had its drawbacks. Left to itself, Afghanistan after the Soviets' withdrawal did not resume its former ways, at least not for long, and certainly did not evolve into a democracy. Instead, it succumbed to the Taliban's peculiar Islamic totalitarianism. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration's policy is not merely to expunge the totalitarians there and in Iraq, but to ensure that they never return by reconstructing their societies along democratic lines. Authoritarianism (at least in the Middle East) is no longer acceptable. The U.S. now proposes to liberate these nations from the captivity of their own unhappy traditions.

So far as it goes, that policy, or some version of it, might be justified by the circumstances and stakes of U.S. involvement, even as the American refoundings of Germany and Japan after the Second World War were justified on prudential grounds. Occasionally, the Bush Administration makes this kind of argument. (The analogies are not exact, of course--about which more anon.) But usually this claim is mixed up with a very different one that is more characteristic of the Bush Doctrine as such: America's supposed duty, as the result of our respect for human rights, to help the Iraqis and others realize their democratic entitlement and destiny.

...the most significant is that Ronald Reagan, for all his intuitive grasp that communism was both evil and weak, was largely driven by a genuine fear of apocalypse. Without a personal millenarian terror of the world ending in nuclear conflagration, he may well have not forced the issue with the Soviet Union. W was driven much more by his own views on universal human desire for freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


The United States and India: A Shared Strategic Future: A CFR-Aspen Institute India Joint Study Group Report (CFR, 9/15/11)

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Aspen Institute India (Aii) have cosponsored a U.S.-India Joint Study Group to identify the shared national interests that motivate the United States and India. The group is releasing its conclusions from meetings held in New Delhi, and Washington, DC. It recommends

The United States express strong support for India's peaceful rise as a crucial component of Asian security and stability.
The United States and India endorse a residual U.S. military presence over the long term in Afghanistan beyond 2014, if such a presence is acceptable to the government of Afghanistan.
The two countries resume regular meetings among the so-called Quad states (the United States, India, Japan, and Australia), and should periodically invite participation from other like-minded Asian nations such as South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Representatives of the Quad states have not met since 2007.

...because they're ten years beyond W and can't forthrightly state that we share common enemies in Pakistan and China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


A Free-for-All on a Decade of War: From the Times Magazine, a post-9/11 debate on what has been learned and where our conclusions might take us. (SCOTT MALCOMSON, September 7, 2011, NY Times\)

The American reaction to being attacked on Sept. 11 was in many ways an intellectual one. President George W. Bush tended to frame it that way: the attack was on our "values," and the "war against terror" was a war of ideas meant to advance the idea of freedom. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was the administration's epistemologist, worrying over the question of knowability; Bernard Lewis was its historian, Paul Wolfowitz its moralist in arms. That America's actions (as opposed to precautions) after 9/11 almost all took place far from home, with a professional army, strengthened this sense of abstraction. The possibility of anything like victory over our enemies was discounted early on (by Rumsfeld). Little wonder that, unlike in earlier wars, we have talked so much about what this conflict means, rather than simply working to end it as soon as possible.

This magazine participated from the beginning in debates on the meaning of 9/11 and its aftermath. For this 10th anniversary, we brought together some of the actors to discuss what has been learned and where our conclusions might take us. Michael Ignatieff wrote frequently for the magazine on terrorism and war before entering Canadian politics as a member of Parliament and then Liberal Party leader; he is now at the University of Toronto. David Rieff was a frequent contributor of essays short and long on American policy. James Traub anchored our foreign-policy reporting across this period while producing two books on the subject, "The Best Intentions" and "The Freedom Agenda." Paul Berman's March 2003 cover story on Sayyid Qutb, ''The Philosopher of Islamic Terror,'' was a seminal attempt to frame the conflict in terms of competing ideologies. Ian Buruma's magazine articles focused more on contemporary Muslims, most notably Tariq Ramadan (in February 2007). We met virtually, on two separate occasions, with Ignatieff entering the fray late and Rieff exiting early. - SCOTT MALCOMSON [...]

BERMAN: I think that, during the last 80 or 90 years, we have seen a series of totalitarian ideologies spring up -- communist, fascist in different versions, together with doctrines like Baathism and Islamism. I do not think these are anthropological developments, which could only be addressed by, say, Russians, or Germans, or people who consider themselves part of a Muslim ummah. The ideas are modern, and everyone is free to engage with them -- obliged to engage with them, I would think. It was crucial, generations ago, to argue with the fascists, and some people did. Crucial to argue with the communists. And more recently crucial to argue with the Baathists (whose own doctrine has died, thankfully) and the Islamists. The Islamists do not come out of primitive caves; they come out of modern intellectual settings, out of universities and libraries. And everyone can argue with them. Even successfully!

I think the Arab Spring is a confirmation of this notion. The original notion was that, in a large part of the Arab world and some parts of the rest of the Muslim world, the pathologies of totalitarian movements had set in, and had to be opposed -- by argument, above all. And the arguments have gone on. And guess what? A great many people in the Arab world -- and in Iran, too -- agree with the liberal and anti-dictatorial and anti-totalitarian arguments. This is indeed grand. And this is indeed the only way that a true solution of these various problems was ever going to be found.

There's some amusing stuff here from the guys who imagine the Arab Spring is occurring in a vacuum to the ones who apparently think that al Qaeda was more deadly and oppressive than the Ba'ath.

September 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 PM


Michele Bachmann moves to the left (on crazy conspiracy theories): The suddenly flailing 2012 candidate adopts the popular liberal myth that injections are dangerous (Alex Pareene, 9/15/11, Salon)

But this isn't your typical right-wing conspiracy theory, about climate scientists plotting to destroy capitalism, or the U.N. using bike-share programs to institute a world government. This, this is a liberal conspiracy theory.

The "vaccines cause autism" lie is as liberal as conspiracy theories get. Crunchy coastal elites, panicky about the health of their babies in a world full of "toxins," are the ones not getting their kids vaccinated these days, because of something they read on the Internet (or saw on "Oprah"). The story has traction in part because it's anti-corporate. It insinuates collusion between the government and those damned pharmaceutical companies that are only out for profit. (The scientists, too, are in the pockets of big pharma!) This stuff doesn't get much play on the right, because it doesn't tap into the foundational myths of the conservative movement or play on their tribal fears. Right-wingers are more concerned about their babies being exposed to the mental toxins of liberal indoctrination than, say, mercury.

This is why Ace of Spades is mocking her. It's why Rush Limbaugh said she "jumped the shark." It's why the Corner featured multiple posts strongly decrying Bachmann's "dangerous flirtation with the anti-vaccine movement." Conservatives oppose giving girls the HPV vaccine because they want premarital sex to have (potentially deadly) consequences, not because they think vaccines are inherently dangerous.

But vaccine panic is big. It's specifically big with mothers. With Rick Perry sucking up Bachmann's support, she needs to branch out a bit. This is her version of "moving to the center." Michele Bachmann moderates her message by adding liberal conspiracy theories to her repertoire.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Are Jobs on Their Way to Becoming Obsolete?: And is that a good thing, as Douglas Rushkoff recently suggested? (Sarah Jaffe, 9/15/11, In These Times)

Are jobs obsolete?

Media theorist and author of Life, Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back Douglas Rushkoff ruffled some feathers this week when he dared, at of all places, to ask that question. It seemed, perhaps, gloriously insensitive to the plight of unemployed workers, of union workers at the U.S. Postal Service, who are struggling like so many others to stay afloat in an uncertain economy while they're demonized in the press as greedy for wanting a decent job.

Yet Rushkoff also raises points worth considering, particularly for those of us trying to articulate, in the wake of massive failures of the economic system we've lived our whole lives with, some sort of alternative to the cycle of boom, bust, bailout.

He argues that perhaps we're going about it backward when we call for jobs, that maybe it's not a bad thing that technology is replacing workers, and points out that actually, we do produce enough food and "stuff" to support the country and even the world--that, in fact, we produce too much "stuff."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Lynch Won't Run For Re-Election (Reid Wilson, September 15, 2011, Hotline)

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) will not seek a record fifth term, he announced Thursday morning , setting the stage for another toss-up governor's race in 2012.

"Democracy demands periodic change, to refresh and revive itself," Lynch said at a press conference in Manchester. "Democracy needs new leaders and new ideas."

"I think it's time for the next generation of leadership in New Hampshire," he added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM

Country music pioneer Wade Mainer dies at 104 (Jeff Karoub, 9/14/11, Associated Press)

He was a member of late brother J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers, one of the most popular sibling duos of the 1930s. He made recordings for all the major labels of the day, including RCA in 1935, and invented a two-finger banjo picking style that paved the way for the bluegrass era.

"Wade Mainer is the last of the old guard from the `20s and `30s to pass on. Mainer's Mountaineers was a huge group during that time. They influenced the Monroe Brothers, The Delmore Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Reno and Smiley and countless other music groups from the South," country and bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs said in an email Wednesday to The Associated Press. "My dad loved them as well so I heard lots of Mainer's Mountaineers in my house, too."

John Ramble, senior historian of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., said Mainer's two-finger style helped make the banjo more prominent in old-time, or early country music. Using two fingers, as opposed to the downward strumming motion of the "claw hammer" style, allowed him to be more melodic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Ahmadinejad's impotence (Geneive Abdo, September 14, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant to kick off his annual visit to the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York with the grand gesture of releasing two U.S. hikers held captive for over a year. Instead, he was humiliated in public by Iran's powerful judiciary, which stated on Wednesday that the president could not fulfill that promise.

Nothing could more clearly symbolize Ahmadinejad's fading fortunes. Gone is the self-confident rhetorician of revolutionary outrage and nationalist fervor. In his place stands a broken man. The hikers' episode is only one more piece of evidence that the last eight months have proven to be the beginning to the end of the president's political career. Ahmadinejad's U.N. speech will probably be as loquacious as ever, and may contain interesting surprises -- such as his declaration last year that it was the United States Government which launched the terrorist attacks on 9/11. But his words should not be taken as a message from anyone other than Ahmadinejad.

Even before the judiciary embarrassed Ahmadinejad, many in Tehran doubted that the president would be allowed to travel to the U.N. General Assembly to deliver the official speech on September 22. The institutions and political elites which once formed the bedrock of his power have all left him, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, commanders in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the intelligence minister, and important conservative clerics. The president has challenged the authority and legitimacy of supreme clerical rule, and he cast doubt on the divine attributes of the clergy -- without which the Islamic Republic could not exist in anything like its present form. At this point, it is unclear whether Ahmadinejad will even be allowed to finish out his term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Chevy Volt vs. Nissan Leaf: Who's winning?: Both of the green autos have been on the market for almost a year now, but only one will stay on the road. (Alex Taylor III, 9/15/11, )

Americans love a rivalry, whether it is Dunkin' Donuts vs. Starbucks, or the Yankees vs. the Red Sox. So it is not surprising that the simultaneous launch of the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf late last year built anticipation for a grand face-off. Here, after all, were two highly touted new cars, each using electric propulsion in a different way, that would compete for sales to early adopters while piling up environmental bragging rights. Car guys everywhere are betting on the outcome. So who's ahead? So far Nissan has sold 4,806 units of the all-electric Leaf in the U.S., while GM (GM) has moved only 2,870 Volts, which use batteries assisted by a small gasoline engine. Interesting perhaps, except that such early sales figures are virtually meaningless. The sales winner won't be clear until production ramps up. GM intends to assemble 16,000 Volts in 2011 and 50,000 in 2012. Nissan can currently build 50,000 Leafs annually in Japan. Beginning in 2013, it will have the capacity to build 150,000 more at a new plant in Tennessee. [...]

Who's ahead today? It's Volt, because the gas engine means it never leaves drivers stranded. But Volt's technology is expensive, and more efficient batteries eventually will make it obsolete. In the long run the Leaf gets the checkered flag. "Pure electric cars are the future, without a doubt," says senior analyst Jessica Caldwell, "and Leaf is a pure electric car."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Israel Isolated Ahead of UN Vote on Palestinians (AP, 9/15/11)

Rising tensions with some of its closest and most important allies have left Israel increasingly isolated ahead of a momentous vote on Palestinian independence at the United Nations.

Troubles with Turkey, Egypt and even the U.S. are adding to Israel's headaches ahead of the vote, which is shaping up to be a global expression of discontent against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinians plan to ask the United Nations this month to recognize their independence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war -- probably by embracing them as a "nonmember observer state." The measure is expected to pass overwhelmingly in the U.N. General Assembly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Gentlemen, Start Conserving (KEN BELSON, 9/13/11, NY Times)

[M]ore than any other American sport, Nascar is also a for-profit business, and like many companies these days, it is focused on cutting costs by recycling, conserving and generating its own energy. While the core of the sport remains unchanged, Nascar, its teams, track operators and sponsors are employing an ambitious set of green initiatives that includes collecting used fuel, planting trees to offset carbon emissions, and deploying sheep to keep the infield grass short.

Going green not only saves money that can be spent on drivers and cars, but it has also created new revenue by attracting sponsors to Nascar that want to trumpet their eco-friendliness to the millions of fans who watch races on television and at the track.

Of course, these efforts will not alter the essence of a sport that celebrates fast cars that burn copious amounts of gasoline, a fact that has led many critics to accuse Nascar of greenwashing, or claiming unfairly to be environmentally friendly. But many who work in Nascar say that reducing and recycling are imperative precisely because so much waste is produced, and if money can be saved in the process, all the better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


N.H. gay 'marriage' repeal advances (BP, 9/14/11)

A bill repealing New Hampshire's gay "marriage" law passed a House subcommittee by a vote of 3-1 Wednesday, potentially putting the state on track to becoming the first one to repeal such a law via the legislature.

The bill, H.B. 437, would repeal the controversial 2009 law that passed when Democrats controlled the legislature. Republicans won back both chambers in 2010 and have veto-proof majorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Grass' Gaffe: Political Thinking Shouldn't Be Left to Novelists (Jan Fleischhauer, Der Spiegel)

Let's imagine for a moment an aging writer of a conservative political bent mentioning the murder of Europe's Jews and the liquidation of German soldiers in the same context in an interview with an Israeli newspaper as well as mixing up the relevant numbers. Instead of discussing the 1 million German soldiers who died in Soviet POW camps, he suddenly puts the figure at 6 million, the figure more commonly given for the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

One doesn't need much imagination to envision how the enlightened public would react to this writer's math. Under normal circumstances, the man's career as someone with political statements to be taken seriously would be over. But, in this case, the man behind the strange Holocaust math was none other than legendary German writer and Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass, who made the statements in an interview published by Haaretz on Aug. 26 on the eve of the publication of the Hebrew translation of his autobiographical book "Peeling the Onion," which had been published five years ago in Germany and sparked a massive debate here because of Grass' revelations he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen-SS .

Grass' stature as a leading figure in modern world literature has clearly led him to be treated differently. Instead of finding decisive rebukes in the feature pages of German newspapers in the days since the publication of the interview, one can mostly find convoluted excuses mentioning Grass' many achievements. In fact, even the historian who returned to the subject of the Holocaust with Grass went on to defend him. "I believe that in the heat of the argument he mentioned an incorrect figure," Tom Segev said. "Actually I should have corrected him and I apologize for not having done so." That's magnanimous, to say the least.

Of course, one could let the matter go at that -- but not when one is talking about Grass, the man who strives to be viewed as the ultimate authority on issues of conscience, the man who continues to always be invoked by those in Germany who like to resort to moral judgements in their discourse with political opponents. In fact, for some time now, it seems the better Grass' reputation has gotten for being a person who can make clear statements about current events, the lower the quality of his literary output has been.

This just begs the question of why people continue to stubbornly believe that novelists have something special to contribute to political discussions.

It's not as if he suddenly started pretending that the Germans were the victims of the US and Britain in WWII, he's been doing it for awhile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Rethinking the 2012 Landscape: Voters are taking out their anger at Democrats, even in a reliably Democratic district. (Josh Kraushaar, September 14, 2011, National Journal)

Look at the congressional generic ballot, where Democrats traditionally hold an advantage even in lean years. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Republicans holding a 47 percent to 41 percent edge, the largest margin for Republicans since 1996, when the question was first asked. When Republicans picked up 63 House seats in 2010, Democrats actually held a 46 percent to 44 percent advantage on the poll's generic ballot.

Do a deeper dive into some of the district-wide polling and early vote numbers, and things get even scarier for the president's party. Discontent with the president is at the heart of Republican Bob Turner's surprisingly strong campaign in New York for the seat based in Queens and Brooklyn. Within the district, Obama's favorability rating is at 43 percent, with a whopping 68 percent of independents holding an unfavorable view of the president, according to last week's Siena poll. More than one-third of Democratic voters view him unfavorably. [...]

In the Senate, Democrats are defending seats in much more Republican territory than New York City - in Nebraska (Ben Nelson), Montana (Jon Tester), and Missouri (Claire McCaskill). If a highly-regarded Democratic recruit can't compete in a district Obama nearly carried, what does that say about Rep. Shelley Berkley's prospects against Sen. Dean Heller (or Obama's in the battleground state)? In the House, 50 Democrats hold more Republican seats than New York 9 - even after last year's GOP landslide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


HPV Vaccine's Tricky Ethics: Rick Perry may have been wrong to try forcing HPV vaccinations in Texas, and Michele Bachmann was definitely wrong when she said HPV causes mental retardation, but the issue of mandating vaccinations can be ethically tricky (Sharon Begley, 9/14/11, Daily Beast)

First, the basics. There are two FDA-approved HPV vaccines. Gardasil got the OK for use in girls and young women ages 9 through 26 for the prevention of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers caused by two forms of HPV, called types 16 and 18. It also prevents genital warts caused by HPV strains 6 and 11, and in 2009 was FDA-approved for that purpose in males as well. Strains 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, while 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of the cases of genital warts. These four strains also cause the benign cervical changes that result in abnormal Pap tests. The FDA approved a second vaccine, Cervarix, from GlaxoSmithKline, against cervical cancer (but not genital warts) in October 2009, for girls and women ages 10 to 25. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccination of girls at age 11 or 12, and "catch-up vaccination" for those 13 through 26. The vaccines, which consist of series of three intramuscular shots given over six months, are 97 to 100 percent effective in preventing HPV infection.

Age 11 may seem early to get a vaccine against a virus that can be acquired only through sexual activity. (The CDC estimates that 20 million American men and women ages 14 to 59 are infected with at least one type of HPV, including more than 25 percent of women 14 to 59.) The early age reflects the fact that the vaccines prevent HPV infection only if you have not been exposed to the virus, explains pediatrician and infectious-disease expert Joseph Bocchini of Louisiana State University, so the inoculation is most likely to be effective before a girl is sexually active. "We don't know why that is," he says. "The vaccine causes you to develop a strong antibody response to the virus, so that if you are subsequently exposed you do not become infected. But if you are already infected, the vaccine does not change the course or outcome of the infection." Some 70 percent of females will be infected with HPV within five years of becoming sexually active. On the other hand, if you are not sexually active and were never exposed to HPV, the vaccine should work at any age. [...]

The need for caution was made clear in a report on the adverse effects of vaccines by the Institute of Medicine, released last month. Its chapter on HPV vaccines examines 13 kinds of reported problems, from multiple sclerosis to Guillain-Barre syndrome. In 12 cases it found the evidence "inadequate" to link the vaccine to the illness, mostly because only anecdotes and not rigorous research suggest a connection. Only anaphylaxis--an extreme allergic reaction--seems to be caused by the vaccine in a small percentage of cases, which reflects the fact that some people are allergic to some components of all vaccines. As for mental retardation, this week the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in: AAP "would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation," it said in a statement. "There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


Del McCoury And The Preservation Hall Jazz Band On World Cafe (NPR, September 14, 2011)

There have been few bands with more authentic connections to the past than this roots supergroup, so it is fitting that their recently released collaboration is called American Legacies. The record does more than just exhibit the refined style of both groups -- McCoury and Preservation Hall effortlessly meld bluegrass and New Orleans jazz, marrying finger-picked banjo and fiddle with sousaphone and clarinet.

Hear the supergroup perform songs from American Legacies during this edition of World Cafe. The music for this session was recorded and mixed at WNYC in New York.


September 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


A new friend for Israel in... South Sudan (Daniel R. DePetris, September 14, 2011, CS Monitor)

The world's newest member in the community of nations got plenty of press coverage when it formally declared independence in July. But one aspect of South Sudan's emergence went largely unnoticed: the establishment of official diplomatic relations with Israel. Far from a routine gesture, the mutual declaration of recognition between the two states could prove to be a significant boost to Israel's strategic position, not to mention the positives that may come as South Sudan attempts to get its new state on a strong footing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM

Bacon-Onion Rye Rolls: a REAL continental breakfast (PJ Hamel, September 14th, 2011, King Arthur Flour: Baking Banter)


1 cup lukewarm milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 large + 1 large egg yolk; reserve the white for the filling
3 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup rye flour (white, medium, or pumpernickel flour) OR whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon Deli Rye Flavor, optional but good
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt


1 pound bacon
2 large onions, peeled and chopped; about 4 cups
1 large egg white, reserved from dough


1) To make the dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients, and mix until the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. (If you're using a stand mixer, use the flat beater for this step.) Cover the bowl and let this shaggy mass rest for 15 minutes or so, to absorb the liquid and make it easier to knead.

2) Knead the dough until it's smooth and slightly sticky, about 7 minutes in a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook.

3) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or 8-cup measure, cover the container with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for 1 hour, or until it's increased in volume by at least a third.

4) While the dough is rising, make the filling. Fry the bacon (or bake it in a 350°F oven for about 35 minutes), until it's crisp and light brown.

5) Fry the onions until they're a rich, golden brown in some of the bacon fat, if desired; or fry them in olive oil. They should brown nicely in about 20 minutes.

6) Crumble the bacon, and combine it with the onions. When barely lukewarm, stir in the reserved egg white; this will help keep the filling from spilling out of the rolls.

7) Gently deflate the risen dough, and roll it into a 12" x 18" rectangle.

8) Spread the filling over the dough, and roll it up the long way, to make a log that's a generous 18" long.

9) Cut the log into 1" slices. Lay the 18 slices into two 9" round lightly greased cake pans.

10) Cover the pans, and let the rolls rise for about an hour, until they're nicely puffy. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

11) Uncover the rolls, and bake them for about 25 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and brush them with butter, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

12) Store leftovers in the refrigerator; to reheat, tent with aluminum foil, and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


BLS: Public Sector Out-earns Private Sector (Steven Greenhut, September 14, 2011, Public Sector Inc.)

[A] report released last week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms the obvious:

Private industry employers spent an average of $28.13 per hour worked for employee compensation in June 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Wages and salaries averaged $19.81 per hour worked and accounted for 70.4 percent of these costs, while benefits averaged $8.32 and accounted for the remaining 29.6 percent. Total compensation costs for state and local government workers averaged $40.40 per hour worked in June 2011. Total compensation costs for civilian workers, which include private industry and state and local government workers, averaged $29.98 per hour worked in June 2011.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


P&G Courts Hispanic Shoppers (ELLEN BYRON, 9/14/11, WSJ)

Expect more Spanish on your tube of Crest toothpaste.

Procter & Gamble Co., looking for ways to boost its sluggish U.S. business, is accelerating its efforts to win over Hispanic shoppers. Using insights turned out by its army of researchers, P&G is tweaking products, retargeting its marketing, changing its mix of celebrity spokeswomen and making greater use of Spanish on its products.

The motivation is simple: Hispanics accounted for more than half of the gains in the U.S. population from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and their younger, bigger families are a good fit for the maker of Pampers diapers and Tide detergent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Perry casts himself as anti-intellectual, says his life shaped by faith (Philip Rucker, September 14, 2011, Washington Post)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry offered himself here Wednesday as a decidedly anti-intellectual candidate, making light of flunking out of some of his classes at Texas A&M University, and instead casting his life and presidential aspirations in deeply spiritual terms.

Perry said he spent many nights in his 20s pondering his purpose, "wondering what to do with this one life among the billions that were on the planet," but that God's answers were revealed to him in due time.

"He who knows the number of drops in the ocean, he counts the sands in the desert, he knows you by name. . . . He doesn't require perfect people to execute his perfect plan," Perry said in an address at Liberty University, the Christian college founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell.

"As spiritual beings, we are meant to live in relationship with our creator and with one another. And the happiest moments of every experience are when I am in communion with God and in community with others," he said.

Evoking Moses and David of scripture, Perry added: "God uses broken people to reach a broken world. The mistakes of yesterday say nothing about the possibilities of tomorrow."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


NYC Stunner: Republican Turner Wins House Special (Jessica Taylor, September 13, 2011, Hotline)

Republican Bob Turner won a special election Tuesday in a New York City congressional district that has been held by Democrats for nearly a century -- an upset that delivers a stinging rebuke to President Obama and his party.

Just before midnight, the Associated Press called the race for Turner, a cable television executive with no prior political experience. He and his supporters had billed the contest against Democrat David Weprin as a referendum on Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


All aboard! Martina McBride to launch new album 'Eleven' with cross country train ride (Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011)

Country star Martina McBride is on track to release her new album, "Eleven," next month with a cross-country train ride.

The four-day, exclusive trip will take her from Los Angeles to New York and make 11 stops along the way. She'll perform intimate concerts for fans in Albuquerque, N.M., Chicago and New York.

The tour is called, "'Eleven' Across America Powered By Amtrak."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


End of the Road: Al Qaeda's Fall (Fawaz A. Gerges, September/October 2011, Boston Review)

Its reputation irreparably tarnished by the carnage in Iraq, al Qaeda has for years faced a serious shortage of skilled recruits in the Muslim heartland. Indeed, the Muslim world is actively opposed to its operations. In Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Indonesia, and elsewhere, most of the intelligence about al Qaeda suspects comes not from surveillance by intelligence services but from relatives and friends, a testament to the changing political and social landscape, as well as public disillusionment with bin Laden's men.

Since 2007, public-opinion polls conducted in Muslim countries show a plurality of citizens deeply concerned about terrorism and the image of Islam abroad. A growing majority of Muslims view al Qaeda negatively and endorse measures to limit its activities in their societies. Between 2001 and 2007, Gallup conducted tens of thousands of hour-long, face-to-face interviews with residents of more than 35 predominantly Muslim countries. The pollsters found that, contrary to the prevailing perception in the West that al Qaeda enjoys wide support in the Muslim world, 93 percent of respondents condemned, on religious and humanitarian grounds, the killing of noncombatants.

Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonprofit group seeking to establish the reasons people support or oppose extremism, found that support for al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden, and other militant Islamist groups dropped by half between August 2007 and January 2008. Where 33 percent of Pakistanis supported al Qaeda and 38 percent supported the Taliban in August 2007, by the following January the numbers were 18 percent and 19 percent respectively. When asked if they would vote for an al Qaeda representative in government, just 1 percent of Pakistanis polled answered in the affirmative. The Taliban scored 3 percent.

According to Pew polls, support for suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as justifiable means of protecting Muslims has also declined. The shift has been dramatic all over the Muslim world. In Jordan in May 2005, 57 percent of the population viewed suicide attacks as often or sometimes justified. By July 2007 that figure had fallen to 23 percent. In Indonesia, the largest majority-Muslim nation, 77 percent of respondents to the 2007 survey agreed that terrorist attacks are "never justified," up from 41 percent support in March 2004. In Pakistan and Bangladesh at least 70 percent of respondents fell in the "never justified" category.

A 2009 Pew Global Attitudes survey showed the trend continuing. In Indonesia 85 percent of those surveyed said suicide bombing was "rarely/never justified." Ninety percent of Pakistanis and 82 percent of Jordanians agreed.

The minority that says suicide bombing is justified under exceptional circumstances tends to refer to the Palestine-Israel conflict and not to al Qaeda's transnational jihad. Indeed, only 31 percent of Palestinians, according to the 2009 survey, believe that suicide bombing is rarely or never justified. Consider, though, that a 2006 survey from the Program on International Attitudes found only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Yet even these polls do not reflect the full gravity of al Qaeda's crisis and isolation. Testimony by jihadis returning from al Qaeda's "havens" in Pakistan's tribal areas paint a picture of an organization in complete disarray. These volunteers say they were made to pay for their own equipment and weapons, given desultory training, then patronized and ignored.

Al Qaeda also faces a revolt from within. High-ranking figures have blamed bin Laden directly for the turmoil engulfing the Muslim world. The prominent Saudi preacher and scholar Salman al Awdah, a mentor of bin Laden, reproached him on his Web site and in comments on MBC, a Middle Eastern television network. "How many people were forced to flee their homes," Awdah asked, "and how much blood was shed in the name of al Qaeda?"

The reaction of his former pupil is not known, but the angry denunciation of Awdah by bin Laden's supporters left no doubt that the comments stung. The significance of this admonition can only be appreciated in the context of Awdah's position: he is an influential Salafi preacher with a large following in Saudi Arabia and abroad. In the 1990s the Saudi regime imprisoned him, along with other leading clerics, for criticizing the kingdom's relationship with the United States, particularly the stationing of troops there after the 1991 Gulf War.

Awdah's critique stresses the moral failure of al Qaeda and symbolizes a rejection by some of the pivotal figures of revolutionary Islam. It is a theological reproach: "You are responsible--brother Osama--for spreading takfiri ideology [excommunication of Muslims] and fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families," Awdah said. "Is Islam only about guns and war? Have your means become the ends themselves?"

Never before had bin Laden's legitimacy been subject to such direct, withering censure by a respected Salafi scholar whose credibility as a radical cleric and defender of persecuted Muslims worldwide is unassailable. Adding insult to injury, Awdah praised those "brave hearts" and "courageous minds" that have defected from al Qaeda and divorced themselves from its terrorism. "Many of your brethren in Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere have come to see the end of the road for al Qaeda's ideology," he states. "They now realize how destructive and dangerous it is."

Knowing the debilitating damage that the loss of Muslim public support has exacted on his organization, Zawahiri recently attempted to distance al Qaeda from the shedding of Muslim blood. In a largely overlooked statement marking the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Zawahiri urged Muslims to embrace jihad but avoid indiscriminate slaughter: "We disown any operation which a jihadi group carries out in which it doesn't show concern for the safety of the Muslims," he said in an audio message.

But the effect of the theological critiques may be too much to overcome. Not just ordinary Muslims, but also fellow jihadis can see al Qaeda's weakness. The best al Qaeda can hope for is that a few disillusioned and radicalized young Muslims living or attending school in the West, such as the failed Christmas Day bomber or the Times Square plotter, reach their bunkers and get the explosives training to carry out an attack back home. That is now the extent of al Qaeda's strategic reach.

Of course, it runs counter to the Left's narrative, but the Iraq War hastened al Qaeda's end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


An Economy In Trouble: Notwithstanding the billions of dollars spent, the economy did not get back to its 1929 level in FDR's first two terms. (AMITY SHLAES , 9/13/11, WSJ)

Mr. Hiltzik presents the New Deal as an adventure made all the more thrilling by the uncertainty of its outcome--"a work in progress from its beginning to end"--and one that sustained democracy by keeping America from social and economic collapse. He believes that the good intentions of the New Dealers offset any damage done by the improvisational aspect of the programs: "The remedies could not wait for a final diagnosis," as he puts it. Roosevelt's troops included many true believers in the cause who brooked no criticism from doubters. Prickly Harry Hopkins, said by Mr. Hiltzik to be "the least cynical or defeatist member of the FDR's inner circle," countered attacks on his jobs program by saying that "dumb people criticize something they do not understand."

Notwithstanding the billions of dollars spent and the thousands of regulations enacted, the economy did not get back to its 1929 level in Roosevelt's first two terms. The Dow Jones Industrial Average likewise did not return to its pre-Crash level. Ten years into the Depression, total hours worked by the American labor force were a full 20% below the 1929 level. When it came to job creation overall, the New Dealers lost the battle: The unemployment data gathered so meticulously by Perkins and those who followed her averaged well into the double digits for Roosevelt's first decade. Even when temporary make-work jobs are counted, New Deal unemployment only occasionally moved into the single digits before World War II.

Mr. Hiltzik scarcely addresses this failure. He even more or less denies it by providing snapshots of year-over-year growth that seem impressive until you recall the low base from which they start. He also seems to mock efforts to understand why the New Deal failed. The scholar Robert Higgs has shown that Roosevelt's aggressive antibusiness policies caused companies to hunker down rather than start hiring, but when Mr. Hiltzik discusses business confidence he adds scoffing quotation marks around the phrase, as if business confidence is of little importance in economic matters.

The author also neglects the Wagner Act of 1935, which gave unprecedented clout to labor, inaugurating the era of the sit-down strike and the closed shop. The act drove up labor costs, spooking employers and discouraging them from hiring. This effect "The New Deal" obliviously marches past, banner waving. Mr. Hiltzik's chronicle would have been more effective if cast in a less triumphal mode, acknowledging the many ways in which the New Deal failed the economy it was trying to save.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


China's Imminent Collapse (John Quiggin, September 13, 2011, National Interest)

[A]s the example of the Arab Spring has shown, authoritarian governments may be much more fragile than they appear. The system of self-selecting oligarchy that has emerged in China since the death of Mao has been a source of stability, but it offers no good way of resolving fundamental disagreements about policy directions.

The spectacular economic growth of the past two decades has made the resolution of policy disagreements relatively easy. Simply put, there has been enough surplus to satisfy all important interests and still allow rapidly rising incomes for the mass of the population, or at least those in urban areas who might pose a threat to political stability.

Again, the example of the Arab Spring suggests that a slowdown in economic growth can bring about a sudden break in what seemed like an established political order. In democracies, economic shocks typically result in electoral defeat for the incumbent government, which at least provides the public with someone to blame, and a test of the hypothesis that the crisis was the result of mismanagement.

In a closed oligarchy like that of China, there is no such mechanism. The system could break down from within, as factional disagreements within the central committee spill out into the broader party and the public at large. Alternatively, large-scale public protests, combined with disagreements over the extent to which repression is desirable and feasible, could bring about a rapid breakdown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Brandon's great escape: strangers lift burning car off trapped motorcyclist (AP, September 14, 2011)

Authorities said Mr Wright, 21, was riding his motorcycle on Monday near the Utah State University campus in Logan when he collided with a black BMW that was pulling out of a parking lot.

Tire and skid marks on the highway indicate that Mr Wright laid the bike down and slid along the road before colliding with the car, Assistant Police Chief Jeff Curtis said.

The bike hit the car's hood and bounced to the ground, while Wright, who was not wearing a helmet, slid under the car and then both vehicles burst into flames, Assistant Police Chief Curtis said.

Mr Wright was trapped beneath the burning car. A group of about 10 men and women rushed to help, tilting the car up to free him and pull him to safety.

"Every one of those people put their lives in danger," Assistant Police Chief Curtis said.

"Those people are heroes. You can only speculate what the outcome would have been if they hadn't lifted that car and waited for the emergency service personnel to get up there."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


The Future of Light Is the LED (Dan Koeppel, September 2011, Wired)

There's an excellent reason LEDs have taken on the aura of inevitability: LEDs are semiconductors, and like all solid-state technology, they are getting better and cheaper on a predictable curve. In 1999, a researcher named Roland Haitz, then heading up semiconductor R&D at Hewlett-Packard, coauthored a paper that became the lighting industry's manifesto. By charting the historical prices of LEDs and projecting forward, Haitz estimated that the amount of light they produced would increase by a factor of 20 per decade, while the cost would correspondingly drop by a factor of 10.

Haitz's law has proven remarkably accurate. But the lighting industry still has major hurdles to clear before LEDs gain acceptance by consumers. Beyond the very real technical issues--cooling, costs, light color--there's the public's lingering distaste for compact fluorescent lamps, which failed miserably in their projected role as bulb of the future. That sentiment has fed into a Tea Party-fueled backlash against the new regulations, and there have been attempts in Congress to roll them back entirely.

The reasoning behind the lighting provisions in the Energy Independence and Security Act is pretty straightforward: Incandescents convert less than 10 percent of the energy pumped into them into light, losing the rest as heat. More-efficient bulbs could save billions of dollars, decrease dependence on foreign oil, and significantly reduce greenhouse gases.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Iranian Clerics About to Fall?: Abbas Milani reports that the coup is coming to Syria. Assad will go. Iran's clerics are about to go with him. (Abbas Milani, /12/11, Daily Beast)

[A]s Syrian democrats continue to surprise the world with their tenacity, the long-sustained unity between Syria and Iran is beginning to fray. The Iranian regime's public statements are discordant. And this is both tactical--intended to confuse the world, and existential, reflecting the massive fissures and warring factions in the power centers of Iran. Initially, Iran offered unmitigated support for Assad. Today they are pulling back. The Iranian clerics want to claim both that the Arab Spring was inspired by their own Islamic model and yet Syria is meant to be the exception--nothing but a conspiracy designed and acted out by Israel and the United States. When Turkey, increasingly a rival to Iran for influence in the Muslim world, sided with the Syrian democrats, when polls in countries such as Egypt show a sharp decline in the popularity of the Iranian clerical regime among Muslims, when there were increasing signs of Sunni concern about the possible existence of an Iranian conspiracy to reestablish a "Shiite empire"--a concern specifically voiced by some members of the Syrian opposition--the Iranian regime began to gingerly but discernibly distance itself from Assad. Iran's foreign minister declared that Syria must listen to the voice of its people, followed by another statement by Ahmadinejad reiterating much the same position. He even proposed hosting a meeting of Arab Muslim leaders to find a collective "Muslim solution" to the problem. Unless we do something now, he told them, the same thing will happen in all Arab states!

