January 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


What's behind Romney's romp? (Jon Cohen, Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement, 1/31/12, Washington Post)

This time around, Romney was able to beat back some demons from his 2008 loss to John McCain -- most notably among voters of Cuban background. In 2008, Romney won just 9 percent of Cubans, but this year he is winning nearly six in 10 Cubans in preliminary exit polls. He beats Gingrich by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


Mitt Romney Romps to Victory in the Florida Primary (Howard Kurtz, Jan 31, 2012, Daily Beast)

With more than a third of the vote counted, Romney almost had a majority--48 percent--far eclipsing Gingrich, with 31 percent. Rick Santorum was at 13 percent and Ron Paul had 7 percent. If those margins hold, Romney will have drawn more support than Gingrich and Santorum combined, undercutting Newt's argument that they were dividing a larger bloc of voters than backed Romney.

Romney may not have vanquished all conservative qualms about his candidacy, but in recovering from his drubbing in South Carolina, Romney has found a winning message that, combined with his money and organization, make him hard to beat in a 50-state contest. In fact, there's a strong case to be made that Gingrich forced the cautious and calculating Romney to become a stronger candidate.

Two of three Florida voters say they back the Tea Party, according to exit polls, and nearly half were evangelicals, so this was a clearly conservative audience. And many clearly did not buy Gingrich's rhetoric that his opponent was merely a "Massachusetts moderate." Romney also bested his rival in the NBC and CNN debates, and two-thirds of those in the exit polls said debates were the most important or one of the most important factors in their decision.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Jindal's Education Moon Shot (WSJ, 1/30/12)

Louisiana is already one of 12 states (including Washington, D.C.) that offer school vouchers, but its program benefits fewer than 2,000 students in New Orleans. Governor Jindal would extend eligibility to any low-income student whose school gets a C, D or F grade from state administrators. That's almost 400,000 students--a bit more than half the statewide population--who could escape failing schools for private or virtual schools, career-based programs or institutions of higher education.

Funding for these vouchers ("scholarships" is the poll-tested term) would come not from a new fund, as in New Orleans, but from what the state already spends on public education per capita. So every student leaving a failing school would take about $8,500 (on average) with him, hitting the bureaucracy where it hurts. This is called competition, that crucial quality missing where monopolies reign.

Post-Katrina New Orleans is already the nation's leading charter-school zone, with 80% of city students enrolled, academic performance improving dramatically, and plans to go all-charter by 2013. To spread the model statewide, the Governor would create new regional boards for authorizing charters and offer fast-track authorization to high-performing operators such as KIPP. He'd also give charters the same access to public facilities as traditional public schools.

As for tenure, Mr. Jindal would grant it only to teachers who are rated "highly effective" five years in a row, meaning the top 10% of performers. And tenure wouldn't equal lifetime protection: A tenured teacher who rates in the bottom 10% ("ineffective") in any year would return to probationary status. Ineffective teachers would receive no pay raise. Louisiana would also ban the "last in, first out" practice under which younger teachers are dismissed first, regardless of performance.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Segregation Hits Historic Low: Flight From Rust Belt Cities, Immigration Boost Integration in Cities, Study Says (MIRIAM JORDAN, 1/31/12, WSJ)

An exodus of African-Americans from struggling industrial cities such as Detroit and the growth of Sunbelt states have pushed racial segregation in U.S. metropolitan areas to its lowest level in a century, according to a new study.

The report, released by the conservative Manhattan Institute, said U.S. cities are more integrated now than at any time since 1910, based on analysis of census data from neighborhoods.

Fifty years ago, nearly half the black population lived in a ghetto, the study said, while today that proportion has shrunk to 20%. All-white neighborhoods in U.S. cities are effectively extinct, according to the report.

Immigration and gentrification have helped convert ghettos into racially mixed communities and contributed to diversifying suburbia, said economists Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and Jacob Vigdor of Duke University, who co-wrote the study. "Segregation is as low as we have ever seen it," said Mr. Vigdor. "It's an unprecedented scenario."

Convert all public housing programs into vouchers and empty out the rest of the ghetto.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Gasoline consumption falls in California (Nancy Rivera Brooks, January 31, 2012, LA Times)

Gasoline consumption in California totaled 1.23 billion gallons in October, down 1.8% from the 1.26 gallons used the previous October, according to a report released Tuesday by California State Board of Equalization Chairman Jerome E. Horton. The last time gas use increased was in January 2011, when consumption rose 2.7%. Consumption was flat in February.

"High gas prices appear to be directly affecting fuel consumption in California," Horton said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


THE BUDGET AND ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: FISCAL YEARS 2012 TO 2022 (Congressional Budget Office, JANUARY 2012)

CBO projects a $1.1 trillion federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2012 if current laws remain unchanged. Measured as a share of the nation's output (gross domestic product, or GDP), that shortfall of 7.0 percent is nearly 2 percentage points below the deficit recorded in 2011, but still higher than any deficit between 1947 and 2008. Over the next few years, projected deficits in CBO's baseline decline markedly, dropping to under $200 billion and averaging 1.5 percent of GDP over the 2013-2022 period.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Israel Praises Muslim Brotherhood (Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, 1/29/2012, INN)

Israel apparently has decided not to go head-to-head against an Egyptian regime headed by the radical Muslim Brotherhood and has congratulated it for its efforts to achieve freedom, democracy and economic development.

Jordan's king meets political leader of Hamas (Tobias Buck, 1/29/12, Financial Times)

The leader of the Hamas political bureau held a rare meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan on Sunday in the latest sign that the Palestinian Islamist group is finding growing acceptance as a force in regional politics. [...]

Analysts said the visit to Amman was evidence of the new status accorded to Hamas, but also of Jordan's desire to strengthen ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the pan-Arab Islamist movement closely allied with Hamas.

"Jordan has decided that it is time to restore its relationship with Hamas. It wants to show that it is taking an inclusive approach," said Oraib al-Rantawi, the director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies.

The Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition force in the kingdom, has formed an important part of a year-long popular campaign calling for economic and political reform in Jordan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Fan interrupts Everton with handcuffs (AP, 1/31/12)

A fan interrupted Everton's home match against Manchester City for several minutes Tuesday night when he handcuffed himself to a goal post.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM

E OR G?:

1. Hipster, or Gay? (Urban Dictionary)

Ever have a hard time telling if the man you see across the bar from you at your favorite artisan coffee house is a hispter, or gay?

Ever have a hard time telling if the woman listening to alternative music sitting on a park bench with her 30 year old bike next to her is a hipster, or gay?

Ever see people sitting around trying to distinguish those walking by: hipster, or gay?

A game commonly played by residents of urban settings, college campuses, and visitors to hipster enclaves. 

When we were in the Mediterranean last summer we called it European or Gay?

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


A Fighter Abroad: In 1810, a freed slave named Tom Molineaux fought in one of the most important fights in the history of boxing. This is his story. (Brian Phillips, January 26, 2012, Grantland)

On December 10, 1810, in a muddy field around 25 miles from London, a fight took place that was so dramatic, controversial, and ferocious that it continues to haunt the imagination of boxing more than 200 years later. One of the fighters was the greatest champion of his age, a bareknuckle boxer so tough he reportedly trained by punching the bark off trees. The other was a freed slave, an illiterate African-American who had made the voyage across the Atlantic to seek glory in the ring. Rumors about the match had circulated for weeks, transfixing England. Thousands of fans braved a pounding rain to watch the bout. Some of the first professional sportswriters were on hand to record it.

It was the greatest fight of its era. But its significance went beyond that. Even at the time, it seemed to be about more than boxing, more than sport itself. More than anything, the contest between a white English champion and a black American upstart seemed to be about an urgent question of identity: whether character could be determined in the boxing ring, whether sport could confirm a set of virtues by which a nation defined itself.

The fight cemented a set of stock characters -- the fast-talking, ultra-talented, self-destructive black athlete; the Great White Hope; the canny coach who's half devoted to his pupil and half exploiting him -- that have echoed down the centuries.1 In fact, so much about the fight feels familiar today, from the role of race to the role of the media, that if you had to name a date, you could make a good case that December 10, 1810, was the moment sport as we know it began.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Values Inequality: "Coming Apart" argues that a large swath of America--poor and working-class whites--is turning away from traditional values and losing ground. (W. BRADFORD WILCOX, 1/29/12, WSJ)

Focusing on whites to avoid conflating race with class, Mr. Murray contends instead that a large swath of white America--poor and working-class whites, who make up approximately 30% of the white population--is turning away from the core values that have sustained the American experiment. At the same time, the top 20% of the white population has quietly been recovering its cultural moorings after a flirtation with the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, argues Mr. Murray in his elegiac book, the greatest source of inequality in America now is not economic; it is cultural.

He is particularly concerned with the ways in which working-class whites are losing touch with what he calls the four "founding virtues"--industriousness, honesty (including abiding by the law), marriage and religion, all of which have played a vital role in the life of the republic.

Consider what has happened with marriage. The destructive family revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s has gradually eased--at least in the nation's most privileged precincts. In the past 20 years, divorce rates have come down, marital quality (self-reported happiness in marriage) has risen and nonmarital childbearing (out-of-wedlock births) is a rare occurrence among the white upper class. Marriage is not losing ground in America's best neighborhoods.

But it's a very different story in blue-collar America. Since the 1980s, divorce rates have risen, marital quality has fallen and nonmarital childbearing is skyrocketing among the white lower class. Less than 5% of white college-educated women have children outside of marriage, compared with approximately 40% of white women with just a high-school diploma. The bottom line is that a growing marriage divide now runs through the heart of white America.

Mr. Murray tells similar stories about crime, religion and work. Who would have guessed, for instance, that the white upper class is now much more likely to be found in church on any given Sunday than the white working class? Or that, just before the recession struck, white men in the 30-49 age bracket with a high-school diploma were about four times more likely to have simply stopped looking for work, compared with their college-educated peers? By Mr. Murray's account, faith and industriousness are in increasingly short supply among working-class whites.

One assumes--hopes--that just as they followed their betters into bad habits, they'll follow back towards traditional values.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


New York Giants vs. New England Patriots: How the teams line up: How the Giants and the Patriots compare for Super Bowl 2012 in offense, defense, special teams and coaching staffs (Paolo Bandini, 1/29/12, The Guadian))

Both of these teams are built to pass the ball first and foremost, but in different ways. Tom Brady's top three receiving targets in New England are a natural slot receiver - Wes Welker - plus two tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. None are blessed with the sort of straight line speed to simply outrun defensive backs, and each does his best work over the middle of the field - taking short passes and turning them into big gains. All three ranked in the top 10 in the league this season for yards gained after the catch.

Only one New York Giant features on that list - Victor Cruz - a player who has been oft-compared to Welker in recent weeks. The tight end Jake Ballard can also be a productive enough outlet for quarterback Eli Manning over the middle of the field but this team has been most dangerous throwing outside. Taller and quicker (though, let's be clear, that is not to say better) than Welker, Cruz is more than capable of working the sidelines, while his fellow receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are both legitimate deep threats.

Manning, furthermore, has the arm strength to find them. According to stats compiled by Pro Football Focus, he led the league this season with 43 completions on throws that travelled more than 20 yards downfield before reaching their target. He also had the highest number of completions and best completion percentage of any quarterback in the league throwing 10-19 yards outside the numbers.

For overall production, however, the Giants' passing offence has still lagged behind New England's, Brady throwing for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns to Manning's 4,933 yards and 29 scores. The Giants quarterback was also intercepted more times (16) than his New England counterpart (12).

The Patriots were more effective on the ground, too, their 20th-ranked rushing offence still comfortably outshining a New York unit that was statistically the worst in the league.

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January 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:39 PM


Hill Poll: Illegal immigrants' children deserve shot at citizenship, say likely voters (Ramsey Cox, 01/30/12, The Hill)

Nearly half of registered voters say illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children should be offered a path to citizenship, and that rises to 73 percent for those who serve in the military, according to The Hill Poll.

Both ideas stem from the DREAM Act, which congressional Republicans killed in 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


What You (Really) Need to Know (LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS, 1/20/12, NY Times)

[I]t is interesting to speculate: Suppose the educational system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society and what we now understand about how people learn. How will what universities teach be different? Here are some guesses and hopes. [...]

5. The world is much more open, and events abroad affect the lives of Americans more than ever before. This makes it essential that the educational experience breed cosmopolitanism -- that students have international experiences, and classes in the social sciences draw on examples from around the world. It seems logical, too, that more in the way of language study be expected of students. I am not so sure.

English's emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile. While there is no gainsaying the insights that come from mastering a language, it will over time become less essential in doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Jonathan Haidt Decodes the Tribal Psychology of Politics: "Liberals need to be shaken," he says. They "misunderstand conservatives far more than the other way around." (Marc Parry, 1/29/12, The Chronicle Review)

Now Haidt wants to change how people think about the culture wars. He first plunged into political research out of frustration with John Kerry's failure to connect with voters in 2004. A partisan liberal, the University of Virginia professor hoped a better grasp of moral psychology could help Democrats sharpen their knives. But a funny thing happened. Haidt, now a visiting professor at New York University, emerged as a centrist who believes that "conservatives have a more accurate understanding of human nature than do liberals."

In March, Haidt will publish The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon). By laying out the science of morality--how it binds people into "groupish righteousness" and blinds them to their own biases--he hopes to drain some vitriol from public debate and enable conversations across ideological divides.

Practically speaking, that often means needling liberals while explaining conservatives and religious people, and treading a fine line between provocation and treason. Haidt works in a field so left-wing that, when he once polled roughly 1,000 colleagues at a social-psychology conference, 80 to 90 percent classified themselves as liberal. Only three people identified as conservative. [...]

Meanwhile, though Haidt still supports President Obama, he chides Democrats for a moral vision that alienates many working-class, rural, and religious voters. Though he's an atheist, he lambasts the liberal scientists of New Atheism for focusing on what religious people believe rather than how religion binds them into communities. And he rakes his own social-psychology colleagues over the coals for being "a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering" and for making the field's nonliberal members feel like closeted homosexuals. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Facing Second Loss to Gingrich, Romney Went on Warpath (JIM RUTENBERG and JEFF ZELENY, 1/29/12, NY Times)

Facing the unthinkable here just seven days ago -- a second loss in a row to Newt Gingrich  -- Mitt Romney's campaign team hatched a two-part plan to win in Florida: make Newt mad and Mitt meaner.

In a call last Sunday morning, just hours after Mr. Romney's double-digit loss to Mr. Gingrich in the South Carolina primary, the Romney team outlined the new approach to the candidate. Put aside the more acute focus on President Obama and narrow in on Mr. Gingrich.

Find lines of attack that could goad Mr. Gingrich into angry responses and rally mainstream Republicans. Swarm Gingrich campaign events to rattle him. Have Mr. Romney drop his above-the-fray persona and carry the fight directly to his opponent, especially in two critical debates scheduled for the week.

The results of that strategy, carried out by a veteran squad of strategists and operatives assembled by Mr. Romney to deal with just this kind of moment, have been on striking display here.

No one considers Mitt an especially adept politician, so the ease with which he played Newt is revealing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Population Bomb: Japan Running Out of People (PALASH R. GHOSH, January 30, 2012, IB Times)
The government's Health and Welfare ministry just reported that Japan's population may shrink by one-third over the next fifty years (from the current 128-million to 87-million) By that time, about 40 percent of the people will be of retirement age. Moreover, Japanese life expectancy will continue to climb (up 84.2 years for men in 2060, and 90.0 years for women). [...]

As of 2008, the national birthrate was 1.37 children per woman, according to the Japanese health ministry. If this trend continues, Japan's population will drop from 127 million currently to 95 million by 2050.

Simply put, Japan has too many non-working elderly people and too few people of working age to support them. As this discrepancy widens in the coming years, the costs of taking care of the aged will become an ever-greater burden on the already-weary Japanese of prime working age.

"We have never seen a country of the size and importance of Japan face these kinds of demographic issues before," said Dr. Stephen Bronars, Ph.D., a Washington D.C,-based senior economist with Welch Consulting, a labor & employment consultancy.

Japan's overall public debt is more than twice its entire $5-trillion economic output, which far exceeds any other industrialized country. A few days ago, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promised to push through tax and social security reforms to tackle the mountainous debt. Among other measures, Noda wants to boost the 5 percent sales tax in two steps -- to 8 percent in 2014 and 10 percent by 2015.

"As things stand right now, the burden will be too heavy for future generations," Noda told lawmakers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Becoming Lana Del Rey has served Lizzy Grant well (Fiona Shepherd, 30 January 2012, The Scotsman)

[T}hese being cynical times, little old Lana Del Rey generated as much hate as love, with the blogosphere going into a flap over whether or not her pillow lips were real - a bogus argument which conveniently forgets that pop music is riddled with artifice and that Grant is hardly the first singer/songwriter to adopt a persona and run a styling brush through her hair.

In fact, Lana Del Rey is as fine a pop creation as we have seen and heard these past few years. Grant shrewdly chose an evocative stage name, describing Del Rey as a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra", coined the term "Hollywood sadcore" as a pretty accurate summation of her sound, and took a leaf out of Lauren Bacall's book by deliberately lowering her voice to the sort of vampy alto drawl which kills you when it calls you "honey".

Her music is a cohesive blend of old- school cool and 21st-century pop, less eloquent and audacious than the songs of Amy Winehouse, but fresher than the prematurely aged MOR of Adele. On this much anticipated release - the first "proper" Lana Del Rey album - she repeatedly trots out the same themes (amour fou), characters (bad boys and wild girls) and situations (dressing up nice, drinking liquor and/or getting the hell out of town in a Pontiac), to which she adds a liberal dusting of standard American iconography (yup, that means James Dean).

Both the title track and Blue Jeans are cut from the same cloth as Video Games with their rapturous recipe of trip-hop beats, plangent guitar twang, cinematic strings, fatalistic romance and Del Rey's come-hither voice. But it's not all a David Lynch soundtrack. Off To The Races is a confident modern pop song, suffused with R&B style, lyrical sass and boasting a packed itinerary of references which takes in both Coney Island and Riker's Island on the east coast, and Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip. Vocally, Del Rey also covers her très cool bases, channelling not just Winehouse, but Patti Smith, Karen O and Santigold.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Future Shock: Techno-Paranoia Narrated by Orson Welles (Maria Popova, 1/12/11, Brain Pickings)

In 1970, sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler, the Ray Kurzweil of his day, wrote a book entitled Future Shock, which proposed a certain distressing psychological state , induced by change so rapid the human mind can't digest it, and introduced the notion of "information overload" for the first time. In 1972, the book, already a bestseller, was adapted into a little-known documentary of the same name, narrated by Orson Welles. Exploring the shift from industrial society to what Toffler calls "super-industrial society," the film tackles notions of consumerism and information overload -- think BBC's The Century of the Self meets Nicholas Carr's The Shallows.

The film is now available on YouTube in five parts, offering a fascinating glimpse of a conflicted society on the brink of a new information era, the very cultural landscape we now inhabit.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


The Coming Tech-led Boom: Three breakthroughs are poised to transform this century as much as telephony and electricity did the last. (MARK P. MILLS AND JULIO M. OTTINO, 1/30/12, WSJ)

In January 2012, we sit again on the cusp of three grand technological transformations with the potential to rival that of the past century. All find their epicenters in America: big data, smart manufacturing and the wireless revolution.

Information technology has entered a big-data era. Processing power and data storage are virtually free. A hand-held device, the iPhone, has computing power that shames the 1970s-era IBM mainframe. The Internet is evolving into the "cloud"--a network of thousands of data centers any one of which makes a 1990 supercomputer look antediluvian. From social media to medical revolutions anchored in metadata analyses, wherein astronomical feats of data crunching enable heretofore unimaginable services and businesses, we are on the cusp of unimaginable new markets.

The second transformation? Smart manufacturing. This is the first structural shift since Henry Ford launched the economic power of "mass production." While we see evidence already in automation and information systems applied to supply-chain management, we are just entering an era where the very fabrication of physical things is revolutionized by emerging materials science. Engineers will soon design and build from the molecular level, optimizing features and even creating new materials, radically improving quality and reducing waste. [...]

Finally, there is the unfolding communications revolution where soon most humans on the planet will be connected wirelessly. Never before have a billion people--soon billions more--been able to communicate, socialize and trade in real time.

The implications of the radical collapse in the cost of wireless connectivity are as big as those following the dawn of telegraphy/telephony. Coupled with the cloud, the wireless world provides cheap connectivity, information and processing power to nearly everyone, everywhere. This introduces both rapid change--e.g., the Arab Spring--and great opportunity. Again, both the launch and epicenter of this technology reside in America.

The forces of structural deflation are overwhelming.
Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Florida Hispanic Support Puts Spring in Romney's Step (Scott Conroy - January 30, 2012, Real Clear Politics)

He beamed as his Spanish-speaking son Craig said a few words to the crowd in their native language, and the candidate's grandson Parker extended his own "Hola."

Romney's appearance here was one of three well-attended South Florida rallies he hosted just two days before the pivotal primary on Tuesday.

As his lead over Newt Gingrich in the RCP average of Florida polls has stretched to more than 11 percent, Romney brimmed with confidence as he played to the boisterous, largely Cuban-American crowd.

"If I'm president of the United States, I will stand with free people around the world and speak out for them and do everything in our power to bring freedom to the people of Cuba, and the people of Venezuela, and the people of Iran," he said. "We will stand with freedom fighters all over the world."

His trouble with winning over Hispanic voters was a key reason Romney lost the 2008 make-or-break Florida primary to John McCain.

But with all of the momentum apparently on Romney's side this time, campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said that Hispanics were responding well to the candidate's economy-heavy message.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Who most wants independence for Scotland? The English...: If the Union referendum were held south of the border, Alex Salmond would be more likely to get his way (Andrew Rawnsley, 1/28/12, The Observer)

It would be wrong, though, to conclude that the people of England want their own referendum in order to try to hold Scotland in the Union against its will. The opposite would be closer to the truth. Another recent poll, by YouGov for Prospect, indicated that only a small minority of English voters would be all that bothered by a break-up. Most were relaxed, and rather a lot positively embraced, the idea of a divorce. By 52% to 32%, English voters favoured either maximum devolution for Scotland or independence - a bigger margin of support for the SNP prospectus than there is in Scotland itself.

Research by the Institute for Public Policy Research suggests some reasons why. The number of people in England identifying themselves as English rather than British is rising and with it is a growing feeling that England gets a raw deal from the Union. There is English irritation about the financial deal that allocates more public spending per head to Scotland. In my experience, a sense of unfairness is felt most keenly in northern England where people look on with understandable annoyance at the superior political clout and more generous cash transfers enjoyed by the Scots.

As the debate about the Union grows more intense, an English resentment that has simmered for years could well come to a boiling point. The YouGov poll found the English feel that the Scots get a better deal from the Union by a whopping margin of 11 to 1.

Also influencing English attitudes towards the Union is the belief that England could get on very well without Scotland. On the rare occasions when any politician bothers to address the English on the Union, they usually contend that it enhances global influence. This is not an argument that the voters buy into. Less than a fifth of English voters think that Scottish independence would diminish the rest of Britain's clout in the world. Without Scotland, the UK would shrink fairly dramatically in geographic size, but not all that much in terms of population. There are roughly 5.5 million Scots, which is rather less than the population of London. The ranking on the economic world league table would not much change. England and Scotland already play their football and rugby in separate teams. The departure of Scotland might make it a bit harder to justify having a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but that has been an anomaly for years now and yet we have somehow contrived to hold on to it. YouGov found that more than two-thirds of English respondents felt that the departure of Scotland would make no difference at all to the rest of Britain's international standing.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


In Defense of Drones: A Historical Argument (David Bell, January 27, 2012, New Republic)

Once upon a time, American military might was symbolized by the heavy boots of the Marine Corps, stomping ashore to reestablish order in unruly parts of the world. Today, increasingly, it is symbolized by unmanned drone aircraft, controlled from thousands of miles away, dropping bombs on accused terrorists. And to judge by the Obama Administration's new defense plan, released earlier this month, this shift will be strongly reinforced in the years to come. The plan aims to cut troops, ships and planes while concentrating our military energies more than ever on drones, spy technology, cyber warfare, jammers, and special operations forces.

With its explicit embrace of advanced technology over traditional methods of combat, the strategy seems designed to provoke the increasingly vocal critics who doubt the morality, effectiveness, and political implications of "remote control warfare." Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell, making the inevitable comparison to video games, has argued that "to accept killing far from the situation of battlefields where there is an understanding of necessity is really ethically troubling." The Economist, hardly a bastion of radicalism, has similarly asked: "if war can be waged by one side without any risk to the life and limb of its combatants, has a vital form of restraint been removed?"

Indeed, the really important question becomes: how can we justify allowing tyrants to rule anywhere when we can so easily remove them?

January 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Coughlin vs. Belichick: A Giant clash (Ian O'Connor, 1/29/12, ESPNNewYork.com)

In his first major job as a head coach, Tom Coughlin worked hard at being the most anal-retentive man in an anal-retentive field. He would make the predawn drive to his Boston College office in deafening silence, never allowing himself to enjoy an old Sinatra song or listen to a weather report, not when the radio might distract him from the day's master plan.

He would arrive at 6:05 a.m. -- sharp -- and do what he had to do to restore the Eagles to national prominence. If that meant mapping out drills designed to make players puke their way into shape, Tom Coughlin shape, so be it. Every move was part of a purpose, and every purpose was part of a schedule the coach religiously followed until he went to bed at 11 p.m. -- sharp.

On one November day in 1992, Coughlin pointed to his desk and told a visitor to his Chestnut Hill office, "I can pull stuff out of drawers and tell you what I'm doing every minute of every day for a whole calendar year." He wasn't kidding. Tom Coughlin wouldn't kid about something like that.

He ended up at BC after the New York Giants took the Super Bowl from the Buffalo Bills on Scott Norwood's wide right. Coughlin was Bill Parcells' wide receivers coach, and one of his guys, Mark Ingram, made one of the game's biggest plays, breaking five tackles on third-and-13 for a first down.

But the biggest plays came from a Giants defense charged to stop a fast-breaking Buffalo offense that had just beaten the Raiders, then of Los Angeles, in the AFC Championship Game by a 51-3 count. Bill Belichick ran that defense, and in his first unit meeting that week in Tampa, Fla., he laid out a strategy that sounded like a practical joke.

"We want Thurman Thomas to run for over 100 yards," Belichick told his players. "I will quit this business if Thurman Thomas runs for over 100 yards and we lose."

Carl Banks remembered the initial reaction in the meeting room. "We almost lost it," he said Saturday by phone. "Bill was still young then, and you heard a few F-bombs from players in the room.

"But then Bill backed it up with phenomenal statistics. Most coaches only go back four games, and yet he went back nine games and said, 'Thurman Thomas gets his yards receiving in the flat, on swing passes. The Bills don't have a traditional running game. And if they've been doing it this way nine weeks straight, they're not changing it for this game.' ... Bill was dead serious, but at first we thought he was kidding."

Thomas rushed for 135 yards, and it turned out the Giants' defensive coordinator wasn't kidding. Bill Belichick wouldn't kid about something like that.

It was a great night for a great Parcells staff loaded with former and future NFL and college head coaches. Belichick. Coughlin. Ron Erhardt. Romeo Crennel. Al Groh. Ray Handley. Charlie Weis.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Everything You Know About Peak Oil Is Wrong: We're not running out of resources. Quite the contrary. And in our abundance lies a paradox (Charles Kenny, 1/26/12, Business Week)

Forty years later, however, rereading Limits to Growth invokes a growing sense of irony. Far from being depleted, worldwide reserves of minerals continue to climb. New technologies suggest the dawn of U.S. energy independence. The biggest concern isn't that the planet is running out of resources--it's having too many for the planet's own good.

Start with oil. In 1971, the Limits to Growth team forecast that the world's supply would run out 10 years from today. And yet according to renowned oil analyst Daniel Yergin, technology advances and new discoveries have allowed oil reserves worldwide to keep growing. For every barrel of oil produced in the world from 2007 to 2009, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added. The World Energy Council reports that global proven recoverable reserves of natural gas liquids and crude oil amounted to 1.2 trillion barrels in 2010. That's enough to last another 38 years at current usage. Add in shale oil, and that's an additional 4.8 trillion barrels, or a century and a half's worth of supply at present usage rates. Tar sands, including some huge Canadian deposits, add perhaps 6 trillion barrels more.

We're awash in more than oil. One British study from the 1930s predicted an acute global shortage of copper "within a generation." Not so much. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates global land-based copper resources to be 3 billion tons or more--the equivalent of 185,000 years at current production. That's almost double the estimate of resources from 11 years ago, which means the number may have further to climb. And when we do finally run out of land-based supplies, there are still the undersea sources to use up.

The long-term picture for phosphate, vital for fertilizer production, is also reassuring, despite a price spike in 2008: Estimated global phosphate reserves climbed from 11 million tons in 1995 to 65 million tons in 2010--equal to 369 years of current production. The list goes on: Current resource estimates suggest it will take 347 years to run out of helium, 890 for beryllium, centuries for chromium, more than a millennium for lithium and strontium. And for those Americans worried about the price of makeup, resources of talc in the U.S. alone are enough to provide more than 1,000 years of supplies at current rates of domestic production.

If we keep on using more minerals, and we don't do a better job of recycling them, and plans to mine the moon don't work out, we'll surely run out of supplies one day. But for pretty much every vital mineral resource, that day looks to be a long way off, which is great news for the world economy. Limits to Growth suggested the world would be on the verge of complete economic collapse around about now, with industrial output falling to its level of 1900 by the end of this century, as resources vital to sustaining a modern economy dried up. However dire today's global financial crisis, we are nowhere near such a doomsday scenario.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Forget global warming - it's Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again) (DAVID ROSE, 29th January 2012, Daily Mail)


The supposed 'consensus' on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


How Much Energy Do You Waste Charging Your Cellphone? (David Biello, January 29, 2012, Scientific American)

If you've ever felt a charger when it's doing its job you know how warm they get. That's because they're inefficient: wasting electricity as heat as well as feeding the battery. But new standards recently adopted in California aim to change all that.

Earlier this month, the California Energy Commission voted to adopt minimum energy efficiency standards for these ubiquitous devices. The Golden State alone boasts 170 million such chargers (pdf)--not including the team in San Diego--or more than four for each resident of the state.

The new energy efficient chargers will save Californians an estimated $306 million a year in electricity costs, as well as enough electricity to power 350,000 homes for a year.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Kenny Dalglish can savour the week Liverpool's whole mood changed (Kevin McCarra, 1/28/12, guardian.co.uk)

When Liverpool's followers look back on the week's events they will not be so dull as to debate the details. The surge that is pounding through their minds even now is of the momentum that Kenny Dalglish's side established after the interval here. It was reminiscent of the displays inspired in other days by the beaten manager.

Sir Alex Ferguson is more often associated with the ravenous ambition and limitless endeavour that distinguished Dalglish's men in the second half. The aftermath now sees the United manager at far greater risk of a trophyless campaign. The tie was not distinguished, but the sheer impetus of Liverpool hinted that their old standing need not be out of reach permanently.

Some aspects of what was, in truth, an unkempt match can be mocked, but the victors will think only of their vindication. The extra energy with which they pummelled their opponents late in the match spoke of a team that realised its moment had come. Andy Carroll was the epitome of that.

Once again he did not score but he helped to settle the outcome by acting precisely as he is supposed to do, glancing the long ball from his goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, into the path of another forward, the substitute Dirk Kuyt, to hit the winner while Patrice Evra was stranded out of position.

If United's thoughts were drifting towards a replay by that time, most of the crowd would have been in a similar frame of mind. The hosts, however, borrowed from the Old Trafford repertoire by somehow insisting on victory. At such a moment we recognise the fallibility that the leading clubs hide from us most of the time.

It is a little disconcerting to recognise that Paul Scholes, a retiree until his sudden return to the field, was perhaps the most accomplished performer while his stamina held up. United got 75 minutes of the technique and sheer talent that bolsters a side. On this occasion, that did not suffice.

Liverpool were the inexhaustible force. Dalglish did everything in his power to sustain that intensity. The captain, Steven Gerrard, was even sacrificed after 72 minutes so that Craig Bellamy could bring more verve to bear. The latter, so important in sending the team to that Carling Cup final with his goal against City, would help in sustaining the momentum that proved too much for United.

...that when the manager was forced out of his defensive posture into an attacking one it radically altered the game. Playing an opponent with no striker who can create a shot and no central defenders who can stop one, it was unforgivable to play a lone striker yourself.  All you had to do was account for Valencia and there was no chance of Man U scoring. 

The King is simply overmatched by the modern game.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Poll: Romney holds big lead over Gingrich in Florida  (MARC CAPUTO, 1/29/12, MIAMIHERALD.COM)

Gingrich is badly trailing Romney by 11 percentage points, garnering just 31 percent of likely Republican voters heading into Tuesday's presidential primary, according to a Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll released late Saturday night.

President Barack Obama should be wary as well. Romney beats Obama by a 48-44 percent spread -- a lead inside the error-margin, however -- in a theoretical general-election matchup, the poll shows.

In the Republican primary, Romney's lead looks insurmountable. It cuts across geographic, ethnic and gender lines. And the poll indicates Romney's attack on Gingrich as a Freddie Mac insider is a hit with GOP voters.

Ronald Reagan finished third--behind even John Anderson--in the primary after NH in 1980.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


It's the end of the world as they know it: How growing numbers of American 'preppers' are getting ready for Armageddon (by stockpiling food and guns) (REUTERS,  23rd January 2012)
When Patty Tegeler looks out the window of her home overlooking the Appalachian Mountains in southwestern Virginia, she sees trouble on the horizon.

'In an instant, anything can happen,' she told Reuters. 

'And I firmly believe that you have to be prepared.'

Ms Tegeler is among a growing subculture of Americans who refer to themselves informally as 'preppers.' 

Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm.

They are following in the footsteps of hippies in the 1960s who set up communes to separate themselves from what they saw as a materialistic society, and the survivalists in the 1990s who were hoping to escape the dictates of what they perceived as an increasingly secular and oppressive government.

Preppers, though are, worried about no government.

Ms Tegeler, 57, has turned her home in rural Virginia into a 'survival center,' complete with a large generator, portable heaters, water tanks, and a two-year supply of freeze-dried food that her sister recently gave her as a birthday present. 

She says that in case of emergency, she could survive indefinitely in her home. And she thinks that emergency could come soon.
'I think this economy is about to fall apart,' she said.

A wide range of vendors market products to preppers, mainly online. They sell everything from water tanks to guns to survival skills.

Conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck seems to preach preppers' message when he tells listeners: 'It's never too late to prepare for the end of the world as we know it.'

Don't you just assume that Mr. Beck sees this as a way to drive up gold prices?

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Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind?: Children today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. The result: A lot of teenage weirdness. Alison Gopnik on how we might readjust adolescence. (ALISON GOPNIK, 1/28/12, WSJ)

The second crucial system in our brains has to do with control; it channels and harnesses all that seething energy. In particular, the prefrontal cortex reaches out to guide other parts of the brain, including the parts that govern motivation and emotion. This is the system that inhibits impulses and guides decision-making, that encourages long-term planning and delays gratification.

This control system depends much more on learning. It becomes increasingly effective throughout childhood and continues to develop during adolescence and adulthood, as we gain more experience. You come to make better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then correcting them. You get to be a good planner by making plans, implementing them and seeing the results again and again. Expertise comes with experience. As the old joke has it, the answer to the tourist's question "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" is "Practice, practice, practice."

In the distant (and even the not-so-distant) historical past, these systems of motivation and control were largely in sync. In gatherer-hunter and farming societies, childhood education involves formal and informal apprenticeship. Children have lots of chances to practice the skills that they need to accomplish their goals as adults, and so to become expert planners and actors. The cultural psychologist Barbara Rogoff studied this kind of informal education in a Guatemalan Indian society, where she found that apprenticeship allowed even young children to become adept at difficult and dangerous tasks like using a machete.

In the past, to become a good gatherer or hunter, cook or caregiver, you would actually practice gathering, hunting, cooking and taking care of children all through middle childhood and early adolescence--tuning up just the prefrontal wiring you'd need as an adult. But you'd do all that under expert adult supervision and in the protected world of childhood, where the impact of your inevitable failures would be blunted. When the motivational juice of puberty arrived, you'd be ready to go after the real rewards, in the world outside, with new intensity and exuberance, but you'd also have the skill and control to do it effectively and reasonably safely.

In contemporary life, the relationship between these two systems has changed dramatically. Puberty arrives earlier, and the motivational system kicks in earlier too.

At the same time, contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they'll have to perform as grown-ups. Children have increasingly little chance to practice even basic skills like cooking and caregiving. Contemporary adolescents and pre-adolescents often don't do much of anything except go to school. Even the paper route and the baby-sitting job have largely disappeared.

The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences. The pediatrician and developmental psychologist Ronald Dahl at the University of California, Berkeley, has a good metaphor for the result: Today's adolescents develop an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.

This doesn't mean that adolescents are stupider than they used to be. In many ways, they are much smarter. An ever longer protected period of immaturity and dependence--a childhood that extends through college--means that young humans can learn more than ever before. There is strong evidence that IQ has increased dramatically as more children spend more time in school, and there is even some evidence that higher IQ is correlated with delayed frontal lobe development.

All that school means that children know more about more different subjects than they ever did in the days of apprenticeships. Becoming a really expert cook doesn't tell you about the nature of heat or the chemical composition of salt--the sorts of things you learn in school.

But there are different ways of being smart. Knowing physics and chemistry is no help with a soufflé. Wide-ranging, flexible and broad learning, the kind we encourage in high-school and college, may actually be in tension with the ability to develop finely-honed, controlled, focused expertise in a particular skill, the kind of learning that once routinely took place in human societies. For most of our history, children have started their internships when they were seven, not 27.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


R******* Gone Wrong (L. ALAN SROUFE, 1/29/12, NY Times)

Back in the 1960s I, like most psychologists, believed that children with difficulty concentrating were suffering from a brain problem of genetic or otherwise inborn origin. Just as Type I diabetics need insulin to correct problems with their inborn biochemistry, these children were believed to require attention-deficit drugs to correct theirs. It turns out, however, that there is little to no evidence to support this theory.

In 1973, I reviewed the literature on drug treatment of children for The New England Journal of Medicine. Dozens of well-controlled studies showed that these drugs immediately improved children's performance on repetitive tasks requiring concentration and diligence. I had conducted one of these studies myself. Teachers and parents also reported improved behavior in almost every short-term study. This spurred an increase in drug treatment and led many to conclude that the "brain deficit" hypothesis had been confirmed.

But questions continued to be raised, especially concerning the drugs' mechanism of action and the durability of effects. R****** and A*******, a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, are stimulants. So why do they appear to calm children down? Some experts argued that because the brains of children with attention problems were different, the drugs had a mysterious paradoxical effect on them.

However, there really was no paradox. Versions of these drugs had been given to World War II radar operators to help them stay awake and focus on boring, repetitive tasks. And when we reviewed the literature on attention-deficit drugs again in 1990 we found that all children, whether they had attention problems or not, responded to stimulant drugs the same way. Moreover, while the drugs helped children settle down in class, they actually increased activity in the playground. Stimulants generally have the same effects for all children and adults. They enhance the ability to concentrate, especially on tasks that are not inherently interesting or when one is fatigued or bored, but they don't improve broader learning abilities.

And just as in the many dieters who have used and abandoned similar drugs to lose weight, the effects of stimulants on children with attention problems fade after prolonged use.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Gingrich's Biggest Enemy May Be His Lack of Organization (Rich Galen,  Jan 29, 2012 , Daily Beast)

Since his entire staff staged a mass walkout last spring, Newt Gingrich has insisted that he was running a new-style campaign that didn't include having hordes of high-priced consultants and fawning staff. His memory of the grand takeover of the U.S. House in the 1994 election has it that it took essentially two people: Gingrich and his longtime political adviser, Joe Gaylord.

In the debate Thursday night, Gingrich complained that "it's increasingly interesting to watch the Romney attack machine coordinate things," after a full day of an array of attacks on Gingrich along an astonishingly broad front--from Elliott Abrams, to R. Emmett Tyrrell, to Bob Dole--all made easy to find because they were accumulated and posted by Matt Drudge.  

It was political shock and awe.

Were the attacks unfair? That depends upon who one is backing in the race.  Were they, as Gingrich suggested, coordinated? Clearly. Was it the kind of day that only a campaign with a fully developed plan and the capacity to execute it could have pulled off? Absolutely. Could Gingrich have done it even if he had thought of it? Not on your life.

January 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Rick Santorum, Individual-Mandate Fraud (Timothy Noah, January 27, 2012, New Republic)

PolitiFact verified several days ago that Santorum's claim that Gingrich has supported some version of the mandate for 20 years was "mostly true." But it didn't think to ask whether Santorum, too, has supported the individual mandate in the past. And as it happens, he has. He supported it in 1994, according to this April 7, 1994 article in the Allentown, Pa. Morning Call, and this May 2, 1994 article in the same newspaper. It's possible that the newspaper would have gotten this wrong once, but in the heat of a primary campaign it's highly unlikely Santorum's campaign would have allowed it to get this wrong twice

It wouldn't have been at all odd for any of these Republicans to support the individual mandate in the past,
 because it was a Republican idea, hatched by Stuart Butler and some others at the Heritage Foundation. (Documentation here.) Heritage has desperately tried to disavow it, but to no avail. Even James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, apparently present at the creation, concedes the point.. You sometimes hear conservatives defend their past support for the individual mandate by saying that something was needed to head off more ambitious health insurance schemes like Hillarycare, but that's another way of saying that whenever a conservative proposes any solution to the health care crisis he or she does so in bad faith.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Democratic Group Sees Romney As Changing His Tune On Immigration (Michael Falcone, 1/28/12, ABC News)

[A]t a Univision forum in Miami earlier this week, Romney, sought to make it clear that he was "pro-immigrant." He used the venue to hit back at rival Newt Gingrich who has been saying the opposite: "We don't attack each other with those terrible terms. I'm not anti-immigrant. I'm pro-immigrant. I like immigration," Romney said.

The memo, penned by Priorities USA senior strategist Bill Burton, accuses Romney of "pandering" to Hispanics after spending years trying to "appeal to the worst nativist fears of some Republican primary voters."

In a month he'll be singing from the Bush Hymnal.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


'Sweden needs the American dream': minister (The Local, 28 Jan 12)
More individualism is the key to finding new talent, suggests Swedish EU-minister Birgitta Ohlsson, who wants to see more of the American dream in Sweden.

"In other European countries it isn't strange to have diversity in a group," said Ohlsson to financial newspaper Veckans Affärer.

Sweden has long had a strong collectivistic tradition, but according to Ohlsson the time has come to exchange this ideal for individualism and facilitated social mobility.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


The GOP empire strikes back at Gingrich (Dan Balz, 1/28/12, Washington Post)

The revenge of the Republican establishment is a sight to behold. From one corner to another, those who have tangled with Newt Gingrich, who feel aggrieved toward Newt Gingrich or who fear Newt Gingrich have amassed to stop him. They know how much harder it will be to do so if the former House speaker wins Florida on Tuesday.

The quintessential example of establishment angst came Thursday from Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential nominee. Hours before Thursday's GOP debate, he released a letter -- circulated by Mitt Romney's campaign -- attacking Gingrich and pleading with Republican voters not to make him the party's nominee. There is much rich history behind that letter.

Dole is just one voice in a chorus of critics who have spoken out. Gingrich's victory in South Carolina just a week ago sent a shudder through the ranks of elected officials and others who make up the establishment and the conservative elite. Fear of Newt has displaced lack of love for Romney as the dominant emotion among these Republicans.

Newt's entertaining when he's in the peanut gallery, but you can't let him near center stage.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Justice without Foundations (Robert P. Kraynak, Summer 2011, The New Atlantis)

The best place to begin the discussion of justice without foundations is with the late American philosopher Richard Rorty, the influential spokesman for "non-foundationalism." As a professor at the University of Virginia and Stanford, he made a strong impression on students by telling them to stop philosophizing and to live pragmatically on behalf of social justice and human dignity. His rejection of philosophy was influenced by Heidegger's critique of metaphysics, which Rorty elaborated on in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) and other writings, describing the futility of reason to grasp the external world of nature, or to provide rational foundations for knowledge, both moral and metaphysical. Surprisingly, Rorty claimed that his philosophical rejection of foundations did not mean that he was a moral relativist, nor did it require him to abandon his political commitments -- especially for social justice, which he understood as a "progressive" version of social democracy and economic equality. Rorty argued that, rather than an approach of direct rationality, these commitments could be embraced pragmatically by following the likes of John Dewey, and poetically by following the lead of Walt Whitman.

He further maintained that political values such as democracy, equal rights, and respect for others are non-foundational commitments that North Americans and Europeans have built into their social conventions. Hence, we do not need philosophy to teach us how to act politically, because the ideals are embedded in our language and traditions; all we need to do is to affirm them by human sympathy and active citizenship.

The problems with Rorty's position have been noticed by many critics -- none more astutely than Peter Lawler in Aliens in America (2002). In developing these criticisms, it is useful to examine a little-noticed 1983 essay of Rorty's called "Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism." In that essay, Rorty honestly admits that his moral sensitivities are "postmodern" in the sense of being rationally groundless; yet he asserts that they are still legitimate as borrowings from Judeo-Christian notions of human dignity inherited from the past. With intentional irony, Rorty describes people like himself as "free-loading atheists." [...]

What Is Man that Thou Art Mindful of Him?

Despite the inconsistency of Darwinians and moral relativists, they perform the useful service of showing how indispensable is the concept of human dignity, even when it cannot be adequately explained or justified. The great puzzle is that everyone seems to believe that man is different from all other creatures in the universe, in some essential and fundamental way -- "enough even to make a moral difference," as Dennett says -- but that no one seems to know why. Perhaps the task of explanation is too daunting for modern philosophers and scientists to undertake, because it would require a return to classical philosophy. Other philosophers have pursued this course by seeking a rational explanation for man's dignity in the philosophy of Aristotle: the proposition that man is an animal with a rational soul tied to a material body -- that is, an embodied rational soul. For Aristotle, the nature of humans as embodied rational souls places man at the top of the animal kingdom, as the highest living being. This notion of natural hierarchy gives human beings a lofty dignity in the cosmos, though not an absolute dignity, as it is a comparative ranking, with human beings above the beasts but below the gods or heavenly bodies.

The difficulty of defending Aristotle's argument for man's dignity as a rational animal is that it is useful for practical ethics but it lacks a solid scientific and metaphysical foundation, if we accept modern cosmology and Darwinian evolution. Man's rational soul might be a transient accident of evolution, or an insignificant part of an infinitely expanding and indifferent universe. The only way to vindicate the rational soul as a basis for human dignity in light of modern cosmology would be to argue along the lines of physicist Paul Davies in his brilliant article, "The Intelligibility of Nature" (collected in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature [1993]). Davies makes a powerful case that nature's rational and mathematical order means that intelligibility is inherent in the design of the universe. Even though the natural universe is expanding and evolving, it is constantly forming higher and higher levels of intelligence through a sort of self-organizing complexity -- implying that the universe favors rationality or intelligence, and that man's rational soul has a kind of cosmic support in nature's design. In his provocative book Are We Alone? (1995), Davies goes so far as to assert that, since nature seems to inherently incline toward intelligence and awareness of itself, intelligent life should exist elsewhere in the universe; its discovery would vindicate the dignity of man as a rational creature.

This argument is highly speculative, of course, and it reminds us that the special dignity of man is something that people believe in as an article of "moral faith" without being able to prove it definitively. But does the persistence of this belief mean that man really is special? Not necessarily. The belief could be an illusion -- a product of our fondest wish to feel that we are important in the grand scheme of things. But the special dignity of man could just as well be a genuine cosmic mystery -- something that is true or real, yet inexplicable on purely philosophical or scientific grounds (except as a speculative argument). If indeed the special dignity of man is a true but inexplicable cosmic mystery, then we are led by the limits of reason to consider other sources of knowledge besides philosophy and science; in particular, we may turn with a new openness to the revealed knowledge of the Bible and ask what it says about the place of man in the cosmos.

According to the Bible, man has a special glory or dignity compared to other creatures because humans are the only created beings made in the image and likeness of God. Yet the mystery of man as a creature made in the image of God -- the Imago Dei -- means that the Bible does not attempt to define man in terms of particular attributes or traits. Indeed, the Bible never says if it is reason or language or free will or even the capacity for love and justice that makes human beings essentially human. The Bible is not "essentialist" in the philosophical sense of identifying an essence of man. Yet it does refer to man as a special creature in the universe, and even invites us to ask, what makes human beings special?

One interpretation of the Biblical answer is that man's special dignity in the created universe is a case of "mysterious election" by the mysterious God, whose divine name, YHWH, means "I will be what I will be," and implies that God chooses by His inscrutable will to make the universe and man according to His purpose and design. While reason can perceive that design in a limited way, it is ultimately a matter of faith that God's mysterious will is "good" -- meaning, that His order is not perverse, tragic, or indifferent. This notion of man's mysterious place in the moral order of the cosmos is best captured in the lines of Psalm 8:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.

The awe and wonder conveyed in this Psalm is a poetic account of the special election of man as the highest creature in the universe (or second highest, after the angels), whom God has mysteriously selected to possess a special dignity -- to be crowned with glory and honor and to be given dominion over the rest of creation. Yet, not only is no clear reason given for God's special favor, but we are not even told what man is: it remains a question -- What is man, that thou art mindful of him? -- without an answer. Still, as a result of man's special moral status, we are asked and even commanded to treat people with love and charity as human beings -- as mysteriously created beings who are made and favored by God. These moral commands are known by divine revelation rather than by reason, and they rest on the foundational claim of man's inherent dignity as a creature with a divine image -- for which reason and free will are only outward signs rather than essential traits. In other words, the divine spark in human beings can be glimpsed, but never fully grasped, so that the essence of our humanity remains a mysterious feature of this singular being called man.

These biblical themes point to the challenges of finding adequate foundations for justice. The central problem in treating people justly is that doing so assumes human beings have a special kind of dignity which comes from a moral status that is different from other creatures. Philosophy and science seem unable to find adequate grounds either to explain the special status of man or to dismiss it as an illusion, leaving us perplexed by the strange predicament that everyone believes in human dignity without knowing why. Postmodernists simply despair and throw up their hands at reason, yet cling to human dignity as a kind of irrational moralism or inexplicable sympathy for our fellow humans. Darwinians have confidence in reason as a foundation for science but not as a foundation for morality -- so that, if Social Darwinism is to be avoided, what is required is an equally irrational leap of faith in human dignity, in defiance of natural selection. Kantians acknowledge the need for foundations in practical postulates of morality, but also despair of proving them. And Aristotelians who acknowledge the need for demonstrating the rational soul falter before the difficulties of the task in light of modern biology and cosmology. Is it not reasonable to infer, then, that all of these philosophers and scientists are pointing toward the notion of man's special dignity as a genuine cosmic mystery -- something that is both true and rationally inexplicable because we hardly know what man is or how and why he got here?

If that is the case, then our inquiry should remind us of the age-old debate about the relation of reason and faith, and point us also to its best conclusion: reason is a very powerful, but ultimately limited and incomplete, tool for finding the whole truth about man. Thus reason must seek its completion and perfection in faith. But the faith that completes or perfects reason cannot be an arbitrary faith, like the irrational leap of postmodernists and Darwinists in accepting human dignity; rather, it must be a reasonable faith -- a faith that is beyond reason while not being against reason. Such a reasonable faith is what the Bible offers us: the mystery of man as a creature favored or selected by an all-powerful Creator whose will is inscrutable but benevolent. This is a faith that arises from awe and reverence at the true but insoluble mysteries of the created universe, and the special place of man in the order of creation. And it is a faith that shows us that the Judeo-Christian conception of man provides the most plausible account of human dignity -- and that divine love is the ultimate foundation of human justice.

Conservative Postmodernism, Postmodern Conservatism (Peter Augustine Lawler, Fall 2002, Intercollegiate Review)

What has distinguished the modern world, above all, is a particular definition of what a human being is. That definition does not describe a real or complete human being. It was not even meant to be completely true, but mainly to be useful as a fiction in the pursuit of unprecedented freedom, justice, and prosperity. Modern thought has held that a human being is an individual, and the modern individual is an abstraction, an invention of the human mind. That individual is made more free from social and political constraints, and less directed toward duty and goodness by God and nature, than a real human being ever could be. The modern individual is distinguished from the political animals--the citizens, statesmen, and philosophers--described by the Greek and Roman philosophers, and from the social, familial creatures described by Christian theologians. The modern individual is liberated from the philosopher's duty to know the truth about nature, from the citizen's selfless devotion to his country, from the creature's love and fear of God, and even from the loving responsibilities that are inseparable from family life. Conservatives today oppose liberal individualism both because its understanding of the human being is untrue and because that definition erodes all that is good about distinctively human existence.

The modern world has now ended only in the sense that we have now seen enough of it to judge it. Although we have reason to be grateful for the wealth, health, freedom, and power that modern achievements have given us, we know that the individual's pursuits of security and happiness will remain always pursuits--and not possessions. So even as the modern world continues to develop, we can be free of its characteristic delusion, its utopianism. We can speak of its strengths and its limitations from a perspective "outside" modernity, and that perspective is the foundation of conservatism today. Conservatives can be (perhaps the only) genuinely postmodern thinkers. The reason we can see beyond the modern world is that its intention to transform human nature has failed. Its project of transforming the human person into the autonomous individual was and remains unrealistic; we can now see the limits of being an individual because we remain more than individuals. The world created by modern individuals to make themselves fully at home turns out to have made human beings less at home than ever.

Conservative thought today is authentic postmodernism, but it is, obviously, not postmodernism as it is usually understood. Most allegedly postmodern thought emphasizes the arbitrary character of all human authority, the freedom of each human being from all standards but his own will or creativity, and the death not only of God but of nature. These allegedly postmodern characteristics are really hypermodern; they aim to "deconstruct" as incoherent and so incredible any residual modern faith in reason or nature. They shout that everything modern--in fact, everything human--is nothing but a construction.

Postmodernists in the usual sense often do well in exposing liberal hypocrisy, but they can only do so in the name of completing the modern project of liberating the individual's subjective or willful and whimsical perspective from all external constraints. Conservative postmodernism, by acknowledging and affirming as good what we can really know about our natural possibilities and limitations, is radically opposed to liberated postmodernism--and to the modern premises it radicalizes.

Nothing like Mr. Kraynak and Mr. Lawler to bring a bunch of great themes together and provide us with some clarity. 

Nowhere was Special Providence more evident than in the Anglosphere managing to remain outside of Modernity for its duration.  While the End of History and The Long War mark the universal arrival at Postmodernism, it was our good fortune to arrive there directly from pre-Modernism.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


HBO's 'Luck': A Winning TV Show, Set At The Track (DAVID BIANCULLI, January 27, 2012, NPR: Fresh Air)

It isn't a long shot that David Milch's newest series for HBO, called Luck, will be on par with his HBO series Deadwood. It's a sure thing. HBO sent out all nine episodes of the show's first season for preview, so there's no guesswork here.

The racetrack is at the center of Luck, with every character and plot line orbiting around it. But you don't have to like horse racing -- or even understand it -- to get pulled in and swept along. The show examines the track, and its various intrigues, from every possible perspective -- from the owners and trainers of the horses to the jockeys riding them and the gamblers betting on them. We go from the executive suites to the stables, getting to know the people and problems of each. It's like Downton Abbey with thoroughbreds.

And speaking of thoroughbreds, that description extends to just about everyone working on Luck. And what a collection of collaborators: David Milch hit it big, before Deadwood, with NYPD Blue in the '90s. Movie director Michael Mann produced two visually stunning TV series, Miami Vice and Crime Story, in the '80s. One of the two biggest stars of Luck, Nick Nolte, became a star thanks to the Rich Man, Poor Man TV miniseries in the '70s. And the other biggest star of Luck, Dustin Hoffman, is new to series television -- but his stardom stretches all the way back to The Graduate in the '60s.

And now, here they all are, doing great work at the same time.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


How Thick is Your Bubble?
This quiz is inspired by American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray's new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," which explores the unprecedented, class-based cultural gap in America. How culturally isolated are you? Answer these 20 questions to find out.

How Thick Is Your Bubble? » Create quiz software

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Christie to the 1%: Please Occupy New Jersey (JAMES FREEMAN, 1/28/12, WSJ)

Garden State Gov. Chris Christie has a message for the top 1% of income earners: Please occupy New Jersey. "I'm going to start going after a lot of these hedge-fund guys who are in Connecticut and New York and say, 'You're going to get a better deal with us,'" says the country's most important Republican not running for president.

Mr. Christie's new tax-reform plan also offers an improved deal to the bottom 99%, which is why he may be able to move it through New Jersey's Democratic legislature: a 10% cut in tax rates across the board.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Cracking Open the Scientific Process (THOMAS LIN, 1/28/12, NY Times)

The system is hidebound, expensive and elitist, they say. Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only "if you're stuck with 17th-century technology."

Dr. Nielsen and other advocates for "open science" say science can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration over the Internet. And despite a host of obstacles, including the skepticism of many established scientists, their ideas are gaining traction.

Open-access archives and journals like arXiv and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) have sprung up in recent years. GalaxyZoo, a citizen-science site, has classified millions of objects in space, discovering characteristics that have led to a raft of scientific papers.

On the collaborative blog MathOverflow, mathematicians earn reputation points for contributing to solutions; in another math experiment dubbed the Polymath Project, mathematicians commenting on the Fields medalist Timothy Gower's blog in 2009 found a new proof for a particularly complicated theorem in just six weeks.

And a social networking site called ResearchGate -- where scientists can answer one another's questions, share papers and find collaborators -- is rapidly gaining popularity.