Except he's neither Arab nor Muslim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Horses 9, 1 and 1 win on anniversary (Associated Press, 9/12/11)

On the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Sunday, horses wearing the numbers 9, 1 and 1 won the first three races at Belmont. [...]

Lottery players weren't so lucky, but the 9-1-1 combination proved more irresistible than ever. Carolyn Hapeman, a spokeswoman for the New York State Lottery, said that combination for both the midday and evening "Numbers" draw was sold out by 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 5 for every twice-daily drawing right through Sept. 12.

The 9-1-1 pick has been a popular option for lottery players, just like 1-1-1 or 7-7-7, and sells out every day, she said. She didn't recall a time when it sold out for seven straight days ahead of time.

September 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


Elizabeth Warren, Closet Conservative: The most misunderstood woman in Washington. (Christopher Caldwell, 8/01/11, Weekly Standard)

In 2003 Warren cowrote a brilliant and counterintuitive work of pop economics called The Two-Income Trap. People were going bankrupt at an alarming rate. Since the 1990s, more children had experienced their parents' bankruptcy than their parents' divorce. And yet the economy was booming. So senators like Orrin Hatch seemed to be on solid ground when they attributed these bankruptcies to people who "run up huge bills and then expect society to pay for them." Warren herself later said she was looking for some failure of self-control, for "too many Gameboys." But this was not the case. Bankruptcy was actually getting harder to declare, Warren proved. For bankrupt families, the ratio of nonmortgage debt to income rose from .79 in 1981 to 1.06 in 1991 to 1.5 in 2001. To quote, italics and all, the most stunning line in her book: "Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse."

Why this was so had nothing to do with consumerism. Parents spent 32 percent less on clothing, and 52 percent less on appliances. What they spent more on was big necessities: mortgages (up 76 percent), cars (up 52 percent), taxes (up 25 percent), and health insurance (up 74 percent). And the reason for all but the last of these was the entry of women into the workplace. Working mothers "ratcheted up the price of a middle-class life for everyone, including families that wanted to keep Mom at home," Warren wrote. As a result, she showed, two-income families have less disposable income than one-income families did in the old days.

...was that it was able to, fairly smoothly, add all those boondoggles, at least temporarily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM

AS EASY AS 1, 2, 3:

Pupils improve grasp of three-Rs 'by teaching themselves' (Graeme Paton, 14 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

Academics found that allowing children to work in pairs for as little as 20 minutes a week can lead to a dramatic rise in reading and maths standards.

The study from Durham University concluded that "peer tutoring" was more effective than a range of hugely expensive projects introduced by successive governments.

This includes Labour's £4.5 billion National Strategies scheme that introduced centralised teaching methods and famously led to the launch of daily literacy and numeracy hours in English primary schools.

Prof Peter Tymms, from Durham's School of Education, said: "Expensive policy initiatives have often had little effect on learning. The tutoring scheme requires some organisation and a little bit of training but it's an inexpensive scheme to implement in that it involves no fancy equipment.

"The trial shows that a tutoring scheme could be implemented across educational areas nationwide. Older pupils boosted their knowledge and skills by becoming tutors and the younger tutees benefited greatly from one-to-one learning with older children."

And they're non-union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM


9/11: What else it taught us: From mathematics to psychology, how the attacks changed what we know. (Leon Neyfakh, September 10, 2011, Boston Globe)

Volunteer therapists and social workers streamed into New York City in the wake of 9/11, providing counseling they hoped would reduce people's chances of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of them came wielding a then-popular treatment technique known as "debriefing," built on the notion that people should talk about what they've been through instead of bottling it up. Some psychologists warned of a national epidemic of PTSD, arguing that even people who had watched the events on TV--as opposed to witnessing them firsthand--were at risk of permanent psychological damage from what they'd seen.

Richard McNally, a psychologist specializing in trauma at Harvard, saw what mental health professionals were doing in New York, and grew concerned. McNally knew that research conducted during the 1990s had shown that debriefing was at best ineffective, and at worst actually slowed people's recovery. Several days after the attacks, he teamed up with 18 other psychologists, including the influential trauma and anxiety scholar Edna Foa from the University of Pennsylvania, and drafted a public letter to colleagues in the profession imploring them to think twice before rushing in to "debrief" people affected by the attacks. "As psychologists, our instinct is to help, and indeed there is much we can do,'' said the letter, which was widely publicized. "But in times like this it is imperative that we refrain from the urge to intervene in ways that--however well intentioned--have the potential to make matters worse."

In the years after the attacks, a growing body of research, including an influential paper in Psychological Science coauthored by McNally in 2003, began suggesting that most people are much more resilient to trauma than previously thought. They might be shaken, or upset, or scared right after something terrible happens, said Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno, who has conducted resilience research. "But as far as trauma, most people are symptom-free....They are able to continue functioning without missing a beat."

3,000 Americans had to die to teach psychiatrists they're useless?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


Rethinking Bastiat and Broken Windows (Amity Shlaes, 9/12/11, Bloomberg)

This month, we mark an anniversary for the philosopher who first articulated the Broken Window concept -- and a few other suddenly relevant economic ideas.

The anniversary is that of a desperate trip to Paris made in September 1850 by a French politician and economist with an unshakeable cough named Frederic Bastiat. France was a republic -- that month. But for more than half a century, the country had lurched from revolution to republic to coup or revolution again. By 1850, many Frenchmen believed that, economically and politically, their country had only two choices.

The first was anarchy and guillotines. The second was an authoritarian government, preferably led by someone named Napoleon, whose job was to keep the streets quiet by playing the hero and handing out bribes, directly or indirectly, to businesses, farmers and public officials. Government spending was the necessary tool of such a system.

There was a third way, Bastiat argued to officials, legislators and anyone else who would listen in Paris that September: smaller government, more freedom for individuals, and fewer grants to interest groups. That might yield a more stable economy and so a more stable France.

Bastiat got precisely nowhere; the president, Louis Napoleon, mounted a successful coup the next year. And today Bastiat himself is scarcely discussed. People skip over him because they are unsure how to pronounce his name (it's "Bast-ee-YA") or confuse him with Basquiat, the 1980s graffiti artist. Besides, Bastiat lived long ago, in the era of candlesticks.

Still, he's worth going back to. His old ideas actually resemble candles, shining so brightly they help us sort out murky proposals made today.

The metaphor is apt because his essential idea is that you never should have replaced your candles with electric lights because you'd have wasted money on the wax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Bachmann claims HPV vaccine might cause 'mental retardation' (Rachel Weiner, 09/13/2011, Washington Post)

In interviews after the debate, she suggested that the vaccine could do permanent damage.

"There's a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine," Bachmann said on Fox News. "She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences."

Bachmann repeated the allegation on the "Today Show" this morning, adding, "It's very clear that crony capitalism could have likely been the cause, because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company."

It's this week's autism for the gullible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America's Poor (Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, September 13, 2011, Heritage Foundation)

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau as taken from various government reports:

80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
43 percent have Internet access.
One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.

For decades, the living conditions of the poor have steadily improved. Consumer items that were luxuries or significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago have become commonplace in poor households, partially because of the normal downward price trend that follows introduction of a new product.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


Rider in the storm: Since 9/11, Afghanistan's national sport of buzkashi has become as complicated as the country itself (Carl Hoffman,Sept. 19, 2011, ESPN The Magazine)

There aren't a lot of bats, balls or rackets in northern Afghanistan. There are goats, horses, men and dusty plains, and they have been there ever since Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde swept into the neighborhood in the 13th century. Their game, then, is simple. Men on horseback grab a goat from a chalk circle, carry it around a pole and drop it into another circle. No downs, innings, line judges or refs. Sometimes there are teams, and sometimes there aren't. Sometimes the field is 200 meters by 200 meters, and sometimes it isn't. And the goat? The goat might be a calf, but it's always dead, just lying there with its head and hooves cut off.

Grab the goat, bring it around the pole and put it in the circle. That's buzkashi.

The game sounds simple until you hang out with Mohammad Hasan Palwan. "Palwan" means strongman in Dari, the Persian language of Afghanistan. That's what people call him. The strongman. For a strongman, he's hardly big like American athletes, not like Ndamukong Suh or Blake Griffin. He's tall and wiry with brown-green eyes and a neat mustache. For an athlete at the top of his game, he's old -- maybe 42 or 43. He's not sure because he doesn't know his birthday. His hands, though, are giant and covered with a thousand small scars. His fingers are crooked, knobby and gnarled, like a pair of moving ginseng roots. Palwan has broken them all. And his ribs. And his arms. And his legs. And his jaw.

Palwan is one of buzkashi's great "chapandazan" -- the men who play Afghanistan's national sport, men who have been riding horses since they were boys, just like their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers forever back in time. In Mazar-e Sharif, the sport's heartland located 200 miles north of Kabul, Palwan has been the champion 11 times -- four short of his father, who is regarded as the best chapandaz ever. Is Palwan the best in the country? It's hard to say. There is no Super Bowl or Stanley Cup that decides these things.

Buzkashi is played on Friday afternoons from November through February or so. I saw my first match in December 2008 in a barren field on the edge of Mazar. Musicians in turbans wailed as hash wafted over a crowd of thousands of men watching from the sidelines. (Women do not attend.) There were no tickets or uniforms, and anybody could play. That day, more than 100 horsemen wearing Soviet-era tank helmets and hand-worked, knee-high leather boots fought leg to leg in a scrum of horseflesh and cracking whips to pick up a headless goat weighing 150 pounds from the backs of their 1,100-pound stallions. Horses reared, men whipped each other, and spectators fled when the action got too close. Horse owners in the audience offered prizes for the victors: It could be $20; it could be $3,000; it could be a horse or a car. Egos often take over, and the pots become enormous. Palwan remembers riding home from a match 20 years ago with $17,000, earrings for his wife, two camels and five AK-47s.

The game is a microcosm of the country, a tangled web of patronage and allegiances, of great wealth, chaos and brutality. It is anything but simple.

"It is," says Palwan, "war."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Locusts, Cilantro, Elvis Presley (Lapham's Quarterly, 9/13/11)

"I'm not leaving, and by the way I'm hungry," President George W. Bush said on September 13, 2001, when he was told there was a credible threat to the White House. He ordered a cheeseburger.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The Myth of Conservative Purity: Adam Smith, the Founding Fathers, Ronald Reagan--all practiced the art of wise compromise. (PETER BERKOWITZ , 9/07/11, WSJ)

The notion of conservative purity is a myth. The great mission of American conservatism--securing the conditions under which liberty flourishes--has always depended on the weaving together of imperfectly compatible principles and applying them to an evolving and elusive political landscape.

William F. Buckley Jr.'s 1955 Mission Statement announcing the launch of National Review welcomed traditionalists, libertarians and anticommunists. His enterprise provides a model of a big-tent conservatism supported by multiple and competing principles: limited government, free markets, traditional morality and strong national defense.

These principles may appear harmonious. That's because they all served the cause of preserving freedom against the leading threats of the day: massive expansion of government, intrusive regulation of the economy, a breakdown of established sources of authority and belief, and communist tyranny. But harmony was an achievement. Just ask those who made a priority of limiting government about the impact of funding and maintaining a powerful military. Or inquire of a traditionalist what measures are necessary to maintain the virtues amidst the constant churn and cultural cacophony generated by capitalism.

Our greatest conservative president, Ronald Reagan, prudently wove together a devotion to limiting government and protecting the moral bases of a free society. But the policies he pursued were not mechanically derived from his principles. They stemmed from complex considerations concerning the necessary, the desirable and the possible. His landmark pro-growth tax cuts of 1981 were followed later by some tax increases. On divisive social issues such as abortion and school prayer, he offered strong words but restrained actions. And in confronting the Soviet Union, he insisted on the unmitigated evil of communism while pursuing dramatic negotiations to lessen the threat of nuclear conflagration, thereby paving the way to victory in the Cold War.

The intellectual architects of the American political and economic order were also blenders and weavers. For example, John Locke, the great 17th-century theorist of individual rights and limited government, argued in "The Second Treatise of Government" that in the event a father dies and fails to provide for the care and education of his son, the state must make provision.

And in "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, maintained that the public should offer and require an education for almost all. While it would be grossly misleading to designate Locke and Smith as founders of the modern welfare state, it would be negligent to overlook their teaching that beyond securing individual rights, governments devoted to freedom had interests in the welfare of their citizens.

Today, we are urged by tea party activists, and with excellent reason, to look to the authors of "The Federalist," the authoritative expounders of the Constitution, to recover the principles of limited government. But it is instructive to recall that in their day the makers of the American Constitution were the enlargers and strengtheners of federal power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Infanticide just a late, late abortion?: According to one Canadian judge, pretty much (Jonathon Van Maren, Sep 12, 2011, LifeNews)

On April 13, 2005, 19 year old Katrina Effert secretly gave birth to a baby boy in her parent's home. She then strangled the child with her underwear, and tossed the corpse over the fence into the yard of one of the neighbours.

On September 9, 2011, CBC reported that Ms. Effert's conviction for this murder had been 'downgraded' by an Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench judge to infanticide, and in lieu of jail time she will merely serve a suspended sentence.

In her argument, the judge stated that "while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept, and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support."

Translation? Katrina Effert simply engaged in a really, really late-term abortion. Given that we don't, under Canadian law, value human life a few minutes before birth, why a few minutes after?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


The Italian situation: Clarification and a prediction (Alberto Alesina Francesco Giavazzi, 13 September 2011, Vox EU)

As Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announces a new austerity bill based on tax rises, this column argues that the country's leaders are in denial - it is as if they are trying to take aspirin to hide the symptoms of pneumonia. The authors predict that, with the current political class in power, Italy will soon enter another recession and, eventually, another crisis.

Under pressure from the bond market and the European Central Bank, Italy has adopted a budget that implies a sharp shift in fiscal stance.

The primary surplus is projected to move from 6% in 2011 to close to 0% in 2014, with half of the adjustment happening next year.
The size of the shift meets the conditions the ECB had set on 11 August 2011 in order to continue buying Italian government bonds.

The composition is, however, quite different from what the ECB suggested.

The adjustment relies almost exclusively on tax increases rather than spending cuts.
The bill does not include pro-growth measures - deregulation, privatisations, etc - that the ECB has called for as a critical component of the policy shift.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Boundary changes: Labour and Lib Dems set for big losses, first analysis shows (Simon Rogers and James Ball, 9/13/11,

The Conservatives could have been within striking distance of an overall majority had the 2010 general election been held under England's new boundaries, early Guardian analysis suggests.

The Labour party could have netted 14 fewer seats, the Liberal Democrats 10 fewer, while the Conservatives, who dominate England, might have lost just six seats. The UK's only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, would not have been able to win her seat, according to the preliminary figures. [...]

The new boundaries reduce the total number of constituencies in England by 31, to 502. Assuming, until Scotland and Wales' boundary commissions report in the next few months, that MPs in those countries remain unchanged, the Conservatives would have been just 10 seats short of an overall majority, versus 19 at present.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Protect Our Right to Anonymity (JEFFREY ROSEN, 9/12/11, NY Times)

IN November, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could redefine the scope of privacy in an age of increasingly ubiquitous surveillance technologies like GPS devices and face-recognition software.

The case, United States v. Jones, concerns a GPS device that the police, without a valid warrant, placed on the car of a suspected drug dealer in Washington, D.C. The police then tracked his movements for a month and used the information to convict him of conspiracy to sell cocaine. The question before the court is whether this violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of our "persons, houses, papers, and effects."

It's imperative that the court says yes. Otherwise, Americans will no longer be able to expect the same degree of anonymity in public places that they have rightfully enjoyed since the founding era.

Which Federalist Paper was it that showed how the Constitution would guarantee our anonymity?

September 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


The Ways of American Memory: Fouad Ajami writes that 10 years after 9/11, Americans are perhaps too quick to forgive--while honest Arab reflection about that day is scarce. (Fouad Ajami, 9/12/11, Daily Beast)

The most amazing thing about remembering 9/11 was that there was hardly anything said about the assailants. We recalled the horror, but generously. Perhaps now and then, I thought, too generously. The American capacity to forgive and forget is without parallel. A source of pride and strength, but perhaps on occasion for worry as well.

Nothing was said on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 of Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah, of the 19 Arabs who assaulted America on that day of grief. Nothing was said of the radical Islamist preachers who had filled the air with sedition and bigotry in the decade prior to 9/11. And those financiers and "charities" who had sustained the jihad were entirely forgotten. The regimes that had winked at the terror - the enablers the peerless Charles Hill called them - were given a pass as well.  The grief was remembered in the manner akin to recalling a natural disaster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Trombone Shorty's 'For True': Dizzying talent and sublime sounds (Elizabeth Nelson, Monday, September 12, 2011, Washington Post)

Trombone Shorty is the nom de guerre of Troy Andrews, a 25-year-old prodigy from New Orleans with a pedigree to match his dizzying talent. A younger brother of New Birth Brass Band leader James Andrews and grandson of Crescent City legend Jessie Hill, Shorty has become a leading light for the revival of New Orleans's music post-Katrina. Following a Grammy for his 2010 release, "Backatown," and a number of appearances on HBO's celebrated New Orleans-themed drama, "Treme," Shorty verges on becoming a household name. [...]

On balance, "For True" confirms Trombone Shorty's reputation as a youthful flag-bearer for America's unrivaled musical wellspring. But the artist is notably at his best when he lets his outsize ability speak for itself rather than be drowned out by the bleating exertions of relative lightweights.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


TV Weatherman Found in Bathtub with Naked Dead Man Resigns from Job (KSEE News, September 12, 2011)

An Arkansas meteorologist who was found sleeping in a hot tub with a dead body has resigned from his position with the TV station in which he was employeed, his attorney said. [...]

Authorities said Cummins and the body of 24-year-old Dexter Williams were found Monday in an unfilled hot tub. Williams was wearing a chain around his neck that looked like a dog collar, and police found blood, but no water, in the tub.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


The Years of Shame (Paul Krugman, 9/11/11, NY Times)

What happened after 9/11 -- and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not -- was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

...conservatives have long made essentially the same case about Pearl Harbor, that FDR seized it as a pretext to go to war in Europe. But, so what? Is anyone ashamed that we liberated the Jews, Poles, etc. from the Nazis? Maybe a few truly fringy lunatics.

Yet, Mr. Krugman seems to speak for a significant portion of the mainstream Left that is genuinely ashamed that W liberated the Kurds and Shi'a from the Ba'ath, South Sudan from North, Liberia, and all the other oppressed peoples he used 9-11 as a pretext to help out. By their shame do we know them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Raw Milk to Evolution: Americans Disregard Science (Ross Anderson, Sep 06, 2011, Food Safety News)

Certain staunch American conservatives and liberals have found something they can agree on. Raw milk. They believe unpasteurized milk is perfectly safe and healthy to drink, and they dismiss any science and scientists who say it is not.

Passionate advocates from both ends of the political spectrum object to state and federal laws regulating the sale of unpasteurized milk. They believe pasteurization deprives cows' milk of important nutrients that bolster the human immune system and ward off illness. And they say government has no business telling citizens they can't sell it or buy it.

Whatever their politics, these raw milk devotees are at odds with the overwhelming weight of scientific and medical authorities, who declare unpasteurized milk is no healthier than processed, and the lack of pasteurization greatly increases the risks of being sickened by E. coli, Campylobacter or other harmful microbes.

What about the folks who think they're lactose intolerant?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


A New and Improved Moore's Law: Under "Koomey's law," it's efficiency, not power, that doubles every year and a half (Kate Greene, 9/12/11, Technology Review)

Researchers have, for the first time, shown that the energy efficiency of computers doubles roughly every 18 months.

The conclusion, backed up by six decades of data, mirrors Moore's law, the observation from Intel founder Gordon Moore that computer processing power doubles about every 18 months. But the power-consumption trend might have even greater relevance than Moore's law as battery-powered devices--phones, tablets, and sensors--proliferate.

"The idea is that at a fixed computing load, the amount of battery you need will fall by a factor of two every year and a half," says Jonathan Koomey, consulting professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and lead author of the study. More mobile computing and sensing applications become possible, Koomey says, as energy efficiency continues its steady improvement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


New CNN Poll: Perry on top when it comes to electability (CNN Political Unit, 9/12/11)

"Perry doesn't simply have the most support in a hypothetical ballot - he also tops the list of GOP candidates on every personal quality tested," adds Holland.

Thirty-six percent, for example, see him as the strongest leader in the field, with Romney second at 21 percent. According to the poll, 35 percent say Perry is the Republican candidate most likely to get the economy moving again, with Romney in second at 26 percent.

Nearly three in ten say that Perry is the candidate who is most likely to fight for his beliefs, with Palin in second place at 23 percent and, significantly, Romney in a distant tie for fourth at just 11 percent.

But Perry's biggest strength may be the electability factor, with 42 percent saying he has the best chance of beating Obama next year. Some 26 percent say Romney has the best chance of defeating the president.

"That may go a very long way toward explaining his rise in the polls, since three-quarters of all Republicans say they would prefer a candidate who can beat President Obama over one who agrees with them on major issues," says Holland.

Given that his only competition is Mitt, the Governor can even afford to run the campaign W wanted to in 2000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


Obama the Silent Tax Cutter: You wouldn't know it, but he's cut taxes more than George W. Bush did in his first term. But Obama doesn't get credit because he hasn't cut income taxes as broadly as Bush and Reagan did (Eleanor Clift, 9/12/11, Daily Beast)

Obama has invested so much time demonizing the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich that he has obscured the true narrative of his presidency. Class-war rhetoric aside, Obama is one of the most prolific tax cutters in recent history, with a record that puts him squarely alongside that of George W. Bush.

Crunching the numbers at the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, analyst Michael Linden found that if one compares the cost of tax cuts in just the first four years of Bush's term (2001-04) to the first four years of Obama's (2009-12), Obama's tax cuts are bigger. The value of the Bush tax cuts were about $475 billion in those first four years, or about 1.1 percent of GDP. Obama's total about $1 trillion, or 1.6 percent of GDP.

Obama has cut taxes to lower levels than Bush did, says Linden

What's the funnier bit here, Eleanor denouncing the UR's class warfare or absolving W for being irresponsible?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


Softening Stance After Setbacks: Israel Fears Complete Isolation (Ulrike Putz, 9/12/11, Der Spiegel)

Rarely has the Jewish state suffered so many setbacks and blows as this month:

On Sept. 1, pro-Palestinian activists in London interrupted a performance by the Israeli Symphony Orchesta so vehemently that the BBC had to break off its broadcast of the concert for the first time in its history.

On Sept. 6, it became known that former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had described Netanyahu as "ungrateful" in a meeting of the National Security Council. By refusing to acknowledge Israel's growing isolation, Netanyahu was endangering his country, Gates said. The fact that Gates' comments became public and weren't contradicted by the US government suggest that they were a semi-official message to Jerusalem.

The dispute between Turkey and Israel over Israel's refusal to apologize for the deaths of nine Turkish activists in a 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish boat carrying aid for Gaza culminated last week when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador, cancelled its military cooperation with Jerusalem and announced it would provide military protection for Turkish ships heading to Gaza in the future. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman retorted that Israel would cooperate closely in the future with Kurds and Armenians, traditional opponents of Turkey.

The Palestinian leadership has vowed to seek full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank at the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20. Attempts by the European Union and the US to persuade Ramallah to refrain from such a move, by offering them the prospect of fresh peace negotiations, have so far failed to dissuade the Palestinians.

On Friday night, thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, tore a hole in the surrounding wall, stormed part of the building and held six Israelis under siege for hours. All embassy staff had been evacuated, and only one official was left in the building at the time. Israeli's most important representation in the Arab world is effectively closed now.

Given these crises, Netanyahu is wise to try to calm the waters. For weeks, Israeli politicians and analysts have been warning that Israel's hard-line stance is causing irreparable damage to its reputation among Arabs and in the West. Criticism of the government is especially strong in the security services: the military intelligence service, the domestic intelligence service Shin Bet and the foreign secret service Mossad have repeatedly called on the government in recent weeks to resume talks with the Palestinians in order to ease tensions and lessen international anger toward Israel, the daily Haaretz reported.

Where's a JiNO like Ariel Sharon when they need him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


The Check-Up: Smokers Face Stigma, Even Among Tobacco Users (Emily Leaman, 9/12/11, Philly Post)

Like to smoke? A new Gallup poll has found that one in four Americans loses respect for a person when he or she smokes. Ok, fine, maybe that's fair but get this: The poll also found that about 5 percent of smokers have less respect for other tobacco users.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The covert commander in chief (David Ignatius, September 10, 2011, Washington Post)

It's an interesting anomaly of Barack Obama's presidency that this liberal Democrat, known before the 2008 election for his antiwar views, has been so comfortable running America's secret wars.

Obama's leadership style -- and the continuity of his national security policies with those of his predecessor, George W. Bush -- has left friends and foes scratching their heads. What has become of the "change we can believe in" style he showed as a candidate? The answer may be that he has disappeared into the secret world of the post-Sept. 11 presidency. [...]

Bob Woodward, in "Obama's Wars," describes how the president-elect was told the nation's most sensitive secrets on Nov. 6, 2008, two days after the election. "I'm inheriting a world that could blow up any minute in half a dozen ways," he told an aide later. Obama immediately began to master the tools of counterterrorism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


The Journalist and the Spies: The murder of a reporter who exposed Pakistan's secrets. (Dexter Filkins, September 19, 2011, The New Yorker)

t was a particularly anxious time in Pakistan. Four weeks earlier, American commandos had flown, undetected, into Abbottabad, a military town northwest of Islamabad, and killed Osama bin Laden. The Pakistani Army, which for more than sixty years has portrayed itself as the country's guardian and guide, was deeply embarrassed: either it had helped to hide bin Laden or it had failed to realize that he was there. Certainly it hadn't known that the Americans were coming.

Less than three weeks after the Abbottabad raid, the Army was humiliated a second time. A group of militants, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests, breached one of the country's most secure bases, the Pakistan Naval Air Station-Mehran, outside Karachi, and blew up two P-3C Orion surveillance planes that had been bought from the United States. At least ten Pakistanis affiliated with the base died. The components of several nuclear warheads were believed to be housed nearby, and the implication was clear: Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was not safe. In barracks across the country, military officers questioned the competence of Pakistan's two most powerful men, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, the chief of the Army staff, and General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or I.S.I. Some officers even demanded that the Generals resign. Ordinary Pakistanis, meanwhile, publicly disparaged the one institution that, until then, had seemed to function.

Amid this tumult, Shahzad wrote a sensational story for Asia Times Online, the Web site that employed him, saying that the attack on the Mehran base had been carried out by Al Qaeda--not by the Pakistani Taliban, which had claimed responsibility. He said that the Mehran assault had been intended to punish the military for having conducted "massive internal crackdowns on Al Qaeda affiliates within the Navy." A number of sailors had been detained for plotting to kill Americans, and one "was believed to have received direct instructions from Hakeemullah Mehsud"--the chief of the Pakistani Taliban. It was not the first time that Shahzad had exposed links between Islamist militants and the armed forces--a connection that Pakistan's generals have denied for years. But the Mehran article was his biggest provocation yet.

Shahzad, whose parents migrated from India after Partition, making him a muhajir--Urdu for "immigrant"--was an affable outsider within Pakistan's journalistic circles. Asia Times Online is not connected to any of the country's established newspapers; its editorial operations are based in Thailand. Shahzad had no local editor to guide him or restrain him. Only a few other journalists had written as aggressively about Islamist extremism in the military, and not all of them had survived.

A hallmark of Shahzad's reporting was that it frequently featured interviews with Islamist militants, including Al Qaeda fighters. His work was sometimes inaccurate, but it held up often enough so that other journalists followed his leads. Perhaps because he had cultivated so many militants as sources, he occasionally seemed to glorify the men who were carrying out suicide bombings and assassinations. In 2009, he published a breathless account of a meeting with Ilyas Kashmiri, a top Al Qaeda leader. Shahzad noted that the terrorist "cut a striking figure," was "strongly built," and had a powerful handshake, adding, "Ilyas, with his unmatched guerrilla expertise, turns the strategic vision into reality, provides the resources and gets targets achieved, but he chooses to remain in the background and very low key." At other times, like many Pakistani journalists, he seemed to spare the intelligence services from the most damning details in his notebooks. But on several important occasions--as in the case of the Mehran attack--he wrote what appeared to be undiluted truth about the Pakistani state's deepest dilemmas.

An autopsy report showed that Shahzad had died slowly and painfully, his rib cage smashed on both sides, his lungs and liver ruptured. Someone, apparently, had intended to send a message by killing him.

The media in Pakistan immediately suggested a culprit. According to the newspaper Dawn, it was believed that Shahzad "had been picked up by the I.S.I. because of his recent story on the P.N.S.-Mehran base attack."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Ian Graham, the improbable explorer: This beguiling biography records forty-three years of "Maya mania" (Ferdinand Mount, 9/08/11, Times Literary Supplement)

He was already thirty-five when he glided across the Texan border on a whim, at the wheel of his vintage Rolls. He was completely ignorant of Mexico and claimed never to have heard of the Mayan civilization. "Serendipity" is too weak a word, as he himself says of an excursion that was to lead to forty-three years of painstaking exploration and recording of Maya monuments and their inscriptions.

This laid-back beginning came naturally to someone who was born with a drawerful of silver spoons at his elbow. One grandfather was the Duke of Montrose, who owned the whole island of Arran, where Graham's childhood playmate was Prince Rainier of Monaco. His grandmother on the other side was the proprietor of the Morning Post. Among other things, she had been taught to rollerskate by Rimsky-Korsakov and financed the first airship to carry passengers across the Channel. To save her the trouble of remembering the names of her footmen, they were always addressed as James and Frederick, regardless of what they were actually called. When Graham ran short of funds to pay for his expeditions, she passed on to him part of the proceeds of selling the lease on her corner house in Belgrave Square. At other moments when the money dried up, his ingenuous charm ensured that there were always wealthy widows ready to entertain him on clifftops in Acapulco or the Upper East Side. These patrons often possessed not only orchids, black swans and French chefs but also an untapped enthusiasm for lost civilizations.

In contrast to these gilded lollings, Graham also had an intense scientific bent and a technological inventiveness which led him from an early age to fashion devices to answer any problem. At Winchester, he built a radio receiver, a wind tunnel and a trench mortar. At Cambridge, he opted for physics, electronics and crystallography. During the Second World War (he was born in 1923), he served in the Fleet Air Arm and was engaged in pioneering radar research. After 1945, in a period at the Conservation Department of the National Gallery, he constructed a device for gluing flaky Botticellis and Bellinis to their panels. Later in New York, he acted as photographic assistant to Irving Penn. His professional knowledge of camera lighting and the handling of glue and latex was not common among archaeologists and was to come in handy for the recording, modelling and deciphering of the mysterious Maya hieroglyphs, study of which had languished not least because of the poor quality of most available photographs. It is these technical improvements as well as his own tenacity that have enabled Graham to undertake and carry through his magnum opus: the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions which he has been masterminding at the Peabody Museum, Harvard, since the 1970s (the work is still barely half completed).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Universities weaken under the weight of their own bureaucracies (Benjamin Ginsberg, September 12, 2011, Boston Globe)

[T]o a surprising degree, US universities today are falling short because of a transformation within the nation's academic community itself. Today's great universities were built by members of the faculty who - contrary to the myth of the impractical professor - often turned out to be excellent entrepreneurs and managers. Yet, over the last half-century, America's universities have slowly been taken over by a burgeoning class of administrators and staffers who are less interested in training future entrepreneurs and thinkers as they are in turning institutions of learning into cash cows for a growing academic bureaucracy. The character of higher education in the United States has changed - and not for the better.

Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to university payrolls, even as budget crises force schools to shrink their full-time faculties. There are armies of functionaries - vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings, each commanding staffers and assistants. In turn, the ranks of administrators have expanded at nearly twice the rate of the faculty, while administrative staffs have outgrown the academics by nearly a factor of five. No wonder college is so expensive!

Academia was particularly committed to the idea of expanding the workforce beyond white males, so it's hardly surprising that it created lots of makework jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Earl of Sandwich: Back among the Common folk (Boston Globe, September 12, 2011)

After 235 years of independence, is it finally safe to let the British nobility back on Boston Common? For first time since Evacuation Day in 1776, a titled Englishman may soon occupy one of the most historic plots of ground in the United States.

Not that anyone would immediately recognize the Pink Palace, a 1920s-era public restroom on Boston Common that has been unused for decades, as a place of historic import. It is slated to be transformed into a sandwich shop in the next two years. The owner of the shop will be a company called Earl of Sandwich, which has an affiliation with the 11th Earl of Sandwich.

September 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


First Listen: Steve Reich, 'WTC 9/11' (Anastasia Tsioulcas, September 11, 2011, NPR)

"It was like the twisted steel of Berlin, Cologne and Tokyo come to rest four blocks from where we live." Composer Steve Reich uses those words to evoke the bright and yet terribly dark September day a decade ago. In Reich's WTC 9/11, out Sept. 20, we hear not just his own compositional voice, but also -- through the use of documentary recordings -- what he calls the "speech melody" of those who bore witness to Sept. 11. They range from NORAD air-traffic controllers and New York firefighters recorded that day to friends and neighbors recalling events years later. Reich weaves the pitches and rhythms of those voices into a work of terrible sorrow and haunting power. (You can listen to Reich talk about creating WTC 9/11 as well.)

Reaching deep into the immediate chaos and accumulated pain of that day, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer pulls out layers of meaning from the initials "WTC." They stand for World Trade Center, but they also refer to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier -- which Reich chose not to quote directly, but rather honor in spirit.

Inspired by a good friend, fellow composer David Lang, Reich delves into the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions of another "WTC" -- the "world to come." Reich, who is immersed in Judaism, draws in the voices of women who fulfilled the Jewish obligation of shmira, or sitting with the victims' remains before burial, chanting Psalms and other Biblical passages to accompany the souls of the dead. But layers of anxiety about our current lives and time in history lurk in that phrase, as well. As Lang says at the piece's conclusion, "The world to come. I don't really know what that means."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Triumph of the normal: Liberals are disappointed that the US wasn't 'transformed' by 9/11-- but it was ordinary life the terrorists attacked (Kyle Smith, September 11, 2011, NY Post)

Liberals have never forgiven Bush for letting this crisis go to waste. During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama said, "A lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country. And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, 'Go out and shop.' That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for."

Columnist Thomas Friedman says that on 9/12 Bush should have announced a "Patriot Tax" of $1 per gallon of gas. In The New Yorker last week, George Packer said Bush's call to continue living our lives was "unreality . . . Wasn't there anything else? Should Americans enlist in the armed forces, join the foreign service, pay more taxes, do volunteer work, study foreign languages, travel to Muslim countries?" Packer calls Bush's policies "a malignant persistence," speaks favorably of a draft and calls for a solution to income inequality and (perhaps most of all) a balm for what he calls liberals' feelings of being "marginalized, misrepresented, ridiculed, scapegoated and worst of all, ignored."

In other words, liberals desire from 9/11 what they always desire: raising taxes. More citizens joyously marching off to serve the state. Spreading the wealth. Hitting energy companies. And the fuzzy internationalism that hustles to confront terrorist fanatics with the dewy undergraduate's weapons of understanding and compassion -- via vacations in Damascus and Berlitz lessons. As for joining the armed forces, Packer must have noticed while he was in Iraq that many Americans did exactly that, and not a few of them cited Bush as an inspiration. [...]

To some it is infuriating that Bush was right. In part because he declined to use his popularity (at a time when his approval ratings hit 92%) to make 9/11 a pretext for reforming America, life did go on mostly as normal.

Sometimes doing nothing constitutes a major accomplishment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Why They Get Pakistan Wrong (Mohsin Hamid, 9/11/11, NY Review of Books)

[F]ollowing the terrorist attacks of September 11, linked to members of al-Qaeda living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan, the US returned to the region in force and demanded that Pakistan choose sides. President Pervez Musharraf's subsequent decision to align Pakistan with the US was perceived by many militants as a "betrayal." Still, Musharraf hoped the Pakistani military's conflict with its infuriated, jihadist offspring could be circumscribed, that it might be possible "to drive a wedge between the Pakistani militants and the al-Qaeda foreigners."

This plan, besides denying the extent of the militant threat to Pakistan, was also undermined by US strategy, a strategy that suffered from the outset from what Hussein identifies as two "fundamental flaws." The first of these was a failure to understand that unless Pashtun grievances were addressed--particularly their demand for a fair share of power--the war in Afghanistan would become "a Pashtun war, and that the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become...strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban."