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January 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Romney's Unlikely And Persuasive Defense Of The 'Individual Mandate' (JULIE ROVNER, January 27, 2012, NPR)

During a more than 10-minute back-and-forth on health care largely between Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney ended up delivering a lengthy justification for his state's decision to pass a 2006 law that included requiring nearly every resident to either have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

"If you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care," said Romney. "So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care."

"Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?" asked Santorum?

"Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care," Romney shot back. "Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea." [...]

Said John McDonough, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, "Romney has given in this entire presidential campaign last evening what I believe is the most effective and persuasive rationale and defense of the individual mandate."

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 PM

Betty Wright On World Cafe (World Cafe, 1/27/12)

Recorded with the ultimate backing band, The Roots, Betty Wright: The Movie is drenched with funk and soul. Wright says she sees it as an update to her classic sound, as she pulls in contributions from Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne and Joss Stone. The resulting songs are anthemic in nature, co-written and co-produced by Wright herself, as well as The Roots' Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson and Angelo Morris.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Can California change US cars forever? New zero-emissions rules take aim. (Daniel B. Wood, January 27, 2012, CS Monitor)

The new rules passed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) mandate that 15 percent of new cars sold in the state by 2025 run with zero emissions or near-zero emissions. The result would be some 1.4 million electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen cars on California roads within 13 years. [...]

But national carmakers have been largely supportive of CARB's efforts, and California's influence as the most populous state and a major car market could drive development of low- and zero-emission cars that echoes coast to coast.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Ron Wyden gives GOP cover on Medicare reform (JONATHAN ALLEN and MANU RAJU, 1/26/12, Politico)

To the thrill of Washington wonks and the irritation of fellow Democrats, the lanky Oregonian has been collaborating with the man Democrats hoped to use as an election year battering ram: Rep. Paul Ryan.

The powerful Budget Committee chief is the House GOP's chief advocate for transforming Medicare from its current government-run system into one that allows seniors to buy private health insurance. Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich infamously dubbed Ryan's initial crack at accomplishing that "right-wing social engineering" as Democrats licked their chops in anticipation of excoriating the Republicans who dared to endorse it.

But now, by teaming up with Ryan on a more modest Medicare overhaul, Democrats fear Wyden has given the GOP an out.

Wyden and Ryan are floating an idea to allow seniors to choose between traditional Medicare and private insurance programs. Ryan is considering adding provisions in his 2013 budget that would pave the way for this approach.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


As Scottish clamor for independence, English beginning to say 'me too': Scottish demands for independence are making waves, but south of the border, the English are getting tired of the union as well. (Ian Evans,  January 26, 2012, CS Monitor)

In a survey for the Institute for Public Policy Research released in January, just under half of English respondents reported identifying more deeply as English than British, and said they had grown weary of a devolution of power to Scotland that has made governing Britain more difficult. [...]

Report coauthor Professor Richard Wyn Jones said he was surprised by the politicization of Englishness in the findings. "I've noticed a more English identity among a section of English people in recent years - England football shirts, flags on cars, and body tattoos," he says. "But it was the political dimension which was surprising. More people believe the current political situation is unsustainable and they want better recognition of England within the UK."

Elected mayors are too good a chance to miss: Powerful mayors would offer stronger and more accountable leadership (Independent 27 JANUARY 2012)

At present, councils are run by executives or cabinets which are accountable only to local councillors and who are largely elected through the party system. As a result, the rigidities of the centralised political party structure are brought to bear on local government, where something much more dynamic and responsive is required. Because they are directly accountable to the electorate, and can be voted out after four years if they do not perform, mayors would significantly improve the level of scrutiny at a local level.

Margaret Thatcher began an emasculation of local government that continued under her successors as more powers were pulled to the centre. To reverse the trend, and put Britain's cities back in control, change is needed which will involve both strong leadership locally and a devolution of power by central Government. Directly elected mayors would mean a very real redistribution of authority, potentially as significant as the devolution of powers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue won't seek second term (Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza, 01/26/2012, Washington Post) 

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) announced today that she will not seek reelection in 2012, setting the stage for a key open seat governor's race this year.

Perdue, who turned 65 earlier this month, was set for a rematch of her 2008 race with former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory (R), but she has been plagued by low approval ratings and faced some tough odds this year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Ron Paul signed off on racist newsletters in the 1990s, associates say (Jerry Markon and Alice Crites, 1/27/12, Washington Post)

[P]eople close to Paul's operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day.

"It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it,'' said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul's company and a supporter of the Texas congressman.

The newsletters point to a rarely seen and somewhat opaque side of Paul, who has surprised the political community by becoming an important factor in the Republican race. The candidate, who has presented himself as a kindly doctor and political truth-teller, declined in a recent debate to release his tax returns, joking that he would be "embarrassed" about his income compared with that of his richer GOP rivals.

Yet a review of his enterprises reveals a sharp-eyed businessman who for nearly two decades oversaw the company and a nonprofit foundation, intertwining them with his political career. The newsletters, which were launched in the mid-1980s and bore such names as the Ron Paul Survival Report, were produced by a company Paul dissolved in 2001.

The company shared offices with his campaigns and foundation at various points, according to those familiar with the operation. Public records show Paul's wife and daughter were officers of the newsletter company and foundation; his daughter also served as his campaign treasurer.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Gov. Bush & his mystical buddy (Gainesville Sun, September 18, 2005)

After more than an hour of solemn ceremony naming Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, as the 2007-08 House speaker, Gov. Jeb Bush stepped to the podium in the House chamber last week and told a short story about "unleashing Chang," his "mystical warrior" friend.

Here are Bush's words, spoken before hundreds of lawmakers and politicians:

''Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society.

''I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.''

Bush then unsheathed a golden sword and gave it to Rubio as a gift.

''I'm going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior,'' he said, as the crowd roared.

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


Romney stresses support for immigration before Latino crowd (Garrett Haake, 1/27/12, NBC)

At his first public appearance since aggressively defending himself as "pro-immigration" at last night's final Florida debate, Mitt Romney took to the podium again today to argue that he and the Republican party are firmly in favor of legal immigration.

"First of all, with regards to immigration. I like immigration. I like legal immigration. I think its important for America to recognize that immigration is an extraordinary source of vitality or our nation. That bringing people of different cultures here creates opportunity and growth for the entire economy," Romney said. "We are not anti-immigrant. We are not anti-immigration. We are the pro-immigration, pro-legality, pro-citizenship party."

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Pentagon to shrink US ground troops by 100,000 as part of $487bn cuts (guardian.co.uk, 26 January 2012)

Among the details Panetta disclosed:

• The amy would shrink by 80,000 soldiers, from 570,000 today to 490,000 by 2017 - slightly larger than the army on 9/11.

•The marine corps would drop from today's 202,000 to 182,000 also above the level on 9/11.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


A hidden cause of Baltimore's population loss: abortion: City's rate of terminated pregnancies is indicative of a wayward society (Diana Schaub, January 23, 2012, Baltimore Sun)

The decline of marriage, particularly among African-Americans, is all too familiar. Not as well-known is that Maryland has a very high abortion rate (third highest among the states in 2005, the year that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stopped collecting abortion statistics). The breakdown by jurisdiction reveals that Baltimore City is driving those deadly numbers, and also that the abortion rate among African-American women is at least triple the white rate.

Even for those in favor of legal abortion, the situation should be dismaying. And it certainly represents what Montesquieu termed "a change of customs." For comparison: In 1970, Baltimore City abortion rates for single white and black women stood at 7.43 and 10 respectively (the abortion rate is the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44), with the married women's rates half that. By 2005, the Baltimore rate was 86.2. The National Abortion Rights Action League, which cites that figure, did not provide the African-American rate, but it would be substantially higher.

Lest one think that poverty accounts for this shift, the poverty rate in Baltimore has remained relatively fixed at around 20 percent for decades. The marriage dearth and the abortion deluge among all races are not attributable to material causes as much as moral causes: young women's loss of respect for themselves as the bearers of new life and their resulting willingness to treat abortion as a method of contraception.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Romney and Santorum Shine in Final Florida Debate (JOHN MCCORMACK, 1/27/12, Weekly Standard)

Between Sunday and Wednesday, Newt Gingrich went from leading Mitt Romney by 8 points to trailing Mitt Romney by 8 points in the Florida GOP primary polls. Thursday night's debate in Jacksonville was Gingrich's best opportunity--and most likely his only--ahead of Tuesday's primary to reverse Romney's momentum. But far from landing a knockout blow, it was Gingrich who was thrown back on his heels.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Foldable electric car to take to European streets (Deutsche Welle, 1/27/12)
A transatlantic team of designers and builders have created a new kind of electric car that not only saves gas but saves space.

The Hiriko automobile, which was conceived at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, but built in Spain's Basque country, was finally unveiled at European Union headquarters in Brussels this week.

Hiriko, which is the Basque word for "city" or "urban," aims to revolutionize automobile design for those tight European street and parking spaces.

For decades, European car models like the Fiat 500 and the Mini have tread in this territory before, but the Hiriko actually folds up into itself vertically, like a baby stroller. As a result, when compacted, the car only takes up one-third the parking are of a Smart car.

[T]his new startup has priced the new car aggressively, at 12,500 euros ($16,000) each, which could make it attractive for cities across Europe looking to expand their car-share programs. Already, Barcelona, Berlin and Malmö, Sweden have expressed interest. In December 2011, Paris began its new electric car-sharing program, Autolib.
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January 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Poll: Obama's Got a Hispanic Problem (Peter Roff, January 26, 2012, US News)

The survey of 500 registered Hispanic voters released Thursday shows that "President Obama continues to underperform among Florida Hispanic voters and has done little to bolster his standing." In fact, he's losing ground, polling 11 points below his 2008 performance on the presidential generic ballot, "which alone is enough to erase his three-point margin of victory over John McCain."

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Gingrich rages against the GOP machine (Michael O'Brien, 1/26/12, msnbc.com)

"The Republican establishment is just as much of an establishment as the Democratic establishment. And they're just as determined to stop us," Gingrich said at a rally this morning in Mount Dora, Fla.

"Make no bones about it, this is a campaign for the very nature of the Republican Party, the very opportunity for a citizen conservatism to defeat the power of money and prove that people matter more than Wall Street, and that people matter more than companies that are pouring money in to run the ads that are false."

...as a choice between a Wall Street executive and an inside the Beltway guy who took the revolving door from the legislature into lobbying.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM

1992 AGAIN:

Thunderdome Election Result of Rhetoric Not Ideology (Ezra Klein, Jan 25, 2012, Bloomberg)

They're right about one thing: The 2012 election matters. A lot. The winning party will probably reap long-term political benefits from holding office during an economic recovery. As for the ideological showdown of the century stuff? It's overblown. The two likely presidential nominees would, if elected, pursue very different economic philosophies and domestic policies. But not nearly as different as they would have you believe.

In addition, there is plenty of legislation passed or proposed in the Bush years that the Obama administration would like to build on or go back to. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, which was signed by President Bush, was gutted by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, not by Republican legislation. Much of the administration's campaign- finance reform agenda simply consists of restoring that status quo ante. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to mend, not end, Bush's signature education initiative, No Child Left Behind. Obama's Affordable Care Act strengthened Bush's Medicare Part D. And the president's request, delivered in the State of the Union, for the Senate to pass new rules ensuring a swift up- or-down vote for executive-branch nominations echoes Bush's effort to end the judicial filibuster.

This is not an attempt to extend the foolish critique that there is no difference between the two parties or the two likely presidential nominees. It matters that Obama's proposed tax cuts amount to $3 trillion and benefit taxpayers making less than $250,000 while Romney's would cost more than $6 trillion and are tilted toward the top 1 percent. It matters that Obama would implement the Affordable Care Act and Romney would try to repeal it. It matters that Obama is inclined to strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while Republicans want to weaken it.

But the 2012 election is not an epochal clash of irreconcilable worldviews. Judging from their respective records, Obama and Romney would have little trouble coming to agreement if locked in a room together. That's a very different conclusion than you would draw from listening to their rhetoric, which implies a Thunderdomish battle to the death.

That's true more broadly, too. The two parties are much further apart politically than they are philosophically. If you look closely at the policies both Democrats and Republicans propose when in power, there are ample opportunities for compromise and agreement. But elections are zero-sum affairs, and the one question on which there is no overlap between the two parties is which side should take power in November. The reason politics feels so polarized is that the resolution of that one, irreconcilable question ends up governing the parties' approach to all other questions.

The only thing that saved the Democrats from their 70 years in the wilderness was the original Tea Partier,  Ross Perot, handing the Peace Dividend to Bubba.  Which party gets credit for this one is the only thing at stake in the election. It, combined with Reagan/O'Neill type adjustments to entitlements, has the capacity to save the Second Way for another generation. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Better Place Launches Electric Fleet in Israel: A network of fast battery-switching stations offers an unusual business model for electric cars. (MATTHEW KALMAN, 1/26/12, tECHNOLOGY rEVIEW)

The cars are fueled by 225-kilogram lithium-ion batteries with a range of 160 kilometers. The batteries can be recharged at home or swapped for fully charged ones at a network of robotic battery-switching stations that Better Place has built throughout Israel to let owners extend their cars' range.

The switching stations, plus apps that guide a driver to them, are what make Better Place's business unique. In Israel, gas is expensive, and there are also high taxes on gasoline-powered cars, making electric vehicles more attractive.

Agassi predicts that by next year, electric cars will be the best-selling vehicles in both Israel and Denmark. Those, along with Australia, are the nations where the service is being launched this year.

Range anxiety is the only stumbling block

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Four ways Republicans can win Hispanics back (Jeb Bush, 1/26/12, Washington Post)

Hispanics understand, either personally or through close family members, what it means to come here as an immigrant. They know how hard it is to function without a full working knowledge of English. They have often felt the sting of prejudice and the threats of gang violence. They tire of the stereotypes built by the media and some politicians. Like all voters, Hispanics respond to candidates who show respect and understanding for their experiences.

Second, we should echo the aspirations of these voters. The American immigrant experience is the most aspirational story ever told. Immigrants left all that was familiar to them to come here and make a better life for their families. That they believe this is possible only in America is the best expression of American exceptionalism I know. And on this score, Republicans have a winning message and record as the party of the entrepreneur. We are the party of the family business, and the family business is the economic heart of Hispanic communities.

Third, we should press for an overhaul of our education system. Republicans have the field to themselves on this issue. Teachers unions and education bureaucrats have blocked Democrats from serious reform -- it will happen only with Republican political leadership. But we have to move beyond simplistic plans to "get rid of the Department of Education" and focus on substantive, broad-based reform that includes school choice, robust accountability for underperforming schools and the elimination of social promotion, in which kids are passed along without mastering grade-level skills. Such improvements, it was noted in 2009, plus efforts to embrace digital learning, helped Hispanic students in Florida lead the nation among their peers. And Hispanic voters, who often feel their children are trapped in failing schools, notice.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Smallest-Ever Nanotube Transistors Outperform Silicon: A nine-nanometer device shows that nanotubes could be a viable alternative to silicon as electronics get even tinier. (KATHERINE BOURZAC, 1/26/12, Technology Review)

The smallest carbon-nanotube transistor ever made, a nine-nanometer device, performs better than any other transistor has at this size.

For over a decade, researchers have promised that carbon nanotubes, with their superior electrical properties, would make for better transistors at ever-tinier sizes, but that claim hadn't been tested in the lab at these extremes. Researchers at IBM who made the nanotube transistors say this is the first experimental evidence that any material is a viable potential replacement for silicon at a size smaller than 10 nanometers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


HBO's Luck ponies up with a winning cast, setting and story (Scott Stinson,  Jan 25, 2012 , National Post)

Few series have embraced that cable ethos as completely as Luck, the new HBO show from David Milch, the creator of Deadwood. It is a slow-building revenge mystery, coupled with a tale of redemption, and joined with the goofy comedy of four goombahs trying to make it big at the racetrack. It is anything but simple and straightforward. And it is a great pleasure to watch.

At its most basic, Luck is a series about the culture of horse racing. Milch, who grew up with a father who often took him to the track, has said he was always fascinated with the environment. "I find it as complicated and engaging a special world as any I've ever encountered," he told Variety magazine. "Not only in what happens in the clubhouse and the grandstand, but also on the backside of the track, where the training is done and where they house the horses."

His appreciation for the sport is evident from the outset; a scene in the pilot of daybreak at the beautiful Santa Anita track in California sees the horses prepped for practice runs, steam rising from their warm bodies as they loosen their muscles and exhale violently. Shot in loving slow motion, the horses are like race cars revving at the starting line. But, you know, alive.

As environments go, the ponies are plenty intriguing: Once a dominant part of the North American landscape, the "Sport of Kings" has been reduced to one pursued by those on the seedier fringes of society. Milch plainly sees the racetrack as a place of romance lost.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Summit students bake, share bread (Independent Press, 1/25/12)

Summit students ate their homework, and that homework was a lovely loaf of bread they made from scratch with supplies provided by King Arthur Flour as part of the Vermont company's Life Skills Bread Baking Program. The students also shared the good things from their ovens by baking two loaves of bread and donating one to the needy.

Gina Ciancia, a professional baker and King Arthur Flour educator, visited Summit's Washington and Lincoln-Hubbard schools Jan. 17 to teach fourth- and fifth-graders the art of making bread as well as a bit of the science involved in the process. Provided free-of-charge by King Arthur Flour, the visits were coordinated by the schools' 
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January 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


A brighter energy future? (Robert J. Samuelson, 1/25/12, Washington Post)

We've become vastly more efficient. In 2010, it took about half the energy to produce a dollar's worth of output (gross domestic product) as in 1980. This reflected more fuel-efficient vehicles -- a response to higher gasoline prices and government fuel economy standards -- and a shift from an energy-intensive industrial economy to a service economy. An office complex with 5,000 workers uses less energy than a steel mill with 5,000 workers. The EIA expects these trends to continue; energy use per dollar of GDP is projected to drop 42 percent from 2010 to 2035.

Meanwhile, domestic energy production is rising and -- astonishingly -- import dependence is rapidly falling. In 2010, oil imports accounted for 49 percent of U.S. consumption, down from 60 percent in 2005. By 2035, imports could decline to 36 percent, projects the EIA. All this seems good news.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


The Once and Future Liberalism: We need to get beyond the dysfunctional and outdated ideas of 20th-century liberalism. (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 1/24/12, American Interest)

We cannot realistically solve our problems by trying to return to the 3.0 liberalism of the 19th century because the American economy of that era depended on conditions we cannot reproduce today. Though some may think it desirable, we cannot return to a largely agrarian economy. Nor can we replicate the industrial system of the 19th century, with its extremely high tariffs against foreign goods and a completely laissez-faire national attitude toward immigration. Trying to recreate the American economy of a century ago would lead to massive dislocations, depressions and quite likely wars around the world, not to mention thoroughly wrecking the American economy and bankrupting many of our banks and biggest corporations.

But if red liberal fundamentalism can't work, blue fundamentalism can't help us either. There's no going back even half a century ago, because the great achievements of blue liberalism were also rooted in conditions we cannot replicate today. Between 1914 and the 1970s, when the blue social model took shape and rose to power and success, the world economy was in an unusual state. International financial and trade flows were much lower than before 1914 and after 1970, due to the disruptions of two world wars and the Great Depression. And the United States was so far ahead of the rest of the world in manufacturing that few American companies (or workers) had anything to fear from foreign competition. Capital was dramatically less mobile; it was much easier to tax high earners without driving savings and investment out of the country.

At the same time, Americans in the first two thirds of the last century were more willing to engage in group politics than is the case today. Industrial workers fought to build unions and generally voted the way their leaders advised them. Ethnic groups stuck together and voted as blocs. Twentieth-century liberal politics generally involved negotiated agreements among party bosses and other leaders who commanded loyal followings. Few politicians today can count on this kind of unquestioning support in an era when party structures and patronage networks are both weaker and less reliable than they used to be. Now, instead of party structures funding candidates, candidates are expected to fund party structures.

We must come to terms with the fact that the debate we have been having over these issues for past several decades has been unproductive. We're not in a "tastes great" versus "less filling" situation; we need an entirely new brew. But this is nothing to mourn, because both liberalism 3.0 and 4.0 died of success, just as versions 1.0 and 2.0 did before them.

As for 3.0, rising agricultural productivity ultimately drove millions of farmers off the land; high tariffs helped attract tens of millions of immigrants; ideas and institutions developed in a homogeneous, egalitarian and predominantly agricultural country no longer worked very well in an industrial, urban country threatened by class conflict. The same with 4.0. Our successful manufacturing economy led us to push for free trade; that stimulated other countries to export to U.S. markets and generated the kind of financial flows that undermined the nation-based Keynesian economic models of the 4.0 econ wizards. The rising affluence of Americans facilitated their mass migration into the suburbs where the old party organizations and ethnic loyalties broke down. More affluent and better educated voters became more individualistic and saw the system of party bosses as an obstacle to democracy rather than a way of making it work. Each version of liberalism in turn created a social system and an economy so dynamic and so inventive that it ultimately outgrew the institutions and ideas that had given it birth. Textbook cases of the cultural contradictions of capitalism at work they were.

Now it has happened again. The success of our institutions and ideas has so changed the world that they don't work any more. We cannot turn back the clock, nor should we try. America's job is to boldly go where none have gone before, not to consume our energies in vain attempts to recreate the glories of an unattainable past. We need to do for our times and circumstances what other Americans have done before us: Recast classic Anglo-American liberal thought, still the cultural and moral foundation of American life and the source of the commonsense reasoning that guides most Americans as they evaluate policy ideas and party programs, in ways that address the challenges before us.

For those blue Democrats clinging to liberalism 4.1, this is a time of doom and gloom. For those red Republicans longing for a return to liberalism 3.0, it is a time of angry nostalgia: Ron Paul making a stump speech. This should be a time of adventure, innovation and creativity in the building of liberalism 5.0. America is ready for an upgrade to a new and higher level; indeed, we are overdue for a project that can capture the best energies of our rising generations, those who will lead the United States and the world to new and richer ways of living that will make the "advanced" societies of the 20th century look primitive, backward and unfulfilled.

We've wasted too many years arguing over how to retrieve the irretrievable; can we please now get on with the actual business of this great, liberal, unapologetically forward-looking nation?

Everyone knows where we're headed--though those of us on both wings are forced to deny it--just as New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Britain, Scandinavia, etc. before us, we're going to use the capitalist mechanisms of 3.0 (the First Way) to provide the social welfare net of 4.0 (the Second Way).  This Third Way--featuring personal SS accounts, HSAs, private unemployment insurance, and the like--is in successful practice in bits and pieces around the world and those politicians in the Anglosphere who are most closely associated with these ideas always prevail in national elections.  It is, of course, a big ask to get the Left and the Right to acknowledge that not only are we not going back to their utopian visions of the past but we are adopting much of their opponents' vision to get to the future.  But they'll get over the discomfort it's causing them.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


That's Obama's Jobs Plan?: His muddled SOTU scheme to boost the economy by hindering trade. (Matthew Yglesias, Jan. 25, 2012, Slate)

The bold, transformative Barack Obama, painter of grand vistas, is gone, replaced in his State of the Union address by a Clinton-esque figure, reciting laundry lists of small-bore proposals. There were some very good ideas for attacking the crisis of mass unemployment. Extending the payroll tax cuts without another round of policy riders and protracted negotiations should be a no-brainer. Legislation to make it easier for millions of Americans to refinance their mortgages at today's low interest rates is a great idea that should bolster consumer demand and make it easier for the entrepreneurially inclined to start businesses. His call to avert a massive spike in student loan debt interest payments is sound, and the promise to create a federal task force on foreclosure fraud seems very smart.

But framing the entire economic message of the speech was a strikingly retrograde, self-contradictory, and confused agenda of reviving American prosperity through mercantilism. 

...who included radical Welfare Reform in his laundry list speech of '96.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


An Utterly Unremarkable Address (FRED BARNES, 1/25/12, Weekly Standard)

Presidents from George Washington's time have given historically significant address. State of the Union speeches rarely qualify. Until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, they didn't deliver them. They were written. That's a practice Obama should consider reviving.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


In Obama's State of the Union, Troublesome Passages for Progressives (Matthew Rothschild, January 24, 2012, The Progressive)

First, mentioning John Boehner, Obama said he was still open to a grand compromise on Social Security and Medicare, which would make Americans have to work longer and get less benefits from Medicare and Medicaid. We don't need a Democrat to hack away at these crucial social programs.

Second, he took a gratuitous swipe at universal single-payer health care. Sounding like Ronald Reagan, he said, "I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more." As an illustration, he said, "That's why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a Government program." Huh? He used to say he was for single-payer universal health care. Then, when he was running for President the first time, he said, "If I were starting from scratch," I'd be for single-payer universal health care. Now he disparages it to score cheap political points. [...]

And finally, sounding like a mix of Madeleine Albright and George W. Bush, he boasted that the United States is the "one indispensable nation in world affairs--and as long as I'm President, I intend to keep it that way."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


A Line in the Sand: An unsettling history of British and French machinations in the Mideast. : a review of A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948 By James Barr (David Holahan / January 25, 2012, CS Monitor)
Much is always made of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 in which the British and the French secretly connived to split the Middle East like a ripe melon, dividing what is now Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordon, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank between them. The fact that neither controlled or had any legitimate right to this vast expanse was of little import in London and Paris; they planned to seize control of it soon enough from the waning Ottoman Empire.

It was a facile agreement, to be sure, and dramatized the mad scramble for the region and its resources, but the game was already on when Sir Mark Sykes, a 30-something baronet who passed himself off as a Middle East expert, drew his infamous line in the sand connecting Acre on the Mediterranean coast with Kirkuk in the heart of what was then known as Mesopotamia. Decades previously Britain had taken control of Egypt and Cyprus, and World War I would be the catalyst for gathering more low hanging fruit. The security of the Suez Canal and access to oil, the fossil fuel of the future, were the prime motivations. Wherever the line was drawn, the Middle East was in for big changes.

David Fromkin's Peace to End all Peace is especially good on the consequences of allowing imperialism to survive WWI.
Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Obama must bring back the opportunity society (Mark Penn, 01/24/12, The Hill)

In 1996, President Clinton used his SOTU speech to declare that the economy was the best it's been in a generation and to say that the "era of big government is over." These two themes were critical in taking President Clinton out of the trap of appearing to be a Democratic big spender and taxer and put him on the side of generating a new economy with expanded opportunities for all Americans. After the speech, he opened up a lead on the Republicans that they were never able to close. [...]

Job No. 2 is to show that he is serious about creating new economic opportunity in a changing world. America has the talent but isn't producing the engineers and computer scientists the country needs. Its manufacturing base has continued to erode, and its education and training systems are in need of reform. It's behind even in broadband. The president has to have more programs that are about teaching people how to fish and fewer about giving them fish. The theme has to be how he will bring back the "opportunity society" that is the bedrock of American success and the creation of the American middle class.

The means-testing stuff was a step in the right direction, but the rest was just about punitive taxes on the wealthy.  And, other than the health care mandate, there's still little evidence he grasps the opportunity/ownership society.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Why Romney's Still the One: With money and organization behind it, the campaign of the former Massachusetts governor is built for the long haul. (David Morris, January 24, 2012, Kiplinger)

First, the recent past. Last June, the former House speaker's campaign staff quit en masse, leaving him to run the race practically by himself. As a result, when his turn came as candidate of the month in the "Anybody but Romney" sweepstakes, he had little money and less organization. [...]

One result is already obvious: He didn't qualify for the ballot in Virginia, the state where he now lives. Romney will win there by default. Other results of the organizational shortcomings will become evident in February and March, when a cascade of primaries and caucuses will drain Gingrich's bankroll and strain his resource-thin operation. [...]

Gingrich also has a reputation -- again in the words of members of his own party -- as a loose cannon. In fact, there's an effective campaign ad just waiting to be made, quoting his fellow GOPers in the House, Senate and statehouses about why the prospect of a Gingrich presidency worries them. If Romney's team doesn't make this advertisement, you can bet President Obama's would if Gingrich were to somehow pull out the Republican nomination.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Survey paints portrait of black women in America (Krissah Thompson, 12/22/11, Washington Post)

Religion is essential to most black women's lives; being in a romantic relationship is not, the poll shows. Nearly three-quarters of African American women say now is a good time to be a black woman in America, and yet a similar proportion worry about having enough money to pay their bills. Half of black women surveyed call racism a "big problem" in the country; nearly half worry about being discriminated against. Eighty-five percent say they are satisfied with their own lives, but one-fifth say they are often treated with less respect than other people.

The poll's findings and dozens of follow-up discussions reflect the conversations black women are having among themselves at church halls after Bible study, at happy hours after work, in college lounges after listening to lectures by the likes of Nelson, 45, who five years ago quit her job at a big D.C. law firm to write a book, "Black Woman Redefined."

She often tells young black women to forget what the outside world projects for them and be bold: "You can play this however you want to. You're living in the age of Michelle Obama."

It is a time in which one-third of employed black women work in management or professional jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a record number are attending college. Black women with college degrees earn nearly as much as similarly educated white women. The number of businesses owned by black women has nearly doubled in the past decade to more than 900,000, according to census figures. Just Friday, Wal-Mart named Rosalind Brewer chief executive of Sam's Club, making her the first African American to be chief executive for a business unit of the world's largest retailer.

It is an age in which young black women see more options for themselves than ever. They can run a cable network (like Oprah Winfrey), lead a Fortune 500 company (like Xerox's Ursula Burns), become an international pop icon (like Beyonce). Secretary of State? Condi Rice has been there, done that.

But even in this "age of Michelle Obama," black women are rethinking the meaning of success and fulfillment. Many are concluding that self-empowerment is the road to happiness, and happiness does not require a mate.

"I can go to school. I can be successful. I can make money. I can have a career. That is in my power to control," says Towan Isom, 39, who owns a public relations firm in the District. "Finding a husband -- that would be great, but that's not in my power to control."

How depressing, to have elevated self above all else.
Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


J'ACCUSE! Why Obama is wrong on the HHS conscience regulations (Michael Sean Winters, Jan. 21, 2012, National Catholic Reporter)

 I come at this issue as a liberal and a Democrat and as someone who, until yesterday, generally supported the President, as someone who saw in his vision of America a greater concern for each other, a less mean-spirited culture, someone who could, and did, remind the nation that we are our brothers' keeper, that liberalism has a long vocation in this country of promoting freedom and protecting the interests of the average person against the combined power of the rich, and that we should learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. I defended the University of Notre Dame for honoring this man, and my heart was warmed when President Obama said at Notre Dame: "we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity -- diversity of thought, diversity of culture, and diversity of belief. In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family."

To borrow from Emile Zola: J'Accuse!

I accuse you, Mr. President, of dishonoring your own vision by this shameful decision.

I accuse you, Mr. President, of failing to live out the respect for diversity that you so properly and beautifully proclaimed as a cardinal virtue at Notre Dame. Or, are we to believe that diversity is only to be lauded when it advances the interests of those with whom we agree? That's not diversity. That's misuse of a noble principle for ignoble ends.

I accuse you, Mr. President, of betraying philosophic liberalism, which began, lest we forget, as a defense of the rights of conscience. As Catholics, we need to be honest and admit that, three hundred years ago, the defense of conscience was not high on the agenda of Holy Mother Church. But, we Catholics learned to embrace the idea that the coercion of conscience is a violation of human dignity. This is a lesson, Mr. President, that you and too many of your fellow liberals have apparently unlearned.

I accuse you, Mr. President, who argued that your experience as a constitutional scholar commended you for the high office you hold, of ignoring the Constitution. Perhaps you were busy last week, but the Supreme Court, on a 9-0 vote, said that the First Amendment still means something and that it trumps even desirable governmental objectives when the two come into conflict. Did you miss the concurring opinion, joined by your own most recent appointment to the court, Justice Kagan, which stated:

"Throughout our Nation's history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have 'act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.' Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 619 (1984). In a case like the one now before us--where the goal of the civil law in question, the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, is so worthy--it is easy to forget that the autonomy of religious groups, both here in the United States and abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws. To safeguard this crucial autonomy, we have long recognized that the Religion Clauses protect a private sphere within which religious bodies are free to govern themselves in accordance with their own beliefs. The Constitution guarantees religious bodies 'independence from secular control or manipulation--in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.' Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U.S. 94, 116 (1952)."

Pray, do tell, Mr. President, what part of that paragraph did you consider when making this decision? Or, do you like having your Justice Department having its hat handed to it at the Supreme Court?

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Gingrich and Reagan (Elliott Abrams, January 25, 2012, National Review)

The best examples come from a famous floor statement Gingrich made on March 21, 1986. This was right in the middle of the fight over funding for the Nicaraguan contras; the money had been cut off by Congress in 1985, though Reagan got $100 million for this cause in 1986. Here is Gingrich: "Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire's challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. . . . President Reagan is clearly failing." Why? This was due partly to "his administration's weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail"; partly to CIA, State, and Defense, which "have no strategies to defeat the empire." But of course "the burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan." Our efforts against the Communists in the Third World were "pathetically incompetent," so those anti-Communist members of Congress who questioned the $100 million Reagan sought for the Nicaraguan "contra" rebels "are fundamentally right." Such was Gingrich's faith in President Reagan that in 1985, he called Reagan's meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev "the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich."

Gingrich scorned Reagan's speeches, which moved a party and then a nation, because "the president of the United States cannot discipline himself to use the correct language." In Afghanistan, Reagan's policy was marked by "impotence [and] incompetence." Thus Gingrich concluded as he surveyed five years of Reagan in power that "we have been losing the struggle with the Soviet empire." Reagan did not know what he was doing, and "it is precisely at the vision and strategy levels that the Soviet empire today is superior to the free world."

There are two things to be said about these remarks. The first is that as a visionary, Gingrich does not have a very impressive record. The Soviet Union was beginning to collapse, just as Reagan had believed it must. The expansion of its empire had been thwarted. The policies Gingrich thought so weak and indeed "pathetic" worked, and Ronald Reagan turned out to be a far better student of history and politics than Gingrich.

The second point to make is that Gingrich made these assaults on the Reagan administration just as Democratic attacks were heating up unmercifully. Far from becoming a reliable voice for Reagan policy and the struggle against the Soviets, Gingrich took on Reagan and his administration. It appears to be a habit: He did the same to George W. Bush when Bush was making the toughest and most controversial decision of his presidency -- the surge in Iraq. Bush was opposed by many of the top generals, by some Republican leaders who feared the surge would hurt in the 2008 elections, and of course by a slew of Democrats and media commentators. Here again Gingrich provided no support for his party's embattled president, testifying as a private citizen in 2007 that the strategy was "inadequate," contained "breathtaking" gaps, lacked "synergism" (whatever that means), and was "very disappointing." What did Gingrich propose? Among other things, a 50 percent increase in the budget of the State Department.

We can't judge an intellectual like Newt for getting the Cold War so wrong, by comparison with RWR.  Recall Robert D. Kaplan's great quote: "In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, [Henry] 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."

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


U.S. Military Frees 2 Foreign Hostages From Somali Pirates (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 1/25/12, NY Times)

American commandos raced into Somalia on Wednesday morning and rescued two aid workers, including an American woman, after a shootout with Somali pirates who had been holding them captive for months.

The American soldiers swooped in by helicopter, killed nine pirates and captured several others, before spiriting away the hostages, who were not harmed, Western officials said.

It appeared that President Obama was fully aware of the raid as he was about to give his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, which would have been early Wednesday in Somalia.

According to NBC News, as the president stepped into the House chambers, he pointed to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta standing in the crowd and said, "Leon. Good job tonight. Good job tonight." The president made no mention of the rescue in Somalia, but he did refer to the killing of Osama bin Laden last May in a similar operation conducted by Navy Seals.
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January 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Newt's Troublesome Lack of Prudence (Michael Gerson, 1/24/12, Washington Post)

 Other candidates struggle to recall three points on a 3-by-5 card. Gingrich struggles to suppress the dissertation that might emerge at any moment. The ability to think in public is a rare political gift -- more common in Britain than in America. Bill Clinton would shine during prime minister's question time. So would Gingrich.

But Gingrich regularly gets into trouble when moving from analysis to prescription. Nearly every problem that crosses the threshold of his attention becomes historically urgent, requiring a fundamental solution. This is the reason for his most revealing verbal habit. Systems are "fundamentally broken" and require "fundamental change." Opposing views are "fundamentally a lie" and "fundamentally alien to American tradition." Only the biggest ideas are sufficient to his self-regard.

So Gingrich diagnoses the genuine threat of terrorism and radical Islam. Then he calls for a federal law against Shariah, which would address a nonexistent crisis while stigmatizing an entire faith.

He makes a strong case for early work experience in low-income communities. Then he goes further to dismiss child labor laws as "truly stupid" and urges the employment of students as assistant janitors.

Gingrich acknowledges the problem of climate change -- or at least he once did. But he proposed to combat it through geoengineering -- the risky manipulation of the planet's environment by pumping nitrogen into the oceans or deflecting the sun's rays with vast mirrors.

Gingrich's proposals for fundamental change are generally dismissed as Newt being Newt -- the hits and misses of a fertile mind. But his misses are frequent, revealing a pattern of poor judgment. And eccentricities in a candidate become troubling when considered in a president.

Can you imagine having to listen to him every night on tv?

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here (Tom Vanderbilt, January 20, 2012, Wired)

The last time I was in a self-driving car--Stanford University's "Junior," at the 2008 World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems--the VW Passat went 25 miles per hour down two closed-off blocks. Its signal achievement seemed to be stopping for a stop sign at an otherwise unoccupied intersection. Now, just a few years later, we are driving close to 70 mph with no human involvement on a busy public highway--a stunning demonstration of just how quickly, and dramatically, the horizon of possibility is expanding. "This car can do 75 mph," Urmson says. "It can track pedestrians and cyclists. It understands traffic lights. It can merge at highway speeds." In short, after almost a hundred years in which driving has remained essentially unchanged, it has been completely transformed in just the past half decade.

Google isn't the only company with driverless cars on the road. Indeed, just about every traditional automaker is developing its own self-driving model, peppering Silicon Valley with new R&D labs to work on the challenge. Last year, a BMW drove itself down the Autobahn, from Munich to Ingolstadt ("the home of Audi," as BMW's Dirk Rossberg told me at the company's outpost in Mountain View, California). Audi sent an autonomous vehicle up Pikes Peak, while VW, in conjunction with Stanford, is building a successor to Junior. At the Tokyo Auto Show in November, Toyota unveiled its Prius AVOS (Automatic Vehicle Operation System), which can be summoned remotely. GM's Alan Taub predicts that self-driving cars will be on the road by the decade's end. Groups like the Society of Automotive Engineers have formed special committees to draft autonomous-vehicle standards. Even Neil Young is getting in on the act: Roboticist Paul Perrone has been busily revamping the rocker's '59 Lincoln Continental to drive itself. "Everyone thinks this is coming," says Clifford Nass, director of Stanford's Revs Program.

As we drive the Google car--or are driven by it--I watch the action unfold on the computer monitor mounted on the passenger side of the dashboard. It shows how the car is interpreting the world: lanes, signs, cars, speeds, distances, vectors. The rendering is nothing special--a lot of blocky wireframe that puts me in mind of Atari's classic Battlezone. (The display is just one of a host of geeky details--to change lanes, for instance, the driver presses buttons marked Shift and Left on a keyboard near the monitor.) Yet it is absolutely fascinating, almost illicitly thrilling, to watch as the car not only plots and calculates the myriad movements of neighboring vehicles in the moment but also predicts where they will be in the future, like high-speed, mobile chess. Onscreen, the car is constantly "acquiring" targets, surrounding them in red boxes, tracing raster lines to and fro, a freeway version of John Madden's Telestrator. "We're analyzing and predicting the world 20 times a second," Levandowski says.

A car comes speeding along the adjacent on-ramp. Do we accelerate or slow? It's a moment that puzzles many human drivers. Our vehicle chooses to decelerate, but it can rethink that decision as more data comes in--if, for instance, the merging car brakes suddenly. The computer flags a car one lane over, maybe 30 feet in front of us, and slows imperceptibly. "We're being held back by this guy because we don't want to be in his blind spot," Levandowski says. A bus suddenly looms next to us. "Even if you can drive in the center of the lane, down to the centimeter, that doesn't mean it's the safest route," he says. And so the car drifts just a bit to the left to distance itself from the bus. "If you look at it, we're not actually driving center, though we're still not driving as bad as he is," he says, pointing to a gray SUV ahead that's straddling two lanes.

Levandowski has a point. I was briefly nervous when Urmson first took his hands off the wheel and a synthy woman's voice announced coolly, "Autodrive." But after a few minutes, the idea of a computer-driven car seemed much less terrifying than the panorama of indecision, BlackBerry-fumbling, rule-flouting, and other vagaries of the humans around us--including the weaving driver who struggles to film us as he passes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Israel jails Palestinian parliament speaker without trial (Harriet Sherwood, 1/24/12, guardian.co.uk)

The order to imprison Dweik was made the day after two Hamas politicians were arrested by Israeli police inside the east Jerusalem compound of the Red Cross, where they had sought refuge 18 months ago after being threatened with expulsion from the city.

Police said they arrested Mohammed Totah, a member of the PLC, and Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, on Monday for "Hamas activity in Jerusalem". Hamas is banned by Israel in the city.

The men had lived in a protest tent on Red Cross premises since July 2010, receiving visitors but not leaving the compound. The international body has no diplomatic immunity, unlike embassies.

Another Hamas PLC member, Abdel Jaber Fukaha, was arrested at his home in Ramallah this week, bringing the total number of council members in Israeli jails to 27. Nineteen have been detained without trial or charge.

The recent arrests are seen as part of an Israeli crackdown on the movement and activity of senior Palestinian figures, which is thought to be connected to moves towards reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Israel strongly opposes Palestinian reconciliation, believing it will give Hamas greater influence.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Patriots' Latest Super Bowl Berth Reminds Us That Boston Sports Fans Are Spoiled (Brandon Chase, Jan 24, 2012, NESN)

When President Barack Obama honored the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins at the White House on Monday, he jokingly said "The Bruins, the Sox, the Celtics, now the Patriots.  Enough already, Boston."

In retrospect, President Obama makes a valid statement.

The B's White House visit came less than 24 hours after the Patriots secured a fifth trip to the Super Bowl in the last 10 years and these two celebrations are a reminder of how spoiled Boston sports fans really are.

Anyone who's followed the Boston sports scene over the past decade knows about the Titletown label.  They have made the fanbases of the four home teams expect nothing less than the best year in and year out. Success is gauged not on regular season wins, or division titles, but by championships.  Boston sports fans are a unique breed and they demand perfection. They have the unprecedented run of title runs to thank for that.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


What exactly would President Obama do in a second term? (JOHN F. HARRIS and CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 1/24/12, Politico)

Take this quiz: If President Barack Obama wins a second term, he has promised that he will do ... what exactly?

There are people who follow the president closely who couldn't answer that question. And even those who try would surely find themselves disagreeing with one another.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Narcissism has a higher health cost for men (Tara Francis, 1/24/12, Cosmos)

A new study involving men diagnosed with narcissism - which describes an inflated sense of self-importance, over-estimations of uniqueness and a sense of grandiosity - has revealed the health risks associated with this personality trait. Although conducted in a stress-free environment, the results revealed that narcissistic men had higher levels of cortisol, a hormone indicating the activation of the body's stress response system.

"This study examines what is going on 'under their skin', and finds that narcissists actually have more stress hormones floating around in their veins," said Sarah Konrath a psychologist at the University of Michigan in the U.S. and co-author of the paper published today in PLoS ONE.

Man up.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Draft Jeb Bush (Artur Davis, January 24, 2012, National Review)

Enter the last dream date that Republicans may have at their disposal. His name is Jeb Bush, and this time, there is a feasibility around the idea that seemed unthinkable months ago.

To be sure, the Jeb scenario will need more instability in order to flourish. The likeliest path involves Gingrich's momentum carrying him through Florida; the February races in Arizona and Michigan dividing between Romney and Gingrich; Romney rebounding in March in moderate-leaning midwestern states such as Illinois and Wisconsin; Gingrich winning easily in the Deep South on Super Tuesday and Texas in early April, with Romney proving equally strong in New York and the rest of the Atlantic coastline, while states like Ohio and Indiana fail to resolve the split.

Imagine that California's ultimate showdown leaves Gingrich with the slightest of edges, but with Romney remaining viable and in possession of a broader geographic base, far more internal support from GOP leadership, and a substantial chunk of delegates. To stop Gingrich, Romney might have no practical choice but to offer to throw his support to Bush, whose popularity would also implode Gingrich's slim plurality.

Not one bit of it is implausible. Arguably, a deadlock is an entirely realistic outcome in a race where Romney's institutional edges are considerable, but his vulnerabilities and Gingrich's raw campaign skills are more than enough to offset that advantage. It is also all too likely that the result of a protracted bout would be two candidates so bruised that neither remains competitive with Obama. If so, there will be a sense of panic, and it is not hard to conceive that Romney could come under intense pressure to sacrifice himself to avert a November catastrophe.

The less probable outcome is that Jeb Bush would abandon a year of disclaimers to accept a draft in a brokered convention.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Mitt Romney Releases Tax Returns: Paid $6.2M in Taxes but $7M to Church and Charity (SREEJA VN, January 24, 2012, IB Times)

His disclosures show he earned $21.7 million in 2010, for which he paid tax at the rate of 13.9 percent - therefore he paid approximately $3 million in taxes.  According to the report, his income will stand at $20.9 million in 2011, for which he will pay tax at the estimated rate of 15.4 percent, amounting to $3.2 million.

The reported income figures indicate, as expected, a major chunk of Romney's income comes from capital gains. According to U.S. tax laws, such income is taxed at 15 percent. Romney indicated the same, in a statement made before the South Carolina polls. [...]

Another interesting factor that emerged from the tax revelations is that he has donated a total of $7 million to Mormon Church and a general charity, starting from 2010, while the total tax he paid to the American government for the same period is just $6.2 million.

The two big contrasts with Mr. Gingrich?  The latter's returns reflect alimony payments and just $2.6% in charitable giving.  And, of course, Mr. Gingrich would tax capital gains at 0%.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Chinese professor calls Hong Kong residents 'dogs of British imperialists' (Jonathan Watts, 1/24/12, The Guardian)

A professor at one of China's most prestigious universities has stirred up a hornets' nest in Hong Kong after publicly calling residents of the territory "bastards", "thieves" and "dogs of British imperialists".

Kong Qingdong of Peking University launched the tirade during a webcast interview at the weekend that has tarnished the reputation of his employer and intensified an already fierce debate about relations between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Recent surveys suggest only a third of the 7 million people in the territory consider themselves Chinese though almost 15 years have passed since the handover from British rule.
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January 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Did Giants Strategically Concuss Kyle Williams? (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, 1/23/12, New York)

The Giants' win over the 49ers in a magnificent throwback conference championship game at Candlestick Park yesterday turned on two fumbles by 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams, an obscure second-year player. That made Kyle Williams personally responsible for ten points in a game that ended 20-17. And the Giants, interviewed in the happy haze of the winning locker room, casually noted a provocative element of their game plan: They'd targeted Williams for extra violence because they knew he had suffered several concussions in the past, and they think it worked.

After the game, reporters crowded around the locker of Jacquian Williams, who'd forced the second fumble, hoping for an angle: Had the Giants noticed something about Kyle Williams's technique, some weakness in the 49ers punt-return scheme? "Nah," Williams said. "The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game." 

Devin Thomas, the reserve wide receiver who recovered both of Kyle Williams's fumbles, was even more explicit. "He's had a lot of concussions," Thomas told the Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi. "We were just like, 'We gotta put a hit on that guy.' ... [Giants reserve safety Tyler] Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up."

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM



Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas issued the following statement Monday on why he chose not to attend the White House with his teammates:

"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House...

New England always has to explain the Founding to the rest of the country.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Predictions about the death of American hegemony may have been greatly exaggerated (Daniel W. Drezner, January 22, 2012, Foreign Policy)

[T]here are three macrotrends that are worth observing now before (I suspect) they come up in the State of the Union: 

1)  The United States is successfully deleveraging.  As the McKinsey Global Institute notes, the United States is actually doing a relatively good job of slimming down total debt -- i.e., consumer, investor and public debt combined.  Sure, public debt has exploded, but as MGI points out, that really is the proper way of doing things after a financial bubble:

The deleveraging processes in Sweden and Finland in the 1990s offer relevant lessons today. Both endured credit bubbles and collapses, followed by recession, debt reduction, and eventually a return to robust economic growth. Their experiences and other historical examples show two distinct phases of deleveraging. In the first phase, lasting several years, households, corporations, and financial institutions reduce debt significantly. While this happens, economic growth is negative or minimal and government debt rises. In the second phase of deleveraging, GDP growth rebounds and then government debt is gradually reduced over many years....

As of January 2012, the United States is most closely following the Nordic path towards deleveraging. Debt in the financial sector has fallen back to levels last seen in 2000, before the credit bubble, and the ratio of corporate debt relative to GDP has also fallen. US households have made more progress in debt reduction than other countries, and may have roughly two more years before returning to sustainable levels of debt. 

Indeed, the deleveraging is impressive enough for even Paul Krugman to start sounding optimistic: 

the economy is depressed, in large part, because of the housing bust, which immediately suggests the possibility of a virtuous circle: an improving economy leads to a surge in home purchases, which leads to more construction, which strengthens the economy further, and so on. And if you squint hard at recent data, it looks as if something like that may be starting: home sales are up, unemployment claims are down, and builders' confidence is rising.

Furthermore, the chances for a virtuous circle have been rising, because we've made significant progress on the debt front. 

...with Mr. Obama taking steps to re-open the borders unilaterally.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


It is a myth that men feel pain more keenly than women, according to the largest study into the subject of its kind. (Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent6:00PM GMT 23 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)

When they looked at the pain scores of more than 72,000 patients, across 47 common health problems, they discovered that on average women reported feeling more pain in 39 of them.

Atul Butte from Stanford University in the US, the senior author of the study, said: "We saw higher pain scores for female patients practically across the board.

"In many cases, the reported difference approached a full point on the one-to-10 scale."

Explaining how big a difference that was, he said: "A pain-score improvement of one point is what clinical researchers view as indicating that a pain medication is working."

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Sen. Rand Paul Stopped by Airport Security (US News, January 23, 2012)

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the son of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and a frequent critic of the Transportation Security Administration, was stopped by security at the Nashville airport Monday when a scanner set off an alarm and Paul declined to allow a security officer to subsequently pat him down.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


THE OBAMA MEMOS: The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency. (Ryan Lizza, JANUARY 30, 2012, The New Yorker)

As a new President, Obama did not anticipate how effectively his political opponents would cast him as a polarizing figure. Despite the bonhomie at Will's house, most Republicans viewed him as a wily Chicago politician cosseted by a sympathetic liberal media. The over-all description was a caricature, but there is enough in Obama's political biography for Republicans to make a case. In fact, his ascent from law professor to President in a decade was marked by a series of political decisions that undercut some of his claims on the subject of partisanship and political reform.

In 1996, during his first run for office, in the Illinois State Senate, Obama defeated his former political mentor Alice Palmer by successfully challenging her nominating petitions and forcing her off the ballot, effectively ending her career. A few years later, Illinois Democrats, after toiling in the minority in the Senate, gerrymandered the state to produce a Democratic majority. While drafting the new political map, Obama helped redraw his own district northward to include some of Chicago's wealthiest citizens, making the district a powerful financial and political base that he used to win his U.S. Senate seat, a few years later.

Another hard-edged decision helped make him the Democratic Presidential nominee. In early October, 2007, David Axelrod and Obama's other political consultants wrote the candidate a memo explaining how he could repair his floundering campaign against Hillary Clinton. They advised him to attack her personally, presenting a difficult choice for Obama. He had spent years building a reputation as a reformer who deplored the nasty side of politics, and now, he was told, he had to put that aside. Obama's strategists wrote that all campaign communications, even the slogan--"Change We Can Believe In"--had to emphasize distinctions with Clinton on character rather than on policy. The slogan "was intended to frame the argument along the character fault line, and this is where we can and must win this fight," the memo said. "Clinton can't be trusted or believed when it comes to change," because "she's driven by political calculation not conviction, regularly backing away and shifting positions. . . . She embodies trench warfare vs. Republicans, and is consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done. She prides herself on working the system, not changing it." The "current goal," the memo continued, was to define Obama as "the only authentic 'remedy' to what ails Washington and stands in the way of progress."

Obama's message promised voters, in what his aides called "the inspiration," that "Barack Obama will end the divisive trench warfare that treats politics as a game and will lead Americans to come together to restore our common purpose." Clinton was too polarizing to get anything done: "It may not be her fault, but Americans have deeply divided feelings about Hillary Clinton, threatening a Democratic victory in 2008 and insuring another four years of the bitter political battles that have plagued Washington for the last two decades and stymied progress."

Neera Tanden was the policy director for Clinton's campaign. When Clinton lost the Democratic race, Tanden became the director of domestic policy for Obama's general-election campaign, and then a senior official working on health care in his Administration. She is now the president of the liberal Center for American Progress, perhaps the most important institution in Democratic politics. "It was a character attack," Tanden said recently, speaking about the Obama campaign against Clinton. "I went over to Obama, I'm a big supporter of the President, but their campaign was entirely a character attack on Hillary as a liar and untrustworthy. It wasn't an 'issue contrast,' it was entirely personal." And, of course, it worked.

The fourth momentous decision of Obama's political career provided the financial boost that made him President. On June 19, 2008, he announced that he would be the first Presidential candidate since 1976 to forgo public funds, which allow candidates to run in the general election while limiting the corrupting influence of fund-raising. This was an awkward and hypocritical decision, given that in 2007 Obama had explicitly promised that he would stay in the system. David Plouffe, his campaign manager, wrote in his memoir, "The Audacity to Win," that the promise had been a mistake: "We were overly concerned with making sure the reform community and elites like the New York Times editorial board, which care deeply about these issues, would look favorably on our approach." Obama, Plouffe noted, was "genuinely torn," but was eventually convinced that victory trumped idealism. Obama's choice allowed him to raise unlimited amounts of money while John McCain, who remained in the system, was limited to a check from the government for eighty-four million dollars. From September 1st to Election Day, Obama outspent McCain by almost three to one, and, as many Republicans are quick to note, ran more negative ads than any Presidential candidate in modern history.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Chris Christie: Newt Gingrich an 'embarrassment' to Republican party  (BLOOMBERG NEWS, January 22 2012)

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, who endorsed Romney in October, said today Gingrich humiliated the party when he was House speaker, citing Gingrich's $300,000 payment to resolve allegations of giving misleading information in a 1997 ethics probe.

"He was run out of the speakership by his own party," Christie said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "This is a guy who has had a very difficult political career at times and has been an embarrassment to the party."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


It's Working in Walker's Wisconsin: The governor's controversial labor reforms are already saving taxpayers millions. (Christian Schneider, Winter 2012, City Journal)

The unions' battle against Walker's reforms has rested on the argument that the changes would damage public services beyond repair. The truth, however, is that the reforms not only are saving money already; they're doing so with little disruption to services. In early August, noticing the trend, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Milwaukee would save more in health-care and pension costs than it would lose in state aid, leaving the city $11 million ahead in 2012--despite Mayor Tom Barrett's prediction in March that Walker's budget "makes our structural deficit explode."

The collective-bargaining component of Walker's plan has yielded especially large financial dividends for school districts. Before the reform, many districts' annual union contracts required them to buy health insurance from WEA Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the state's largest teachers' union. Once the reform limited collective bargaining to wage negotiations, districts could eliminate that requirement from their contracts and start bidding for health care on the open market. When the Appleton School District put its health-insurance contract up for bid, for instance, WEA Trust suddenly lowered its rates and promised to match any competitor's price. Appleton will save $3 million during the current school year.

Appleton isn't alone. According to a report by the MacIver Institute, as of September 1, "at least 25 school districts in the Badger State had reported switching health care providers/plans or opening insurance bidding to outside companies." The institute calculates that these steps will save the districts $211.45 per student. If the state's other 250 districts currently served by WEA Trust follow suit, the savings statewide could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

At the outset of the public-union standoff, educators had made dire predictions that Walker's reforms would force schools to fire teachers. In February, to take one example, Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad predicted that 289 teachers in his district would be laid off. Walker insisted that his reforms were actually a job-retention program: by accepting small concessions in health and pension benefits, he argued, school districts would be able to spare hundreds of teachers' jobs. The argument proved sound. So far, Nerad's district has laid off no teachers at all, a pattern that has held in many of the state's other large school districts. No teachers were laid off in Beloit and LaCrosse; Eau Claire saw a reduction of two teachers, while Racine and Wausau each laid off one. The Wauwatosa School District, which faced a $6.5 million shortfall, anticipated slashing 100 jobs--yet the new pension and health contributions saved them all.

The benefits to school districts aren't just fiscal, moreover. Thanks to Walker's collective-bargaining reforms, the Brown Deer school district in suburban Milwaukee can implement a performance-pay system for its best teachers--a step that could improve educational outcomes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Britain's anti-Unionists (Colin Kidd, 19.01.2012, European Voice)

Membership of the EU would, most likely, depend on negotiation. Certainly, that was the view of Romano Prodi and the European Commission when in 2004 a written question in the European Parliament asked whether a newly independent region within a member state would have to leave the EU and re-apply for admission. Prodi's reply was unequivocal: "When a part of the territory of a member state ceases to be a part of that state, eg, because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a newly independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union."

A significant consequence of having to reapply for EU membership is that new members do not receive an opt-out from the euro. This presents Salmond - a former economist - with a further headache, for he has more enthusiasm for the grand vision of European Union than he does for the practicalities of monetary union. Indeed, he has suggested that an independent Scotland might adopt the pound sterling. What Salmond really wants is continued membership of the EU and the valuable bequest of the UK opt-out from the single currency.

Ironically, in the unlikely but far from impossible scenario of a referendum victory for full independence, the Scottish Nationalists might well obtain what some of the most outspoken British nationalists in Cameron's Conservative Party most desire: uncomfortable withdrawal from the European Union.