As the US campaign in Afghanistan began, Hussain writes, Musharraf "warned the United States not to allow the [Northern] Alliance forces to enter Kabul before a broad-based Afghan national government was put in place." But the US ignored this advice, and later, at the Bonn conference of December 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as chairman (and subsequently president) as Pashtun "window dressing, while the Northern Alliance took over the most powerful sections of the government."

By backing the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and then failing to include a meaningful representation of Pashtuns in a power-sharing deal in Kabul, the US not only sided with India in the Indian-Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan, it also elevated a coalition of Afghanistan's smaller ethnicities above its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Conflict was inevitable, and since twice as many Pashtuns live in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, it was also inevitable that this conflict would spill over the border.

The results for Pakistan were catastrophic. Over the following decade, as Hussain describes in detail, the Pakistani military's attempts to separate "good" militants from "bad" foundered. Instead, strong networks developed between radical groups in Pakistan's Punjabi east and those in its Pashtun west. With each move of the Pakistani military against them, the frequency and lethality of counterattacks by terrorists inside Pakistan, on both military and civilian targets, intensified. Pakistani casualties soared.

The only way out of this trap, in which an unwinnable "Pashtun war" threatens to swamp an essential Pakistani program to neutralize militants, Hussain suggests, is to address the second "fundamental flaw" in US strategy: the "failure to appreciate that combating the militant threat required something far more than a military campaign," namely a "political settlement with the insurgents, requiring direct talks with the Taliban."

The Pashtun war is easily won, just recognize Pashtunistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


America remembers the victims of 9/11 with tributes and tears ( Ed Pilkington and Karen McVeigh and Chris McGreal, 11 September 2011, The Guardian)

Not long after dawn the sound of real chattering began to suffuse the area as a crowd began to form at the World Trade Centre. Not any crowd. Every individual there represented a decade of loss and mourning. Each one brought with them the memory of a father, wife, son - some in physical form like the woman who carried aloft a series of photographs of a man cut into shapes that spelled: "I love daddy". Others wore T-shirts with printed photos of their loved ones, or held up placards showing a husband at his college graduation, a daughter smiling broadly, with the words: "Never forgotten".

How to measure the enormity of the events of that day a decade ago, and what they signify today? You can quote statistics, like the headline figure of 2,977 - the number of those who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania (not including the 19 hijackers). Or you can cite the figure that almost half of those who died had children under 18.

But statistics only go so far. Another way of gauging the numbing scale of the tragedy was that it took four and a half hours to read out in alphabetical order the names of the victims. Those with a surname starting with "A" alone took almost 10 minutes - all 108 of them.

When the hijackers boarded the four planes at Boston, Newark and Washington that morning they had been drilled to believe that they were attacking the enemy of a monolithic America. But as the "As" were read out it became clear that the victims of al-Qaida's hatred were anything but monolithic. It was like being taken on a journey around the world: Abad, Aceto, Acquaviva, Adanga, Afflito, Afuakwah, Agarwal, Agnello, Ahladiotis, Ahmed, Alegre-Cua, Alikakos, Amanullah, Ang, Arczynski, Avraham ...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


All Blacks-Tonga game most watched NZ TV event ever (Amelia Wade, Sep 12, 2011, NZ Herald)

The All Blacks' opening match against Tonga on Friday night was the most-watched event in New Zealand history.

Ratings show almost two million people watched the game across the four channels that screened the match live - and that's not including the thousands who watched on screens in bars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Remarks at the National Day of Prayer & Remembrance (George W. Bush, delivered 14 September 2001, Episcopal National Cathedral)

We are here in the middle hour of our grief. So many have suffered so great a loss, and today we express our nation's sorrow. We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who loved them. On Tuesday, our country was attacked with deliberate and massive cruelty. We have seen the images of fire and ashes and bent steel.

Now come the names, the list of casualties we are only beginning to read:

They are the names of men and women who began their day at a desk or in an airport, busy with life.

They are the names of people who faced death and in their last moments called home to say, be brave and I love you.

They are the names of passengers who defied their murderers and prevented the murder of others on the ground.

They are the names of men and women who wore the uniform of the United States and died at their posts.

They are the names of rescuers -- the ones whom death found running up the stairs and into the fires to help others.

We will read all these names. We will linger over them and learn their stories, and many Americans will weep.

To the children and parents and spouses and families and friends of the lost, we offer the deepest sympathy of the nation. And I assure you, you are not alone. Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history, but our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.

War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others; it will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing. Our purpose as a nation is firm, yet our wounds as a people are recent and unhealed and lead us to pray. In many of our prayers this week, there's a searching and an honesty. At St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, on Tuesday, a woman said, "I pray to God to give us a sign that He's still here."

Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing. God's signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey, and there are prayers that yield our will to a Will greater than our own.

This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.

It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. In this trial, we have been reminded and the world has seen that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave.

We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion, in long lines of blood donors, in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible.

And we have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice:

Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end and at the side of his quadriplegic friend.

A beloved priest died giving the last rites to a firefighter.

Two office workers, finding a disabled stranger, carried her down 68 floors to safety.

A group of men drove through the night from Dallas to Washington to bring skin grafts for burned victims.

In these acts and many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another and an abiding love for our country.

Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called, "the warm courage of national unity." This is a unity of every faith and every background. It has joined together political parties and both houses of Congress. It is evident in services of prayer and candlelight vigils and American flags, which are displayed in pride and waved in defiance. Our unity is a kinship of grief and a steadfast resolve to prevail against our enemies. And this unity against terror is now extending across the world.

America is a nation full of good fortune, with so much to be grateful for, but we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America because we are freedom's home and defender, and the commitment of our Fathers is now the calling of our time.

On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.

As we've been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God's love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.

God bless America.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


The legacy of that terrible time will be less significant than we then feared (Francis Fukuyama, 9/11/11, The Guardian)

The real problem was political. As the terrorism expert Brian Jenkins points out, democratic publics always overreact to the threat of terrorism. It would have been very difficult for an American administration of any stripe to tell the public the truth after September 11, namely, that western civilisation was not facing an existential threat from al-Qaida, but rather a long twilight struggle best fought by police and intelligence agencies.

The Bush administration did much the opposite, elevating the "war on terrorism" to the level of 20th-century struggles against fascism and communism, and justifying its invasion of Iraq on these grounds. By neglecting Afghanistan and occupying Iraq, it turned both countries into magnets for new terrorist recruitment, diminished its own moral stature through prisoner abuse, and tarnished the name of democracy promotion.

September 11 spawned many theories of a Muslim or Arab exception to the global trend toward democracy. After the green uprising in Iran and the Arab Spring, we can see clearly that this was one area where the Bush administration was right: there was no cultural or religious obstacle to the spread of democratic ideas in the Middle East; only, it would have to come about through the people's own agency and not as a gift of a foreign power. Even if democracy does not emerge quickly in places such as Egypt and Tunisia, the popular mobilisation we have seen signals a key social trend far more powerful than anything a Bin Laden or Zawahiri could muster.

As Mr. Fukuyama accidentally acknowledges, the war on Islamic dictatorship turned out to be exactly like the wars on communism and Nazism, unnecessary but easily won. This was just the coda to The Long War and wholly of a piece with our natural tendency to hasten the End of History.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Bush's Fatal 9/11 Flaw: George W. Bush thought al Qaeda's attack was the major geopolitical event of our time. He was wrong. Peter Beinart on the real global shift that W. didn't see--and how Obama can reverse course. (Peter Beinart, Sep 11, 2011, Daily Beast)

The man most responsible for this trajectory, George W. Bush, will be on hand with Barack Obama for the memorial service. Bush's central error, in retrospect, was conflating 9/11's human significance with its geopolitical one. In human terms, 9/11 was one of the singular events in American history. In terms of sheer human pain, no other day in America's recent past even comes close. It was perhaps natural, therefore, that Bush would see 9/11 as geopolitically momentous too. But, in fact, it was not. The defining geopolitical reality of our time was, and is, the shift in power from America and Europe to Asia, a shift with profound consequences for the way Americans live their lives. But Bush never grasped the enormity of this shift, and the way in which it would challenge America's preeminence.

...was that he didn't care about Europe, which he recognized long before the elites had died on the vine. Instead, largely unrecognized by the same folk, he spent his time cultivating new alliances with Asian, African and Latin American nations--from Mongolia, Indonesia and India to Colombia and Brazil to Liberia, South Sudan, etc.--several of which he'd helped liberate, in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now, it is certainly the case that much of this would have occurred irrespective of 9-11--he was going to remove the Saddam regime, make inroads in Latin America, focus on health issues in Africa and make India central to our geostrategic alignment no matter what--but the fact is that 9-11's only lasting significance lies in the fact that it accelerated this shift and gave him a lever with which to force liberalization on the Middle East.

So, in a limited sense Mr. Beinart is right: 9-11 was not the major geopolitical event of our time. The election of George W. Bush was. He was, after all, the first president for whom Europe was an afterthought. Significantly, there will never be another president for whom it is the primary foreign policy focus. It just doesn't matter any more.

After 10 years, it's still a fight for freedom (Jeff Jacoby, September 11, 2011, Boston Globe)

Almost from the outset, President George W. Bush recognized that the United States was engaged in an ideological struggle. During the Cold War two decades earlier, Ronald Reagan had argued that the promotion of freedom should be a priority in American foreign policy. By advancing the ideals of liberty and human dignity, Reagan told the British Parliament in 1982, America and its allies would undermine the Soviet Union and eventually relegate Communist totalitarianism to "the ash-heap of history.'' In much the same way, Bush saw, radical Islam could be weakened by deploying the moral force of liberal democracy and equality.

Just nine days after 9/11, addressing a joint session of Congress, Bush began to lay out an ideological strategy for defeating the jihadist threat.

"Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime, but its goal is not making money," Bush said. "Its goal is remaking the world -- and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere." Terrorism was not caused by the religion of Islam but by the Islamists' political fanaticism. "They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions - by abandoning every value except the will to power - they follow in the path of fascism and Nazism and totalitarianism.''

The war on terror, Bush accurately foretold, would be a long struggle fought on many fronts. But ultimately the only way to prevent Al Qaeda and its allies from imposing an "age of terror'' was for America to sustain an "age of liberty, here and across the world.'' While Bush would get plenty of things wrong after 9/11, this ideological insight - that the root of Islamist terrorism was the lack of freedom in the Middle East - was one of the big things he got right.

There were plenty who didn't. Many voices insisted that terrorism was fueled by poverty or lack of education. Other analysts rushed to explain 9/11 as the fruit of US "arrogance,'' or as a reaction to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In reality, as Princeton economist Alan Krueger demonstrated in a 2007 book, "What Makes A Terrorist?'' the best predictors of terrorism are "the suppression of civil liberties and political rights, including freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, and democratic rights.''

Bush's campaign to democratize the Middle East - what came to be known as the "freedom agenda'' - was rooted in the conviction that the way to break the back of jihadist hatred was to drain the swamps in which it breeds: the dictatorships and theocracies of the Muslim Middle East.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


King Arthur's Round Table Possibly Located in Scotland (Epoch Times, Sep 10, 2011)

Archeologists surveying the King's Knot landmark near Stirling Castle in Scotland have discovered a circular feature beneath the site that could explain why folklore links the knot with the legendary Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.

Known locally as the 'cup and saucer,' the knot comprises a stepped octagonal mound with a smaller mound nearby. Both are set inside square parterres as part of the castle's royal geometrical gardens that were constructed for Charles I in the 17th century.

Together with the Stirling Local History Society (SLHS), archeologists at Glasgow University used remote-sensing geophysics as part of a non-invasive survey to probe the ground down to one meter below the King's Knot.

They found the remains of a round ditch and other earthworks lying beneath, which are older than the visible earthworks.

"The finds show that the present mound was created on an older site and throws new light on a tradition that King Arthur's Round Table was located in this vicinity," said SLHS chairman John Harrison, according to UK newspaper the Telegraph.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The 9/11 Decade: The Sky Cowboys (NY Times, 9/01/11)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Michael Stern Hart dies at 64; e-book pioneer (Elaine Woo, 9/09/11, Los Angeles Times)

Michael Stern Hart, a burly rebel whose vision of a literate society led him to pioneer the electronic book decades before the spread of the Internet, has died. He was 64.

The founder of the online library Project Gutenberg, Hart had been in poor health and was found Tuesday at his Urbana, Ill., home, said Project Gutenberg Chief Executive Gregory B. Newby. An autopsy is underway to determine the cause of death.

Hart was a freshman at the University of Illinois in 1971 when he was granted free access to the campus' enormous mainframe computer. He was uncertain how to use the valuable computer time until inspiration struck in the form of a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence that had been stuffed in his grocery bag as part of a Fourth of July promotion.

He keyed the historic text into the computer system, which linked 100 users at elite institutions such as Harvard, UCLA and the Department of Defense. It was downloaded by six members of this pre-Internet network, which was encouragement enough for Hart to continue.

He transmitted the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. Forty years later, Project Gutenberg, named after the inventor of the Gutenberg printing press, is one of the oldest online collections of literature, offering more than 33,000 free books in 60 languages. The vast majority are public domain, and all are digitized by volunteers scattered around the globe.

Every revolution in communications serves to further extend Western ideas and homogenize the globe around them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Q&A With Will McCants on al Qaeda (Foreign Affairs, September 5, 2011)

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, how has al Qaeda changed the religious and political conversation in the Islamic world?

On the one hand, al Qaeda has done immense harm to relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. The 9/11 attacks were designed to provoke the United States and its allies to overreact by invading and occupying Muslim nations, which happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and reinforced the idea that the West wants to subjugate Muslims. The attacks also made Muslim minorities in the West the objects of suspicion. On the other hand, al Qaeda's hostility toward and attacks on Muslims who do not share its views engendered a lot of soul searching in the Islamic world about tolerance and legitimate resistance. Moreover, al Qaeda's failure to achieve its goal of creating Islamic states hostile to the West has bolstered the credibility of conservative Muslims engaged in parliamentary politics. [...]

As the Arab Spring continues, how valuable is the al Qaeda brand?

Very few of the revolutionaries are appealing to al Qaeda for help, and all of them understand that inviting it would hurt their cause at a time when they badly need international support. Even al Qaeda has realized that its brand has suffered. According to press reports about the documents captured in the Abbottabad raid, bin Laden worried that the al Qaeda name had been damaged by its attacks on civilians. The recent decision of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to operate under the banner of "helpers of the sharia" is further evidence that al Qaeda realizes it has tarnished its own image.

You discuss the importance that many al Qaeda operatives have placed on holding territory. What would capturing a large swath of territory do for the organization?

Al Qaeda lacks the ability to capture territory itself but wants to help do so in order to set up an Islamic state hostile to the West. Al Qaeda is particularly keen to see such a state arise in the Arab Middle East. As Zawahiri has said, failure to achieve this goal means its entire enterprise is pointless. Of course, this project has failed, and Zawahiri has urged people to take the long view. But at some point, hope will not be enough to sustain support for al Qaeda's program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


War and Peace on the Big Sandy River (Dean H. King, September 2011, Granta)

Far from the canyons of lower Manhattan or the rugged peaks of Afghanistan, 9/11 led to an unexpected breakthrough in an ancient feud. From the remote hollows of Appalachia issued some bold words of peace: 'Our families stand as a symbol of unity to let the world know that we will not allow our freedom to be taken from us. We stand together to oppose any force that would threaten our country. A country made of people from all nations in the common bond of freedom.' Reo Bentley Hatfield II wrote these words.

Reo's ancestors were responsible for the most notorious feud in American history. He was an expert on the topic.

The Hatfield-McCoy feud stretched from the end of the Civil War to 1890, causing mayhem and the deaths of dozens of people along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, the West Virginia-Kentucky border. A series of murders, clandestine executions, ambushes and a house-burning later, the two states nearly went to war with each other. The feud, heavily sensationalized by yellow journalists in the national media, was adjudicated in a US Supreme Court hearing and resulted in a public hanging.

It was the refusal of Reo's great-great-grandfather, Bad 'Lias, The two states nearly went to war with each pay a debt for a fiddle to Tolbert McCoy on Election Day in 1882 that led to a fistfight that went very wrong. In the end, Tolbert and two of his brothers stabbed Bad 'Lias's bearish cousin Ellison Hatfield, a hulking Confederate veteran, twenty-seven times and shot him for good measure. Even so, he lasted long enough to tell his brother Devil Anse what had happened. Feud on.

In 1947, decades after the last gun was fired, the feud almost started up again. This time Reo's grandfather, Allen Hatfield, the chief of police of Matewan, West Virginia, was to blame. When he went with another officer to raid a bawdy house, an angry patron grabbed the gun of the other officer and shot Hatfield twice in the back. 'My grandfather turned and shot him dead', says Reo.

The man happened to be a McCoy.

Afterward, Allen sat on his rocker coolly talking to a reporter about the incident. The infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud had long been over. But now a Hatfield, who had a bullet hole through his shoulder and a slug in his hip, had just killed a McCoy. Hatfield finally ended the chat by saying that he believed he'd go on down to the hospital now to get the bullet removed from his hip. 'Hatfield shoots McCoy at scene of famous feud', the paper blazed the next day. Feud revived.

Reo Hatfield II disliked the McCoys on principle, and never had any intention of making amends with them: 'Never even considered it', he says. 'Never planned on doing it.'

But that changed after 9/11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Al Qaeda's Failure on Wall Street (Zachary Karabell, 9/11/11, Daily Beast)

The World Trade Center was never seen as an overly attractive piece of architecture, but as a symbol of American economic might, it was undeniably powerful. Never mind that it was built just as New York was imploding financially in the mid-1970s; it still stood as a set of dual icons representing the economic primacy not just of the United States, but of Wall Street and the entire financial industry.

That's what made it such an attractive target for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, just as it had for the like-minded plotters of 1993, who failed to accomplish what those two airliners would eight years later. Strike at the Twin Towers, show their fragility, so the logic went, and you would strike a blow at the financial infrastructure of America, at the hubris of Wall Street, and thereby undermine the ability of the American empire to function. The attack on the Pentagon was against the military might of the United States; the strike against the towers was against the economic.

The logic was flawed. For all the terror of that day, for Wall Street 9/11 was the Day That Nothing Changed.

The attacks and the destruction to Lower Manhattan did lead to a rare shutdown of the markets, which did not reopen until the following Monday. When trading resumed on Sept. 17, 2001, equity markets worldwide plunged--the Dow alone fell 7 percent--but within weeks those losses had been recouped. The exhortations of President Bush that Americans go out and spend, combined with the rapid response of the Federal Reserve and then Chairman Alan Greenspan to slash interest rates, meant that far from plunging the United States further into recession, the attacks may have triggered an economic rebound. The economic contraction that had begun in early 2001 ended in November 2001, two months after the towers fell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Opera Recalls A Hero's Life, Love and Song (CORI ELLISON, 9/04/11, NY Times)

The story of Rescorla's heroism during the World Trade Center attacks is the stuff of opera, a hypertheatrical medium that holds a magnifying mirror up to nature. So it's not entirely surprising that Rescorla's story will materialize on the stage of the San Francisco Opera in the form of "Heart of a Soldier" beginning on Saturday, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The opera, composed by Christopher Theofanidis to a libretto by Donna DiNovelli, is based on the book of the same title (Simon & Schuster), written in 2002 by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart, who now writes the "Common Sense" column for the Business Day section of The New York Times. [...]

The final chapter of the life of Rick Rescorla, who was the second vice president for corporate security for Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center, has also been documented in a 2002 film from the History Channel, "The Man Who Predicted 9/11." Convinced that Osama bin Laden would attack the World Trade Center, Rescorla had developed a detailed evacuation plan, and on Sept. 11 he defied official instructions and implemented it.

The opera "Heart of a Soldier," ranging far beyond Rescorla's final days, traces the broad sweep of his life against the volatile historical landscape of the late 20th century. It begins with his boyhood in Cornwall, England, where he was indelibly struck by the American G.I.'s who arrived in 1943 to prepare for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The opera continues with Rescorla's stint with the British military police in war-torn Rhodesia, where he forges a deep and life-altering friendship with an American soldier, Daniel J. Hill, who inspires him to join the United States Army and serve in Vietnam.

Several decades later Rescorla is a retired Army colonel, decorated veteran of three wars and survivor of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The opera's focus shifts to his idyllic autumn romance with Susan Greer, who became his second wife.

The opera's final scenes depict Rescorla's actions on Sept. 11. Between 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower, and 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower, Rescorla mobilized to evacuate all but 6 of his company's 2,700 employees, who worked on the 44th through 74th floors of the South Tower, using his powerful voice to sing them down the smoke-clogged stairs and out of the building. Returning to hunt for possible stragglers, Rescorla died under 500,000 tons of steel and concrete.

Francesca Zambello, the director of "Heart of a Soldier" and an artistic adviser to the San Francisco Opera, as well as the general and artistic director of the Glimmerglass Festival, sensed the theatrical potential of Mr. Stewart's book immediately.

'Heart Of A Soldier': An Opera At The Heart Of Sept. 11 (Laura Sydell, 9/10/11, NPR)
A man saves thousands from a burning building, then goes back in to make sure he got everyone out. He dies, leaving behind the great love of his life. It might sound too dramatic to be real life, but it happened exactly 10 years ago this Sunday, at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Journalist James Stewart wrote a book about that man, called Heart of a Soldier, and now that book is the subject of a new opera, premiering Saturday in San Francisco.

In the weeks after the Twin Towers fell, Stewart was reporting about Wall Street for the New Yorker. Someone told him that Morgan Stanley, one of the firms with offices in the towers, had almost no casualties.

"That just kind of lodged in my mind as an oddity," Stewart recalls, "because so many other firms were either completely wiped out, nearly wiped out, horrible losses."

Stewart started asking around to find out why Morgan Stanley had been an exception. "Someone finally said, 'I think it was because there was this one guy who was in charge of security there who defied the order to stay in the tower and got everyone out.'"

That guy was Rick Rescorla, a Vietnam veteran with a long history of heroic deeds.

The deeper he dug the more incredible and sad Rescorla's story became to Stewart.

The Real Heroes Are Dead: A love story (James B. Stewart, February 11, 2002, The New Yorker)

After the Rhodesian conflict ended, with the British withdrawal from Northern Rhodesia, Hill persuaded Rescorla to join him in the United States Army. He argued that the next major fight against Communism was shaping up in Vietnam.

Both Hill and Rescorla were fanatics about fitness and about survival skills. Rescorla may have told Susan that he was running barefoot as research for a play, but he had already been running barefoot in Africa, and then at Fort Dix, toughening his soles to the point where he could extinguish a fire with his bare feet. He told Hill that if he lost his boots in combat it wouldn't matter. This was something he'd absorbed from his years in Africa. "You should be able to strip a man naked and throw him out with nothing on him," he told Hill. By the end of the day, the man should be clothed and fed. By the end of the week, he should own a horse. And by the end of a year he should own a business and have money in the bank.

At Fort Dix, the two were immediately promoted to acting sergeant. They spent weekends together, with Hill's wife and two children. In their free time, they went on picnics and visited Revolutionary War battlefields. Hill considered himself something of a military historian, but he was no match for Rescorla, who, although he hadn't been to college, had read all fifty-one volumes of the Harvard Classics. He had memorized long stretches of Shakespeare and often quoted Churchill. When Rescorla became an American citizen, in 1967, Hill was at his side.

Both men were chosen for Officer Candidate School, and when they graduated, in 1965, Hill was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, Rescorla to the Seventh Air Cavalry. Units of the two divisions were among the first ordered to Southeast Asia. Rescorla arrived in September; Hill followed in December. Rather than spend his first week of R. and R. in Hong Kong or Honolulu with the rest of his brigade, Hill opted to go straight to the Vietcong-controlled Central Highlands to fight with Rescorla, who was leading a mobile combat platoon.

The remote Ia Drang Valley, less than ten miles from the Cambodian border, was a Communist stronghold and a supply route for North Vietnamese forces in the south. In November of 1965, the American military command ordered Rescorla's unit, Bravo company of the Seventh Air Cavalry's 2nd Battalion, to the center of a hostile area to support a battalion surrounded by three regiments of hardened enemy troops--more than two thousand soldiers. Rescorla directed his men to dig foxholes and establish a defense perimeter. Exploring the hilly terrain beyond the perimeter, he came under enemy fire. After nightfall, he and his men endured waves of assault. To keep morale up, Rescorla led the men in military cheers and Cornish songs throughout the night.

The next morning, Rescorla took a patrol through the battlefield, searching for American dead and wounded. As he looked over a giant anthill, he encountered an enemy machine-gun nest. The startled North Vietnamese fired on him, and Rescorla hurled a grenade into the nest. There were no survivors.

Rescorla and Bravo company were evacuated by helicopter. The rest of the battalion marched to a nearby landing zone. On the way, they were ambushed, and Bravo company was again called in for relief. Only two helicopters made it through enemy fire. As the one carrying Rescorla descended, the pilot was wounded, and he started to lift up. Rescorla and his men jumped the remaining ten feet, bullets flying at them, and made it into the beleaguered camp. As Lieutenant Larry Gwin later recalled the scene, "I saw Rick Rescorla come swaggering into our lines with a smile on his face, an M-79 on his shoulder, his M-16 in one hand, saying, 'Good, good, good! I hope they hit us with everything they got tonight--we'll wipe them up.' His spirit was catching. The enemy must have thought an entire battalion was coming to help us, because of all our screaming and yelling."

Though Hill and Rescorla were nominally in separate units, at times they operated together. They made a formidable team. Hill had such a keen sense of the presence of enemy soldiers that Rescorla told him he was "better than an English pointer," Hill recalled. "If we got into trouble and hit something, he was the commander. He'd leave me at the base of the fire, and he'd maneuver into the enemy. We didn't even have to speak. We thought so much alike, he'd just nod or wink and I knew what he was going to do." To memorialize their close friendship, Rescorla bought matching Bowie knives with their names engraved on the blades, and Hill gave Rescorla a 9-mm Browning automatic pistol adorned with their division patches and initials.

Hill and Rescorla survived Vietnam, but many of their comrades did not. Three hundred and five died in the Ia Drang Valley alone, one of the heaviest losses ever sustained by a single American regiment. Many times, Rescorla cradled the bodies of his dying soldiers, speaking softly and reassuringly to them. "You're going to be all right," he promised, no matter how dire the situation. After a soldier died, Rescorla would cover his hands with the soldier's blood, in a sort of ritual. "He was terribly compassionate, unlike me," Hill recalled. "Rick died a little bit with every guy who died under his command."

The two friends returned to the United States after their tour of duty in Vietnam, and they roomed next door to each other at Fort Benning, Georgia. Rescorla left the military in 1968 for the University of Oklahoma. Inside the toughened military veteran, he insisted, was the soul of a writer. He had already started writing a novel, which he often discussed with Hill. He called it "Pegasus," and it was about a mobile-air-cavalry unit coming together, training, and going into combat. He was also interested in Westerns, and wrote several stories that were published in Western-themed magazines. But Hill thought the real reason Rescorla left the military was that he didn't want any more men to die in his arms.

Hill went back to Vietnam and stayed until 1969, specializing in guerrilla tactics and unconventional warfare, subjects that he had taught at Fort Benning. He retired from the Army in 1975, and moved to St. Augustine, where he ran a construction business and converted to Islam. He had begun studying the religion in 1958, in Lebanon, and had learned Arabic. With blond hair and blue eyes, he stood out at most mosques, but people thought he was from Nuristan, a region of Afghanistan whose inhabitants are known for their Nordic features.

Although Hill had left the Army, his heart was in combat. On two occasions in the nineteen-eighties, he fought, without pay, as a mujahid against the Soviets in Afghanistan, working with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the fighter who led the Northern Alliance forces until last September, when he was assassinated. Hill helped found the first mosque in Jacksonville, and taught Rescorla to speak Arabic. But his devotion to Islam had its limits. Several years ago, he took up smoking and drinking again.

After leaving Oklahoma, Rescorla moved to South Carolina, where he taught criminal justice at the University of South Carolina for three years and published a textbook on the subject. He left for higher-paying jobs in corporate security, joining Dean Witter in 1985. He moved to New Jersey and began commuting to Manhattan. Throughout these years, Hill and Rescorla remained close, speaking on the phone every other day, usually at around three-thirty in the afternoon, except when Hill was on a clandestine mission or couldn't get to a phone. Then he would write Rescorla long letters.
Rescorla's office at Dean Witter was in the World Trade Center. The firm, which merged with Morgan Stanley in 1997, eventually occupied twenty-two floors in the south tower, and several floors in a building nearby. Rescorla's office was on the forty-fourth floor of the south tower. Because of Hill's training in counterterrorism, in 1990 Rescorla asked him to come up and take a look at the security situation. "He knew I could be an evil-minded bastard," Hill recalls. At the World Trade Center, Rescorla asked him a simple question: "How would you take this out?" Hill looked around, and asked to see the basement. They walked down an entrance ramp into a parking garage; there was no visible security, and no one stopped them. "This is a soft touch," Hill said, pointing to a load-bearing column easily accessible in the middle of the space. "I'd drive a truck full of explosives in here, walk out, and light it off."

As a result of Hill's observations and his own, Rescorla arranged a meeting with a security official for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which managed the building. "They told Rick to kiss off," Hill recalled. "They told him, 'You lease your stories, you worry about that. The rest of the building is not your concern.' " (A Port Authority spokesman says that security "took into account all known threats at that time," and "was better than in most office buildings in New York.")

Less than three years later, on February 26, 1993, a truck bomb exploded in the basement of the World Trade Center. As soon as Rescorla got all of the company's employees out of the building, he called Hill. "Did you see what happened?" Hill had just seen the footage on TV. "Get your ass up here," Rescorla said. "I'll buy your ticket." Hill flew to New York, and began working as a consultant to Rescorla. He helped Rescorla do an analysis of the security measures at the Trade Center, and commented on drafts. When Rescorla and Hill began their work, no arrests had yet been made, but Rescorla suspected that the bomb had been planted by Muslims, probably Palestinians, or that an Iraqi colonel of engineers might have orchestrated the attack. Hill let his beard grow and visited several mosques in New Jersey, showing up at dawn for morning prayers. He fell into conversation, speaking fluent Arabic, taking an anti-American line and espousing pro-Islamic views. Radical anti-American and militant Islamic views weren't hard to coax out of his fellow-worshippers. His interviews formed the basis for much of Rescorla's analysis, which concluded that the attack was likely planned by a radical imam at a mosque in New York or New Jersey. The prediction proved uncannily accurate. Followers of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a radical Muslim cleric in Brooklyn, were convicted of the bombing.

According to Hill, Rescorla concluded that because the World Trade Center was the tallest building in New York, situated at the heart of Wall Street, and a symbol of American economic might, it was likely to remain a target of anti-American militants. At Hill's urging, he told his superiors that, while the bombing of the Trade Center and numerous other recent acts of Islamic terrorism had been technologically unsophisticated, Muslim terrorists were showing increasing technological and tactical awareness, and were getting better. Hill's research had uncovered the existence of groups, connected to some of the New Jersey mosques, whose goal was to travel around talking to young people and recruiting the radicals among them.

Rescorla and Hill also sketched a scenario of what the next attack might look like. The city targeted might be New York, Washington, or Philadelphia, or even all three. Drawing on his research for the novel on the air-cavalry unit, Rescorla envisioned an air attack on the Twin Towers, probably an air-cargo plane travelling from the Middle East or Europe to Kennedy or Newark airport, loaded with explosives or chemical or biological weapons. Rescorla also discussed his theories with another close friend, Fred McBee, a fellow-writer he'd met at the University of Oklahoma. He told McBee that he'd spoken up at company board meetings about unconventional threats, such as "dirty" bombs, small "artillery nukes," and anthrax. He followed events in the Middle East closely. "He assumed that it would be the terrorists' mission to bring the Trade Center down," McBee said.

Rescorla concluded that the company should leave the World Trade Center and build quarters in New Jersey, preferably a three- or four-story complex spread over a large area. He pointed out that many employees already commuted from New Jersey and would welcome the change. He warned that Manhattan's limited bridge and tunnel connections meant that it could be easily cut off, and transportation and communications disrupted. Moreover, the World Trade Center space was expensive compared with real estate in the suburbs.

The World Trade Center lease didn't expire until 2006, however.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


The Waning Appeal of Radical Sheik: a review of THE MISSING MARTYRS: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists By Charles Kurzman (BERNARD HAYKEL, 9/11/11, NY Times Book Review)

In "The Missing Martyrs," Charles Kurzman suggests that even before Osama bin Laden was killed, his movement had failed utterly. Al Qaeda's ideological trademark is to exhort ordinary Muslims to engage in individual acts of violence against those deemed enemies of Islam, specifically Americans, Jews and the infidel rulers of Muslim-­majority states. And yet very few such attacks have occurred in the United States since Sept. 11, and certainly none comparable to the devastating events of that day. To emphasize just how surprising this is, Kurzman cites a 2006 online manual for aspiring jihadists that lists 14 "simple tools" that "are easy to use and available for anyone who wants to fight the occupying enemy" -- they include "running over someone with a car" and "setting fire to homes or rooms at sleep time." Kurzman, a sociologist who has written widely about Islamic reform movements, asks: "If terrorist methods are as widely available as automobiles, why are there so few Islamist terrorists? In light of the death and devastation that terrorists have wrought, the question may seem absurd. But if there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, many of whom supposedly hate the West and desire martyrdom, why don't we see terrorist attacks everywhere, every day?"

Kurzman's answer is that Al Qaeda and its violent kin have failed so dismally simply because they have been unable to attract large numbers of recruits to their cause.

...consider what a disaster their "success" was for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 AM


Welcome to September 11 Television Archive (Internet Archive)

ABC Sept. 11, 2001 8:31 am - 9:12 am (September 11, 2001)

ABC Sept. 11, 2001 9:12 am - 9:54 am (September 11, 2001)

ABC Sept. 11, 2001 9:54 am - 10:36 am (September 11, 2001)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 AM

-ARCHIVES: Rhetoric of 9-11 (American Rhetoric)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 AM


Crisis Convergence: Why the global economic crash, the rise of the Tea Party, the Arab Spring, and China's coming fall are all connected. (GEORGE MAGNUS, AUGUST 31, 2011, Foreign Policy)

China's capitalist model has delivered unprecedented economic success over the last quarter-century. But it is a model that is now flawed. The slump in Western demand caused China's export industries to shudder in 2008 and 2009, with exports declining by over a third in the year to the first quarter of 2009. Thousands of factories in the Pearl River Delta shut down, and 20 million migrant workers were reportedly forced to return to rural areas for lack of work.

China recovered quickly due to a stimulus program worth about 14 percent of its GDP and the global economic bounce last year, but exporters now face a very different world dictated by anemic Western consumption and growth prospects. Moreover, the explosion of credit creation since 2008 and the unsustainable rise in investment and residential real estate spending are sowing the seeds of rising inflation. The instability that will likely follow may remain in abeyance until after the Chinese Communist Party's leadership change in 2012, but China's economy is already slowing to a growth rate of around 8 percent.

In some ways, this July's high-speed rail tragedy on the newly opened Beijing-Shanghai line serves as a metaphor for China: It's a high-speed economy with (capitalist) design faults that, sooner or later, will result in an accident. There are already strong signs that the quality of investment, and of investment financing, is deteriorating. Left unaddressed, these trends might well validate Marx's prediction that investment booms, endemic in capitalism, end up in overproduction and underconsumption, and then social conflict.

China has limited time to effect a radical political and economic shift. It has to take power and privilege away from state-owned companies, coastal regions, and regional party elites. It must also de-emphasize capital investment, which currently accounts for an unprecedented 50 percent of GDP. And it has to prioritize a bigger economic weight for household consumption, which accounts for a mere 35 percent of GDP, a fairer income distribution, better employment for China's annual flow of 6 million graduates, the rights of rural migrants, and the neglected countryside.

If this shift doesn't start in earnest soon, the Chinese economy will succumb to a credit and investment bust from which significantly slower growth would follow. This will be especially sensitive in a China where incidents of social unrest are increasing significantly in number, intensity, and breadth. In the absence of the rule of law and other critical social institutions, the state's assurance of steady and persistent annual growth of 8 to 10 percent represents a social contract. If it is broken, China could suffer significant political repercussions.

What would be a good investment in a state that is imploding demographically before it even has a social welfare net in place?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 AM


Complete International Archives of September 11, 2001 (The Archives of Global Change in the 21st Century)

September 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


The ugly gash of 9/11 (Michael Gerson, September 8, 2011, Washington Post)

In a series of speeches and documents (some of which I helped to write), President George W. Bush set out the elements of a strategic response. At West Point, he talked of preempting gathering threats. The military "must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world." In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush argued that the rule of law, respect for women, equal justice and religious tolerance -- the "non-negotiable demands of human dignity" -- would be the basis for reform in Arab nations. In the National Security Strategy of 2002, Bush placed international development at the center of the response to terrorism: "Poverty, weak institutions and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders."

These priorities became collectively known as the Bush Doctrine. Following initial failures in Iraq, critics argued that the doctrine was "in shambles." Foreign policy "realists," skeptical of preemption and democratic idealism, dismissed the five years after Sept. 11 as a brief, neoconservative interregnum.

Yet, a decade beyond Sept. 11, the Bush Doctrine has been adopted by the Obama administration and vindicated by events. [...]

After an extended Arab Spring, the realist practice of supporting favorable autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa seems hopelessly naive. The combined dictatorial rule of 95 years in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya collapsed in the course of eight months, and there is no reason to believe the revolution has ended. Citizen participation always carries the risk of poor choices by citizens. But it is now clear that autocratic and economically backward nations are inherently unstable, and that democratic transitions are the best hope of constructively channeling discontent. Obama has been a reluctant, foot-dragging convert to the democracy agenda. But he is a convert nonetheless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


A Tariff-Reduction Plan for U.S. Jobs: Eliminating duties that U.S. producers pay on imported raw materials would instantly boost competitiveness. (DANIEL IKENSON, 9/10/11, NY Times)

In his address to Congress Thursday night, President Obama offered a tepid endorsement of the idea that reducing trade barriers could help put Americans back to work. But if the president is serious about creating jobs, he must take more decisive actions to spur trade and investment and reject protectionism. That means convincing trade-hostile Democrats of the merits of the long-pending bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which he plans to submit to Congress this month or next. He will also need to steer Congress away from inciting an unwelcome trade war with China.

As important as access to foreign markets is, however, some of the most significant obstacles to U.S. export success aren't foreign-made but homegrown. If the president is genuinely committed to spurring economic growth and job creation, he will take the lead on reducing or eliminating duties that U.S. producers pay on imported raw materials and components they need for manufacturing. This would instantly boost the competitiveness of U.S. products at home and abroad.

How about eliminating all domestic subsidies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Hague 'keen on looser ties with EU' (Evening Standard, 10 Sep 2011)

Foreign Secretary William Hague has reportedly said he believes Britain could "get ahead" by loosening its ties with Europe.

Offering hope to increasingly vocal eurosceptics in the Conservative Party, he said it is "certainly not career suicide" to become linked to a new group that wants a shift in the UK's relationship with Brussels.

Speaking about a more distant relationship with the EU in an interview with The Times, he said: "It's true of the euro, it could be true of more areas in future. In fact we may get ahead as a result of being outside."

Mr Hague said the creation of the eurozone without closer tax and spending rules was "always a giant mistake" and it "would stand as a monument in time to how group-think can go so seriously away from what is realistic". that the usual suspects think the crisis will lead to a tighter EU and further surrender of sovereignty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


The Great Melvino, or Our Mr. Brooks (DICK CAVETT, 9/09/11, NY Times)

Ballantine Beer, starting a new commercial campaign, had hired Mel to be "The 2,500-Year-Old Brewmaster." They needed a Carl Reiner stand-in to interview the old gent, whose voice resembled, not entirely coincidentally, the 2,000-year-old man's.

I've never had more fun.

First, I stood around nervously. Then Mel Brooks himself walked into the studio. He eyed my slight, 20-ish self with suspicion. "Spectacularly gentile!" he observed. We've been friends ever since.

There was not a word of script. The ad agency guy directing our sessions urged, "Just hit Mel with anything that comes to mind, the way Carl does. He's best when he doesn't know what's coming."

I played an eager young interviewer, bringing his hand-mike to the old man's cave and peppering him with questions, challenges, skepticism and, once, mock hurt feelings, asking,

"Why are you rude to me, sir?"

"Why are you wearing a cardboard belt?"

Example of a challenge:

"Sir, I don't think you've ever actually tasted the beer we're selling. Do so now."

"All right, Fluffy." [sipping sound: voop! voop!]

"How would you put it, sir?"

"My tongue just threw a party for my mouth!"

I could never corner Mel. God knows I tried. I sat there and watched him go comic-mad before my wondering eyes, scoring every time he opened his mouth.

There was no dross. The first session went three hours, at the end of which both of us were exhausted but high.

Once an engineer in the control room laughed so hard he fell against the recording equipment and it had to be re-set. Mel broke me up in such helpless laughter, and so many times, that the agency was forced -- or someone was hip enough -- to leave some of my laughter in. I've seen this faked, but it was obvious that I was genuinely convulsed by my partner.

If the raw, unedited tapes -- from which the commercials were cut -- are not preserved somewhere, it's comparable as a cultural loss to the burning of the library at Alexandria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


The statistical error that just keeps on coming: The same statistical errors - namely, ignoring the "difference in differences" - are appearing throughout the most prestigious journals in neuroscience (Ben Goldacre, 9/10/11,
We all like to laugh at quacks when they misuse basic statistics. But what if academics, en masse, deploy errors that are equally foolish? This week Sander Nieuwenhuis and colleagues publish a mighty torpedo in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

They've identified one direct, stark statistical error so widespread it appears in about half of all the published papers surveyed from the academic psychology research literature. [...]

Nieuwenhuis looked at 513 papers published in five prestigious neuroscience journals over two years. In half the 157 studies where this error could have been made, it was. They broadened their search to 120 cellular and molecular articles in Nature Neuroscience, during 2009 and 2010: they found 25 studies committing this fallacy, and not one single paper analysed differences in effect sizes correctly.

These errors are appearing throughout the most prestigious journals for the field of neuroscience. How can we explain that? Analysing data correctly, to identify a "difference in differences", is a little tricksy, so thinking generously, we might suggest that researchers worry it's too longwinded for a paper, or too difficult for readers. Alternatively, less generously, we might decide it's too tricky for the researchers themselves.

But the darkest thought of all is this: analysing a "difference in differences" properly is much less likely to give you a statistically significant result, and so it's much less likely to produce the kind of positive finding you need to look good on your CV, get claps at conferences, and feel good in your belly.
If it sounds like a duck....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Welcome to the Counter-Jihad: ROCK THE CASBAH: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World By Robin Wright (MOHAMAD BAZZI, 9/11/11, NY Times Book Review)

The Arab world is poised for an era of political and cultural renewal. In dramatic succession, popular uprisings have toppled long-reigning dictators even as others cling to power. Amid these momentous events, scholars, journalists and politicians are scrambling to explain how these revolutions came about after years of political stagnation and dashed attempts at reform.

Robin Wright's "Rock the Casbah," though it was mainly reported before this year's convulsions, tackles these questions directly. Wright, a veteran foreign correspondent, argues that the Arab world's younger generation is at the vanguard of a sweeping and seductive cultural revolution. Setting out to challenge the lazy trope that Islam is incompatible with modernity and democracy, she traveled across the Middle East -- with forays into the wider Muslim world -- to profile hip-hop artists, poets, playwrights, feminists, human rights activists, TV imams, comic book creators and comedians. Wright contends that these reformers are working toward a "counter-jihad" to reclaim Islam from militants who crave perpetual holy war. "For the majority of Muslims today, the central issue is not a clash with other civilizations. It is instead a struggle within the faith itself to rescue Islam's central values from a small but virulent minority," she writes. "The new confrontation is effectively a jihad against the Jihad."

...was an American Evangelical whom scholars, journalists and politicians believe intellectually lazy. While they all insisted that Islam--indeed, Orientalism generally--was incompatible with liberalism, it was W who insisted that the moment of liberation and liberalization was at hand.

It reminds one of the great (though, revealingly, parenthetical) line from Robert D. Kaplan's profile of Kissinger:

(In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.)

How lucky we were to have a Stupid president in place on 9-11. No wonder he believes in Special Providence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Mr. Banker, Can You Spare a Dime? (JOE NOCERA, 9/09/11, NY Times)

Not long ago, I received an e-mail from David Rynecki, an old friend and former colleague who left journalism a half-dozen years ago to become a small businessman. David's firm, Blue Heron Research Partners, does research for investment professionals; he was writing to share his frustration in trying to build a business in the aftermath of the recession.

"Like many small businesses," he wrote, "we were socked by the recession. Rather than cut back, however, we chose to be aggressive." He and his wife, Marcia, invested everything they had in the firm. They refused to lay off their three employees. During an especially bad stretch, they used their credit cards to stay afloat.

Their risk-taking paid off. "We're hiring again," David's note continued. (Indeed, he's now got a full-time staff of nine.) "Business is strong. Our receivables are unbelievable. We have long-term contracts with established investors."

His problem was -- and is -- the same one facing millions of small businesspeople. With lending standards extraordinarily tight in the wake of the financial crisis, banks simply aren't making small business loans, not even to perfectly creditworthy people like David. Which means he can't expand -- and hire -- the way he would like to. Yes, he said, he could continue to plow his cash flow into the business and grow it slowly. But to get the firm to the next plateau, he needs a bank loan.

"Banks say they have credit to offer," he wrote. "And they make you go through all the motions. But then they offer nothing."

It May Be Time for the Fed to Go Negative (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 4/19/09, NY Times)
So why shouldn't the Fed just keep cutting interest rates? Why not lower the target interest rate to, say, negative 3 percent?

At that interest rate, you could borrow and spend $100 and repay $97 next year. This opportunity would surely generate more borrowing and aggregate demand.

The problem with negative interest rates, however, is quickly apparent: nobody would lend on those terms. Rather than giving your money to a borrower who promises a negative return, it would be better to stick the cash in your mattress. Because holding money promises a return of exactly zero, lenders cannot offer less.

Unless, that is, we figure out a way to make holding money less attractive.

At one of my recent Harvard seminars, a graduate student proposed a clever scheme to do exactly that. (I will let the student remain anonymous. In case he ever wants to pursue a career as a central banker, having his name associated with this idea probably won't help.)

Imagine that the Fed were to announce that, a year from today, it would pick a digit from zero to 9 out of a hat. All currency with a serial number ending in that digit would no longer be legal tender. Suddenly, the expected return to holding currency would become negative 10 percent.

That move would free the Fed to cut interest rates below zero. People would be delighted to lend money at negative 3 percent, since losing 3 percent is better than losing 10.

Of course, some people might decide that at those rates, they would rather spend the money -- for example, by buying a new car. But because expanding aggregate demand is precisely the goal of the interest rate cut, such an incentive isn't a flaw -- it's a benefit.

The idea of making money earn a negative return is not entirely new. In the late 19th century, the German economist Silvio Gesell argued for a tax on holding money. He was concerned that during times of financial stress, people hoard money rather than lend it. John Maynard Keynes approvingly cited the idea of a carrying tax on money. With banks now holding substantial excess reserves, Gesell's concern about cash hoarding suddenly seems very modern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


In NH, the Tea Party movement is smaller than advertised (FERGUS CULLEN, Sep 10, 2011, Union Leader)

Even the Tea Party has its own establishment, if a self-anointed one. The New Hampshire Tea Party establishment just had a very bad week which exposed the movement as a much weaker force than advertised.

First, Jack Kimball, an authentic product of the Tea Party, got deposed as chairman of the state Republican Party. Kimball's last-bunker supporters called for a Tea Party vigil on the eve of his removal to demonstrate exactly how much support Kimball had among grassroots activists. It didn't work out quite the way they'd envisioned. A dozen people showed up.

Days later, New Hampshire primary frontrunner Mitt Romney spoke at a Tea Party Express rally in Concord. His appearance prompted some of the same Tea Partiers to organize a protest against Romney. This time maybe 20 people showed up, counting out-of-staters. In an example of Tea Party media savvy, organizer Paul Gagnon declared himself "disappointed" so few anti-Romney people turned out.

On Labor Day, not even celebrity television personality Sarah Palin could draw more than a couple of hundred people to a Tea Party rally in Manchester. That's less than one-tenth the crowd that attended the most recent minor league Fisher Cats baseball game a couple of blocks away (6,074 according to the box score).

And in Tuesday's special election for state representative in the Seabrook area, a Republican candidate who had easily won a primary despite Tea Party opposition went on to win his general election, overcoming continued Tea Party resistance. In all three special elections that have taken place this year, Tea Party-backed candidates got blown out.

A Republican who has helped candidates win elections for much longer than just the past two years looked at these four occurrences inside one week and shared his conclusion with me: "The New Hampshire Tea Party has no clothes."

It helps that every lever of power in the state is already in conservative hands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


The Greater Recession: America Suffers from a Crisis of Productivity (Derek Thompson, Sep 7 2011, Atlantic)

Americans have a complicated relationship with productivity. We obsess about our personal efficiency, but we don't think much about efficiency across broad swaths of the economy. Productivity is the not-so-secret sauce in our GDP. We're the second-largest manufacturer in the world even though manufacturing jobs have shrunk to less than 10 percent of our economy. We're the world's third-largest agricultural nation even though only 2 percent of us farm. The reason we can do so much work with so little is that the U.S. economy is incredibly, and increasingly, efficient at making some things cheaply.

Don't ask David Allen to explain this. Ask David Autor. He's the MIT economist who, in last month's cover story, "Can the Middle Class Be Saved?", told Don Peck that technology and offshoring is replacing jobs for the middle-educated middle-class. "Almost one of every 12 white-collar jobs in sales, administrative support, and nonmanagerial office work vanished in the first two years of the recession," Peck writes, and one in six blue-collar jobs disappeared in production, craft, repair, and machine operation.

We know where the jobs are going -- to machines, software, and foreign workers. We also know why they're going away. Global competition gives companies the incentive to be more productive, and technology and foreign labor gives companies the means to be more productive. Automation lets one employee handle the work of three, or three hundred. Off-shoring lets ten Asian workers receive the salary of one. [...]

Poverty is overrated. That was the unmistakable conclusion of a report from the Heritage Foundation released this July.

Most of the 30 million Americans in families making under $21,000 "are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term," the conservative think tank claimed, because they have widespread access to air conditioning, television, and a car. "They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care," the authors wrote.

Critics savaged the survey by pointing out that many families in poverty rent apartments where fridges and air conditioning units come automatically. But the study made an important point: The ubiquity and affordability of consumer technology is an astounding testimony to productivity in the electronics sector.

In fact, eating and clothing ourselves is getting easier all the time. Before the Great Depression, about 35% of family expenditures went to food and threads. Today, we spend only 10% of our income on food and 3% of our income on clothes. Again, this is an achievement of manufacturing and farming efficiency.

It doesn't end there. Behind the most important technology stories of our time, there is a clear theme: The triumph of software. Consider the rise of Netflix over Blockbuster, music sharing over albums, Flickr over Kodak, Amazon over Borders, wireless Verizon over wired Verizon, webpages over printed pages. Everything getting cheaper feels the touch of innovation -- especially online innovation, IT, and computer software.

...that we'd be more productive if fewer of us had jobs. Most of the bloat is in the managerial class and only our first real recession in thirty years could force minimal cuts in these boondoggles. You'd have to make that one in 12 into about 7 in 12 before you started getting past fat to sinew.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Julian Fellowes: My family inspired Downton Abbey: (Richard Alleyne, 10 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, has told how the tragic experience of his own family during the First World War inspired the latest series.

The Oscar winner said that deaths of his grandfather Henry and great uncle Bertie in the conflict - and the profound effect they had on relatives back home - was a direct influence on the drama.

And he explained that the first series' dramatic ending - when a garden party is reduced to hushed silence - by the announcement "We are at war with Germany", was a direct memory from his father's childhood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


China water resettlement: 'Honest folk have lost out': State media is hailing the success of a huge project to relocate 345,000 people from the path of diversion channels that will carry water from the south to the arid north. But those who have lost their homes tell a different tale of corruption, shoddy housing and friction in their new communities (Jonathan Watts, 9/09/11,

But when the Guardian talked to 30 relocated people in three villages in Nanyang, Henan province, only one was glad to have moved. Eight reluctantly accepted the patriotic sacrifice they had to make for the "national project." The remaining 21 were furious.

Without exception, the longer they ha[d] been at their new homes the less they liked them.

The adjustment is already proving difficult for some. Zhang Jianchao was furious that local hospitals would not deliver the baby of his daughter-in-law. In a panic at her labour pains, he hired a car and drove his son and wife 160km back to their old town for the birth.

"I'm angry. It was very worrying and expensive," said the former silkworm farmer, who is now without land or work and living with his large family on a government allowance of 100 yuan (£10) per person per month. He says their new home is half the size of his old place because local officials cheated him of fair compensation.

The most commonly heard complaint is of official corruption. Villager after villager said their compensation was skimmed by cadres, usually by undervaluing the farmers' plots of land and over-estimating their own holdings.

"I can accept that it will take time for us to make a living in our new homes but it is not fair that the officials have profited from this move. We were told that the sacrifice for this project would be shared," said Chen Xinfeng [name changed], who runs a small restaurant. "President Hu Jintao said honest folk shouldn't lose out, but that is what has happened."

Propaganda slogans on walls and banners strung across the road urge residents to play a patriotic role to the "key state-level project". Many urge existing communities in the area to welcome the newcomers. "The waters of Danjiangkou are fresh and sweet. My heart is linked to the new migrant's heart," proclaims one of the most poetic exhortations.

But friction between the old and new communities seems to be getting worse. At Liangzhuandong new village - which migrants moved into a year ago - a crowd of residents gathered to expressed a long list of grievances, including inadequate compensation, unfulfilled promises of new land, poor water quality and fights with locals.

The migrants are unhappy they have not been given a share of the local farmland as they were promised. The old residents complain their new neighbours are "uneducated people from the mountains."

Both accuse the other of theft. This summer, the tension erupted into violence. According to several accounts, a fight between two individuals escalated rapidly into a melee involving several hundred people.

Elsewhere, there have been reports of demonstrations. Last November, police clashed with thousands of migrants in Qianjiang city to protest shoddy

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Give rugby a try. You might be converted: Bamboozled by scrums, lineouts and outhalves? With the Rugby World Cup under way in New Zealand, KEVIN Mc DONOUGH provides a primer for people who don't know one end of a rugby ball from another (Kevin McDonough, 9/10/11, Irish Times)

THERE WILL be a lot of rugby around over the next few weeks: on the TV, in the pub, by the water cooler. People unfamiliar with the game will, no doubt, be perplexed as lifelong fans blame the ref, shout at the ref and announce the ref's complete misunderstanding of the game.

So if, when the person beside you shouts "that's outrageous, ref", you'd like to know whether it was outrageous or not, here's an introduction to the basic rules of rugby.

...the opening game--host New Zealand vs. Tonga--just for the haka/sipi tau the Tongans did before kickoff and the Kiwi response.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


The Next Ten Years of Al-Qaeda (Zalmay Khalilzad, September 9, 2011, National Interest)

For a period after our intervention in Iraq, al-Qaeda benefited from the unpopularity of our actions in many parts of the Arab and Islamic world. The group found a home among Sunni Arabs who initially opposed the new order in Iraq, and al-Qaeda decided to make Iraq the center of its struggle against the United States. The decision backfired. Al-Qaeda operatives--especially the foreign fighters--overreached, mistreating Iraqi Sunnis in its efforts to incite a "civil war within Islam" between the country's Shiites and Sunnis. U.S. and Iraqi leaders responded effectively to the growing rift between al-Qaeda and Iraqi Sunnis, and proactive diplomacy persuaded key Sunni groups to participate in the political process and become stakeholders in Iraq's democracy. On the military front, the coalition and its increasingly capable Iraqi partners teamed up with local Sunni forces to weaken al-Qaeda in Iraq dramatically.

As al-Qaeda suffered setbacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, its popularity across the region declined. Despite Washington's inability to win broad regional support for its policies, support for al-Qaeda in the greater Middle East has fallen considerably. The Arab Spring could consolidate this shift at the ideological level. If the ongoing tumult results in liberal societies responsive to the demands of their polities, al-Qaeda will have a harder time surviving without a political environment conducive to extremism.

Safer, however, does not mean that we are safe. One consequence of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is that much of the al-Qaeda threat has shifted to Pakistan.

Which requires that we recognize a series of independent states that are not Pakistani territory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Stop paying so much for vitamins (Anne C. Lee, September 9, 2011, MONEY Magazine)

Few health products have more price variation than supplements. Scan the drugstore aisle and you'll see some multivitamins priced at $1 for a month's supply -- and some at $73.

The more expensive ones often contain higher vitamin levels than those recommended by the U.S. government, but "they aren't necessarily better," says Paul Thomas of the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements. [...]


Berkley & Jensen Men's Daily

Cost: $1.02 a month

Savings vs. similar brand: 60%

September 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 AM


Foster The People: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 9/09/11, NPR)

Ann Powers, in a recent piece on The Record, was on the mark: This was the summer song of 2011, with dark lyrics and a hooks that can kill. The band is from L.A., and Mark Foster is its leader -- it was called "Foster and the People" until someone misheard the name. It stuck.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Obama Approval Sinks to New Lows Among Whites, Hispanics: Blacks' support remains high, but at 84% ties record for monthly low (Lydia Saad, 9/08/11, Gallup)

The gradual shift in Hispanics' job approval of Obama toward whites' level of job approval is also seen in the accompanying graph showing the differences between Obama's job approval rating, nationally, and his ratings from each racial group, on a monthly basis since February 2009.

While blacks and Hispanics both expressed significantly higher-than-average approval for Obama throughout 2009 and most of 2010, Hispanics' approval has been moving progressively closer to the national average and is now only single digits above it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


9/11 Anniversary: A Sense of Security Rebounds (Gary Langer, 9/09/11, ABC News)

Confidence in the country's safety from terrorism has rebounded sharply in the past year to near its highs, with most Americans expressing satisfaction with the steps the country's taken in response to 9/11. But there are two major exceptions: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Overall support for the country's response is broad, albeit not deep. Sixty-seven percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll are satisfied with the way the United States has responded to the attacks, and 64 percent think the country is safer now than it was before 9/11, up sharply from its low, 48 percent, a year ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Drunk Swedish elk found in apple tree near Gothenburg (BBC, 9/08/11)

A homeowner in southern Sweden got a shock when he found a drunken elk stuck in his neighbour's apple tree.

The animal was apparently on the hunt for fermenting apples when she lost her balance and became trapped in the tree.

Per Johansson, from Saro near Gothenburg, found the elk making a roaring noise in the garden next door.

He called the emergency services, who helped him free the boozed-up beast by sawing off branches. She spent the night recovering in the garden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Behind the Scenes With the Creator of 'Downton Abbey' (ALEX WITCHEL, 9/08/11, NY Times Magazine)

Pulling into the driveway of Julian Fellowes's manor house in Dorset, in the west country of England, with its 50 acres of grass rippling and trees swaying, as if a director had just called "Action!" to the scenery (indeed, one massive tree was featured in the film "Emma," starring Gwyneth Paltrow), I recalled the advice Fellowes once said his father gave him: "If you have the misfortune to be born into a generation which must earn its living, you might as well do something amusing."

Inside the house ("Two houses, really. This side was built in 1633, this new bit in 1840," he said) with its double-height foyer lined with family portraits, a dining room with a mile-long banquet table and a morning room where Thomas Hardy is said to have written, you might think it doesn't get more amusing than this. Fellowes has lived here only nine years. The decades before that were often fraught with anxiety, even despair. He toiled as a midlevel character actor for 30 years with 12 rejected screenplays to his name until, incredibly, at age 52, he won an Academy Award for his first produced screenplay, Robert Altman's "Gosford Park," in 2002. But Fellowes, now 62, is the rare sort who, having won a life lottery, did not kick up his heels and make a fool of himself. He has worked like the proverbial dog -- or American -- for his continued success, and if that means he is more to the manner bought than born, that is fine with him.

He followed his unexpected screenwriting breakthrough with more films -- "Vanity Fair," with Reese Witherspoon, "Young Victoria," with Emily Blunt, and "The Tourist," with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, among them. He also wrote the book for the musical-theater adaptation of "Mary Poppins" and the best-selling novel "Snobs." Most recently, he created and wrote the wildly successful miniseries "Downton Abbey." The multi­generational family costume drama kicks off during the final days of aristocratic England before the First World War, and stars Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern. It drew record ratings on British television last season; the rights have been sold in more than 100 countries. It scored big here too, when it ran on PBS's Masterpiece last winter (the second season will begin on Jan. 8). The show received 11 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Miniseries or Movie and Outstanding Writing, for Fellowes.

I was ushered into Stafford House, as it is called, amid waves of apologies about lunch being cold, not cooked. A few days earlier, a bird's nest that was lodged in the kitchen chimney caught fire, disabling the stove and filling the house with black smoke. Fellowes was joined by his wife, Emma, who is 15 years his junior, nearly six feet tall and bursting with energetic goodwill. It's easy to see how Fellowes, at 39, fell in love at first sight, why he agreed to her wishes to have only one child, a son, Peregrine, now 20, because she herself was an only child, and why he stoically allows Emma's mother to call him Evelyn, not Julian. It seems she had her heart set on her daughter marrying a man called Evelyn, so Evelyn he is. There are worse things.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


'Brain stents' for stroke patients do more harm than good, study shows (Rob Stein, September 7, 2011, Washington Post)

The Gateway-Wingspan system, a device modeled on stents used for heart patients, was approved in 2005 in the hopes of protecting thousands of patients at high risk for suffering a devastating stroke. Patients using it suffered more strokes and deaths than those simply aggressively treated with drugs and advice, the study found.

An independent panel monitoring the experiment halted the research prematurely in April when that pattern became clear. The New England Journal of Medicine published the results early online Wednesday because of the immediate public health implications.

"Without the trial, this procedure seemed destined to become the standard of care," said H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice. "With it, we have another example in which the best medical care is not the most medical care."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


A Call to All Religious Moderates: Building a global coalition will not be easy. Moderation is a dangerous place to be. (FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, 9/08/11, WSJ)

We hear very little about the underlying fundamentals of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These are three faiths based on the Abrahamic principle that the purpose of humankind is to praise God and to help each other. The tenets of each religion provide common ground to work out the underlying issues of power and control that actually are at the root of conflict.

Moderate people in the West and the Muslim world understand this. But too often, especially in this time of indiscriminate communication, the moderates have let themselves be hijacked by extremists.

It's time to build a Global Coalition of the Moderates. This may sound like a wimpy thing, but I can tell you from hard experience, moderation is a dangerous place to be. It takes courage and stamina to stand up to the people who love their megaphones and nurture their hatred.

We must start with this premise: Extremists can never live together in peace. Conflict for them must be eternal. That's why the Coalition of the Moderates must work together--different religions not just in toleration of each other but in acceptance of each other.

We must use the basic peaceful principles of our religions to overwhelm the extremists. In this way, religion can be part of the solution, not the cause of the problem.

September 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


'Waterboarding worked' says former MI5 head (Duncan Gardham, 08 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

Eliza Manningham-Buller admitted for the first time that the controversial technique had provided intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks. [...]

"It's not the case that torture always produces false information and actually it's clear that torture can contribute to saving lives, but I don't think that's the point," she said at the recording of her second BBC Reith lecture in Leeds. "The point is that it is not something that is right, legal and moral to do."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Martinez Acknowledges Grandparents Came To US Illegally (KVIA-7, September 8, 2011)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has acknowledged that her paternal grandparents came to the U.S. illegally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


George W. Bush Opens FOX NFL SUNDAY with Special Pregame Intro (Sports Media News,September 8, 2011)

As the NFL ON FOX begins coverage of its 18th season this weekend, the network commemorates the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with special stories and remembrances throughout the broadcast day.

FOX NFL SUNDAY begins its pregame coverage at 12:00 PM ET with a special open narrated by former president George W. Bush. Bush filmed the two-minute piece this week in Texas that also features members of the FDNY, NYPD and NY/NJ Port Authority Police Department. In the intro, he talks about heroism, perseverance and recovery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Our Pool password is: ericjulia

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Myth and Reality After 9/11: Ten years later, we've reached a bipartisan consensus. (Victor Davis Hanson, 9/08/11, National Review)

Another post-9/11 myth assured us that George W. Bush foolishly squandered a rare national unity by enacting unlawful and unnecessary homeland-security measures and starting wasteful and unwinnable wars. The myth seems to suggest that if only we had not gone into Iraq or opened Guantanamo, we would still be at peace and, left and right alike, flying American flags from our cars' antennas.

But we know that this theory is largely a fable. From 2001 to 2008, almost every domestic and foreign security expert assured us that the next 9/11 was not a matter of "if," but only of "when." Yet ten years later, there has not been a single comparable terrorist attack, despite dozens of foiled efforts to shoot and blow up Americans. What happened?

The Patriot Act, renditions, tribunals, preventive detention, new bothersome security measures, and the use of Predator drones have all weakened al-Qaeda and have made it difficult to attack Americans at home. For all the acrimony over Afghanistan and Iraq, tens of thousands of jihadists were killed abroad, and consensual governments that fight terrorists still survive in place of dictatorships.

And where now are the likes of Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan,, Code Pink, and the entire anti-war movement that for years dominated the news, assuring us that we had lost our freedoms at home and caused only mayhem abroad?

The truth is they mostly dropped out of the news when Barack Obama was elected president. Apparently these loud megaphones had all along been more interested in partisan politics than principled criticism. In one of the strangest turnabouts in modern political history, fierce anti-war and anti-administration critic Barack Obama, upon taking the office of the presidency, either embraced or expanded almost all of the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism policies.

Obama also left mostly unchanged U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and joined a third Middle East war by bombing Libya. Indeed, Vice President Joe Biden boasted that a calm Iraq could be one of the administration's "greatest achievements." In 2012, there will be no Obama reelection commercials bragging about the promised closure of Guantanamo Bay, but plenty taking credit for killing bin Laden inside Pakistan, a country where we have increased targeted drone assassinations fivefold since 2009.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The myth of closure: A new book argues that this popular concept doesn't exist -- and that chasing it might hurt us (Christopher Dreher, 9/04/11, Boston Globe)

In "Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us," Berns draws on scholarly publications and popular media to trace why closure became a staple of our discourse and how it affects us. In fact, while closure is widely considered possible, desirable, and important, she argues, it is not necessarily any of these things. Our reliance on the concept may even do us a disservice. Not only does closure mischaracterize how most people handle grief, but, she suggests, the pressure to achieve it might actually make loss more difficult.

Berns, an associate professor of sociology at Drake University, spoke to Ideas from Des Moines.

IDEAS: What do you mean when you say that closure doesn't exist?

BERNS: The idea of closure [is seen] as a new emotional state for explaining what we need and how we're supposed to respond to trauma and loss. But closure is a rhetorical concept, a made-up term ... .Closure is not something that we can simply find or something we need. It's a frame used to explain how we should respond to loss. [...]

IDEAS: The subtitle of your book is "The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us." Ending grief is a good thing in most cases, isn't it?

BERNS: The closure narrative assumes that grief is bad and that it's something that needs to end, and it assumes that closure is possible and that it's something good and something that people need to have. Grief is a difficult, messy experience and can be very painful. A lot of people carry loss and grief for much of their lives, but that doesn't mean that the pain is as intense as it was the first few months. You carry that loss and grief, but you learn how to integrate that into your life ... .We grieve for a reason. We grieve because we miss the person who died, or because of whatever loss we're experiencing. Our grief expresses how we're feeling and allows us to acknowledge that loss. So asking or expecting someone to try and end that quickly is really misunderstanding the importance of those emotions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Stung by the President on Air Quality, Environmentalists Weigh Their Options (LESLIE KAUFMAN, 9/03/11, NY Times)

"Energy from part of the base will now be directed at communicating with the White House and not with the public about the administration's record," said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group with close ties to the White House.

And Justin Ruben, executive director of, a five-million-member online progressive political organization that played a significant role in President Obama's election in 2008, said he was sure that his members would be deflated.

"How are our members in Ohio and Florida who pounded the pavement in 2008 going to make the case for why this election matters?" Mr. Ruben said. "Stuff like this is devastating to the hope and passion that fuels the volunteers that made the president's 2008 campaign so unique and successful."

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, who does extensive work on public perception and the environment, said the real threat to the president's reputation stemming from the ozone decision went far beyond environmentalists.

"It could play into an emerging narrative in his own party that he is caving too quickly to Republican pressure," Dr. Leiserowitz said. "It is a dangerous narrative in your own base because it cuts down on enthusiasm and it is a narrative that his opponents will pick up on."

The harder the infighting the less damage they can do the rest of the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


The Golden State Is Crumbling (Joel Kotkin, 09/04/2011, New Geography)

In 1872, the second president of the University of California, Daniel Coit Gilman, said science was "the mother of California." Today, California may worship at the altar of science, but increasingly in the most regressive, hysterical, and reactionary way.

California's dominant ruling class--consisting of public-employee unions, green jihadis, and Democratic machine politicians--has no real use for science as Gilman saw it: as a way to create prosperity for its citizens. Instead, the prevailing credo of the state has been how to do everything possible to return to its pre-settlement condition, with little regard for what that means to the average Californian.

Nowhere was California's old technological ethos more pronounced than in agriculture, where great Californians such as William Mulholland, creator of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and Pat Brown, who forged the state water project, created the greatest water-delivery system since the Roman Empire. Their effort brought water from the ice-bound Sierra Nevada mountains down to the state's dry but fertile valleys and to the great desert metropolis of Southern California. Now, largely at the behest of greens, California agriculture is being systematically cut down by regulation. In an attempt to protect a small fish called the Delta smelt, upward of 200,000 acres of prime farmland have been idled, according to the state's Department of Conservation. Even in the current "wet" cycle, California's agricultural industry, which exports roughly $14 billion annually, is slowly being decimated. Unemployment in some Central Valley towns tops 30 percent, and in cases even 40 percent.

And now, notes my friend, Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, green regulators are imposing new groundwater regulations that may force the shutdown of production even in areas like his that have their own ample water supplies.

Time to move back to Oklahoma.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


From 9/11 to the Arab Spring: The current uprising is directed not against foreign demons, but against cruel rulers who robbed their people of a decent life. (FOUAD AJAMI, 9/07/11, WSJ)

I traveled to Jeddah and Cairo in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In the splendid homes of wealthy American-educated businessmen, in the salons of perfectly polished men and women of letters, there was no small measure of admiration for Osama bin Laden. He was the avenger, the Arabs had been at the receiving end of Western power, and now the scales were righted. "Yes, but . . . ," said the Arab intellectual class, almost in unison. Those death pilots may have been zealous, but now the Americans know, and for the first time, what it means to be at the receiving end of power.

Very few Arabs believed that the landscape all around them--the tyrannical states, the growing poverty, the destruction of what little grace their old cities once possessed, the war across the generations between secular fathers and Islamist children--was the harvest of their own history. It was easier to believe that the Americans had willed those outcomes.

In truth, in the decade prior to 9/11, America had paid the Arab world scant attention. We had taken a holiday from history's exertions. But the Arabs had hung onto their belief that a willful America disposed of their fate. The Arab regimes possessed their own sources of power--fearsome security apparatuses, money in the oil states, official custodians of religion who gave repression their seal of approval. [...]

But the American war, and the sense of righteous violation, soon hit the Arab world itself. Saddam Hussein may not have been the Arab idol he was a decade earlier, but he was still a favored son of that Arab nation, its self-appointed defender. The toppling of his regime, some 18 months or so after 9/11, had brought the war closer to the Arabs. The spectacle of the Iraqi despot flushed out of his spider hole by American soldiers was a lesson to the Arabs as to the falseness and futility of radicalism.

Given how quickly and easily we changed these outcomes once we resumed paying attention, weren't they right? Al Qaeda just happened not to understand the Arab world as well as we did and understood America not at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The revolution of capitalism: Karl Marx may have been wrong about communism but he was right about much of capitalism (John Gray, 9/04/11, BBC)

As a side-effect of the financial crisis, more and more people are starting to think Karl Marx was right. The great 19th Century German philosopher, economist and revolutionary believed that capitalism was radically unstable.

It had a built-in tendency to produce ever larger booms and busts, and over the longer term it was bound to destroy itself.

Marx welcomed capitalism's self-destruction. He was confident that a popular revolution would occur and bring a communist system into being that would be more productive and far more humane.

Marx was wrong about communism. Where he was prophetically right was in his grasp of the revolution of capitalism. It's not just capitalism's endemic instability that he understood, though in this regard he was far more perceptive than most economists in his day and ours.
Karl Marx Marx co-authored The Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels

More profoundly, Marx understood how capitalism destroys its own social base - the middle-class way of life.

Of course, what he failed to appreciate is that when the middle class disappeared the lower would too, and it would be because capitalism had made everyone an aristocrat, Are jobs obsolete? (Douglas Rushkoff, 9/07/11, CNN)
I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks -- or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?

We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That's because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day. And that's even after America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high. Meanwhile, American banks overloaded with foreclosed properties are demolishing vacant dwellings Video to get the empty houses off their books.

Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff -- it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.

Jobs, as such, are a relatively new concept. People may have always worked, but until the advent of the corporation in the early Renaissance, most people just worked for themselves. They made shoes, plucked chickens, or created value in some way for other people, who then traded or paid for those goods and services. By the late Middle Ages, most of Europe was thriving under this arrangement.

The only ones losing wealth were the aristocracy, who depended on their titles to extract money from those who worked. And so they invented the chartered monopoly. By law, small businesses in most major industries were shut down and people had to work for officially sanctioned corporations instead. From then on, for most of us, working came to mean getting a "job."

The Industrial Age was largely about making those jobs as menial and unskilled as possible. Technologies such as the assembly line were less important for making production faster than for making it cheaper, and laborers more replaceable. Now that we're in the digital age, we're using technology the same way: to increase efficiency, lay off more people, and increase corporate profits.