Currently, however, opinion polls show that a higher proportion of English - than Scots - voters support Scottish independence from England. How convenient it would be for all concerned - for the Scots, for the English and for the EU - if the English seceded from the Scots. Then the Scots could remain in the EU as the successor state of the UK, the English could enjoy life outside the trammels of Brussels, and the European Union would be free at last of the English incubus against which Charles de Gaulle so presciently warned in the 1960s.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Showtime at the Apollo (MAUREEN DOWD, 1/22/12, NY Times)

In an interview with Fareed Zakaria for this week's Time cover story, the president is maddeningly naïve.

Asked about his cool, aloof style and his unproductive relationship with John Boehner, Obama replied: "You know, the truth is, actually, when it comes to Congress, the issue is not personal relationships. My suspicion is that this whole critique has to do with the fact that I don't go to a lot of Washington parties. And as a consequence, the Washington press corps maybe just doesn't feel like I'm in the mix enough with them, and they figure, well, if I'm not spending time with them, I must be cold and aloof. The fact is, I've got a 13-year-old and 10-year-old daughter."

Reagan didn't socialize with the press. He spent his evenings with Nancy, watching TV with dinner trays. But he knew that to transcend, you can't condescend.

The portrait of the first couple in Jodi Kantor's new book, "The Obamas," bristles with aggrievement and the rational president's disdain for the irrational nature of politics, the press and Republicans. Despite what his rivals say, the president and the first lady do believe in American exceptionalism -- their own, and they feel overassaulted and underappreciated.

We disappointed them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Online Gamers Achieve First Crowdsourced Redesign of Protein: Next up will be a more useful target--potent versions of small protein inhibitors that bind to and block the 1918 pandemic influenza virus (Jessica Marshall and Nature magazine  | January 22, 2012)

Obsessive gamers' hours at the computer have now topped scientists' efforts to improve a model enzyme, in what researchers say is the first crowdsourced redesign of a protein.

The online game Foldit, developed by teams led by Zoran Popovic, director of the Center for Game Science, and biochemist David Baker, both at the University of Washington in Seattle, allows players to fiddle at folding proteins on their home computers in search of the best-scoring (lowest-energy) configurations.

The researchers have previously reported successes by Foldit players in folding proteins, but the latest work moves into the realm of protein design, a more open-ended problem. By posing a series of puzzles to Foldit players and then testing variations on the players' best designs in the lab, researchers have created an enzyme with more than 18-fold higher activity than the original. The work was published January 22 in Nature Biotechnology.

"I worked for two years to make these enzymes better and I couldn't do it," says Justin Siegel, a post-doctoral researcher working in biophysics in Baker's group. "Foldit players were able to make a large jump in structural space and I still don't fully understand how they did it."

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Breast cancer screening cannot be justified, says researcher: Book argues harm outweighs small number of lives saved, and accuses mammography supporters of misconduct (Sarah Boseley, 1/22/12, The Guardian)

Peter Gøtzsche, director of the independent Nordic Cochrane Collaboration, has spent more than 10 years investigating and analysing data from the trials of breast screening that were run, mostly in Sweden, before countries such as the UK introduced their national programmes.

Mammography screening: truth, lies and controversy, from Radcliffe Publishing, spells out the findings of the Nordic Cochrane group for laywomen, rather than for scientists.

The data, Gøtzsche has maintained for more than a decade, does not support mass screening as a preventive measure. Screening does not cut breast cancer deaths by 30%, it saves probably one life for every 2,000 women who go for a mammogram. But it harms 10 others. Cancerous cells that will go away again or never progress to disease in the woman's lifetime are excised with surgery and sometimes (six times in 10) she will lose a breast. Treatment with radiotherapy and drugs, as well as the surgery itself, all have a heavy mental and physical cost.

"I believe the time has come to realise that breast cancer screening programmes can no longer be justified," Gøtzsche said. "I recommend women to do nothing apart from attending a doctor if they notice anything themselves."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM

A FEELING, NOT A THOUGHT (via The Other Brother):

BELIEF IN EVOLUTION BOILS DOWN TO A GUT FEELING: Intuitive reasoning may help explain why some people are more accepting of evolution than others. (Live Science, Jan 22, 2012)

[R]esearchers recruited 124 pre-service biology teachers at different stages in a standard teacher preparation program at two Korean universities. They chose to look at students in Korea because teacher preparation programs in the country are quite standardized. "In Korea, people all take the same classes over the same time period and are all about the same age, so it takes out a lot of extraneous factors," Haury explained.

Moreover, about half of Koreans don't identify themselves as belonging to any particular religion, he said. In the United States, only about 16 percent of people are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. (Religion can be a reason for not accepting evolution, as some think it goes against a god as a creator.)

The researchers first asked the students a series of questions to measure their overall acceptance of evolution, teasing out whether they generally believed the main concepts and scientific findings that define the theory of evolution. Next, they tested the students on their knowledge of evolutionary science with questions about various processes, such as natural selection. For each question, the students wrote down how certain they felt about the correctness of their answers -- an indicator of their gut feelings.

They found that intuition had a significant impact on what the students accepted, no matter how much they knew and regardless of their religious beliefs. Even students with a greater knowledge of evolutionary facts weren't more likely to accept the theory unless they also had a strong gut feeling about the facts, the results showed.

The study has important implications for the teaching of evolution, the researchers said. Informing students about this conflict between intuition and logic may help them judge ideas on their merits.

The implication is that it can't be taught.  If you think about it you'll recognise the theory is wrong.  The only thing that can make you believe in it is your feelings.  It's not a scientific matter

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


China Is 175.6% Dependent on the U.S. (Gordon G. Chang, 1/22/12, Forbes)

Commerce Department figures show that, through the first 11 months of last year, China's trade surplus against the United States was $272.3 billion.  That's up from $252.4 billion for the same period in 2010, a 7.9% increase.

The Commerce Department has not released the December trade number yet, and some are predicting that China's surplus against us will top $300 billion when all the figures are in. Yet let's assume, merely to be conservative, that China's December surplus is zero.  If December's surplus is zero, then 175.6% of China's overall trade surplus last year related to sales to the United States.  That's up from full-year figures for the three preceding years: 149.2% for 2010, 115.7% for 2009, and 90.1% for 2008.

Notice a trend?  The Chinese economy is becoming even more hooked on selling things to the United States.  Why the big jump last year?  Because orders from the 27-nation European Union for Chinese goods collapsed.  And if Europe falls apart this year--increasingly likely--China will become even more reliant on the American consumer.

January 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 PM


Patriots hold off Ravens 23-20 for AFC title (Robert Deutsch, 1/22/12, USA TODAY)

Usually, vintage Brady doesn't need much assistance in championship settings, but the Patriots much-maligned defense came through, and Brady's 1-yard touchdown dive with 11:29 left proved to be the winning points.

"Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us," Brady said after throwing for 239 yards, with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. "I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I'm proud of this team, my teammates."

As everyone knew going in, if you have a great running game and good defense you can overcome some quarterback mistakes, even if the opposing qb is having a great game.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


The Change We Can Actually See (But Only Half Believe In) (Peter Augustine Lawler, Fall 2011, Intercollegiate Review)

By thinking of ourselves more and more as free individuals who are responsible for ourselves, we have produced an aging society with a growing number of old people and fewer young ones. The result is that the ratio between productive and unproductive Americans continues to tilt in favor of the later, despite the fact that we put more of a premium than ever on being productive. (One reason among many why viewers are appalled by the advertising executives on Mad Men staggering back to the office from multiple-martini lunches is the loss of a half day's productive work.)

It is impossible to overstate the extent to which our existing entitlement programs were premised on "Baby Boom" demographics. As long as the population and the economy were both growing briskly, we could easily afford to sustain and even expand benefits for the elderly. Public policy deliberations in the late 1960s and early 1970s were also informed, however, by deep concerns about overpopulation. So President Nixon's Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1969) actually endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment as a way of discouraging female fertility--a way to get women to think of themselves less as mothers and more as free individuals. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that our experts were intent on undermining the demographic foundation of the welfare state. If it were reasonable to hope we could soon be anywhere close to returning to Baby Boom birthrates, there would be no talk today of entitlement reform.

Lockeans might begin to attempt to solve our demographic problem by saying that the old should just become more productive: we need to push the retirement age back--way back. If the elderly are healthy, they should keep working. We can expect that to happen, and responsible experts say many or most people might well be stuck working as long as they can. But there are obvious limits to that remedy. A high-tech society is full of preferential options for the young; the old might be healthy, but they still often lack the mental agility required to keep up with incessant techno-change. Even in college teaching--not a demanding profession--there's plenty of complaining that the abolition of mandatory retirement is keeping around the ineffective and out-of-touch at the expense of scholarly productivity and consumer (student) satisfaction. The aging, overpaid professorate is probably the most compelling argument against tenure, one that will prevail soon enough in our techno-meritocracy. If the old keep working, we will quickly realize, it will have to be in less productive and (much) lower-paid positions. After all, we value the wisdom connected with age less than ever, and we're getting more skeptical of the thought that being old means being entitled.

Some of our Tea Partiers--especially those in the rural South--believe that the dissolution of the welfare state will restore the situation that prevailed in most of our country's history of liberty. The elderly, like on The Waltons, will return to live in the homes of their children and grandchildren. I actually favor government programs that would facilitate that change, but again there are limits. A Lockean or techno-productive society has dispersed families throughout the country and the world. The ties that produced extended families are weaker than ever. It seems less natural or normal for parents and their grown children to share the same place.

Throughout most of our history, the health-care system has been dependent on most caregiving being done voluntarily by women. But that isn't usually possible in a Lockean country where women have become productive individuals just like men, and where there are fewer young people to provide caregiving, whether paid or voluntary, for the burgeoning number of elderly. Not only that, health care will remain far too costly for ordinary families to afford, and techno-progress by itself cannot make it cheaper. We are getting better and better at keeping the old and frail around, but our wonderful success in sustaining their biological being often takes decades of expensive medical intervention. The good news is that we are steadily pushing back cancer and heart disease. The bad news is that the default form of dying is becoming Alzheimer's, which is a long, predictable, costly, caregiving-intensive disease for which there is no cure. For young women compelled by duty or circumstances to care for a parent with such a disease, there will be less opportunity than ever to become a mom, and so the situation they face will be worse still for the generation to follow.

Locke himself rather coldly suggested that the only compelling tie parents will have on their grown children will be money. He wanted to free individuals from the constraints of patriarchy; he didn't want parents to be able to rule their adult children. And he didn't want the relations of free individuals to rely on love--except the love for little children (who are temporarily incapable of taking care of themselves). If you're going to get old--which Locke was in favor of--you'd first better get rich. Our libertarians aren't wrong to say that we should do what we can to encourage people to save for their own futures. But our 401(k)s can no longer be counted on to produce returns that outpace inflation. The average person is less sure than ever that his money will last as long as he will, but nonetheless he surely knows that he'll be stuck depending largely on his own money to live well.

The implosion of the welfare state, which is caused most of all by our aging society, doesn't look like a new birth of freedom for old folks. As we learn from Socrates's musings in The Republic, there may be nothing more difficult than being old and poor in a democracy, a regime which has no idea what old people are for. That is not to say that we are going to begin euthanizing the elderly or even "rationing" them to early graves. We know that the elderly are free persons--they're not nothing--and so we're committed to helping them stay around as long as possible. To say the least, however, we don't know much about how they might have purposeful lives in our increasingly individualistic world.

The Entitlement Implosion

The primary experience of most ordinary Americans these days is the erosion--with the prospect of implosion--of the various safety nets of our relatively minimalist welfare state. The change we can actually see has been, and will continue to be, from defined benefits to defined contributions. Private and even public pensions are done for. They will continue to be replaced by 401(k)s. That kind of change will also be true of health care, as employer-based plans become unsustainable. It will also soon be true of Medicare and probably Social Security--if not quite as soon as Representative Paul Ryan thinks. Ryan, it is already obvious, will come to be known as a man just slightly ahead of his time. In that sense, just as obviously, he is the real progressive--the prophet of the more or less inevitable world to come. And his opponents, who are called Progressives, are just as obviously the real reactionaries.

The good news here, the new birth of freedom celebrated by the Tea Party, is more choice--a lot more choice--for individuals. The bad news is that risk is being transferred from the employer and the government to the individual. All of our entitlements will have to be transformed in a Lockean or individualistic direction in what might nevertheless be futile efforts to save them. Other, related changes that Lockeans should believe in include the fact that unions, both public and private, are also done for--despite President Obama's efforts to prop them up. Their reactionary attempts at protectionism have no place in a globalized and rigorously competitive marketplace. The same can be said of the ideal of employer and employee loyalty. People will be able to be--and will have to be--a lot more entrepreneurial and self-employed. One reason among many that employer-based health care cannot survive is that it depends on an increasingly obsolete model of employment. The present health-care system is actually not particularly good for the self-employed--which is to say, for more and more of us. Fear of losing insurance shouldn't be a reason for passing up an entrepreneurial opportunity, and guilt about an employee's health-care situation shouldn't be a reason for not firing superfluous or inadequately productive employees.

All these economic changes have, of course, both good and bad aspects. We might say that they are changes we can sort of half believe in. The Tea Partiers are enthusiastic about a new birth of freedom and a return to the Lockean Constitution of our Founders. And there really is a lot of good to be said about a renewed emphasis on individual responsibility, just as there is a lot of good to be said about perfecting the productive meritocracy that is the main source of our prosperity. Perhaps there will also be a new birth of voluntary associations--such as the extended family, the church, and the neighborhood--and voluntary caregiving for the social support even free individuals need to live well. Lockean political and economic reform is not incompatible with Christian charity, and anxious, lonely individuals futilely pursuing an ever-elusive happiness and even more futilely trying to cheat death might have more reason than ever to turn to the organized and relational religion of the personal Creator. Certainly the usually solidly churched, big-family, and otherwise communitarian Tea Partiers don't really share the comprehensive libertarianism of our sophisticated autonomy freaks.

Status Quo Conservatism

It would be wrong, however, to call these changes popular. The Tea Party has peaked, and it never got anywhere near to a majority of Americans. People can't help but be conservative when it comes to preserving the entitlements on which they have come to rely. Consider that, at present, the Republicans continue to dominate the debate on health care; people remain convinced that Obamacare will wreck their employer-based plans without replacing them with anything nearly as good. Republicans are mostly campaigning against the president's bigger-government change without offering a clear alternative. They know, of course, that the employer-based schemes don't have much of a future. The Republicans' advantage over the president might fade quickly if they were to begin emphasizing the reasonable view that there is really no alternative but to have each individual buy his own private insurance, and have means-tested subsidies to make it possible for everyone to be covered. Individuals would have their own insurance; they would have more choice and could be cost-sensitive consumers; but they probably wouldn't get the coverage they have now at (to them) such a low cost.

When it comes to health care, most people are neither Progressives nor Lockeans. They are status quo conservatives, believing that change in any direction will not be progressive in the sense of serving their personal interests.

The biggest question about the Third Way--which is in many ways just the transition from benefits to contributions--is one that few have even considered yet, but that Mr. Lawler hints at here.  We can all grasp that contributing to private accounts at an early age is more cost effective than paying out benefits from public accounts at a later one (or later ones).  But once we truly start building those accounts up--which is rather easily done--we will also be "liberating" individuals from their dependence on anyone, everyone and every thing.  The troubling truth of the matter is that spending more money on social welfare up front does not increase dependence but increases atomization.  Even simply putting money into accounts for newborns and building those accounts for them until age 18 ends up providing them enough personal wealth that they don't just not need to make claims on the treasury in old age but, more troubling, end up independent from the help of family, friends, church, community associations, etc. altogether.  

We Burkeans recognize that conservatism must be progressive, rather than just a matter of the haves protecting the status quo from the have nots (as the Tea Party wishes).  But we have to be aware of the ways in which progressive conservatism--like privatizing Social Security and health care insurance and so forth--represents genuine danger to the values we hope to preserve.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


The Splintered Skeptic (Eric Schwitzgebel interviewed by Richard Marshall, 3AM Magazine)

Eric Schwitzgebel is a mad dog crazyist philosopher at the University of California, Riverside and argues really cool and smart ideas. He also hosts one of the top philosophy blogs, The Splintered Mind and writes books about his thoughts. He likes to have experiments to back up his philosophy, so he's a kind of experimental philosophy guy like Josh Knobe.

3:AM: You have come to suggest a new philosophical position, 'Crazyism', which is partly motivated by this work but broadens out into the thought that all metaphysical positions have to accept some counter-intuitivism somewhere along the line. Is this right? Can you explain your thinking here and why we should all be crazyists?

ES: Bizarre views are a hazard of metaphysics. If you look across the history of philosophy, all metaphysicians say crazy-seeming things when they talk in depth about such issues as the mind-body relation, personal identity, causation, and the basic ontological structure of the universe. Even philosophers who explicitly prize common sense can't seem to keep true to common sense about such matters. The great "common sense" Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid, for example, attributed immaterial souls to vegetables and said that physical objects can't even cohere into stable shapes without the regular intervention of immaterial souls. So here's the question: Why? Why are there no truly commonsensical metaphysicians? Nietzsche, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Descartes, David Lewis - all of them say some incredibly bizarre-seeming stuff. Why is metaphysics so uniformly crazy?

My suggestion is this: Common sense is incoherent in matters of metaphysics. There's no way to develop an ambitious, broad-ranging, self-consistent metaphysical system without doing serious violence to common sense somewhere. It's just impossible. Since common sense is an inconsistent system, you can't respect it all. Every metaphysician will have to violate it somewhere.

Common sense is an acceptable guide to everyday practical interactions with the world. But there's no reason to think it would be a good guide to the fundamental structure of the universe. Think about all the weirdness of quantum mechanics, all the weirdness of relativity theory. The more we learn about such things, the more it seems we're forced to leave common sense behind. The same is probably true about metaphysics.

But here's the catch: Without common sense as a guide, metaphysics is hobbled as an enterprise. You can't do an empirical study, for example, to determine whether there really is a material world out there or whether everything is instead just ideas in our minds coordinated by god. You can't do an empirical study to determine whether there really exist an infinite number of universes with different laws of physics, entirely out of causal contact with our own. We're stuck with common sense, plausibility arguments, and theoretical elegance - and none of these should rightly be regarded as decisive on such matters, whenever there are several very different and yet attractive contender positions, as there always are.

This is the turf we defended in the now won Long War.  It all just amounted to the Faith of the Anglosphere vs. the Reason of the continent.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


The hangover: America is recovering from the debt bust faster than European countries. Why? (The Economist, Jan 21st 2012)

Government borrowing soared everywhere after 2008 as government deficits ballooned. But in America the swelling of the public balance-sheet has mirrored a shrinking of private ones. Every category of private debt--financial, corporate and household--has fallen as a share of GDP since 2008. The financial sector's debt is now at its 2000 level. Corporate indebtedness, never very high, has shrunk. So, more importantly, has household debt. America's ratio of household debt to income is down by 15 percentage points from its peak in 2008, after rising by over 30 percentage points in the eight preceding years. McKinsey reckons America's households are between a third and halfway through their debt-reduction process. They think the household-debt hangover could end by mid-2013.

In Europe private debt has fallen much less and in some cases even risen. In Britain the financial sector's debts have grown since 2008. In Spain corporate debt, far higher as a share of GDP than in most rich countries, has barely budged. But the biggest difference is among households. Even countries which saw the biggest surges in household debt during the bubble era, such as Britain and Spain, have scarcely seen a dent since 2008. McKinsey's analysts reckon it will take British households up to a decade to work off their debt burdens.

Two of the biggest variables that will further distance us from other developed nations: (1) we're the only one that will get a big Peace Dividend; and (2) we're the only one that will welcome a big new wave of immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Concordia disaster: Should a captain go down with his ship?  (Theodore Dalrymple9:06PM GMT 18 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)
Before the event, the captain accepted his own authority without difficulty or reservation. He was, however, tried and found wanting, perhaps for reasons partly personal but perhaps partly cultural: not because he was Italian but because he was modern - that is to say, without an unthinking allegiance to a standard of conduct that in some circumstances might be, or might appear, ridiculous or counterproductive but in others is essential to the performance of difficult duty.

Hard cases make bad law and even worse sociology, though they are the stock in trade of philosophy, and there is no wickedness or weakness under the sun that is without precedent. Captain Schettino's story appears human, all too human: possibly a vainglorious man (but there are worse crimes than vainglory) who panicked at the one crucial moment of his career, and who will now spend the rest of his life in a state of bitter remorse and regret.

Could he have known in advance that he was not up to the mark, that no man was less fitted than he for such an emergency? I hope it is not taken for lack of sympathy for the victims and their relations to say that, on the scale of human monstrosity, the captain does not climb very high. His place on the scale of human weakness is another matter.

As it happens, one of the great books of our literature, Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, deals with a similar case. The hero, if that is quite the word for him, is mate on an old rust bucket that is taking 800 Muslim pilgrims to Arabia. The boat sinks and Jim saves his skin, an act of cowardice for which he pays for the rest of his life. Marlow, the narrator of the story, describes his fate in words that resonate today:

"Nothing more awful than to watch a man who has been found out, not in a crime but in a more than criminal weakness. The commonest sort of fortitude prevents us from becoming criminals in the legal sense; it is from weakness unknown, but perhaps suspected, as in some parts of the world you suspect a deadly snake in every bush - from weakness that may lie hidden, watched or unwatched, prayed against or manfully scorned, repressed or maybe ignored more than half a lifetime, not one of us is safe."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Saudi Arabia. Nigeria. Venezuela. Canada?: Is our neighbor to the north becoming a jingoistic petro-state? (Will Oremus, Jan. 20, 2012, Slate)

It's well known that America's dependence on foreign oil forces us to partner with some pretty unsavory regimes. Take, for instance, the country that provides by far the largest share of our petroleum imports. Its regime, in thrall to big oil interests, has grown increasingly bellicose, labeling environmental activists "radicals" and "terrorists" and is considering a crackdown on nonprofits that oppose its policies. It blames political dissent on the influence of "foreigners," while steamrolling domestic opposition to oil projects bankrolled entirely by overseas investors. Meanwhile, its skyrocketing oil exports have sent the value of its currency soaring, enriching energy industry barons but crippling other sectors of its economy.

Yes, Canada is becoming a jingoistic petro-state.

OK, so our friendly northern neighbor isn't exactly Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. But neither is it the verdant progressive utopia once viewed as a haven by American liberals fed up with George W. Bush. These days Canada has a Dubya of its own. And judging by a flurry of negative press from around the world--the latest: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other African leaders are taking out newspaper ads accusing Canada of contributing to famine and drought on the continent--it seems anti-Canadianism could be the new anti-Americanism.

...because, if you like the UR--and, by extension, support his pipeline decision--you apparently have to hate Canada.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


A Better Tax System (Assembly Instructions Included) (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 1/22/12, NY Times)

TAX CONSUMPTION RATHER THAN INCOME Almost four centuries ago, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggested that taxes should be based on consumption, not income. Income measures a person's contribution of labor and capital to society's production of goods and services. Consumption measures the quantity of those goods and services he gets to enjoy. Hobbes reasoned that because consumption better reflects the benefits a person receives as a member of society, it is the proper basis of taxation.

Much modern economic theory confirms that conclusion. In standard models, a consumption tax allows the economy to achieve the best allocation of resources over time, whereas an income tax needlessly discourages saving, investment and economic growth. [...]

TAX BADS RATHER THAN GOODS A good rule of thumb is that when you tax something, you get less of it. That means that taxes on hard work, saving and entrepreneurial risk-taking impede these fundamental drivers of economic growth. The alternative is to tax those things we would like to get less of.

Consider the tax on gasoline. Driving your car is associated with various adverse side effects, which economists call externalities. These include traffic congestion, accidents, local pollution and global climate change. If the tax on gasoline were higher, people would alter their behavior to drive less. They would be more likely to take public transportation, use car pools or live closer to work. The incentives they face when deciding how much to drive would more closely match the true social costs and benefits.

Economists who have added up all the externalities associated with driving conclude that a tax exceeding $2 a gallon makes sense. That would provide substantial revenue that could be used to reduce other taxes. By taxing bad things more, we could tax good things less.

Republicans don't like taxing their own welfare benefits, like the externalities of driving.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Thatcher shaped Labour's left as much as its right (Emma Burnell, 22 January 2012, New Statesman)

New Labour was not the unbroken continuation of Thatcherism that some (even some key New Labour figures) like to argue. Their record levels of investment in the public sector would have been anathema to Thatcher, and they redistributed income in ways she wouldn't have dreamed of. But they did nothing to change the economic paradigm they inherited, instead working around it or using it to their advantage to fund their priorities.

As a result, they also pursued measures that were as fiercely opposed by the left, both in Labour and more widely, as any of those brought in by Thatcher. 

So some on the Labour left have been opposing the Government for over 30 years. That has changed the left and the way we view ourselves and our role in democracy. The question is, is that change irrevocable?

While the left have a long and proud tradition of protest, the modern language of the left has become almost exclusively the language of opposition. Defend, stop, protect. The image of the left has become an image of protest. We march, we chant, we demand.

Since Thatcher, the left have fought to conserve or restore what came before, while the right have imposed far-reaching culture-changing policies. David Cameron's Government have taken up this "everything must change" mantra with alarming force. Within one term of office they will have changed so much of what we expect from government and the state.

If we expect nothing more of a Labour government than to restore damage done by the Tories, we will have allowed Thatcher to steal and pervert the mantle of the progressive. No wonder David Cameron is so comfortable with that crown.

If the left of Labour exists simply to oppose the measures we don't like, we will never convince a democratic majority that a radical, workable alternative to Thatcherism exists. We become the new conservatives - speaking only of protecting and reinstating past glories. 

Not surprisingly, the Right has as much trouble accepting this reality as the Left. The voters throughout the Anglosphere have none.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Seminarians they are, even Megadeth bassist (TIM TOWNSEND, 12/19/12, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Ellefson grew up in the church. Each Sunday, his family drove from their farm in southwest Minnesota to Our Savior's Lutheran Church, where David attended Sunday school and was confirmed at age 16. His mother sang in the choir. His father was active on the building committee.

Just a few years after his confirmation at Our Savior's, in the summer of 1983, Ellefson moved to Los Angeles. Within a week of arriving, he had formed a band and named it Megadeth for the unit of measurement equal to the death of 1 million people by nuclear explosion. Soon, he was playing bass on stage in front of thousands of heavy metal fans in New York with other bands like Metallica and Slayer. In 1985, Megadeth released its first album, "Killing Is My Business ... And Business Is Good!"

In "The Skull Beneath the Skin," Ellefson and his bandmates sang:

"Mean and infectious the evil prophets rise

Dance of the Macabre as witches streak the sky

Decadent worship of black magic sorcery

In the womb of the Devil's Dungeon trapped without a plea"

In the 1980s and 1990s, Megadeth gained a reputation for an intelligent take on heavy metal, earning several Grammy Award nominations, and was known for its album covers, many of which depicted a character named Vic Rattlehead, a skeleton whose eyes, ears and mouth were fused closed with metal.

But by the time Ellefson was 25, the rock star lifestyle had caught up to him. In a 12-step recovery program, he was reintroduced to his faith and embraced it. He moved to Arizona, married and had children. He also began church shopping, eventually landing at Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Scottsdale.

"I came from a good family, not a broken home," said Ellefson, 47. "That became a model for me, and I saw church at center of it."

The Rev. Jon Bjorgaard , pastor of Shepherd of the Desert, asked Ellefson to start a contemporary worship service. Ellefson began to use lyrics from the Old Testament as a springboard for songwriting, penning praise music -- worship songs with a soft-rock hook.

"For a Christmas service, I remixed some classics, not quite in a Megadeth fashion, but in a pretty heavy rock fashion," Ellefson said.

Combining his musical abilities and his faith led Ellefson to a deeper exploration of Christianity, he said. And it led him to start a new music ministry within the walls of Shepherd of the Desert.

He called it MEGA Life, partially a play on Megadeth. But it's also a reference to a verse from the Gospel of John: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Newt Gingrich and the Politics of Frustration (JAY COST, 1/22/12, Weekly Standard)

Conservatives are very frustrated, and rightfully so. Their feeling is that they play by the rules - they work hard, pay their taxes, raise their kids right - but what do they get for it? Their values are mocked on television and the movies, the media castigates them as a bunch of extremists, they pay taxes while half of the country does not, and the Obama administration took to demagouging them virtually from day one of his tenure. I know of what I speak - a few months back I was driving down the road and saw a sign in front of a business lamenting, "Where is the America I grew up in?" I nodded my head in approval.

Enter Newt Gingrich, the person on the debate stage who finally speaks truth to power. 'Not so fast, John King!' 'Hold it just a damned minute, Diane Sawyer!' 'How dare you talk to me like that, Brian Williams!' These are the sorts of thoughts that millions of conservatives have every week. And now here is Newt Gingrich actually saying it right to them. Never mind the fact that he is expressing indignation at liberals while sometimes offering not-so-conservative policies, or using it as a form of misdirection to turn attention away from his own questionable deeds. Conservatives everywhere love to hear somebody finally stick it to the elites.

This explains why they are excited about the prospect of an Obama-Gingrich debate. They love the thought of someone finally standing in front of Obama and saying, "How dare you, sir!"

The problem with Gingrich, of course, is that he comes with a cargo ship full of baggage - ideological, financial, and personal. Gingrich has made a career since leaving the House as a well-connected insider; he has bona fide ethical scandals on his resume. His personal life is a total mess, and he has turned off the broad middle of the country for the last 15 years. And on top of that, it's doubtful that all of this outrage is genuine. Consider, for instance, Gingrich warmly complimenting John King after the CNN debate this week. How do we square that with King having done something so "close to despicable" just 120 minutes earlier?

So, ironically enough, while Gingrich could well be the most suited of the three remaining major candidates to representing conservative frustration at the president in the fall, he could well be the least suited to pulling off an actual win in November.

January 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


'Egypt's economy better within 7 years'  (Hatem Khedr, 1/18/12, The Egyptian Gazette)

Egyptian economy will, within seven years, be better than the Turkish and Malaysian economies, because of the economic programme of the party which wants to achieve a real developmental renaissance, an official in Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has said.

[Mohamed] Gouda, a member of economic committee of the FJP, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has won more than 50 per cent in the People's Assembly (PA) elections, stressed that this programme is based on respecting economic freedom and also respecting people's property. [...]

"The party seeks to develop the so-called human knowledge economy, which considers man as a source of knowledge, by developing software and technology as India has done, in order to export goods valued at $160 billion per annum," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Israeli Arabs have never been equal before the law  (Yitzhak Laor, 1/20/12, Ha'aretz)

Last week's decision by the High Court of Justice to uphold the amendment to the Citizenship Law that keeps Palestinians apart from their Israeli spouses has closed a chapter in the life of Israeli democracy. The Supreme Court no longer wants to protect Israel's Arab citizens. [...]

The looming expulsion of thousands will be carried out with the silent agreement of enlightened members of society. This silence does not stem from their deep respect for the High Court of Justice. Its cause is that maintaining a Jewish majority is an ideological common denominator for the overwhelming majority of Israelis, and this ruling is a symptom of the demographic arguments made on their behalf.

But in effect, Rubinstein was lying. In order to discriminate against the Arab citizens of Israel, Rubinstein wrote about residents of the territories, who do not live in an enemy state. They live in an Israeli ghetto, a bantustan, without the right, as blacks had in apartheid South Africa, to earn a living from their masters.

The State of Israel is officially in its 64th year. But it can be more accurately seen as an imaginary entity that existed in reality only for the 19 years between 1948 and 1967.

Temporariness is an illusion. For jurists it's also a cynical trick.

The expulsion of women and children from their homes will be carried out by a state that has never held Arabs to be equal before the law. That's the real reason an Israeli constitution was never written. That inequality was the wound. Now it's just pus.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Charity needs capitalism to solve the world's problems (Bill Clinton, 1/20/12, Financial Times)

Charity alone will not solve the world's problems. Capitalism can help and at the same time put people back to work. [...]

The common thread through all this evidence is that private wealth can effectively advance the public good when governments, businesses and non-governmental organisations work together to share expertise and implement lasting solutions. When our bottom line is more about strengthening the future than maintaining the present, and when our financial interests are aligned with our social ones, we will be closer to the kind of world we want all our children to live in.

One of the ways in which I have been trying to support the work of leaders around the world as they rethink our approaches to global problems is via the vigorous discussions and diverse commitments that are generated through our Clinton Global Initiative. To date, members of CGI have made more than 2,100 commitments that have already improved, or are now helping, the lives of nearly 400m people in 180 countries. Many of these commitments reflect the new approach to problem-solving by better aligning the interests and objectives of private corporations, governments and non-governmental organisations. Beyond their specifics, the goal of these projects is to work ourselves out of a job - not to generate perpetual aid dependence.

These efforts benefit both the communities they target and the corporations and philanthropists involved, diversifying their businesses, expanding their markets, training more potential workers and helping to create a culture of prosperity. All this enhances profits, increases economic inclusion and gives more people a stake in a shared future.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Car Batteries Are Not Just For the Car (MATTHEW L. WALD, 1/20/12, NY Times)

Coda Holdings will make minor modifications to battery packs for its cars, which use Chinese-manufactured lithium iron phosphate cells, and sell them individually or grouped together -- both for storing solar power when homeowners' rooftop panels generate more than they use, and to help businesses reduce their peak loads. Business customers usually pay for electricity on the basis of their highest level of use.

Because the packs are designed for cars, they are already modular and thus easy to scale up or scale down. Coda plans to sell its sedan with a battery pack of 31 kilowatt-hours or 36 kilowatt-hours; both numbers are roughly what a suburban house uses per day. The stationary module will be 40 kilowatt-hours.

The batteries could also pay for themselves in places where peak-hour power costs more than off-peak power, the company says, although very few places have such "time of use" rates today.

Posted by orrinj at 11:02 AM


Bullfighting thriving in Himalayas (AFP, January 21, 2012)

A half-tonne bull enters the ring, snorting and rearing, before running at full pelt towards a section of spectators, drawing screams of fear and delight from the frenzied crowd.

It could be a scene from any Spanish arena but this is bullfighting Nepal-style, with thousands trekking deep into the Himalayan foothills to watch a centuries-old spectacle whose popularity is growing even as its appeal wanes in Europe.

Every year thousands of Nepalis come to see the animals fight at a festival marking Maghe Sankranti, the first day of the tenth month in the nation's calendar when villagers celebrate an end to winter and usher in warmer weather.

Unlike its European cousin, there are no matadors -- the beasts take on each other -- and buffalo are preferred to traditional bulls, which are sacred in the Hindu-majority country.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


France Weighs Pullout After 4 of Its Soldiers Are Killed (STEVEN ERLANGER and ALISSA J. RUBIN, 1/20/12, NY Times)

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France suspended military training and assistance for Afghan forces on Friday and said he would consider an early withdrawal from Afghanistan after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers on a base in eastern Afghanistan.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


"The Time for Games is Over" (Interview with Amitai Etzioni -- 16.01.2012, The European)

The European: You are German by birth, American by choice. Looking back across the Atlantic now, what is your impression of the European state of affairs? 

Etzioni: I am looking at Europe not as an American but as a sociologist who has studied the European Union from the very beginning. Today we can observe a tragic mistake: The introduction of more European centralism without the construction of a sense of community. It is impossible to impose constraints on nation-states from the outside unless those nations are bound to the larger entities by a sense of loyalty and commitment.

The European: Advocates of EU integration would respond that times of crisis demand determined actions. The focus is on securing the foundations of the EU, not on democratic processes or a European identity.

You can't make stuff like that up. These folks really think the institution itself is more important than its legitimacy.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Snapshot of a Creative Destruction (John Steele Gordon, January 21, 2012, The American)

One technology replaces another only when it is better or cheaper or both. The automobile, for instance, was so much more versatile, safe, and easy to use than the horse and buggy that, once Henry Ford brought its price within reach of the average man, it replaced the old technology in only 20 years.

Eastman Kodak, one of the iconic American companies for most of the 20th century, likewise rose to greatness on the basis of a new technology. Now, apparently, it will die because of another. [...]

By the 1920s, Eastman Kodak had a near monopoly on both film and cameras in the United States, controlling about 90 percent of the film market and 85 percent of the camera market, a monopoly that it would enjoy for decades. The company was added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1930 and would stay on the list until 2004. For most Americans, photography simply was Kodak, and its yellow boxes were seen everywhere. Paul Simon had a hit song called "Kodachrome," after the company's signature color film, the first in the world for the amateur market, introduced in 1935.

In the 1980s, the Japanese Fujifilm began to make inroads into the American market, cutting into Kodak's sales. And then came digital photography. Digital photographs do not use film, instead they capture light on an array of light-sensitive sensors and then store the image as a digital file.

The advantages over film are almost limitless. A digital camera can take and store hundreds of pictures of astonishing resolution. And once you purchase the camera, there is nothing else to buy: No film, no processing. And, of course, there's no waiting. Digital photography is instant photography. The images are easily stored--impervious to heat and moisture--in a computer, which can also edit, organize, manipulate, and send them to others. It is little surprise then that, once the price dropped within reach, digital photography largely replaced film in only a decade.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Bread Touched by Human Hands (TAMMY LA GORCE, 1/20/12, NY Times)

Mr. Young scoffs at the word artisanal -- "everyone's an artisan now," he said -- but it is a fair description of the baking process at Balthazar and several other bakeries in New Jersey that make crisp baguettes, hearty multigrain loaves and sourdough ryes in a similar hands-on fashion, if on a smaller scale.

The Witherspoon Bread Company in Princeton is one such bakery. Carlo Momo opened the 990-square-foot shop in 1998 to supply bread to the other restaurants that he owns with his brother Raoul as part of the Princeton-based Terra Momo Restaurant Group. The bakery is in the process of changing its name to the Terra Momo Bread Company to make the connection to the restaurants -- including Eno Terra in Kingston -- more apparent, Carlo Momo said.

He keeps an eye on the trashcans in the restaurants to make sure as little bread as possible is wasted. "Denis puts so much work into making this bread -- I'm always telling the servers, put out a little, let people ask for more," said Mr. Momo, 53, of Princeton.

Denis is Denis Granarolo, the head baker, recruited from Paris by Mr. Momo before Witherspoon's opening. Mr. Granarolo begins working at 2:30 a.m. and finishes at 11 a.m., by which time he has churned out racks of 24-inch round sourdoughs ($9.90), black olive batards ($3.50) and baguettes ($2.40), among other breads and pastries.

"The difference between us and another bakery is time," said Mr. Granarolo, 54, of Princeton Junction. Sometimes it takes two days before dough is deemed ready to bake.

He also chooses his flour carefully, relying on the unbleached King Arthur Flour for many breads, he said.
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January 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Etta James obituary: Blues and soul singer with a raw, emotional vocal style (Garth Cartwright, 1/20/12, guardian.co.uk)

James's continuing appeal to new generations was proved when the R&B superstar Beyoncé played James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. The British pop singer Adele said that it was buying an Etta James CD when she was 13 that made her want to sing.

She was born Jamesetta Hawkins to 14-year-old Dorothy Hawkins and an unknown white father, although James maintained he was the pool shark Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, and was raised at first in Los Angeles by adoptive parents. From the age of five, she sang gospel in the local church and later acknowledged the influence of the choirmaster, Professor James Earl Hines.

When Jamesetta's adoptive mother died, Dorothy reappeared and took her 12-year-old daughter to San Francisco. Dorothy was a hustler and showed no inclination to change her lifestyle. "She was never there when I got off from school," James recalled, "so I could pretty much do what I wanted to do ... drinking, smoking weed." Violence and substance abuse were now constants in James's life and she would maintain a difficult, combative relationship with her mother across many decades.

James formed a vocal trio, the Creolettes, with two teenage friends. They auditioned for the maverick R&B band leader Johnny Otis. He was so impressed with James's voice and her songwriting skills that he offered to take her to Los Angeles the following day to record Roll With Me Henry. She agreed, lied to him that she was 18 and, when he demanded her mother's signed consent, went home and forged it - Dorothy was then in prison.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Ron Paul Was Implicated In Failed White Supremacist Island Invasion (Casey Gane-McCalla, January 20, 2012, NewsOne)

In 1981, a lawyer tried to subpoena Ron Paul to testify in the trial of Don Black, a Grand Wizard for the Ku Klux Klan who would later go on to found the white supremacist, neo-Nazi website, Stormfront. Black was charged along with two other Klansmen with planning to violently overthrow the small Caribbean country of Dominica in what they called "Operation Red Dog." While a judge refused to subpoena Paul, Don Black would come back to haunt him many years later.

In 1981 a group of American and Canadian white supremacists lead by Klansman and mercenary, Michael (Mike) Perdue planned on taking over a small West Indian country called Dominica by overthrowing the government and Prime Minister Eugenia Charles and restoring its previous prime minister, Patrick Johns into power. The group planned to create an Aryan paradise in Dominica and make money through casinos, cocaine and brothels.

On the day the group of white supremacists were supposed to travel to Dominica, they were arrested by ATF agents and were found with over thirty automatic weapons, shotguns, rifles, handguns, dynamite, ammunition, a confederate flag and a Nazi flag. The plan would be dubbed "The Bayou Of Pigs" after the failed invasion of Cuba.

The leader of the group, Michael Perdue, would plead guilty to planning the coup and turned state's evidence. Perdue would testify that several other people helped organize and fund the coup and that two Texas politicians were aware of the plan. Among those Perdue implicated were infamous white supremacist, David Duke, former Texas Governor, John Connally and Congressman, Ron Paul whom he claimed knew about the plot. Connally was credited with helping Paul win his first congressional election.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


via Popular Science
Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Clive James on why Morse still shows Holmes who's boss (Clive James, 1/20/12, The Telegraph)

A one-off harbinger to the adventures of Inspector Morse, Endeavour (ITV1) was a complete success right up to the moment when the plot collapsed into the usual tangle. Part of this triumph must be attributed to a strange fact. The storyline, nominally concerned with Morse when he was only a detective constable, has, except for the presence of his assistant Lewis, everything we learned to expect when Morse was a detective inspector: Oxford landscapes, music, classy murderess etc. We see him take his first pint of the stuff that will eventually kill him and instantly we are full of regret. The actor, Shaun Evans, looks as innocent as Billy Budd. Already we want him to live forever, if only to hear his voice, which is an uncanny imitation of how he will sound in the future. This could be the prequel to a new series that outdoes what it pretends to precede, as it were.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Tesla's Model S Sets a New Standard for Battery-Powered Cars (John Voelcker, 01.20.2012, Popular Science)

Until now, there hasn't been an all-electric car fit for road-tripping. But Tesla's Model S, due out late in 2012, is made for extended drives. Its battery goes up to 300 miles on a charge. Its cabin is spacious enough for seven passengers. And it can get up to cruising speed fast--the Model S accelerates from 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Romney calls on Gingrich to release ethics violation report (Ewen MacAskill in Charleston and Chris McGreal, 1/20/12, guardian.co.uk)

Newt Gingrich departs after a tour of the University of South Carolina Children's Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
Mitt Romney has moved to fend off a late surge in support for Newt Gingrich in South Carolina's Republican primary election by calling on him to release a secret congressional report that saw Gingrich become the first speaker of the House of Representatives convicted of ethics violations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Remembering John Thaw and Inspector Morse: Twenty-five Years of the most intelligent cop show ever to hit the small screen. (LARRY THORNBERRY, 1.20.12, American Spectator)

Two anniversaries, this month and next, for what is probably the most intelligent cop show ever to hit the small screen.

One anniversary is to be celebrated. It was 25 years ago this month that "The Dead of Jericho," the first of 33 episodes of the splendid Inspector Morse series was broadcast in 1987 in the UK. It was immediately popular in Old Blighty and remains so in re-run today, more than a decade after the last new episode hit the air. New Morse episodes routinely drew television audiences of 15 million and more in a country of 60 million. Few television series can truthfully be called a phenomenon. Morse can.

Morse also played to enthusiastic audiences when it migrated to the U.S. a year later, airing mostly on PBS stations. By now Morse has been watched and enjoyed in almost every country advanced enough to have a television transmitter.

The second anniversary, in February, is a sad one. It will mark 10 years from the too-early death of John Thaw, the talented and versatile British actor who brought the quirky but ever-fascinating Morse to life on the screen. [...]

Even though Thaw's Morse was far from the generic 30-something, tough guy, hunk of popular cop series, it seems that many of the ladies have found Morse's lonely persona attractive. I had to laugh, as I read Thaw did, when more than one female reviewer described Thaw as "the thinking woman's bit of crumpet." Eat your heart out, Brad Pitt.
Inspector Morse was so far off from anything that existed or could have been anticipated, I'm sure reading the concept before Morse was aired would have made a marketing major's teeth hurt. Focus groups would have lost consciousness. Morse fit no known niche, no expectation. It was its own category. And it worked.

Morse works because it's human drama at the highest level. The makers of the show hired the best writers, and some of Britain's top actors appear in the episodes. The characters are well drawn: The moody but intelligent Morse. The down-to-earth Lewis (played by Kevin Whatley -- who now has his own first-rate series, Inspector Lewis). And the crusty but reliable Detective Chief Superintendent Strange, played by James Grout. Morse deals with the basic and unchanging issues of the human condition, which is why it can still be watched with profit today while Miami Vice and such-like series are badly dated.

Morse is essentially apolitical. But TAS readers will recognize in Morse a man who understands the importance of the rule of law and justice, the interests of which he always puts ahead of gain or personal advancement. Morse is also a man impatient with neologisms and with the daffier aspects of post-everything culture. He's an independent old croc, thoroughly comfortable with the old ways, as most TAS readers would be comfortable with him.

I'd not realized until an ITV special that Colin Dexter had a Hitchcockian walk-on in all the films.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Exodus of Workers From Continent Reverses Old Patterns (RICHARD BOUDREAUX in Madrid and PAULO PRADA, 1/14/12, WSJ)

Economic distress is driving tens of thousands of skilled professionals from Europe, and many are being lured to thriving former European colonies in Latin America and Africa, reversing well-worn migration patterns. Asia and Australia, as well as the U.S. and Canada, are absorbing others leaving the troubled euro zone.

At the same time, an influx of Third World immigrants whose labor helped fuel Europe's growth over the past decade is subsiding. Hundreds of thousands of them, including some white-collar professionals, have been returning home.

The exodus is raising concern about a potential long-term cost of the economic crisis--a talent drain that could hinder the euro zone's weakest economies as they struggle to climb out of recession.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Obama Says He Restored America's Image as 'Sole, Indispensable Power' (Devin Dwyer, 1/19/12, ABC News)

Sharpening his argument for a second term, President Obama tonight told groups of campaign donors in New York that he is responsible for restoring a "sense of America as the sole, indispensable power" in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Keystone Madness (Robert Samuelson, 1/19/12, Washington Post)

President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is an act of national insanity. It isn't often that a president makes a decision that has no redeeming virtues and -- beyond the symbolism -- won't even advance the goals of the groups that demanded it. All it tells us is that Obama is so obsessed with his re-election that, through some sort of political calculus, he believes that placating his environmental supporters will improve his chances.
Aside from the political and public relations victory, environmentalists won't get much. Stopping the pipeline won't halt the development of tar sands, to which the Canadian government is committed; therefore, there will be little effect on global warming emissions. Indeed, Obama's decision might add to them. If Canada builds a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific for export to Asia, moving all that oil across the ocean by tanker will create extra emissions. There will also be the risk of added spills.
Now consider how Obama's decision hurts the United States. For starters, it insults and antagonizes a strong ally; getting future Canadian cooperation on other issues will be harder.

He'll just trade approval in the next round of budget negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


The Sound of Silence: There are fewer and fewer places to flee the cacophony of human activity, but much more is at stake than peace and quiet: The noise from gas drills, airplanes, and other industry is drowning out mating calls, disrupting migrations, and driving species to the brink. VIRGINIA MORELL reports on the world's last quiet places (VIRGINIA MORELL, JANUARY 2012, Conde Nast Traveler)

"Listen," said Bernie Krause. He rolled down his car window, and we sat silently for a moment. It was an hour before dawn, still dark and foggy in the Mayacamas Mountains, a northern California coastal range. But somewhere in the distance, a bird was calling--a high, bright, lively song that seemed at odds with the misty gloom. "A song sparrow," Krause whispered. "They're always the first to sing here." The sparrow's opening notes meant that this day's dawn chorus had begun. Wherever wild birds live, mornings start this way, with males ascending to their perches to sing and welcome the day. "The dawn chorus is one of the earth's best and oldest songs," Krause said, grabbing his recording equipment and tripod. "But most of us in the industrialized world have never heard it. And it's disappearing."

Despite years of camping, I'd never listened so intently to the birds' celebration of sunup, so I hurried along with Krause down a gravel trail, eager to hear more. Other bird species would soon be adding their voices to those of the sparrows, and Krause wanted to capture the full choral effort on his digital recorder. The 73-year-old Krause is a bioacoustician (he prefers the term soundscape ecologist), though in another life he was one of the first masters of the Moog synthesizer. He had worked with The Doors, Mick Jagger, and Van Morrison, but gave up the glamour of rock and roll in the 1970s to travel the world and record its vanishing biophony--a term he coined to describe the planet's natural, non-human sounds. Many of those journeys took him to exotic locales--Rwanda for gorillas, the Amazon for jaguars, Alaska's Glacier Bay for humpback and killer whales. Yet every month for 17 years he has come to this same spot in the Mayacamas, not far from his Sonoma County home, to record the birds at dawn. It is one of the best places left in California, he'd told me earlier, to hear the dawn chorus uninterrupted by cars, jets, leaf blowers, generators, or any of the multitude of motorized noises that make up our modern cacophony.

"Usually, it's an hour or so before we hear the first motorcycle or airplane," he said, stopping at his chosen spot to attach his microphone to the tripod. He set it among some low-growing bushes, pointed it toward the oaks and chaparral that bordered a stream, plugged the headphones into the recorder, and handed them to me. "This is what changed my life," he said. "Stand quietly, try not to move."

I put on the headphones and was suddenly engulfed in birdsong--so much so that for a moment I took them off to look around. Where were all these birds? The sun's first rays were just lighting the foggy gray around us, and I thought I should be able to see them. Certainly, I could hear them through the headphones. Krause smiled, understanding my bewilderment. "Just listen," he advised. I put them back on, and once again felt the slight disorientation of being pulled into an invisible world, one I had never known existed. Goldfinches added their quick, metallic notes to the more melodious calls of the sparrows; robins and grosbeaks whistled sweetly, juncos chirped, and towhees wheezed tow-wheee, tow-wheee. Every few minutes, another species joined the chorus, creating the morning's biological symphony. I was instantly addicted, and I wanted to know why. Even more, I wanted to know why these once ubiquitous choruses are in such decline. And not just birdsong but many of the natural noises that Krause and other bioacousticians say are highly imperiled, such as those of frogs and fish. That meant asking Krause some questions, so I reluctantly gave up the headphones. We left the microphone in place and the recorder running while we took a walk.

"What you're hearing through the headphones is the world the way our ancestors heard it, before mechanical sounds dominated everything," Krause explained. "The microphone pulls in the biophony, so it seems that you're in your own private music hall. You can get lost in this," he added with a smile. The sounds are also captivating because they follow a pattern similar to a musical score, he contends, and because they restore our sense of balance with nature. "We rarely listen--really listen," he said, recalling a night hunt he once joined with the Jivaro people in the Amazon Basin. They used the cries and trills of frogs and insects to find their way and to locate their prey, while Krause stumbled along anxiously after them in the dark. "They were at ease in the forest because they could interpret what they heard, but most of us have lost that ability."

That's partly because we now live in such a visually dominated world, where image is everything--think TV, film, the Internet. And even when we put in the earbuds of our iPods, we often do so to block out the contemporary clamor and retreat to our own private aural universe. "I'm not against people," Krause said. "I'm pro people. But we'd all be healthier if we had stronger connections to these natural soundscapes."

...is that if someone honks their car horn they're a tourist from outside the Valley. Quiet is valued here.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Apple Releases Free iTunesU App & Enhanced University Courses (Plus Textbooks) (Open Culture, 1/19/12)

Apple has released a new 
iTunesU appthat lets students access enhanced university courses ... for free. Once you download the app, you can select courses that combine audio/video lectures with supporting materials: books and articles (sometimes free, sometimes not), transcripts of lectures, exercises, slideshows, useful software and beyond

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


A real market economy ensures that greed is good (John Kay, 18 January 2012, Financial Times)

Sixty years of division of the Korean peninsula has created two states with very different standards of living in one country. The Korean example is pathological. The division of Germany resulted in two states, both functional in economic terms, but one far richer. The less noticed comparison between the modern economic histories of Finland and Estonia had the same outcome.

There are few controlled experiments in economics, but these are as close as we get, and the results were clear. They were also unexpected. Hard though it is to believe today, in the 1960s many serious commentators on left and right believed that Russian economic progress threatened western hegemony. Those on the left were naively credulous and those on the right victims of paranoid fantasies.

A perhaps apocryphal story tells of a Russian visitor, impressed by the laden shelves in US supermarkets. He asked: "So who is in charge of the supply of bread to New York?" The market economy's answer - that not only is no one in charge, but it is a criminal offence for anyone to seek that position - is surprising. In the words of the economists Kenneth Arrow and Frank Hahn, "the immediate common sense answer to the question 'what will an economy motivated by individual greed and controlled by a very large number of different agents look like?' is probably 'there will be chaos'." Our intuition is that a centrally planned allocation of resources will be more efficient than an uncoordinated one. In a market economy, that error constantly leads us to overestimate the economic advantages, and longevity, of large companies.

January 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Simple kitchen gadgets can make cooking time much more satisfying (BECKY DUNAWAY SMITH, 1/19/12, The Star-Telegram)

Batter up!

This 2-quart mixing bowl has measurements embossed on the inside of both sides (easy to read for both left- and right-handed cooks) and has a convenient pour spout. It has an anti-skid base and is BPA-free, and the handle detaches to making storing a snap. It also comes with a vented lid to keep batter fresh longer. The set is microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe. $17.95 a set, King Arthur Flour.

Custom-drawn dough

This new Pancake Pen is an innovative way to capture kids' imagination. Draw pancakes directly onto the griddle! The Pancake Pen holds three cups of batter. It's a neat, easy way to fill cupcake tins, too. Measurements are clearly marked on the cap and bottle. Dishwasher-safe in top rack. $12.95, King Arthur Flour.

Cupcake couture

Notch up the wow factor for muffin and cupcake presentation with bold, grease-proof muffin papers. Simply put the tall papers into your regular muffin tin, fill and bake as usual. Papers are 2 inches by 31/2 inches and hold 1/3 cup of batter. Available in brown, red and white. $6.95 for a set of 24, King Arthur Flour.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM

The Little Willies On World Cafe (World Cafe, January 19, 2012)

The informal nature of The Little Willies speaks to its members' chemistry and love of country-music classics; after all, their moniker is a tribute to country-music legend Willie Nelson. Composed of Norah Jones (piano, vocals), Richard Julian (vocals), Jim Campilongo (guitar), Lee Alexander (bass) and Dan Rieser (drums), the group got its start in 2003, playing at New York City's Live Room for sheer enjoyment. It soon became clear that The Little Willies' energy and talent could not stay limited to a one-time show. The band released its eponymous debut in 2006 -- it's full of Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson covers -- and just returned, six years later, with For the Good Times.


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Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Marianne Gingrich Interview Proves Newt's Toxic Narcissism: With the revelation that Newt wanted an "open marriage" six years into his affair with Callista, it seems more obvious than ever that we're dealing with a narcissist of unprecedented levels--and that should make even his staunchest supporters nervous (Michelle Cottle, 1/19/12, Daily Beast)

Before he dumped Marianne for Callista, Newt Gingrich approached his second wife of 18 years with the possibility of an open marriage.

I ask you: how awesome is that?

In an interview airing tonight on Nightline, Marianne recalls Newt complaining to her. "You want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do."

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Auto Plants at Capacity Buoying All Parts of U.S. Economy: Cars (Jeff Green, Jan 18, 2012, Bloomberg)

Bobbi Marsh puts her 11-year-old son to bed each night and then heads to her job at General Motors Co. (GM)'s metal-stamping plant in Lordstown, Ohio. She gets home in time to make him breakfast.

Marsh, 34, is one of thousands of auto workers in the U.S. benefiting from the return of a third shift at factories -- often from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. -- translating to 24-hour-a-day production at many plants for the first time since the industry collapse in 2009. At the nadir, some plants ran only one eight- hour shift.

The new third shifts, adding more than 4,300 jobs in four states at GM alone, bring jobs to the economy and revenue to governments as well as demand at odd hours for everything from daycare and dentistry to financial services and food. U.S. auto plants this year may operate at about 81 percent of capacity after falling as low as 49 percent in 2009, according to estimates from IHS Automotive in Northville, Michigan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Soccer's Heavy Boredom: It's true. Mostly nothing happens. Why do we keep watching? (Brian Phillips,  January 17, 2012, Grantland)

So why do soccer fans do this? Assuming we follow sports for something like entertainment, what do we get out of a game for which the potential for tedium is so high that some of its most famous inspirational quotes are simply about not being dull?3

I keep thinking about this question lately, maybe because I've been finding myself drawn to more and more boring games. This past weekend, I sat through the slow cudgeling death of Liverpool-Stoke. The final score was 0-0, but the final emotional score was -5. During Swansea's deliriously fun 3-2 upset of Arsenal on Sunday, I kept switching over to Athletic Bilbao's mundane 3-0 win over Levante. Why am I doing this? I thought, as Fernando Amorebieta whuffed in a gloomy header and Levante pinned themselves into their own half. But I kept checking back.

There are two reasons, basically, why soccer lends itself to spectatorial boredom. One is that the game is mercilessly hard to play at a high level. (You know, what with the whole "maneuver a small ball via precisely coordinated spontaneous group movement with 10 other people on a huge field while 11 guys try to knock it away from you, and oh, by the way, you can't use your arms and hands" element.) The other is that the gameplay almost never stops -- it's a near-continuous flow for 45-plus minutes at a stretch, with only very occasional resets. Combine those two factors and you have a game that's uniquely adapted for long periods of play where, say, the first team's winger goes airborne to bring down a goal kick, but he jumps a little too soon, so the ball kind of kachunks off one side of his face, then the second team's fullback gets control of it, and he sees his attacking midfielder lurking unmarked in the center of the pitch, so he kludges the ball 20 yards upfield, but by the time it gets there the first team's holding midfielder has already closed him down and gone in for a rough tackle, and while the first team's attacking midfielder is rolling around on the ground the second team's right back runs onto the loose ball, only he's being harassed by two defenders, so he tries to knock it ahead and slip through them, but one of them gets a foot to it, so the ball sproings up in the air ... etc., etc., etc. Both teams have carefully worked-out tactical plans that influence everything they're trying to do. But the gameplay is so relentless that it can't help but go through these periodic bouts of semi-decomposition.

But -- and here's the obvious answer to the "Why are we doing this?" question -- those same two qualities, difficulty and fluidity, also mean that soccer is uniquely adapted to produce moments of awesome visual beauty. Variables converge. Players discover solutions to problems it would be impossible to summarize without math. The ball sproings up in the air ... and comes down in just such a way that Dennis Bergkamp can pull off a reverse-pirouette flick that spins the ball around the defender and back into his own path ... or Thierry Henry can three-touch a 40-yard pass in the air before lining it up and scoring a weak-foot roundhouse ... or Zlatan Ibrahimovic can stutter-fake his way through an entire defense. In sports, pure chaos is boring. Soccer gives players more chaos to contend with than any other major sport. So there's something uniquely thrilling about the moments when they manage to impose their own order on it.

...but, it is mainly an awful set of rules that make the game so much more boring than the one it most resembles, hockey.  The main interruptions to the fluidity of the game come from offsides calls, fouls in the box, and defenders putting the ball out of play.  The three are easily dealt with. Establish a set offsides line, pretty high up the field, and once the ball is over the line every subsequent player is onsides.  Establish a crease around the goal, into which offensive players may not intrude, which would not just get rid of the scrums in the goal mouth but force players to shoot the ball more.  And allow a free kick, rather than a throw-in, on balls played out of bounds--a kick from the spot where the ball was played. 

The response to a bad game should be change, not acceptance.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


The shared delusions of Labour and the unions: Labour Party leader Ed Miliband versus the British trade union bosses? A plague on both their empty houses. (Mick Hume, 1/19/12, spiked)

The portentous language might make it sound like an historic split. But this fall-out over percentage points reveals that the leaders of Labour and the trade unions still share deeper delusions.

First, they share the delusion that Miliband's new announcement marks a big departure in Labour policy. Labour wants to dress up its acceptance of public-sector pay restraint as a bold step towards its new vision of 'responsible capitalism'. The unions want to highlight Labour's 'betrayal' to distract from their own inability to oppose the coalition's actual imposition of a public-sector pay freeze and subsequent one per cent cap.

In fact this 'new' policy is merely the logical outcome of Labour's approach since the financial crisis hit. The last New Labour government (of which Miliband was a member) itself imposed an identical one per cent limit on public-sector pay rises! Neither side can truly face the fact that Labour is just a 'responsible' wing of the all-party consensus behind the politics of austerity.

Second, they appear to share the delusion that this is really a struggle for the soul of the Labour Party. Miliband's few supporters hope it will be a 'Clause 4 moment', marking a brave new era just as Tony Blair did by ditching the old left's totemic clause of the party constitution. The union leaders, meanwhile, talk about a 'Blairite coup' to derail Labour.

In truth, Labour sold whatever soul it had long ago. The Labour Party 'as constituted' was destroyed years before Blair turned up to give it the last rites. It was the prior death of traditional Labourism that allowed the New Labour clique to take over the remains, not the other way round.

Since the party died, Labour leaders bereft of any alternative politics have tried to demonstrate their authority by beating the rump of the left.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Do We Really Look That Peculiar?: A UK professor brings a foreigner's perspective to "peculiar" U.S. institutions and finds us wanting: a rfeview of The Founding Fathers vs. The People: Paradoxes in American Democracy By Anthony King (MICHAEL JOHNSON on 1.19.12, American Spectator)
(Harvard University Press, 242 pages, $35)

[K]ing rather sheepishly acknowledges that despite a Constitution that seems, in part, undemocratic or even anti-democratic, such as the Electoral College, and "remarkably resistant to change," the "overwhelming majority of Americans ... are reasonably content with the [political] system as a whole."

He attacks our alleged conflicts and contradictions by first lecturing the U.S. reader on how other countries do it and second by what can only be described as a taunt -- claiming European institutions are generally more democratic than American ones. These claims will be hard for most Americans to digest even if they manage to swallow his rather laborious argumentation.

Being blessedly devoid of utopian delusions, the Founders left us a system the point of which is to restrain our democracy, or, as Jefferson put it: "In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution. "

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Newt Gingrich: The Indispensable Republican: In the twelve years since he resigned in defeat and disgrace, he has been carefully plotting his return to power. As 2012 approaches, he has raised as much money as all of his potential rivals combined and sits atop the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. But just who is Newton Leroy Gingrich, really? An epic and bizarre story of American power in an unsettled age. (JOHN H. RICHARDSON, September 2010, Esquire)

She was married to Newt Gingrich for eighteen years, all through his spectacular rise and fall, and here she is in a pair of blue jeans and a paisley shirt, with warm eyes and a big laugh and the kind of chain-smoking habit where the cigarettes burn right down to the filter -- but she's quitting, she swears, any day now.

We're having breakfast in a seaside restaurant in a Florida beach town, a place where people line up in sandals and shorts. This is the first time she's talked about what happened, and she has a case of the nerves but also an air of liberation about her. Since he was a teenager, Newt Gingrich has never been without a wife, and his bond with Marianne Gingrich during the most pivotal part of his career made her the most important advisor to one of the most important figures of the late twentieth century. Of their relationship, she says, "We started talking and we never quit until he asked me for a divorce."

She sounds proud, defiant, maybe a little wistful. You might be inclined to think of what she says as the lament of an abandoned wife, but that would be a mistake. There is shockingly little bitterness in her, and she often speaks with great kindness of her former husband. She still believes in his politics. She supports the Tea Parties. She still uses the name Marianne Gingrich instead of going back to Ginther, her maiden name.

But there was something strange and needy about him. "He was impressed easily by position, status, money," she says. "He grew up poor and always wanted to be somebody, to make a difference, to prove himself, you know. He has to be historic to justify his life."

She says she should have seen the red flags. "He asked me to marry him way too early. And he wasn't divorced yet. I should have known there was a problem."

Within weeks or months?

"Within weeks."

That's flattering.

She looks skeptical. "It's not so much a compliment to me. It tells you a little bit about him."

And he did the same thing to her eighteen years later, with Callista Bisek, the young congressional aide who became his third wife. "I know. I asked him. He'd already asked her to marry him before he asked me for a divorce. Before he even asked."

He told you that?

"Yeah, he wanted to -- "

But she stops. "Hey, turn off the tape recorder for a second. This is going to go places ..."

January 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


As number of Latino evangelicals grows, it's not politics as usual (Rafael Romo, 1/13/12, CNN)

When Jobe launched New Life Community Church 25 years ago, the Midway neighborhood where his main campus is located was primarily populated by descendants of Polish, Lithuanian and Italian immigrants. Now, the neighborhood is primarily Hispanic.

Jobe estimates that as much as 70% of New Life's 6,000 members are Hispanic.

"They don't typically undermine [the church] where they came from," Jobe said.
"They value the tradition, but what they often tell me is that they were not learning as much about the Bible and how it relates to their life today."

The shift at New Life Community Church in Chicago is a reflection of a national trend, according to Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

"While three-quarters of first-generation Hispanics [in the United States] are Catholic, the percentage for second- and third-generation Latinos goes down to less than 60%," Lugo said. "Generation makes a huge difference. Later generations are much more likely to be converts."

Why does it matter? According to the Pew Forum, there are key political differences among Latinos based on their religious preference.

Hispanic Catholics tend to vote Democrat by a two-to-one margin while Evangelicals and Pentecostals are evenly split between the two parties. In 2004, then President George W. Bush won 60% of the Latino evangelicals, a percentage that political parties are likely to pay attention to as they develop their strategy for the 2012 presidential election.

Hispanic evangelicals and Pentecostals tend to be more politically active than Catholics, have higher rates of citizenship and exercise their right to vote.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Norwich, Vt., offers weekend travels charm, shopping, dining, and outdoor adventure: Historical inns, various menus, but winter here means feeling the scenery (Dirk Van Susteren,  JANUARY 18, 2012, Boston Globe)


Most visitors to the area, especially those who bake, consider King Arthur Flour (135 Route 5, 802-299-2240, www.kingarthurflour.com, Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sat 8:30-6, Sun 8:30-4) a must-see. Visit the gift shop and cafe for bakeware, cooking gadgets, and cookbooks; sample the pastries and artisanal breads and have a cup of coffee; or consider enrolling in classes at the Baking Education Center. Got a yen to do a bit more shopping? Try Dan & Whit's (319 Main St., 802-649-1950, www.danandwhits.com), a renowned general store that brags, "If we don't have it, you don't need it.'' It sells regular grocery goods and hardware, meats and maple syrup, wine and woolens. Bookish? There's the Norwich Bookstore (291 Main St., 802-649-1114, www.norwichbookstore.com) a few paces farther down the road. For those looking for a little intellectual stimulation (or a place for restless kids) take a quick drive to the Montshire Museum of Science (1 Montshire Road, 802-649-2200, www.montshire.org), which features more than 125 exhibits, many of them hands-on. The exhibits, outdoor trails, and gift shop are open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Another great place to spend an afternoon is Hood Museum of Art on the Dartmouth campus in nearby Hanover (603-646-2808, www.hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu, free admission). The Hood considers itself a teaching museum that encourages direct engagement with art. Opportunities for outdoor adventure are everywhere in Vermont, no matter the season. For something new and unusual, try Nordic, Scandinavian-style ice skating on a 4.5-mile, snow-cleared loop of Lake Morey, a trail that starts at the Lake Morey Resort (1 Clubhouse Road, 800-423-1211, www.lakemoreyresort.com) in the town of Fairlee. The resort has several rinks as well, and a rental shack where one can be outfitted with hockey, figure, or Nordic skates.


Next to the Hood Museum on the Dartmouth campus is the Hopkins Center for the Arts (2 East Wheelock St., Hanover, N.H., 603-646-2422, hop.dartmouth.edu/performances), offering plays, concerts, dance productions, and films. Just as close, in White River Junction, is the Tupelo Music Hall (188 South Main St., 802-698-8341, www.tupelohallvermont.com), featuring nationally known musicians performing in various genres.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Mammography is overrated (Cornelia Baines, 1/17/12, National Post)

Advocates for screening claim that early detection achieves increased survival time. But it's not clear this is the case. Early detection may result in more years lived with knowledge of the disease -- compared to a woman whose cancer started at the same time but was detected later. If both women end up dying of breast cancer at the same time, no additional years were gained by early detection.

The important outcome when assessing screening benefits should be reductions in deaths from breast cancer, or even better, a reduction in mortality from all causes. The latter has never been shown. Furthermore, when women are over-diagnosed with breast cancer, they will falsely be regarded as long-term survivors.

Finally, we cannot overlook the issue of conflicts of interest. For decades, the imaging industry has publicly excoriated panels who dared to evaluate the effectiveness of early screening, such as the NIH Consensus Conferences, the Cochrane Collaboration, the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care and the United States Preventive Services Task Force. These panels were all indisputably objective, multi-disciplinary and expert. But their guidelines were antithetical to the industry's interests.

The truth of more than four decades worth of research is now very clear: The potential benefit of mammography screening is small and the harms are substantial.

Tumor removal is about aesthetics, not health.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Mitt Romney runs strongest against President Obama in new WaPo/ABC poll (Chris Cillizza, 01/17/2012, Washington Post)

Mitt Romney is in a statistical dead heat in a general election matchup with President Obama in a new Washington Post- ABC News poll, a finding sure to bolster the former Massachusetts governor's argument that he is the most electable candidate in the GOP field.

Romney takes 48 percent to Obama's 46 percent in the survey, by far the best that any of the remaining GOP candidates perform against the incumbent. Obama leads former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 52 percent to 40 percent, holds a 49 percent to 42 percent edge over Texas Rep. Ron Paul and enjoys a 52 percent to 41 percent margin over former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to step down from his position: Palestinian Islamist party's political chief will retire at upcoming leadership elections, says group's former representative (Harriet Sherwood, 1/18/12, guardian.co.uk)

Khaled Meshaal, the political chief of Hamas, is to step down from his position when elections for the leadership of the Palestinian Islamist organisation take place in the next few months, according to a senior colleague.

Meshaal will retire to allow a fresh leader to steer Hamas towards a new strategy, Mustafa Lidawi, a former representative of Hamas in Lebanon, wrote in an article on an Arab website.

Meshaal has been head of Hamas's political bureau since 1996, and has been based in Damascus since the following year.

In recent weeks, he has indicated that Hamas should make a strategic turn away from armed struggle to popular non-violent resistance in the wake of the Arab spring revolutions and the success of Islamist parties in elections.

At a meeting in November with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to discuss reconciliation between rival factions Fatah and Hamas, Meshaal said he would reposition the organisation away from violent resistance.
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January 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Recommendations from Obama jobs council have a conservative tilt (Christi Parsons, January 17, 2012, LA Times)

President Obama's jobs council is recommending a series of job-creating proposals with a distinct Republican flavor -- just the latest economic message to emerge as Obama prepares for his contest with the eventual Republican nominee.

Obama's jobs council is calling for an overhaul of the corporate tax structure, expansion of domestic petroleum drilling and a raft of reforms to federal regulation.

As first reported by Reuters, the new corporate tax rates should sink to "internationally competitive levels," the report says, as well as an "all-in strategy" to cut reliance on foreign fuels by promoting domestic sources.

This is just the latest in the new stream of GOP-sounding policy proposals coming from the White House this year. Last week the proposal was to streamline the government by consolidating federal agencies.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Three Strikingly Different GOP Visions about Social Security Reform (Jeffrey Brown, 1/17/12, Forbes)

Governor Romney took the practical approach.  After pointing out that he would protect everyone over the age of 55, he laid out two very specific changes to the benefit formula that would substantially reduce Social Security expenditures in the decades to come.  The first change would change the way that initial retiree benefits are calculated.  Under current law, benefits from one cohort of retirees to the next rise with average wages in the economy.  Governor Romney suggested, instead, a plan similar to what Social Security policy experts call "progressive price indexing." This would continue to index starting benefits to wage growth for those at the bottom of the income distribution, but would index benefits at the top end of the income distribution to price inflation instead.  Because prices tend to rise less quickly than wages, this would reduce expenditures relative to current law.  The impact would be gradual - and thus the short-term cost savings would be limited, but over many decades can be quite substantial.  Second, Governor Romney indicated a willingness to increase the full retirement age by one or two years.  Importantly, increasing the full retirement age does not actually require that anyone work longer: rather, it simply moves the age at which one receives "full" benefits back by one to two years.  Variants of both of these reform proposals have been floating around Washington over the past decade.  In essence, this is a fiscally responsible approach that recognizes there is no pain-free way to fill in the fiscal gap.  While this is good fiscal policy, whether or not it is good politics remains to be seen.

The danger is how easy it is top fix the funding problem.  It mitigates against genuine reform, making to too easy to settle for the Reagansque Second Way.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


He Wrote the Book on Raylan Givens: But FX's Justified understands Elmore Leonard's greatest character better than Leonard does. (Tara Arianoy, Jan. 17, 2012, Slate)

How good is FX's Justified, returning for its third season tonight? Some TV series inspire conventions, cosplay, and speculative fiction from their fans. Justified may be the first show to inspire fanfic from its creator. Elmore Leonard introduced U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the novel Pronto, but hadn't revisited the character since "Fire in the Hole," the 2001 novella which became the basis for Justified. The show reignited his interest, and Leonard's new novel Raylan--so inextricable from Justified that the cover image is of actor Timothy Olyphant in character--is out this week.

Leonard has explained that he wrote the book to give Justified producer Graham Yost more story ideas for the second season and seasons to come. Given that the writers of Justified wear bracelets reading WWED (What Would Elmore Do?), you might think they'd slavishly followed Leonard's lead. But Raylan, surprisingly, reads like an alternate-universe version of Justified, Season 2, with tantalizing possibilities for Season 3. The changes Yost made, in fact, led to a much better story. It's possible that the writers of Justified understand Elmore Leonard's best character better than Elmore Leonard does.

First of all, if Yost and the Justified writers had followed Leonard's blueprint exactly, viewers would have been cheated out of the series' best character and juiciest storyline. Mags Bennett is not even a character in Raylan; in the book, the crime-bossing parent of hapless nitwits Coover and Dickie is their dad, one Pervis Crowe. For the show, of course, Yost crafted a rich yet tragic story for Mags (Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy for the role), the alternately diabolical and soft-hearted criminal mastermind who contrived a way to steal the daughter she always wanted.

Every character with the possible exception of Art is better done on the show, though the inferior Boyd and Raylan are the most problematic.  When John Thaw and Kevin Whatley changed Morse and Lewis, for the better, Colin Dexter followed suit in the books.  Mr. Leonard would do well to follow the example.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 1/14/12, NY Times)

On the most fundamental issue, traditional Christians believe in the Trinity: that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one.

Mormons reject this as a non-biblical creed that emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries. They believe that God the Father and Jesus are separate physical beings, and that God has a wife whom they call Heavenly Mother.

It is not only evangelical Christians who object to these ideas.

"That's just not Christian," said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, a liberal Protestant seminary in New York City. "God and Jesus are not separate physical beings. That would be anathema. At the end of the day, all the other stuff doesn't matter except the divinity of Jesus."

The Mormon Church says that in the early 1800s, its first prophet, Joseph Smith, had revelations that restored Christianity to its true path, a course correction necessary because previous Christian churches had corrupted the faith. Smith bequeathed to his church volumes of revelations contained in scripture used only by Mormons: "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ," "The Doctrine and Covenants" and "Pearl of Great Price."

Traditional Christians do not recognize any of those as Scripture.

Another big sticking point concerns the afterlife. Early Mormon apostles gave talks asserting that human beings would become like gods and inherit their own planets -- language now regularly held up to ridicule by critics of Mormonism.

But Kathleen Flake, a Mormon who is a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt Divinity School, explained that the planets notion had been de-emphasized in modern times in favor of a less concrete explanation: people who die embark on an "eternal progression" that allows them "to partake in God's glory."

"Mormons think of God as a parent," she said. "God makes the world in order to give that world to his children. It's like sending your child to Harvard -- God gives his children every possible opportunity to progress towards this higher life that God possesses. When Mormons say 'Heavenly Father,' they mean it. It's not a metaphor."

It is the blurring of the lines between God, Jesus and human beings that is hard for evangelicals to swallow, said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who has been involved in a dialogue group between evangelicals and Mormons for 12 years and has a deep understanding of theology as Mormons see it.

"Both Christians and Jews, on the basis of our common Scriptures, we'd all agree that God is God and we are not," Mr. Mouw said. "There's a huge ontological gap between the Creator and the creature. So any religious perspective that reduces that gap, you think, oh, wow, that could never be called Christian."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Learning to Love the Antichrist: In praise of Bill Belichick (Charles P. Pierce,  JANUARY 16, 2012, Grantland)

 Tim Tebow is a lovely young man, his faith an unquenchable fire. He also throws the ball like Jed Clampett and, facing a defense that did not stupidly line everyone up in the box to stop the vaunted Denver "option offense" -- Sell-By Date: November 5, 1951 -- he got himself chased out of the pocket on a number of occasions in ever-widening circles until he came dangerously close to standing in a beer line behind the seats in the lower bowl. He is decidedly Not Ready, and that is the sum of him at the moment.

He also unfortunately was facing Bill Belichick on a night when Belichick decided that he would act like Gandalf the Grey beyond simply dressing like him. This was apparent at the 13:50 mark of the first quarter, when the Patriots lined up tight end Aaron Hernandez in the backfield. Along with burly budding teen idol Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez is one of the two gifted tight ends with whom Belichick can make all kinds of monkey mischief on unwitting defensive coordinators. While Gronkowski is a powerful runner with surprising athleticism -- his flat-out bobbling touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone was one Andre Johnson would have been proud to claim -- Hernandez is a speedy athlete with surprising strength. This gives Belichick a lot of options for creative thinking. So he put Hernandez in the backfield, and the latter cracked one off for 43 yards around the left side of a gobsmacked Denver defense to set up the first New England touchdown.

Then, of course, with three minutes left in the game, at a tense moment with his team leading by a mere 45-10, Belichick boldly had Tom Brady quick-kick from his own 43, pinning Denver back on its own 10, thereby making it more difficult for the Broncos to score the 35-point touchdown it would take to get back in the game. It is entirely possible -- nay, likely -- that Belichick was just screwing with people here, but isn't that also part of his charm? Shouldn't it be?

For years now, the undeniable fact about the National Football League has been that the whole operation is grimly determined to combine the unpredictability of an Amway seminar with the giddy good humor of the North Korean army.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Natural gas price drop helps families, businesses (Jonathan Fahey, 1/16/12, Associated Press)

 The price of natural gas in the U.S. is plummeting at a pace that has caught even the experts off guard.

A 35% collapse in the futures price the past year has been a boon to homeowners who use natural gas for heat and appliances and to manufacturers who power their factories and make chemicals and materials with it.

The country is flush with natural gas as a result of new and controversial drilling techniques that have enabled energy companies to tap vast supplies that were out of reach not so long ago. The country's natural gas surplus has been growing even as the country burns record amounts.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Want Cheap Biofuel? A Startup Makes It with Natural Gas (KEVIN BULLIS, 1/17/12, Technology Review)

Virent, a biofuels company based in Madison, Wisconsin, has developed a potentially inexpensive way to make gasoline and other valuable chemicals out of grass and wood chips. Its approach reduces costs by simplifying or eliminating expensive processing steps, and by using natural gas to increase the amount of fuel that can be made from a given amount of biomass.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Mitt Romney Shrugs Off Attacks, Emerges Unscathed in Fox News Debate in South Carolina (Howard Kurtz, Jan 16, 2012, Daily Beast)

There was a moment, when Rick Santorum was pounding him early in the Fox News debate, that Mitt Romney got that deer-in-the-headlights look.

Unable to explain an ad attacking Santorum's position on allowing felons to vote, Romney tried to push it off on his super PAC, then stalled for time, then said he couldn't change a more lenient law in Massachusetts because there were just too many Democrats.

Romney, who had just survived a pounding over his record at Bain Capital, looked rattled. Fortunately for him, the question of voting rights for ex-convicts isn't exactly on the cutting edge of the South Carolina primary. He survived Monday night in Myrtle Beach with barely a scratch--and his rivals had forfeited another chance to derail his seemingly inevitable march to the GOP nomination.

The one issue that may come back to haunt him is one that he initially avoided answering, when Rick Perry joined Newt Gingrich in demanding that Romney release his tax returns. He seemed tentative when pressed by a Wall Street Journal reporter, finally saying he'd maybe, probably put out the records in April--in other words, after he's got the nomination safely locked up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Are Newspapers Civic Institutions or Algorithms? (Dominic Basulto, January 16, 2012, Big Think)

This appification of media is brilliant on two levels. First, these apps make it possible to segment and track your audience, making them more valuable for advertisers. (What Carr refers to as "versioning") Secondly, these apps fundamentally shift the way we think about content - people are no longer consuming media, they are now downloading specialized algorithms. Online, people may not be willing to pay anything for content from the New York Times. In the physical world, they may not be willing to pay two bucks for a newspaper on the newsstand. In the Apple iTunes app store, however, they are willing to pay anywhere from $0.99 to $3.99 for a stylish app that's based on a superior algorithm.

If you think about this for a second, this is a profound change that the appification of media makes possible. Online or in the physical world, your product is worth zero. Add a mobile layer to it, and it's suddenly worth something. Or, as Matthew Yglesias cheekily pointed out on Slate Moneybox the other day, Banal + Smartphone = New.

If you think about the most successful pay walls in the newspaper content business, it is always the big financial newspapers - notably, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times - that have figured out how to charge for content online. By some estimates, The Wall Street Journal now has more than 400,000 paid subscribers and the Financial Times has 200,000 paid subscribers. The typical argument given for their success is that they have the best journalistic coverage, the best opinion writers and the best international coverage -- all of which combine to make them a must-read. But there is another reason lurking out there - people read the Wall Street Journal because it helps them make money. Among the financial newspapers, Barron's is perhaps the most explicit about this relationship, with one of their taglines along the lines of, "Read us on Saturday, make money on Monday." Yes, financial newspapers are algorithms that help you make money in financial markets.

...because they are business expenses, not out of pocket purchases. 

As for apps, no one is going to buy the app for .99 a day.

January 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


National Polls Suggest Romney Is Overwhelming Favorite for G.O.P. Nomination (NATE SILVER, 1/16/12, NY Times)

Just how safe is a 19-point lead at this point in the campaign? Based on historical precedent, it is enough to all but assure that Mr. Romney will be the Republican nominee.

I went through our database of past primary polls for the 16 competitive nomination races from 1972 (when the current primary system was adopted) to 2008. [...]

The only cases where a candidate came from behind to win were in 1972, when Edmund S. Muskie had a narrow 2-point lead in the polls over Hubert H. Humphrey, but George McGovern, far back in the polls, went on to win the race, and 2008, when Hillary Clinton had a 9-point lead over Barack Obama after New Hampshire but lost the nomination to him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM

Watch Arcade Fire on PBS. See more from Austin City Limits.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


In New Hampshire, a Real Budget : The Granite State has a radically simple fiscal idea. (Deroy Murdock, 1/16/12, National Review)

While addressing a hotel ballroom full of his forlorn supporters in the Radisson's Center of New Hampshire here, the former House speaker praised a new Granite State budget procedure that is so commonsensical, it is startling that it deserves applause.

The New Hampshire State House of Representatives, "actually had the Ways and Means Committee report first," Gingrich explained in his election-night remarks. "It indicated how much money they would have, and they then actually adopted a budget to fit their income, which is the opposite of every other state I know of in the country which writes a budget and then tries to go find more of your money to fill in what they think they need. The result was a very courageous and a very serious effort in which they cut 11 percent out of spending, which is a remarkable achievement. If it were accomplished in Washington, it would begin to move us back on the right track."

What a concept!

Like a new automobile model whose designers boast that it features brakes, this legislative reform is so logical, one wonders why it had to be installed in the first place.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


False Flag: A series of CIA memos describes how Israeli Mossad agents posed as American spies to recruit members of the terrorist organization Jundallah to fight their covert war against Iran. (MARK PERRY, JANUARY 13, 2012, Foreign Policy)

The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah -- a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel's Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel's recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel's ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.

The officials did not know whether the Israeli program to recruit and use Jundallah is ongoing. Nevertheless, they were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad's efforts.

"It's amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with," the intelligence officer said. "Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn't give a damn what we thought."

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


AWW Shucks: The siren song of Washington, D.C. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 1/23/12, Weekly Standard)
After he almost won the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, Rick Santorum was instantly dubbed a "Washington outsider," even an "antiestablishment candidate." It was a convenient tag that made it easier for reporters to keep all these strange Republicans straight: Newt Gingrich, Washington insider; Michele Bachmann, mad housewife; Mitt Romney, establishment prom king; Jon Huntsman, moderate hair guy; Rick Santorum, antiestablishment Washington outsider. Like that.

But Santorum's titles were rescinded as quickly as they were bestowed, for the press discovered certain details that undercut any claim he might have to be a Washington outsider, such as the fact that he lives in suburban Washington and has for more than 20 years. Rick Santorum has spent his entire career either working in government--his first job out of school was as an assistant to a Pennsylvania state senator--or, when he wasn't working in government, working to get another job in government, as he is doing now. And when, in 2007, he found himself once again without a government job, having been booted out of the Senate by a large majority of Pennsylvania voters, he took a bunch of government-like jobs right here in his beloved hometown of Washington.

This is where the press smelled an insider.

"After Santorum Left Senate," headlined the New York Times, "Familiar Hands Reached Out."

"After Senate," echoed the Washington Post two days later, "Santorum turns Washington experience into lucrative career as consultant, pundit."

Both stories reported roughly the same set of facts. Though a man of modest means when he left the Senate, Santorum managed to make more than $1.3 million during the 18 months covered in his most recent financial disclosure form, from January 2010 to August 2011. We can assume that 2008 and 2009 were similarly lucrative. He did this in the magpie manner of the well-connected and semi-famous Washingtonian: He got a TV deal with Fox, joined a corporate board, became a "fellow" at a think tank, sometimes hosted a radio talk show, and collected retainers from a couple of companies run by political friends. It's nice work if you can get it.

I found myself strangely touched by the stories of Santorum's recent wealth, for they certified that he wasn't a "Washington insider" in any pejorative sense, at least by my libertarian lights. He's just another Washingtonian of a particular type: the anti-Washington Washingtonian--an AWW, a contented resident of the nation's capital who has based his career on his loudly declared disdain for the nation's capital, particularly the federal Leviathan residing there. The AWW campaigns against Washington, catalogues its harmful effects, extols alternatives, and contrasts it with the "real America," which he vows to liberate forever from its depredations--while never admitting that Washington is the very thing that makes his life worth living.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Congress logs most futile legislative year on record (Stephen Dinan, 1/16/12, The Washington Times)

It's official: Congress ended its least-productive year in modern history after passing 80 bills -- fewer than during any other session since year-end records began being kept in 1947.

Furthermore, an analysis by The Washington Times of the scope of such activities as time spent in debate, number of conference reports produced and votes taken on the House and Senate floors found that Congress set a record for legislative futility by accomplishing less in 2011 than any other year in history.

Here in NH we consider it a good thing that the legislature doesn't do much.  This is just another mark of how conservative the Obama years are turning out to be.

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


Bored office workers turn to coffee and booze (Reuters, January 16, 2012)

 One in four office workers complain of "chronic boredom," fueling themselves with coffee and chocolate during the day and hitting the happy hours after work to brighten their day -- habits which can take a toll on their health in the long term.

In a new survey announced by British researchers, office dwellers may even turn to vandalising office equipment or pocketing Post-Its, just as a source of stimulation during a drab office day. 

We already transfer money to them for not working, why pretend that they do jobs?

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM


Cutting heath-care spending the old-fashioned way (Robert J. Samuelson, 1/16/12, Washington Post)

It turns out that there is a way to control health spending: clobber the economy. When unemployment rises, people lose health insurance. They see doctors less often; they put off elective surgery; they cut back on drugs. Even people with insurance behave similarly, because their pay may be down, they worry about job security or they want to avoid out-of-pocket costs for deductibles or co-payments. Of course, almost no one advocates this as a deliberate policy. But it does seem to work. Call it the Neanderthal Cure to Health Costs.

Just last week, new government figures provided fresh evidence. In 2010, U.S. health spending rose a modest 3.9 percent, about equal to 2009's increase of 3.8 percent. These were the lowest annual increases in the half-century of government estimates. As a result, health spending has stabilized as a share of the economy (gross domestic product). It was 17.9 percent of GDP in both years. In 2010, this amounted to $2.6 trillion, roughly $8,400 for each of the 309 million Americans.

Use Health Saving Accounts to make it all out-of-pocket and you'll cut spending.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


RUNNING WILD (Jeffrey Frank, JANUARY 23, 2012, The New Yorker)

On the second Tuesday in March sixty years ago, Republican primary voters in New Hampshire had a choice of two major candidates. One was the former Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was supported by a cabal of moderate Easterners, including the two-time Presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey and the editorial board of the New York Herald Tribune. His opponent, Senator Robert A. Taft, of Ohio--the older son of former President William Howard Taft--was the early favorite, and had the backing of the Manchester Union-Leader and of conservatives generally. Eisenhower hadn't campaigned in the state--he was still headquartered in Europe--but, when the ballots were counted, he had forty-seven thousand votes to Taft's thirty-six thousand. That didn't settle the nomination, but it did move Eisenhower persuasively forward.

The Party didn't really like Ike. He was a career soldier who had come out as a Republican only that January, and many in the G.O.P. believed that he wasn't truly one of them, although they could see that he was more electable than his chief opponent. (Many Republicans today view Mitt Romney, who won the New Hampshire primary last week, and is now the likely nominee, in much the same way.) They did like the reliable, somewhat isolationist Taft (he opposed NATO), who favored old-age pensions and public housing. But the Party, and Taft, came to terms with Eisenhower. His choice for Vice-President, Richard M. Nixon, of California, pleased the Old Guard, who admired Nixon's Red-hunting prowess, and it satisfied the need for someone who shared Eisenhower's outlook on foreign policy, which was deeply internationalist. [...]

In 1959, Vice-President Nixon, speaking to members of California's Commonwealth Club, was asked if he'd like to see the parties undergo an ideological realignment--the sort that has since taken place--and he replied, "I think it would be a great tragedy . . . if we had our two major political parties divide on what we would call a conservative-liberal line." He continued, "I think one of the attributes of our political system has been that we have avoided generally violent swings in Administrations from one extreme to the other. And the reason we have avoided that is that in both parties there has been room for a broad spectrum of opinion." Therefore, "when your Administrations come to power, they will represent the whole people rather than just one segment of the people."

...will view the presidencies from 1976 to at least 2016 as ideologically undifferentiable.  Mr. Frank is overly worried about Mitt making some genuflections to the Right, but they're transparently insincere. 

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Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Huntsman proves too reasonable for 2012 Republicans (Jonathan Kay, Jan 16, 2012, National Post)

[M]y mind is still wrapped around New Hampshire. There's something heartwarming and old-fashioned about the N.H. primaries. The state looks and feels a lot like America as it appears in beer commercials: Small towns, church towers, pick-up trucks. It's the east coast without the liberal elitism. It's the Midwest without the mega-churches.

These are the two intersecting qualities that made Jon Huntsman skip Iowa and go all-in on New Hampshire. It was his make-or-break state. And his disappointing third place finish in the Jan. 10 N.H. primaries was the real death knell of his campaign. This week's announcement that he was bowing out (and supporting Mitt Romney) was therefore a mere formality. His polling numbers in South Carolina were negligible. Romney's coronation now looks inevitable, in any event (and Huntsman would make a great Secretary of State).

During a trip to New Hampshire this month, I had the opportunity to watch Huntsman on the campaign trail. And I can report that the stuff you hear about him being wonky or flat is wrong: He's quick on his feet, poised and funny. But he's also reasonable and level-headed -- something of a liability, given the agitated state of American conservative politics. At a Jan. 8 Huntsman event I attended in Bedford, N.H., the very first question was about illegal immigrants. Rather than promising to build a mile-high fence, he got a huge laugh from his supporters by quickly answering that the problem already has been solved: "We've so screwed up our economy that nobody wants to come any more!"

After briefly touting his bona fides securing Utah's border during his time as governor, he added that America's bigger challenge is too attract more immigrants -- students, tourists, entrepreneurs -- through a reform of America's visa system. That's true. But it's not what most Republicans want to hear right now.

...another moderate Mormon governor, and one not only lives in NH but who'd already run a national campaign.  John Huntsman wasn't even the best John Huntsman in the race, Mitt was.
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Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Who will get the 'Recovery Presidency'? (Ezra Klein, 01/16/2012, Washington Post)

You can see how this will work. If Romney wins the presidency and the economy begins to rebound, Republicans will argue, and America's experience will seem to show, that they were right all along: The stimulus was useless and the regulatory uncertainty the Obama administration created with its health-care plan and its talk of cap-and-trade and all the rest kept businesses from investing. Of course, if Obama keeps the office, that argument will be largely discredited...

In 1992, the Right decided to teach GHWB a lesson about being too moderate and they handed Bill Clinton the Cold War's peace dividend, which was the entire amount by which the budget went from deficit to balance.  It made Democrats seem a viable party again.

The risk this year is identical, only it's the WoT's peace dividend this time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


At Heart, a Baptist Preacher: The latest volume in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., draws on previously undiscovered materials to illuminate his powerful preaching ministry with new depth: a review of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. 6: Advocate of the Social Gospel, September 1948-March 1963, Edited by Clayborne Carson et al. (Jenny McBride, 01/21/08, Books & Culture)

King teaches us at least four lessons about preaching through this volume. First, revise and reuse. King continually revised his most effective sermons. He prepared many of the documents selected for this volume in classes at Crozer Theological Seminary, and he repeatedly drew upon these sermon outlines and introductions while serving at Dexter Avenue in Montgomery and Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, and while preaching in cities across the nation. The majority of this massive volume is devoted to the "Papers," the primary materials themselves, which begin with sermon sketches, introductions, and conclusions from Crozer Theological Seminary. With titles such as "Why Religion?", "The Misuse of Prayer," and "What is Man?", these sermon intros and conclusions read like Pascal's Pensées. In the sermon conclusion for "Facing Life's Inescapables," King writes, "This is the conclusion of the whole matter. We can't escape ourselves; we can't escape sacrifice; we can't escape Jesus. We had better accept these as the great inevitables of life." By providing a number of charts illustrating the development of King's most distinctive sermons over a period of five to ten years, the editors make it easy to trace additions and changes in these texts.

Second, King filled old wineskins with new wine. He weaved both fresh biblical insight and commentary on contemporary events into the already prepared outline or text. In doing so, King succeeded in carrying out what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as the task of all faithful preaching: speaking the concrete Word of God in the concrete moment. The robust 45-page editors' introduction provides a detailed narrative of what King was preaching as history unfurled--as the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on Brown v Board of Education, as an all-white southern jury acquitted the man on trial for the murder of Emmett Till, as the Montgomery Bus Boycott rolled on indefinitely. The same month the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its first decision on Brown, King preached a sermon entitled "Mental and Spiritual Slavery." While he first compares Pontius Pilate with many white Christians who are "enslaved to the crowd," he then says to his black congregation, "Now it is easy for us to look back and condemn Pilate for such an action, but we must also see that many of us are just as much victims of this sort of thing as Pilate." Aware of the sometimes unbearable pressure to conform to southern racial mores for the sake of personal safety or job retention, King encourages the parishioners to side not with Pilate the conformist but with Jesus who transformed history. Then, in his September 1955 sermon, "Pride vs. Humility," King speaks of the tendency to substitute sentimental worship for active discipleship. He says, "That jury in Mississippi, which a few days ago in the Emmett Till case, freed two white men from what might be considered one of the most brutal and inhuman crimes of the twentieth century, worships Christ." And in January 1956, one month into the Bus Boycott, King delivers the sermon, "Our God is Able," and says, "Much of my ministry has been given to fighting against social evil. There are times that I get despondent, and wonder if it is worth it. But then something says to me deep down within, 'God is able. You need not worry.' So this morning I say to you [that] we must continue to struggle against evil, but don't worry. God is able. Don't worry about segregation. It will die because God is against it." Such texts illustrate King's characteristic ability to speak biblical and theological truths boldly in and for his contemporary moment.

Third, King's file entitled "Sermons by Other Ministers" shows that he deliberately drew upon the work of renowned preachers such as Harry Emerson Fosdick. In this way, King quite intentionally thought with and through the communion of saints. Volume 6 includes facsimiles of pages from sermons and works of theology where King responds to the text with notes in the margins. For example, one facsimile shows a brief outline of King's sermon "What is Man?" on the opening page of his copy of Reinhold Niebuhr's 1932 Moral Man and Immoral Society, a text that presumably inspired these thoughts. The volume also includes seminary papers on various issues associated with preaching, one of which is a review of a homily by Karl Barth in which King harshly criticizes the Swiss theologian for failing to present his theology "in the light of the experiences of the people." The volume juxtaposes the seminary paper with a picture of King proudly walking arm-in-arm with Barth at Princeton Theological Seminary 12 years later.

King's interaction with Barth as a student and later as a nationally acclaimed public figure represents the fourth lesson about preaching that King teaches us through this volume. King held the conviction that good preaching must be theological preaching. In his edition of Halford Edward Luccock's 1944 book, In the Minister's Workshop, (shown in facsimile), King underlines Luccock's words and paraphrases them in the margins: "Every great movement in history has been prepared for and partly carried out through preaching ... . If preaching is to have any depth, height and breadth, it must be theological preaching." King believed that a good preacher must have a strong intellect but also must make "the complex, the simple."

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[originally posted: 1/27/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Remembering Which King?: It is essential to be clear about why we celebrate on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Andrew Busch, 1/11/07, National Review)

Aside from the general dislike that conservatives held (and hold) toward civil disobedience under most circumstances, there are a number of other reasons left unaddressed by Perlstein for why conservatives cannot embrace King without reservation. His late endorsement of racial preferences ran counter to his earlier professions of color-blindness; despite his devotion to freedom at home, his co-option by the antiwar movement made him, like thousands of other misguided Americans, accessory to the Stalinization of Indochina; and his personal conduct was not what one would hope for from a Christian minister. On the last count, no one can doubt that King would be a prime candidate for endless accusations of hypocrisy had his public cause been less satisfying to those most inclined to generate such accusations.

Nor can conservatives refrain from honestly weighing the costs as well as the benefits of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The costs include the danger of legitimizing the ethnic balkanization of America and of crowding out holidays that might better serve as a national glue than a solvent. On many college campuses, MLK Day has replaced Presidents' Day as a day off in the academic calendar, as if King were more important and more worthy of veneration than Washington and Lincoln put together. One good reason for conservatives to seek common ground with King is that it is important that the day be made a celebration of essential national principles. Perlstein's fear that conservatives are trivializing King has it almost exactly backwards. It is the multicultural Left that has shrunken King by turning his day into an outsized "celebrate diversity" sensitivity-training workshop. But perhaps this is all bean-counting.

The point that I made a year ago, and that I will repeat, is that there are three areas where conservatives can embrace King, and in fact where King's views are more agreeable to conservatives than liberals. The first was his original grounding of his civil rights efforts in a vision of a nation that lives up to its Founding ideals and treats its citizens as individuals rather than ciphers defined by their pigmentation. One can sincerely believe in a nation that defines its children by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin; one can sincerely believe in giving those children a 20-point bonus on their college applications for the color of their skin, as the University of Michigan did; apparently one can, if one suppresses cognitive dissonance, believe in both approaches, as King claimed to when the civil rights movement began its transition from moral crusade to manifestation of interest-group politics; but one cannot bring both into being. Conservatives have aligned themselves with King's earlier, and more noble, aspiration, liberals with his later adjustment to it. If fighting for equality and civil rights was King's great contribution to the nation -- and the reason he now has a holiday in his honor -- then this is hardly a peripheral issue.

Second, King based his struggle on a moral and religious view that eschewed relativism. Indeed, his use of civil disobedience was predicated on his belief that one could distinguish between just human laws and unjust human laws, the latter consisting of those human contrivances which violated the "moral law," the "natural law," "God's law," or the "eternal law," as King alternately put it. Yet the social thrust of liberalism today has as its foundation the dismissal of notions of absolute truth or the notion that human law must strive to meet some transcendent moral standard. In this respect, liberalism now has more in common with famed post-modern philosopher Stanley Fish than with King.

Finally, in a related vein, King, like the abolitionists and the Congregationalist clergy of the 1770s, had no qualms about bringing religious language and arguments to bear on the issue at hand. To the contrary, it was perfectly natural to him. It is rather difficult for liberals today to embrace King while attacking conservatives for moral absolutism and for daring to mix religion and politics.

None of this is to say that King would be voting Republican today had he lived, although a few of his contemporaries are indeed doing so for just these reasons. It is to say that, on a number of matters that intersect with crucial public policy concerns today, King had views that logically underpin the conservative rather than the liberal position. More than this, I did not and would not argue.

Perlstein refutes none of this, nor does he attempt to. His point, instead, is that none of it is relevant. Towering over all other considerations stands the importance of remembering that sometimes seekers of justice will present a frightful appearance to established forces of stability in society. Fair enough; a useful reminder. But there are many figures whose preoccupations present a frightful appearance. Everything depends on determining whether those seekers are seeking justice or something else, which determination requires us to come to some understanding of what justice is. That question in turn cannot be answered except by recourse to fundamental principles and a consideration of ends and means.

Not only would we have been better served if whites could not comfort themselves by the knowledge that they just gave blacks what they asked for, Malcolm X actually became a better man, more truly Muslim and more American towards the end of his likewise too short life, while MLK was giving in to the worst sort of leftist impulses.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


Where Dr. King Went Wrong (Joel Schwartz, Winter 2002, City Journal)

A few years before his tragic death in 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. famously had a change of heart about the proper cure for persistent black poverty. He began to look increasingly to big government to help poor blacks, even though throughout his life he'd been an advocate--indeed a preacher--of the virtues of self-help. It was a change of worldview that was dead wrong, however understandable it might have been as a response to the grim reality then unfolding among America's inner-city blacks. It was a mistake that had terrible consequences for black America and for the nation as a whole. [...]

Guided by his father's example, King celebrated self-help as central to the project to integrate blacks from the moment he became a public figure, and he continued to celebrate it through much of his career, though in a considerably muted way after his turn to big government. In its concrete details, King's message of personal responsibility and individual and communal striving offers a time-tested recipe for getting ahead, as the success of countless immigrants, including African and West Indian blacks, proves beyond doubt.

The message centers on the work ethic. King rejected the common liberal view that jobs requiring minimal or no skills (those most likely to be available to the poor) were "dead end" jobs and therefore not worth taking. "Whatever your life's work is, do it well," he advised. "If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music." King stuck with this stance despite criticism from trusted advisors like Bayard Rustin, who held that "to want a Cadillac is not un-American; to push a cart in the garment center is."

Black workers should hold themselves to universal standards of excellence, King strongly believed. In a 1957 address to the Montgomery Improvement Association (a forerunner of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), he told his black audience to "set out to do a good job," not "a good Negro job." Three years later, he was even more adamant: "We must seek to do our life's work so well that nobody could do it better. The Negro who seeks to be merely a good Negro, whatever he is, has already flunked his matriculation examination for entrance into the university of integration." Even the later King touted this line. "[W]e must work assiduously to aspire to excellence," he proclaimed in 1967.

For King, the ideal of hard work, meeting high universal standards, had to be central to the education of young blacks. Anything less, he correctly reasoned, would trap them in second-class status. King would despise a multi-culti educational fad like Ebonics ("black English"), designed to make poorly educated black kids feel good without challenging them. He excoriated schoolteachers "who can't even speak the English language" and wouldn't know a verb "if it was as big as that table." "For a college graduate to be standing up talking about 'you is,'" he charged, "there is no excuse for it." He added angrily: "And some of these people are teaching our children and crippling our children."

Thrift was a second key virtue that King thought could help blacks propel themselves into the American mainstream. In his 1957 talk, he urged his listeners: "Let's live within our means. Save our money and invest it in meaningful ends." Blacks shouldn't spend more than they could afford on houses and cars, he counseled, and they should especially "stop wasting money on frivolities," such as "all these alcoholic beverages." "It would be one of the tragedies of this century," he maintained, "if it is revealed that the Negroes spent more money for frivolities than we spent for the cause of freedom and justice and for meaningful ends." Here, too, King persisted in his views even after his big-government turn. In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, he called for "the development of habits of thrift and techniques of wise investment," so that "the Negro will be doing his share to grapple with his problem of economic deprivation."

King practiced what he preached, as was clear when he went on trial in Alabama for tax evasion in 1960. To virtually everyone's amazement, an all-white southern jury found him not guilty, largely because he kept a diary carefully detailing his speaking fees and travel expenses. King's record keeping, explains historian Taylor Branch, was "a habit drilled into him from childhood by Daddy King, who taught that keeping a penny-conscious budget was the first rule of frugality."

Joining work and thrift in King's self-help vision was a no-nonsense stance toward black crime and disorderly behavior. If blacks were to integrate themselves into America, King felt, black crime rates had to fall. "Let's be honest with ourselves and say that . . . our standards have lagged behind at many points," he declared in 1957. "Negroes constitute ten percent of the population of New York City, and yet they commit thirty-five percent of the crime," he observed.

A decade later, with America's black ghettos becoming so dangerous that a child born and raised in one had worse chances of survival than a U.S. soldier in World War II, King called for a moral renewal in the black community that might bring the chaos under control. "We can begin a constructive program which will vigorously seek to improve our personal standards," he said. "It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of high maturity, to rise to the level of self-criticism," King declared. "Through group unity we must convey to one another that our women must be respected, and that life is too precious to be destroyed in a Saturday night brawl, or a gang execution."

For King, what today we call "faith-based institutions" would be indispensable in this project of moral uplift--after all, he was a clergyman, who understood the traditional moral authority of the black churches. "Through community agencies and religious institutions, we must develop a positive program through which Negro youth can become adjusted to urban living and improve their general level of behavior."

A fourth part of King's self-help message was his stress on the fundamental importance of the traditional family. However helpful hard work, thrift, and law-abiding behavior might be to future black success, King felt, the breakdown of the black family, the institution that most nurtured the strength of character that is the key to self-help, threatened to undermine any gains blacks made. "[N]othing is so much needed," King wrote in 1967, "as a secure family life for a people seeking to rise out of poverty and backwardness." King himself wasn't that much of a success as a family man; we know both from FBI wiretaps and from the testimony of friends and associates about his compulsive philandering. But if he didn't walk the correct walk, he talked the right talk, from early on. "[W]e have eight times more illegitimacy than white persons," a troubled King reminded black listeners as far back as the late 1950s. And blacks "must work to improve these standards," he insisted.

Late in his career, King offered a powerfully plausible analysis of the forces conspiring to weaken the black family. Slavery was partly to blame, he argued, beginning "with the break-up of families on the coasts of Africa" and continuing on the plantation, "where the institution of legal marriage for slaves did not exist." These "shattering blows," King argued, made the black family "fragile, deprived and often psychopathic." Intensifying slavery's evil effects were potent anti-family forces at work in American culture as a whole during the permissive 1960s. "History continues to mock the Negro today, because just as he needs ever greater family integrity, severe strains are assailing family life in the white community," King wrote. "In short, the larger society is not at this time a constructive educational force for the Negro."

King's fears over black family breakdown even led him to become one of the few civil rights leaders not to reject outright Daniel Patrick Moynihan's controversial 1965 report, The Negro Family, which warned about the rising illegitimacy rate among blacks (at the time 25 percent, well below today's rate). In fact, without mentioning the report directly, King sympathetically discussed its contents in a talk shortly after its publication, saying that family collapse threatened the "very survival" of American blacks. He dismissed the views of "a good many writers who have tartly denigrated the role of the family."

King's belief in the virtues of self-help made him critical of welfare. To begin with, he didn't like the way it then operated. The system came laden with perverse incentives, King complained in the mid-sixties. Consider the regulations that "deprive a family of Aid to Dependent Children if a male resides in the house," he suggested. Don't such rules entice a man "to abandon his family" so that he is in effect "coerced into irresponsibility"? Welfare regulations, by placing stringent limits on the assets a recipient could possess, also sapped the work ethic vital to self-help. "If you receive public aid in Chicago, you cannot own property, not even an automobile, so you are condemned to the jobs . . . closest to your home," King insisted. A smart welfare system would shore up two-parent families and back the efforts of recipients to find work--basically the goals welfare reformers have pursued over the last decade.

But further, King's dislike of specific welfare rules extended to wider misgivings about welfare itself. He was aware of the growing problem of welfare dependency among blacks. He pointed out in 1957 that, in St. Louis, "the Negroes constitute twenty-six percent of the population, and yet seventy-six percent of the persons on the list for [A]id to [D]ependent [C]hildren are Negroes." Several years later, he regretted that "56 percent of Negro children at some point in their lives have been recipients of public aid."

But if King fretted over dependency, he never gave a full-bore criticism of the welfare system.

PBS is showing Citizen King this week, nowhere near as good as Eyes on the Prize, but interesting nonetheless. It's disheartening when the riots start and Dr. King basically excuses them. Just as the nation started rising above its racism the man who'd done so much to achieve that end helped set those communities back for decades. Then in coming out against the war in Vietnam, in favor of economic redistribution, and attempting to integrate neighborhoods he marginalized the civil rights movement and lost the support of white America.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


Address to First Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting, at Holt Street Baptist Church (The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., 5 December 1955, Montgomery, Alabama)

My friends, we are certainly very happy to see each of you out this evening. We are here this evening for serious business. [Audience:] (Yes) We are here in a general sense because first and foremost we are American citizens (That's right), and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. (Yeah. That's right) We are here also because of our love for democracy (Yes), because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action (Yes) is the greatest form of government on earth. (That's right)

But we are here in a specific sense because of the bus situation in Montgomery. (Yes) We are here because we are determined to get the situation corrected. This situation is not at all new. The problem has existed over endless years. (That's right) For many years now, Negroes in Montgomery and so many other areas have been inflicted with the paralysis of crippling fear (Yes) on buses in our community. (That's right) On so many occasions, Negroes have been intimidated and humiliated and oppressed because of the sheer fact that they were Negroes. (That's right) I don't have time this evening to go into the history of these numerous cases. Many of them now are lost in the thick fog of oblivion (Yes), but at least one stands before us now with glaring dimensions. (yes)

Just the other day, just last Thursday to be exact, one of the finest citizens in Montgomery--(Amen) not one of the finest Negro citizens (That's right), but one of the finest citizens in Montgomery--was taken from a bus (Yes) and carried to jail and arrested (Yes) because she refused to get up to give her seat to a white person. (yes, that's right) Now the press would have us believe that she refused to leave a reserved section for Negroes (Yes), but I want you to know this evening that there is no reserved section. (All right) The law has never been clarified at that point. (Hell no) Now I think I speak with legal authority--not that I have any legal authority, but I think I speak with legal authority behind me--(All right) that the law, the ordinance, the city ordinance has never been totally clarified. (That's right)

Mrs. Rosa Parks is a fine person. (Well,) And, since it had to happen, I'm happy that it happened to a person like Mrs. Parks, (Yes) for nobody can doubt the boundless outreach of her integrity. (Sure enough) Nobody can doubt the height of her character (Yes), nobody can doubt the depth of her Christian commitment and devotion to the teachings of Jesus. (All right) And I'm happy, since it had to happen, it happened to a person that nobody can call a disturbing factor in the community. (All right) Mrs. Parks is a fine Christian person, unassuming, and yet there is integrity and character there. And just because she refused to get up, she was arrested.

And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. [sustained applause] There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. (Keep talking) There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life's July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. (that's right) [applause] There comes a time. (Yes sir teach) [applause continues]

We are here, we are here this evening because we are tired now. (Yes) [applause] And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. (No) We have never done that. (Repeat that, repeat that) [applause] I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation (Well) that we are Christian people. (Yes) [applause] We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. (Well) The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. (Yes) [applause] That's all.

And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. (Yeah) This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation, we couldn't do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime, we couldn't do this. (All right) But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. (That's right) [applause] My friends, don't let anybody make us feel that we are to be compared in our actions with the Ku Klux Klan or with the White Citizens Council. [applause] There will be no crosses burned at any bus stops in Montgomery. (Well, that's right) There will be no white persons pulled out of their homes and taken out on some distant road and lynched for not cooperating. [applause] There will be nobody among us who will stand up and defy the Constitution of this nation. [applause] We only assemble here because of our desire to see right exist. [applause] My friends, I want it to be known that we're going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. [applause]

And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing. (Well) If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. (Yes sir) [applause] If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. (Yes) [applause] If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. (That's right) [applause] If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. (Yes) [applause] If we are wrong, justice is a lie (Yes), love has no meaning. [applause] And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water (Yes), [applause] and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Keep talking) [Applause]

I want to say that in all of our actions, we must stick together. (That's right) [applause] Unity is the great need of the hour (Well, that's right), and if we are united we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. (Yeah) And don't let anybody frighten you. (Yeah) We are not afraid of what we are doing (Oh no), because we are doing it within the law. (All right) There is never a time in our American democracy that we must ever think we are wrong when we protest. (Yes, sir) We reserve that right. When labor all over this nation came to see that it would be trampled over by capitalistic power, it was nothing wrong with labor getting together and organizing and protesting for its rights. (That's right) We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality. [applause]

May I say to you, my friends, as I come to a close, and just giving some idea of why we are assembled here, that we must keep--and I want to stress this, in all of our doings, in all of our deliberations here this evening and all of the week and while, --whatever we do--, we must keep God in the forefront. (Yeah) Let us be Christian in all of our actions. (That's right) But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. (All right) Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love. (Well)

The Almighty God himself is not only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, "I love you, Israel." He's also the God that stands up before the nations and said: "Be still and know that I'm God (Yeah), that if you don't obey me I will break the backbone of your power (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships." (That's right) Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we've come to see that we've got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation. (Yeah) [applause]

And as we stand and sit here this evening and as we prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, let us go out with the grim and bold determination that we are going to stick together. [applause] We are going to work together. [applause] Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future (Yes), somebody will have to say, "There lived a race of people (Well), a black people (Yes sir), 'fleecy locks and black complexion' (Yes), a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. [applause] And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization." And we're going to do that. God grant that we will do it before it is too late. (Oh yeah) As we proceed with our program, let us think of these things. (Yes) [applause]

The speech demonstrates Dr. King's peculiarly American genius, appealing to the democratic and Judeo-Christian ideals of his countrymen, summoning them to finally fulfill the promises of the Constitution and the Bible. The simple demand that Americans act more American and more Christian was simply brilliant.

originally posted on 2005-12-05

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 AM


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's Niece: Abortion Means Obama Doesn't Fulfill Dream (Steven Ertelt, November 11, 2008, LifeNews.com)

The niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says Barack Obama doesn't fulfill her uncle's dream despite his election last week as president. Dr. Alveda King says Obama's pro-abortion position makes it so the civil rights struggle is not complete because unborn children are killed in abortion.