While this is certainly bad for workers and unions, I have to wonder just how truly bad is it for people. Isn't this what all this technology was for in the first place?

We have a wealth distribution quandry, not a labor distribution crisis.

September 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


Donald Rumsfeld: President Obama has accepted Bush Doctrine (TIM MAK | 9/7/11, Politico)

"They ended up keeping Guantanamo open not because they like it -- we didn't like it either -- but they couldn't think of a better solution," Rumsfeld told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren on Tuesday.

Rumsfeld then listed a handful of other Bush administration policies that have continued into the Obama administration, something that he sees as vindication of the policies.

"The same is true with the Patriot Act, and military commissions, and indefinite detention. All of those things were criticized but today are still in place two-and-a-half years later because they are the best alternative to the other choices -- and they are in fact successful in keeping America safer," he says.

President Obama had campaigned against many of the major programs of President Bush's war on terror, but often his national security policy has mirrored that of his predecessor.

"I think what they did was they campaigned again the Bush approach -- and once they got in they realized the 90-nation coalition that was put together was successful in sharing intelligence, and tracking bank accounts, and cooperating against terrorism," said Rumsfeld.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Nancy Pelosi blasts GOP silence (JAKE SHERMAN, 9/6/11, Politico)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says that the Republican leadership's decision to forgo a direct response to President Barack Obama's jobs speech Thursday is "not only disrespectful to him, but to the American people."

The former is accurate, but has nothing to do with the latter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Civility for Thee, Not for Me: Of course President Obama will not criticize Jimmy Hoffa's ugly rant. (Rich Lowry, 9/06/11, National Review)

Pres. Barack Obama delivered hi s loviest speech as president in Tucson, Ariz., after the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. It was moving, pitch-perfect and -- in its key passages calling for civility in our political discourse -- brazenly insincere.

Obama said we should be sure that "we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds." He framed his call as a way to honor the victims of the Tucson tragedy: "Only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud."

Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa must have been too busy watching old episodes of The Sopranos that night. In a warm-up act for the president's rally the other day in Detroit, Hoffa unloosed a witless, stereotypically crude tirade standing at a podium about to be affixed with a presidential seal and graced by the presence of the Master of Civility himself.

Hoffa told the rally that the Tea Party had declared "war on workers," but told his listeners that organized labor likes "a good fight." He thundered: "They got a war with us and there's only going to be one winner." He assured President Obama that "this is your army," and urged the crowd to vote: "Let's take these son of a bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong [sic]."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Car-to-Car Communication System to Get a Massive Road Test (Julie Halpert, 9/07/11, Technology Review)

Technology that would allow cars to talk to each other--to help prevent accidents and improve traffic flow--is about to get a real-world road test following new funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Many high-end cars already come with sensors capable of spotting a vehicle in a driver's blind spot, or warning that the car is drifting out of lane. However, these technologies, which use radar, laser, or video sensors, have a limited view. Car-to-car communications could provide even more sophisticated earlier warnings--for example, when a car several vehicles ahead brakes suddenly.

Last month, the DOT awarded $14.9 million to the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute to test the technology, known as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. The system to be tested relies on dedicated short-range radio communication to allow cars to signal one another and receive messages from traffic equipment.

The DOT estimates that 80 percent of serious crashes could be addressed by this technology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Can the United States move beyond the narcissism of 9/11? (Gary Younge, 4 September 2011, The Guardian)

But beyond mourning of the immediate victims' friends and families, there was an element of narcissism to this national grief that would play out in policy and remains evident in the tone of many of today's retrospectives. The problem, for some, was not that such a tragedy had happened but that it could have happened in America and to Americans. The ability to empathise with others who had suffered similar tragedies and the desire to prevent further such suffering proved elusive when set against the need to avenge the attacks. It was as though Americans were unique in their ability to feel pain and the deaths of civilians of other nations were worth less.

...that treats the perpetrators as largely secondary and basically uses the incident as a convenient excuse for liberating the Arab world from dictatorship. Indeed, Mr. Younge has the formula exactly backwards: it was as though Americans were unique in their willingness to absorb pain in order to make the lives of civilians in other nations better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


99-cent pricing may not be worth the penny, says Rutgers-Camden researcher (Ed Moorhouse, Rutgers University)

Just-below pricing, or 99-cent endings, is a common marketing tool used to attract customers looking to get bang for their buck. But a Rutgers-Camden professor says that, in some cases, a penny saved doesn't always translate into a penny earned for retailers.

"The difference between a good product and a poor product in the consumers' eyes could come down to that penny," says Robert Schindler, a professor of marketing at the Rutgers School of Business-Camden. "When consumers care more about product quality than price, just-below pricing has been found to actually hurt retail sales." that the prices are in whole numbers and already include the taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Obama's Economic Trifecta: How The President Helped Kill Progressivism, Capitalism And Moderation (Joel Kotkin 09/06/2011, New Geography)

Progressivism's golden day seemed to have arrived with Obama's election. But the progressivism embraced by the president was not the middle-class-oriented, growth-inducing kind associated with previous Democrats. Instead, Obama's progressivism was shaped by his fellow academics, who have enjoyed unprecedented influence in this administration, as well as closely aligned classes such as affluent greens, urban land interests, venture capitalists and the mainstream media.

Expressing the world view of the well-heeled, Obama's progressivism did not focus on class mobility and economic growth. The old progressivism's program was bold and opportunity-oriented: increasing energy supplies (think Tennessee Valley Authority) and encouraging industrial growth through building critical new infrastructure.

Obama's stimulus did not seek to increase productivity capacity or create good blue-collar jobs. It largely missed the recession's biggest victims: minorities, the working class and the young who are well represented of the 1 in 5 Americans now not working. The president instead chose to service the needs of organized constituencies such as public sector unions, large research universities and "green capitalists."

The tragedy is that Obama could have done things differently. [...]

These failures have downgraded the chances for another big stimulus -- the prescription most favored on the left -- to all but impossible. But left-wing ideology hasn't been Obama's only victim; he has also delivered a body blow to the ethos of capitalism itself. For decades conservatives have preached that if we made capital available through a soaring stock market, business would then spend its bounty by reinvesting in the country's productive capacity. Yet even as the market boomed over the past two years, very little has reached Main Street businesses faced with middle-income customers too skittish to buy their goods and services.

Obama's most recent fetish, moderation, also is proving something of a bust. Anxious not to be labeled anti-business, he has surrounded himself not with entrepreneurs but consummate crony capitalists -- chief of staff Bill Daley (scion of the Chicago machine family), General Electric's Jeffrey Immelt and proposed Commerce Chief John Bryson, who has spent much time as a master manipulator for a large regulated utility. These figures have little or no credibility among grassroots businesspeople. They are seen as being more adept at working the system than succeeding in the free market. If this is what moderation is about, the public has good reason not to trust it.

So having downgraded progressivism, capitalism and even moderation, Obama's remaining hope lies in two things: the intrinsic strengths of the U.S. economy and the well-demonstrated ineptitude of his political rivals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Robert Gates Says Israel Is an Ungrateful Ally (Jeffrey Goldberg, 9/06/11, Bloomberg)

What was extraordinary wasn't the message -- it was not an untypical Netanyahu sermon. What was notable was that Netanyahu was lecturing the president live on television, during a photo opportunity staged so that the two leaders could issue platitudes about the enduring bonds between their nations. [...]

But it was Robert M. Gates, the now-retired secretary of defense, who seemed most upset with Netanyahu. In a meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee held not long before his retirement this summer, Gates coldly laid out the many steps the administration has taken to guarantee Israel's security -- access to top- quality weapons, assistance developing missile-defense systems, high-level intelligence sharing -- and then stated bluntly that the U.S. has received nothing in return, particularly with regard to the peace process.

Senior administration officials told me that Gates argued to the president directly that Netanyahu is not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel's growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


The incredible shrinking Obama (GLENN THRUSH & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 9/7/11, Politico)

The once-muscular presidency of Barack Obama has undergone a dramatic downsizing - in power, popularity, prestige and ambition - to the point where even Obama die-hards are starting to question his ability to right the economy or win reelection.

Three polls in a single day Tuesday all told the same sorry tale - the avatar of hope and change, the slayer of Osama bin Laden, the president with dreams of a billion-dollar reelection campaign - is losing popular support and bleeding political power fifteen months ahead Election Day.

"He has sort of lost the sense of power and mystique of the presidency," says longtime Obama ally Andy Stern, former president of the powerful Service Employees International Union. "There's also a sense that people aren't scared of him. That's very dangerous."

Even at his theoretical high point Congress and US allies paid no attention to him. His problem is that the perception of him has gone from merely useless to genuinely harmful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Politics of trade hurts job creation (REP. KEVIN O. MCCARTHY, 9/6/11, Politico)

Right now, there are three pending export agreements negotiated by the White House that could create and support thousands of jobs. But after two years of delay, the Obama administration still has not sent them to Congress for consideration.

These free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea would have a significant positive effect on our economy. They would support 250,000 jobs spanning all sectors of our economy, including manufacturing, services and agriculture, according to the administration's own calculations.

September 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


Payday lenders prey on the poor, costing Americans billions. Will Washington act? (Paheadra Robinson, September 6, 2011, CS Monitor)

This minimally regulated, $30 billion-a-year business offers low-dollar, short-term, high-interest loans to the most vulnerable consumers - people who, due to economic hardship, need fast cash but are considered too risky for banks. These loans then trap them in a cycle of mounting debt. With interest rates that can reach 572 percent, anyone who borrows $400 (the current maximum loan amount allowed in my state of Mississippi, although limits vary state to state) can find themselves thousands of dollars in debt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Who's lovin' it? The life of McDonald's workers (Bill Donahue, Published: September 1, 2011, Washington Post Magazine)

Two I Street is an American success story. Built in the early 1980s, the restaurant was bought in 2003 by Cuban-born Carlos Mateos, who spent $375,000 on a renovation that expanded the drive-through and updated the interior. Annual sales, which totaled $2.4 million eight years ago, have doubled. I Street is now one of the busiest McDonald's in greater Washington. I spent five days at the restaurant in June, intent on meeting workers such as Raul Reyes who, in pursuing their own American dreams, had attached themselves to the McDonald's juggernaut. Eighty percent of Reyes's workers are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. (Immigrants -- both documented and undocumented -- account for about 25 percent of all workers in the food services industry, and that number is rising.)

What is it like to grow up in, say, rural Guatemala, in a tranquil, small town, with only a few houses nearby, and then emigrate north, to work under fluorescent lights, sating the demands of rambunctious children craving Happy Meals? How does a newcomer reckon with pouring dozens of large Cokes every hour as french fries sizzle in grease and six or eight of his co-workers scramble about filling orders, shouting, "Big Mac, Big Mac, Big Mac, Quarter Pounder With Cheese?"

McDonald's is, after Wal-Mart, the nation's second-largest private employer, with 700,000 workers. And as the economy flags, and as more Americans seek cheaper food, that number is rising. On April 19, McDonald's held a National Hiring Day and says that it brought in 62,000 new employees.

"We've got flexible schedules, benefits and jobs that can turn into satisfying careers," McDonald's' Web site said. Yet many people above the poverty line would never even consider working at McDonald's. The stigma of working at McDonald's is so culturally ingrained that since 2001 the Oxford English Dictionary has defined the neologism "McJob" as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. created by the expansion of the service sector." [...]

Reyes's job at McDonald's is a dream come true. He told me that after he sneaked across the Mexican border in 1995 to join his brother in Washington, he stood outside a 7-Eleven in Silver Spring each morning, hoping to land gigs moving furniture or digging ditches. "I'd get there at 5," he said, "and every time a car pulled up, I'd jump right in. But people always said: 'No, you're too young to work. You should be in school.' By 10 or 11, I'd have nothing. I'd go home broke."

He got a janitorial job, eventually, and cleaned office buildings from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each weeknight. When at last he landed a $5.25-an-hour job at McDonald's, he was "jumping up and down like crazy. I called my mother," he said. "In my country, McDonald's is a big restaurant -- you need a college degree to work there."

After his first day at McDonald's, Reyes says, "my feet hurt, my back, my whole body." That was probably because he was still janitoring. For six years he worked both jobs, earning enough to turn his 1996 Honda Accord into a sleek street racer replete with hydraulics, three television sets and neon-green running lights. He painted the vehicle three times; at one point, it was lemon green with a purple hood. He learned English from a security guard who followed him from room to room as he cleaned, pointing, saying, "Table. Chair. Desk."

In time, Reyes was tapped to be a janitorial supervisor, but by then, he had impressed his McDonald's boss, Carlos Mateos. "He was ambitious," says Mateos, who owns 11 Washington area stores. "He was one of those people who was never content with where he was at. If he was in the grill, he wanted to know how to work the fryer. If he was in the fryer, he wanted to know what was going on up front." Reyes climbed quickly through the McDonald's hierarchy -- he became a crew trainer, then a swing manager, then a second assistant manager -- and in 2000, Mateos made him manager at his 1235 New York Ave. NW store. "He was hands-on," Mateos says. "If he sent his guys to the roof to clean the AC unit, he'd grab the degreaser and help."

In 2001, Mateos gave Reyes an ultimatum. "It's time for you to choose between your two jobs," he said. Reyes chose McDonald's. As a cleaning supervisor, he'd need to write reports in English. The prospect scared him; he had only a ninth-grade education.

When he took over I Street and its staff in 2004, he worked three months without a day off. He shored up the inventory practices; no one was keeping records on, for instance, how many hamburgers were dropped on the floor. He fired 40 of the restaurant's 72 workers. "People didn't like me, but they were giving away free food," he said. "They were taking money from the cash register like they were ATM machines." He began tapping the Latino grapevine for employees. The neighborhood gentrified. Nearby low-income housing was demolished. Nationals Park opened in 2008, and Reyes rose meteorically.

In 2009, he received a Ray Kroc Award, given to the top 1 percent of the managers at the 14,000 McDonald's nationwide. McDonald's flew him to Chicago. The three-day trip was, he says, "something I'll never forget. They picked me up in a limousine. They took me to the number one hotel in Chicago, the Sheraton, and the room I was in -- it had everything, even a TV in the bathroom. I felt like a rich man." Reyes's wife was invited. "She couldn't get the time off," he says. She works at another McDonald's.

Reyes, who has three small children, makes $39,000 a year managing a restaurant that grosses $5.2 million a year. Categorized technically as a legalized alien, he gets medical benefits from McDonald's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Michele Bachmann 2012 campaign's turnover raises new questions (MAGGIE HABERMAN, 9/6/11, Politico)

Top-level staff departures from Michele Bachmann's campaign are raising fresh questions about her durability heading into the post-Labor Day stretch of the 2012 presidential primary contest.

As POLITICO first reported Sunday, her campaign manager Ed Rollins will be moving from day-to-day campaign managing to a senior advisory role. His deputy, David Polyansky, is leaving the campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Q&A: Edward Luttwak: The military strategist talks about Israeli security, Henry Kissinger, the Arab Spring, and the death of Osama Bin Laden (David Samuels, September 6, 2011, Tablet)

I think that if America had been able to tolerate a second Henry Kissinger, that person would have been you.

Kissinger at 88 is writing brochures for Kissinger Associates. His last book on China is one such work written by the staff at Kissinger Associates. It is designed to curry favor with the Chinese authorities and nothing else.

I know him personally very well, but he is such a deceptive person; he's a habitual liar and dissembler. Although I've spent a lot of time talking to him, I have no insight on him at all. His book ends with a paean to U.S.-Chinese friendship and how every other country has to fit in. I have to review it for the TLS but I've been delaying it by weeks because I don't know whether it is a case of senility or utter corruption. [...]

How much of a role do you think the so-called "democracy promotion" efforts of the United States under President George W. Bush, including the invasion of Iraq, played in the increasing instability of the Arab regimes, and how much of their collapse was the result of their own senility?

I will pretend that this is an easy question; it's not. The easy answer is that Bush and the Bush Administration for a brief period of less than two years were on a democracy-promotion binge. They used a pickax and attacked a wall, seemingly making an impression, and perhaps they caused some structural damage. The Iraq War, with the defeat, humbling, and execution of a dictator, was a big blow with a pickax. On the other hand, when the regime becomes sufficiently involuted as to become hereditary, which is what happened in Syria and appeared to be happening in Egypt, then you are dealing with senility of the regime embodied: "the dictator is old." So both answers are true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Europeans Talk of Sharp Change in Fiscal Affairs (LOUISE STORY and MATTHEW SALTMARSH, 9/05/11, NY Times)

Recently, for instance, when an official from a European central bank met with a financial official in Washington, his host brandished the Articles of Confederation, the 1781 precursor to the United States Constitution, to use as an example of why stronger unions become necessary.

The story of America's failed early effort to operate as a loose confederation of 13 states is looking increasingly relevant for many European officials. The lack of strong central coordination of the euro zone's debt and spending policies is a crucial reason Europe has been unable to resolve its financial crisis despite more than 18 months of effort.

The lack of progress has contributed to steep declines in European stocks recently, sending tremors through markets in the United States as well. On Monday alone, several major European markets fell more than 4 percent while markets were also down on Tuesday morning in Australia and Japan.

And that is why, despite all the political obstacles, Europe appears to be inching closer to a more centralized approach, and some officials are going public on the issue.

"If today's policy makers want to successfully stay the course, they will have to press ahead with structural changes and deeper economic integration," António Borges, director of the International Monetary Fund's European unit, said in a recent speech. "To put the crisis behind us, we need more Europe, not less. And we need it now."

It would obviously be beneficial to Southern Europe if it could gain more control over Northern, but what sense does it make for the North to bind itself to the more rapidly dying South?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


It's How Well They Throw the Ball (ALLEN BARRA, 9/06/11, WSJ)

In 1995, George Ignatin and I--we did a column for The Wall Street Journal for several years called By the Numbers--did a study of the first 35 seasons of NFL history, starting with 1961, and found that in about 84% of NFL games the winner was the team that averaged the higher yards per throw. Ten years later I updated the study with California researcher T.J. Troup. The needle stayed at 84%. All research since then confirms our findings: Simple yards per throw--or, as some phrase it, yards per pass (YPP)--is the most underrated statistic in pro football and the single most important indicator of a team's strength on offense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 AM

First Listen: St. Vincent, 'Strange Mercy' (Michael Katzif, September 4, 2011, NPR)

Annie Clark's popularity has grown considerably in the past few years -- from a costumed member of Polyphonic Spree and winged member of Sufjan Stevens' band to an exceptional artist in her own right as St. Vincent -- but so too have her musical gifts. For all that's been said about her beguiling vocals and her knack for fearlessly creative compositions, what shines throughout St. Vincent's new Strange Mercy is Clark's guitar work. From the first bit of lip-curling guitar buzz in "Chloe in the Afternoon" to the freak-out riffs of "Northern Lights," it's clear that Clark has mastered her instrument in a way increasingly few in indie rock do. She manipulates and contorts and totally shreds on the guitar, creating a full arsenal of textures that provide the backbone of St. Vincent's third and best album so far.


September 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Human Ancestors Interbred with Related Species: Analysis suggests genetic mixing occurred in Africa around 35,000 years ago (Matt Kaplan and Nature magazine | September 5, 2011, Scientific American)

Our ancestors bred with other species in the Homo genus, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors say that up to 2% of the genomes of some modern African populations may originally came from a closely related species.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Obama criticised for continuing civil rights 'violations' introduced by Bush (Ewen MacAskill, 9/05/11,

The Obama administration has disappointed civil rights campaigners who had expected him to reverse most of the post-9/11 restrictions introduced by the Bush administration.

On becoming president in January 2009, Obama promised to close Guantánamo Bay within a year. He did order an end to waterboarding but Guantánamo remains open and almost all the rest of the Bush era anti-terrorism apparatus, from the Patriot Act through to increased surveillance is still in place.

Measures once considered only for emergency use are being consolidated.

"I did not like it when the violations of rights were temporary but now, because of Obama going along with the changes, they are becoming a permanent fixture of our legal landscape," said Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has been battling since the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


The Long Night of Chet Baker: Deep in a Dream By JAMES GAVIN (Greil Marcus, 8/30/11, Barnes & Noble Review)

To put it another way: except in the rare cases of those strange creatures who, like T. E. Lawrence, create themselves to such a degree that it becomes nearly impossible to imagine that they ever experienced a trivial or even workaday moment, the dramatic sweep we find in novels or movies is not really the stuff of anyone's life. No matter how the writer may try to have it otherwise, most biographies are simply one thing after another. The life of a junkie is not just one thing after another, it is the same one thing after another -- and yet there is not a page in Deep in a Dream that is not engaging, alive, demanding a response from a reader whether that be a matter of horror or awe, making the reader almost complicit in whatever comes next, even when, with the story less that of a musician who used heroin to play than that of a junkie who played to get heroin, it seems certain that nothing can.

Born in Oklahoma in 1929, Chet Baker grew up in Los Angeles. He had a deep and instinctive ear for music, playing trumpet in high school, army, and junior college bands; in 1949, when he heard the Miles Davis 78s that would later be collected as The Birth of the Cool, Baker "connected with that style so passionately that he felt he had found the light." That same year he was present at all-night sessions in L.A. to hear Charlie "Bird" Parker, and was shot up with heroin for the first time. He sat in with Dave Brubeck in San Francisco; in 1952 in L.A. he was called in with others to make up a group to back a wasted Parker.

That gave Baker an instant credibility in jazz. Ruined or not, Charlie Parker, with Dizzy Gillespie the progenitor of bebop, was the genius, the savant, the seer, the stumbling visionary who heard what others could not and could translate what he heard into a new language that others could immediately understand, even if they could never speak it themselves. If Parker said that Baker's playing was "pure and simple," that it reminded him of the Bix Beiderbecke records he heard growing up in Kansas City, that made the perhaps apocryphal story of Parker telling Gillespie and Davis, "There's a little white cat on the coast who's gonna eat you up" almost believable. But it was Baker's face -- as much or more than his joining in a new L.A. quartet with Gerry Mulligan, the baritone saxophonist and junkie who had played on the Birth of the Cool sessions, or Baker forming his own group and then headlining at Birdland in New York with Gillespie and Davis below him on the bill -- that made many people want to believe it.

Well before the end of his life, after he had lost most of his teeth in a drug-related beating in San Francisco, after he had turned into as charming, self-pitying, manipulative, professional a junkie as any in America or Europe, where for decades he made his living less as a musician than a legend, Baker wore the face of a lizard. In some photographs he barely looks human. But at the start he was, as so indelibly captured in William Claxton's famous photographs, not merely beautiful, not merely a California golden boy -- in the words of the television impresario and songwriter Steve Allen, someone who "started out as James Dean and ended up as Charles Manson." He was gorgeous, he seemed touched by an odd light, and he did not, even then, look altogether human -- but in a manner that was not repulsive but irresistibly alluring.

His legend -- the way in which, with the clarity and ease of his tone as a trumpeter, and the preternatural calm, quiet, and reflectiveness of his singing, the way in which he could, "somehow," as Gavin quotes the Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, "express the question mark of life in so few notes," the way in which Baker was a cult in and of himself -- was as the years went on not just a Johnny Thunders death watch, a spectacle of self-destruction, the face of the monster slowly grinding down the memory of the angel. Rather it was, through all the years of working less as a musician than as his own pimp ("One uninspired night at the Subway Club in Cologne yielded three albums"), of a self-degradation so extreme it had to be, in its way, its own reward ("Waking from a nod...he found his face crawling with cockroaches..."), the chance that the pure talent, as a thing in itself, might still be there, might still emerge on any night, in any song, and then, again, vanish, humiliating the man who could not find his voice at will or even refused to, and mocking the memories of those who could not admit that they had not heard what they thought they heard.

Behind its own face, the legend was that of the solitary betraying his own talent, his own gift, and that solitary betrayal raising the specter of the smaller but no less real betrayals of anyone in any audience, one man standing for, and exposing, the self-betrayal of everyone else. "All this criticism," Gavin writes of Baker's crash in the then all-important jazz polls in 1959 -- after a phony cure at the federal facility at Lexington, in 1950s jazz lore almost as storied a place as any nightclub in Manhattan, after four months at Rikers,

implied Baker had let everyone down, dragging an American dream through the mud. 'Chet had the world at his feet in the fifties,' said John Burr, one of his later bassists. 'He consciously turned his back on it, and used drugs as a means of doing it. That's what he said about it.' Baker made no apologies. 'All the attempts to get him off heroin -- he didn't want to get off heroin,' said Gerry Mulligan. 'That, of course, is heresy in the modern world. You're supposed to be going, "Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, oh God, help me." Chet didn't give a damn.'

The Monster in the Celebrity Machine (JAMES GAVIN, September 22, 2002, NY Times)

IN ''Let's Get Lost,'' his 1989 documentary about Chet Baker, the fashion photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber shows a photograph so erotic that his camera all but drools over it. There stands Baker, the jazz trumpeter and singer who was one of the first beautiful 1950's rebels, captured at his peak of allure by another photographer, William Claxton. Tanned, athletic and 26, Baker poses shirtless beside his wife, Halema. His cool half-smile seduces the viewer.

No one seemed to notice the rest of the contact sheet from which the 1956 photograph was taken, even though the sheet was scanned in the film. Several images show Baker glaring out demonically. He had just started a heroin habit that would keep growing until 1988, when he landed, dead, on the pavement below an Amsterdam hotel window. That mysterious end -- suicide, accident or murder? -- added one more romantic touch to the mythology of one of the most unromantic men who ever lived.

Before Baker's death, Mr. Weber had spent a million dollars chasing an illusion that the trumpeter's photos and records still inspire. In so doing, Mr. Weber, whether intentionally or not, made a powerful statement about the dangers of idol worship. Seeing a rare screening of ''Let's Get Lost'' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last month was a reminder of just how prophetic it had been about today's pop culture. We live in an age of worshiping glossy surfaces, of pretending that beauty itself signifies some profound human dimension. Interviewers vie for access to the latest movie hunk, desperate to uncover the mystique they find in his handsome face on screen. He offers only rigidly controlled, vapid responses. The less he reveals, the more he convinces us of hidden depths that may not be there at all.

Chet Baker, Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 59 in a Fall (JON PARELES, May 14, 1988, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


Mediterranean cruises: how closely some nationalities conform to their stereotypes: I don't mean to generalise but I think that all Italians are like children, Britons seem middle-aged while the Chinese appear old before their time. (Michael Deacon, 05 Sep 2011, The Telegraph)

The first lesson you learnt while trying to get around on deck was that Italians walk the way they drive - that is, as if there were nobody within a hundred yards of them. You could tell at a glance which passengers weren't Italian: they were the ones scrambling for cover under the nearest sunlounger, to avoid being trampled in the stampede to the coffee shop.

Also, every conversation held by the Italians sounded like a blazing row. Even when ordering drinks they adopted the kind of tone non-Italians might reserve for addressing a teenage boy who's impregnated their daughter.

Naturally there were passengers from lots of other countries, too. In fact, by the end of the trip I'd begun to form a theory: in temperament, nationalities are like age groups. Italians are like children: noisy, boisterous, alternately ecstatic and furious.

The French are like teenagers: pouting, huffy, sex-mad (see how they insist on giving each noun a gender - only a Frenchman could look at a table and think, "Yes, that's female").

Swedes are like grown adults: mature, sensible, a bit dull. The Chinese are like the elderly: cautious, courteous, and increasingly resented because there are so many of them and they've so much money.

And the British, of course, are like the embittered middle-aged, which is why we're so good at making unkind generalisations about everybody else.

Still, there's one characteristic that unites tourists of all nationalities, and that's jadedness. On Wednesday, several coachloads of us went to Athens. By the time we'd reached the Parthenon, everybody looked irritable and bored: perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was the crowds, but the prevailing attitude seemed to be that, once you'd seen one heap of ancient Greek rubble, you'd seen them all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Why the Impossible Happens More Often (Kevin Kelly, The Technium)

I've had to persuade myself to believe in the impossible more often. In the past several decades I've encountered a series of ideas that I was conditioned to think were impossibilities, but which turned out to be good practical ideas. For instance, I had my doubts about the online flea market called eBay when it first came out. Pay money to a stranger selling a car you have not seen? Everything I had been taught about human nature suggested this could not work. Yet today, strangers selling automobiles is the major profit center for the very successful eBay corporation.

I thought the idea of an encyclopedia that anyone could change at any time to be a non-starter, a hopeless romantic idea with no chance of working. It seemed to go against my general understanding of human nature and group interaction. I was so wrong. Today I use Wikipedia at least once a day.

Twenty years ago if I had been paid to convince an audience of reasonable, educated people that in 20 years time we'd have street and satellite maps for the entire world on our personal hand held phone devices -- for free -- and with street views for many cities -- I would not be able to do it. I could not have made an economic case for how this could come about "for free." It was starkly impossible back then.

These supposed impossibilities keep happening with increased frequency. Everyone "knew" that people don't work for free, and if they did, they could not make something useful without a boss. But today entire sections of our economy run on software instruments created by volunteers working without pay or bosses. Everyone knew humans were innately private beings, yet the impossibility of total open round-the-clock sharing still occurred. Everyone knew that humans are basically lazy, and they would rather watch than create, and they would never get off their sofas to create their own TV. It would be impossible that millions of amateurs would produce billions of hours of video, or that anyone would watch any of it. Like Wikipedia, or Linux, YouTube is theoretically impossible. But here this impossibility is real in practice.

This list goes on, old impossibilities appearing as new possibilities daily. But why now? What is happening to disrupt the ancient impossible/possible boundary?

In a word: emergence. As far as I can tell the impossible things that happen now are in every case manifestations of a new, bigger level of organization. They are the result of large-scale collaboration, or immense collections of information, or global structures, or gigantic real-time social interactions. Just as a tissue is a new, bigger level of organization for a bunch of individual cells, these new social structures are a new bigger level for individual humans. And in both cases the new level breeds emergence. New behaviors emerge from the new level that were impossible at the lower level. Tissue can do things that cells can't. The collectivist organizations of wikipedia, Linux, the web can do things that industrialized humans could not.

Humans have long invented new social organizations, from law, courts, irrigation systems, schools, governments, libraries, and at the largest scale, civilization itself. These social instruments are what makes us human -- and what makes our behavior "impossible" from the vantage of animals. For instance when we invented writing, written records and laws enabled a type of egalitarianism not possible in our cousins the primates, and and not present in oral cultures. The cooperation and coordination breed by irrigation and agriculture produced yet more impossible behaviors of anticipation and preparation, and sensitivity to the future. Human society unleashed all kinds of previously impossible human behaviors into the biosphere.

The technium is accelerating the creation of new impossibilities by continuing to invent new social organizations.

Ever been in the Epcot ball and seen the Spaceship Earth display? Think of the cloistered monks sitting there transcribing one book apiece, perhaps, or perhaps not, reading it as they did so. And when they were done a single copy would result, to be seen by how few eyes?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Hive of Nerves: To be alive spiritually is to feel the ultimate anxiety of existence within the trivial anxieties of everyday life (Christian Wiman, American Scholar)

IT IS A STRANGE THING how sometimes merely to talk honestly of God, even if it is only to articulate our feelings of separation and confusion, can bring peace to our spirits. You thought you were unhappy because this or that was off in your relationship, this or that was wrong in your job, but the reality is that your sadness stemmed from your aversion to, your stalwart avoidance of, God. The other problems may very well be true, and you will have to address them, but what you feel when releasing yourself to speak of the deepest needs of your spirit is the fact that no other needs could be spoken of outside of that context. You cannot work on the structure of your life if the ground of your being is unsure.

THE FIRST STEP in the life of the spirit is learning to let yourself experience those moments when life and time seem at once suspended and concentrated, that paradox of attentive oblivion out of which any sustaining faith grows. These moments may not be--and at first almost certainly will not be--"meditative." They are more likely to break into your awareness, or into what you thought was awareness ("inbreaking" is the theological term for Christ's appearance in the world and in our lives--there is no coaxing it, no way to earn it, no way to prepare except to hone your capacity to respond, which is, finally, your capacity to experience life, and death). This is why we cannot separate one part of our existence, or one aspect of our awareness, from another, for there is a seed of peace in the most savage clamor. There is a kind of seeing that, fusing attention and submission, becomes a kind of being, wherein you may burrow into the very chaos that buries you, and even the most binding ties can become a means of release.

Commute (2)

There is a dreamer
all good conductors

know to look for
when the last stop is made

and the train is ticking cool,
some lover, loner, or fool

who has lived so hard
he jerks awake

in the graveyard,
where he sees

coming down the aisle
a beam of light

whose end he is,
and what he thinks are chains

becoming keys . . .

KEYS TO WHAT, though? For I can't end with that flourish of poetry and privacy. Art, like religious devotion, either adds life or steals it; it is never neutral; either it impels one back toward life or is merely one more means of keeping life at arm's length. (The subject matter and tone of art have less to do with this than many people think: nothing palls the soul like a forced epiphany, and one can be elated and energized by a freshly articulate despair.) Keys to what? In this poem, the keys are, on one level, to the constraints felt in the earlier section (the miserable commute, the crush of others, the "screech and heat and hate"), which prove to be their own means of release ("what he thought were chains / becoming keys"). On another level, the keys are to the mysteries of death; or, rather, the key is to the blunt, immutable, physical fact of death (the train "graveyard"), which opens, if only for a moment, to reveal a mystery.

And now it's over. Now the man on the train--like the man who imagined him (me!), like Paul God-struck outside of Damascus (alas, it wasn't quite like that for me)--must move. Now the revelation either becomes part of his life or is altogether lost to it. Either his actions acquire a deeper purpose, and begin to echo and counterpoint each other, or the moment and the man slip back into unfeeling frenzy, and the screech and heat and hate of his days lock metallically around him again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


What Killed American Lit.: Today's collegians don't want to study it--who can blame them? (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 8/27/11, WSJ)

Most readers are unlikely to have heard of the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," the majority teachers in English departments in American universities. I myself, who taught in a such a department for three decades, recognized the names of only four among them. Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy--Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others--but no longer. Literature, as taught in the current-day university, is strictly an intramural game.

This may come as news to the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," who pride themselves on possessing much wider, much more relevant, interests and a deeper engagement with the world than their predecessors among literary academics. Biographical notes on contributors speak of their concern with "forms of moral personhood in the US novels," "the poetics of foreign policy," and "ecocriticism and theories of modernization, postmodernization, and globalization."

Yet, through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme--of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite. A novelist, we are told, "tasks himself" with this or that; things tend to get "problematized"; the adjectives "global" and "post"-this-or-that receive a good workout; "alterity" and "intertexuality" pop up their homely heads; the "poetics of ineffability" come into play; and "agency" is used in ways one hadn't hitherto noticed, so that "readers in groups demonstrate agency." About the term "non-heteronormativity" let us not speak.

These dopey words and others like them are inserted into stiffly mechanical sentences of dubious meaning. "Attention to the performativity of straight sex characterizes . . . 'The Great Gatsby' (1925), where Nick Carraway's homoerotic obsession with the theatrical Gatsby offers a more authentic passion precisely through flamboyant display." Betcha didn't know that Nick Carraway was hot for Jay Gatsby? We sleep tonight; contemporary literary scholarship stands guard.

"The Cambridge History of the American Novel" is perhaps best read as a sign of what has happened to English studies in recent decades. Along with American Studies programs, which are often their subsidiaries, English departments have tended to become intellectual nursing homes where old ideas go to die. If one is still looking for that living relic, the fully subscribed Marxist, one is today less likely to find him in an Economics or History Department than in an English Department, where he will still be taken seriously. He finds a home there because English departments are less concerned with the consideration of literature per se than with what novels, poems, plays and essays--after being properly X-rayed, frisked, padded down, like so many suspicious-looking air travelers--might yield on the subjects of race, class and gender. "How would [this volume] be organized," one of its contributors asks, "if race, gender, disability, and sexuality were not available?"

Friend Ari Mendelson has written a very funny novel, Bias Incident, about an innocent young man who runs afoul of these academic thickets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


REVIEW: of 'State of Wonder' by Ann Patchett: "State of Wonder" is a suspenseful jungle adventure with an unexpected ending and other assorted surprises (Laura Ciolkowski, Tribune Newspapers)

Prize-winning author Ann Patchett ("Bel Canto," "Truth and Beauty," "The Magician's Assistant") once confessed that the single most important artistic influence on her work is "The Poseidon Adventure," the 1933 Paul Gallico potboiler that was made into a classic 1970s action-adventure-disaster movie featuring Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine fighting their way out of a luxury liner capsized by a 100-foot tidal wave. Patchett explained, "['The Poseidon Adventure'] was the first time I saw something that made me think, Oh, that's what plot is: you're going along, it's fine, then everything turns upside down; people band together, sacrifices are made, there's passion, there's loss, there's a journey and at the end you cut a hole in the boat and you come into the light."