Alveda King told LifeNews.com on Tuesday that the civil rights struggle for unborn children continues and noted that abortion adversely affects the black community.

"The election of an African American president sends a powerful and historic message that what was previously unthinkable can become reality," King said.

"The battle for equal rights has reached a major milestone, but Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream of full equality remains just a dream as long as unborn children continue to be treated no better than property," she added.

...that someday for only some the bell's of freedom would ring.

[originally posted: 11/16/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 AM


King Stands As the Standard (PAUL GREENBERG, 1/21/08, Tribune Media Services, Inc.)

History is up to its old tricks again. The radical agitator of one generation becomes the conservative icon of another. Martin Luther King Jr. meets the very definition of an American conservative, that is, someone dedicated to preserving the gains of a liberal revolution.

Even when he was leading the civil rights movement, what appeal could have been more conservative or more American than his now classic speech before the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963?

"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Is any passage more frequently cited against the quota system called Affirmative Action? Is any passage so clear a call for what conservative candidates for president always seem to be calling for -- character?

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream" (American Rhetoric)

[originally posted: 1/21/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 AM


A Time to Reap for Foot Soldiers of Civil Rights (KEVIN SACK, 11/04/08, NY Times)

Rutha Mae Harris backed her silver Town Car out of the driveway early Tuesday morning, pointed it toward her polling place on Mercer Avenue and started to sing.

"I'm going to vote like the spirit say vote," Miss Harris chanted softly.

I'm going to vote like the spirit say vote,

I'm going to vote like the spirit say vote,

And if the spirit say vote I'm going to vote,

Oh Lord, I'm going to vote when the spirit say vote.

As a 21-year-old student (on right in photo), she had bellowed that same freedom song at mass meetings at Mount Zion Baptist Church back in 1961, the year Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, a universe away. She sang it again while marching on Albany's City Hall, where she and other black students demanded the right to vote, and in the cramped and filthy cells of the city jail, which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described as the worst he ever inhabited.

For those like Miss Harris who withstood jailings and beatings and threats to their livelihoods, all because they wanted to vote, the short drive to the polls on Tuesday culminated a lifelong journey from a time that is at once unrecognizable and eerily familiar here in southwest Georgia. As they exited the voting booths, some in wheelchairs, others with canes, these foot soldiers of the civil rights movement could not suppress either their jubilation or their astonishment at having voted for an African-American for president of the United States.

Atlanta voters sense fulfilment of Martin Luther King Jr's dream: In polling booths across the hometown of civil rights leader, the exceptional nature of election day is on full display (Ed Pilkington, 11/04/08, guardian.co.uk)
Most of the voters queuing up next to Ebenezer church were African-American, and universally backing Obama. "This is history," said Salaam Ali, a motorbike courier, 53. "I never thought I'd see the day when I could vote for a black president.

"As children we were taught to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. We were also told to believe in the idea of liberties and justice for every American. I've never seen it happen. Now it's time."

...but the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn't even have been 80 until next year. All this change has occurred within his natural life span. Pretty remarkable.

[originally posted: 11/05/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 AM


The Mahatma: Gandhi unvarnished. (Jean Bethke Elshtain, July/August 2004, Books & Culture)

There is much to commend Gandhian conflict resolution as a method to put into play between persons or within organizations. Upping the ante to include struggles of aggrieved groups against a liberal democratic state is already something of a stretch--but not an impossible one if a sufficiently robust cultural commonality is already present. This was true of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with stress on the "Christian" part of that, could assume and work with appeals to a Christian-formed conscience of the nation as well as to its foundational principles. In the Raj, Gandhi could cannily exploit British principles to challenge British colonial practices. But if that option is not available, then what?

When Gandhi was asked what persons should do facing an Adolf Hitler--he indicated that the Jews would do well to "offer themselves up to be killed" as their unearned and visible suffering might soften the hearts of their tormenters--he did not endear himself to Jewish analysts of the Shoah. That scenario stretched Gandhianism to the breaking point ... and it broke. The stunning example of morally courageous action in Nazi-dominated Europe by the villagers of Le Chambon, documented in Philip Hallie's wonderful book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, is no exception to this rule. The villagers united at risk to themselves and their families to save strangers--Jewish refugees. They did this under the noses of the German occupiers of the region. But, as it turned out, the leader of the German forces, who knew what was going on, permitted the Chambonnaise to go forward largely unimpeded. (There were threats--German soldiers tramping into homes, Andre Trocme, the pastor-leader put for a short time in a detention camp, and so on--but no mass slaughter, mass arrests, reprisals.) The protest of the Chambonnaise "worked" not only because of their undeniable courage but because they were extraordinarily lucky, in a then largely luckless surround, in the officer in charge.

One plus of Juergensmeyer's account is his acknowledgment that Gandhi did employ "many pressure tactics." Fine. Gandhi was certainly entitled to avail himself of such methods, which often proved effective. But at the same time, Juergensmeyer seconds Gandhi's motion that "all forms of force" are "coercive" and, therefore, bad. This requires somehow exempting Gandhi's pressure tactics--clearly a "form of force," though nonviolent--from the charge of coercion. The result is that Juergensmeyer becomes tangled in special pleading. If Gandhi did it--whatever "it" was--it couldn't have been coercive, you see.

Stanley Wolpert's Mahatma, too, is one about whom there is not much that is critical to say. But the critiques he does offer are quite vivid and troubling. For example: Wolpert notes Gandhi's praise for Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement, with Gandhi using the occasion to call for "world disarmament" in these words: "I am as certain of it as I am sitting here, that this heroic act would open Herr Hitler's eyes and disarm him." Then there is this:

On July 23, 1939, Gandhi wrote his "Dear Friend" letter to Adolf Hitler. "It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state. ... Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success."

Hitler did not respond.

During the war, Gandhi supported neither side. Nor was Gandhi's response to nuclear weapons terribly reassuring. He indicated that, were a bomb about to be dropped, he would stand out in the open, looking to the skies, awaiting the bomb and imploring the pilot to the last moment. There is an individualistic grandeur to such a stance. But one is grateful that statespersons are obliged to think in harder-headed terms about the safety and well-being of the collective. After the war, Gandhi told a Western reporter: "Was not war itself a crime against humanity and, therefore, were not all those who ... conducted wars, war criminals? ... Roosevelt and Churchill are no less war criminals than Hitler and Mussolini." This awful statement, demonstrating a remarkable inability to discriminate properly and a corrupting naïveté when confronted with such cataclysmic events as World War II, further tarnishes Gandhi's image. One can argue, as I have, that the use of indiscriminate bombing of cities does not pass muster under in bello restraints. But to compare Hitler's atrocities against the Jews, Slavs, gypsies, persons with physical and mental disabilities, on and on, to a war-fighting strategy aimed at ending the conflict as soon as possible, is the sort of thing that would lead a teacher to give a student who pulled such a stunt a requirement to rewrite or face the consequences in a low grade.

Luckily for them, liberal icons don't get graded.

-The Gandhi Nobody Knows (Richard Grenier, March 1983, Commentary)
-Pacifism and the War (George Orwell)

[originally posted: 7/13/04]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 AM


Letter From Birmingham City Jail (Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963)

My Dear Fellow Clergymen,

While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas...But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some 85 affiliate organizations all across the South...Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive; 2) negotiation; 3) self-purification; and 4) direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham...Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of the country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of these conditions Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants -- such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises Reverend Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstrations. As the weeks and months unfolded we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained. As in so many experiences in the past, we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through the process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, "are you able to accept the blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?"

You may well ask, "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was "well timed," according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "wait" has almost always meant "never." It has been a tranquilizing Thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see the tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking in agonizing pathos: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?" when you take a cross country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" men and "colored" when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title of "Mrs." when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White citizens' "Councilor" or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direst action" who paternistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation, and a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and at points they profit from segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man in an incurable "devil."

The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit-ins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, "Get rid of your discontent." But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.

In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership in the community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, "Those are social issues with which the Gospel has no real concern," and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

M. L. King, Jr.

[originally posted: 1/16/06

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 AM


The Power of the Ballot (Fred Hiatt, January 19, 2009, Washington Post)

Martin Luther King Jr., born 80 years ago, would not have taken kindly to any suggestion that blacks should delay their push for voting rights while tending to other concerns: low wages, say, or police brutality. Civil rights leaders understood that political power was a prerequisite to fixing income disparities, ending unequal justice and curing other ills.

Yet the incoming Obama administration seems to be inclining, in its foreign policy, toward a philosophy that says: Voting matters, but maybe not as much as economic development, or women's rights, or honest judges. Its adoption as U.S. policy would be a terrible mistake, for America's security as well as its moral standing.

Realism has never meant anything more than accommodating evil in exchange for quiet. Not that it even works....

[first posted: 1/19/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV (Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen, 4/04/07, AlterNet)

It's become a TV ritual: Every year on April 4, as Americans commemorate Martin Luther King's death, we get perfunctory network news reports about "the slain civil rights leader."

The remarkable thing about these reviews of King's life is that several years -- his last years -- are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn't take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.

Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they're not shown today on TV.


It's because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.

Indeed, when he ceased to appeal to American values he ceased to be a factor in American political life. We generally hush up his later years out of respect for the earlier.

Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" Speech 40 Years Later (Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners)

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most important speeches in American history at Riverside Church in New York City. In it he decisively and prophetically extended his public ministry beyond narrowly defined civil rights by calling for an end to the U.S. war in Vietnam. "'A time comes when silence is betrayal,'" preached King. "That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam."

The Riverside speech (variously called "Beyond Vietnam" or "Breaking the Silence") names the sickness eating the American soul as "the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism." It was a watershed moment in American history. A year later - to the day - Dr. King was assassinated.

King's address was drafted for him by his friend, and historian, Dr. Vincent G. Harding. King made minor changes, but essentially he delivered Harding's original text.

African American History and Culture Holdings (Emory University)
Emory's African American collections are strong in Black Print Culture, the world of literature created by and for, and often published within, the African American community from the early 19th century through the 20th century.

Emory collects African American-published books, pamphlets, periodicals, sheet music, broadsides, and printed ephemera in all fields. It also holds the papers of publishers, editors, journalists, and distributors of print culture, as well as material related to publishing history, including adverts, book notices, and salesman's samples.

Building on a long-standing collecting focus on American communism and the political Left, Emory holds important papers of African American social and political activists. These include the papers of Harlem Renaissance figure and campaigner for civil rights and international human rights, Louise Thompson Patterson; papers of her close friends and West Coast political activists Matt and Evelyn Graves Crawford; and important materials of their lifelong friend, Langston Hughes. Papers of social and political activists of the later 20th century include those of Vincent G. Harding, a founder of the Institute of the Black World; Doris A. Derby, co-founder of the Free Southern Theatre; Elaine Brown, the only woman to head the Black Panther Party; and SNCC activists Joan C. Browning and Constance W. Curry.

[originally posted: 4/05/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 AM


President Bush Addresses NAACP Annual Convention (George W. Bush, Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., 7/20/06)

Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Bruce, thanks for your introduction. Bruce is a polite guy -- I thought what he was going to say, it's about time you showed up. (Laughter and applause.) And I'm glad I did. (Applause.) See, I see this as a moment of opportunity. I have come to celebrate the heroism of the civil rights movement, and the accomplishments of the NAACP. (Applause.)

I want to talk about ways to build what the NAACP has always sought -- a nation united, committed to destroying discrimination and extending to every American the full blessings -- the full blessings -- of liberty and opportunity. (Applause.) It's important to me. It's important to our nation. I come from a family committed to civil rights. My faith tells me that we're all children of God, equally loved, equally cherished, equally entitled to the rights He grants us all.

For nearly 200 years, our nation failed the test of extending the blessings of liberty to African Americans. (Applause.) Slavery was legal for nearly a hundred years, and discrimination legal in many places for nearly a hundred years more. Taken together, the record placed a stain on America's founding, a stain that we have not yet wiped clean. (Applause.)

When people talk about America's founders they mention the likes of Washington and Jefferson and Franklin and Adams. Too often they ignore another group of founders -- men and women and children who did not come to America of their free will, but in chains. (Applause.) These founders literally helped build our country. They chopped the wood, they built the homes, they tilled the fields, and they reaped the harvest. They raised children of others, even though their own children had been ripped away and sold to strangers. (Applause.) These founders were denied the most basic birthright, and that's freedom.

Yet, through captivity and oppression, they kept the faith. They carved a great nation out of the wilderness, and later, their descendants led a people out of the wilderness of bigotry. Nearly 200 years into our history as a nation, America experienced a second founding: the Civil Rights movement. Some of those leaders are here. (Applause.) These second founders, led by the likes of Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the constitutional guarantees of liberty and equality. They trusted fellow Americans to join them in doing the right thing. They were leaders. They toppled Jim Crow through simple deeds: boarding a bus, walking along the road, showing up peacefully at courthouses or joining in prayer and song. Despite the sheriff's dogs, and the jailer's scorn, and the hangman's noose, and the assassin's bullets, they prevailed. (Applause.)

I don't know if you remember, three weeks ago, I went to Memphis, Tennessee. (Applause and laughter.) A lot of people focused on the fact that my friend, the Prime Minister of Japan, was an Elvis fan, because we went to Graceland. But we also went to another stop, a stop Reverend Jesse Jackson knows all too well, a painful moment in his life and in the life of our nation, reflected in the Lorraine Motel.

The Prime Minister and I went there, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. By the way, if you haven't been there, you ought to go. (Applause.) Among the people greeting me there was Dr. Benjamin Hooks. (Applause.) It's good to see you again, sir. He led me out onto the balcony of Room 306. I remember Dr. Hooks pointed to the window that was still half-cracked. You know what I'm talking about, Jesse. It's not very far away. It was a powerful reminder of the hardships this nation has been through, the struggle for decency.

I was honored that Dr. Hooks took time to visit with me. He talked about the hardships of the movement. With the gentle wisdom that comes from experience, he made it clear we must work as one. And that's why I've come today. (Applause.) We want a united America that is one nation under God -- (applause) -- where every man and child and woman is valued and treated with dignity. We want a hopeful America where the prosperity and opportunities of our great land reach into every block of every neighborhood. We want an America that is constantly renewing itself, where citizens rise above political differences to heal old wounds, to build the bonds of brotherhood and to move us ever closer to the founding promise of liberty and justice for all.

Nearly a hundred years after the NAACP's birth, America remains an unfolding story of freedom. And all of us have an obligation to play our part. (Applause.)

I want to thank your chairman, Julian Bond, for his introduction. And thanks for greeting me today, Mr. Chairman. (Applause.) I asked him for a few pointers on how to give a speech. (Laughter.) It doesn't look like they're taking. (Laughter.)

I want to thank Roslyn Brock, the Vice Chairman of the board, as well. (Applause.) I thank all the board members, all the participants, all the members of the United States Congress for joining us today, as well. (Applause.)

I congratulate Bruce Gordon on his strong leadership. (Applause.) I've gotten to know him. See, shortly after he was elected, he came by the Oval Office. He doesn't mince words. (Laughter.) It's clear what's on his mind. He's also a results-oriented person. I'm pleased -- I'm pleased to say that I have -- I'm an admirer of Bruce Gordon, and we've got a good working relationship. (Applause.) I don't know if that helps you or hurts you. (Laughter.) But it's the truth. I admire the man.

We've had frank discussions, starting with Katrina. We talked about the challenges facing the African American community after that storm. We talked about the response of the federal government. And most importantly, we talked about the way forward. We talked about what we can do working together -- (applause) -- to move forward. As a result of that first meeting, we found areas where we share common purpose, and we have resolved to work together in practical ways. I don't expect Bruce to become a Republican -- (laughter) -- and neither do you. (Laughter.) But I do want to work with him, and that's what I'm here to talk to you about. (Applause.)

So we've been working together in helping the citizens along the Gulf Coast recover from one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history. You know, when we met, I told Bruce that I would work with the Congress to make sure we dedicated enough money to help the folks. He kind of looked at me like, sure, he's heard these political promises before. It's not the first time that he had heard somebody say, well, we'll work together to see if we can't get enough money, and I suspect he might have thought, well, he's just trying to get me out of the Oval Office. (Laughter.)

But I meant what I said, and I want to thank the United States Congress for joining with the administration. We committed over $110 billion to help the people in the Gulf Coast. (Applause.) That's money to go to build new homes, good schools. Bruce and I talked a lot about how do we make sure the contracting that goes on down there in the Gulf Coast goes to minority-owned businesses. (Applause.)

The road to recovery is long and difficult, but we will continue to work together to implement the strategy that Bruce and I worked on along with people -- other people like Donna Brazile and other leaders. We've got a plan, and we've got a commitment. And the commitment is not only to work together, but it's a commitment to the people of the Gulf Coast of the United States, to see to it that their lives are better and brighter than before the storm. (Applause.)

We also worked together to ensure that African Americans can take advantage of the new Medicare drug benefit. Look, I understand that we had a political disagreement on the bill. I know that. But I worked with the Congress to make sure that the days of seniors having to choose between food and medicine is over. And that's the case of this new Medicare benefit. (Applause.) The federal government pays over 95 percent of the cost for our nation's poorest seniors to get this new drug benefit.

And I want to thank the NAACP for recognizing that it's important to help our seniors sign up for this benefit. (Applause.) We put politics aside. We said, the day is over of arguing about the bill; let's make sure people receive the benefits of this bill. Bruce Gordon has shown leadership on this important issue, and I want to thank you for that. (Applause.)

We'll work together, and as we do so, you must understand I understand that racism still lingers in America. (Applause.) It's a lot easier to change a law than to change a human heart. And I understand that many African Americans distrust my political party.

AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties with the African American community. For too long my party wrote off the African American vote, and many African Americans wrote off the Republican Party. (Applause.)

That history has prevented us from working together when we agree on great goals. That's not good for our country. That's what I've come to share with you. We've put the interests of the country above political party. I want to change the relationship. (Applause.) The America we seek should be bigger than politics. And today I'm going to talk about some areas where I believe we can work together to reduce the obstacles for opportunity for all our citizens. And that starts, by the way with education. (Applause.)

Surely, we share the same goal: We want an excellent education for every child. Not just some children, but every single child. I can remember being the governor of Texas -- I don't know if there's any Texans here or not. (Applause.) Tell them "hi" at home. (Laughter.)

I remember going to a ninth grade class when I was the governor. It was in a neighborhood that's -- a low-income neighborhood there in Houston. And I asked the ninth grade teacher, I said, how's it going? The man looked me in the eye and said, my students cannot read. That's wrong to hear a ninth grade teacher say, my students cannot read.

I decided to do something about it when I was the governor, and I decided to do something about that when I became the President. See, we must challenge a system that simply shuffles children through grade to grade, without determining whether they can read, write, and add and subtract. It's a system -- see, I like to call it this: We need to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you have low expectations, you're going to get lousy results. (Applause.) We must not tolerate a system that gives up on people.

So I came to Washington and I worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. Let me tell you the strategy behind the act. It says that the federal government will spend more money on education in primary and secondary schools -- and we have increased the budgets by 40 percent. It also says, and in return for additional help, you must measure. We didn't say the federal government is going to measure, we said, we want the local -- the states and the local districts to measure.

And so why do you ask that? Why do you say that in return for increased money, you need to measure? And the reason why is because, in order to solve a problem you've got to diagnose the problem. Measuring results can tell us whether or not teaching methodology is sound. Measuring results can enable us to figure out which children are falling behind early.

You know, one of the interesting things about the No Child Left Behind Act, it says that when we find a child falling behind early there will be extra money for tutoring, extra money for help. The whole purpose is to make sure people are at the starting line. The whole purpose is to make sure that the teacher that told me that, my children can't read, no longer happens in the 9th grade. Measuring helps us determine how we're doing.

There's an achievement gap in America that's wrong for America, an achievement gap that says we're not fulfilling the promise. One of the barriers to opportunity, one of the obstacles to success is the fact that too many of our children aren't reading at grade level. And we know that because we measure, and we're doing something about it. Actually, the achievement gap is beginning to close. There's more work to be done. Measuring allows parents to see how the school that their child is going to is doing. It lets the parents determine whether or not they should be satisfied with the education their child is getting.

I strongly believe that parental involvement is important for our school systems. (Applause.) And I believe -- and I strongly believe a parent knows what's best for his or her child. That's what I believe. And therefore, when we find schools that are not teaching and will not change, our parents should have a different option. If you want quality education you've got to trust the parents.

You know, an amazing thing about our society today is wealthier white families have got the capacity to defeat mediocrity by moving. That is not the case for lower-income families. And so, therefore, I strongly believe in charter schools, and public school choice. I believe in opportunity scholarships to be able to enable parents to move their child out of a school that's not teaching, for the benefit of the United States of America. (Applause.)

I also understand that we've got to do more for primary -- more than just primary and secondary education. I'm proud to report that working with the United States Congress, the number of low-income Americans receiving Pell grants has increased by about a million Americans since I have become the President. Pell grants are an important part of educational excellence and opportunity.

We're expanding money for our community college system. I met my pledge to increase funding for historically black universities by 30 percent. (Applause.) A decent education is the gateway to a life of opportunity. It is a fundamental civil right. And I look forward to working with the NAACP to enhance educational excellence all across the United States of America. (Applause.)

Second, I hope we can work together in an America where more people become owners, own something, something that they can call their own. From our nation's earlier days, ownership has been at the heart of our country. Unfortunately, for most of our history, African Americans were excluded from the dream. That's the reality of our past. Most of your forefathers didn't come to this land seeking a better life; most came in chains as the property of other people. Today, their children and grandchildren now have an opportunity to own their own property, and good policies will encourage that. And that's what we ought to work together on.

For most Americans, ownership begins with owning your own home. Owning a home is a way to build wealth. Owning a home is to give something they can leave behind to their children. See, one of the concerns I have is that because of the past, there hasn't been enough assets that a family can pass on from one generation to the next. And we've got to address that problem. And a good way to do so is through home ownership. (Applause.) Owning a home gives people a stake in their neighborhood, a stake in the future.

Today, nearly half of African Americans own their own homes, and that's good for America. That's good for our country, but still got to do more. So we -- working to do our part with helping people afford a down payment and closing costs, helping families who are in rental assistance to become home owners, helping people understand the fine print when it comes to mortgage documents.

One of the things I want to work with the NAACP on is to encourage more people to be able to open the front door of the place where they live and say, welcome to my home, welcome to my piece of property. (Applause.)

I also want to work to home ownership in other areas. We want to see more African Americans own their own businesses, and that's why we've increased loans to African American businesses by 40 percent. (Applause.) We're taking steps to make it easier for African American businesses to compete for federal contracts. We're working to expand help to have African American workers own a piece of their own retirement.

You know, one of my friends is Bob Johnson, founder of BET. He's an interesting man. He believes strongly in ownership. He has been a successful owner. He believes strongly, for example, that the death tax will prevent future African American entrepreneurs from being able to pass their assets from one generation to the next. He and I also understand that the investor class shouldn't be just confined to the old definition of the investor class.

You know, an amazing experience, when I went to Canton, Mississippi, I asked the workers there, who were mainly African American workers, I said, how many of you have your own 401(k)? Nearly all the hands went up. That means they own their own assets. It's their money. They manage their own money. It's a system that says, we want you to have assets that you can leave from one generation to the next. Asset accumulation is an important part of removing the barriers for opportunity. I think it's really important, and I want to work with Bruce, if possible. The federal government should encourage ownership in the government pension program, to give people a chance to own an asset, something they can call their own.

Ownership is vital to making sure this country extends its hope to every neighborhood in the United States of America. And I look forward to working with the NAACP to encourage ownership in America. (Applause.)

I want to work with you to make sure America's communities are strong. I've got a friend named Tony Evans. Some of you may know Tony, from Dallas, Texas. He was one time giving a sermon. I heard him speak, and I want to share with you what it was. He said -- he told a story about the man who had a crack on one of the walls in his home. So he got the plasterer to come by, and the guy plastered the wall. And about four days later, the crack reappeared. Got another plasterer in, put the plaster on the wall, and it reappeared again. He's getting frustrated. He finally called a wise fellow over. The man explained what the problem was with the cracks on the wall. He said, look, in order to solve the cracks on the wall, you have to fix the foundation.

What I want to do is work with the NAACP to help fix the foundations of our society. We want strong families. (Applause.) We want to help people who need help. We want to help the addicted, we want to help the homeless, we want to help those who are trying to reenter society after having been incarcerated. That's what we want to do. We want to help lives be improved. (Applause.) Government can hand out money -- and we do -- but it cannot put hope in a person's heart, or a sense of purpose in a person's life. That's why I strongly support institutions of faith and community service all around our country. I believe in the neighborhood helpers and healers.

And I put this policy in place. We've provided more than $5 billion to faith-based groups that are running the soup kitchens and sheltering the homeless, and healing the addicted, and helping people reenter our society -- people who are providing compassionate care and love. Organizations of faith exist to love a neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves. And I believe it's important for government to not only welcome, but to encourage faith-based programs to help solve the intractable problems of our society.

And this faith-based initiative is being challenged in the courts. They claim that -- they fight the initiative in the name of civil liberties, yet they do not seem to realize that the organizations they are trying to prevent from accessing federal money are the same ones that helped win the struggle of civil rights. I believe if an organization gets good results, that helps people turn their lives around, it deserves support of government. We should not discriminate based upon religion. We ought to welcome religious institutions into helping solve and save America, one soul and one heart at a time. (Applause.)

Finally, you and I seek America that commits its wealth and expertise to helping those who suffer from terrible disease. We believe that every person in the world bears the image of our Maker, and is an individual of matchless value. And when we see the scourge of HIV/AIDS ravaging communities at home and abroad, we must not avert our eyes.

Today more than a million of our fellow Americans live with HIV, and more than half of all AIDS cases arise in the African American community. This disease is spreading fastest among African American women. And one of the reasons the disease is spreading so quickly is many don't realize they have the virus. And so we're going to lead a nationwide effort -- and I want to work with the NAACP on this effort -- to deliver rapid HIV/AIDS -- HIV tests to millions of our fellow citizens. (Applause.) Congress needs to reform and reauthorize the Ryan White Act, and provide funding to states, so we can end the waiting lists for AIDS medications in this country. (Applause.)

To whom much is given, much is required. This nation is a blessed nation, and when we look at HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa, we haven't turned away. We believe it's our nation's responsibility to help those who suffer from this pandemic.

We're leading the world when it comes to providing medications and help. Today more than 40 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS; 26 million of those live in Sub Sahara Africa, including 2 million children under the age of 15. We're calling people together. We pledged $15 billion to provide medicine and help. We launched the emergency plan for AIDS relief. Before this AIDS emergency plan was passed, only 50,000 in Sub Sahara Africa were getting medicine. Today, that number has grown to more than 560,000 people, and more are getting help every day. By working together we can turn the tide of this struggle against HIV/AIDS and bring new hope to millions of people.

These goals I've outlined are worthy of our nation. In the century since the NAACP was founded, our nation has grown more prosperous and more powerful. It's also grown more equal and just. Yet this work is not finished. That's what I'm here to say. The history of America is one of constant renewal. And each generation has a responsibility to write a new chapter in the unfinished story of freedom.

That story began with the founding promise of equality and justice and freedom for all men. And that promise has brought hope and inspiration to all peoples across the world. Yet our founding was also imperfect because the human beings that made our founding were imperfect. Many of the same founders who signed their names to a parchment declaring that all men are created equal permitted whole categories of human beings to be excluded from these words. The future of our founding, to live up to its own words, opened a wound that has persisted to today.

In the 19th century the wound resulted in a civil war. In the 20th century, it denied African Americans the vote in many parts of our country. And at the beginnings of the 21st century, the wound is not fully healed and whole communities -- (applause) -- to heal this wound for good, we must continue to work for a new founding that redeems the promise of our declaration and guarantees the birthright of every citizen. (Applause.)

For many African Americans this new found began with the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A generation of Americans that has grown up in the last few decades may not appreciate what this act has meant. Condi Rice understands what this act has meant. (Applause.) See, she tells me of her father's long struggle to register to vote, and the pride that came when he finally claimed his full rights as an American citizen to cast his first ballot. She shared that story with me. Yet that right was not fully guaranteed until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. President Johnson called the right to vote the lifeblood of our democracy. (Applause.) That was true then, and it remains true today.

I thank the members of the House of Representatives for re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act. Soon the Senate will take up the legislation. I look forward to the Senate passing this bill promptly without amendment -- (applause) -- so I can sign it into law. (Applause.)

There's an old Methodist hymn that speaks of God guiding us with a hand of power and a heart of love. We cannot know God's plans, but we trust in his purposes, because we know that the Creator who wrote the desire for liberty in our hearts also gives us the strength and wisdom to fulfill it. And the God who has brought us thus far on the way will give us the strength to finish the journey.

Thank you for having me. May God bless. (Applause.)

[originally posted: 7/20/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 AM


Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread? (MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, 6/26/05, NY Times Magazine)

As Thomas Jefferson lay dying at his hilltop estate, Monticello, in late June 1826, he wrote a letter telling the citizens of the city of Washington that he was too ill to join them for the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Declaration of Independence. Wanting his letter to inspire the gathering, he told them that one day the experiment he and the founders started would spread to the whole world. ''To some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,'' he wrote, the American form of republican self-government would become every nation's birthright. Democracy's worldwide triumph was assured, he went on to say, because ''the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion'' would soon convince all men that they were born not to be ruled but to rule themselves in freedom.

It was the last letter he ever wrote. [...]

Despite the exceptional character of American liberty, every American president has proclaimed America's duty to defend it abroad as the universal birthright of mankind. John F. Kennedy echoed Jefferson when, in a speech in 1961, he said that the spread of freedom abroad was powered by ''the force of right and reason''; but, he went on, in a sober and pragmatic vein, ''reason does not always appeal to unreasonable men.'' The contrast between Kennedy and the current incumbent of the White House is striking. Until George W. Bush, no American president -- not even Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson -- actually risked his presidency on the premise that Jefferson might be right. But this gambler from Texas has bet his place in history on the proposition, as he stated in a speech in March, that decades of American presidents' ''excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability'' in the Middle East inflamed the hatred of the fanatics who piloted the planes into the twin towers on Sept. 11. [...]

If Jefferson's vision were only an ideology of self-congratulation, it would never have inspired Americans to do the hard work of reducing the gap between dream and reality. Think about the explosive force of Jefferson's self-evident truth. First white working men, then women, then blacks, then the disabled, then gay Americans -- all have used his words to demand that the withheld promise be delivered to them. Without Jefferson, no Lincoln, no Emancipation Proclamation. Without the slave-owning Jefferson, no Martin Luther King Jr. and the dream of white and black citizens together reaching the Promised Land.

Jefferson's words have had the same explosive force abroad. American men and women in two world wars died believing that they had fought to save the freedom of strangers. And they were not deceived. Bill Clinton saluted the men who died at Omaha Beach with the words, ''They gave us our world.'' That seems literally true: a democratic Germany, an unimaginably prosperous Europe at peace with itself. The men who died at Iwo Jima bequeathed their children a democratic Japan and 60 years of stability throughout Asia.

These achievements have left Americans claiming credit for everything good that has happened since, especially the fact that there are more democracies in the world than at any time in history. Jefferson's vaunting language makes appropriate historical modesty particularly hard, yet modesty is called for. Freedom's global dispersion owes less to America and more to a contagion of local civic courage, beginning with the people of Portugal and Spain who threw off dictatorship in the 1970's, the Eastern Europeans who threw off Communism in the 90's and the Georgians, Serbs, Kyrgyz and Ukrainians who have thrown off post-Soviet autocratic governments since. The direct American role in these revolutions was often slight, but American officials, spies and activists were there, too, giving a benign green light to regime change from the streets.

This democratic turn in American foreign policy has been recent. Latin Americans remember when the American presence meant backing death squads and military juntas. Now in the Middle East and elsewhere, when the crowds wave Lebanese flags in Beirut and clamor for the Syrians to go, when Iraqi housewives proudly hold up their purple fingers on exiting the polling stations, when Afghans quietly line up to vote in their villages, when Egyptians chant ''Enough!'' and demand that Mubarak leave power, few Islamic democrats believe they owe their free voice to America. But many know that they have not been silenced, at least not yet, because the United States actually seems, for the first time, to be betting on them and not on the autocrats.

In the cold war, most presidents opted for stability at the price of liberty when they had to choose. This president, as his second Inaugural Address made clear, has soldered stability and liberty together: ''America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.'' As he has said, ''Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.''

It is terrorism that has joined together the freedom of strangers and the national interest of the United States. But not everyone believes that democracy in the Middle East will actually make America safer, even in the medium term. Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, for one, has questioned the ''facile assumption that a straight line exists between progress on democratization and the elimination of the roots of Islamic terrorism.'' In the short term, democratization in Egypt, for example, might only bring the radical Muslim Brotherhood to power. Even in the medium term, becoming a democracy does not immunize a society from terrorism. Just look at democratic Spain, menaced by Basque terrorism.

Moreover, proclaiming freedom to be God's plan for mankind, as the president has done, does not make it so. There is, as yet, no evidence of a sweeping tide of freedom and democracy through the Middle East. Lebanon could pitch from Syrian occupation into civil strife; Egypt might well re-elect Mubarak after a fraudulent exercise in pseudodemocracy; little Jordan hopes nobody will notice that government remains the family monopoly of the Hashemite dynasty; Tunisia remains a good place for tourists but a lousy place for democrats; democratic hopes are most alive in Palestine, but here the bullet is still competing with the ballot box. Over it all hangs Iraq, poised between democratic transition and anarchy.

And yet . . . and yet. . . . More than one world leader has been heard to ask his advisers recently, ''What if Bush is right?''

But, oddly enough, the Democrats can't face that America is right.

[originally posted: 6/26/05

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Legend of the Fall: Before breaking major league baseball's color barrier, Jackie Robinson was a superb football player at UCLA (Shav Glick, April 14, 2005, LA Times)

Ten years before Martin Luther King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became an icon in the civil rights movement, Jackie Robinson was already a trailblazer, opening doors for black Americans by integrating major league baseball.

Seven years before that, before he'd taken the field as a Brooklyn Dodger on April 15, 1947, he was a nationally known football player at UCLA, electrifying fans at the Coliseum with his spectacular broken-field running, a star halfback on the school's first undefeated team.

The Coliseum Commission and UCLA will honor his memory today by placing a plaque in the Coliseum's Memorial Court of Honor. It will honor his accomplishments in breaking the racial barrier in baseball, his work as a civil rights exponent and his days as a Bruin, when he became the only athlete in the school's history to win letters in football, baseball, basketball and track in the same year. [...]

Robinson, who died in 1972 at age 53, earned his greatest fame in baseball, yet "Jackie Robinson" is the answer to one of baseball's most amazing trivia questions: What player who batted .097 in college later became National League most valuable player and was voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot?

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[originally posted: 4/14/05]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


President Honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at "Let Freedom Ring" Celebration (George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., 1/16/06)

Every year on this day we reflect on the great movement for civil rights that transformed our country. We remember leaders like Rosa Parks, who today is being honored with the John Thompson, Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award. And we recommit ourselves to working for the dream that Martin Luther King gave his life for: an America where the dignity of every person is respected; where people are judged not by the color of their skin -- by the content of their character; and where the hope of a better tomorrow is in every neighborhood in this country. [...]

When our founders declared America's independence, they invoked the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. Our Constitution was written to put the principles of a free and equal society into practice. It is a living document. It required amendment to make sure that promise was fulfilled, amendments like the abolishment of slavery, the guarantee of equal protection, and the right to vote for all Americans. Dr. King called these documents America's great "charters of freedom," and he continued to trust in their power even when the practice of America did not live up to their promise.

As children of the South, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks both came to the civil rights movement with long personal experience of the evils of discrimination and segregation. Dr. King called the daily humiliations endured by black Americans, "the jangling discords of our nation." And Rosa Parks famously experienced it when that bus driver had her arrested for refusing his order to give up her seat to a white man.

But Mrs. Parks and Dr. King shared a deep belief in a hopeful future. They strongly believed that segregation could not stand once it was held up to the light in all its ugliness. And because of their spirit and their work, the cruelty and humiliation of Jim Crow is a thing of the past.

As well, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mrs. Parks' faith in the future reflected their faith in a higher being. Martin Luther King and Mrs. Parks both believed that the answer to hate and discrimination was love. Dr. King once wrote, "It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love, mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever-present." Mrs. Parks was a devout member all her life of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a woman who saw the face of God in every human being. These two leaders knew that freedom was not a grant of government, but a gift from the Author of all Life.

So when they made their appeal to equal rights, they aimed straight for America's soul, and they roused a dozing conscience of a complacent nation. By calling us to be true to our founding promise of equality, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Parks helped African Americans gain their God-given rights.

As leaders, Martin Luther King and Mrs. Parks believed their calling was to be involved, to be active, to work for change. Long before Mrs. Parks refused to move from her bus seat, she'd been active in community efforts to advance opportunities for African Americans and to register them to vote.

At the dawn of this new century, America can be proud of the progress we have made toward equality, but we all must recognize we have more to do. (Applause.) The reason to honor Martin Luther King is to remember his strength of character and his leadership, but also to remember the remaining work. The reason to honor Mrs. Parks is not only to pay homage to her strength of character, but to remember the ideal of active citizenship. Active citizens in the 1960s struggled hard to convince Congress to pass civil rights legislation that ensured the rights of all, including the right to vote. And Congress must renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Applause.)

Martin Luther King did not live to celebrate his 40th birthday. Yet in the short time he walked upon this earth, he preached that all the powers of evil are ultimately no match for one individual armed with eternal truths. And one evening, on a bus ride home from work, a tired but brave woman named Rosa Parks proved that Dr. King was right.

And so today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. We ask for God's blessings on their legacy, and we ask for God's blessings on our great nation.

Thank you. (Applause.)

[Originally posted: 1/17/06]

January 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


More US Catholics take complaints to church court (Associated Press, January 15, 2012)
Parents upset by the admission policy at a parochial school. Clergy and parishioners at odds over use of their building. A priest resisting a transfer to another parish.
It was once assumed that disagreements like these in the Roman Catholic Church would end one way: with the highest-ranking cleric getting the last word.

But that outcome is no longer a given as Catholics, emboldened following the clergy abuse scandals that erupted a decade ago this month, have sought another avenue of redress.
In recent years, clergy and lay people in the United States have increasingly turned to the church's internal legal system to challenge a bishop's or pastor's decision about even the most workaday issues in Catholic life, according to canon lawyers in academia, dioceses and in private practice. Sometimes, the challengers even win.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


UK's Cameron offers talks on Scottish independence vote (Adrian Croft, 1/15/12, Reuters)

Two opinion polls published on Sunday showed support for Scottish independence is stronger among English voters than it is among Scots.

The polls may reflect a view in some parts of Britain that Scotland gains financially from the current UK set-up, which gives its devolved parliament power over issues like health and education, funded by a grant from British government coffers.

The SNP says that view does not take account of North Sea oil revenues, which flow to the Treasury in London. An independent Scotland could lay claim to a large part of those revenues.

Both polls found Scottish opponents of independence leading supporters, although their lead in one poll was slim.

The SNP won a majority in Scottish elections last year, putting Salmond in a strong position to push for a referendum.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Fear of Civil War Mounts in Syria as Crisis Deepens (ANTHONY SHADID, 1/15/12, NY Times)

The opposition speaks less of prospects for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad and more about a civil war that some argue has already begun, with the government losing control over some regions and its authority ebbing in the suburbs of the capital and parts of major cities like Homs and Hama. Even the capital, Damascus, which had remained calm for months, has been carved up with checkpoints and its residents have been frightened by the sounds of gunfire.

The deepening stalemate underlines the extent to which events are slipping out of control. In a town about a half-hour drive from Damascus, the police station was recently burned down and in retaliation electricity and water were cut off, diplomats say. For a time, residents drew water in buckets from a well. Some people are too afraid to drive major highways at night.

In Homs, a city that a Lebanese politician called "the Stalingrad of the Syrian revolution," reports have grown of sectarian cleansing of once-mixed neighborhoods, where some roads have become borders too dangerous for taxis to cross. In a suggestion that reflected the sense of desperation, the emir of Qatar said in an interview with CBS, an excerpt of which was released Saturday, that Arab troops should intervene in Syria to "stop the killing."

"There's absolutely no sign of light," said a Western diplomat in Damascus, a city once so calm it was called Syria's Green Zone. "If anything, it's darker than ever. And I don't know where it's going to end. I can't tell you. I don't think anyone can."

With dissolution into its constituent parts.  Only the timetable is at issue.
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Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Peter Lawler (Peter Augustine Lawler, 11.17.2011 , Commentary)

Big government is now in retreat on two fronts, national and state. The entitlements that have structured our welfare state are eroding or even imploding. The movement is fromdefined benefits to defined contributions, with risk being transferred from the government or the employer to the individual. The good news is that free people are going to have more opportunity to exercise personal responsibility. [...]

The road to serfdom, it turns out, never gets to serfdom. 

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Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Here's a podcast interview with Peter Augustine Lawler from Discerning Hearts.  We finally posted our review of his Modern and American Dignity at BrothersJudd.com.

Modern and American Dignity IP#76 Dr. Peter Augustine Lawler   Modern and American Dignity on Inside the Pages

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Isn't a Bainful Turnaround What America Needs? (Larry Kudlow, 1/15/12, RCP)

Worldwide employment for U.S. Government Inc. is estimated to be over 2 million, a completely unmanageable number for a venture like this. Total compensation for this company is roughly twice the level of its private-sector counterparts. And its retirement and health-insurance benefits are so large in relation to contributions paid that its benefit plans are careening toward insolvency.

In fact, the total debt of this firm now equals its total income -- an unsustainable position that suggests to many observers that future financing needs will not be met.

The product line of this troubled firm has been rejected over and over by growing segments of its customer base. And its product pricing (taxes) is not even remotely competitive. Even worse, heavily unionized work rules and regulations are so onerous that the prospects for even reasonable productivity and efficiency are long gone.

Its credit rating? That's been marked down, with more downgrades expected in the future.

The very troubled U.S. Government Inc. had long been either number one or in the top three worldwide in terms of economic freedom. But as a result of all these deteriorating conditions, it has fallen four years in a row in this category, slipping all the way to 10th. In fact, over the past 10 years, the firm has barely grown and its share price has been flat. Without the kind of radical change that comes from a takeover and turnaround, more economic slippage is baked in the cake.

Restructuring this company seems a hopeless proposition. But wait a minute. There's a highly regarded private-equity operation located in Boston that has a good (but not perfect) track record in turning around hopeless ventures. Though there have been failures for this firm, notable successes include Staples, The Sports Authority, Domino's Pizza and Steel Dynamics.

Sure, it's silly to treat government like a corporation, but that's exactly how most see it, so use the argument.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Jeb Bush will endorse Mitt Romney, it's just a question of when (THOMAS DEFRANK, 1/15/12,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Jeb's endorsement of a fellow retired governor is a question of when, not if, several sources told the Daily News.

"Jeb wishes Mitt were a little more conservative, but he's for him and is happy to endorse him," a Republican rainmaker who speaks with both told the Daily News. "It's only a matter of timing. Jeb knows Romney is the only guy who can beat Obama."

That shouldn't surprise savvy election-watchers. It's been an open secret for months within the Republican establishment that all three members of the Bush dynasty are Romney men -- even though most of the clan has kept to the sidelines. [...]

The first President Bush's preference for Romney is reinforced by a lingering resentment towards former House Speaker Gingrich for reneging on a 1990 commitment to back Bush on an unpopular tax increase plan.

The Bushes, father and both sons, have never forgiven Gingrich for "lying to the President of the United States," said a former senior White House aide intimately involved in the deliberations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Jerry Coyne on free will (Massimo Pigliucci, 1/14/12, Rationally Speaking)

Jerry's aim is made clear by the following sentence: "The debate about free will, long the purview of philosophers alone, has been given new life by scientists, especially neuroscientists studying how the brain works. And what they're finding supports the idea that free will is a complete illusion." I think that Jerry is wrong on two counts here: first, neurobiology simply cannot settle the question of free will, no matter what the data; second, Jerry focuses on a very small subset of the pertinent neurobiological literature, interpreting it incorrectly.

Before we continue, however, let's hear Jerry's definition of free will: "I mean it [free will] simply as the way most people think of it: When faced with two or more alternatives, it's your ability to freely and consciously choose one, either on the spot or after some deliberation." He continues: "A practical test of free will would be this: If you were put in the same position twice -- if the tape of your life could be rewound to the exact moment when you made a decision, with every circumstance leading up to that moment the same and all the molecules in the universe aligned in the same way -- you could have chosen differently."

As Jerry knows, and immediately admits in the paragraph following this quote, such a test is anything but practical. In fact, it cannot be carried out, ever. Which is why I contend that Jerry and others who push the idea that free will (and consciousness, and moral responsibility) is "an illusion" are mistaken when they think they are doing so on the basis of science. Science, if nothing else, is about empirically testable hypotheses, to which the above scenario certainly does not belong. Rather, Jerry et al. are making a metaphysical argument, an approach with which I'm fine, to a point, as a philosopher, but that is strange coming from people who clearly despise the very idea of metaphysics and scorn anything that cannot be approached by the empirical methods of science.

Knowing that his "practical test" is impossible to carry out, Jerry resorts to two lines of evidence he thinks clinch the case against free will. The first begins with the truism that we are biological organisms made of physical stuff, so that we have to abide by the laws of physics. And these laws, according to Jerry, do not leave room for free will. Of course this conclusion depends on one's concept of free will, and there are several on offer (more on this below). It also depends on entirely unargued for assumptions, including the following: causal closure (i.e., that the currently known laws of physics encompass the totality of causal relationships in the universe); a working concept of causality (one of the most thorny philosophical concepts ever); physical determinism (which appears to be contradicted by physics itself, particularly quantum mechanics); and the non-existence of true emergent properties (i.e., of emergent behavior that actually is qualitatively novel, and doesn't simply appear to be so because of our epistemic limitations). I have opinions about all four of these points, but I don't have a knockdown argument concerning any of them. The point is, neither does Jerry.
Even better, physics demonstrates that we create the "laws" of physics.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Lana Del Rey Comes To 'Saturday Night Live' And Leaves Controversies Behind (MARC HIRSH, 1/12/12, NPR)

What's the problem with Del Rey? I'm going to tell you, but before I do, I must warn you that what I have to say is so shocking, it will rattle you to your very core and almost certainly send you to join the chorus of Internet naysayers eagerly panting their dismay. If you are not sitting down now, you almost certainly will be when I reach the end of the next sentence:

Her name is not really Lana Del Rey.

Okay, there's a little bit more to it than that. For a rundown on the matter, I humbly direct you to this marvelous Awl piece, which discusses how the erstwhile Lizzy Grant committed the inexcusable crime of coming from a privileged upbringing. It's worth mentioning that writer Adam Rosen falls squarely on the side of finding the whole uproar embarrassing for those doing the roaring. It's also worth mentioning that the very first, apparently-not-remotely-ironic reader comment immediately following the piece reads thusly: "Thanks for this. I got as far as 'boarding-school pedigree.' At that point, I knew all I will ever need to know about her."

Who's Afraid Of Lana Del Rey? (Adam Rosen, December 5, 2011, The Awl)

After nearly ripping the Internet apart, "Lana Del Rey" will make her grand U.S. debut tonight at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. Del Rey is the stage name of one Lizzy Grant, who, all the way back in 2008, arrived in the city from Lake Placid to try to make it as a singer-songwriter. Her hair was platinum blonde then, and her music, earnest and surf-inflected, was heavy on the organ. Though she did stick around long enough to do an interview with the Huffington Post, Grant ditched her persona (and her hair color) and emerged, this summer, as the current Interscope Records-signed entity known as Lana Del Rey. If you haven't heard of her yet, I'm informed there's a very good chance you will soon: according to The Hollywood Reporter, her "striking Lauren Bacall-like looks, perfectly-plumped lips and enchanting, hushed singing style" have made her "among the most buzzed about artists to emerge in recent months."

And buzzed about she is. In less than three and half months since its posting on YouTube, her single "Video Games--a schizophrenic montage that marries "'World of Warcraft' screen clips and paparazzi footage with vintage backyard home movies and skateboarding flicks"--has been viewed almost nine million times. Tonight's show, originally scheduled for the smaller Box on the Lower East Side, was moved to the Bowery after selling out in an hour; tickets to that show sold out in presale, and as of a few weeks ago scalpers were charging $175 for the $13 ticket. The real feather in Del Rey's fixie, however, came on August 3, when Pitchfork crowned "Video Games" a Best New Track. Not done with her, on September 30 the site published a 1,600-word exegesis on why she seems to provoke as many people as she awes, no small feat considering the "gangster Nancy Sinatra," as Del Rey's team touts her, hasn't yet released a full album. Although last Friday, Del Rey announced that her first album, Born to Die, will come out Jan. 30.

If Pitchfork's doting is one expression of Del Rey's rise, then so is the fact that meme arch-authority Hipster Runoff has devoted (as of this writing) 21 posts to mocking her. Business Insider, another in a growing list of passengers angling for a ride on the trash train, declared her a "hipster robot" and "musical equivalent of a smoke-filled room." (The heart pains to even think about Brooklyn Vegan, home to the music universe's most agitated hive of commenters.) You see, Del Rey is no regular old buzz beast. Plucked from obscurity in record time and with a boarding-school pedigree, she is a breathing projection of the most sensitive issues in navel-gazing today, chief among them authenticity, popularity and the intersection between the two. Given all of the wild imputations, interpretations and polarized reactions--again, despite Del Rey having done little more than release a very popular YouTube video--a more accurate "gangster" likeness may well be Hillary Clinton.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


God, Government and Roger Williams' Big Idea: Banished from Massachusetts, the Puritan minister originated a principle that remains contentious to this day--separation of church and state (John M. Barry, January 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

In 1534, Henry VIII had rejected Roman Catholicism and turned the kingdom Protestant, and Parliament declared him head of the new Church of England; he executed those who opposed him as heretics and traitors. His daughter Queen Mary made England Catholic again and burned Protestants at the stake. Then Queen Elizabeth turned it Protestant and executed Catholics who plotted against her--including her cousin Mary Queen of Scots. Her successor was King James, the Scottish Mary's son.

James was Protestant but moved the Church of England ever closer to Catholicism, inflaming Puritans. In 1604, believing the existing English Bibles did not sufficiently emphasize obedience to authority, he ordered a new translation; what became known as the King James Bible satisfied him on that point. In politics, he injected the theory of the divine right of kings into English history and claimed that "the monarch is the law. Rex est lex loquens, the king is the law speaking." Supporting him was Sir Francis Bacon, best known as a thinker who insisted that knowledge came from observation and who helped father the modern scientific method--but also a courtier and lawyer who became lord chancellor of England, second only to the king in the government.

Opposing James was Sir Edward Coke, arguably the greatest jurist in English history. It was he who ruled from the bench that "The house of every one is to him as his castle." Precedents he set included the prohibition of double jeopardy, the right of a court to void a legislative act, and the use of writs of habeas corpus to limit royal power and protect individual rights. Coke took a young amanuensis with him to the Star Chamber, to the Court of King's Bench, to the Privy Council, to Parliament, to meetings with the king himself. That amanuensis, whom Coke sometimes called his "son" and later put through the finest schools in England, was Roger Williams, who had been born into a middle-class family in London around 1603.

Coke's conflicts with King James and then King Charles ran deep and hot; in 1621, James sent Coke to the Tower of London. Prison did not tame him. Six years after his release, he wrote the Petition of Right, declaring limits on royal power; he maneuvered its passage through both houses of Parliament and forced King Charles to embrace it. Winston Churchill would call Coke's petition "the main foundation of English freedom....the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in any land."

But only months later, in 1629, Charles broke his promises and dissolved Parliament. While soldiers hammered on the doors of the House of Commons, the floor in chaos, its last act was to resolve that the king's supporters were traitors.

Williams was an eyewitness to the turmoil of that time, first as a youth accompanying Coke, then as a young minister and Cambridge graduate who served as trusted messenger between parliamentary leaders.

Without Parliament, Charles commenced an 11-year period of "Personal Rule," crushing political and religious dissent with a network of spies and transforming the Star Chamber from "the poor man's court" offering the prospect of equal justice into an epithet that now stands for the abuse of judicial power. It was this pressure that drove Winthrop, Williams and others to the New World, to Massachusetts.

In America, Massachusetts grew strong enough not just to slaughter Indian enemies but even to plan armed resistance to the king when it was rumored he would impose his form of worship there. It also grew strong enough to crush Rhode Island, which--peopled by outcasts banished from Massachusetts for religious reasons--it viewed as a pestilence at its border. Thus Massachusetts claimed jurisdiction, without any legal authority, over what is now Cranston, south of Providence, and in 1643 it seized the present Warwick by force of arms, its soldiers marching through Providence.

By then England was fighting a civil war, king against Parliament. English Puritans, whose support Massachusetts still needed, aligned with the legislators. That made Parliament the only power that could stop Massachusetts' imperial expansion. Williams sailed into that English caldron both to procure a legal charter from Parliament and to convince England of the rightness of his ideas.

Both tasks seemed impossible. Williams had to persuade Parliament to allow Rhode Island to divorce church and state. Yet Parliament was then no more receptive to that idea than was Massachusetts. Indeed, the civil war was being fought largely over state control of the Church of England, and European intellectual tradition then rejected religious freedom. As the historian Henry Lea observed in 1887, "universal public opinion from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century" demanded death for heretics. By 1643, hundreds of thousands of Christians had been slaughtered by other Christians because of the way they worshiped Christ. The historian W. K. Jordan noted, "No voice had as yet been raised in Parliament for a toleration of all Protestant groups," never mind Catholics, who were considered heretical traitors. Both king and Parliament wanted "a national Church which would permit of no dissent."

But Williams, both relentless and charming, advanced his arguments with passion, persistence and logic. Even his opponent Robert Baillie commented on his "great sincerity," called "his disposition...without fault." Williams also drew upon his many connections--including such men as his old friend Oliver Cromwell--pushing his views in the lobbies of Parliament, in taverns, in the great homes and palaces of London. He did anything to win favor, even securing a winter supply of firewood for London, cut off from its normal coal supplies by the war.

Most important, in early February 1644 he published a pamphlet--public debates then deployed pamphlets like artillery--in which he tried to make his readers live through his experiences, make them understand the reasons for his differences with Massachusetts, make them see the colony's hypocrisy. The people of the Bay had left England to escape having to conform. Yet in Massachusetts anyone who tried to "set up any other Church and Worship"--including Presbyterian, then favored by most of Parliament--were "not permit[ted]...to live and breath in the same Aire and Common-weale together, which was my case."

Williams described the true church as a magnificent garden, unsullied and pure, resonant of Eden. The world he described as "the Wilderness," a word with personal resonance for him. Then he used for the first time a phrase he would use again, a phrase that although not commonly attributed to him has echoed through American history. "[W]hen they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world," he warned, "God hathe ever broke down the wall it selfe, removed the Candlestick, &c. and made his Garden a Wildernesse."

He was saying that mixing church and state corrupted the church, that when one mixes religion and politics, one gets politics. Then and there, in London amid civil war, he argued for what he began calling "Soul Libertie." Baillie noted with dismay, "Mr. Williams has drawn a great number [of followers] after him."

Williams had one final argument on his side. Rhode Island could be a test, an experiment. It was safely isolated from England; if it was granted a charter and allowed an experiment in soul liberty, all England could watch the results.

On March 14, 1644, Parliament's Committee on Foreign Plantations granted Williams his charter.

The committee could have imposed a governor or defined the government. Instead, it authorized a democracy, giving the colonists "full Powre & Authority to Governe & rule themselves...by such a form of Civil Government, as by voluntary consent of all, or the greater Part of them shall find most suteable" so long as its laws "be conformable to the Laws of England, so far as the Nature and Constitution of the place will admit."

Even more extraordinary, the committee left all decisions about religion to the "greater Part"--the majority--knowing the majority would keep the state out of matters of worship. Soul liberty now had official sanction.

Thus Ike's statement of our civil religion:  "In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men are created equal."

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Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


OBIT: Reginald Hill: Reginald Hill, who has died aged 75, wrote 24 bestselling Dalziel and Pascoe novels, which were the basis of 12 successful BBC television series. (The Telegraph, 13 Jan 201210)

Hill introduced his two Yorkshire detectives, Supt Andrew Dalziel and Sgt Peter Pascoe, in his first novel, A Clubbable Woman (1970). More than one critic has seen in them echoes of Falstaff and Hal, while Hill himself characterised them as a subtle variation on the traditional Holmes-Watson partnership. But, as Keating noted, neither is Holmes and neither is Watson.

Instead, the two men learn from each other in a continuing clash of temperaments. "They respect each other," observed Hill's fellow crime writer Martin Edwards, "but have irreconcilably different outlooks."

Hill featured them again in the follow-up, An Advancement Of Learning (1971), which drew on his own experiences as a college lecturer.

It was in this second novel that Hill began to develop the long-term relationship between his two protagonists, with Dalziel, the overweight, old-style pugnacious cutter of corners, contrasting with Pascoe, slighter of build, a sociology graduate and liberal thinker.

Hill's structural devices included presenting parts of the story in non-chronological order, or alternating with sections from a novel supposedly written by Pascoe's feminist wife, Ellie, who also features in the novels. With a fourth member of the cast, the gay Sgt Wield, Hill trod a fine line between modern liberal values and the earthy wit of Dalziel, who accepts the junior officer despite delivering a barrage of crude jokes.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Russell Kirk & Postmodern Conservatism (Gerald J. Russello, 10/24/08, First Things)

As early as the 1950s, he had become convinced that liberalism would exhaust itself because it could not inspire and sustain what he called the "moral imagination." For conservatives to buy into its premises would seal their defeat. Something else would replace liberalism eventually, and Kirk offered a richly imaginative vision of conservatism that could survive liberal modernity's collapse. One element of that vision was a revived respect for religious faith.