The Gallico book that captivated us as kids was The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Unnatural Selection: The story behind India's missing girls lays bare a global history of population control (MARA HVISTENDAHL, 1 August 2011, The Caravan)

F OR DR PUNEET BEDI, the intensive care unit in Apollo Hospital's maternity ward is a source of both pride and shame. The unit's technology is among the best in Delhi--among the best, for that matter, in all India. The technology is one of the reasons he chose to take his gynecology practice here. But as a specialist in high-risk births he works hard so that
babies can be born, and the fact that the unit's technology also contributes to India's skewed sex ratio at birth gnaws at him. Seven out of 10 babies born in the maternity ward, according to Bedi, are male. He delivers those boys knowing many of them are replacements for aborted girls.

He supports abortion for medical reasons, along with early-term abortion obtained after some deliberation. He performs abortions himself. For sex selection, however, he reserves a contempt bordering on fury. To have his work negated by something as trifling as sex preference--by any preference--feels like a targeted insult. "You can choose whether to be a parent," he says. "But once you choose to be a parent, you cannot choose whether it's a boy or girl, black or white, tall or short."

Bedi says sex-selective abortion has caught on in Delhi precisely because it bears the imprint of a scientific advance. "It's sanitised," he says. The fact that sex selection is a medical act, he adds, neatly divides the moral burden between two parties: parents tell themselves their doctor knows best, while doctors point to overwhelming patient demand for the procedure. "There is a complete lack of shame on behalf of the parents and doctors who do it."

A tall, broad-shouldered man with a disarmingly gentle voice, Bedi has an immaculate British accent that hints at years spent studying at King's College in London. "I am so emotionally involved in the subject," he says, his voice wavering, "that it's difficult for me to be very articulate." Sex selection, he says, is "probably the single most important issue in the next 50 years that this country and China are going to face. If you're going to wipe out 20 percent of your population, nature is not going to sit by and watch." But hospitals have little incentive to do anything about the problem, he adds, because maternity wards bring in substantial business. At Apollo, a deluxe delivery suite outfitted with a bathtub, track lighting, a flat screen television and a large window looking out onto landscaped grounds runs to 9000 a night. Although India outlawed foetal sex determination and sex-selective abortion in 1994, the law is poorly enforced, and as sex selection is an easy procedure in high demand, doctors continue to openly perform it. "Almost a third of Indian gynecologists' income comes from abortion," Bedi tells me. "Among those who do female foeticide, 90 percent comes from abortion. Who the hell is going to stop it?" He says he makes less money than many Delhi gynecologists simply because he refuses to abort female foetuses. Some of his patients, he says, are "extremely disappointed when I do ultrasounds. They think it's just a waste of time and money if you don't even know whether it's a boy or a girl."

Indeed, some of India's top physicians help patients scan for foetal sex. A notorious case in Delhi is that of Mangala Telang, a Harvard-educated physician who is something like a gynecologist to the stars. Telang's patients range from wealthy foreigners--both the American and British embassies recommend her to citizens living in Delhi--to Bollywood glitterati. In 2007 a pregnant British reporter of South Asian descent sent undercover by the BBC's Asian Network caught Telang ordering an ultrasound scan for sex determination and assuring the reporter she could recommend an abortionist if the foetus turned out to be female. (Bedi appears in the segment, commenting dryly: "I'm not surprised at all.") After the show aired, the health ministry suspended Telang's licence, but at the time of my visit to Delhi she was practising again. The BBC reporter, moreover, found three other doctors in South Delhi willing to identify the sex of her baby. One didn't even bother to mention that sex selection was illegal--and then, smelling British money, charged the reporter twice the going rate. "When you confront the medical profession, there is a cowardly refusal to accept blame," Bedi tells me. "They say, 'We are doctors; it's a noble profession.' This is bull[****]." Later he adds: "When it comes to issues like ethics and morality you can have an opinion, but there is a line which you do not cross. Everybody who does it knows it's unethical. It's a mass medical crime."

To this day, in India and elsewhere, activists often point to tradition as the cause of sex-selective abortion. Instead of challenging Asia's history of population control or bringing entrenched interest groups like the medical lobby to task, these activists launch awareness campaigns directed at changing prejudices and societal mores. Positive reinforcement is a common theme in such campaigns. Daughters are portrayed as loving, intelligent, capable, fun--everything a parent could want in a child. In India, there is the Save the Daughter Campaign, Shakti--An Initiative to Empower the Girl Child, the 50 Million Missing Campaign. There is even a "motorbike campaign against female foeticide", which involves politicians touring the country on motor scooters to preach the merits of having girls. Organisations lead focus groups in remote villages. They hire television writers to pen soap operas showing women rejoicing over the birth of daughters. They enlist Bollywood stars to film public service announcements. They sponsor playwrights and hold art contests and develop school curricula. An awareness campaign was the reason well-known Indian designers and models took time out from the shows during Delhi's 2009 Fashion Week to pose with children plucked off the street. "Through fashion," one celebrity told Thaindian News, "we want to show that young icons of India are stepping forth to support the unborn girl child." Even Apollo Hospital runs an awareness campaign staffed by employee volunteers at the hospital's branch in Punjab. As their coworkers stay back to help well-off urbanites abort girls, the volunteers disperse throughout poor villages to preach the merits of daughters.

To Bedi, this approach is infuriating. "If people had a son simply because they want a son, girls would have disappeared from this country one thousand years ago," he says. The campaigns, he says, are an attempt to pawn off modern-day oppression on intransigent cultural mores. He believes it is time for India to start asking hard questions. What if the indiscriminate elimination of girls is the result of subterfuge--of decisions made not by individual parents thinking only of themselves but by those responding to some larger force? And if the Indian and US governments and leading Western organisations played a role in that subterfuge?

Subterfuge? How could population controllers be any more open about their intent?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


How Religion Can Inoculate Against Radicalism: The lesson of my retreat from a London university's Islamic Society. (RUSSELL RAZZAQUE, 9/02/11, WSJ)

Why did I leave the Islamic Society while others stayed--and even, in some cases, wound up in Pakistan networking with fellow Islamists? What was the difference between us? The answer may be found somewhere in our earlier lives.

Those men who were the most opposed to the perverted messages being peddled by the Islamic Society were those who had been brought up by religious parents. One friend, who had been steeped in mainstream Islam as a child, used to tell me that the doctrine being preached at the Islamic Society was, in his view, so aberrant that it risked becoming toxic. He firmly believed that MI5 (British domestic intelligence) ought to be keeping an eye on these guys, and that was 10 years before 9/11. Those who had no exposure to Islam prior to the encounter with extremist recruiters seemed more likely to follow them.

Now there is a growing body of research explaining why that was. Caitlin Spaulding of Trinity University in Texas studied the religious experiences of 84 first-year university students in her home state. She found that the students tended to retain the core faith beliefs instilled in them during their childhood--and that this helped their transition to university life. They appeared to be more confident and better equipped to adapt to their new environment.

In a study by Lorelie J. Farmer of Gordon College in Massachusetts, adult subjects discussed their religious experiences as children. The study found that childhood religious experience tended to give individuals increased compassion for others, as measured in psychological rating scales. This helps explain why it would be harder for such people to follow a supremacist ideology that by definition is uncompassionate towards the "out" group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


One Man Against Tyranny (Mike Dash, August 2011, Smithsonian)

Born in 1903, Elser was just below average height and just above average intelligence. He was not much of a thinker, but clever with his hands: an expert cabinetmaker who never read books, rarely touched newspapers and had little interest in politics. He had voted Communist, and briefly joined the Red Front Fighters' League--streetfighters who took on their Nazi counterparts, the Brownshirts. But Elser was no Marxist, just a typical member of the German working class in the 1930s. He certainly wasn't a brawler; for him, the attraction of the Fighters' League was the chance to play in its brass band. In 1939, the only organization that he belonged to was the Woodworkers' Union.

Beneath this unremarkable exterior, however, Elser did care--mostly about the way the Nazis and their policies were reducing ordinary Germans' standard of living. The "economic miracle" that Hitler often boasted of had been achieved at considerable cost. Working hours were long and holidays few. Trade unions and political parties were dissolved or banned; wages were frozen. Meanwhile, members of the Nazi party enjoyed privileges not available to those who refused to join. Elser, who was noted as a perfectionist who took infinite care over his work, found it increasingly hard to make ends meet as real wages declined. Asked later to explain his decision to take on Hitler, he was blunt: "I considered that the situation in Germany could only be changed by the elimination of the current leadership."

There were only a few signs that Elser might be prepared to take his opposition to Nazi regime beyond the crude jokes and grumbles that his handful of friends indulged in. He refused to listen to the Führer when he came on the radio; he would not give the Nazi salute. When a pro-Hitler parade passed though his home town of Königsbronn, in southwestern Germany, he ostentatiously turned his back on it and started whistling.

Yet Elser never confided to anyone that his views were hardening. He remained almost entirely solitary: unmarried and estranged from his father. And it was typical of the man that when, early in 1938, he finally concluded that something needed to be done about the Führer, he didn't look for help.

It was then that Elser displayed his hidden qualities. Other anti-Nazis had wavered for years over where, when and how they might get close enough to Hitler to kill him. Elser took a purely practical approach. The Führer was renowned for his security consciousness; he tended to cancel arrangements or change plans abruptly. To have a chance of getting to him, Elser recognized, he needed to know that Hitler would be in a specific place at a particular time. And there was only one annual certainty in the Nazi leader's program: each November, he traveled to Munich to speak at an elaborate commemoration of the Beer Hall Putsch, the risible 1923 attempted coup that had set his party on the road to power. Surrounded by thousands of Old Fighters--Nazis whose party membership dated to 1922 or earlier--Hitler would swap stories and reminisce before delivering the sort of lengthy speech calculated to rouse his loyalists to a frenzy.

So it was that in November 1938--10 months before the Germans invaded Poland--Elser took a train to Munich and scouted out the Nazis' celebrations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Is marriage for white people?: The last few decades have witnessed a steep decline in African-American unions. An expert explains why he's worried (Thomas Rogers, 9/04/11, Salon)

Although, at first glance, this trend seems like a testament to the successes of feminism, Ralph Richard Banks, the author of the new book, "Is Marriage for White People?", argues that it represents a disturbing shift in the landscape of African-American intimacy. Banks, a professor of law at Stanford University, uses detailed interviews and extensive statistical research to argue that this gender and racial imbalance has dire implications for both child-rearing and the long-term happiness of African-American women. In the process, he makes provocative claims about both the importance of marriage and the reasons for its decline -- claims that are sure to inflame opinion in a number of circles.

What kind of numbers are we looking at?

It's been the case since the 1960s. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about poorer African-Americans in the '60s -- you may be familiar with the Moynihan report, where he talked about the so-called breakdown of the family in inner city areas and the increase in single parent families among poor African-Americans. Since that time, the same developments have spread to the middle class. If you look at statistics overall, about 2 out of every 3 black women are unmarried. A minority of black men are married, as well. These figures are most pronounced among the poor, but they actually extend throughout the socioeconomic spectrum. College educated black women are about twice as likely to be unmarried as college educated white women by age 40.

So why is this a problem?

First of all, I should say that it's fine for people to not be married. But one of the things I wanted to investigate with the interviews [in my book] is whether black women actually wanted to be unmarried. A lot of people say that black women simply realized that they don't need to be married, and I found there is some truth in that. Women now have more freedom than ever to live life on their own or as they see fit because they're able to work and bring in an income, so they don't have to depend on men for economic support. The pressures to marry aren't as great and people can imagine not being married. At the same time, it is the case that most black women imagine their life with a partner. This is true for most people. They may not want to marry just anyone. They may not want to marry early. They may not be desperate to marry, but did they envision that they would be 35, unmarried, and childless? No. That wasn't the plan and it's not the life that women want, and black women in particular are not able to realize that desire.

One consequence of this is that the highly educated black women have the lowest rate of fertility of any group in the country, which is to say that there are more childless women among black women with graduate degrees -- lawyers, doctors, engineers and so forth -- than among any other group. That's not because these women started out not wanting children. It's because they want children, but they also want a husband, and if they're not going to get a husband they end up bypassing the children. There are lots of other women, of course, who have children without being married. This is most common among the poor, and this is true for all races, but it's also the case that middle-class black women have children without being married. That's not a good development. When I say that, it sounds more conservative than I want it to, but I think at this point in time we should be able to recognize that marriage is the best invention for rearing children.

A lot of people would consider the notion that happiness and fulfillment is contingent on marriage and childrearing to be offensive and retrograde.

I've talked about this with a lot of academic white feminists at Stanford, and I've heard a lot of them ask, "Why do women need to be married? Why can't they have children on their own? And who am I to impose some moral code on women?" My response is that when I went out to interview people, I thought I was going to find a lot of black women who were so happy they didn't have to be married. But I didn't find that. To the people who say black women are leading the charge in being unmarried and we should applaud them rather than subject them to scrutiny, I would say they're really missing the experience that a lot of black women are having. A less charitable take is that it's doing a disservice to black women to manipulate their experience for the ideological ends of feminism.

If so much of these women's ideas about happiness are tied to marriage and motherhood, doesn't that suggest that our culture is putting too much value on those two things?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


What Is Naturalism? (TIMOTHY WILLIAMSON, 9/05/11, NY Times)

Many contemporary philosophers describe themselves as naturalists. They mean that they believe something like this: there is only the natural world, and the best way to find out about it is by the scientific method. I am sometimes described as a naturalist. Why do I resist the description? Not for any religious scruple: I am an atheist of the most straightforward kind. But accepting the naturalist slogan without looking beneath the slick packaging is an unscientific way to form one's beliefs about the world, not something naturalists should recommend.

What, for a start, is the natural world? If we say it is the world of matter, or the world of atoms, we are left behind by modern physics, which characterizes the world in far more abstract terms. Anyway, the best current scientific theories will probably be superseded by future scientific developments. We might therefore define the natural world as whatever the scientific method eventually discovers.

What an exquisitely unthinking quality such belief requires.

Putting Man Before Descartes: Human knowledge is personal and participant--placing us at the center of the universe (John Lukacs, American Scholar)

Knowledge, which is neither objective nor subjective, is always personal. Not individual: personal. The concept of the individual has been one of the essential misconceptions of political liberalism. Every human being is unique, but he does not exist alone. He is dependent on others (a human baby for much longer than the offspring of other animals); his existence is inseparable from his relations with other human beings.

But there is more to that. Our knowledge is not only personal; it is also participant. There is--yet there cannot be--a separation of the knower from the known. We must see further than this. It is not enough to recognize the impossibility (perhaps even the absurdity) of the ideal of their antiseptic, objective separation. What concerns--or should concern--us is something more than the inseparability; it is the involvement of the knower with the known. That this is so when it comes to the reading, researching, writing, and thinking of history should be rather obvious. Detachment from one's passions and memories is often commendable. But detachment, too, is something different from separation; it involves the ability (issuing from one's willingness) to achieve a stance of a longer or higher perspective. The choice for such a stance does not necessarily mean a reduction of one's personal interest, of participation--perhaps even the contrary.

This inevitable involvement of the knower with the known exists not only in the relations of human beings with other human beings, but also in what we call "science," man's knowledge of physical things, of nature, of matter. I shall come to this later. Before that, a few words about the relationship of mind and matter. Did--does--matter exist independent of the human mind? It did and it does; but, without the human mind, matter's existence is meaningless--indeed, without the human mind, we cannot think of its existence at all. In this sense it may even be argued that mind preceded and may precede matter (or what we see and then call "matter").

In any case, the relations of mind and matter are not simple; they are not mechanical.

What matters is the necessary and historic recognition that the human mind intrudes into causality, into the relation of causes and effects.

Causality--the how and why--has varied forms and meanings (Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas listed four); but for centuries the terms of mechanical causality have dominated our world and our categories of thinking. All of the practical applications of science, everything that is technical, inevitably depend on the three conditions of mechanical causality: (1) the same causes must have the same effects; (2) there must be an equivalence of causes and effects; (3) the causes must precede their effects. None of this necessarily applies to human beings, to the functioning of their minds, to their lives, and especially to their history.

September 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Jonny Quest Opening Titles from Roger D. Evans on Vimeo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


My Bright Abyss: I never felt the pain of unbelief until I believed. But belief itself is hardly painless. (Christian Wiman, American Scholar)

ON THE RADIO I hear a famous novelist praising his father for enduring a long, difficult dying without ever "seeking relief in religion." It is clear from the son's description that the father was in absolute despair, and that as those cold waters closed over him he could find nothing to hold on to but his pride, and drowned clutching that nothing. This is to be admired? That we carry our despair stoically into death, that even the utmost anguish of our lives not change us? How astonishing it is, the fierceness with which we cling to beliefs that have made us miserable, or beliefs that prove to be so obviously inadequate when extreme suffering--or extreme joy--come. But the tension here is not simply between belief and disbelief. A Christian who has lived with a steady but essentially shallow form of faith may find himself called to suffer the full human truth of God--which is the absence of God--may find himself finally confronted with the absolute emptiness of the cross. God calls to us at every moment, and God is life, this life. Radical change remains a possibility within us right up until our last breath. The greatest tragedy of human existence is not to live in time, in both senses of that phrase.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


The Second Death of John Maynard Keynes (Eric Alterman, August 31, 2011, The Nation)

In 2008 America elected as its president not only an African-American but an unapologetic Keynesian. In his inaugural address Barack Obama declared, "The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together."

The stimulus package that followed--while disappointing in many respects (and based on a far rosier view of economic conditions than turned out to be justified)--was nevertheless defended in explicitly Keynesian terminology. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act injected $814 billion into the economy. As Obama described it, the stimulus was "the largest investment in research and development in our history, the largest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower, the largest investment in this country in thirty years" and "the largest investment in clean energy in our history."

Coincidentally, Eisenhower came up again recently. Upon signing the deficit reduction deal at the point of a political gun--the deal in which House Speaker John Boehner bragged that he won "98 percent" of what his Tea Party-dominated majority had wanted--Obama proudly proclaimed that the deal would result in "the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president." The Onion proved painfully accurate when it described Obama as bragging of having demanded "tough concessions from Democrats and Democrats alike." But Illinois Senator Richard Durbin accurately assessed the agreement as "the final interment of John Maynard Keynes.

...but the wings of both parties resist the Third.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


One and Done? (MAUREEN DOWD, 9/04/11, NY Times)

Polls show that most Americans still like and trust the president; but they may no longer have faith that he's a smarty-pants who can fix the economy.

Just as Obama miscalculated in 2009 when Democrats had total control of Congress, holding out hope that G.O.P. lawmakers would come around on health care after all but three senators had refused to vote for the stimulus bill; just as he misread John Boehner this summer, clinging like a scorned lover to a dream that the speaker would drop his demanding new inamorata, the Tea Party, to strike a "grand" budget bargain, so the president once more set a trap for himself and gave Boehner the opportunity to dis him on the timing of his jobs speech this week.

Obama's re-election chances depend on painting the Republicans as disrespectful. So why would the White House act disrespectful by scheduling a speech to a joint session of Congress at the exact time when the Republicans already had a debate planned?

And why is the White House so cocky about Obama as a TV draw against quick-draw Rick Perry? As James Carville acerbically noted, given a choice between watching an Obama speech and a G.O.P. debate, "I'd watch the debate, and I'm not even a Republican."

The White House caved, of course, and moved to Thursday, because there's nothing the Republicans say that he won't eagerly meet halfway.

No. 2 on David Letterman's Top Ten List of the president's plans for Labor Day: "Pretty much whatever the Republicans tell him he can do."

On MSNBC, the anchors were wistfully listening to old F.D.R. speeches, wishing that this president had some of that fight. But Obama can't turn into F.D.R. for the campaign because he aspires to the class that F.D.R. was a traitor to; and he can't turn into Harry Truman because he lacks the common touch.

...a legislator rejected by the American people after one feckless term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Right Place, Right Time: An exquisite sense of timing--and a good deal of luck--has helped transform Rick Perry from an unknown Democratic state legislator into a swaggering Republican who's spent more years in the Governor's Mansion than anyone in Texas history. Is it enough to carry him past Kay Bailey Hutchison and all the way to the White House? (Paul Burka, February 2010, Texas Monthly)

Perry's inner circle, particularly his consultant Dave Carney, has believed that he has had national potential at least since 2006. Carney made that point during an interview I had with the Perry team that summer for a story about the upcoming governor's race. Carney is from New Hampshire, the incubator of presidential ambitions, and he knows what it takes to succeed on a national level. The rest is my hypothesis: Sometime in 2007, after Perry had been sworn in for his second term, his team surveyed the Republican field and the wreckage of the Bush presidency and recognized that 2008 was destined to be a Democratic year. They saw no one in the GOP field who was capable of defeating Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. (Best not to mention John Edwards.) But they also saw that the two leading Democrats were destined to be unpopular with older white males, the core constituency of the Republican party. The Democratic winner in 2008 was at risk of being a one-term president.

This scenario may explain why Perry, against all expectations, opted to sacrifice a comfortable retirement to run for a third term at a time when his prospects, even for reelection, were not great. It's not about 2010; it's about 2012.

I pressed Carney on this hypothesis when I met with Perry's top advisers in early December. He acknowledged again his conviction that Perry has the political talent to run for president, but then he added, "He doesn't want to go to Washington. He doesn't want to live that life." That's probably true. Who does? Even George W. Bush had second thoughts. "I'm not sure that I want to live the rest of my life in the bubble," Bush told me once, before he jumped into the pool. But as Perry's career attests, politics is all about timing, and if you're a politician and the timing is right, you have to go for the brass ring.

The paradox of Rick Perry is that, although he is the state's longest-serving governor and he has a following that reaches beyond the borders of Texas, he has never gotten a lot of respect at home. This is true even inside the Capitol and even among Republicans. Once, during a prolonged battle over school finance reform, the Republican-led House voted down Perry's plan 124 to 8, amid whoops and hollers and horseplay. Considering his long tenure in office--six years as state representative, eight as agriculture commissioner, two as lieutenant governor, and a record nine years (and counting) as governor--Perry has had little to say about the critical issues facing Texas, in particular, education and health care. When he has gotten involved, it is usually on ideological grounds, such as support for vouchers, merit pay for teachers, and privatization of state health services. (These experiments have been flops. A proposed voucher program died in a House floor fight; a merit pay program for teachers was abandoned after it failed to show improvement in student performance; and the privatization contract was a fiasco.)

But Perry has one overriding asset: good timing. It has propelled him, over the past 25 years, from unknown Democratic state legislator to credible Republican presidential contender. His ability to figure out where Texas politics was headed and to get out in front of the parade has been the essential skill that has enabled him to stay in sync with the state Republican party as it has evolved over the years.

Until Ronald Reagan came along in 1976 to challenge President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination, the GOP in Texas had typically been run by rich folks from Dallas and Houston. Reagan's insurgency caused a rift, on one side of which were the state's best-known Republicans, U.S. senator John Tower and former congressman George H.W. Bush, who were loyal to Ford, and on the other, grassroots populists, who embraced Reagan. The struggle between the GOP establishment and the more-conservative populists has been a major theme of Republican politics ever since.

Perry's ability to anticipate the mutations of the party and to capitalize on them reveals an aptitude for politics that he rarely gets credit for. One of the reasons that he rose steadily through the GOP ranks is that his arrival as a freshman Democratic legislator, in 1985, was perfectly timed to take advantage of the tectonic shifts in Texas politics, as the state was evolving from blue to red. The Democratic party was becoming more urban and more liberal; Perry's allegiances were rural and conservative. The Democratic party was moving away from his political comfort zone, the GOP toward it. He aligned himself with newly elected U.S. senator Phil Gramm, who was proselytizing in the Democratic ranks, trying to get conservative Democrats to switch parties, as Gramm himself had done in the early eighties. "It's the last copter out of Nam, and you'd better get on it," Gramm would warn potential converts.

Gramm understood that as long as Texas politics remained a three-legged stool--liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats, and Republicans--the GOP would always be a minority party, but if conservative Democrats could be prevailed upon to switch parties, the Democrats would be left with liberals and minorities. And that's what happened. As the Democratic party became more liberal, conservative Democrats, who accounted for a little more than a quarter of the electorate in the eighties, began to melt away; today, their share of the spectrum has shrunk to 9 percent. Perry knew he had no future as a Democrat, so in 1989 he changed parties. His timing was exquisite. A general election was right around the corner. Republicans were looking for candidates for down-ballot offices. They needed someone to run for the unglamorous office of agriculture commissioner. Perry had grown up on a farm. No one gave him much of a chance to defeat the incumbent Democrat, Jim Hightower, but Karl Rove was Perry's consultant, Hightower was overconfident, and Perry won.

The party mutated again in 1994, and it was to Perry's advantage once more. Bush was the gubernatorial nominee, but the evangelicals who had swelled the Republican ranks in the eighties and early nineties didn't consider him one of their own. At the convention that year, evangelicals led by Tom Pauken, a Dallas lawyer and party activist (and current Perry appointee as chairman of the Workforce Commission), ousted chairman Fred Meyer, who came from the establishment wing of the party. The convention elected Pauken to replace him. (Party rules stipulate that the delegates, not the party hierarchy, control the state convention.) This was advantageous for Perry, because as long as urban establishment types controlled the party, which they had always done, Perry was going nowhere, stuck as agriculture commissioner. He was not their kind of guy, too rural, too ideological, too rough around the edges. But with the grassroots types in charge, it was a different story. He could be as partisan and ideological as they were.

If Jeb and Mitch don't run, W's successor as governor is his most obvious heir, no matter their personal differences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


When Civic Mergers Don't Save Money (CONOR DOUGHERTY, 8/29/11, WSJ)

Governors and lawmakers across the U.S., looking to trim the costs of local government, are prodding school districts, townships and other entities to combine into bigger jurisdictions. But a number of studies--and evidence from past consolidations--suggest such mergers rarely save money, and in many cases, they end up raising costs.

Economists who have studied the issue say there are a number of reasons why several small governments can end up costing less than a single larger government. For starters, small governments tend to have fewer professional--and higher-paid--employees, such as lawyers. Studies show small governments generally rely more on part-time workers, who receive fewer long-term benefits such as pensions and health-care coverage.

Another reason: When small governments merge, they often "harmonize" services and employee benefits to the highest level among the combining units. In other words, the consolidated city finds it politically expedient to take on the more-expensive version of everything. Employees at the city with lower wages get raises and residents of the city with fewer services get more.

Our successful liberal democratic peers tend to have fewer than 40 million citizens. We're not going to have 500 million in one governmental unit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Flash Memory That'll Keep On Shrinking: Using atom-thick carbon instead of silicon could pack ever more data into portable electronics. (Katherine Bourzac, 9/02/11, Technology Review)

Graphene-based technology like that demonstrated the UCLA team and Samsung could let flash memory continue shrinking. The group's prototypes devices are described online in the journal ACS Nano.

"We're not totally replacing silicon but using graphene as the storage layer," says Augustin Hong, who worked on the devices at UCLA and is now a research staff member at IBM's Watson Research Center. "We're using graphene to help extend the capabilities of the conventional technology."

The graphene flash memory prototypes can be read and written to using less power than conventional flash memory, and they can store data more stably over time, even when miniaturized. The UCLA researchers have also demonstrated that they meet the industry standard of 10-year projected data retention--today's flash memory does too, but future versions may not. Most important, the graphene memory cells don't electrically interfere with one another--a problem with conventional flash cells as they are made smaller that can cause them to malfunction.

Other researchers are working on radical new kinds of computer memory that promise to hold more data. However, many of these alternatives require exotic materials and totally new manufacturing processes. Replacing silicon with graphene in flash memory cells could provide a simpler, more practical solution, at least in the short term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


U.S.'s finishing problem persists (Luke Cyphers and Doug McIntyre, 9/03/11, ESPN)

The U.S. completely dominated the Ticos for most of the first half.

"Felt like it was 5-0," keeper Tim Howard said afterward.

"The way we combined, the way people looked for each other, and the way they passed out of very difficult, tight spaces was good to see," Klinsmann said. "There was confidence there, there was technical ability there."

But there was not a goal there. Most shocking? At intermission, Costa Rica had a 2-0 edge in shots on goal.

The U.S. often flowed and combined seamlessly in the attacking half of the field for the first half hour of the match, with Jozy Altidore taking passes from Landon Donovan and distributing cleverly to Brek Shea flying down the wing, and Jose Torres finding seams for cutters all night. But ultimately the buildups were a tease, with the Yanks too often over-passing or waiting a split-second too long to feed a ball through the Ticos' back line.

On at least two occasions, Altidore was caught offside because winger Robbie Rogers' through-ball was a beat late. And on the Yanks' best-executed combination of the night, an open Donovan slid his shot just wide of the post in the sixth minute. "Certainly my chance, I've got to at least hit the target," Donovan said. "A few other chances we had, if you get a shot on goal maybe something happens. We can be a little better with that."

The missed opportunities stood out even more on a night when the usually dangerous U.S. set pieces fizzled.

While Klinsmann's New Age-y optimism has been the talk of this week's camp among the players -- "positive energy" is their new catchphrase -- on Friday night the coach implied that his team needs to be less Tony Robbins and more Gordon Gekko near the goal. "You've got to be even more determined -- another piece of determination and another piece of being greedy for that goal," he said. "I think more nastiness is part of it, too. ... We need to step up a little bit more and be more hungry in that moment and finish up one of our chances."

As Howard said, "Goals change games, simple as that."

Playing just one striker is the sort of craven formation that teams about to be relegated use against big clubs on the road. Jozy did his usual good job holding up the ball but the defense could pile on him since he had no outlet. Instead of Rodgers, Juan Agudello should have started up front, as, indeed, Altidore and Agudello should be played together at every available opportunity. And, given that it was a home game against a team we should beat, a third forward would have been appropriate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Lost and found: pieces of King Arthur history (Gwen Cook, 9/04/11, KAF: Baking Banter)

It looks like the King may be on his feet for the duration of the expansion.

As many of you may have noticed, the old entryway to the Baker's Store - which contained King Arthur's throne, as well as the wooden head of his horse - is gone.

When the expansion started in June, the old entryway was ripped down and boarded up, and horse head and throne were taken away.

An inquiry to the company's previous long-time owner, Frank Sands, on the history of the two pieces revealed a few fun facts about them, including where they came from and how they've helped to represent the King Arthur Flour brand through the years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Cryptocurrency: The bitcoin, a virtual medium of exchange, could be a real alternative to government-issued money--but only if it survives hoarding by speculators. (James Surowiecki, September/October 2011, Technology Review)

Bitcoin is not going to make government-backed currencies obsolete. But while the system's virtues, such as anonymity and the lack of bank fees, may not matter much to most consumers, one can envision it being useful in a variety of niche markets (some legal, others not, like recreational drugs). Where anonymity is valuable, where trusted third parties are hard to find or charge high rates, and where persistently high inflation is a problem, it's possible that bitcoins could in fact flourish as an alternative currency.

Before they become such an alternative, though, the system will have to overcome a major, and surprising, problem: people have come to see it primarily as a way to make money. In other words, instead of being used as a currency, bitcoins are today mostly seen as (and traded as) an investment. There's a good reason for that: as people learned about Bitcoin, the value of bitcoins, in dollar terms, skyrocketed. In July 2010, after the website Slashdot ran an item that introduced the currency to the public (or at least the public enthusiastic about new technologies), the value of bitcoins jumped tenfold in five days. Over the next eight months, the value rose tenfold again. This attracted an enormous amount of publicity. More important, it also made people think that buying and holding bitcoins was an easy way to make a buck. As a result, many--probably most--Bitcoin users are acquiring bitcoins not in order to buy goods and services but to speculate. That's a bad investment decision, and it also hurts Bitcoin's prospects.

True believers in Bitcoin's usefulness prefer to deny that speculation is driving the action in bitcoins. But the evidence suggests otherwise. The value of the currency has been tremendously volatile over the past year. A bitcoin has been worth as little as a few pennies and as much as $33, and after seeming to stabilize at around $14 over the summer, the bitcoin's value tumbled by almost 50 percent in a matter of days in August. Media coverage has had an outsized impact on the value of bitcoins, even when it has not had a major impact on the number of transactions conducted. Blog posts in which people talk about buying bitcoins because of how much they've increased in value are common. In May, Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, which focuses on patent and copyright reform, posted that he had decided to put all his savings into Bitcoin. Although he had previously published a series of posts arguing for the bitcoin's viability as a currency, his first listed reason for investing in bitcoins was that their value had risen a thousandfold against the U.S. dollar in the previous 14 months. That's classic speculative thinking.

The problem with having the Bitcoin economy dominated by speculators is that it gives people an incentive to hoard their bitcoins rather than spend them, which is the opposite of what you need people to do in order to make a currency successful. Successful currencies are used to transact day-to-day business and lubricate commerce. But if you buy bitcoins hoping that their value will skyrocket (as anyone investing in bitcoins would), you're not going to be interested in exchanging those bitcoins for goods, since then you'll lose out when the value of bitcoins rises. Instead, you're going to hold onto them and wait until you can cash out.

This kind of hoarding is made more likely by the way Bitcoin is set up. Whereas the supply of modern, "fiat" currencies is controlled by central banks, the supply of bitcoins is permanently limited; there will never be more than 21 million bitcoins in existence. (The total number of coins is a result of the system's initial rules governing how many bitcoins miners could earn, and how often.) Bitcoin's limited money supply is one of the things that people like about it: the currency cannot be debased, as money can when central bankers print more of it. But the flip side is that if the demand for bitcoins rises, for whatever reason, then the value of bitcoins will necessarily rise as well. So if you think that bitcoins are going to become more and more popular, then--again--it's foolish to spend your bitcoins today. The rational thing to do is hoard them and eventually sell them to new users. But that means there will be fewer bitcoins in circulation (and more in people's virtual wallets), making them less useful as an actual medium of exchange and making it less likely that businesses and consumers will ever see Bitcoin as legitimate.

Now, even traditional currencies can be subject to this kind of cycle, which economists call a "deflationary spiral"--although with conventional currencies, the cycle occurs when falling prices lead people to start hoarding cash in the expectation that prices will keep falling (which in turn holds down demand and makes prices fall further). The quintessential recent case is Japan after its real-estate bubble burst in the 1990s.

With ordinary currencies, though, there's a limit to how far down the spiral can go, since people still need to eat, pay their bills, and so on, and to do so they need to use their currency. But these things aren't true of bitcoins: you can get along perfectly well without ever spending them, so there's no imperative for people to stop hoarding and start spending. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which the vast majority of bitcoins are held by people hoping to sell them to other people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The new gold rush: Investors have raised the metal's price so high that couples can't afford wedding rings. So what happens when the bubble bursts? (Alex Preston, 02 September 2011, New Statesman)

There is a science to investing in bubbles. George Soros has built a career and an extraordinary fortune on the back of his "theory of reflexivity", which identifies bubbles before they inflate and which, crucially, tells him when to get out. As early as the Davos conference in January 2010, Soros had dubbed gold the "ultimate bubble". Over the course of 2010, he continued to buy gold, both physically and through ETFs such as the iShares and SPDR gold trusts. He rode the price up from below $1,100 per ounce to $1,400 per ounce in the first quarter of 2011. Then he began to sell.

Exactly how much and when he sold is unclear (his fund isn't required to make its portfolio public), but reports suggest that Soros dumped the vast bulk of his gold holdings earlier this year. This means he missed out on the rise in price of $450 per ounce between April and August. That would not have worried him unduly. Central to his theory of investing in bubbles is the need to get out while they're still inflating - you don't want to be one of those rushing for the exit as the bubble bursts.

John Paulson, the hedge-fund manager who correctly predicted the real-estate bubble and who now holds most of his personal wealth in bullion, believes that gold prices will reach $2,000 per ounce imminently and may rise as high as $4,000 per ounce over the next few years. The market is torn between two of its great sages - Soros of the gold bears and Paulson of the gold bulls.

In the long term, I'm with Soros. The gold bubble will burst, and when it does - as with all bubbles - we will look back on these days of $1,850 per ounce as a kind of collective madness. Gold lends itself to fetishism and the recent price rise is almost entirely attributable to that fetish status.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Doubling in the Middle: Barry Duncan Is Quite Possibly the World's First Master Palindromist, and He Refuses to Cede Control to the Alphabet (Gregory Kornbluh, September 2011, Believer)

Palindrome-writing in itself is nothing new. Bill Bryson, in his history of the English language, The Mother Tongue, puts the form at at least two thousand years old, citing our knowledge of Greek and Roman palindromes. The word itself derives from the Greek palindromos--"running back again"--and Bryson dates its English debut to 1629. He even claims to have found the first recorded palindrome in English, by the poet John Taylor ("Lewd I did live, & Evil did I dwel"), though, as Bryson points out, the ampersand is a bit of a disqualifier.

Palindromes are just one form of wordplay among many. There are anagrams (transpositions of the letters of a word or phrase into a new word or phrase using exactly the same letters), tautonyms (words or phrases of two or more identical parts), isograms (words containing no more than one of any letter), pangrams (groups of words using each and every letter of the alphabet exactly once), bigrams, trigrams, tetragrams, and on we go. Many of these forms of wordplay have been around for quite a long time, but A. Ross Eckler, former editor of Word Ways magazine, dates a "renaissance of interest in recreational linguistics" to the mid-1960s. The growing interest in palindromes themselves can be tracked, indirectly, by the exponential increase in length of the Guinness-recognized world's longest palindrome: from 242 words in 1971; to 11,125 in 1980; to 44,444 in 1984, sometime after which they seem to have stopped keeping the record.