As early as 1982, in an essay for National Review, Kirk suggested that "the Post-Modern imagination stands ready to be captured. And the seemingly novel ideas and sentiments and modes [of postmodernism] may turn out, after all, to be received truths and institutions, well known to surviving conservatives." He went so far as to state that he thought that it "may be the conservative imagination which is to guide the Post-Modern Age." (One of the earliest uses of the word postmodern was by the conservative Episcopalian cleric Bernard Iddings Bell, in a book of that title published in 1926; not surprisingly, Bell was an early influence on Kirk.)

Kirk had little patience for the trendy radicalism and sometimes simply nonsensical expressions of postmodern hacks. Nonetheless, he saw in postmodernism a chance to escape the strictures of liberalism and reconnect with the older, pre-Enlightenment tradition of the West. This approach has its weaknesses--Kirk, for example, too often simply assumed the existence of historical continuity, and perhaps did not sufficiently confront the corrosive effects of liberalism on the kinds of social forces he believed could sustain tradition. Nevertheless, his work stands as a stark alternative to a much bleaker postmodern future.

Kirk's intellectual legacy remains widespread, if too often unacknowledged by the movement he helped create. Two of the journals he founded, the University Bookman and Modern Age, continue to appear, and his books remain in print. The localist writer Bill Kauffman has outlined a defense of regionalism that is very much in Kirk's spirit. Kauffman wants to reclaim the particularities of the American experience from the domination of big government and the monotone culture emanating from Hollywood, Washington, and New York. His lyrical prose elevates half-forgotten episodes and figures in American history and weaves them into a compelling counter-cultural story.

Scholars such as Robert Kraynak and Peter Augustine Lawler have followed Kirk in studying postmodernism through a traditionalist lens, and popular writers such as Rod Dreher, author of the provocative Crunchy Cons, draw from Kirk's writings to support a localist, organic lifestyle. Despite Kirk's suspicion of the cult of technology, a number of influential bloggers also look to him for inspiration in shaping their own conservative visions, rejecting purely utilitarian views of rationality and promoting the ideal of the "postmodern conservative" who transcends traditional political labels of left and right.

In addition, scholars like Barry Alan Shain, in their writings on early America, have confirmed Kirk's contention that that the colonies were not Lockean utopias expressing the values of modern political theory, but closely knit, highly religious Protestant villages for whom "Christian liberty" had real meaning. The world of the Founders was not, in other words, an earlier version of our own secular society.

The reason Kirk could find such continuity throughout Modernity is that the Anglosphere had never succumbed to it in the first place. And postmodernism merely arrives at the point where we departed from Modernity in the first place, the reasoned rejection of Rationalism as an objective basis for understanding the world. Arriving at that point two courses are possible, despair or faith.  Conservatism, in its Anglospheric variety, is the latter. And so we groan....

January 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


SC Republicans Boo Newt Gingrich Over Romney Attacks (Jonathan Karl, 1/14/12, ABC News)

At a forum hosted by Mike Huckabee with 800 undecided South Carolina Republicans, Newt Gingrich was loudly booed when he criticized Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, according to a Republican who attended the closed-press event.

"They were really angry," said the attendee.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Modern and American Dignity (Peter Augustine Lawler, 2008, Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President's Council on Bioethics)

Our view of human dignity as human freedom from impersonal natural necessity or merely political determination may well depend on the Christian view of inner, spiritual freedom. As Bob Kraynak explains, the Christians believe that each person is radically independent of the social and political order and does not depend on external recognition from other human beings, although it may depend on my genuine recognition by the personal God who sees me as I truly am. And that inner freedom, in fact, is perfectly compatible with external servitude. My true understanding of my freedom comes, in fact, from coming to terms with the truth about my dependence, my limitations, my inability to achieve autonomy through either technological or rational efforts. According to St. Augustine, this truthful self-understanding is impossible without faith. Otherwise, we sinful beings are blinded by unreasonable pride or fatalistic despair about our personal or individual freedom.

Does the American understanding of dignity depend upon Christian faith, or a belief in the personal God? The view expressed in our founding documents and our complex tradition is not that clear. Our understanding of human dignity draws from both the modern understanding of the free beings with rights and the Christian understanding of the dignity of the being made in the image and likeness of the personal Creator.iv In our eyes, the doctrine of rights presupposes the real, infinite significance of every particular human being. For us, our dignity is guaranteed not only by the individual's own assertiveness but with some natural or divine center of personal meaning. Nature's God, for us, is also a providential and judgmental God, a personal God. That means our understanding of natural theology is not the one criticized by St. Augustine or the one that was quickly displaced by morally autonomous and "historical" claims for freedom by the modern individual.

The American view on whether we're more than natural beings, or on whether there's natural support for our personal existences, is left somewhat undetermined. That means that we waffle on whether or not we're free individuals as Locke describes them, on whether being human is all about the conquest of nature or rather about the grateful acceptance of the goods nature and God have given us. That waffling is judicious or even truthful. Even many Christians would admit that there's a lot to the Lockean criticism of Augustinian otherworldliness, if not taken too extremely. And the Americans Tocqueville describes and the American evangelicals we observe today find their dignity in both their proud individual achievement and their humble personal faith.

America is largely about the romance of the dignified citizen; all human beings, in principle, can be equal citizens of our country. The politically homeless from everywhere have found a political home here. But that's because we've regarded citizenship as more than just a convenient construction to serve free individuals. We Americans take citizenship seriously without succumbing to political theology because we can see that we're all equal citizens because we're all more than citizens. Being citizens reflects a real part, but not the deepest part, of human dignity.

All human beings can, in principle, become American citizens because they are all, in another way, irreducibly homeless or alienated from political life. Human beings are free from political life because of the irreducible personal significance they all share. We regard religious freedom as for religion, for the transpolitical, personal discovery of our duties to God. Our religious liberty reflects the dignity we share as, in some sense, creatures. We seem to agree with the anti-ideological dissident Havel that each of us can be a "dignified human 'I,' responsible for ourselves," because we experience ourselves truly as "bound to something higher, and capable of sacrificing something, in the extreme cases even everything.for the sake of that which gives life meaning," to the foundation of our sense of transcendence of our merely biological existence.

So there is, in our tradition, a personal criticism of the dominant modern understandings of nature and God. If human beings are naturally fitted to know and love particular persons, then their natural social instincts can't be reduced to mechanisms of species perpetuation. Our dignity, from this view, comes from the mixture of our social instincts with the self-consciousness found in members of the species that has the natural capacity for language. It comes from our ability to know and love-and to be known and loved by- other, particular persons. And, as Kass writes, "if we know where to look, we find evidence of human dignity all around us, in the valiant efforts ordinary people make to meet necessity, to combat adversity and disappointment, to provide for their children, to care for their parents, to help their neighbors, to serve their country." Each of us, thank God, is given demanding responsibilities as self-conscious, loving, social, finite, and dependent beings, and so plenty of opportunity, if we think about it, to display our dignity or irreplaceable personal significance.

My personal significance doesn't depend primarily on my overcoming of an indifferent or impersonal nature or even necessarily on my hopeful faith in a personal God. The evidence of my personal dignity comes from lovingly and sometimes heroically performing the responsibilities that I've been given by nature to those I know and love, and from living well with others in love and hope with what we can't help but know about the possibilities and limits of our true situation. My dignity depends, of course, on the natural freedom that accompanies my flawed self-consciousness, my freedom to choose to deny what I really know and not to do what I know I should. I'm given a social and natural personal destiny that I can either fulfill or betray.

From this view, Augustine misled us by unrealistically minimizing the personal satisfactions that come from friendship, erotic and romantic love, family, and political life. His goal was to focus our attention on our longing for the personal God and for authentic being, but the effect of his rhetoric in the absence of that faith was to make human individuals too focused on securing for themselves their dignified independence from their natural limitations and from each other-even at the expense of the accompanying natural goods. It's just not realistic to say, as we often do today, that each human individual exists for himself. It's not even good for the species.

The truth is that our dignified personal significance is not our own creation. It depends upon natural gifts, gifts that we can misuse or distort but not destroy. Biotechnology will in some ways make us more free and more miserable. And we will continue to display our dignity even in the futile perversity of our efforts to free ourselves completely from our misery. We will continue to fail to make ourselves more or less than human, and human happiness will elude us when we're too ungrateful for-when we fail to see the good in- what we've been given, in our selves or souls. Our dignity rightly understood will continue to come from assuming gratefully the moral responsibilities we've been given as parents, children, friends, lovers, citizens, thinkers, and creatures, and in subordinating our strange and wonderful technological freedom to these natural purposes.

The bad news is that, to the extent that our dignity depends on securing our freedom from nature, we will remain undignified. The good news is that our real human dignity-even in the absence of a personal God on Whom we can depend-is more secure than we sometimes think. Thank God, we have no good reason to hope or fear that we have the power or freedom to create some posthuman or transhuman future. We're stuck with ourselves, with our souls, with being good in order to feel good.

We can't recommend Mr. Lawler's book, Modern and American Dignity, highly enough.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Britishness and anti-intellectualism (Ed Rooksby, 14 January 2012, Open Democracy)

It is often remarked that Anglo-Saxon culture is marked by a relative pragmatism and empiricism in comparison with continental European cultures which are much more inclined towards high theory, abstraction and so on. It is bound up with differences in the cultural status of the figure of the 'intellectual'. It is frequently pointed out, for example, that the French admire and take pride in their 'intellectuals' while the British are, at best, indifferent about theirs. This is reflected in Anglo-Saxon impatience in relation to conceptual complexity and in its veneration of what is called 'common sense' and 'plain speaking'. How can we explain this Anglo-Saxon anti-intellectualism - this hostility towards theory? As I hope to show here, anti-intellectualism is deeply rooted in the political history of Britain and has long performed a strategic conservative ideological function - which is to shield the status quo from systematic criticism.

We must start with Edmund Burke. As we shall see, Burke did not construct a British ideology of anti-intellectualism from scratch, but he was the first thinker to produce a worked-out justification of it, just as he was the first thinker to formulate an account of conservatism as a coherent political doctrine. Indeed the two are intimately connected - anti-intellectualism becomes, in Burke's schema, a key organising component of conservatism as a cohesive doctrine. In order to understand the culturally ingrained British hostility to 'theory', then, we need to understand the wider political philosophy of which it is a component as it was formulated by Burke.

As Alan Haworth suggests Burke's conservatism comprises three core (intertwining) ideas. First, Burke is suspicious of political change driven by 'pure reason' and abstract principles. Reality is much more messy and complex than can be grasped in theory. For Burke it is foolish to enact sweeping reform of political and social institutions along 'rational' lines inspired through abstract reasoning. Existing institutions work well because they have evolved and adapted over many years in a gradual process of trial and error. The second strand of Burke's approach is the idea that principles like liberty are always embodied in concrete historical and national circumstances. The liberty a nation enjoys is always a specific set of particular freedoms and rights. There are only ever these liberties. There is never liberty as such. Further, the specific set of liberties embodied in the constitutional order is the outcome of adaptation and long experience that has taken place over many generations within a particular national tradition. One cannot simply step outside of these inherited customs, conventions and established practices and appeal to liberty as some trans-historical, universal entity. If there is to be change it must take place within the tradition our current way of doing things has grown up in. Experience and history will always be a better guide to action than abstract principles.

Thank God, literally, Rationalism never took hold in the Anglosphere.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Over-65s are frequent binge drinkers, says US study (AFP, January 14, 2012)

While the most common age group for binge drinking was 18-34, those who reported doing it most often were over 65, said the CDC's Vital Signs report, which also warned of the health and safety risks of high alcohol use.

Seniors who binge-drink reported doing so 5.5 times per month, compared to an average of four times a month among the rest of the binge-drinking population.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Making It in America: In the past decade, the flow of goods emerging from U.S. factories has risen by about a third. Factory employment has fallen by roughly the same fraction. The story of Standard Motor Products, a 92-year-old, family-run manufacturer based in Queens, sheds light on both phenomena. It's a story of hustle, ingenuity, competitive success, and promise for America's economy. It also illuminates why the jobs crisis will be so difficult to solve. (ADAM DAVIDSON, Jan/Feb 2012, Atlantic)

I had come to Greenville to better understand what, exactly, is happening to manufacturing in the United States, and what the future holds for people like Maddie--people who still make physical things for a living and, more broadly, people (as many as 40 million adults in the U.S.) who lack higher education, but are striving for a middle-class life. We do still make things here, even though many people don't believe me when I tell them that. Depending on which stats you believe, the United States is either the No. 1 or No. 2 manufacturer in the world (China may have surpassed us in the past year or two). Whatever the country's current rank, its manufacturing output continues to grow strongly; in the past decade alone, output from American factories, adjusted for inflation, has risen by a third.

Yet the success of American manufacturers has come at a cost. Factories have replaced millions of workers with machines. Even if you know the rough outline of this story, looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data is still shocking. A historical chart of U.S. manufacturing employment shows steady growth from the end of the Depression until the early 1980s, when the number of jobs drops a little. Then things stay largely flat until about 1999. After that, the numbers simply collapse. In the 10 years ending in 2009, factories shed workers so fast that they erased almost all the gains of the previous 70 years; roughly one out of every three manufacturing jobs--about 6 million in total--disappeared. About as many people work in manufacturing now as did at the end of the Depression, even though the American population is more than twice as large today.

I came here to find answers to questions that arise from the data. How, exactly, have some American manufacturers continued to survive, and even thrive, as global competition has intensified? What, if anything, should be done to halt the collapse of manufacturing employment? 

As a purely political matter, we were fortunate for quite a long time that it required labor to produce wealth, so we could require the former as a condition of the latter.  Modern time simply require a conversation we'd been trying to avoid about how to fairly distribute the one without the other. It's an embarrassingly nice problem to have.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


The NS Interview -- P J O'Rourke (Samira Shackle, 09 January 2012, New Statesman)

What do you think of the likes of The Daily Show and the Onion?
The quality of the jokes is extraordinary. We could have gone months, back in the Seventies, without generating that many good jokes.

Is satire a tool for bringing about change, or a way of blowing off steam?
The latter. Satire doesn't effect change. The most brilliant satire of all time was A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. You'll notice how everything got straightened out in Ireland within days of that coming out.

Does Washington have any redeeming factors?
We need a government, alas, because of the nature of humans. We [also] need the rule of law. Politics is a necessary evil, or a necessary annoyance, a necessary conundrum. [But] we need to turn as few things as possible over to it. [...]

What about British politics?
Oh, for Christ's sake, you folks are just out of control. Things like the hunting ban - can't your politicians just mind their own business? [It's] like the French headscarf ban. The French imposed fashions on the rest of us and now they are telling people they can't wear funny things on their head. Who invented wearing funny things on your head, if not the French?

In a different life, what would you have done?
Been nicer to my parents, studied a bit harder at school, become an investment banker - I don't know.

Is religion a part of your life?
Despite my name, I wasn't raised a Catholic. My mother was a Protestant, of a traditional American, vague kind: she belonged to the church that the nice people in the neighbourhood went to. My wife is a Catholic, the kids are Catholic, so I'm a Catholic fellow-traveller.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Men's Fashion: it's time to bring back the fedora (Michael Jabri-Pickett, Jan 15, 2012 , The National)

For my money, the fedora represents an age of elegance that modern society has not been able to recapture. Modern man is better off today when it comes to equality, humanity towards his fellow man, health care, human rights and, in general, a higher standard of living for many but certainly not for all. But it is the little things that have slipped out of fashion as societies develop.

As the fedora died out so, too, did a level of courtesy that was once easily extended from the male sex to the fairer sex. No longer was it necessary for a gentleman to tip his hat when acknowledging the presence of a lady; no more was it required for a man of means to remove his hat when introduced to a woman - for the man no longer had his hat! Society had become a little more common and a little less formal.

Two nice ones are the Orvis Packable Felt.  The XL even fits my head.  And they're on sale now.

and the Country Gentleman Wilton

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Mitt Romney's Dilemma: Picking a Running Mate if He's the GOP Nominee (Howard Kurtz, Jan 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

If Romney is indeed the GOP nominee, he faces the most important decision of his campaign--not because a running mate will drag him across the finish line, but because the country will judge the way he makes his first presidential-level decision. Traditionally, there are three major factors to consider, although these may be relics of the past.

In the old days, geographic balance was practically a must. But ever since Bill Clinton of Arkansas picked Al Gore of neighboring Tennessee, that seems less important in the media age.

A second consideration is selecting someone who can deliver a crucial state. That may well have worked in the 1960 election, when Lyndon Johnson helped Jack Kennedy carry Texas. But Lloyd Bentsen couldn't do the same for Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry lost North Carolina even with John Edwards on the ticket. The last two Republican nominees abandoned the key-state approach: Dick Cheney's Wyoming and Sarah Palin's Alaska don't count for much in the Electoral College.

The final measure, ideological balance, may still resonate. With Bush-Cheney, McCain-Palin, and Gore-Lieberman, for instance, the winning candidate was trying to make inroads with the other wing of his party.

But an underappreciated virtue, in my view, is stylistic balance. Biden's voluble, back-slapping liberalism provided a counterpoint to Obama's cool, professorial air; George H.W. Bush gave Ronald Reagan entree to the Republican country-club set; the patrician Kerry needed the populist Edwards; even Palin initially brought youth and excitement to the aging warrior McCain.

But the Palin pick, like that of Dan Quayle, underscored a more urgent reality: you have to choose a plausible president, someone who is viewed as being able to take over at a moment's notice. And Romney, the M.B.A., will surely include that on the balance sheet.

So how do some of his potential running mates stack up?

Almost time to start our VP Pick contest, but, realistically, only one choice scores in every one of the following categories:

(1) Plausible presidential successor

(2) Executive experience

(3) Evangelical ties

(4) Appeal to Catholics generally, Latinos in particular

(5) Brings a large swing state with him

(6) Thoroughly vetted by national media

(7) Experience in national campaign

(8) Stylistic contrast to the presidential nominee

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


When the Fire Hydrant Was the End Zone (THOMAS R. PRYOR, 1/11/12, NY Times)
For two months, all went well. Then, one Saturday, we were in the middle of a goal line stance. As the play started, the front door burst open. Mrs. Peters was back early. Jamie picked up the needed yards on a right end sweep and dove over two defenders, passing within inches of his mother's head. She screamed at Mr. Peters until his arms hung slack at his sides. The beating was brutal and a double loss because big mouth Steve had told his parents about our game after we moved it to the Peterses'.

Dejected and out of a playing field again, we sat on parked cars on the street.

"What's the difference between linoleum and sidewalk concrete?" Steve finally asked.

"Let me cut a sample from each and smack you in the head," Artie said.

"Really, if we load up on sweatshirts, put a few pair of shorts over our dungarees and wear pads, do you think it's any worse than the linoleum?"
And that was how York Avenue from 81st to 82nd Street became our new football field. Everything on the sidewalk was in bounds: fire hydrants, trees, phone booths, mailboxes, light poles, signs and meters. We did our best to accommodate pedestrians, but if the game was tight, we'd use a lady carrying a few brown bags as a blocker.
As you can see from the photo below, our elementary school (K-8th) was almost entirely asphalted, but there used to be a patch of grass over on the right-hand side. It was bound by a high fence on one side, to keep us out of the creek and off the railroad tracks, and by asphalt on the three others. There was a big old tree in the middle and a fire hydrant along the fence. That's where we played Kill the Guy with the Football. If you spray the hydrant with luminol you'll find proof. Meanwhile, there were no boundaries for the game that took over later, Get Whitey.
View Larger Map
Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Can Labour ever win without Scotland? (George Eaton, 12 January 2012, New Statesman)

What is true is that so long as British politics remains "hung", Labour cannot afford for Scotland to go it alone. Were it not for Miliband's Scottish MPs, the Tories would have won a majority of 21 at the last election. The loss of Scotland, coupled with the coalition's boundary changes (which will deprive Labour of 28 seats, the Tories of 7 and the Lib Dems of 11), would stack the odds against a Labour majority.

Should Scotland win independence, one likely consequence is that Labour will shift to the right in an attempt to win greater support from English voters, who are generally perceived to lie to the right of their Scottish counterparts (although psephology paints a more complex picture). Thus, those who want Labour to win again and to do so on a social democratic programme have every interest in preserving the Union.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


10 Things Our Kids Will Never Worry About Thanks to the Information Revolution (Adam Thierer, 12/18/12, Forbes)

[T]hat got me thinking about some of the other things that today's digital generation will never experience or have to worry about thanks to the modern information revolution. Here are ten things I came up with. [...]

4) Using a payphone or racking up a big "long-distance" bill.

Most kids today have no idea what a "long-distance" call is and most of them will only see a rotary-dial telephone in a museum. Likewise, they will never likely use, or even see, a payphone or phone booth in the near future. Instead, they will all just carry phones--mini-computers, actually--in their pockets, as many of them already do. And they'll be flabbergasted by how many trees we cut down so that people could look up numbers in something called a "phone book."

5) Having to pay someone else to develop photographs.

Few kids today have ever touched film or gone to stores to have pictures developed. Digital photography has almost completely disrupted that business. By contrast, when I first visited Washington, D.C. in the mid-1980s, I was so taken with the beauty of the city that I snapped over 15 "rolls" of photos. When I got back home, I had them all developed... for over $200! Many of the prints were awful, but unlike today, there was no way to sort through them preemptively and delete the crummy ones before having them developed. Today, by contrast, my kids snap hundreds of digital photos at a time and then we later figure out which ones are worth keeping and printing out at home.

6) Driving to a store to rent a movie.

...maps...coins...cash...tv channels...late box scores...

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Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


The Ron Paul Faction : His appeal is growing after decades of unwon wars. (Mark Steyn, 1/13/12, National Review)

In the 2010 election the New Hampshire Republican party took 298 out of 400 house seats, 19 out of 24 state-senate seats, and all five seats on the executive council. A little over a year later, in the state's presidential primary, the same (more or less) electorate gave over 56 percent of its votes to a couple of moneyed "moderates," one of whom served in the Obama administration and the other of whom left no trace in office other than the pilot program for Obamacare. Another 23 percent voted for Ron Paul. Supporters of the three other "major" candidates in the race argue that, if only the other two fellows would clear off, a viable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney would emerge. In fact, even if you combine Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum's share of the vote, it adds up to a mere 19.5 percent: Were Bain Capital to come in and restructure the "conservative" candidates into one streamlined and efficient Newt Perrtorum, this unstoppable force would be competitive with Jon Huntsman.

According to George Mason University's annual survey of freedom in the 50 states, New Hampshire is the freest state in the union, so one would expect there to be takers for Ron Paul's message. On the other hand, facing a very different electorate in Iowa, Paul pulled pretty much an identical share of the poll. It may be time for those of us on the right to consider whether it's not so much the conservative vote that's split but whether conservatism itself is fracturing.

The reality is that there is always a strong Promised Land impulse (as Walter MacDougall termed it) within the GOP, or Jacksonian, in Walter Russell Mead's formulation, but we always nominate a Crusader instead--pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-intervention. The tectonics of the two party  system means that those who dislike foreigners--Pat Buchanan, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, paleocons and libertarians generally--feel most at home in the Republican Party, even if they have no influence on its presidential politics, a level at which it is dominated by its theoconservatism.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


The spread offense has grown up (Gregg Easterbrook, 1/10/12, ESPN)

Dutch Meyer used four wide receivers in the 1940s, the trips formation has been seen for three decades, 20 years ago the no-tight-end "run and shoot" was an NFL meme, while the empty backfield has been around since Doug Flutie. These and other gonzo offensive tactics are not new developments. What is new is the near-ubiquitous proliferation of the shotgun spread and its cousin, the seven-on-seven league.

About a decade ago, multiple wide receivers with the quarterback in a shotgun began to catch on in high school and college. Using this look, in 2001, Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler became the first player in NCAA annals to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Shotgun spread offenses sprung up like dandelions, soon joined by the zone-read variation.

Around the same time, the seven-on-seven concept began to flourish. High school coaches looking for a way to evade contact-days restrictions, and make football a year-round sport, formed "passing leagues" -- essentially football without pads or linemen -- and began to play seven-on-seven all winter and spring. Seven-on-seven tournaments, unknown a generation ago, became common.

The children of the shotgun spread are advancing to the next levels. Players who spent their teen years in passing leagues -- and in seven-on-seven, everybody wants to play offense, nobody wants to be on defense -- have headed to college. A generation ago, college coaches put their best athletes on defense and tried to shut people down. In recent years, with a few exceptions such as LSU's cornerbacks, colleges have put their best athletes on offense. The boosters like shootouts. Players like to perform in shootouts, which lead to YouTube interest. "Basketball on grass" is the order of the day in college football.

...but why not use his as an outside linebacker on passing downs?  
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Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Local mosque's imam cut from new cloth (TIM TOWNSEND, 1/13/12, post-dispatch.com)

Over the last decade or so, Asif Umar has practiced an unusual Ramadan tradition. The 27-year-old St. Charles native, who started last week as the new imam at the largest mosque in the area, celebrates the end of Islam's holiest month by going to a Blues game with his buddies.

"He's a sports junkie," said Umar's friend Nauman Wadalawala, a third-year law student at St. Louis University. "Whenever we go to a Cards game, he always has to wear his Pujols jersey. It's interesting to see this religious scholar, sitting in good seats, with his beard and Cardinals jersey."

Umar, whose parents came to the United States from India in the 1970s, is the first native St. Louisan to lead the Daar-ul-Islam mosque, also known as the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis. He also represents the ascendence of a distinctly American brand of Islam, a new generation of Muslim-Americans who were born in the United States and who spent their teenage years in the often uncomfortable glare of the post-Sept. 11 spotlight.

Immigrant parents of American-born Muslims who once insisted that their children become doctors and engineers have begun relaxing those expectations for a new crop of young Muslim-American scholars who feel drawn to be faith leaders, said Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the history of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University.

"We're beginning to have larger numbers of American kids going into Muslim studies and become imams," Haddad said. She noted a new trend in ads recruiting imams, which once asked for overseas experience in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia or India.

"Now if you look at ads for imams, they ask for candidates who know English, can relate to interfaith groups and communicate with a younger generation," Haddad said. "They don't want to lose the younger generation."

Muslims both young and old hope Umar can be that kind of leader.

They see him as a potential ambassador of the faith in the St. Louis region, one who can challenge Islamophobic notions, and instead present Islam as simply another faith on the American landscape.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM




Howler stopped by The Current studio and spoke to Mary Lucia about their recent tours with Tapes 'n Tapes and The Vaccines, the sort of fans they attract, and roommates.

Songs played: "America," "This One's Different," and "Back of Your Neck.

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January 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 PM


The Tea Party's Not-So-Civil War (MATT BAI, 1/15/12, NY Times Magazine)

I met Karen Martin, a few days before New Year's, at a cafe in Greenville, the hub of conservative politics in South Carolina. A 54-year-old refugee from the North Shore of Massachusetts, Martin is the lead organizer of the nearby Spartanburg Tea Party. Another Tea Party leader described her to me as a grown-up, and in fact, Martin turned out to be the kind of activist -- ideology notwithstanding -- who makes you feel hopeful about the new age of political uprising. She recounted how she burst into tears at the moment she realized, watching the news in 2008, that children growing up today wouldn't have the economic opportunities that she did. She talked about how the Tea Party would need to mature and become more politically sophisticated in the years ahead. "I think the movement is just too young and too emotional," she said.

Then our conversation turned to Mitt Romney, and Martin's sunny countenance darkened. "I don't know a single Tea Party person," she said, slowly drawing out her words, "who does not despise Mitt Romney to the very core of their being." I searched her face for levity or compassion, but found neither.

Discussions about the Tea Party often miss the extent to which the movement is loose and leaderless, a disjointed collection of local chapters and agendas. But if the phenomenon has an epicenter, that place is South Carolina. The state's junior senator, Jim DeMint, is generally seen as the ideological forefather of the Tea Party, at least among elected officials. Tea Party activism propelled South Carolina's 39-year-old governor, Nikki Haley, into office in 2010, along with four new Republican congressmen. There are, by some estimates, more than 50 autonomous Tea Party groups operating throughout the state, and according to a recent Winthrop University poll, 61 percent of South Carolinians say they approve of the movement -- more than double the national figure, according to data from the Pew Research Center. [...]

The Capitol in Columbia was closed the week after Christmas, but I found Curtis Loftis, South Carolina's treasurer, puttering around his office in a blue oxford shirt and khakis. The 53-year-old Loftis, heir to a local pest-control business, never ran for office before 2010, when he decided to take on the incumbent treasurer and caught the same Tea Party wave that swept Haley into the more august office across the hall. He's now serving as Romney's campaign chairman in the state. That both officials endorsed Romney would seem to signal some kind of coordinated decision at the highest levels of the Tea Party leadership in South Carolina, but such is the danger of thinking about the Tea Party as a single, cohesive entity. It's well known in Columbia that Haley and Loftis are disinclined to stand in the same room together, much less coordinate their political decisions.

As we sat in leather armchairs on either side of a coffee table, Loftis explained to me that, now that he was actually serving in elective office, he had come to understand how important it was to choose a candidate who could actually do the job in question, rather than one who said all the right things about slashing government and all of that.

"Before, when I was strictly looking at it as a partisan from the outside, I could understand exactly why people are working themselves up over these other candidates," Loftis said. "And these people who are actively engaged in such heated debates -- they're my brothers and sisters, you know? I get them, and I understand them, and I appreciate them." But, he added, "I'm just not interested in this ongoing conversation about first principles and this heated rhetoric."

Movements exist to be used.
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Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Mitt Romney doesn't really have a Republican problem (Chris Cillizza, 01/13/2012, Washington Post)

Romney's 49 percent is the highest mark among self-identified Republicans for any presidential candidate since New Hampshire moved its primary forward in the calendar.

Here's a look at how Romney stacks up historically:

That Romney overperformed even Reagan among self-identified Republicans is somewhat eye-opening, particularly considering that the Gipper won the 1980 New Hampshire primary with 50 percent statewide -- 11 points better than Romney did earlier this week.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Fayyad Still Trying To Create State: Letter From Ramallah (Jane Eisner,  January 13, 2012, The Forward)

There is rubble on every other street, and plenty of empty, trash-strewn lots along thoroughfares that could have looked the same half a century ago. But the signs of economic vitality are unmistakable, and while Ramallah remains, in the words of one observer, "a five-star prison," it is also clearly striving to take its place among the national capitals of the world.

If there is one person most closely associated with this city's ambitions, it is the man who greets me with a pleasant handshake and a businessman's smile, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. His popularity extends from the Palestinian public to the Western halls of power, even to the Israeli government, where he is referred to approvingly. Yet his position is on the line, caught between the potential demands of a unity government with Hamas and the rising expectations for Palestinian statehood ignited by his government's bold, some say reckless, move at the United Nations last September.

Fayyad seems undeterred. "We have to believe that this is something that can happen and indeed will happen," he said, perching on the edge of the sofa in his well-appointed office. "It is definitely overdue, and the more that people really begin to view this as an inevitability, the more likely it is going to happen sooner. And when I say 'people,' I do not mean only Palestinians, but also Israelis."

Fayyad seems intent on -- to borrow a phrase most commonly associated with Israel's settlement building -- creating facts on the ground. For him, the appearance of statehood lies not in banners and proclamations, but in the ordinary functioning of government: the imperatives of paying bills, closing budget deficits, reversing decades of mismanagement and corruption that had plagued the P.A. and diminished its standing with its own people.

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Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM

Song of the Day: We are Augustines - Book of James (RYAN BORT, OCTOBER 25, 2010, KEXP)

McCarthy wrote "Book of James" about his brother's battles with drug addiction and subsequent suicide, and a recording caught the ear of producer Dave Newfeld (Broken Social Scene), who agreed to record the duo in Canada. While "Book of James" likely started out as a stark, stripped-down acoustic song, Newfeld included forceful, building percussion, some slide guitar, and communal clapping to add some inspiring instrumental gravity to go along with McCarthy's impassioned lyrics and vocals. Though it is a song that came from tragedy, "Book of James" is an uplifting tale of forgiveness and perseverance, and will serve as the capstone to Rise Ye Sunken Ships, the release of which we are all anticipating at KEXP.

To announce the new project, Eric and Billy performed a special session live on KEXP from the Cutting Room Studios last week, which you can listen to right now

BAEBLE CONCERTS: We Are Augustines at The Launch Pad at Spike Hill

Watch the full video at Baeblemusic.com
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Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM

60-40 NATION:

Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S.: Overall, the nation has grown more polarized over the past decade (Lydia Saad, 1/12/12, Gallup)

 Political ideology in the U.S. held steady in 2011, with 40% of Americans continuing to describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


Obama to Ask Congress for Power to Merge Agencies (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1/13/12)

President Obama will ask Congress on Friday for greater power to shrink the federal government, starting with merging six sprawling trade and commerce agencies that have some overlapping programs, a senior administration official told The Associated Press. [...]

The administration said the merger would save $3 billion over 10 years by getting rid of duplicative overhead costs, human resources divisions and programs.

It has been decades since the government has undergone a sustained reorganization of itself. Presidents have tried from time to time, but each part of the bureaucracy has its own defenders inside and outside the government, and that can make merger ideas politically impossible to achieve, especially when jobs are cut.

The point, the official said, is not just making the government smaller but better by saving people time and eliminating bureaucratic nightmares. The idea for the consolidated business agency grew out of discussions with hundreds of business leaders and agency heads over the last several months.

It's a no-brainer for the GOP.  He might not consolidate enough, but can't consolidate too much.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


The Next Immigration Challenge (DOWELL MYERS, 1/12/12, NY Times)

But it is immigrants' success in becoming homeowners -- often overlooked in immigration debates -- that is the truest mark of their desire to adopt America as home. Consider Latinos. Among those in the wave of 1990s immigrants, just 20 percent owned a home in 2000. We expect that percentage to rise to 69 percent -- and 74 percent for all immigrants -- by 2030, well above the historical average for all Americans.

Who will be selling these homes to these immigrants? The 78 million native-born baby boomers looking to downsize as their children grow up and leave home. Fortunately for them, both immigrants and their children will be there to buy their homes, putting money into baby-boomer pockets and helping to shore up future housing prices.

Indeed, with millions of people retiring every week, America's immigrants and their children are crucial to future economic growth: economists forecast labor-force growth to drop below 1 percent later this decade because of retiring baby boomers.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


401(k) Plans May Be A Better Deal For Low-Wage Workers Than We Thought (Howard Gleckman, 1/12/12, Forbes)

Tax-deferred 401(k) plans may be a better deal for low-income workers than economists thought, according to new research by my Tax Policy Center colleague Eric Toder and Urban Institute senior research associate Karen Smith.

While high-income workers may get a bigger tax break from their 401(k)s, they also face a short-term trade-off. That's because their employers tend to offset their contributions to these plans by paying them less in wages. But Eric and Karen found that while lower-wage workers get less of a tax benefit than their higher-paid colleagues, their wages fall by much less for every dollar their employer contributes to their retirement plan.

Until now, economists assumed salaries of low-wage workers fully offset employer payments to their 401(k) plans. But Eric and Karen found that may not be true for lower-wage workers. Thus, while they enjoy both their employer's contribution and a modest tax reduction, their employer doesn't reduce their cash wages to fully offset those benefits. Bottom line: Total pre-tax compensation for low-wage workers who participate in 401(k)s increases while it remains about the same for those making more money, who get all their benefits from tax-savings.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Burma agrees to prisoner amnesty (Jason Burke, 1/12/12, guardian.co.uk)

Authorities in Burma are set to release hundreds of prisoners in a new amnesty, in the latest step towards wholesale reform in the secretive south-east Asian state.

An announcement on Thursday has raised hopes that many of the political prisoners currently held in Burmese jails will be among the 600-odd detainees set to be freed.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, repeatedly raised the issue of the political prisoners, who could number as many as 1,700, during a visit to Burma last week, as did Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, during her visit in December.

Burmese state radio and television said the prisoners would be released so they can "participate in the task of nation-building".

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


The Tea Party vs. the Intellectuals: A movement of attitude, not ideas (Lee Harris, June 2010, Policy Review)

Intellectual critics of the Tea Party movement most often attack it for its lack of ideas, especially new ideas -- and these critics have a point. But the point they are making reveals as much about them as it does about the Tea Party. Behind the criticism lies the implicit assumption that comes quite naturally to American intellectuals: Namely, that a political movement ought be motivated by ideas and that a new political movement should provide new ideas. But the Tea Party movement is not about ideas. It is all about attitude, like the attitude expressed by the popular poster seen at all Tea Party rallies. Over the head of a hissing rattlesnake threatening to strike is inscribed the defiant slogan so popular among our revolutionary ancestors: "Don't tread on me!" The old defiant motto is certainly not a new idea. In fact, it is not an idea at all. It is a warning.

If you are an intellectual, you can debate an idea, but how do you debate a warning? No evidence can be adduced to refute it. No logic can be introduced to poke holes in it. All you can do with a warning is to heed it or disregard it. "Don't tread on me!" is not the deliberate articulation of a well-thought-out political ideology, but rather the expression of an attitude -- the attitude of pugnacious and even truculent defiance. But take away this attitude, and what is left of the Tea Party? Not much that respectable intellectuals can respect. First of all, there appears to be no consistent ideology or coherent set of policies behind the movement. Second, when intellectuals turn to examine some of the more radical proposals championed in Tea Party circles, such as the abolition of Social Security or the return to the gold standard, they can only shake their heads in dismay. These crank nostrums are well past their historical expiration date. They may elicit fanatic support from the politically naïve and unsophisticated, but no one who knows how the political world operates will pay them a moment's notice. Reviving the gold standard in order to solve our economic problems is akin to reviving the horse-and-buggy to reduce our level of carbon emissions. It ain't gonna happen, and those who put their energies into pursuing these quack solutions are at best engaged in the politics of make-believe.

It is little wonder that so many sober intellectuals find it difficult to take the Tea Party seriously, except to see it as a threat to the future of American politics. But anti-Tea Party intellectuals who are liberal have a luxury that their conservative brethren don't have. Liberals can attack and deride the Tea Party without fear of alienating their traditional allies among ordinary voters. Indeed, their mockery of the Tea Party makes good sense to them politically. It is throwing red meat to their base. But conservative intellectuals are in a wholly different position.

As the Tea Party gains in momentum, conservative intellectuals are faced with a dilemma: to join the party or denounce it. If they join, they risk losing their status as respectable public intellectuals. If they denounce the party, they risk losing influence over the traditional Republican base. [...]

The field of social psychology deals with how individuals are influenced by the circles in which they move. When the people we are around think a certain way about a particular issue, their judgment will invariably influence our own. Because most of us do not like to be in open conflict with the company we keep, there is natural tendency to align our opinions with those of our companions, especially when it is important to us to be looked upon favorably by them. A socialite moving up the social ladder will adopt the opinions favored by those on a higher rung, often without even noticing it. But under virtually all circumstances, there will be an unconscious movement towards a cognitive harmony with our friends and associates, a process by which our individual minds are fused imperceptibly into a group mind.

This process will be familiar to anyone who must frequently pass between opposing camps. An individual who is in polite company one day but in "rude company" the next will easily appreciate the pressure exerted by the group mind. To be accepted and respected by one group he must repudiate the values and ideals of the other, a problem that most of us avoid by limiting our company to a single group that shares the same values and tastes. But this solution comes at a price. Those who limit their company to a single circle of like-minded friends and acquaintances will inevitably become victims of an irresistible illusion. They will be completely unaware of the immense influence their specific social circle exercises over their own ideas and attitudes. If asked why they hold certain views and opinions, these people will sincerely argue that these are the views and opinions to which they have chosen to subscribe based entirely on their own deliberations and reflections. If asked why he supports gay marriage, for example, a liberal will not say, "Because I have been influenced by elite opinion." He will argue that he supports it because it is morally right. Needless to say, conservatives who limit their company to others of like mind will suffer from the same illusions. If asked why he thinks Obama is a Marxist, a conservative will not respond by saying, "Because I have been influenced by my favorite right-wing blog." Instead, he will tell you that it is obvious -- anyone can see that Obama is a Marxist.

It's those challenges to cognitive harmony that push them over the edge into hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Israel's Jewish Identity Debate (Matthew Ackerman, 01.12.2012, Commentary)

The unseen pitfalls of a robust approach to the issue are also on display in an article for Tablet by Erin Kopelow and Ariel Beery (full disclosure: I am a former classmate of Ariel's at the Jewish Theological Seminary and I volunteered for a time on his magazine,PresenTense) that confuses the issue with the far more difficult question of official "discrimination" against non-Orthodox Jews.

It is true that Jews like Kopelow-who was born and raised in Canada to a mother who underwent a Conservative conversion unrecognized by the Israeli chief rabbinate, which therefore deems her not to be Jewish-who were raised as Jews, who have committed to a life in Israel, and who observe Shabbat and keep a kosher home besides, should be fully embraced as Jews by the Jewish state. The same can be said for the hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews born and raised in Israel whose Jewishness is similarly denied. (Although we may ask what would rightfully prevent them from undergoing a simple ceremony that would remove any doubt to their status if one was made available to them.)

Still, this is not the simple question of electoral math it is generally portrayed as. Yes, Israeli governments from the founding of the state have included religious parties in order to achieve the necessary majority to govern, and yes it is at the insistence of these forces that David Ben-Gurion acquiesced to the "status quo" agreement of rabbinic control over matters of personal status (i.e. marriage and death) and yeshiva student exemption from military service.

But Ben-Gurion and other powerful Labor Zionist leaders like Berl Katznelsonunderstood as well that these compromises were about more than just seat counting in the Knesset. For a Jewish state raises the question of what its Jewish content is to be. In eliding the question of what is to make Israel Jewish if the deep divisions that separate various Jewish streams are papered over, Kopelow and Beery simplify a problem that cuts to the core of Israel's definition and that has no easy answers. It is easy enough to say Israel must not be a state governed by the most extreme interpretations of Jewish tradition. It is far harder to articulate a vision for a Jewish state that both resonates with the tradition yet accords to the dramatic realignment of the Jewish condition that modern Jewish political independence represents. 

The fundamental point is that it is not possible to articulate a vision that is both consistent with Judeo-Christian values and requires permanent government by a  minority.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Cameron the Neo-Con? (Gary Schmitt, December 29, 2011, The American)

For one, Cameron recognizes in his 2006 speech that there might be times when the British government will act militarily for reasons not traditionally put forward by states. While not as effusive as Blair's 1999 speech in Chicago defending the right of NATO to intervene in the Balkans to stop the slaughter there, Cameron did state that he believes "we should be prepared to intervene for humanitarian purposes to rescue people from genocide."

And while Cameron, in his address, suggests that Blair has been too much the junior partner in the "special relationship," he also notes that "Britain just cannot achieve the things we want to achieve in the world unless we work with the world's superpower." Surely this is a point 10 Downing Street appreciates now more than ever, given the key military capabilities--such as intelligence, precision-guided weapons, and air-refueling support--that the United States needed to provide for the NATO operation to succeed in Libya.

Nor does Cameron distance himself from neo-conservatism in matters of foreign policy; to the contrary, he stipulates that he in fact agrees with its core precepts as he understands them: first, Islamist terrorism is a unique and deadly threat; second, military preemption is sometimes called for; and third, the promotion of political and economic freedom "is an essential objective of Western foreign policy." And while one could argue whether any of these is a uniquely neo-conservative principle, it is certainly true that critics of America's post-9/11 policies often point to each as somehow representative of the so-called neo-con turn in American statecraft.

In fact, the real distinction Cameron appears to draw between his own foreign policy vision and that of neo-conservatives is less about those general propositions than, by his estimation, their hubristic application. What had been lost was a sense of "humility"  and "patience" when it comes to the conduct of policy. In short, the difference to be drawn between Cameron's self-avowed "liberal conservatism" and "neo-conservatism" is mostly a matter of prudence in how a policy should be implemented and expectations of its timely success. Or, as he succinctly put it, "we must be wise as well as good."

For the future prime minister, this was especially the case when it came to pushing the freedom agenda. Echoing a long-standing Tory view that true democratic rule is a product of long habituation, Cameron argues that it was wrong to believe that it could "quickly be imposed from outside. Liberty grows from the ground--it cannot be dropped from the air by an unmanned drone."

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Renewable energy projects in California go unused: Millions of dollars in projects intended to provide power to facilities in the state's national parks and forests are sitting idle because of a years-long squabble with Southern California Edison. (Julie Cart, 1/09/12, Los Angeles Times)

"There's 24-plus systems in the Southern California Edison area that have been installed in the last three years that we have not been able to negotiate an interconnection agreement on," said Jack Williams, who retired this month as the National Park Service's Oakland-based regional facilities manager. "We think we are close at times, but then nothing. We were successful with PG&E, but with Southern California Edison.... They have been a bit more difficult. We've raised the flag many times. It's an issue for all federal agencies."

An Edison spokesman declined to discuss the projects, citing ongoing negotiations.

The impasse has hindered the parks' ability to meet renewable energy goals at a time when federal agencies are rushing to comply with orders to reduce carbon footprints. Equally troubling, officials say, is the financial fallout: a projected saving of tens of thousands of dollars from utility bills hasn't been realized during the two years the park service and forest service have been negotiating with Edison.

Parks officials at Death Valley had hoped the newly renovated visitors center would pare an estimated $31,828 from an annual electric bill of $45,724, a 70% drop in energy cost. At the Santa Monica Mountains, a solar plant designed to power a dormitory has been offline since October 2010.

"It is disappointing to see this big investment sitting idle when we could easily flip the switch and produce benefits," said park superintendent Woody Smeck, who called himself "an administrator here trying to do the right thing." 

SCE can delay the future, not stop it from arriving.

January 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM

David Murray Cuban Ensemble: Live In Concert (NPR, 1/12/12)
The omnivorous saxophonist re-imagines Nat King Cole as regal, large-ensemble Latin jazz.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Chamber to Gingrich, Perry: Shut it (Charles Riley, January 12, 2012, CNNMoney)

Republicans attacking Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital got a stern rebuke Thursday from the Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber president Tom Donohue said the attacks on the Republican frontrunner are "foolish" during the group's "State of American Business 2012" event in Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Iran's 'distressed' oil to keep flowing - at deep discount (Steve Hargreaves,  January 12, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Despite tightening sanctions on Iran's oil industry, experts say the country's crude should still flow -- but perhaps at a deep discount.

In fact, the bargaining has already begun, two analysts said. [...]

As Iran loses customers, remaining clients like China can ask for a discount oil price.

Houser suspects Iran will ultimately have to sell its oil for a 10% to 15% discount, putting a significant dent in the government's budget.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


State within a state (David Patrikarakos, 09 January 2012, New Statesman)

Lebanon's problems are systemic and chronic, created by a political settlement born of empire. The country began as a French mandate, carved from a chunk of Ottoman Syria. With indepen­dence in 1943, its sectarian character was accommodated within a "confessional" political system that distributed office according to religion. The majority Maronite Christians were given the most important government positions (including the presidency), then the Sunnis, the Druze, and finally the Shias. In a country unable to function without consensus, it has served as a prophylactic against dictatorship for almost seven decades. But it contains grave flaws. Most egregiously, France's imperial cartography left aggrieved Syrians believing that Lebanon was theirs. Syria occupied the country between 1976 and 2005 and, through manipulation and political assassinations, has acted as a bacterial agent of instability there to this day.

Then there are the demographics. In the late 20th century, the politically, socially and economically marginalised Shia community grew in numbers, something that has not been reflected in the political accommodation (the Maronites have repeatedly blocked a new census) and contributed to the 1975-90 civil war. The rise of Hezbollah is in part the product of Lebanon's entrenched discrimination; it is a system riddled with sectarian triggers.

Majority rules.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Top 20 US Progressives: Angela Davis (New Statesman, 11 January 2012)

A Black Power icon of the 1960s whose face still adorns the T-shirts of militant protesters, Angela Davis has been at the forefront of radical struggle in the US for more than four decades.

She became an international cause célèbre when she was charged with conspiracy to murder, after it was discovered that the gun used by a young African American during a 1970 raid on a Marin County courthouse, in which four men died, was registered in her name.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Romney, Haley defend 'free markets,' gird for more attacks (Garrett Haake, 1/12/12, NBC)

At a packed rally in South Carolina's capital city, Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday night defended the value of free markets in a proxy defense of the man she has endorsed for president, Mitt Romney.

"I am proud of all of our Republican candidates, but we have a real problem when we have Republicans talking like Democrats against the free market. We believe in free markets. We don't ever want people to come in and say that Boeing can hire and fire. We don't ever want people to go in to Michelin and say that they can make profits or they can't. We want companies to be able to do what is best for companies and during tough times you downsize and you make hard decisions and during good times you expand and you grow," Haley said. "That's what he's done. He's done what every one of us has tried to do."

So his opponents spend five years trying to make him into a Leftist in conservative clothing and then attack his capitalism from the Left?  Harold Stassen would have beat these guys.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Craig Venter Explains How Pond Scum Will Save the World: The man who first sequenced the human genome and designed the first synthetic cell explains why simple algae--and some genetic engineering--may hold the key to our future (David Biello, January 11, 2012, Scientific American)

Why algae?

You look at the potential output from algae, and it's one to two orders of magnitude better than the best agri­cultural system. If we were trying to make liquid trans­portation fuels to replace all transportation fuels in the U.S., and you try and do that from corn, it would take a facility three times the size of the continental U.S. If you try to do it from algae, it's a facility roughly the size of the state of Maryland. One is doable, and the other's just absurd.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Pew Survey: Majority of Mormons Lean Republican; Half Cite Discrimination Against Their Faith (Huma Khan, 1/12/12, ABC News)

With Mitt Romney's Mormon faith often under the microscope, a new survey to be released Thursday finds that most Mormons feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against and not accepted by Americans as part of mainstream society.

In a survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, a majority of Mormons cite misperceptions about their faith, discrimination and lack of acceptance as the biggest challenges facing them. Two-thirds, or 68 percent, feel they are not viewed as mainstream by society, while six in 10 say that Americans in general are uninformed about the Mormon faith. 
Nearly half of those polled, about 46 percent, say there is "a lot" of discrimination against their faith, while 54 percent feel that Mormons' portrayal in television and movies hurts their image.

Evangelical Christians particularly are singled out by Mormons as the group that is unfriendly toward them. In a previous Pew poll, roughly half of evangelical Christians said Mormonism is not a Christian religion, higher than the national average of 32 percent who feel that way.

At the same time, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints express optimism about the future, with 63 percent saying that acceptance of their faith is on the rise.

January 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


Bolton to Back Romney (Neil King Jr., 1/11/12, WSJ)

Former U.N Ambassador John Bolton is set to endorse Mitt Romney and will join his top team of foreign-policy advisers, according to people close to the campaign.

The move is a blow to Newt Gingrich, who is close to Mr. Bolton and said recently that he would nominate the former ambassador as his secretary of state were he to become president.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


A Brief History of Breast Implants (ADAM CLARK ESTES, 1/12/12, Atlantic)

With the ballooning crisis over faulty French breast implants becoming a serious public health concern across Europe...

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Supreme Court sides with church on decision to fire employee on religious grounds (AP,  January 11, 2012)

The Supreme Court has sided unanimously with a church sued for firing an employee on religious grounds, issuing an opinion on Wednesday that religious employers can keep the government out of hiring and firing decisions. [...]

"Because Perich was a minister within the meaning of the exception, the First Amendment requires dismissal of this employment discrimination suit against her religious employer," reads the ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts. "The EEOC and Perich originally sought an order reinstating Perich to her former position as a called teacher. By requiring the Church to accept a minister it did not want, such an order would have plainly violated the Church's freedom under the Religion Clauses to select its own ministers. ...

"The exception ... ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church's alone," the ruling reads.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Romney's New Hampshire Breadth: The presidential hopeful's victory Tuesday was striking in its reach across major demographic and ideological groups. (PAUL A. GIGOT, 1/12/12, WSJ)

The former Massachusetts governor won 49% of Republicans, who constituted half of the electorate. But he also won 29% of self-described independents, losing only to Ron Paul's 32%. This is in contrast to John McCain in 2008 and in 2000, when the Arizona senator's New Hampshire wins relied on more independents. That could pose problems for Mr. Romney in the general election when he would need to win independents by a considerable margin. But New Hampshire suggests he is consolidating support among GOP regulars, which will make him difficult to beat for the nomination.

Also notable was Mr. Romney's appeal to those who strongly or somewhat support the tea party, who represented about half of primary voters. Mr. Romney won 40% compared to 22% for Mr. Paul. Reaching tea party denizens had been one of Mr. Romney's weaknesses, and there will be more of them in South Carolina than in New England.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Time to take Romney seriously (Ben Smith, January 11, 2012, Politico)

But Romney didn't just face a weak field -- he made it weak. His strength, money, and organization scared off some serious challengers.

He simply beat one former governor who many in the press -- this writer included -- thought would beat him, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, and drove him out of the race early. When another governor, Rick Perry of Texas, made a late entry as the Romney killer, he instead wound up illustrating how well prepared for this battle Romney really is.

His two early victories have also spawned myths of Romney's weakness. His narrow win in Iowa was in fact remarkable: If there's one place a conservative should have beaten him, it was the Hawkeye State. And even Tuesday night, Romney's doubters were circulating two myths about what he had achieved in New Hampshire -- that it was driven by people other than Republicans, and that there was a broad lack of enthusiasm for the field.

But as Townhall.com political editor Guy Benson noted, this year's primary in fact had a record turnout. And Romney won handily among the most conservative groups -- it was Texas Rep. Ron Paul who swept up the independents and Democrats crossing over. Romney beat his 2008 margin in the state by some 15,000 votes, and might have won a true majority had the primary been open only to Republicans.

The idea that Romney's personal qualities will sink him is equally misguided. Anyone who covered Barack Obama in 2008 knows that the gap between reporters' perceptions of a candidate as stiff and distant and voters' sense of his charisma can be, well, wide. Romney comes across in person as warm, a perception that often gets distorted through a press filter that is, understandably, amused by his quirks.

Nevermind the advantage he had in IA because he's so much better organized than his opponents, it still took real political savvy and courage to see that he could win there and make the effort.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


It's Mitt Romney's race to lose following stellar showing in New Hampshire primary (THOMAS M. DEFRANK, 1/11/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Roughly half the GOP primary vote in South Carolina are mainstream Republicans, simpatico with Romney's pragmatic pitch that he's the only player in this field who can beat President Obama.

Moreover, Romney is the beneficiary of a fragmented anybody-but-Mitt vote that makes it easier for him to win with less than an absolute majority.

For openers, Rep. Ron Paul's libertarian loyalists guarantee him a minimum of 15 points wherever he runs, denying those votes to the other not-Mitts.

For the same reason, Romney's strategists were delighted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided not to bow out after all and to compete in South Carolina.

"We'd be happy to loan him our plane (to campaign)," a Romney operative cracked.

And Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be fighting over many of the very same voters.

Even without the tailwind from Tuesday's win, Romney was ahead in Florida (voting Jan. 31) and has money to burn.

He is already advertising there and aggressively wooing name-brand Republicans.

Several GOP sources say they won't be surprised if popular former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose father has already endorsed Romney, follows suit soon.

In a worst-case scenario, Romney is the only candidate with the organization and cash to wage a 50-state war of attrition if necessary.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Strength From Weakness (Steve Wulf, ESPN: 360)

In the living room of a lovely home at the end of an oak tree-lined lane in Hillsboro, Ore., Ben Petrick inserts a disc into the DVD player. His wife, Kellie, has taken their 4-year-old daughter, Makena, upstairs for a nap, giving Petrick the opportunity to flop into his easy chair and fast-forward to the moment he wants you to see.

The video is of June 29, 2001, and Petrick is batting sixth as a catcher for the Colorado Rockies. With one out and nobody on in the top of the seventh as the Rockies trail the Diamondbacks 3-0, Petrick puts a perfect swing on a 2-2 fastball from Randy Johnson, launching the pitch into the leftfield seats at Bank One Ballpark for his ninth homer of the season. It's a thing of beauty.

But that's not what he wants to show you -- Petrick is not one to brag, even if he did go deep off a future Hall of Famer. No, he wants to show you what happened after he hit the home run. "Watch as I run around the bases," he says. "Look at my left arm. It's not in sync with my right. It's just sort of hanging there."

He has other video evidence: a quaking left hand as he gives the target behind the plate, his difficulty removing a shin guard off his left leg after a double and a left leg spasm just before he goes the other way off CC Sabathia. Petrick played 240 major league games, with at least 221 of them coming after young-onset Parkinson's disease began to take over his 22-year-old body in 2000.

The Rockies saw so much potential that they gave Petrick a $495,000 signing bonus after drafting him from Hillsboro's Glencoe High School, near Portland. He didn't disappoint after his September 1999 call-up. Having already torn through two levels of the minors, Petrick hit four homers, drove in 12 runs and batted .323 in 19 games. "Think Buster Posey with speed," says Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who met Petrick as a minor league hitting instructor and later managed him in the bigs. "He had five tools, six counting his ability to handle pitchers."

"He could've been one of the best catchers ever," says Brent Butler, a Rockies infielder who roomed with Petrick. "I'm not just saying that. I truly believe it."

"He had no ceiling," says Rockies executive vice president Dan O'Dowd, the general manager who ended up trading Petrick to the Detroit Tigers in 2003 because he wasn't quite living up to his potential. "I only wish I'd known."

Who could have known? Who could have known that a player some considered a potential Hall of Fame catcher, a player who represented the traditional sense of NEXT in sports, would have his future stolen from him by an incurable disease that rarely afflicts people as young as 22?

How good was Petrick? Go back and look at his stats. In those 240 games for the Rockies and Tigers, he hit .257 with 27 home runs and 94 RBIs while trying to control the symptoms of Parkinson's, which include tremors, rigidity and slow movements. He was not only tough enough to be a catcher, the most demanding position on the field, but also athletic enough to play centerfield when he wasn't behind the plate.