Despite the form's long history, Duncan says that what he's doing with palindromes is really a step forward. He is aware of various published books of palindromes, but they mostly leave him unimpressed. "Every once in a while you see a good combination and you think, Oh, that's an interesting thing, but you see a lot of people who double in the middle, you see people who use all upper case, you just see all kinds of bad examples. I don't really see that anyone is doing cutting-edge work in reversibility." That Duncan doesn't see it doesn't mean it isn't out there, of course. (As I learned later, the comedian Demetri Martin, for example, has written at least one long, coherent palindrome, but has also impressively trained his body to perform palindromic feats like drawing mirror images with both hands simultaneously. To see his outstretched arms trace reciprocal birthday cakes is most definitely to witness cutting-edge work in reversibility.)

When I asked Duncan how hard he's looked for his "competition," he confessed to not having exhausted himself. "I'm sure there are many, many people who write palindromes," he said. "I don't see anybody doing what I'm doing, but that doesn't mean nobody's doing it. And you have to remember this: People who write palindromes are not the kind of people who are going to call attention to themselves. I think they're very much people who are comfortable being behind the scenes, practicing the invisible craft." When Duncan uses that last phrase on me for the first time, he just throws it out as a matter of fact. He's not being ironic, using air quotes, or even smiling.

Roger Angell, a writer for the New Yorker since the 1940s, once described palindromes as "a literary form in which the story line is controlled by the words rather than by the author." My sense is that Duncan would probably say that's a description of other people's palindromes. Because part of what makes him a master is his refusal to cede control. When things are going really well with a Barry Duncan palindrome, when he's really in a zone, he thinks to himself, I'm making these letters do my bidding. Sure, he'll have fun with word combinations, and he pens countless short palindromes that probably ought to be considered as coauthored by the words themselves. In fact, during one of our meetings, at a coffee shop in Cambridge called Simon's, he grabbed my notebook to riff on the café's name, leaving me empty-handed, anxiously unable to document what looked like magic before me. He arrived almost immediately at "stars simons no miss rats," which, with a little punctuation, could conjure a lovely absurdist scene in which a few same-named chaps help a poor, confused woman tell rodents from the night sky. He refers to this kind of quick palindrome play as "writing in real time."

However, Duncan's virtuosity really comes through when he writes topical palindromes, intentional constructions whose degree of difficulty is often lost on an untrained audience. "I always say to people, the easiest thing in the world to do is write a palindrome. The hardest thing to do is write a palindrome on a particular subject." The palindrome that Duncan released last April, the one that had made him sick and so consumed the month before, was commissioned (in the sense of "asked for," but not in the sense of "paid for") by the Cambridge eco-boutique Greenward, whose owners are Duncan's close friends. The occasion was the store's third anniversary, and the palindrome made its debut as the fourth item in Greenward's April e-newsletter. Humble origins, to be sure, but the Greenward palindrome is a strange kind of amazing. It's over four hundred words--nearly three times the length of this paragraph so far--and about one thousand three hundred characters. In composing it, Duncan had as many as six legal pads going at once, and the ninety-some crowded pages of notes he kept look like the sort of scribblings you might find in someone's case file.

The Greenward palindrome is, ostensibly, a conversation between Ben Nelson, the Democratic United States senator from Nebraska, and James Inhofe, his Republican counterpart from Oklahoma, that is initially about climate change but that becomes a discussion of the store, its owners, staff, inventory, patrons, and spirit. The thing is, though, it's not really a dialogue, and it's not really prose. As far as standard literary forms go, it actually most closely resembles a poem; it requires some effort to be deciphered, let alone understood, but if you try you can see its beauty. Parts of it stand out clearly as clever writing, regardless of the form, such as the stand-alone line "Go, ecotopia!" Other parts, like the bit including the reverse of that ecotopian battle cry ("A IPO to CEO? Greed, sir!"), are tougher to appreciate without an understanding of the internal plumbing involved in a long palindrome. According to Michael Donner, author of the reversibly titled palindrome trove I Love Me, Vol. I, palindromes are perhaps best thought of as "a sort of cultivated dyslexia." As a description of the Greenward palindrome, that sounds about right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


The marriage gap that's destroying Middle America: This is the issue that should be top of the political agenda - and not only in the United States. (Carolyn Moynihan, 19 August 2011,

While the attention of the world was riveted on the anarchy in England, two reports were published in the United States warning that family instability is making serious inroads into the working class and lower middle class of that country -- as it is in Britain and many others. Both reports are about the erosion of marriage; together they leave no-one, in America at least, with any excuse for ignorance on the subject.

In the first, The Marginalisation of Marriage in Middle America, the problem is outlined by two sociologists: W Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and a conservative; and Andrew J Cherlin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a liberal. Their views diverge on the importance of marriage, but they agree about two basic things: "that children are more likely to thrive when they reside in stable, two-parent homes," and "that in America today cohabitation is still largely a short-term arrangement, while marriage remains the setting in which adults seek to maintain long-term bonds."

Many social commentators are worried about the widening wealth gap in today's America. More worrying still is the marriage gap that has opened up between the working class -- basically, people with not much more than a high school diploma -- and the college educated middle class. Indeed, the latter gap is a significant contributor to the first.

Contrary to the impression you might get from reading the New York Times, college educated Americans are not generally engaged in pushing the sexual revolution to new extremes; they are busy creating what Wilcox and Cherlin call a "neotraditional style of family life". They "may cohabit with their partners, but nearly all of them marry before having their first child. Furthermore, while most wives work outside the home, the divorce rate in this group has declined to levels not seen since the early 1970s."

In contrast, working class young adults, who comprise half of the population aged 25 to 34, are defaulting on marriage:

"More and more of them are having children in brittle cohabiting unions. Among those who marry, the risk of divorce remains high. Indeed, the families formed recently in working-class communities have begun to look as much like the families of the poor as of the prosperous. The nation's retreat from marriage, which started in low-income communities in the 1960s and 1970s, has now moved into Middle America."

Compared to college graduates, moderately educated Americans are more than twice as likely to divorce in the first 10 years of marriage, and women are more than seven times as likely to bear a child outside of marriage. "Indeed the percentage of nonmarital births among the moderately educated (44 percent) was closer to the rate among mothers without high school degrees (54 percent) than to college-educated mothers (6 percent)."

We need to get the seriousness of this: back in 1960 the marriage gap barely existed; now there's a chasm opening up between the third of Americans with higher education and everyone else -- including the large class of ordinary working people that used to be the backbone of family values.

Many will say it doesn't matter. We are not looking at a boom in single mothers here, but of cohabiting couples having children, which means the kids still have a mother and father under one roof. Cherlin himself inclines to the view that a stable two-parent home is what matters, not marriage as such. The fact is, however, that cohabiting relationships are much less stable than marriage.

Much less.

US Demographers Sheela Kennedy and Larry Bumpass suggest that 65 per cent of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents part by the time they are 12, compared to 24 per cent of the children of married parents. A British report last December found something similar: unmarried couples accounted for 59 per cent of break-ups affecting children up to the age of five, divorces for 20 per cent, and single parents headed 21 per cent of broken families with young children. Even in Sweden, the fabled home of non-traditional happy families, children born to cohabiting couples are 70 per cent more likely to see parents separate by the age of 15, compared to married parents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Abortion found to nearly double mental health risks (Benjamin Mann, Sep 2, 2011, EWTN News)

New research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry shows that abortion nearly doubles a woman's risk of experiencing mental health problems, often leading to substance abuse and suicidal behavior.

"Women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems," Bowling Green State University Professor Priscilla Coleman states in a summary of her new literature review, published in the journal's September 2011 issue.

"There are in fact some real risks associated with abortion that should be shared with women as they are counseled prior to an abortion decision."

It's the only form of PTSD the Left doesn't believe exists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Don't Fear Islamic Law in America (ELIYAHU STERN, 9/02/11, NY Times)

The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation, in 19th-century Europe, that Jewish religious law was seditious. In 1807, Napoleon convened an assembly of rabbinic authorities to address the question of whether Jewish law prevented Jews from being loyal citizens of the republic. (They said that it did not.)

Fear that Jewish law bred disloyalty was not limited to political elites; leading European philosophers also entertained the idea. Kant argued that the particularistic nature of "Jewish legislation" made Jews "hostile to all other peoples." And Hegel contended that Jewish dietary rules and other Mosaic laws barred Jews from identifying with their fellow Prussians and called into question their ability to be civil servants.

The German philosopher Bruno Bauer offered Jews a bargain: renounce Jewish law and be granted full legal rights. He insisted that, otherwise, laws prohibiting work on the Sabbath made it impossible for Jews to be true citizens. (Bauer conveniently ignored the fact that many fully observant Jews violated the Sabbath to fight in the Prussian wars against Napoleon.)

During that era, Christianity was seen as either a universally valid basis of the state or a faith that harmoniously coexisted with the secular law of the land. Conversely, Judaism was seen as a competing legal system -- making Jews at best an unassimilable minority, at worst a fifth column. It was not until the late 19th century that all Jews were granted full citizenship in Western Europe (and even then it was short lived).

September 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


Perry tells NH no to border fence (Associated Press, 9/03/11)

Speaking to hundreds of Granite State voters at a private reception, the Texas governor was asked whether he supported a fence along the Mexican border.

"No, I don't support a fence on the border," he said. "The fact is, it's 1,200 miles from Brownsville to El Paso. Two things: How long you think it would take to build that? And then if you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot ladder business gets real good."

The answer produced an angry shout from at least one audience member. And it exposed an ongoing rift with some conservative voters over Perry's immigration record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Fabio Capello's tactics in Bulgaria were as refreshing as his team: The England coach finally ditched his old rigid ways to embrace modern trends (Richard Williams, 9/03/11, The Guardian)

His selection was an interesting one, with no conventional centre‑forward, two holding midfielders and no place for Frank Lampard in the starting XI. Slowly, slowly, the older generation is slipping into the shadows. Rio Ferdinand's No5 shirt was taken by Gary Cahill, and the Bolton Wanderers defender celebrated his fourth appearance with the opening goal, an opportunist shot which found the net off the Bulgarian goalkeeper's legs while the defence was in disarray following a corner kick.

And what was that about no centre‑forward? Six minutes after Cahill's first goal for England Wayne Rooney was scoring his first international goal in a year by meeting a corner kick from the right with the sort of thumping header that, as it is traditional to say on these occasions, would have done Nat Lofthouse proud. In the last minute of the half he was there to add another with a tap-in.

Tactically the most interesting aspect of England's performance as they went three goals up was the freedom Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing were given to interchange in the line behind Rooney, all taking turns at slotting into each of the three positions across the pitch. The presence of Gareth Barry and Scott Parker meant that the creative trio needed to spend little time worrying about defensive duties, while Barry and Parker were not burdened with the need to show imagination.

...and it's a sensible formation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


The NS Interview: John Myatt, former art forger (Samira Shackle, 24 August 2011, New Statesman)

Do you think it's morally wrong to forge art?

I don't. A good fake is a good thing. It's interesting that when it is revealed as a fake, people feel differently about it. I would gladly have a house full of good fakes. When very rich people buy these fantastic paintings, the first thing they do is stick them in a vault in the bank and have copies made to stick on the wall.

What makes an original an original if you can't tell the difference visually?

You can piggyback on someone else's inspiration but they had the inspiration before you. In terms of aesthetics, is there a difference between an original and a good fake? Not really.

There are now forgeries of your forgeries. How do you feel about that?

There was somebody advertising my paintings. What a fool I'd look if I called the police.

As many as 120 of your fraudulent paintings are still in circulation. What would you do if you came across one?

I would never do anything. It would be cruel to the people who have got the paintings. After all, they bought them in good faith. Who am I to interfere?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM

THE 23 OF 43:

Dubya and Me: Over the course of a quarter-century, a journalist witnessed the transformation of George W. Bush (Walt Harrington, 9/02/11, American Scholar)

"So what is it about history that grabs you?" I ask.

"I'm fascinated by people," Bush says, "and a lot of history is the study of individuals making a difference. ... I haven't really sat and tried to figure out why I was interested. All I can tell you is I have been for a long period of time."

In high school, at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Bush had an American history teacher, Tom Lyons, who brought the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression to life. "He made history so interesting and exciting," recalls Bush, who was no star pupil, either at Andover or at Yale, where he majored in history. One of his favorite professors at Yale, Wolfgang Leonhard, had fled Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union, only to see his mother arrested under Stalin. Leonhard defected and ended up teaching the young Bush about the horrors of Soviet-era oppression. Professors such as Leonhard created in Bush, even if he was a C+ student, a lasting impression: "what it was like to live under a society in which a few made the decisions for everybody."

"When I became more sober about life"--and Bush chuckles here--"a philosophy, a kind of clarity began to take hold. ... I think, as I matured, the seeds that had been planted during college began to take hold. In other words, the lessons I'd learned, which fascinated me at the time, actually became part of a philosophical foundation." Bush would eventually come to describe this foundation, starkly and simply, as "the struggle between tyranny and freedom."

"When I got elected governor and president, history gave me a chance to study the decisions of my predecessors," Bush says. As governor, he read The Raven, by Marquis James, a biography of Sam Houston, the father of Texas statehood. "I was fascinated by the story of Houston voting against secession, and reading a description of him basically being driven out of town by angry citizens. ... My only point is that one lesson I learned, if they're throwing garbage on Houston, arguably Texas's most famous politician--Sam Houston Elementary School, where I went to school in Midland, was named for him!--if they're throwing garbage on him, they can throw garbage on me."

Bush remained calm and confident during his tumultuous presidency. Critics saw him as delusional; defenders saw him as self-assured. Bush believes that one of the most important stage requirements of the presidency is indeed never to signal weakness or self-doubt or confusion: "One of the things you learn about great leaders is that they never project the burdens of responsibility on others." He remembers Richard Carwardine's Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (one of 14 Lincoln biographies Bush read while he was president), which recounts the 16th president's perseverance through not only military defeat after defeat, stupefying troop casualties, and public ridicule, but also the death of his son Willie and the debilitating emotional turmoil of his wife.

"You're not the only person that's ever gone through hard things," Bush says of the lessons he has learned from history. "In other words, can you imagine the signal I would have sent had I said, 'Ah, why me? Why am I thrust in the middle of all this stuff?' And they had kids on the front line of combat who were actually having to do all the work."

"You faced some vicious personal attacks," I say.

"I did. But so did Abraham Lincoln." He recalls opening the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. "There's an exhibit, and the voices of opposition to Lincoln were being played. I said, 'Wow!' This guy, America's--remember now, I got Lincoln's portrait on the wall at the White House and I got a bust of Lincoln--and I hear the people calling him a baboon, just vicious."

When Bush read, in Presidential Courage, by Michael Beschloss, that historians were still debating whether George Washington had been a good president, he told Laura that if they were still debating Washington's presidency more than 200 years later, he would not worry what public opinion was saying about him now. "And the other thing for me was that I saw a great man be criticized, as you might recall," he says, referring again to the vitriol aimed at GHWB during the losing reelection campaign of 1992. "On the harshness meter, it seemed unusually harsh to me, as the son. So, therefore, when I became president, the criticism to me was nothing compared to the criticism to him. And so I was able to keep life in perspective two ways: one, through reading of history and how other leaders were treated, but also having witnessed history with my dad."

A book got me back together with President W. after a decade, my own book The Everlasting Stream, a memoir of my many years of rabbit hunting with my Kentucky father-in-law and his good-old-boy buddies. In it, I also mentioned my back-and-forth negotiations with GHWB, and my publisher thought it would be great to have a book cover blurb from the former president, who graciously agreed. When the book appeared in the fall of 2002, I sent GHWB a signed copy, along with a signed copy for W. Soon, I got a handwritten note from President W.

"Old #41 gave me your book (which I will soon read)," the president wrote. He gave his best to my family and ended with, "Come by sometime." Then, I got another handwritten letter from the president dated four days later: "I just finished The Everlasting Stream and liked it a lot. I told Laura, 'The boy can still write.' ... Should you ever come back to see what you are missing, check in at the Post or rub elbows with the powerful, please call Ashley"--and he gave me his White House secretary's direct dial. "I really enjoy my job,  ... " he also wrote. "The only problem with this place is there aren't enough rabbit hunters up here."

I know that two invitations from the president should have spurred me to action, but I wasn't planning to be in Washington until the following August. In the meantime, at the University of Illinois, where I had become a journalism professor after leaving The Washington Post in 1996, I was surrounded by students and faculty angry about Bush's impending invasion of Iraq. In my academic cocoon, Bush was called a stupid warmonger trying to avenge his father's failure to oust Saddam Hussein, a stupid warmonger trying to make the world safe for Big Oil, a stupid warmonger trying to prop up his sagging popularity. I told colleagues that I believed Bush--right or wrong--sincerely considered Iraq a deadly threat to the United States, period. My view got me labeled a Bush conservative. Then one morning I got into my academic office building's elevator and saw this scratched into the paint: "Kill Bush."

I had to catch my breath: Was this America?

When New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd invoked my by-then ancient Washington Post Magazine article about GHWB in arguing that W. was little more than "a wealthy white man with the right ancestors," I wrote a column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch responding both to Dowd and to all the vitriol directed toward the president.

"I have told various George W. haters that they had best not underestimate the man," I wrote, "that he's smart, thoughtful in a brawny kind of way and, most of all, a good and decent man. ... What I've never mentioned is that I didn't vote for George W. I disagree with him on the Supreme Court, environment, abortion, the death penalty and affirmative action. So I voted against this good and decent man. It pained me to do it. ... It baffles me that grown people must convince themselves that those with whom they disagree are stupid or malevolent."

I didn't hear from the president, but a few days later, I got a poignant letter from his father. "Tell those kids in your class not to give up on POTUS," he wrote, using the popular acronym for president of the United States. "Tell them life for a president is not easy, yet I have never heard #43 whine about the loneliest job on earth, never seen him pose gazing out into the future to depict how tough his job is. Walt, he does not want war. He does want Iraq to do what it has pledged to do. Have you ever seen a president face so many tough problems all at once? I haven't." The elder Bush was clearly feeling as much pain over the criticism of his son as W. had felt over the criticism of his father.

I figured that after publicly declaring that I had not voted for W., the invitations to the White House would cease. Yet when I was in Washington the following August, in 2003--three months after the "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln--I called Ashley, as directed. To my astonishment, Ashley called back and said the president would love to see me. In the early evening a couple days later, I pulled into the southeast gate to the White House.

"Where should I park?" I asked the officer.

"Anywhere in the lot," he said. "Who are you here to see?"

"President Bush."

"Oh," he sputtered, "then pull up along the circle and park at the White House."

I rolled my little '95 Toyota Camry up to the back door, where mine was the only car. A polite Secret Service agent met me, and up I went again in the White House elevator. When the doors opened, there was President W., wearing, as I recall, a rather garish flower-print shirt and casual cream-colored slacks.

"Walt, how are you?" I remember him asking as he hugged me with one arm.

"I'm well, Mr. President. And you?"

The president had two cigars in the other hand, and he offered me one. "You still smoke cigars?" he asked.

"I thought you had gotten rid of all your bad habits," I said, as we walked through the long, elegant center hall in the second-floor residence.

"I still curse a little bit, too," he said, laughing. "Let's go out on the balcony," meaning the Truman Balcony, which overlooks the South Lawn and the Washington Monument.

The president gestured for me to sit facing the beautiful, sunny vista, and he sat facing me, his back to the yard. We lit up, puffed on our cigars, caught up on family news, talked briefly about my memoir and my column in the Post-Dispatch, which he had read. I could think of only one question to ask him: "What is it like to be president of the United States?"

President Bush leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, and stared at me intently. "Are we off the record?"


And he began to talk--and talk and talk for what must have been nearly three hours. I've never told anyone the specifics of what he said that night, not even my wife or closest friends. I did not make notes later and have only my memory. In the journalism world, off the record is off the record. But I have repeatedly described the hours as "amazing," "remarkable," "stunning."

President Bush--and he was, no doubt, by then a real president--talked expansively about Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, China, Korea, Russia. He talked about his reelection strategies, Iran's nuclear ambitions, WMD and how he still believed they would be found, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Vladimir Putin. He talked about his aides and how tough their lives were, the long hours and stress and time away from their families, about how difficult it was for his daughters. He said that compared with everyone around a president, the president had the easiest job. He was the same confident, brash man I had met years ago, but I no longer sensed any hint of the old anger or the need for self-aggrandizement.

As he talked, I even thought about an old Saturday Night Live skit in which an amiable, bumbling President Ronald Reagan, played by Phil Hartman, goes behind closed doors to suddenly become a masterful operator in total charge at the White House. The transformation in Bush was that stunning to me. Perhaps a half hour into the conversation, we were joined by Bush's campaign media adviser, Mark McKinnon, whom Bush had nicknamed "M-Kat."

"M-Kat used to be a Democrat, too," Bush quipped, referring to me. "I converted him."

After about an hour, Bush said that Laura was out of town and asked if McKinnon and I would like to join him for dinner. We did, of course, and we moved into the residence dining room, where Bush sat at the head of the table, McKinnon and I on either side, while the president's black cat, Willie, lounged on the far end. Really, he just kept talking. I thought perhaps it was my naiveté that was making the evening seem so remarkable. But when the president was called away from the table for a few minutes, I asked McKinnon if working in the White House was as demanding as Bush had said. He said it was, and then he got a sort of faraway look in his eyes. "But then you have an evening like tonight," I remember him saying. I left the White House in a daze. I even got lost in the pitch-black darkness and had to drive around the small parking lot for a few minutes to find my way to the gate. I called my wife, and she asked how the evening had gone. I couldn't answer.

"I've never known you to be speechless," she said, genuinely surprised.

I finally said, "It was like sitting and listening to Michael Jordan talk basketball or Pavarotti talk opera, listening to someone at the top of his game share his secrets."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


The Sugary Secret of Self-Control: a review of WILLPOWER: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (STEVEN PINKER, 9/04/11, NY Times Book Review)

In experiments beginning in the late 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel tormented preschoolers with the agonizing choice of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows 15 minutes from now. When he followed up decades later, he found that the 4-year-olds who waited for two marshmallows turned into adults who were better adjusted, were less likely to abuse drugs, had higher self-esteem, had better relationships, were better at handling stress, obtained higher degrees and earned more money.

What is this mysterious thing called self-control? When we fight an urge, it feels like a strenuous effort, as if there were a homunculus in the head that physically impinged on a persistent antagonist. We speak of exerting will power, of forcing ourselves to go to work, of restraining ourselves and of controlling our temper, as if it were an unruly dog. In recent years the psychologist Roy F. Baumeister has shown that the force metaphor has a kernel of neurobiological reality. In "Willpower," he has teamed up with the irreverent New York Times science columnist John Tierney to explain this ingenious research and show how it can enhance our lives.

In experiments first reported in 1998, Baumeister and his collaborators discovered that the will, like a muscle, can be fatigued. Immediately after students engage in a task that requires them to control their impulses -- resisting cookies while hungry, tracking a boring display while ignoring a comedy video, writing down their thoughts without thinking about a polar bear or suppressing their emotions while watching the scene in "Terms of Endearment" in which a dying Debra Winger says goodbye to her children -- they show lapses in a subsequent task that also requires an exercise of willpower, like solving difficult puzzles, squeezing a handgrip, stifling sexual or violent thoughts and keeping their payment for participating in the study rather than immediately blowing it on Doritos. Baumeister tagged the effect "ego depletion," using Freud's sense of "ego" as the mental entity that controls the passions.

Baumeister then pushed the muscle metaphor even further by showing that a depleted ego can be invigorated by a sugary pick-me-up (though not an indistinguishable beverage containing diet sweetener). And he showed that self-control, though almost certainly heritable in part, can be toned up by exercising it. He enrolled students in regimens that required them to keep track of their eating, exercise regularly, use a mouse with their weaker hand or (one that really gave them a workout) speak in complete sentences and without swearing. After several weeks, the students were more resistant to ego depletion in the lab and showed greater self-control in their lives. They smoked, drank and snacked less, watched less television, studied more and washed more dishes.

Together with intelligence, self-control turns out to be the best predictor of a successful and satisfying life. But Baumeister and Tierney aren't endorsing a return to a preachy puritanism in which people are enjoined to resist temptation by sheer force of will and condemned as morally irresolute when they fail.

Of course, they are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Rick Perry's immigration 'Achilles heel' (Brianna Lee, September 1, 2011 , PBS)

Rick Perry is leading the pack in the quest for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential race - but his record on immigration, largely considered the Texas governor's "Achilles heel" among the conservative base, will be a prime target for scrutiny as the race pushes forward.

Despite Perry being one of the most conservative candidates in the field of Republican contenders, his stance on immigration has been notably divergent from the conservative orthodoxy. At Mother Jones, Josh Harkinson sums up the ways that Perry has balanced the immigration issue in a state with booming numbers of both Latino-Americans and Tea Party members:

Texas is not a national outlier on immigration policies so much as a brutal testing ground. Here, exit polls in 2010 showed a higher tea party affiliation than anywhere in the country, and yet the low-wage economy--the bedrock of the so-called 'Texas Miracle' -- depends on a steady influx of workers from south of the border. Perry's approach has been a shrewd blend of satisfying the tea party base by trumpeting the need to secure the border (which is a federal responsibility, not to mention pretty much impossible) while protecting his corporate donors from liability stemming from hiring undocumented workers.

In terms of policy, Perry's relatively moderate record on immigration is an easy one for staunch conservatives to criticize. The governor has called the notion of a border fence between the U.S. and Mexico "ridiculous," and he supported the Texas state DREAM Act - a law granting qualified undocumented students in-state tuition for college - in 2001, long before similar state laws were enacted in more than a dozen states across the U.S. Perry also opposed a mandate that would require employers to use a federal system called e-Verify to check the immigration status of all prospective employees, and has supported a guest worker program in the state. Additionally, after the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, largely considered one of the strictest immigration laws in the country, Perry declared then that he would not seek to pass similar legislation in Texas despite a flurry of similar bills cropping up in other states.

It's not an Achilles heel, he's a Trojan Horse.

Prominent Republicans distance themselves from anti-Islam rhetoric (Sal Gentile, August 16, 2011, PBS)

Not all Republicans, however, have embraced the anti-Islam rhetoric that has colored the GOP primary. Last week, for example, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, seen as a leading contender for president in either 2012 or 2016, offered a forceful and widely praised defense of a Muslim judge, Sohail Mohammed, whom he had appointed to a state judicial post. "The folks who criticize my appointment of Sohail Mohammed are ignorant," Christie said. "They're criticizing him because he's a Muslim-American." Of the anti-Shariah movement, Christie added: "This Shariah law business is crap. It's just crazy. And I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."

Now there may be another prominent Republican politician entering the national fray who has close ties to the Muslim-American community in his state: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who declared his intention to run for president this weekend. Perry has instantly become a front-runner for the GOP nomination, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He's a swaggering, self-identified Southern evangelical conservative who has held "prayer rallies" in his state and urged all Americans to pray to Jesus Christ. And yet, as Salon has reported, Perry has also cultivated an intimate friendship with the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of a sect of Shia Muslims known as the Ismailis. The relationship has produced not only mutual praise but a pair of Islam-friendly programs in Texas, such as an initiative to train high school teachers in Muslim history and culture.

The executive director of the Council on Islamic American Relations in Houston told the Houston Chronicle recently that Perry has, in fact, won the favor of many conservative Muslims: "The Muslim community has a significant number of political conservatives, and they do support Perry," Mustafaa Carroll told the paper. Another Muslim activist said that while some states were criminalizing the use of Shariah law in American courts, Perry had largely ignored the issue: "He just never came down on it," Mohamed Elibiary told the Chronicle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Gary Burton On JazzSet (Becca Pulliam, 9/01/11, NPR)

In 1960, at age 17, Burton came from Indiana to study at Berklee, a music school in a Boston brownstone. He stayed and helped transform the school into the educational powerhouse that it is today. This concert celebrates Berklee's golden anniversary.

Our JazzSet compilation features three groups representing three generations. The first features guitarist John Scofield and saxophonist Joe Lovano, who now holds the Gary Burton Chair in Jazz Performance at Berklee. Burton has teamed up with bassist Steve Swallow for between 25 and 40 years ("I have lost track," Burton says), and "the new guy" on the drums is Antonio Sanchez.

The next group features three horns and a pianist who came through Berklee as students in the 1970s and '80s, then worked with Burton. That's been his pattern -- scout them, teach them, hire them. They are Tiger Okoshi on trumpet, Jim Odgren on alto, Donny McCaslin on tenor, Makoto Ozone on piano, Swallow and Sanchez. [...]

With Burton (onstage throughout the show), the third group plays a tango by Lage. The players are Vadim Neselovskyi from the Ukraine on piano, Luques Curtis on bass and James Williams on drums. And the finale is a vibes-and-piano duet with Burton and old friend Chick Corea in "La Fiesta."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


America's Demographics and Dynamism: Amidst the gloom and doom, there are reasons to believe America will remain the preeminent global economic power. (Irwin Stelzer, 9/03/11, Weekly Standard)

The American economy still produces more goods and services than the next three largest economies (Japan, China and Germany) combined. And is likely to hold that position as successive Japanese governments wrestle with decades of stagnation, China attempts to cope with the problems created by its centralized economic management and currency manipulation, and Germany wallows in a eurozone financial crisis that seems to worsen by the day. America's per capita GDP exceeds that of emerging rivals such as China and India, by more than ten and almost fifty times, countries that declinists say will soon overtake us economically and in other ways.

Then there is the good demographic picture. The American population is expanding "in the midst of a global demographic slowdown," according to Joel Kotkin, distinguished presidential fellow at Chapman University. In a developed country such as the US, he notes after analyzing reams of data, a growing population "offers the hope of expanding markets, new workers and entrepreneurial innovation" -- new hands and brains to produce things, rather than merely the mouths to feed that so worried Thomas Malthus.

Better still for America's long-run prospects in a globalized economy, by 2050 about one-in-three citizens of most developed countries in both Europe and East Asia will be older than 65, compared with only one-in-five Americans. Yes, our baby boomers will soon want the joints and organs needed to keep their golf games up to par. But in relative terms, concludes Kotkin, America "will maintain a youthful, dynamic demographic".

Some measure -- albeit an imperfect one -- of the benefits of that "youthful, dynamic demographic" can be seen by counting the US patents issued to inventors, by country of origin. Between 1997 and 2010, the number of patents issued to American-based inventors exceeded by far all other patents issued to all other countries in the world combined. Americans received 2.3 million patents, with Germany in second place with 286,000. Inventors in Britain and Taiwan were the only other countries to receive more than 100,000 patents.

Which doesn't begin to capture the edge America's entrepreneurial culture and rule of law gives it in the long run. Tales of Silicon Valley are legendary: foreigners from British prime minister David Cameron to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev travel there to see how they might duplicate American dynamism. It is a special feature of the United States that its entrepreneurs, many immigrants, boast that a person hasn't taken enough risks if he has not gone bankrupt at least once by the age of 35.

The tough part of re-liberating the American spirit is getting a Congress that supports the free movement of goods and peoples.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


At his charter school, ex-UTLA head would target tenure: Once an anti-charter crusader, A.J. Duffy wants to make it harder for teachers to obtain protections at the campus he hopes to open next year. (Howard Blume, 9/01/11, Los Angeles Times)

A.J. Duffy, who headed a teachers union that has long fought against charter schools, now is starting his own. And some of his ideas are going to trouble some educators and his friends in the labor movement.

The longtime anti-charter crusader wants to make it harder for teachers to earn tenure protections and wants to lengthen that process. He even wants to require teachers to demonstrate that they remain effective in the classroom if they want to keep their tenure protections.

And if a tenured teacher becomes ineffective, he wants to streamline dismissals. The process now in place can stretch out for several years, even with substantial evidence of gross misconduct. Some union leaders, notably Duffy, have defended this "due process" as a necessary protection against administrative abuses.

"I would make it 10 days if I could," Duffy now says of the length of the dismissal process.

These are not viewpoints ever advanced, condoned or accepted by United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers and other professionals in the nation's second-largest school system. Duffy headed that union for six years, until term limits forced him from office in July.

Duffy will have a unionized school, preferably with his former union, but not at the expense of sacrificing his vision for how a school should operate, he said.

Sometimes ideology is just a function of who writes your paycheck.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Price of 9/11 (Joseph E. Stiglitz, 9/01/11, Project Syndicate)

The attack on Afghanistan that followed the 9/11 attacks was understandable, but the subsequent invasion of Iraq was entirely unconnected to Al Qaeda - as much as Bush tried to establish a link. That war of choice quickly became very expensive - orders of magnitude beyond the $60 billion claimed at the beginning - as colossal incompetence met dishonest misrepresentation.

Indeed, when Linda Bilmes and I calculated America's war costs three years ago, the conservative tally was $3-5 trillion. Since then, the costs have mounted further. With almost 50% of returning troops eligible to receive some level of disability payment, and more than 600,000 treated so far in veterans' medical facilities, we now estimate that future disability payments and health-care costs will total $600-900 billion. But the social costs, reflected in veteran suicides (which have topped 18 per day in recent years) and family breakups, are incalculable.

Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America, and much of the rest of the world, to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting the cost of the venture, there is no excuse for how he chose to finance it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit.

Let's assume the numbers are broadly right and that it cost us one third to one half of one year's GDP to bring self-governance to the Afghans, Kurdistan, Shi'a Iraq, Liberia, Palestine, South Lebanon, South Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Is that really too high a price to pay?

And, if it is, why was the far higher cost of liberating the slaves in the 1860s or Western Europe in the 40s worthwhile? Or were they not worth the cost either?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


CIA shifts focus to killing targets (Greg Miller and Julie Tate, September 1, 2011, Washington Post)

The shift has been gradual enough that its magnitude can be difficult to grasp. Drone strikes that once seemed impossibly futuristic are so routine that they rarely attract public attention unless a high-ranking al-Qaeda figure is killed.

But framed against the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks -- as well as the arrival next week of retired Gen. David H. Petraeus as the CIA's director -- the extent of the agency's reorientation comes into sharper view:

●The drone program has killed more than 2,000 militants and civilians since 2001, a staggering figure for an agency that has a long history of supporting proxy forces in bloody conflicts but rarely pulled the trigger on its own.

●The CIA's Counterterrorism Center, which had 300 employees on the day of the attacks, now exceeds al-Qaeda's core membership around the globe. With about 2,000 on its staff, the CTC accounts for 10 percent of the agency's workforce, has designated officers in almost every significant overseas post and controls the CIA's expanding fleet of drones.

●Even the agency's analytic branch, which traditionally existed to provide insights to policymakers, has been enlisted in the hunt. About 20 percent of CIA analysts are now "targeters" scanning data for individuals to recruit, arrest or place in the cross­hairs of a drone. The skill is in such demand that the CIA made targeting a designated career track five years ago, meaning analysts can collect raises and promotions without having to leave the targeting field.

Critics, including some in the U.S. intelligence community, contend that the CIA's embrace of "kinetic" operations, as they are known, has diverted the agency from its traditional espionage mission and undermined its ability to make sense of global developments such as the Arab Spring.

September 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


Too Bad Not to Fail: Just what are derivatives, and how much more damage can they do? (William J. Quirk, American Scholar)

Until the 1990s, investment banks--the institutions that help corporations and governments raise capital by underwriting and issuing securities--were organized as partnerships. Under that setup, the general partners risked their personal net worth on the solvency of their firms and regulated the bank's activities with the knowledge that they were liable for any losses. When almost all the partnerships reorganized into corporations, investment banks became, in effect, liability casinos operated by croupiers unbridled by long-term financial responsibilities. The sole object was to maximize day-to-day profits.

Bankers bought and sold something few Americans had heard of before: derivatives. These instruments were hard to define, we were told, yet they were heralded as financial "innovations" designed to minimize risk and were reassuringly referred to as "insurance," "protection," or "hedging." Other strange terms--"tranches," "mezzanine," "regulatory arbitrage," and "repos"--surfaced at the same time.

What are derivatives? They are financial contracts whose value is derived from a security such as a stock or bond, an asset such as a commodity (crude oil, sugar, copper, etc.), or a market index. Derivative is used to cover contracts of many different kinds, some dating back hundreds of years; others, until the 1990s, were unknown to man. Midwestern grain farmers, in the early 19th century, sometimes sold their crops while they were still growing. That is a futures contract, a kind of derivative, the likes of which have been traded on the Chicago exchanges since Civil War times. They are helpful to all parties. Southwest Airlines, for an­other instance, can assure itself the price of jet fuel in the future by entering into a contract--a derivative.

A synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO), the subject of the Security and Exchange Commission's lawsuit against Goldman Sachs this April, is also a derivative. But before you can have a "synthetic" CDO, you have to have an actual CDO. What's that? Say that a person who is a poor credit risk takes out a mortgage he can't afford. Thousands of such mortgages are collected into a security--a mortgage-backed bond. Then a number of those bonds are collected into another security. This is a CDO that is sold to investors. A "synthetic" CDO refers to an actual CDO with no underlying asset, meaning, in this case, no mortgages. It is essentially a wager, and, like any bet, it requires two sides: a "long," who is betting that housing prices will go up, and a "short," who is betting that housing prices will decline. The short bettor, by means of a credit default swap (CDS), agrees to pay the interest owed to the long bettor. In return, the long bettor agrees to pay the principal of the CDO if it defaults. Goldman was the bookie who put the bets together; Rube Goldberg would have blanched at such a grotesque contraption.