"Looking back, I am amazed at what he accomplished," says Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who was Colorado's first pick in the 1995 draft, the year Petrick was taken in the second round. "It's hard enough performing at the highest level of this game, which he did. On top of that, he had to fight off a disease that robbed him of his physical ability. And on top of that, he had to play under the tremendous pressure of hiding the effects of that disease."

Helton pauses. "You know what, though?" he says. "I'm more impressed by what he's done with his life since."

As it turns out, Ben Petrick lost one gift and found another.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Five Former Vatican Ambassadors Endorse Mitt Romney (Michelle Bauman, 1/10/2012, CNA/EWTN News)

Thomas Patrick Melady, Raymond L. Flynn, James Nicholson, Francis Rooney and Mary Ann Glendon all signed the letter, which applauded Romney for realizing "that sound economic and social policies must rest on a healthy culture."

The signatories, who served under presidents George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, agreed that Romney has shown commitment to "the values that we feel are critical in a national leader."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Global Warming? No, Natural, Predictable Climate Change (Larry Bell, 1/10/12, Forbes)

An extensively peer-reviewed study published last December in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics indicates that observed climate changes since 1850 are linked to cyclical, predictable, naturally occurring events in Earth's solar system with little or no help from us. The research was conducted by Nicola Scafetta, a scientist at Duke University and at the Active Cavity Radiometer Solar Irradiance Monitor Lab (ACRIM), which is associated with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. It takes issue with methodologies applied by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) using "general circulation climate models" (GCMs) that, by ignoring these important influences, are found to fail to reproduce the observed decadal and multi-decadal climatic cycles.

As noted in the paper, the IPCC models also fail to incorporate climate modulating effects of solar changes such as cloud-forming influences of cosmic rays throughout periods of reduced sunspot activity. More clouds tend to make conditions cooler, while fewer often cause warming. At least 50-70% of observed 20th century warming might be associated with increased solar activity witnessed since the "Maunder Minimum" of the last 17th century.

Dr. Scafetta's study applies an astronomically-based model that reconstructs and correlates known warming and cooling phases with decadal and multi-decadal cycles associated with influences of planetary motions, most particularly those of Jupiter and Saturn. This "astronomical harmonics model" was used to address various cycles lasting 9.1, 10-10.5, 20-21, and 60-62 year-long periods. The 9.1-year cycle was shown to be likely related to decadal solar/lunar tidal oscillations, while those of ten years and longer duration relate to planetary movements about the Sun that may have solar influences that modulate electromagnetic properties of Earth's upper atmosphere which can regulate the cloud system.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Changing His Chief of Staff Can't Solve Obama's Larger Problem (Peter Roff, January 10, 2012 , US News)

A Clinton cabinet member, the outgoing chief of staff is a member of Chicago's powerful and politically influential Daley family. His appointment to the second most important job in the executive branch was widely seen as an olive branch to the business community when he was appointed. He made a valiant effort but Daley was unable to temper the left wing policy drift coming out of the White House, leading first to a demotion of his responsibilities and, ultimately, to his resignation which was announced Monday.

His replacement, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew, is cut from the same bolt of cloth as Daley--and is likewise a veteran of the Clinton administration--but the odds that he will be able to put a moderate stamp on what Obama is trying to do are slim, especially in a year when senior Obama campaign officials have telegraphed that the president is going to pursue re-election strategy that writes off white, working class voters.

...they try to gin up their base, which can only be disastrous for the UR.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Healthy eating may help AD[...] kids: study; Diet may help where medications and therapy fails (AFP, 1/10/12)

Simply eating healthier may improve the behavior of children with [attention deficit] if therapy and medication fail, said a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. [...]

The precise causes...are unknown, although studies have pointed to hereditary factors as well as social and environmental influences.

...being an indicator of effective parenting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


The Sexy Side of Maggie: How Thatcher Used Her Softer Quality (Gail Sheehy, Jan 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

The Iron Lady had a softer side, her secret weapon. Approaching her 10th year as prime minister, a fearsome force hell-bent on putting the spine back in Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher exuded a strong, sexual charisma. And she was not shy about using it. Ordering Aquascutum to revamp her entire wardrobe, she had her skirts pulled up, her décolleté lowered, and began showing more of her good legs. During Question Time, I noticed she would often rub the back of one black-stockinged calf with the other foot, presumably for the delectation of the frontbenchers sitting behind her.

While interviewing the PM along with 54 male members of her coterie for a profile in Vanity Fair, I heard stories of how she used this surprising weapon. She encouraged her star boys to compete in making a fuss over her. And she fussed over them. Once, when all her party officials were lined up for a photo op, she stopped the proceedings. Her eyes fell on a handsome young buck of an Irishman, a member of her economic think tank, who would later become a television producer. His double-breasted jacket was not buttoned up. He felt her hand on his tie, slowly sliding to the top. Then her hand inside his jacket, feeling for the inside button. Then she purred, "John, if you wear a double-breasted jacket, you must always keep it buttoned."

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Mitt Romney Wins Bigger in NH Than John McCain Did (Chris Good, 1/11/12, ABC News)

With 77 percent of precincts reporting statewide Tuesday night, Romney had swept every county in New Hampshire except for Coos, which Ron Paul carried.

Romney's margin of victory (16 percentage points) figured to be far wider, at night's end, than John McCain's margin of five percentage points in 2008, when the former Arizona defeated Mitt Romney in the Granite State.

January 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


Goal of Iran sanctions is regime collapse, U.S. official says (Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson, 1/10/12, Washington Post)

The goal of U.S. and other sanctions against Iran is regime collapse, a senior U.S. intelligence official said, offering the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration is at least as intent on unseating Iran's government as it is on engaging with it.

...the UR's similarity to W and why Iran thinks we're out to get them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


How Romney won the New Hampshire primary (Jon Cohen, Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement, 1/10/12, Washington Post)

Romney swept to a big win in New Hampshire, with significant strength among the Republican base, and a big advantage as the most electable GOP candidate.

According to preliminary network exit polls, New Hampshire voters focused heavily on the country's still struggling economy. Fully six in 10 called the economy the top issue, and seven in 10 expressed deep concern about its direction. Romney had a better than 2 to 1 edge over his closest rivals among economy voters.

The former Massachusetts governor's large margins mask continued softness in his support among the most conservative voters. Among "very conservative" voters, Romney and Santorum ran about evenly. Neither Santorum nor Gingrich won significant support among less conservative voters.

That's not softness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Early NH Exit Polls: Voters Look for Electability (Matt Negrin, 1/10/12, ABC News)

"In a separate question about electability, Romney leads by far as the candidate seen as most likely to defeat Obama - more than half of voters pick the former Massachusetts governor," 
[Gary Langer, of Langer Research ] writes. "Among his own supporters, Romney's named by 95 percent as best able to beat Obama in November - but among voters who are supporting some other candidate tonight, three in 10 also pick Romney as likeliest to beat Obama."

Six in 10 voters (in preliminary results) say they'd be satisfied with Mitt Romney as the nominee. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Romney's Favorability Surpasses Santorum, Paul (ABC News, 1/10/12)

Mitt Romney's basic popularity looks more positive after his whisker-close win in the Iowa caucuses, while perceptions of Ron Paul are clearly negative for the first time in ABC News-Washington Post polling.

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, 39 percent of Americans hold a favorable opinion of Romney, 34 percent unfavorable; numerically, his best net-positive score in ABC-Post polling since September. Paul, on the other hand, is seen favorably by 31 percent, but unfavorably by 38 percent, his most negative gap.

The other top scorer in Iowa, Rick Santorum, gets a more even split, but a numerically negative one: 27 percent favorable, 29 percent unfavorable. Many more adults, 44 percent, have yet to form an opinion of him one way or another.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Romney's Improbable Achievement (Michael Gerson, 1/10/12, Washington Post)

[T]he political accomplishment of Willard Mitt Romney should not be underestimated. The moderate, technocratic former governor of a liberal state is poised to secure the nomination of the most monolithically conservative Republican Party of modern history.

Some of this improbable achievement can be attributed to Romney's skills as a candidate. In 14 debates, he delivered one gaffe (the $10,000 bet) and once lost his temper (with Rick Perry) -- neither lapse particularly damaging. Under a barrage of awkward formats and dopey questions, Romney has been calm, knowledgeable and reassuring. The slickest network anchor could not have done better.

Romney is the varsity -- a far better candidate than, say, Bob Dole or John McCain. A Republican nominating process that swerved again and again toward silliness -- alternately elevating for consideration Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain -- seems ready to settle on a serious, accomplished, credible candidate. Republicans, it turns out, are choleric and fractious -- but not suicidal.

We went to the polls here today, always a thrilling experience, and while I thought long and hard about writing in Jeb, in the end I voted for Mitt in hope that the process would end ASAP.  A successful governor of a large state would have been preferable, but Jeb didn't run, TPaw quit too early and Rick Perry is a walking gaffe.  

BTW: Did you know we had this many choices:

View image

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


A Massachusetts man has a big edge in N.H. (Michael Barone, 1/10/12, Washington Examiner)

 In 1964 a successful write-in effort for Henry Cabot Lodge, then ambassador in Vietnam, undermined his fellow liberal Republican, Nelson Rockefeller.

Lodge enjoyed what seems to be a considerable advantage in New Hampshire: He was from neighboring Massachusetts. Other Massachusetts winners include Democrats John Kennedy in 1960, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Paul Tsongas in 1992 and John Kerry in 2004. Mitt Romney hopes to add another Republican name to the list this year.

If New Hampshire voters like Bay Staters, they have been skittish about backing Southerners. Lyndon Johnson won only narrowly as incumbent president in 1968, and the lowest winning percentages in any contested race have been scored by Jimmy Carter of Georgia in 1976 and Pat Buchanan of Virginia in 1996.

The big exception to this rule was George H.W. Bush of Texas, who was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Connecticut. He lost New Hampshire to Ronald Reagan in 1980 but won it in 1988 and 1992.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


GM back on top in global sales race (Chris Isidore, 1/10/12, CNNMoney)

General Motors is poised to once again be No. 1 in global auto sales, after three years out of the top spot.

It's a comeback that will be official when final 2011 sales figures are reported in the coming weeks.

Recapturing the top spot seemed unthinkable in 2008 when GM lost the title. At the time, the company was in a tailspin. Its very future was uncertain, and a bankruptcy filing and federal bailout loomed.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


With toll, 520 traffic light -- and faster than limit (Mike Lindblom, 1/08/12, Seattle Times)

New tolls on the Highway 520 bridge have reduced traffic so much that drivers are commonly traveling at 65 mph, maybe three times as fast as they're used to.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


'Doomsday' ticks closer on nuclear, climate fears (AFP, 1/10/12) 

The last decision by the group, which includes a host of Nobel Prize winning scientists, in 2010 moved the clock a minute further away from midnight on hopes of global nuclear cooperation and the election of President Barack Obama. [...]

Increasing nuclear tensions, refusal to engage in global action on climate change, and a growing tendency to reject science when it comes to major world concerns were cited as key reasons for the latest tick on the clock.

If we do let the big dogs loose on Iran and/or North Korea and China it will trigger some of Carl Sagan's nuclear winter and save us from global warming, no?

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


Majority of Conservatives See Romney as "Acceptable": Only Romney now seen as acceptable by majority of Republicans (Frank Newport, 1/10/12, Gallup)

Mitt Romney is the now the only candidate that a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans nationwide see as an "acceptable" GOP nominee for president. Conservative Republicans are more likely to say Romney would be an acceptable nominee than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

Acceptability of 2012 Republican presidental candidates, by ideology

Fewer than half of conservative Republicans see Rick Perry, Ron Paul, or Jon Huntsman as acceptable nominees.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Anti-Romney -- Or Anti-Capitalism? (ROSS KAMINSKY, 1.10.12, American Spectator)

I've never seen a baseball player get three strikes on one pitch, but former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich just accomplished the political equivalent. During a Sunday morning Republican debate in New Hampshire, Gingrich suggested that a Super PAC supporting him will be attacking former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist Mitt Romney's business history.

Strike one: As Quin Hillyer notes, Gingrich may have inadvertently tipped his hand exposing illegal coordination between his campaign and a PAC.

Strike two: Regardless of the impact of criticisms by Newt-backers on Romney, Newt has shown himself to be too bitter, petulant, and vengeful -- in short, too immature -- to be a serious candidate for the presidency.

And -- the most important and least discussed -- strike three: The PAC's impending assault combined with Gingrich's words during Saturday morning's debate that "I think it's a legitimate part of the debate to say OK on balance are people better off by this particular style of investment?" show less an attack on Romney than attack on capitalism itself, something that should be anathema to a self-described "Reagan conservative."

...are the attacks on Mr. Romney for saying he likes being able to fire people, from peers who just months ago were insisting that it's vital for political executives to be able to fire people.  Remember when Reagan conservatives used to think firing the PATCO strikers was a pivotal moment in our history?

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


New Materials Remove Carbon Dioxide from Smokestacks, Tailpipes and Even the Air (ScienceDaily, Jan. 4, 2012)

Scientists are reporting discovery of an improved way to remove carbon dioxide -- the major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming -- from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere. Their report on the process, which achieves some of the highest carbon dioxide removal capacity ever reported for real-world conditions where the air contains moisture, appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Alain Goeppert, G. K. Surya Prakash, chemistry Nobel Laureate George A. Olah and colleagues explain that controlling emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. They point out that existing methods for removing carbon dioxide from smokestacks and other sources, including the atmosphere, are energy intensive, don't work well and have other drawbacks. In an effort to overcome such obstacles, the group turned to solid materials based on polyethylenimine, a readily available and inexpensive polymeric material.

Their tests showed that these inexpensive materials achieved some of the highest carbon dioxide removal rates ever reported for humid air, under conditions that stymie other related materials.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Terror on Trial: Legal proceedings against violent extremists are a crucial defense of our civilization, writes William Shawcross, whose father was a prosecutor at Nuremberg. (WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, 1/07/12, WSJ)

All wars involve choices between lesser evils. In a 1973 essay, the philosopher Michael Walzer described the politician who decides that he has to authorize torture to save lives. "His choices are hard," Mr. Walzer wrote, "and he pays a price not only while making them but forever after."

The Bush administration's early post-9/11 decisions on Guantánamo and "enhanced interrogation" of some detainees (three were waterboarded) are believed to have provided life-saving intelligence, but each proved costly to the reputation of the U.S. Mr. Obama's decision to kill many terrorism suspects rather than interrogate them has certainly disrupted plots and saved lives. But it carries similar costs.

This continuing crisis is not of America's making. It stems in large part from the struggle within the Muslim world for the soul of Islam, of which the most brutal manifestation is the pitiless campaign of mass murder waged across the world by al Qaeda and its associates, most often against fellow Muslims.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, America's commitment and sacrifices have been essential to the world's ability to resist the forces of nihilistic aggression. That was certainly true in the war against fascism, and it is still true today. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has had to learn the hard way that, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned, "we take and must continue to take morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization."

...is that Democrats have sunk into such moral confusion about the WoT that they'd celebrate President Obama both for releasing those held at Gitmo and for killing them via drone attacks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Ground Game Determines Candidates' Strength (NATE SILVER and MICAH COHEN, 1/10/12. NY Times)

Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul have built the best field operations in New Hampshire and other early-voting states, many Republicans say.

Mr. Romney's campaign office on Elm Street here is a hive of activity. On Saturday, more than 100 staff members and volunteers packed the premises, bounding around and leaving a tower of pizza boxes in their wake.

Mr. Paul's office, although not as well staffed, operates with military-like discipline. Visitors' names and phone numbers are promptly entered into a database. Doors are kept closed, and a "liberty bell" rings every time a caller converts a supporter from another campaign. It rang five times in our 20 minutes there.

But Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul are more than the exception than the rule, Republicans say. Other Republican field operations fall well short of historical New Hampshire standards, by several measures.

Rick Perry's office is just a mile down the road from Mr. Romney's, occupying much of the ground floor of a 12-story building. But it seems to exist in a parallel universe in which the primary has been called off. On Sunday, the office was run by a single mid-level staff member, whose voice echoed throughout the room. Everyone else was out knocking on doors, he said.

Mr. Gingrich's office was marginally better off. There was little evidence of organization; we roamed for five minutes before one of the dozen volunteers greeted us.

Operations like these suggest that campaigning in New Hampshire has undergone a paradigm shift: from a ground war, dominated by door-knocking and phone calls, to an air war, in which the candidate's fortunes are determined by paid and free media. Retail politics still exist -- Jon M. Huntsman Jr. alone has conducted more than 160 events throughout the state -- but the campaigns often leave little trace once the candidate is gone.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Right-Wing MKs Betray the Israeli Army: Powerful Likud politician tipped off extremists who attacked soldiers (Liel Leibovitz, January 9, 2012, Tablet)

Yesterday, five right-wing Jewish extremists were indicted by Jerusalem's district prosecutor for spying on the Israel Defense Forces in an effort to disrupt the army's evacuation of illegal outposts in the West Bank, an organized campaign of violence that included bashing a senior IDF officer in the face with a brick as well as large-scale vandalism against army bases and vehicles. The indictment might not have been breaking news if it weren't for the settlers' sources: the chairman of the coalition, Likud MK Ze'ev Elkin, as well as several other right-wing parliamentarians were the settlers' informants.

The very same Elkin was behind a recent bill to investigate left-wing non-profits who receive funding from international sources. His argument revolved around the assertion that in making the IDF's actions public, leftist activists were jeopardizing IDF soldiers and state security. None of the non-profits, however, reported on future or current operations; Elkin did, and in so doing put Israeli soldiers in direct physical harm.

One of Elkin's fellow informants, National Union MK Uri Ariel, made no apologies once his role in supporting the extremists became public. "If a person who transfers information about IDF movements is a spy," he said, "then I am a spy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Dark matter mysteries: a true game of shadows (Stuart Clark, 1/09/12, New Scientist)

IT'S a troubling time to be looking for the universe's missing matter. On the face of it, it shouldn't be. Deep underground, several experiments have been buzzing with possible sightings of dark matter, the hitherto invisible stuff that is believed to make up around 85 per cent of all matter in the cosmos. Detecting dark matter would be a major triumph.

Yet any hopes that the nature of the stuff would be quickly revealed by these first detections have been utterly dashed. The trouble is that dark matter appears to be different things to different detectors. It appears heavier in one detector than another; it appears more ready to interact in one experiment than another. In the most extreme case, it shows up in one instrument but not in another - even when both are made of identical material and are sitting virtually next door in the same underground lab.

"The present situation is pretty confusing," admits Juan Collar of the University of Chicago, who is head of the CoGeNT dark matter experiment, based in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota. [...]

Then there's the new kid on the block that some are claiming could do the job just as well: "dark atoms". Not only could dark atoms explain the lack of dwarf galaxies, it's just possible, say their inventors, that they could also explain the discrepancies between the dark matter experiments. [...]

What's promising about dark atoms is that they could explain the lack of dwarf galaxies in our observations. Because dark atoms would emit or absorb dark photons, the universe might be full of invisible, dark light that constantly interacts with clouds of dark atoms, raising their temperature and puffing them up. This would prevent dwarf galaxies from forming in the first place. "It's still a rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation at the moment," admits Wells, who has started working on simulations to better test the idea.

Still, many researchers are not quite prepared to abandon WIMPs yet. "I don't find the arguments about dwarf galaxies very convincing," says Dan Hooper of the Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. "My money is still on WIMPs."

He suggests that the missing dwarf galaxies could be out there but are invisible because they are made solely of dark matter. One way to find them is to look for gamma rays, which should be produced when WIMPs collide and disintegrate. NASA's Fermi space telescope has searched for such gamma rays in nearby dwarf galaxies twice and so far found nothing. That does not necessarily mean that the WIMPs are missing, just that they are not in the form expected. And Hooper says that the results do not rule out low-mass WIMPs similar to those that may have been seen in the underground experiments.

Collar dubs the current impasse "a world of pain" and reckons that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Now that we have begun to see something, either astrophysics is wrong, or particle physics is wrong, or our whole understanding of dark matter is wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


A View Inside Iran (Alan Taylor, JAN 6, 2012, Atlantic)

Iran has appeared in numerous headlines around the world in recent months, usually attached to stories about military exercises and other saber-rattlings, economic sanctions, a suspected nuclear program, and varied political struggles. Iran is a country of more than 75 million people with a diverse history stretching back many thousands of years. While over 90 percent of Iranians belong to the Shia branch of Islam -- the official state religion -- Iran is also home to nearly 300,000 Christians, and the largest community of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel. At a time when military and political images seem to dominate the news about Iran, I thought it would be interesting to take a recent look inside the country, to see its people through the lenses of agency photographers. Keep in mind that foreign media are still subject to Iranian restrictions on reporting. [42 photos]

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Santorum's New Hampshire Expectations Plummet as Iowa Glow Wears Off (Lois Romano, Jan 10, 2012, Daily Beast)

Rick Santorum could barely inch his way through Mary Ann's Diner in Derry, New Hampshire, on Monday, but not because of eager voters. In fact, patrons looked startled as the former Pennsylvania senator moved in a crush of media from table to table.

Finally, he was forced to lead the pack outside, where Ron Paul's supporters started taunting: "All media, no voters."

Few candidates can withstand voters getting to know them.

January 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Romney Derangement Syndrome : His GOP adversaries are criticizing private-sector success. (Avik Roy, 1/09/12, National Review)

Romneycare, by far the largest problem with Romney's record, was barely discussed in the last two debates. Perhaps this is because both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have previously supported the individual mandate -- Santorum in the 1990s, and Gingrich as recently as May 2011 -- neutralizing their effectiveness as anti-Romneycare crusaders. But this problem has led Santorum and Gingrich to attack Romney for the things conservatives should most appreciate about him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Tea Party Is Taking Back Seat In Primary (JANET HOOK And NEIL KING JR., 1/09/12, WSJ)

[J]ust as the former Massachusetts governor benefited from a fractured social-conservative electorate in Iowa, he appears likely to be helped by a fractured tea-party vote Tuesday in New Hampshire.

The latest survey by the University of New Hampshire, taken from Thursday to Sunday, shows Mr. Romney doing about as well among voters who say they are active in or supportive of the tea party as he does among all voters: He drew 36% of tea-party backers, followed by Mr. Paul (19%), Mr. Santorum (19%), Mr. Gingrich (14%) and Mr. Huntsman (4%).

Surveys suggest roughly four in 10 likely voters in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary identify with or support the tea party.

Many tea-party allies were elected to the New Hampshire legislature in 2010, and they have been flexing their muscles in Concord, the state capital, by advancing an aggressive pro-gun, anti-union, anti-abortion agenda. But the tea party hasn't been a strong organizational force independent of the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Problem (Dan Ephron, Jan 2, 2012, Daily Beast)

Once a tiny minority, ultra-Orthodox Jews--also known as Haredim--now make up more than 10 percent of Israel's population and 21 percent of all primary-school students. With the community's fertility rate hovering at more than three times that of other Israeli Jews, demographers project that by 2034, about one in five Israelis will be ultra-Orthodox.

The impact will reach well beyond the neighborhood quarrels over segregated buses or modest attire--another Haredi preoccupation that has stirred tensions across Israel. Most ultra-Orthodox Jews lack the skills to work in a modern economy, having studied little or no math and science beyond primary school (their curriculum focuses almost entirely on religious texts such as the Torah and Talmud). As a result, more than 60 percent live below the poverty line, compared with 12 percent among non-Haredi Jews. Most also opt out of military service, which is compulsory for other Israelis. The net effect: as the Haredi community expands, the burden of both taxation and conscription falls on fewer and fewer Israelis. (Secular Israelis joke bitterly that one third of the country serves in the military, one third participates in the workforce, and one third pays taxes--but that it's all the same third).

The country's political landscape will also shift. According to pollsters, Haredim are consistently hawkish on the question of territorial compromise with the Palestinians, citing God's covenant with Abraham granting Jews the land of Israel. Already the parties that represent them wield significant political power in Israel's coalition-based system. If the demographic trends hold, the prospect of getting a majority in Israel to back the compromises required for a peace deal will narrow with each passing year. In the long run, says Dan Ben-David, a Tel Aviv University economist who heads the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, Israeli society will be poorer, less educated, and increasingly right wing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Are falling prices the real threat? (John Waggoner, Jan. 08, 2012, under USA Today)

[A] growing number of economists and money managers are starting to worry about the opposite of inflation: deflation, a period of falling prices and declining incomes.

Sure, the government's consumer price index has gained 3.5% the past 12 months. Even stripping out food and energy, the CPI is up 2.1%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. And anyone who lives in the real world knows you can't live without food and energy.

But other prices have been moving relentlessly downward, from refrigerators to stocks to houses and salaries. Economist A. Gary Shilling argues that many of the factors for deflation are already in place, and that people overlook falling prices because they are so focused on the items they use the most.

In the meantime, everyone's looking for lower prices, either from one of dozens of deal sites, such as LivingSocial and Groupon, to low-price specialists such as Walmart, Target and Costco. "We have become obsessive to chase the lowest low prices," says Marian Salzman, trend-spotter and CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Christie Responds to Female Hecklers with Offensive Sex Joke at Romney Rally (ASHLEY PORTER, January 9, 2012, IB Times)

Christie, while discussing the partisan gridlock that has hampered Congress, was met by chanting female protesters who went from proclaiming "Mitt kills jobs" to "Christie kills Jobs" during the governor's address.

Christie dismissed the criticism by using rough, offensive language for a sexual act as an analogy for his evaluation of the current U.S. employment trend.

G. Gordon Liddy handled a similar situation a bit less harshly at Colgate in 1980.  When a young woman stood and said that she objected to him referring to female audience members as "ladies" he said: "I'll continue to do so until you prove otherwise."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


NATO 'Neutralises' Somali Pirates (GIANLUCA MEZZOFIORE, January 9, 2012, IB Times)

"NATO's Counter Piracy Task Force has demonstrated its flexibility, reach, resolve and capability to work with other counter piracy agencies to provide security on the sea lanes of this large ocean," said Sinan Azmi Tosun. "Within the last two days NATO has disrupted two piracy-related dhows with a total of 34 suspected Somali pirates now unable to engage in unlawful acts on the high seas. This is a severe loss of capability for the pirate organisers and I congratulate my units on a job well done."

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Gingrich's Own Close Tie to Buyout Industry (PETER LATTMAN and JIM RUTENBERG, 1/09/12, NY Times)

Newt Gingrich has ramped up his attacks on Mitt Romney as a heartless leveraged buyout executive for his years at Bain Capital,asking reporters in Manchester today "Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money? Or is that, somehow, a little bit of a flawed system?"

But Mr. Gingrich was himself on an advisory board for a major investment firm that had a similar business model, Forstmann Little, a pioneering private equity firm co-founded in 1978 by Theodore J. Forstmann that was, along with Mr. Romney's Bain Capital and Henry R. Kravis's Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, among the leading private equity firms during the 1980s and 1990s.

Forstmann Little earned billions of dollars in profits from its investments in companies including General Instrument and Gulfstream Aerospace. But the firm shut down most of its operations a decade ago after suffering losses from ill-timed bets on highflying telecommunications companies at the height of that industry's bubble.

Mr. Gingrich's involvement with the firm could complicate his attacks on Mr. Romney.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Wisconsin Man, Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop, Arrested on Drug Charges (Jason Van Hoven, January 9, 2012, IB Times)

A man named Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop was arrested on drug charges at Reynolds Park in Madison, Wis. Thursday afternoon after neighbors called in about excessive noise and drug use in a local park, according to reports.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM

'LECTRIC FACE (via BradS):

2013 Ford Fusion branded as 'new face' of Ford: The 2013 Ford Fusion, which debuted in Detroit this week, gets a sweeping makeover and a plug-in hybrid brother called the Fusion Energi. (Matthew Shaer / January 9, 2012, CS Monitor)
Ford this week took the wraps off its new flagship sedan, the 2013 Ford Fusion - a car, according to reports, that Ford hopes to position as the "the new face" of the company. [...] The Associated Press is reporting that Ford will sell a few different versions of the 2013 Fusion, including a hybrid and plug-in hybrid called the Fusion Energi. No word yet on price, although Ford America's President Mark Fields told the AP that the car will have "close" to the same base price as the current Fusion, which starts at around 20 grand.
2013 Ford Fusion Energi PHEV will plug-in the mid-size segment (Sebastian Blanco, Jan 9th 2012, Auto Blog)
Along with the standard and hybrid versions of the 2013 Fusion, Ford brought something completely different - for the mid-size segment, anyway - to the Detroit Auto Show this morning with the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid. It's the cleanest of the trio and it shows that Ford is ready to introduce a big change to the competitive (and somewhat staid) mid-size class. Ford says it expects the Fusion Energi to get better MPGe ratings than both the Chevrolet Volt (93 MPGe, EPA rating) and the Toyota Prius Plug In (112 MPGe, but that's on the European rating cycle). Ford won't say for certain - the Energi isn't due for another 8-12 months, after all - but the automaker is saying the plug-in should get "up to more than 100 MPGe." That's a convoluted way to say, "we think we win."

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


The ABR Underground: A grassroots movement is growing among Republicans. Its motto: Anyone But Romney. Can it make the front-runner fall? (John Heilemann, Jan 6, 2012, New York)

The emergence of Santorum as the most plausible stalking horse for his party's loose but ardent ABR (Anyone But Romney) coalition has taken much of the political class by surprise--and no one more so than me. Having known Santorum since 1994, when I spent a week with him during his first run for Senate, I'll admit that I have always liked him personally despite his holding a set of views that range from appalling (his undeniable homophobia) to apocalyptically dangerous (his out-front commitment to launch air strikes at Iran). At his town-hall meetings in the run-up to Iowa, his political defects were vividly on display: the mirthless, digressive, painfully dull answers, replete with endless and pointless reminiscence, that fairly compel the application of the most deadly adjective available in American politics--senatorial.

Then, at his penultimate event, at a Pizza Ranch in Newton the night before the caucuses, Santorum was asked about some criticism leveled at him over how he and his wife, Karen, handled the death in 1996 of their infant son, Gabriel, after she miscarried: They brought the dead child home so their "children could see him," as Santorum put it; so they could "know they had a brother." Choking back tears--as Karen, standing beside him, let hers flow--Santorum told the story and then chastised those who would attack them for it. "To some who don't recognize the dignity of all human life, who see it as a blob of tissue that should be discarded and disposed of, [what we did] is somehow weird," he said. "Recognizing the humanity of your son is somehow weird, somehow odd, and should be subject to ridicule."

Say what you will about Santorum and his wife's ardent pro-life views and how they chose to process their grief over losing their son. The sincerity and depth of the candidate's feelings on the subject are indisputable, and the moment at the Newton Pizza Ranch was a moving display of his humanity. This is no small part of the attraction that some voters feel for Santorum: There is scarcely a shred of slickness or phoniness about him--something that cannot be said of his rivals, and, indeed, a quality that is the opposite of the perceived plasticity that disturbs many Republicans about Romney. And it is this authenticity of Santorum's, alongside the fervency of his religious commitment and adamancy of his cultural conservatism, that accounts for his eight-votes-short-of-first-place finish in Iowa.

In New Hampshire, though, God-squadders are much thinner on the ground; the state's brand of conservatism is rooted in matters fiscal and a generic distrust of all things federal. Back in 1996, of course, Pat Buchanan beat the Establishment favorite, Bob Dole, in the Granite State, creating a precedent that Santorum is now trying to replicate: the stitching together of a coalition of economically stressed blue-collar voters and a smaller bloc of anti-abortion Catholics.

The troubles with this plan are threefold, however. First, the number of manufacturing jobs in the state has declined precipitously, undercutting a central element of Santorum's economic pitch. Second, when it comes to populism, let's just say that Santorum is no Buchanan; he is more likely to spend ten minutes learnedly parsing E pluribus unum than rallying the peasants to take up their pitchforks. And third, unlike Buchanan, who artfully played down his culture-warrior side in New Hampshire, Santorum finds it impossible not to stray into heavenly territory. In Windham, a question about the Veterans Affairs department somehow led him to mention a radio interviewer who he said had told him, "We don't need a Jesus candidate--we need an economic candidate." "My answer to that," Santorum proudly replied, "was that we always need a Jesus candidate!"

Curdled-milky as talk like this goes down the throats of New Hampshirites, it will be swallowed smilingly, as if it were ambrosia, by many in South Carolina, where fully 60 percent of Republican primary voters in 2008 identified themselves as Evangelical. And so, too, in a state heavy with veterans and military tradition, will Santorum's sharply hawkish views on foreign policy sit well. But in trying to attract both those sets of voters, along with the state's many tea-partyers (please recall that South Carolina's junior senator is Jim DeMint), Santorum will face competition from Gingrich and ­Perry--unless, that is, the ABR forces can forge a consensus to coalesce around him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Scotland referendum: David Cameron throws down the gauntlet to Salmond: PM takes gamble on union, telling Scotland's first minister independence vote must be held within next 18 months (Patrick Wintour, 1/09/12, guardian.co.uk)

David Cameron is to take a high-stakes gamble with the union this week by telling the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, he can have a binding referendum on Scottish independence - but only in the next 18 months, after which any referendum can be no more than advisory.

He is also likely to tell Salmond he will be forbidden from asking a third question on the ballot paper, over a form of devolution stopping short of independence.

Cameron will publish a consultation paper, probably this week, revealing clear legal advice that the independence referendum will be binding under the Scotland Act only if both parliaments agree to its going ahead. He will say the uncertainty created by the prospect of independence is harming the Scottish and UK economies, and a delay until 2014 is not possible.

Salmond then faces the choice of staging the referendum by the middle of 2013 or backing off until the next parliament.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Is It Still Mitt's Turn? (ROBERT STACY MCCAIN, 1.9.12, American Spectator)

 J.D.'s Tavern at the Radisson Inn in Manchester was crowded Saturday night with the elite of America's political media. Famous faces from TV news mingled with less-famous but nevertheless influential writers from major publications. Waiters brought food and beverages -- and still more beverages -- as midnight passed in the hours after yet another nationally televised Republican presidential debate. One of the more famous bylines among the journalistic throng delivered a harshly negative verdict on the proceedings that had just aired on ABC.
"They were weak," said the writer. "They didn't bring it."

By "they," he meant the various challengers to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The pre-game forecast for Saturday night's debate was that the non-Romney conservatives would rush to attack the man who is the overwhelming favorite to win Tuesday's primary here in New Hampshire. But the promised assault on Romney -- in a debate that had been hyped up like a professional wrestling match -- never materialized, much to the disappointment of the journalist in J.D.'s Tavern.

"Look, I'm a reporter," he said. "You know I'd love this thing to go all the way to the convention, but... C'mon."

His point was that the other candidates, by missing opportunities to take the fight to Romney, had helped the well-funded frontrunner move perceptibly closer to becoming the inevitable GOP nominee. And it was hard to dispute his conclusion, despite my own hope -- one shared by most other conservatives -- that somehow this year the Republican Party can avoid its predictable habit of nominating the "It's His Turn" candidate.

...but Mr. Romney has benefited hugely from being the one candidate who has run before.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


The Mythology of Decline (DANIEL JOHNSON, November 2011, Standpoint)

A minority of recent writers on American decline do so more in sorrow than in schadenfreude. Among them two stand out: Niall Ferguson and Mark Steyn. Ferguson's Civilization: The West and the Rest is the latest in a long line of books in the genre of decline mythology launched by Spengler. Ferguson is, however, no ardent declinist: his books on British and American history, Empire and Colossus, are emphatically pro-Western. So, too, is Civilization. It is just that once Orientals have learnt to imitate the key features that led to Western dominance, they are bound to catch up with and even overtake their mentors. And so he concludes that the West will inevitably cede hegemony to the Asian powers, among which China and India were latecomers but are all the more successful for that. He also thinks that the Chinese are almost ready to take over. "What we are living through now is the end of 500 years of Western predominance." Ferguson, incidentally, is also unwittingly echoing Spengler when he talks up the threat of China. In Years of Decision, his sequel to The Decline of the West, Spengler warned against the "Oriental peril". Spengler saw the West overwhelmed by Asian hordes and it is true that the European empires were defeated by the Japanese with extraordinary speed in 1941-42. However, the Western champion, the US, struck back even harder, ensuring not only the defeat of Imperial Japan, but the ultimate triumph of the Western model in the Far East. 

The trouble with China is not that it is commercially successful -- if the West had not allowed Mao to triumph in the 1940s, the Chinese industrial revolution would have come two generations sooner -- but that it is tyrannical and, like all tyrannies, lethally paranoid. It now has a satellite-guided missile system specifically designed to annihilate carrier battle groups of the US Sixth Fleet. This is bad news for America but even worse for China's neighbours. Even so, there is nothing the Chinese can do that the Americans cannot do better, especially in the field of military technology. It is only the mythology of decline that prevents the US from announcing a new "Star Wars" Strategic Defence Initiative.

The trouble with Ferguson's thesis is not that it lacks empirical evidence: he has accumulated an impressive range of statistics and other facts to buttress his argument. And he is right to point to the hole in the heart of the West: the cultural amnesia that has deprived generations of the core values that were once our secret weapon. "Maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2 emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilization we inherited from our ancestors."

No: the problem with Ferguson is that he attaches too little weight to the powers of recuperation and renewal that the United States and to a lesser extent Europe have demonstrated over the past two centuries. The American Civil War came close to strangling the infant republic in its cradle. The two world wars came even closer to damaging Europe beyond repair. Yet both America and Europe have risen repeatedly from the ashes. The most remarkable example of all is of course Israel: the combination of European Jewish refugees and American Jewish support has created one of the most resilient nations and dynamic economies in the world. China and India cannot match the West's ability to regenerate itself. Ferguson does not seriously deny this fact, but it is fatal to his argument. He actually devotes a chapter to debunking the mythology of decline, yet willingly succumbs to its lure himself. Ferguson is that exasperating combination, a good historian and a bad prophet. But it is the future, not the past, that has always brought the greatest rewards, tempting those who can pass for omniscient to satisfy the insatiable curiosity of the gullible.

Mark Steyn resists this unscholarly temptation better than his more scholarly rival. This literary lumberjack, who fells whole forests of liberal sacred oaks with his mordant wit, has produced two books, America Alone and After America, which have done a great job of  subverting the legitimacy claimed by the political classes in Europe and America for their self-aggrandising projects and self-destructive habits. On Europe, Steyn is as damning as he is persuasive: from demographic suicide to the abdication of self-defence, he conducts a forensic analysis of the hollowing out of the high culture for which the Continent was still respected a generation ago. Indeed, Steyn wrote off Europe years ago: content to be dictated to by dictators from Colonel Gaddafi to Colonel Putin, the European Union is much less than the sum of its parts. After two world wars, one Cold War and now World War IV, Americans are as resentful of doing the heavy lifting and Europeans are as ungrateful as ever. Yet indignation and ingratitude are not a good basis for policy and the US still has interests as well as sentiments at stake in Europe. The Obama doctrine of leaving the world to stew in its own bile is neither practical nor decent; in fact it is another product of the mythology of decline. No American statesman wants to be indicted when the cry goes up: "Who lost Europe?" 

But if it is perverse of Mark Steyn to write off Europe, it is surely even more perverse to write off America. The flavour of After America is indicated by its subtitle: Get Ready for Armageddon. Steyn believes that while Europeans had the good fortune to have the United States on hand to cushion its postwar decline, Americans will have no such luxury. This is a fair point, but it is a stretch to conclude from this that the US is on the brink of catastrophe, perhaps in the course of the next presidential term. Once again, the villain of the piece is China, which is expected by some to overtake the US economy within the next few years. Steyn has an original twist on the rise of China: he sees it as a much larger version of Islamist Iran: an ageing totalitarian behemoth, demographically crippled by its one-child policy, and rendered much more dangerous by its flaws. Steyn also points out that, contrary to so much "expert" opinion over several decades, economic westernisation has not, so far, led to meaningful political reform. Armageddon is just round the corner because for the first time in history a one-party state, run by a politburo, is in the process of supplanting America not only as an economic superpower, but as a political and cultural one, too. His favourite symbol is the steady shift from English to Mandarin as the world's predominant language. The charge is that it was on our watch the world got used to paying homage (and interest) to an evil empire that doesn't even use the Roman alphabet.

Steyn may be right in this analysis, but I don't see how he can have it both ways. Either China's rise is indeed Armageddon, or there is still everything to play for. Either America's multiple malaises are terminal, or what he calls the "post-American world" is avoidable. Steyn's concluding chapter is devoted to an action plan to restore American greatness: de-centralise, de-governmentalise, de-regulate, de-monopolise, de-complicate, de-credentialise, dis-entitle, de-normalise. In short: what the Tea Party might adopt as a manifesto, if it really were a party.

 All fine, but how does this radical action plan mesh with the withering mythology of decline which constitutes the rest of the book? Milton Friedman's rule -- make the wrong people do the right thing -- is also Mark Steyn's, but how do you make an entire nation of "wrong people" do the right thing? "America faces a choice," he writes. Amen to that. But he also rails against "the inertia, the ennui, the fatalism" he sees all around him. Who are the Americans to whom Steyn's addresses himself? All those, presumably, who have not yet been corrupted by Big Government and indoctrinated by the "Obamessiah". But if there are enough of these ordinary Americans to make such an appeal meaningful, we must assume that the country is not necessarily facing meltdown after all. 

 There is a rhetorical sleight of hand going on here: there is a fork in the road to serfdom (Hayek is an unacknowledged but important inspiration for Steyn), and it is just not true that all roads lead to Armageddon. Steyn is a mythologist of decline, but he is no declinist: on the contrary, he would doubtless, like me, blame declinists for talking their countrymen into accelerating decline. 

The difference between us is that like Adam Smith, I believe there is a great deal of ruin in a nation -- and a great deal of decline in the West. The United States still represents the antithesis of the fatalism which dominates both the Islamic world and China. The impersonal determinism that is characteristic both of Chinese communism and Islamic "kismet" seems to me a dubious basis for world domination. We live in an era that still values individual liberty, for all the infantilising effects of paternalistic statism. These lunacies, all of which Mark Steyn lovingly dissects, are nonetheless by-products of free choices. America always does the right thing in the end, once it has exhausted all the other options. Nothing less than 9/11 would have it made possible for America to strike back hard at radical Islamists; nothing less than the worst president for a century would have produced such a rapid reaction against his excesses as we are now witnessing. The mythology of decline can only capture the national imagination if we abandon the distinction between rationality and fantasy. 

America may yet be dragged down by the deadweight of defunct ideas once thought progressive. More likely, I reckon, is that the founding fathers will once again be vindicated. They trusted in the good sense of the American people. Gibbon was right to continue his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for another thousand years after the sack of Rome: his real subject is the persistence of Roman ideas and institutions long after their creators. Indeed, he might have found continuities long after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which he made his terminus ad quem. Indeed,  the last legitimate heir of the Roman emperors has only just died: Otto von Habsburg. And Rome still has its pontifex maximus. So it is with Western civilisation, which survived even the most destructive wars in history; so too with the United States, which has been able to flourish in good times and in bad thanks to the foresight of its founders. 

Isn't it best to think of Mr. Steyn as our Whittaker Chambers, wildly overstating his case, but for all the right reasons?

January 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Tebow Rules in OT, Too: Broncos 29, Steelers 23 (ARNIE STAPLETON, 1/09/12, AP)

Behind Tebow's 316 yards passing, the Broncos (9-8) are heading to New England for a second-round game against the top-seeded Patriots on Saturday night.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


How hairy skin is wired for touch (Daniel Cossins, 1/09/12, Cosmos Online)
The complex system of nerve cells in hairy skin has been seen in detail for the first time, revealing that different types of hair follicle are tuned to sense different sorts of soft touch.

The research provides the first full picture of how the nerve cells that carry signals from hair on the skin to the spinal cord are organised, and enhances our understanding of how sensory information is processed for the perception of delicate touches.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


New Book Portrays Explosive White House Dynamics (Carol E. Lee, 1/08/12, WSJ)

[T]he 330 pages of "The Obamas" by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor leaves the impression of a first lady who is much more influential than the public has known and a Barack Obama who seems at times more enamored with the idea of having been president than with actually being president.

Consider this passage: "What Obama really looked forward to, said his friends, was the period that followed the presidency, whenever it arrived," Kantor writes. The president's close friend, Eric Whittaker, says Mr. Obama talks about going back to walking in the streets and wandering around bookstores. Another close Obama friend, Marty Nesbitt, says the president has told him he will be able to accomplish a lot after leaving office "because he would finally be free of politics," Kantor writes.

Which is why he's been content to do nothing in office.  He's just marking time.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Time to junk income taxes? (David Cay Johnston, JAN 6, 2012, Reuters)

In ancient agrarian societies the ruler took a share of the crop. In the cash economies created by the Industrial Revolution the state taxed incomes. But is income the right tax base for the 21st century, when computer software makes it possible to wrap economic income in a cloak of tax invisibility?

And why, in our digital era, must Americans file 140 million tax returns? Digital technology could eliminate 120 million of those tax forms, saving billions of dollars in both private and government spending.

In a global economy, is taxing corporate profits smart? Or could we devise rules that both promote investment and job creation while preventing the accumulation of unproductive fortunes -- the great risk if corporations are tax-exempt.

Look at the same question in reverse -- is our tax system encouraging unproductive or even counterproductive activities?

What else should we call a system that lets hedge-fund and other financial speculators defer paying taxes for years or decades on their carried interest, while discouraging investment in long-term projects that may not pay off for a decade or more? How else to explain our gross overinvestment in housing?

And what about corporate tax accounting costs?

Under President Barack Obama, business has been able to immediately write off 50 percent of new investment one year and 100 percent in two other years. We need to examine the long-term benefits and costs of full expensing. The White House says full expensing lowers the average cost of capital for business investment by 75 percent. But what other effects are there?

More broadly, we need to debate why corporations must keep two sets of books, one for shareholders and one for the IRS. How much more efficient would taxation, and commerce, be with one set of books?

With the individual income tax in its 100th year, it's time to fundamentally rethink how we tax ourselves. Even if we end up keeping the income tax, personal and corporate, surely we can make the system easier and fairer.

...so don't tax income, tax consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Freakonomics Quorum: Can Amtrak Ever Be Profitable? (FREAKONOMICS, 01/05/2012)

Robert Puentes is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program where he also directs the Program's Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative. He is an expert on transportation and infrastructure, urban planning, growth management, suburban issues and housing. 

In Washington and across the nation, there are ongoing deliberations about which transportation and infrastructure assists will drive the next American economy. A particularly noisy debate involves the future of the nation's passenger railroad network and where, in what form, and who should make these investments. These and other discussions have once-again raised questions about America's national passenger rail system--Amtrak--which has faced a tumultuous future ever since its creation in 1971.

Despite the haranguing, Amtrak continues to enjoy support from many in Congress and is carrying more passengers than ever. In fact, it experienced a significant jump in national ridership after 1997 when a bipartisan federal commission was established to make recommendations to help Amtrak reach operational self-sufficiency. Since then, Amtrak's total boardings and alightings have increased 34.9 percent. To put this in perspective, it more than doubles population growth (14.6 percent) over the same period and exceeds real GDP growth (29.5 percent).

Part of the reason is that Amtrak's growth mirrors the rise of America's largest metropolitan areas, many of which are served quite well by rail. In fact, half of Amtrak's ridership comes from just five large metros: New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. These places are generally well positioned geographically with good connectivity to other key metros. They are also home to the nation's largest aviation delays and highway congestion with which travelers in these metros have to contend. Indeed, Amtrak says it has a whopping 62 percent of the air/rail market between New York and Washington, and 47 percent of the market share between Boston and New York.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Gingrich to Romney: Drop the "pious baloney" (Lucy Madison, 1/08/12, CBS News)

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


What Happens To Old And Expired Supermarket Foods (Nadia Arumugam, 1/06/12, Forbes)
And the Food and Drug Administration approves of outdated fare! The government agency determines that expiration dates are simply an indication of optimum quality as deemed by the manufacturer. "Foods can remain safe to consume for some time beyond sell-by and even use-by dates provided they are handled and stored properly," says Dr Ted Labuza, professor of food science at the University of Minnesota. For fresh produce and refrigerated foods this means storage at below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Canned foods and shelf-stable goods like salad dressings, Labuza adds, can be consumed for years beyond their expiration dates. While their quality might suffer, for example emulsified dressings may split, they will not pose a safety hazard unless contaminated. Apart from baby formula and certain types of baby foods, product dating is not even required by federal regulations. [...]

According to a 2005 FMI Supermarkets and Food Bank study, more than half the 8360 supermarkets surveyed donated to food banks 100,000 pounds of food that they could not sell (comprising of outdated, damaged and out of season products) annually. Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank which serves over 1200 soup kitchens, homeless shelters, food pantries and other charity agencies, is one such recipient. According to Executive Director John Arnold, up to 40 percent of the food that they receive is close to expiring or already expired.

If there is any doubt over the safety or the quality of a food, the bank's certified dietician will be brought in and it is subjected to a formal "testing" procedure. When it comes to a perishable item, there are clear indicators of quality. "If it's going bad there's rarely any mystery! It lets you know, either with its appearance or its smell or its texture," says Arnold.

Still despite general confidence amongst food banks that expired foods can be safely distributed to their agencies, not everyone agrees. According to Anne Goodman, Executive Director of the Cleveland Foodbank in Ohio, "when we get retail products from grocery stores we sort out products which are past their expiration date and we throw them away. We never take a chance."

Still, perhaps if Goodman had heard the comment a certain manufacturer once told Arnold, she might be less cautious. "We put enough preservatives in our food to embalm an elephant," the manufacturer confessed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Romney's Night (STEPHEN F. HAYES, 1/08/12, Weekly Standard)

Romney also won because his answers were the best and he set the tone early.

The debate opened with the ABC moderators doing what they could to instigate some attacks on Romney - offering opportunities for attack to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman. The only one who took the opening was Santorum, and he engaged rather tentatively, explaining that the country doesn't need a "manager" like Romney at this time of crisis. It's a good line of criticism, one that implies caution in this time of national urgency. But Romney turned it around deftly.

"People who spend their life in Washington think that people who start businesses are just managers," Romney said in response. "The people in the private sector, who are, every day, making this country a stronger nation and hiring people, they're not successful because they're managers, they're successful primarily because they are leaders. I wish people in Washington had the experience of going out and working in the real economy first, before they went there, and they'd understand some of the real lessons of leadership."

When his turn came, Gingrich partially defended an ad/mini-film by a pro-Gingrich PAC attacking Romney for job losses when he was at Bain Capital. Gingrich, who apologized once before for attacking Romney on Bain, said he hadn't seen the film or the ad derived from it. But the man who has attacked the mainstream media in virtually every debate thus far, noted several times that the film was consistent with recent reporting in the New York Times.

Romney adroitly turned the argument back on Gingrich. "I'm not surprised to have the New York Times try and put free enterprise on trial. I'm not surprised to have the Obama administration do that, either. It's a little surprising from my colleagues on this stage."

Hardly surprising.  They're just attacking for attack-sake.  None of them has a coherent case to make for himself. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Supreme Loser: Why Iran's ayatollah-in-chief always gets it wrong. (ALI VAEZ | JANUARY 3, 2012, Foreign Policy)

At its onset, nearly a decade ago, the firestorm over Iran's atomic ambitions was a blessing in disguise for the supreme leader. For the first time since the Iran-Iraq War, the regime had an issue that could potentially revitalize its exhausted esprit de corps, rally the nation around the flag, bolster Iran's clout across the Islamic world, and fracture the hostile international coalition.

At first, the shock and awe of Saddam Hussein's 2003 overthrow in Iraq compelled the conservative ayatollah to opt for compromise over conflict. When negotiations with the Europeans failed to win U.S. support, however, Khamenei concluded that "nuclear diplomacy" was little more than regime change in disguise.

The turbaned helmsman laid out his nuclear calculus in a meeting of Iran's Supreme National Security Council in 2004. Contending that the United States and its allies were unwilling to find a modus vivendi with the Iranian theocracy, Khamenei maintained that nuclear capitulation would only invite more pressure on human rights issues, sponsorship of terrorism, and regional subversion.

The nuclear nonproliferation regime also appeared innately unjust, particularly given Israel's atomic ambiguity. The regime's ideological foundations, based on warmed-over Third Worldism and Islamic universalism, also called for resistance. Thus, strategic considerations were melded with ideology to transform the nuclear program into the apotheosis of Iran's revolutionary defiance.

Initially, Khamenei's nuclear brinkmanship seemed to have worked. But even a successful policy requires constant recalibration -- a skill that the stubborn, geriatric leader lacks.

...he's also terrible at understanding his own electorate, which is how he got stuck with Ahmedinejad in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


All They That Labored: Scholars piece together the monumental job of creating the King James Bible--and reinterpret its legacy (Jennifer Howard, Chronicle Review)

Every member of the translation companies was given a loose-leaf copy of the Bishops' Bible, an English translation first published in 1568, to use as a base text. David Norton, a professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, is author of The King James Bible: A Short History From Tyndale to Today (Cambridge U. Press, 2011), probably the most detailed account of how the translators did their job. In it, he makes the case for the Bishops' Bible as "of very particular importance as a draft of the King James Bible."

The translators were also intimately familiar with a translation called the Great Bible of 1539 and with the Geneva Bible (1560), compiled by Protestant exiles in Europe. Small and printed in roman type, the Geneva Bible was much more of a pocket edition than the Great Bible. Moore describes the Geneva Bible as "the reading Bible of the Elizabethan public," the Bible that Shakespeare used.

Running through those Bibles is the work of William Tyndale, an English theologian born about 1494, who was the first to work from the original languages. Before England finally broke with the Roman Catholic Church, it was heresy to translate the Bible into English. Tyndale dared to do it, often working more or less on the run during self-exile in Europe. In 1536, he was captured and executed, in part because of that work. Miles Coverdale, his assistant, published some of Tyndale's translations posthumously. Within four years of his death, sanctioned English translations began to appear. Later English Bibles, including the King James, preserve large portions of Tyndale's language. It's only in recent decades, thanks to the work of scholars such as the biographer David Daniell, that Tyndale's contribution has been more fully appreciated.

"The way I see it is that it's reasonable to think of Tyndale as the first draft of the King James," Norton says. He points specifically to Tyndale's work on the New Testament and the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. "That's foundational for all that comes later. It's also particularly good work."

For instance, Tyndale threw a distinctive liveliness into his translations. Norton cites an example from Genesis in which the serpent reassures Eve that there's no danger in taking a bite of the forbidden fruit. "Tush! Ye shall not die," the tempter tells them. Norton says, "It gives you a sense of the kind of talent for language he had, and his very strong sensitivity to what's being said in the original languages."

The King James translators came up with many of their own phrasings, of course, and sometimes improved upon Tyndale's. As an example, Norton cites a passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:28-9. The King James version has "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Compare that to Tyndale's rendering of those lines: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They labour not, neither spin. And yet for all that I say unto you that even Solomon in all his royalty was not arrayed like unto one of these."

Norton says, "Quite a lot could be made of this famous saying, including the improvement of rhythm--'neither do they spin,' etc.--and the removal of wordiness. Tyndale's 'for all that' has no equivalent in the Greek."

By the time the King James translators set about their work, humanism and Protestantism had encouraged several generations to acquire the language skills necessary to undertake fresh translations of Scripture. "One of the most significant things that was possible by 1611 was the understanding of Rabbinic commentaries," Moore says. "They were able to read not just the first layer of Hebrew but the commentaries as well. But of course they leaned heavily on English translations as well."

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


U.S. Savings Bonds Go Paperless (Dave Crawley, 1/04/12, KDKA)

 U.S. savings bonds enclosed in birthday cards have been an American tradition for more than 70 years.

But from now on, purchasers will have to be computer savvy.

As of January 1, the U.S. Treasury declared that all bonds must be purchased online through the website www.treasurydirect.gov. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Pigovian taxes save lives (Gregory Mankiw, 1/07/12)

A conservative estimate is that the federal tax reduced injury deaths by 4.7%, or almost 7,000, in 1991.

January 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 PM


Mitt Romney Defends Against Bashing of Bain Capital at ABC Presidential Debate (Howard Kurtz Jan 7, 2012, Daily Beast)

Republican rivals tried to put venture capitalism--and its poster boy Mitt Romney--on trial at the ABC debate, amplifying charges by the Democrats that the former governor was a serial job-killer.

But the attempt petered out. The night's big loser, in fact, was Rick Santorum, who didn't have a single memorable moment and forfeited the chance to build on his virtual tie in Iowa before a national audience. For all the talk of Angry Newt, meanwhile, he barely took a shot at Romney, though he did let Ron Paul get under his skin.

With three days to go before the New Hampshire primary, the buzz in the cavernous pressroom at Manchester's Saint Anselm College was that this is a lackluster primary, meaning Romney is likely to win in a walk. That's why his rivals were determined, even desperate, to change the dynamic Saturday night.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Mitt Romney Soars, Rick Santorum Struggles as They Battle in the New Hampshire Primary (Howard Kurtz Jan 7, 2012, Daily Beast)

But the differences went deeper than that. Santorum is an exceedingly earnest man with the soul of a legislator, lacking the slightest flair for the dramatic. Romney, despite his occasional awkwardness, especially on television, has emerged as a polished performer who is hitting his stride with growing confidence.

Amid the sound-bite warfare and attack ads that define the modern White House campaign, an important truth is often missed: Americans generally gravitate toward the candidate they can imagine coming into their living rooms for four years. That comfort factor helps win elections.

Romney isn't there yet. He's still the rich guy with the perfect hair, a governor's son who had to learn how to chat with voters in a diner. The one discordant note he faced Friday was when a young woman said he was a "multimillionaire with four houses. Would you be willing to give up some of that to help middle-class Americans get tax cuts?" Romney tried to laugh it off, saying he doesn't own four houses. That's true, he has three.

Santorum has a rare opportunity in the wake of his virtual tie in Iowa. He won't win New Hampshire, but the press would trumpet a solid second-place showing, enabling him to consolidate support as the conservative alternative to Romney. A new NBC poll has Romney leading with 42 percent and Santorum in third with 13 percent, behind Ron Paul.