The problems with derivatives are abundant and far-reaching:

There are no caps on the numbers, which generally are immense--big enough to bring down world markets. The derivatives market is $600-800 trillion--about 10 times the $70-trillion output of the world economy.

The terms are so complex that they are only dimly understood by the parties entering into them as well as by the regulators who are supposed to police them; in fact, no one knows how to regulate them.

By putting the economies of U.S. allies in jeopardy, they can too easily undermine American national interests.

September 2008 was when we learned that the big banks were earning most of their profits from dealing in derivatives and, by the way, that the financial statements they were issuing were worthless because derivatives were extensively used to evade accounting, legal, and regulatory requirements. The air of mystery and impenetrable lingo were no help when the banks went bust and put the real economy at so dangerous a risk that the U.S. government committed $23.7 trillion in cash and commitments to bail them out. The bailout was outrageous on its face, even before details about what the banks were doing were made public. Then we learned that the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, which are charged with regulating U.S. currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), whose mission is to protect investors and maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, hadn't adequately scrutinized the banks or their derivatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Watch the full video at

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM

9 TO GO:

White House Rolls Over on Smog Standards (Adam Martin, 9/02/11, Atlantic Wire)

The Obama administration announced Friday it would not go through with plans to tighten EPA air quality standards set in 2008 by President George W. Bush, after heavy pressure from industry groups and Republicans. The White House issued a statement that cited the "importance of reducing regulatory burdens" on industry in its decision to shelve the new regulations, and sent a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, asking her to withdraw the new standards. But as The Hill pointed out, "The White House faced pressure from Republicans to abandon the smog standards. The rule was among 10 regulations that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had singled out for elimination in a recent memo laying out the GOP's fall jobs campaign." Environmentalists, naturally, are incensed.

But surely not surprised.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Gold Coins: The Mystery of the Double Eagle: How did a Philadelphia family get hold of $40 million in gold coins, and why has the Secret Service been chasing them for 70 years? (Susan Berfield, 8/25/11, Bloomberg Business Week)

The most valuable coin in the world sits in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in lower Manhattan. It's Exhibit 18E, secured in a bulletproof glass case with an alarm system and an armed guard nearby. The 1933 Double Eagle, considered one of the rarest and most beautiful coins in America, has a face value of $20--and a market value of $7.6 million. It was among the last batch of gold coins ever minted by the U.S. government. The coins were never issued; most of the nearly 500,000 cast were melted down to bullion in 1937.

Most, but not all. Some of the coins slipped out of the Philadelphia Mint before then. No one knows for sure exactly how they got out or even how many got out. The U.S. Secret Service, responsible for protecting the nation's currency, has been pursuing them for nearly 70 years, through 13 Administrations and 12 different directors. The investigation has spanned three continents and involved some of the most famous coin collectors in the world, a confidential informant, a playboy king, and a sting operation at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. It has inspired two novels, two nonfiction books, and a television documentary. And much of it has centered around a coin dealer, dead since 1990, whose shop is still open in South Philadelphia, run by his 82-year-old daughter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Rick Perry for President: 'Nothing in My Life That Will Embarrass You' (IB Times, September 1, 2011)

The Texas governor spoke to a group of social and evangelical conservatives last weekend in his state and promised there was nothing in his past that would embarrass them, should they decide to support him in the presidential race, the Texas Tribune reported. [...]

"I can assure you that there is nothing in my life that will embarrass you if you decide to support me for president," Perry told attendees, according to the anonymous source.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


U.S. reportedly will sue big banks over mortgage securities: Among more than a dozen targets are Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, the New York Times says. They are accused of misrepresenting the quality of mortgages they packaged and sold during the housing bubble. (Reuters, September 1, 2011)

The agency that oversees U.S. mortgage markets is preparing to file suit against more than a dozen big banks, accusing them of misrepresenting the quality of mortgages they packaged and sold during the housing bubble, the New York Times reported Thursday. [...]

The practice of subprime lending, wherein mortgage brokers lowered their standards to entice homebuyers to take out large mortgages to buy more expensive homes than they could afford, was a root cause of the mortgage market implosion.

To the contrary, as the story suggests, the root cause was that banks disguised subprime loans as prime in order to be able to sell them to investors more easily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Bill Keller's modest proposal (Mollie, 8/26/11, Get Religion)

If the piece isn't satire, why would Keller say that Rick Santorum is part of a "fervid subset of evangelical Christianity"? He's Roman Catholic.

If the piece isn't satire, why would the lede mention space aliens, much less compare belief in an alien invasion to Christianity?

If the piece isn't satire, why would he claim that "many Americans" view Catholicism, Protestant Christianity and Mormonism as "mysterious or suspect"? Does he have any concept of what percentage of Americans fall into one of those three categories? Of course he does. It's clearly satire.

Why would he traffic in the type of crude stereotypes about Mormons that result in condemnation from liberals?

If this weren't satire, why would he mis-state what Catholics believe about Communion? What's more, would he really call that sacrament "baggage" and "bizarre" unless he was trying to make a point about bigotry? I can't imagine he would.

If this weren't satire, would he really say that the Christian relationship to the Bible is one of lord and servant? Would he really pretend that in order to be a good candidate for office you have to believe that the Constitution is a higher authority than the Bible? Would he really pretend that the laws of this country are inerrant?

Would he come up with laugh lines such as this?:

I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

If this weren't satire, would he really confuse inerrancy with literalism?

If this weren't satire, would a respected news man really be pushing the threat of Dominionism? Would he call someone a Dominionist who explained just two weeks ago that she had to literally Google the term to learn what it meant? Someone who explained quite clearly why the slur is inaccurate when used against her? I mean, I know he's biased, but he's not a hack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Insurgent: How Arvind Kejriwal, the architect of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign, brought the rage of an indignant nation to the government's door (MEHBOOB JEELANI, 1 September 2011, The Caravan)

The ideas that would eventually lead to the Jan Lokpal Bill--and plans for a mass mobilisation to support it--had been on Kejriwal's mind at least since September 2010, when public frustration with the inept preparations for the Commonwealth Games erupted into fury over evidence of widespread corruption. India's middle classes, who already saw the event as a tremendous waste of money, were further enraged when the Games delivered nothing but international embarrassment and a multi-million rupee scam. Kejriwal, however, saw an opportunity to mobilise public opinion against corruption, and began to plot the course that would lead "Team Anna" into a high-profile showdown with the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition. He spent his days consulting with experts and prospective allies, from lawyers to bankers to former bureaucrats and religious leaders, as well as his colleagues in the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI). He devoted his nights to drafting and revising a bill to create a new Lokpal: an independent body vested with the extraordinary powers--to investigate, prosecute and sometimes even judge--that Kejriwal thought necessary to prevent any politician or bureaucrat from obstructing the agency's work.

Though Kejriwal is attentive to the cultural causes of corruption--he told me that "greed and the downfall of moral values" played a role--he believes a failing enforcement system is ultimately to blame. "If you talk of corruption in administration," he explained, "the issue is a lack of adequate deterrence. There is zero risk in corruption here--it's a high-profit business." In short, while bad people may commit fraud, good systems can stop them. It's a point Kejriwal--who owns a car but takes the Delhi Metro almost every day--likes to illustrate with a transit parable he's often used at press conferences. "If you travel by Indian Railways, you'll see chaos, confusion and corruption everywhere," he told me. "But if you travel by Delhi Metro, you'll see everything in order. It is not because good people travel by Metro, it is because Metro has a right system in place." And the Lokpal, Kejriwal continued, "is that right system, which will set this country in the right direction."

Last autumn, many of Kejriwal's Metro journeys took him to Noida, where he spent hours discussing the finer legal points of the Lokpal Bill with Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and his father Shanti Bhushan, a former Union law minister who was the first to propose the idea of a Lokpal in a bill submitted to Parliament in 1968. Kejriwal usually left these meetings with a copy of the draft bill covered in red ink and marked up with notes and questions; he would dutifully revise the document and email it back to the Bhushans, often that same night. "Basically he was doing all the work," Prashant Bhushan told me, "I was being only consulted, so it was an easy task, and he gets it quickly."

By the end of October, Kejriwal had begun to circulate a draft of his bill among "like-minded people"--and to work with those who responded positively, including Kiran Bedi, the Ramon Magsaysay Award-winning police officer-turned-activist, and the former Supreme Court justice Santosh Hegde. "I was just trying to find people who were known for fighting corruption," Kejriwal told me.

One such person was Anna Hazare. By December, when the group now calling itself India Against Corruption (IAC) sent a draft of its Lokpal Bill to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demanded a "total overhaul of the anti-corruption delivery system", Hazare was among the signatories. After several months passed without any response from the government, Kejriwal and Bedi flew to Maharashtra in February to meet Hazare. "Anna Hazare was convinced that this was a good solution to corruption," Kejriwal told me. "He had a successful history of fighting corruption, one case after another."

During the visit, Kejriwal recalled, "Anna called a meeting of his workers from all across Maharashtra, and he asked everyone, 'Should I sit on fast?' They all agreed." In a tiny room at the Sant Yadavbaba temple in Hazare's village, Ralegan Siddhi, he and Kejriwal sat and planned the fast-unto-death Hazare would stage in April at Jantar Mantar; they deliberately selected a date that would fall between the end of the Cricket World Cup and the start of the Indian Premier League.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Michael Gove's free schools are a triumph - but can they keep up with the baby boom?: When Michael Gove first proposed 'free schools' four years ago, he could have been written off as another Tory daydreamer. (Fraser Nelson, 3 September 2011, The Spectator)

When Michael Gove first proposed 'free schools' four years ago, he could have been written off as another Tory daydreamer. The idea of creating an education market, with independent state schools competing for pupils, was considered by Keith Joseph in 1980, then dropped when the depth of his department's hostility became clear. English schooling was controlled by bureaucrats and unions, and sporadic ministerial attempts to change that always ended in failure. So Gove's friends and enemies concluded that, as Education Secretary, his radical reforms were doomed.

How wrong they were. This month 24 new 'free schools' will open, admitting about 10,000 pupils. Behind each school is a group of teachers acting on parental demand for something better. Gove is due to visit Woodpecker Hall, set up by Patricia Sowter, a successful headteacher in Enfield, east London. Frustrated at having to turn so many parents away from her old school, Ms Salter has set up a new one free from council control. She is the first of what Gove hopes will be a new breed of British education entrepreneurs.

Also this month, more than 1,000 Academies will open their doors -- five times the number that existed last year. These too are independent schools operating in the state sector, which have used powers in Gove's Academies Act to break free from their local councils. Last week one of the earliest groups of Acadamies, those run by Harris, released its latest GCSE results and for comparison, each school's last results under town hall control. On average, the proportion of pupils with five or more good GCSEs had trebled. The Academy programme, set up by Labour and expanded by Gove, is becoming the most rapidly vindicated social policy in modern history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Company Man: The firm that once colonised India is now owned by an Indian businessman. Can Sanjiv Mehta turn history on its head--and make a tidy profit in the process? (SALIL TRIPATHI, 1 September 2011, The Caravan)

Mehta's latest coveted treasure is an unobtrusive store on Conduit Street, a tiny lane which lies at the edge of Mayfair, the fashionable district in central London. The upscale Mayfair, with its fine restaurants and discreet offices of boutique consultants, connects Regent Street with New Bond Street, with Oxford Street running to its north and Piccadilly to the south. These names are redolent with imperial grandeur; any child who has played the board game Monopoly can recall them with ease, although real estate today is a bit pricier than on the Monopoly board. (At school, Mehta was also an astute Monopoly player; he beat me the few times we played.)

There are nearly 300 shops in this area, with monthly rentals running anywhere between £200 and £900 per square foot (roughly 14,000 to 65,000), making this golden rectangle one of the most expensive retail districts in the world. Conduit Street has Vivienne Westwood, the doyenne of quirky British design; Rigby & Peller, which supplies undergarments to the Queen; Belstaff, which made the overcoat worn by Sherlock Holmes in a BBC television series; Oliver Sweeney, who shod the Ashes-winning English cricket team; and Berluti, the home of handmade shoes. Jutting out of Conduit Street is Savile Row, where old-fashioned tailors, one of whom actually wears a monocle, continue to make bespoke suits for gentlemen of discerning taste. Posh restaurants and hotels like Claridge's, The Ritz and The Connaught are nearby, as are the boutiques of Burberry, Chanel, Hermes and Ferrari.

Mehta is very proud of his shop on Conduit Street. It is called The East India Company.

Yes, the same one. In one of history's ironic twists, a Gujarati man born in Bombay now owns the company that was set up at Leadenhall Street at the end of the 16th century by British traders and merchants who went around the globe looking for a good cuppa and some spices and ended up colonising half the world--including India, the jewel in the crown--before collapsing in 1873. The company has been revived, but now it sells luxury teas, coffees, chocolates, jams, biscuits and chutneys. The minimalist 2,000 sq ft shop has a staff of 35, and aims to rake in £6 million (433 million) in its first year.

To be sure, The East India Company had ceased to operate when it was dissolved in 1873, its balance sheet smeared with red ink, as its income simply could not cover the cost of maintaining the empire it had built. After setting up trading operations in India in the 17th century, it had rapidly transformed from a mercantilist trading firm into a state, taking over territory, minting currency and maintaining its own army. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 (as the British view what Indians call the first war of independence) delegitimised the company's political role in the eyes of the British establishment. Queen Victoria took over the governance of India in 1858; 15 years later, the debt-ridden company was dissolved.

But sometime in the 1980s, a group of British investors came together, and sought government approval to begin trading using the company's title, in effect reviving it. Few knew about it then; the investors didn't make any plans public, keeping a low profile.

One of the commodities they traded in was tea, and it was to Mehta that they turned for the trades. He saw huge potential in rebuilding the brand, even though he knew buying the company from a group of investors would be a daunting, time-consuming project. He understood the political significance of an Indian trader taking over the company that had once colonised India, and he was aware of the negative connotations the company's name suggested for many patriotic Indians. Why should an Indian revive a company that enslaved Indians and sent them to far-flung places as indentured labourers?

Slowly, step-by-step, Mehta began buying over the investors, and after nearly three years, he bought out the last investor, acquiring full control of the company in 2006. At the same time, he studied the company's history, consulted experts, talked to brand consultants and began assembling in his mind the architecture of the company that would no longer be an embarrassment, but would nurture the brand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Sarah's Key: unlocking French self-loathing (Neil Davenport, 9/01/11, spiked)

Recent French films have keenly explored the issue of collaboration with Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. Until recently, most French films stuck to a Gaullist line, depicting France as a nation of plucky resistance fighters against Nazi troops. In 2002, Laissez-Passer also depicted heroic resistance fighters, but notably dwelled on how politicians and police chiefs enthusiastically collaborated with Nazi commanders. When one SS officer scornfully asks a French politician 'why did you lot roll over so easily?', it suggested that the gloves were coming off regarding France's shameful past. Army of Crime (2009), essentially a remake of Army of Shadows (1969), explicitly showed French secret agents working with Nazi officers in the persecution of Jews and communists, while the biopic of French icon (Serge) Gainsbourg (2010) was told in the shadow of Vel d'Hiv and respectable anti-Semitism in France.

But two films that deal specifically with Vel d'Hiv, The Round Up (2010) and the recently released Sarah's Key, reveal a rather morbid fascination with this episode of national shame. Both films tackle the arrest, imprisonment and deportation of Paris-based Jews in July 1942 by French, as opposed to Nazi, authorities. Both films are unflinching in their portrayal of people being treated in the most appalling and barbaric fashion. No matter how grimly familiar the road to Auschwitz has become to us, both films have the capacity to shock and horrify. But whereas The Round Up is shot almost like a factual documentary, Sarah's Key clumsily attempts to draw therapeutic lessons about confronting 'secrets from the past'. In doing so, it contributes to the notion that a good French national identity can only be constructed through feeling bad about the past.

Until they learn to despise the Revolution they'll have made no progress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Dream Act: California embraces anti-Arizona role on illegal immigration (Daniel B. Wood, September 1, 2011, CS Monitor)

With the Obama administration and Congress stalled on immigration reform, California has joined the growing parade of states acting on their own to pressure Washington into action.

The Democrat-controlled state Senate on Wednesday night passed its version of the Dream Act - a bill that would allow illegal immigrants who attended state high schools for three or more years to apply for state-funded college financial aid. The federal version of the bill, which was most recently defeated in December, allows a path to citizenship for illegal-immigrant students and members of the military who were brought to the US as children.

September 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Are You as Fertile as You Look? (TATIANA BONCOMPAGNI, 9/01/11, NY Times)

FORTY may be the new 30, but try telling that to your ovaries.

With long brown hair and come-hither curves, Melissa Foss looks -- and feels -- fabulous at 41. "I've spent hours of my life and a lot of money making sure I was healthy, and that my hair was shiny, my teeth were white and my complexion clear," said Ms. Foss, a magazine editor in New York City.

So when it came to conceiving a child with her husband, a marketing executive, Ms. Foss wasn't at all worried. After all, she noted, those same traits of youth and beauty "are all the hallmarks of fertility."

Fifteen unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization later, Ms. Foss now realizes that appearances can be deceiving. "I'd based a lot of my self-worth on looking young and fertile, and to have that not be the case was really depressing and shocking," she said.

Maybe she should have based her self-worth on raising a family instead of cosmetics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


President Obama punts to earlier time against NFL game after caving to GOP of televised jobs speech (Alison Gendar AND Thomas M. Defrank, 9/01/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

President Obama backpedaled Thursday from going up against the NFL next week - after Republicans sacked his initial plans for a congressional address.

Obama will now deliver his televised jobs speech at 7 p.m. Thursday - a half-hour before NBC is set to launch its coverage of the NFL's opening game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Why are we surprised with the push for 'pedophile rights'? (Dr. Michael L. Brown, Aug 31, 2011,

Many Americans have been shocked by reports about a recent pro-pedophilia conference in Baltimore in which psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, representing institutions like Harvard and Johns Hopkins, sought to present pedophilia in a sympathetic and even positive light. But why should this surprise us?

Academic articles in scholarly journals have been presenting pedophilia in a sympathetic light for years, and, as Matthew Cullinan Hoffman noted, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released a report in 1998 "claiming that the 'negative potential' of adult sex with children was 'overstated' and that 'the vast majority of both men and women reported no negative sexual effects from their child sexual abuse experiences.' It even claimed that large numbers of the victims reported that their experiences were 'positive,' and suggested that the phrase 'child sex abuse' be replaced with 'adult-child sex.'" Others have coined the more disgusting term "intergenerational intimacy."

The APA's report was so disturbing that it drew an official rebuke from Congress, yet the pro-pedophile (or, pro-pederast) push continues. In fact, some psychiatric leaders, like Dr. Richard Green, who were instrumental in removing homosexuality from the APA's list of mental disorders in 1973, have been fighting to remove pedophilia as well.

Who's surprised?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM

KCRW Presents: My Morning Jacket (Jason Bentley, KCRW Music Director)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Obama Labor Boss Buys Canadian-Built Car (Paul Bedard, August 31, 2011, US News)

To show her support for American workers, President Obama's labor secretary, Hilda Solis, has junked the standard black limo and purchased a new Chevrolet Equinox to ride around Washington in. The problem: the crossover SUV is built and assembled in Canada from parts also made in Canada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


The audacity of weakness: Another embarrassing fail betrays a White House in a bubble (Cenk Uygur, 901/11, Salon)

Here was the headline on Yahoo News tonight: "Obama bows to Boehner on jobs speech."

Bows to Boehner: I can tell you what any progressive who has been paying attention thought, "Oh boy, here we go again."

President Obama has now changed the day of his address to Congress to accommodate the Republicans. They were having a GOP presidential debate on the original date he picked. So, Boehner told him to move his speech. He is the president for Christ's sake. Of course, they should have accommodated him, not the other way around. But as usual, President Obama bowed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Top CIA Official: Obama Changed Virtually None of Bush's Controversial Programs (Sarah Moughty, 9/01/11, PBS Frontline)

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged "a top to bottom review of the threats we face and our abilities to confront them." He promised a sweeping overhaul of the Bush administration's war on terror, which he criticized for compromising American values.

But FRONTLINE has learned from a former high-ranking CIA official that even before he took office, Obama's team "signaled" they had no intention of rolling back secret programs begun under the Bush administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Israel's Image Won't Improve Without Policy Changes (Gary Wexler, August 29, 2011, Forward)

[A]s strange as it may sound coming from a marketer with an advertising background, who has represented hundreds of Jewish organizations worldwide, I have arrived at the conclusion that the solution will not be found in branding, marketing, public relations or the writings of political pundits. The problem is that all their concepts, strategies, words and legitimate defenses - no matter how powerful and clever - are not going to elevate Israel's plummeting image. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors and the Israeli government have been poured into this effort, yet the situation only worsens every month. I am as much to blame as anyone for being a supporter of these actions.

It has become clear that the world doesn't care about Israel's wines, its Bauhaus architecture, its fashion, its alluring women, its sexy gay men, its beaches, its ballet or its hummus. The world, its media and its university campuses are riveted upon Israel's relationship with the Palestinians as well as the state of its democracy.

No, the answer to Israel's image problems does not depend upon the marketing. It depends first upon the policies.

Something is proving wrong with several of the ingredients in Israel as a product. The policies - whether we argue they are right or wrong internally - are spoiling the taste for the world consumer as well as for many in a new generation of young Jews, even those who have been on Birthright. This is not a left- or a right-wing opinion. It is a fact. No matter how Israel markets or defends itself in the media, the policies seep into the equation and kill the success of the image.

Do I have the answer for how to fix the policies, or even which policies need fixing? No. But I'm not a politician. I'm an adman and a marketer. And I can tell you, from my years creating ads for products from Coca Cola to Apple Computer, if people keep reading about some bad ingredients in the ketchup, very few people will buy the bottle, no matter how much money and creativity you pack into the marketing. No amount of branding, slogans, viral ideas or clever engagement is going to lead towards the success that supporters of Israel need.

What I can say is that Israel, and those who love her, need to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and uncover the deeper problems, the ones that cannot be fixed with a better logo.

...only that it wasn't a liberal democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Steyn Power (DOUGLAS MURRAY, September 2011, Standpoint)

The word iconoclasm is a little overused, and tends to be used in journalism of people who are dully uniform. But Steyn really does deserve the label. When he was writing about demographics not only was it not talked about, it wasn't even whispered about -- even behind closed doors. At the end of his time as Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that it was "a subterranean conversation". That it's even got that far is largely due to Steyn. [...]

In After America he looks at the causes and results of another elite-ignored catastrophe: the manner in which the world's hyperpower has followed Europe's failed societal models and spending behaviour, using borrowed money to live out a failed idea on borrowed time. Steyn is, as has frequently been said, one of the few writers who can make you laugh about things that should make you cry. And as After America reminds us, when all the voices in the city are mad, those from the wilderness (in this case New Hampshire) might just be worth heeding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


GOP tax expert to help run debt-reduction 'super committee' (Lori Montgomery, Published: August 30, 2011, Washington Post)

A veteran Senate GOP tax expert with long experience working across the aisle was tapped Tuesday to help run a powerful new congressional debt-reduction committee, buoying hopes that the panel would produce a plan to tame borrowing.

Mark Prater, 52, has served as chief tax counsel for Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee for nearly two decades, playing a key role in forging consensus on numerous major tax and deficit-reduction bills. [...]

Democrats and Republicans alike praised Prater as an honest broker with an encyclopedic knowledge of tax and health policy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called him "one of the brightest, most knowledgeable, trusted and professional staffers on Capitol Hill." Bill Dauster, deputy chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), called Prater "the kind of person you can talk to about how to get to yes, how you cut the deal, what pieces have to move."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Profits Before Environment (Mark Bittman, 8/31/11, NY Times)

I wasn't surprised when the administration of George W. Bush sacrificed the environment for corporate profits. But when the same thing happens under a Democratic administration, it's depressing. [...]

A truly environmentally friendly president (like the one candidate Obama appeared to be) would be looking for creative ways to leave fossil fuels underground, not extract them. Perhaps he doesn't "believe in" global warming at this point, like many Republicans?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


The Anti-Science Smear: Liberals embrace the rhetoric of science, but not its cautious and dispassionate reasoning. (Rich Lowry, 8/30/11, National Review)

In no sense that the ordinary person would understand the term is Rick Perry "anti-science." He hasn't criticized the scientific method, or sent the Texas Rangers to chase out from the state anyone in a white lab coat. In fact, the opposite. His website touts his Emerging Technology Fund as an effort to bring "the best scientists and researchers to Texas." The state has a booming health-care sector composed of people who presumably have a healthy appreciation for the dictates of science.

Perry's offenses against science consist of his statements on evolution and global warming, areas where "the science" is routinely used to try to force assent to far-reaching philosophical or policy judgments unsupported by the evidence.

Unless he has an interest in paleontology that has escaped everyone's notice to this point, Perry's somewhat doubtful take on evolution has more to do with a general impulse to preserve a role for God in creation than a careful evaluation of the work of, say, Stephen Jay Gould. Perry's attitude is in the American mainstream. According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans think God created man in his present form, and 38 percent think man developed over millions of years with God guiding the process. Is three-quarters of the country potentially anti-science?

No, it's higher than that. Once you subtract those with no opinion and those who agree that God played no role in Evolution but who also believe in God (rendering that opinion unintelligible), you end up under 10%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Down on the Farm, Will Robots Replace Immigrant Labor?: You'd think that the most challenging, lowest-paid labor in the U.S. was safe from automation, but as robots become increasingly sophisticated, that could change. (Christopher Mims 08/30/2011, Technology Review)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Oil Prices Plunge in August: A 'Tax Cut' for the American People (IBTimes, August 31, 2011)

[T]he decline in the price of oil, if it holds, represents perhaps the best news for the U.S. economy this year, outside of the end of the period of large job layoffs by U.S. corporations.

The reason? Each $1 per barrel drop in oil increases U.S. GDP by $100 billion per year and every 1 cent decline in gasoline increases U.S. consumer disposable income by $600 million per year.

...the one bit of "good news" is disastrous for his supposed energy/environmental policy. And he lacks the vision to do anything about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Syria's Sons of No One (ANTHONY SHADID, 8/31/11, NY Times Magazine)

The Syrian uprising began in mid-March in the hardscrabble town of Dara'a, about 160 miles from here, after 15 teenagers were arrested for writing antigovernment graffiti on school walls. The teens were reportedly beaten, and some of them had their fingernails pulled out. Their mothers were threatened with rape. The revolt spread quickly from Dara'a throughout the country and has become the most violent in the Arab uprising, rivaled only by Libya, but Libya was a civil war. More than 2,200 Syrians have been killed and thousands more arrested in the relentless government crackdown. Protests after Friday prayers have become ritual, and in response to them the military and security forces have assaulted many of Syria's largest cities -- Latakia, Homs, Hama, Deir al-Zour and, of course, Dara'a -- the violence so pronounced that the United States and European countries have demanded President Bashar al-Assad end his 11-year reign.

Iyad, a young father who named his newborn daughter after Dara'a, showed off a bandaged right knee that was grazed by a bullet. Abdullah pulled up a picture on his computer of one of Homs's first martyrs, a 19-year-old named Amjad Zantah, who was killed during the government's attempts to crush the earliest protests in the city. I'd been covering the uprising since its beginning, but the question that still eluded me was how the Syrian youth -- the shabab -- keep fighting in the face of such withering violence. How can laptops and cellphones and bags of nails and pipes that shoot onions be any match for one of the Arab world's most fearsome police states? And how can an eclectic array of leftists, liberals, conservatives, nationalists, Islamists (themselves diverse) and the disgruntled and downtrodden prove unified enough to bring it down?

"Tunisia won, Egypt won, and we're going to win ourselves," Abdullah said when I asked him about the odds they were up against. "There's no going back."

His words reminded me of an anecdote from Islamic history known by all these youths, schooled as they were in a country that celebrates a glorified Arab past as state propaganda. In the eighth century, the Muslim general Tariq bin Ziyad led his troops to Gibraltar, then burned his own army's ships after the soldiers disembarked. "Oh, my warriors, where will you flee?" he asked them. "Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy." Abdullah and the others understood the story's meaning. "We know the Syrian revolution is here," Iyad said, pointing to his sinewy biceps. "It's up to us." [...]

Over 40 years of dictatorship, the Assads cauterized any expression of dissent, enforcing silence, and most prominent dissidents have spent years in places like Tadmur, a notorious regime dungeon. One of them, Riad Turk, a veteran communist imprisoned for nearly two decades, once told me he endured his isolation only by accepting that his life outside had come to an end. He spent day after day fashioning landscapes on a cement floor with pieces of discolored rice that he had removed from his meals and let dry. At the end of the day, he swept the scene away and began a new one in the morning. Yet after the security forces withdrew in June, Hama's citizens began to tentatively speak for themselves. The educated elite -- doctors, engineers, lawyers -- communicated with a 60-year-old cleric, Mustafa Abdel-Rahman, who heads a prominent mosque. Sheik Mustafa, in turn, negotiated with the governor, who answers to Assad. It was a remarkable development, perhaps the first time in decades in Syria that the exercise of power was a dialogue.

No one really talked to the youth, though. Not that it mattered to Obada and his friends. They had no faith in their elders, either. "What controls Hama now is the shabab," Obada said. "We've forgotten our disagreements until we get rid of this regime."

They imposed their own 10 p.m. curfew on the town. They figured out ways to deliver bread to the checkpoints they manned on their own, in daytime and nighttime shifts. Obada fed raw footage to Al Jazeera. His friends made YouTube videos that became, by Syria's standards, Internet sensations. "Come On Bashar, Leave," was the most famous. They even started cleaning the streets. "We had to," Obada said as his friends fired up the water pipes. "The smell was killing us."

It was 1 a.m., and Obada's cellphone rang again. Another protest had convened in Assi Square, prompted by the simple fact that it could happen. The other day, Obada told me, youths had organized five demonstrations in a single day. He smiled. "We just wanted the chance to start," he said.

Moises, the photographer, and I returned to Homs the next day, arriving at Iyad's father's house, where Abdullah and his friends were sleeping after their "hot" night. We had planned to leave from there for the border, then head back to Lebanon. But soon after we arrived, Iyad told us that villagers along the border had been killed the night before in what looked like sectarian vendettas. No Sunni dared go through an Alawite village, and vice-versa. Since the smuggling routes that would take us back to Lebanon snaked through those villages, we were stuck, at least for a while.

We sat for hours, talking and drinking tea, and it soon became clear that the other youths treated Abdullah, the computer engineer, with deference. Like the others, Abdullah seemed courageous, but he didn't share their youthful bravado. His religious faith was formidable, the kind that doesn't compromise before authority or custom or age.

"For the old people, the terror is still there, in a way we can't imagine anymore," he said. "Even the children were nursed at their mother's breast with fear." Others listened respectfully, including an older relative of Iyad's who told me he had a doctorate. "The Syrian revolution is an orphan," Abdullah went on. "It has no father and no mother." It had only them, he suggested.

Abdullah estimated that 100 people in Homs were directing the protests, which had now become better organized. The youth would sometimes wear armbands designating a task: breaking up fights among one another, cleaning up the streets after they were finished and delivering food to demonstrators. There was even a health committee to treat the wounded. No one dared to go to hospitals anymore, Abdullah explained, fearful that security forces would arrest them or do worse. Iyad swore by rumors that agents had executed the injured, in their hospital beds, by injecting air into people's hearts or shooting them in the head and blaming it on crossfire. So in past weeks, the youths had set up one-room clinics in their neighborhoods, where the wounded were treated. "There are 10 people who think and 100 who act, but the security forces can never figure out which is which," Abdullah told me. "Now we've managed to build a state of organized chaos."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Offender breaks curfew after security staff tag his false leg (The Telegraph, 29 Aug 2011)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Tempest in an Inkpot: Don't be fooled by the hand-lettering trend in movie posters and book covers--cursive is dead. Who cares? A million angry commenters around the web who extol the virtues of loops and curls. But the traditional form has a history that's less than precious (Graham T. Beck, 8/31/11, The Morning News)

Third grade was the year cursive didn't matter. That's not to say it definitely matters now, or that it didn't actually matter then, but that's what I most vividly remember repeating for the nine months that school was in session: "Cursive doesn't matter." It was my name, rank, and serial number. Handwriting was my enemy. Those who championed its cause: my captors. "Cursive doesn't matter," I'd tell them. "It can't matter," I'd say to myself. It couldn't.

No matter how hard I tried, I was incapable of making my hand shape those precious loops. Despite extra classes, a school-appointed therapist, even mortifying, neon-colored rubber grips that fit like erasers over the shaft of my pencil and forced my fingers into a perfect penmanship claw, everything I put down in cursive was not just inelegant and wobbly but also completely illegible. A symptom of some disease. A signifier of a horrible shortcoming that would show itself days or weeks or years later. Eventually, someday, I'd kill, I'd steal, I'd use swear words like my brother's friend Walter. My future failure was written in my writing. And so if cursive did matter, well, I was in for a life of trouble, so cursive couldn't matter.

In that regard, the past two years have been good to me. Forty-four states¾most recently Hawaii (Aloha) and Indiana (Go Hoosiers!)--have tacitly affirmed what I insisted all those years ago, with their adoption of an education platform called the Common Core State Standards, which replaces decades-old handwriting requirements with a "keyboarding" mandate. "The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers," reads the program's website. "With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

Cursive is just another way for The Man to keep us down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Wimp in the White House (Michael Tomasky, Aug 31, 2011, Daily Beast)

Boy, do I get depressed when I read things like this, from White House press spokesman Jay Carney the other day: "The president hopes that members of Congress of both parties, having returned from their August recess, will come back imbued with the spirit of bipartisan compromise, and imbued with the urgency required to address the needs of our economy and the needs of our workforce."

And this: "There will be plenty of reasons for people on both sides of the aisle to like it" (with "it" referring to the president's soon-to-be-unveiled jobs plan). That's White House "Principal Deputy Press Secretary" Joshua Earnest (Earnest! Did Dickens name this guy?). I just shudder to think that the president is going to head into this fall's battle over the economy while sticking to these soupy clichés and the worldview behind them. How much evidence do they need to see that Republicans will return to Washington imbued with the spirit of partisan hostility? When will Obama ever utter fighting words?

His life is marked by just one fighting moment, when he went after and killed Osama. And if he didn't hate OBL he wouldn't be human.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


After jobs speech dust-up, Obama agrees to change date (MSNBC, 8/31/11)

President Barack Obama agrees to delay a planned jobs speech to a joint session of Congress by one day after the House speaker objects to the date the White House originally sought. [...]

Obama's address still gives him a grand stage to unveil his economic agenda, but it falls on the same evening as the opening game of the National Football League season.

Wouldn't you watch even Browns/Raiders instead?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Stoke's poor reputation distorts the reality (When Saturday Comes, 9/01/11)

Stoke's progress since their promotion was illustrated by victory over FC Thun and undefeated progress into the group stage of the Europa League. Unlike some other managers, Pulis greeted European football as "something new, very fresh and we're enjoying every minute of it". The most recent event was Ryan Shotton's vigorous challenge on Ben Foster leading to Stoke's winning goal against West Brom. Foster's part in the goal led Roy Hodgson to suggest the goalkeeper "could have been brave... but unfortunately he decided to turn away".

Perhaps it's the Shotton goal that reveals the dilemma. Stoke are seen to be punching above their weight, making the most of it and regularly giving "bigger clubs" a bloody nose. But, as the detractors would point out, the blood is not always metaphorical. It seems too easy to condemn or sneer and patronise with "they can play some good stuff as well" as many pundits do.

Some see them as going from "back to front" too often, relying on set pieces (including throw-ins) and bullying opponents. But it's just as easy to identify old-fashioned virtues in their use of width and directness. And the Foster incident reveals a simple truth - players need to be brave and maybe Stoke test that courage to the limit. The difficulty is that reputation gets in the way of forming any kind of balanced view, in much the same way that the harrowing sight of Aaron Ramsey's injury has, for some, become the dominant visual memory of Stoke's time in the Premier League.

The broader view is to see Stoke as a club that has made progress without the huge investments that some more successful clubs have enjoyed. Owner Peter Coates has sunk a chunk of his bet365 fortune into the club - from the £10 million it took to buy the club back and settle the outstanding debts in 2006 through to the net investment in players now approaching £50m - yesterday's transfer dealings brought in Cameron Jerome and Peter Crouch. Equally, the club's care in building a squad and their handling of Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant deserves praise. For all the apparent idiosyncrasy of Pulis's approach to managing James Beattie, his two wide men are playing the best and most settled football of their careers.

Physically strong through the middle, tall in the box, service from out wide, dominant on set pieces....Pulis ought to be coaching the US Men's team.