When Santorum emerged in a white shirt and gray sweater-vest to the overflow crowd outside the Manchester restaurant, where many people had sat on the floor awaiting his arrival, there was a sense of excitement that stirs when an underdog breaks out of the pack.

But as Santorum began speaking about limited government and Medicare and capital gains, he delivered his message in a monotone that would have hampered him even if the parking-lot acoustics had been better. His rhetorical appeal to local pride surrounding the first primary failed to produce a raised voice or signature gesture. It was all prose, no poetry.

One might think the grandson of a Pennsylvania coal miner might make more of a visceral connection with a raucous New England crowd, but there was little evidence of that. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


The future of prediction (Leon Neyfakh, 1/01/12, Boston Globe)

There are prediction techniques of all sorts in development. Some are designed to predict the spread of disease; some to determine fluctuations in the popularity of tourist destinations. Some are geared towards specific problems, like predicting the results of an election or determining the amount of electricity that a town will use during the winter. Other tools are more generic, and are flexible enough to be used by, say, both retailers looking to predict popular products and global policy analysts trying to envision future conflict.

Meanwhile, as our ability to mine vast amounts of information improves, the effort to invent the next generation of prediction tools has been fueled by an explosion of personal data, which offer the tantalizing prospect of much more fine-grained predictions through the analysis of details about people's lives.

"We're finally in a position where people volunteer information about their specific activities, often their location, who they're with, what they're doing, how they're feeling about what they're doing, what they're talking about," said Johan Bollen, a professor at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington who developed a way to predict the ups and downs of the stock market based on Twitter activity. "We've never had data like that before, at least not at that level of granularity." Bollen added: "Right now it's a gold rush."

One thing the latest prediction techniques still aren't necessarily good at, however, is the thing we want most: telling us exactly what we're in for in the year 2012 and beyond. That's because, by and large, the models used to make predictions tend to be very specialized, or proprietary, or simply untested. But as researchers continue to refine them, that may begin to change -- and this, in turn, promises to raise new questions about just how much we want to know about what lies ahead.

If you want to know what's going to happen next, it might seem natural to ask an expert -- but when it comes to accurate predictions, it turns out that one thing you should stay away from is expert opinion. That was the conclusion reached by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip Tetlock, who over the course of 20 years tracked the predictions of 284 experts who had made careers of "commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends." His findings were startling: The academics, analysts, and journalists in his sample weren't significantly better at predicting events in their fields than nonexperts, and most of them would have been beaten by a "dart-throwing chimpanzee.''

Tetlock's findings, which he collected in a 2005 book called "Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?", were disturbing because they seemed to imply that prediction was impossible. But Tetlock's study did not cause him to give up on forecasting entirely -- it just convinced him that individual experts were never going to be very good at it. There could be other ways to predict the future, he believed -- ones that relied on formulas instead of opinions, and which could be tested, tweaked, and improved rather than merely trusted.

The basic idea behind this kind of prediction is the same one that propels all of science: You create a hypothesis based on your understanding of whatever you're trying to study, test it to see if it fits with reality, and then make adjustments if it doesn't. Science essentially offers predictions: how high a ball will bounce if you drop if off the table; what happens if you mix two chemicals together. This kind of certainty has long been elusive in the fuzzier realms of politics and culture, but an increasing amount of data about how we live -- and an ever-improving ability to process it -- has changed the ways we can apply that basic insight. Criminologists are crunching vast amounts of crime data to predict where in a given city murders and robberies are likely to take place. Terrorism researchers mine data on attacks for patterns, and turn it into clues about where future attacks are likely to take place.

So, What's Your Algorithm? (DENNIS K. BERMAN, 1/05/12, WSJ)

The new year will bring plenty of splashy stories about iPads and IPOs. There is a more important theme gathering around us: How analytics harvested from massive databases will begin to inform our day-to-day business decisions. Call it Big Data, analytics, or decision science. Over time, this will change your world more than the iPad 3.

Computer systems are now becoming powerful enough, and subtle enough, to help us reduce human biases from our decision-making. And this is a key: They can do it in real-time. Inevitably, that "objective observer" will be a kind of organic, evolving database.

These systems can now chew through billions of bits of data, analyze them via self-learning algorithms, and package the insights for immediate use. Neither we nor the computers are perfect, but in tandem, we might neutralize our biased, intuitive failings when we price a car, prescribe a medicine, or deploy a sales force. This is playing "Moneyball" at life.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body (WILLIAM J. BROAD, 1/08/12, NY Times Magazine)

On a cold Saturday in early 2009, Glenn Black, a yoga teacher of nearly four decades, whose devoted clientele includes a number of celebrities and prominent gurus, was giving a master class at Sankalpah Yoga in Manhattan. Black is, in many ways, a classic yogi: he studied in Pune, India, at the institute founded by the legendary B. K. S. Iyengar, and spent years in solitude and meditation. He now lives in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and often teaches at the nearby Omega Institute, a New Age emporium spread over nearly 200 acres of woods and gardens. He is known for his rigor and his down-to-earth style. But this was not why I sought him out: Black, I'd been told, was the person to speak with if you wanted to know not about the virtues of yoga but rather about the damage it could do. Many of his regular clients came to him for bodywork or rehabilitation following yoga injuries. This was the situation I found myself in. In my 30s, I had somehow managed to rupture a disk in my lower back and found I could prevent bouts of pain with a selection of yoga postures and abdominal exercises. Then, in 2007, while doing the extended-side-angle pose, a posture hailed as a cure for many diseases, my back gave way. With it went my belief, naïve in retrospect, that yoga was a source only of healing and never harm.

At Sankalpah Yoga, the room was packed; roughly half the students were said to be teachers themselves. Black walked around the room, joking and talking. "Is this yoga?" he asked as we sweated through a pose that seemed to demand superhuman endurance. "It is if you're paying attention." His approach was almost free-form: he made us hold poses for a long time but taught no inversions and few classical postures. Throughout the class, he urged us to pay attention to the thresholds of pain. "I make it as hard as possible," he told the group. "It's up to you to make it easy on yourself." He drove his point home with a cautionary tale. In India, he recalled, a yogi came to study at Iyengar's school and threw himself into a spinal twist. Black said he watched in disbelief as three of the man's ribs gave way -- pop, pop, pop.

After class, I asked Black about his approach to teaching yoga -- the emphasis on holding only a few simple poses, the absence of common inversions like headstands and shoulder stands. He gave me the kind of answer you'd expect from any yoga teacher: that awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you'd done them. But then he said something more radical. Black has come to believe that "the vast majority of people" should give up yoga altogether. It's simply too likely to cause harm.

Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, "they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition," he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. "Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It's controversial to say, but it really shouldn't be used for a general class."

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


The Rick Santorum that America doesn't know (Will Bunch, 1/04/12, Philadelphia Daily News)

Here's a Pennsylvanian's brief guide to the Rick Santorum you don't know:

1. This compassionate Christian conservative founded a charity that was actually a bit of a scam. In 2001, following up on a faith-based urban charity initiative around the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia, Santorum launched a charitable foundation called the Operation Good Neighbor Foundation. While in its first few years the charity cut checks to community groups for $474,000, Operation Good Neighbor Foundation had actually raised more than $1 million, from donors who overlapped with Santorum's political fund raising. Where did the majority of the charity's money go? In salary and consulting fees to a network of politically connected lobbyists, aides and fundraisers, including rent and office payments to Santorum's finance director Rob Bickhart, later finance chair of the Republican National Committee. When I reported on Santorum's charity for The American Prospect in 2006, experts told me a responsible charity doles out at least 75 percent of its income in grants, and they were shocked to learn the figure for Operation Good Neighbor Fund was less than 36 percent. The charity - which didn't register with the state of Pennsylvania as required under the law --- was finally disbanded in 2007.

2. Likewise, a so-called "leadership PAC" created by Santorum that was supposed to fund other Republicans instead seemed to mostly pay for the lifestyle of Santorum and those around him. My investigation of the America's Foundation PAC showed that only 18 percent of its money went to fund political candidates, less -- and typically far less -- than any other "leadership PACs." What America's Foundation did spend a lot on with what looked like everyday expenses, including 66 trips to the Starbucks in Santorum's then hometown of Leesburg, Va., multiple fast-food outings and expenditures at Wal-Mart, Target and Giant supermarkets. Campaign finance experts said the PAC's expenses - paid for by donations from wealthy businessmen and lobbyists - were "unconventional," at best and arguably not legal. Santorum also funded his large Leesburg "McMansion" with a $500,000 mortgage from a private bank run by a major campaign donor, in a program that was only supposed to be open to high-wealth investment clients in the trust, which Santorum was not, and closed to the general public.

3. Santorum was never above mingling his cultural crusades with the everyday work of raising political cash. In 2005, Santorum made headlines - not all positive - for visiting the deathbed of Terri Schiavo, the woman at the center of a national right-to-die controversy.What my Philadelphia Daily News colleague John Baer later exposed was that the real reason he was in the Tampa, Fla., area was to collect money at a $250,000 fundraiser organized by executives of Outback Steakhouses, a company that shared Santorum's passion for a low minimum wage for waitresses and other rank-and-file workers. Santorum's efforts were also aided by his unusual mode of travel: Wal-Mart's corporate jet. And he canceled a public meeting on Social Security reform "out of respect for the Schiavo family"  even as the closed fundraisers went on.

4. Santorum didn't seem to be against government waste when it came to his family. During his years in the Senate, Santorum raised his family in northern Virginia and rarely if ever seemed to use the small house that he claimed as his legal residence, in a blue-collar Pittsburgh suburb called Penn Hills. So Pennsylvania voters were shocked when they found out the Penn Hills School District had paid out $72,000 for the home cyberschooling of five of Santorum's kids, hundreds of miles away in a different state. The cash=strapped district was unsuccessful in its efforts to get any of its money back from Santorum.

...so long as you also have a record of accomplishment.  Mr. Santorum achieved as little during his sixteen years in Congress and rose as low in the leadership as Barack Obama did in his tenure.  The argument that a guy who can't even lead a legislative caucus is qualified to lead the country rings no truer this time than it did 4 years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Students in big-city schools show gains in latest NAEP 'report card': The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) National Report Card shows clear and positive trend lines for big-city schools, though the progress has been slow.  (Amanda Paulson, December 7, 2011, CS Monitor)
Students in America's largest cities are making gains in math, in many cases faster than students in the nation as a whole. [...]

Most notably, the gap between national scores and large-city scores is narrowing.

Thanks, W.

January 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Newt's Shop of Horrors (Timothy Egan, 1/05/12, NY Times)

The deflated Newt balloon is pathetic, to use one of his favorite words. There he was, tired and bitter on election night, after getting carpet-bombed by advertisements painting him as a soulless hack tied to Washington like sea rust on the underside of a listing ship.

He complained about "millionaire consultants" buying every television outlet to "lie" about him. He whined about getting buried under "an avalanche of negative ads" that left him "drowning in negativity." You get the picture: ugly, sudden death, the very life snuffed out of him by things he could not control.

And yet, of course, what killed Gingrich was in part his own creation, and not just because he himself is a millionaire consultant paid to destroy or inflate on demand. The Frankenstein's monster emerged from his own shop of horrors.

Gingrich, for the last few years, has been partners in self-promotion with Citizens United, the group that prompted the worst Supreme Court decision of the nascent 21st century, the one that granted "personhood" rights to corporations and green-lighted them to dominate American elections. More to the point, that 2010 case gave birth to shadowy super PACs that can annihilate a candidate, no holds barred, no responsibility to those pulling the strings.

The millstones of the gods grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM


What N.H. Can Tell Us About Romney's Chances (Dante Chinni, 1/06/12, WSJ)

At this point winning New Hampshire almost looks like a formality for Mr. Romney.  Polls currently show him sitting with about 40% support there and, as we have noted in this space before, Patchwork Nation's geographic/demographic breakdown shows the state's electoral terrain is made for him.

Only four of Patchwork Nation's 12 county types are represented there - the Monied Burbs, Boom Towns, Campus and Careers and small town Service Worker Centers counties -- and Mr. Romney won three of those four in Iowa, all except the Service Worker Centers.

With all those Romney advantages in place, what exactly is there to look for in Tuesday's results? Two things: Can he continue to capture the vote in the Monied Burbs and can he improve his standing in the small town Service Worker Centers?

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 PM


CNN/Time Poll: Romney and Santorum soar in South Carolina (CNN, 1/06/12)

Mitt Romney's numbers in South Carolina are surging, and he now has a solid lead over his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, according to a new survey of likely GOP primary voters in the Palmetto state. [...]

South Carolina holds the first in the South contest in the race for the nomination, with its January 21 contest coming 11 days after the New Hampshire primary. Since 1980, when the state switched from a caucus system to a primary, the winner of the South Carolina GOP primary has always gone on to win the Republican nomination.

According to the poll, 37% of likely GOP primary voters in South Carolina say they are currently backing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is making his second bid for the White House. Romney has nearly doubled his support from CNN's last survey in the Palmetto State, which was conducted early last month. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


U.S. 10-Year Treasury Note Near 2% - Low Interest Rates Continue for U.S. Government (JOSEPH LAZZARO, January 6, 2012, IB Times)

With every month there's a "warning" from conservatives, supply-side economics advocates, and inflation hawks alike that both inflation and interest rates are about to vault higher, due to the U.S. Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program and Congress' prior fiscal stimulus to avert a depression.

But with each month, the problem does not appear. Take interest rates, for example.

Have you seen what's happened to the interest rate on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond in the past year?

A year ago, in February 2011, investors charged the U.S. government 4 percent to borrow money for 10 years. Today? The U.S. government can borrow money for 10 years at 1.97 percent and there's talk the interest rate may drop even more.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Call the Senate's bluff on recess appointments (Steven G. Bradbury and John P. Elwood, October 15, 2010, Washington Post)

[T]he Senate cannot constitutionally thwart the president's recess appointment power through pro forma sessions.

Historically, the recess appointments clause has been given a practical interpretation. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 67, the clause enables the president to keep the government fully staffed when the Senate is not "in session for the appointment of officers."

In a 1905 report that the Senate still considers authoritative, the Senate Judiciary Committee recognized that a "Recess of the Senate" occurs whenever the Senate is not sitting for the discharge of its functions and when it cannot "participate as a body in making appointments." The committee cautioned that a "recess" means "something actual, not something fictitious." The executive branch has long taken the same common-sense view. In 1921, citing opinions of his predecessors dating back to the Monroe administration, Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty argued that the question "is whether in a practical sense the Senate is in session so that its advice and consent can be obtained. To give the word 'recess' a technical and not a practical construction, is to disregard substance for form."

The Senate, of course, does not meet as a body during a pro forma session. By the terms of the recess order, no business can be conducted, and the Senate is not capable of acting on the president's nominations. That means the Senate remains in "recess" for purposes of the recess appointment power, despite the empty formalities of the individual senators who wield the gavel in pro forma sessions.

The writers are Washington attorneys. From 2005 to 2009, Bradbury headed the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, and Elwood served as deputy assistant attorney general. Although Bradbury was nominated as assistant attorney general in 2005, his nomination was never voted on by the full Senate. Individual senators put holds on the nomination, and Senate leaders instituted pro forma sessions to prevent a recess appointment.

...it's only unconstitutional when the other party does it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Sherlock, episode two, BBC One, preview (Terry Ramsey, 06 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)

Last week's opening episode of this new series showed the romantic side of Sherlock, as he encountered the marvellous Irene Adler (Lara Pulver). This Sunday we see him take on a very different adversary - the famous Hound of the Baskervilles. (You have to hand it to series creators Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, they are not afraid to tangle with the classic stories.) [...]

In an inspired piece of modernisation, the story is no longer centred around a rambling gothic country house, but an ultra-secret military research base where all sorts of bizarre research and animal experimentation appear to be taking place.

As usual, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are excellent as Holmes and Watson, the script is sharp and witty and the updating is clever, while remaining true to the original. A modern classic.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Cleaner, Cheaper Liquid Fuel from Coal  (PETER FAIRLEY, 1/06/12, Technology Review)

SRI International is developing a process that combines coal and natural gas to produce liquid transportation fuels that are substantially cleaner and cheaper to make than existing synthetic fuels.

SRI claims its process addresses three liabilities that have slowed the commercialization of the technology. By blending some natural gas into the conventional coal-to-liquids (CTL) process, the private research lab, based in Menlo Park, California, claims to have eliminated CTL's carbon footprint, slashed water consumption by over 70 percent, and more than halved its capital cost.

Chan Park, a gasification and synthetic fuels expert at the University of California, Riverside's Center for Environmental Research & Technology, cautions that SRI's work is at an early stage. But Park says the process "could be really exciting" as a domestic alternative to petroleum fuel in coal and gas-rich countries such as the U.S.--if it can be demonstrated at pilot scale.

SRI's process is the fruit of a 2008 solicitation by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeking a cheap, carbon-free CTL process for producing jet fuel. DARPA awarded SRI $1,612,905 to pursue a novel concept: using methane from natural gas as a hydrogen source instead of water in a new CTL process.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Turbo Charged: Like so much else over the past year, Iowa simultaneously showed that Romney can be beaten and that no one in this field is likely to beat him. (Ronald Brownstein and Beth Reinhard, January 6, 2012, National Journal)

As Romney's team hoped, the Iowa result hobbled the two candidates it feared the most--Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry--while elevating the two rivals it believes are least capable of waging a true national challenge: Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Paul, with his purist libertarian message, has an ardent but limited following. And although Santorum appealed to the conservatives who are most dubious of Romney (particularly evangelical Christians), the former senator didn't unify those voters nearly as much as Huckabee did. (He got 32 percent of their votes, compared with Huckabee's 46 percent four years ago.) In the contests ahead, the underfunded and lightly staffed Santorum also won't be able to replicate his Iowa strategy of virtually taking up residence in the state for a year. "He will get a hell of a bump" from his Iowa finish, said top GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who is neutral in the race, "but he has so much to do so fast."

If Iowa gave Romney any real headaches, it's because the state may have over-performed its historic job of winnowing the presidential field. The caucus results prompted Michele Bachmann to quit the race on Wednesday morning, less than 12 hours after Romney was declared the narrow winner. And although Perry has apparently reversed his initial inclination to examine withdrawing, the fact that he considered it underscores how much his fifth-place finish damaged his viability. Those developments should increase Santorum's prospects, starting in South Carolina on January 21, of unifying evangelical Christian voters who resisted Romney last time and showed no sign of warming to him in Iowa. "Romney's fear 
is that this consolidates," Keith Nahigian, Bachmann's campaign manager, said before she withdrew.

Evangelical voters alone would not be enough to make Santorum a genuine threat to Romney. But if Santorum, with his regular-guy persona and lunch-bucket message of restoring American manufacturing, can also make significant inroads with the growing number of blue-collar Republicans, he may be able to cause the polished and affluent Romney some anxious moments--even if the odds are now strongly in the latter's favor. "Usually, you win hearts and the head follows," said longtime New Hampshire GOP activist Tom Rath, who is supporting Romney. "This may be a time when we win heads and the hearts will follow. Diana Ross was right: 'You can't hurry love.' "

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Newtonian exceptionalism (Dana Milbank, 1/06/12, Washington Post)

The self-adulation envelops him: "largest capital-gains tax cut in history . . . only time in your lifetime . . . as good a campaign by a legislative body that was run in American history . . . largest one-party increase in an off-year election in American history."

Me! Largest! First! Best! Gingrich talks often on the stump about "American exceptionalism," but his campaign seems to be based on the theory of Newtonian exceptionalism.

Some say that he continues his long-shot campaign because he's driven by his loathing of Mitt Romney -- but his attacks on the front-runner have been inconsistent. Some say that he's trying to provide a conservative alternative -- but his candidacy, by splitting the conservative vote, is doing the opposite.

A better explanation is that his campaign bus is on an ego trip. 

...perhaps Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are staying in precisely because the best hope of nominating the most electable candidate is to divide the anti-Romney vote. The Bush/Rove guys could easily come up with enough cash to keep Newt in until Santorum is toast.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Today's best American cars: Green car: Chevrolet Volt (CNN/Money)

Base price: $39,145

Fuel economy: 35 miles e-range, then 35 City / 40 HWY

With prices starting at about $34,000, after a $7,500 federal tax break, the Volt actually turns out to be a pretty good value. With the ability to drive 35 miles on a charge -- less than most people drive in a typical day -- you could go without using any gasoline for weeks. Mile for mile, electricity is much cheaper in most places.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


From Back of the Bus, Israeli Women Fight Segregation (JOSHUA MITNICK, 1/05/12, WSJ)

For years, Israeli women have been pressured into moving to the rear of public buses serving strictly religious Jews. Now, in confrontations reminiscent of the era of Rosa Parks, women are pushing back. [...]

Haredi political parties wield outsized clout because they often function as kingmakers of Israeli coalitions by moving between right and left, though their outlook is more in keeping with right-wing coalitions.

For decades, Israel's Haredi sects kept at a distance from the mainstream, congregating in self-contained ghettos. Their religious ideology rejected the foundations of the secular Jewish state even as they participated in its politics.

Because they made up a relatively small percentage of the population, they were allowed to avoid army service and oversee schools that shed elements of state curriculum, and lobbied for public subsidies that enabled graduates to continue religious study rather than pursue jobs.

In the 14 years since the first public buses went into operation in Jerusalem, exclusion and segregation efforts have expanded to include men-only sidewalks in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, separated waiting rooms at some health clinics, and the gradual disappearance of women from billboard advertisements in Jerusalem.

With Haredi birthrates double the average Israeli family, ultra-Orthodox Jews are poised to surge from around 10% of the country's population. Economists say the status quo, where most Haredi men don't work, will eventually drag down the economy because the government won't be able to afford the rising cost of so many men staying out of the workplace.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Josef Skvorecky, Czech-Born Writer Oppressed by Right and Left, Dies at 87 (MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN, 1/05/12, NY Times)

Mr. Skvorecky's most enduring creation was an alter ego, Danny Smiricky, a jazz-loving, northern Bohemian admirer of Mark Twain. Danny, who appears in about half of Mr. Skvorecky's dozen or more novels, struggles -- not always heroically -- to maintain decency amid the terrors and indignities of totalitarian society. In descriptions of forced labor in a Nazi factory, Communist censors, Soviet tanks, political purges, false accusations, stool pigeons and women who allure and tease, Mr. Skvorecky offered glimpses of his life.

Danny made his debut in the author's first novel, "The Cowards," which Mr. Skvorecky finished in 1949, when he was 25. It was not published until nine years later, however, and when it did appear, it was banned, becoming the first great underground classic of postwar Czechoslovakia. [...]

With Mr. Kundera, Mr. Skvorecky shared a fascination with the private lives of people shadowed by the heavyhanded police state, seeking pleasures -- whether those of friendship, music or sex -- in an otherwise joyless political climate. Mr. Skvorecky spoke of his own experience in the introduction to his novella "The Bass Saxophone":

"In the days when everything in life was fresh -- because we were 16, 17 -- I used to blow tenor sax. Very poorly. Our band was called Red Music, which in fact was a misnomer, since the name had no political connotations: there was a band in Prague that called itself Blue Music and we, living in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, had no idea that in jazz blue is not a color, so we called ours Red. But if the name itself had no political connotations, our sweet, wild music did; for jazz was a sharp thorn in the sides of the power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Is democracy finally coming to Burma?: With elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, Burma's brutal military regime seems to be loosening its grip. But can the generals be trusted? (Jason Burke, 1/05/12, guardian.co.uk)

Things started to change in March 2010 with the appointment of the civilian government. Few analysts can say exactly why the notorious Than Shwe decided on this move. Some argue that the motivation was purely economic, as only improved relations with the west will allow Burma to join the ranks of the Asian tiger economies. Others point to a resentment at China's growing role in the country. Nay Zin Latt, the political adviser to the president, says that the decision was simply the result of a realisation that "for capitalism and the free market to flourish, democracy was necessary".

"We need western investment, technical knowledge, the art of management. If the country doesn't grow economically then there will be big problems, big unrest. The people with Mercedes cars won't be able to drive them around the streets!" Latt explained.

Aung San Suu Kyi, or "The Lady" as she is known locally, was released from house arrest in November 2010 and elections that she and her party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted, were held the same month. These were deeply flawed but many were surprised that they were held at all. The release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel peace prize in 1991 after the regime cancelled elections that her party had won, was seen as extraordinary.

Since then there have been other reforms. Many, such as new labour laws or legislation allowing protests, have had little practical effect on the ground. Others have had more impact. A handful of foreign journalists have been allowed in, surveillance of democratic activists is marginally lighter and work on a very unpopular Chinese-funded dam project, which would have generated huge amounts of cash for the regime while displacing tens of thousands of locals, has been suspended.

Local journalists have tracked the reforms through the degree of censorship to which they are subjected. "Before, printing any image of Aung San Suu Kyi was unthinkable. Then we could use pictures of her on the inside pages no bigger than 5 x 7in. Then suddenly we could put them on the front page," said Thi Ha Saw, editor of the Myanma Dana magazine.

It is not just the press. As all visiting reporters have remarked, there are posters of the Lady now on sale on street corners and her picture on mobile phones, walls and cars. The latest development is that Aung San Suu Kyi herself will lead her party in contesting byelections in the late spring. This is a risky and controversial decision that risks fracturing the fragile unity of the democratic campaigners in Burma. It will almost certainly result in the NLD entering parliament in some numbers - even if they will still be heavily outnumbered by soldiers in the assembly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Americans make up half of the world's richest 1% (Annalyn Censky,  January 4, 2012, CNNMoney) 

The United States holds a disproportionate amount of the world's rich people.

It only takes $34,000 a year, after taxes, to be among the richest 1% in the world. [...]

"It doesn't seem right to define as middle class, people who would be on food stamps in the United States," Milanovic said.

The true global middle class, falls far short of owning a home, having a car in a driveway, saving for retirement and sending their kids to college. In fact, people at the world's true middle -- as defined by median income -- live on just $1,225 a year. (And, yes, Milanovic's numbers are adjusted to account for different costs of living across the globe.)

In the grand scheme of things, even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two thirds of the entire world.

January 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


Rick Santorum's task gets tougher in Florida (GEORGE BENNETT, 1/05/12, Palm Beach Post)

Four years ago, Mike Huckabee got national buzz and a lift from second­-tier status after winning the Iowa caucuses.

But by the time Florida's primary arrived 26 days later, a second-place finish in South Carolina had sapped Huckabee's momentum and he lacked the money to compete in Florida's 10 media markets and 67 counties. Huckabee limped to a fourth-place finish in the Sunshine State as John McCain effectively clinched the nomination.

"Florida's an expensive state," Huckabee's 2008 campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, recalled Wednesday. "I remember specifically it was about a $4 million statewide (TV advertising) buy. ... Whatever it was, we didn't have it."

Romney began airing TV spots in Florida this week. His campaign hasn't revealed how much it's spending on them.

In addition to TV costs, Florida presents an organizational challenge because a significant number of ballots are cast before election day. Absentee voting has already begun, and early voting starts Jan. 21.

In the 2008 general election, about 4.6 million votes were cast by early and absentee ballot in Florida while about 3.9 million were cast on the traditional Election Day in November. That means campaigns need the resources to target advertising, mail and phone banks over a few weeks rather than focusing on a few days before an election.

Through Sept. 30, the last date for which Federal Election Commission reports are available, Romney had raised more than $32 million, while Santorum had raised about $1.3 million.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


What Iowa Says About the Religious Right: Socially conservative voters are focused on unseating the president, not on denominational rivalries. (RICHARD LAND, 1/05/12, WSJ)

Will evangelicals support Mr. Romney if he is the nominee? Yes, and by substantial percentages. Never underestimate the unique ability of President Obama to unify social conservatives, of every faith tradition, around his eventual opponent.

Will Mr. Romney's Mormonism be a negative factor for evangelicals? It will for some, but remember that in Iowa the 60% of voters who identified themselves as evangelicals gave 42% of their votes to a Mormon (Mr. Romney) or a Catholic (Messrs. Santorum and Gingrich), while giving only 38% of their vote to fellow Protestants (Messrs. Perry and Paul and Mrs. Bachmann). So much for narrow denominational prejudices.

One should note also that several prominent evangelicals, such as former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, are enthusiastically supporting Mr. Romney.

Even Pastor Robert Jeffress, who may be Mr. Romney's most vocal evangelical critic and last fall referred to Mormonism as a "cult," has stated: "If it comes down to Romney versus Obama I'm voting for Romney." I've heard the same sentiment from hundreds of evangelical pastors over the past two months. It's not that their stance on Mormonism is softening, but that their distrust and fear of Mr. Obama's policies are increasing.

...he just has to not be the UR.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


The Coming War Over the Pentagon Budget: How the president's new defense strategy could spark an existential crisis for the Army and the Marines. (Fred Kaplan, Jan. 5, 2012, Slate)

[C]ertain inferences can be drawn from some of their statements. The biggest one is that the Army and Marine Corps will soon be facing an enormous--one might even say, existential--crisis.

Take a close look at these remarks:

Obama: As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--and the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints--we'll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: The Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support large-scale stability operations.

The president and the secretary aren't stating merely that they don't intend to get involved in something like Iraq or Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. They're saying that when the Army and Marine chiefs calculate how many troops they need for various contingencies, they are not allowed to assume that one of those contingencies might be a long war that involves lots of troops engaged in "stability operations."

One of the main lessons of the post-Cold War period is that even trivial losses are unacceptable to many, so we're not ever going to fight another war where we have significant ones.  Troops that will never be put in harm's way aren't needed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM

HOW WOULD YOU KNOW? (via The Other Brother)

Police unsure if woman urinated on $30m abstract expressionist painting (Rob Beschizza, Jan 5, 2012, BoingBoing)

A Denver woman allegedly caused $10,000 worth of damage to Clyfford Still's 1957-J no.2, punching and scratching the abstract expressionist painting. Police remain unsure, however, whether she succeeded in an attempt to urinate upon the masterpiece, valued at $30m.

Sounds like value added to us.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Bank of America Wouldn't Deposit New Bride's Checks Because She Kept Maiden Name (IB Times, 1/05/12)

Red tape at Bank of America is preventing a new bride to deposit checks from her wedding because many of her guests didn't realize she was keeping her last name.

Journalist Pete Iorizzo documented his frustrating struggle in an editorial published in the Albany Times-Union, where he explained most checks were made out to "Mr. and Mrs. Peter Iorizzo." He said bank managers told him the only option was to go back to his guests and ask them to re-write the checks.

Get a real wife.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


NAACP rips Rick Santorum for comment about African-Americans, welfare  (BRADEN GOYETTE, 1/05/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is in hot water with the NAACP for singling out African-Americans in a comment about federal benefits.

At an Iowa campaign stop Sunday, the former Pennsylvania senator reportedly told supporters, "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."

...is that he can plausibly make the argument that he didn't mean to sound racist, he's just too dumb to understand the implication of his remarks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Revenge of the Electric Car: The Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric car to try to connect to a mass market. Now Nissan is betting on a U.S. factory that can turn out 150,000 cars a year. (MAHENDRA RAMSINGHANI, 1/05/12, Technology Review)

Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan America, told Mahendra Ramsinghani why he thinks "electrification" will spread across the transportation sector.

TR: Let's start with innovation and the electric car. What does the marketplace demand in such a vehicle? Affordability? Driving range per charge?

Perry: First off, from an innovation standpoint the Nissan Leaf represents the world's first mass-produced, mass-market, affordable electric vehicle. As you know, the Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid; the Leaf is a pure battery electric car with zero emissions [from the car itself]. Nobody's done a mass-market electric vehicle before. And second, nobody's done it at an affordable price point.

The range is a marketing challenge, not necessarily a technical challenge. Consider that 72 percent of the population drives less than 40 miles a day. So a car like the Leaf, which has 100 miles of range, more than satisfies people's daily driving habits. To meet the affordability target is important--certainly you can add more [battery] cells, more modules, [and extend the range]--but that leads to more cost, a bigger body, and then you're at $50,000 not $35,000. And now you've just killed your affordability goal.

We made a real car that people can use as their primary vehicle--you've got room for five adults, enough range for their driving habits, and the affordability. All three of them mean mass market.

What was the tipping point from the product development standpoint?

We had a breakthrough in battery design back in 2003 that allowed us to get twice the energy out of a pack half the size and weight and that cost significantly less. And once we had that breakthrough, then we were able to see a path to that affordability target. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


John McCain to Endorse Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, Hates Rick Santorum (MELANIE JONES, January 4, 2012, IB Times)

If there's one Republican who'd rather see anyone but Santorum take the nomination, it's likely to be Senator John McCain.

Rumors of a rift between Senator John McCain and former Senator Rick Santorum have been brewing for years.

In 2008, Rick Santorum did everything in his power to derail the McCain campaign during the primary nomination and presidential election, appearing on conservative talk shows, cable news programs like Fox, and at rallies where he challenged McCain's conservative chops.

According to PoliticOlogy, which asserts that McCain "hates" Santorum, the pair continued to clash even as recently as May 2011, when Santorum claimed McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had a limited understanding of what constitutes torture.

Just this week, in fact, Rick Santorum defended his endorsement of rival Mitt Romney for the presidency back in 2008 by admitting he wanted to do whatever he could to ruin the senator's chances.

"My focus in the 2008 election was on making sure we had someone other than John McCain," he told CNN during the last push in Iowa.

Mr. McCain looked happier in the videos he made from a North Vietnamese prison camp.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Anatomy of a Narrow Victory: Five years in the making, Romney's Iowa win took a lot more than money. (Sasha Issenberg, Jan. 4, 2012, Slate)

On Monday night, 24 hours before Iowans would participate in their state's caucuses, around 25 volunteers sat in an old Blockbuster Video and placed calls from their personal cellphones on behalf of Mitt Romney. They had the trappings of a Romney crowd--oxford shirts, small talk concerning fruit salad--and the names of the voters on their list were of Romney people, too. "The reason I'm calling is because I have you down as a supporter," the callers chimed, reading off a get-out-the-vote script.

This fluid caucus season has birthed and vanquished new front-runners--Gallup calls it the "most volatile" nominating contest ever polled--but there has been one constant in Iowa: a list of more than 30,000 supporters that Romney's team believed were unlikely to vote for any of his rivals. The process that produced this list had taken nearly five years to complete. Romney's previous Iowa campaign allowed him to stockpile voter data and develop sophisticated systems for interpreting it. It was that data and those interpretations that supported one of the riskiest strategic moves of the campaign thus far: Romney's seemingly late decision to fight aggressively for his first-place finish in Iowa.

Even as his campaign leadership claimed into the fall that they were keeping their options open here, Romney's targeters were quietly maintaining a continuous tally of their supporters in Iowa, a list that proved unexpectedly stable even as other candidates rose and fell in the polls. It had become a stock observation to note that Mitt Romney just couldn't move from 25 percent in Iowa--his support was both resistant to growth and impervious to decay. But what was more important for Romney's team was not just that his total share of the vote remained steady but that the individual voters who comprised it didn't move either, making it easy to keep track of who they were and to mobilize them personally.

It was the ability to pinpoint and track supporters that settled Romney's decision to publicly commit to winning Iowa late this fall.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Prized Bluefin Tuna Sold for $736,000 or $1,238 per Pound in Japan (IBTIMES, January 5, 2012)

A Bluefin tuna sold for nearly three-quarters of a million dollars at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market on Thursday. The fish caught off the northeastern Japanese shore, Oma, was sold for a record amount at 56.49 million yen (about $736,000) and a record $1,238 per pound.

...these babies are.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Guantánamo: Ten Years and Counting  (David Cole | January 4, 2012, The Nation)

On January 11 it will have been a decade since the first of the men we once called "the worst of the worst" were brought to Guantánamo Bay, a location handpicked by the Bush administration so that it could detain and interrogate terror suspects far from the prying eyes of the law. In the intervening years much has improved at this remote US-controlled enclave in Cuba. Allegations of ongoing torture have ceased; the detainees have access to lawyers and court review; and more than 600 of the 779 men once held there have been released.

But in another way, Guantánamo is a deeper problem today than it ever was. No longer a temporary exception, it has become a permanent fixture in our national firmament. And although at one time we could blame President George W. Bush's unilateral assertions of unchecked executive power for the abuses there, the continuing problem that is Guantánamo today is shared by all three government branches, and ultimately by all Americans. With President Obama's signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on New Year's Eve, the prison is sure to be with us--and its prisoners sure to continue in their legal limbo--for the indefinite future.

President Bush undoubtedly committed the original sin. Had he followed the rules governing wartime detention from the outset, Guantánamo would not be an international embarrassment. It has long been established that in an ongoing war a country may detain the enemy for the conflict's duration. But the laws of war require that we afford hearings to those whose status is in doubt, that we release them when the conflict ends and that we treat them humanely throughout. Bush refused to provide hearings, asserted the prerogative to hold people during a never-ending "war on terror" and authorized systematic cruel and inhuman treatment.

It's routine to hold the enemy for the duration of a war.  We have.  This is sinful though?

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


The Greatest Paper Map of the United States You'll Ever See: Made by one guy in Oregon. (Seth Stevenson, Jan. 2, 2012, Slate)

Yet, barring a miracle, this opus will barely be seen. Specialty map shops are disappearing. Bookstore chains tend to carry only the major map brands. And even if they were somehow made aware of Imus' marvelous creation, most school systems can't afford or can't be bothered to update their classroom maps. A map is a map, right? That circa 1982 Rand McNally wall blob does the job just fine, the thinking goes. [...]

There's also a certain flavor of geographic comprehension that comes with taking in a map all at once in a large format. Imus argues that you can't truly understand a place if you only use zoomed-in maps on teensy screens. (Evidence for this notion: Although we probably look at maps now more than at any other time in history--thanks to their digital ubiquity--our knowledge of geography hasn't improved at all. Studies show that our kids continue to live in geographic ignorance, in some cases worse than it was 15 years ago.) Looking at Imus' big, richly detailed map offers a holistic sense of what America looks like--how cities spread out along rivers, forests give way to plains, and mountains zigzag next to valleys. In Imus' exuberant view, a map like this might inspire enough geographic curiosity to guide the next generation of students back on course.

Finally, there's that simple, ancient joy of paper. The joy one derives from paging through a crisp hardcover book instead of switching on a Kindle. From doing the crossword in ink, on newsprint, instead of typing it into an iPad app. Can we agree that one needn't be a Luddite to recognize these small pleasures?

This object--painstakingly sculpted by a lone, impractical fellow--is a triumph of indie over corporate. Of analog over digital. Of quirk and caprice over templates and algorithms. It is delightful to look at. Edifying to study. And it may be the last important paper map ever to depict our country.

Surely that's worth some space on the wall of your den?

$39.95 at Imus Geographics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


The accidental universe: Science's crisis of faith (Alan P. Lightman, December 2011, Harper's)

As put to me recently by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg, a man as careful in his words as in his mathematical calculations, "We now find ourselves at a historic fork in the road we travel to understand the laws of nature. If the multiverse idea is correct, the style of fundamental physics will be radically changed."

The scientists most distressed by Weinberg's "fork in the road" are theoretical physicists. Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion. Experimental scientists occupy themselves with observing and measuring the cosmos, finding out what stuff exists, no matter how strange that stuff may be. Theoretical physicists, on the other hand, are not satisfied with observing the universe. They want to know why. They want to explain all the properties of the universe in terms of a few fundamental principles and parameters. These fundamental principles, in turn, lead to the "laws of nature," which govern the behavior of all matter and energy. An example of a fundamental principle in physics, first proposed by Galileo in 1632 and extended by Einstein in 1905, is the following: All observers traveling at constant velocity relative to one another should witness identical laws of nature. From this principle, Einstein derived his theory of special relativity. An example of a fundamental parameter is the mass of an electron, considered one of the two dozen or so "elementary" particles of nature. As far as physicists are concerned, the fewer the fundamental principles and parameters, the better. The underlying hope and belief of this enterprise has always been that these basic principles are so restrictive that only one, self-consistent universe is possible, like a crossword puzzle with only one solution. That one universe would be, of course, the universe we live in. Theoretical physicists are Platonists. Until the past few years, they agreed that the entire universe, the one universe, is generated from a few mathematical truths and principles of symmetry, perhaps throwing in a handful of parameters like the mass of the electron. It seemed that we were closing in on a vision of our universe in which everything could be calculated, predicted, and understood.

However, two theories in physics, eternal inflation and string theory, now suggest that the same fundamental principles from which the laws of nature derive may lead to many different self-consistent universes, with many different properties. It is as if you walked into a shoe store, had your feet measured, and found that a size 5 would fit you, a size 8 would also fit, and a size 12 would fit equally well. Such wishy-washy results make theoretical physicists extremely unhappy. Evidently, the fundamental laws of nature do not pin down a single and unique universe. According to the current thinking of many physicists, we are living in one of a vast number of universes. We are living in an accidental universe. We are living in a universe uncalculable by science.

Confronted with the fact that science points at a Creator there are only two options, accept Him or repudiate it.  The multiverse theory is just the repudiation of science because you dislike the results.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Why Mitt Romney will win in New Hampshire (MARK D. LENZI | 1/5/12, Politico)

Like most Republicans here, I have supported candidates across the ideological spectrum -- from Pat Buchanan to Sens. Richard Lugar to John McCain. (I worked for all three.) This seemingly erratic, non-ideological support is certainly not unique in New Hampshire. Yet it's what makes the state so hard to predict for outside political analysts.

So with the national media invasion of New Hampshire now in full swing, please take their analysis of why Romney is so strong here with a grain of salt. They offer the usual clichés about his vacation home and his being a "local boy."

But the real reason he will likely win here is that we like his private sector experience, his sensible foreign policy vision and believe he is the most capable of defeating President Barack Obama. In the pragmatic New Hampshire way, it's just that simple.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


South Sudan, Israel's New Ally : Time to lay the foundations for successful statehood. (Daniel Pipes, 1/04/12, National Review) 

It's not every day that the leader of a brand-new country makes his maiden foreign voyage to Jerusalem, capital of the most besieged country in the world -- but Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, accompanied by his foreign and defense ministers, did just that in late December. Israel's president, Shimon Peres, hailed his visit as a "moving and historic moment." The visit spurred talk of South Sudan's locating its embassy in Jerusalem, which would make it the only government anywhere in the world to do so. [...]

Starting in the mid-1990s, John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International redeemed tens of thousands of slaves in Sudan while Charles Jacobs of the American Anti-Slavery Group led a "Sudan Campaign" in the United States that brought together a wide coalition of organizations. As all Americans abhor slavery, the abolitionists formed a unique alliance of left and right, including Barney Frank and Sam Brownback, the Congressional Black Caucus and Pat Robertson, black pastors and white Evangelicals. In contrast, Louis Farrakhan was exposed and embarrassed by his attempts to deny slavery's existence in Sudan.

The abolitionist effort culminated in 2005, when the George W. Bush administration pressured Khartoum to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the war and gave southerners a chance to vote for independence. They enthusiastically did so in January 2011, when 98 percent voted for secession from Sudan, leading to the formation of the Republic of South Sudan six months later, an event hailed by Israel's Peres as "a milestone in the history of the Middle East."

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Brainy Ballplayers: Elite athletes get their heads in the game (Nick Bascom January 14th, 2012, Science News)

Superstar athletes are revered for their physical prowess, not for what goes on between their ears. And most postgame interviews do little to challenge the notion that athletes have more brawn than brains.

But brainpower has a vital role in elite sports performance, recent research shows.

"Brawn plays a part, but there's a whole lot more to it than that," says John Milton, a neuroscientist at the Claremont Colleges in California.

Whether on the court, field or course, the body depends on the brain for direction. But the brain is a busy taskmaster, with duties beyond guiding motion, making it difficult to focus on that particular job. Like chess masters and virtuoso musicians, superior athletes are better than novices at turning on just the parts of the brain relevant to the desired task, Milton's work reveals. "In professionals, the overall brain activation is much lower, but certain connections are enhanced," he says. In other words, experts employ only the finely tuned neural regions that help enhance performance, without getting bogged down by extraneous information.

Elite athletes' ability to focus the brain might even explain their struggle to eloquently describe performance after the game. Like a starship captain diverting power from life support to bolster shields in a battle, professional athletes temporarily shut down the memory-forming regions of the brain so as to maximize activity in centers that guide movement.

"That's why they usually thank God or their moms," says cognitive psychologist Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago. "They don't know what they did, so they don't know what else to say."

It's not stupidity; it's selectivity. And in the last few years scientists have been able to visually capture this concentrated, purposeful neural concert that takes place in the expert athlete's brain. But even these vibrant brain scans reveal only part of the success story. Other recent studies demonstrate how athletes' brains seamlessly interact with the muscular system to perfect and deploy movements -- and how the athletic brain anticipates actions in advance and updates planned responses as needed.

By examining how such brain processes lead to excellence in sports, as well as what goes wrong when athletes blow it in the big game, scientists think they can enhance training techniques and improve performance under pressure.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The Meaning of Mitt: Mitt Romney has long been a front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination--even if no one really knows who he is. Digging into the candidate's record as a Mormon leader, his business deals at Bain Capital, and that infamous car trip with the family dog strapped to the roof, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman pierce the Mitt bubble in an adaptation from their new book, The Real Romney, to find that the contradictions, question marks, and ambivalence go deeper than his politics. (Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, February 2012, Vanity Fair)

By the time Mitt Romney walked into the Faneuil Hall offices of his mentor and boss, Bill Bain, in the spring of 1983, the 36-year-old was already a business-consulting star, coveted by clients for his analytical cool. He was, as people had said of him since childhood, mature beyond his years and organized to a fault. Everything he took on was thought through in advance, down to the smallest detail; he was rarely taken by surprise. This day, however, would be an exception. Bill Bain, the founder of Bain & Company, one of the nation's premier consulting outfits, had a stunning proposition: he was prepared to entrust an entirely new venture to the striking young man seated before him.

From the moment they'd first met, Bill Bain had seen something special, something he knew, in Mitt Romney. Indeed, he had seen someone he knew when he interviewed Romney for a job in 1977: Mitt's father. "I remember [George] as president of American Motors when he was fighting the gas guzzlers and making funny ads So when I saw Mitt, I instantly saw George Romney. He doesn't look exactly like his dad did, but he very strongly resembles his father." Beyond appearances, Mitt had an air of great promise about him. He seemed brilliant but not cocky. All of the partners were impressed, and some were jealous. More than one partner told Bain, "This guy is going to be president of the United States someday."

The Bain Way, as it became known, was intensely analytical and data-driven, a quality it shared with some other firms' methods. But Bill Bain had come up with the idea of working for just one client per industry and devoting Bain & Company entirely to that company, with a strict vow of confidentiality. From the start Romney was perfectly adapted to the Bain Way and became a devoted disciple. Patient analysis and attention to nuance were what drove him. For six years, he delved into numerous unfamiliar companies, learned what made them work, scoped out the competition, and then presented his findings. An increasing number of clients preferred Romney over more senior partners. He was plainly a star, and Bain treated him as a kind of prince regent at the firm, a favored son. Just the man for the big move he now had in mind.

And so Bain made his pitch: Up to that point, Bain & Company could watch its clients prosper only from a distance, taking handsome fees but not directly sharing in profits. Bain's epiphany was that he would create a new enterprise that would invest in companies and share in their growth, rather than just advise them.

Starting almost immediately, Bain proposed, Romney would become the head of a new company to be called Bain Capital. With seed money from Bill Bain and other partners at the consulting firm, Bain Capital would raise tens of millions of dollars, invest in start-ups and troubled businesses, apply Bain's brand of management advice, and then resell the revitalized companies or sell their shares to the public at a profit. It sounded exciting, daring, new. It would be Romney's first chance to run his own firm and, potentially, to make a killing. It was an offer few young men in a hurry could refuse.

Yet Romney stunned his boss by doing just that. He explained to Bain that he didn't want to risk his position, earnings, and reputation on an experiment. He found the offer appealing but didn't want to make the decision in a "light or flippant manner." So Bain sweetened the pot. He guaranteed that if the experiment failed Romney would get his old job and salary back, plus any raises he would have earned during his absence. Still, Romney worried about the impact on his reputation if he proved unable to do the job. Again the pot was sweetened. Bain promised that, if necessary, he would craft a cover story saying that Romney's return to Bain & Company was needed due to his value as a consultant. "So," Bain explained, "there was no professional or financial risk." This time Romney said yes.

Thus began Romney's 15-year odyssey at Bain Capital. Boasting about those years when running for senator, governor, or president, Romney would usually talk about how he had helped create jobs at new or underperforming companies, and would claim that he had learned how jobs and businesses come and go. He'd typically mention a few well-known companies in which he and his partners had invested, such as Staples. But the full story of his years at Bain Capital is far more complicated and has rarely been closely scrutinized. Romney was involved in about a hundred deals, many of which have received little notice because the companies involved were privately held and not household names. The most thorough analysis of Romney's performance comes from a private solicitation for investment in Bain Capital's funds written by the Wall Street firm Deutsche Bank. The company examined 68 major deals that had taken place on Romney's watch. Of those, Bain had lost money or broken even on 33. Overall, though, the numbers were stunning: Bain was nearly doubling its investors' money annually, giving it one of the best track records in the business.

Romney was, by nature, deeply risk-averse in a business based on risk. He worried about losing the money of his partners and his outside investors--not to mention his own savings. "He was troubled when we didn't invest fast enough; he was troubled when we made an investment," said Bain partner Coleman Andrews. Sorting through possible investments, Romney met weekly with his young partners, pushing them for deeper analysis and more data and giving himself the final vote on whether to go forward. They operated more like a group of bankers carefully guarding their cash than an aggressive firm eager to embrace giant deals. Some partners suspected that Romney always had one eye on his political future. "I always wondered about Mitt, whether he was concerned about the blemishes from a business perspective or from a personal and political perspective," one partner said years later. The partner concluded that it was the latter. Whereas most entrepreneurs accepted failure as an inherent part of the game, the partner said, Romney worried that a single flop would bring disgrace. Every calculation had to be made with care.

Despite some initial struggles, 1986 would prove to be a pivotal year for Romney. It started with a most unlikely deal. A former supermarket executive, Thomas Stemberg, was trying to sell venture capitalists on what seemed like a modest idea: a cheaper way to sell paper clips, pens, and other office supplies. The enterprise that would become the superstore Staples at first met with skepticism. Small and midsize businesses at the time bought most of their supplies from local stationers, often at significant markups. Few people saw the profit-margin potential in selling such homely goods at discount and in massive volume. But Stemberg was convinced and hired an investment banker to help raise money. Romney eventually heard Stemberg's pitch, and he and his partners dug into Stemberg's projections. They called lawyers, accountants, and scores of business owners in the Boston area to query them on how much they spent on supplies and whether they'd be willing to shop at a large new store. The partners initially concluded that Stemberg was overestimating the market. "Look," Stemberg told Romney, "your mistake is that the guys you called think they know what they spend, but they don't." Romney and Bain Capital went back to the businesses and tallied up invoices. Stemberg's assessment that this was a hidden giant of a market seemed right after all.

Romney hadn't stumbled on Staples on his own. A partner at another Boston firm, Bessemer Venture Partners, had invited him to the first meeting with Stemberg. But after that, he took the lead; he finally had his hands on what looked like a promising start-up. Bain Capital invested $650,000 to help Staples open its first store, in Brighton, Massachusetts, in May 1986. In all, it invested about $2.5 million in the company. Three years later, in 1989, Staples sold shares to the public, when it was just barely turning a profit, and Bain reaped more than $13 million. It was a big success at the time. Yet it was very modest compared with later Bain deals that reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

For years Romney would cite the Staples investment as proof that he had helped create thousands of jobs. And it is true that his foresight in investing in Staples helped a major enterprise lift off. But neither Romney nor Bain directly ran the business, though Romney was active on its board. At the initial public offering, Staples was a firm of 24 stores and 1,100 full- and part-time jobs. Its boom years were still to come. Romney resigned his seat on the board of directors in 2001 in preparation for his run for governor. A decade later, the company had more than 2,200 stores and 89,000 employees.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Let nature nurture the gadget generation: The countryside can reveal to children that machines should be their slaves, not their masters. (Roger Scruton, 03 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)

If you ask why the English countryside has endured through the ravages of industrialisation and population growth, then the answer lies here: it has survived because the cult of nature, inspired by our romantic art and literature, was taken up by a society of volunteers, who had learnt to appreciate their surroundings. That is why wildlife habitats, waterways and public footpaths are still maintained and why schemes for motorways, wind farms and out-of-town shopping centres cannot be imposed on the British people without encountering fierce and public-spirited opposition, as the Government is discovering over its planning guidelines. It is why the National Trust has four million members, and why there is not a precious landscape in our country that does not have a local society devoted to its protection. Our national habit of solving problems by taking charge of them is embodied in people such as Mr Titchmarsh and the Telegraph's Robin Page. Robin Page's Countryside Restoration Trust has encouraged people to volunteer in the defence of native species, to restore wildlife-friendly farming practices, and to set an example to children of the kind that we received from our schooling in the post-war years.

The wildlife trusts, which have been in existence for 100 years, invite children to take part in walks and visits, to clean up threatened habitats, and to learn about the delicate balance of nature on which we all depend. And these volunteer associations recruit public-spirited adults who long to pass on their knowledge and love of nature to any child prepared to listen to them.

This learning encounter is what matters most for the future of our countryside, and of course it happens more rarely than most of us would like. But still, it happens. It is true that many children today live, through no fault of their own, in a virtual reality. Their world is a no-place, which they enter through pressing magic buttons, and which they cannot change but merely observe in a state of passive excitement.

Nevertheless, children are also creatures of the earth, whose souls and bodies are attached to life-processes that they share with the rest of nature. And such children are deeply affected by the encounter with nature, when an enthusiastic adult is there to explain it to them. Take children to visit farms, send them on adventure holidays, expose them to the real world on which they depend for their nourishment, get them involved in activities that bring them into contact with wild animals, and which teach them the ways of respect - do these things and children, in my experience, will quickly remember that they are not machines but living organisms, and that the gadgets are not their masters but their slaves.

January 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 PM


A Big Win for Romney in Iowa: The former governor of Massachusetts is now a heavy favorite for the nomination. (KARL ROVE, 1/04/12, WSJ)

Not long ago few thought Mitt Romney could win both the very conservative Iowa caucuses and then the quirky, slightly contrarian New Hampshire primary. If he did, most assumed he would have a lock on the Republican nomination. For understandable reasons: No other GOP presidential candidate in an open race has achieved back-to-back victories in these first two contests.

By this time next week, we'll know if Mr. Romney is 2-0. If so, he becomes the prohibitive favorite. [...]

The former Massachusetts governor should prepare to be the piñata at Saturday's debate in Manchester, N.H. It won't be pleasant, but he can solidify his lead if he deflects the attacks in a dignified, confident manner and avoids looking irritated or rattled. As in earlier debates, better to look amused rather than annoyed. Wherever possible, Mr. Romney should focus his fire on substantive disagreements with Mr. Obama while demonstrating his readiness to embrace bold reform (as he did in his entitlement reform speech endorsing the thrust of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget). Easier said than done.

If a year ago you said that Mitt Romney would win Iowa, be heading to New Hampshire with a large lead, and his chief opponent would be a former senator who lost his re-election race in a swing state by 18 points, you would have had to believe Mr. Romney would be on his way to winning the GOP nomination. And you know what? Now we'll see if it plays out that way.

Let the others run for the nomination while you run against Mr. Obama.  Ignore them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


The Eurofanatics should join the Marxists in the dustbin of history (Bruce Anderson, 03 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)

That leads us to the cruel doctrines of the modern era. Their perpetrators also thought that they were in the salvation business, not of souls but of mankind. This started with the French Revolution. Re-make the world, re-make humanity: outcome, the Terror. The Marxists took over the same agenda, and ended with a vastly greater terror. Then there was Apartheid. There is a common illusion that it was invented by Afrikaner policemen with size 13 boots. Not so: Apartheid was a product of the universities. Dr Verwoerd was a professor of sociology. Only intellectuals could have created such an absurd doctrine, so incompatible with the demographic facts.

With the European single currency, there is a similar syndrome. After 1945, a European political elite concluded that the continent had to move beyond the nation states, whose wars had almost destroyed it. That was neither an immoral response nor a foolish one.

But there were two difficulties. The first was the democratic deficit. If you decided to build a new Europe, it would help if the peoples of the old Europe were with you.

If the European public had been prepared to embrace the inevitable disruption and sacrifice while they transferred their allegiance to the Twelve Stars, it could have worked. They were never asked. Those who thought that they knew best just carried on with their federalising plots.

As they ignored the data, they also overlooked the second difficulty. To an extent inconceivable in 1945, old Europe recovered. The inhabitants of the nation states prospered, especially in the North. As most modern politicians have come to recognise, prosperous people do not like paying tax, even to subsidise their own country's less-well-off. When the money would go to other countries, the reluctance is compounded. So it would appear that the eurozone can neither go forward, nor backwards, nor stay the same. It almost seems as if the federasts have created a problem that is beyond the power of the human mind to solve.

In that case, what should Britain do? David Cameron has one problem: he cannot tell the truth. It must be so tempting to say: "We told you so. You have behaved with asinine stupidity. The only hope is to abandon the whole project, now." But it would sound like gloating. Mr Sarkozy would become even more hysterical.

The past two hundred years consist of nothing but the Anglosphere succeeding where the French/Europe fail.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 PM


Eight hundred years later, an inspiration: New bills would cite Magna Carta (Karen Langley and Matthew Spolar, December 24, 2011, Concord Monitor)

As in other lines of work, lunchtime discussions among lawmakers at the State House often spur ideas. Sometimes those ideas become bills. And sometimes those bills seemed less strange over lunch.

House Bill 1580 is the product of such a brainstorming session this summer between three freshman House Republicans: Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton. The eyebrow-raiser, set to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes next month, requires legislation to find its origin in an English document crafted in 1215.

"All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived," is the bill's one sentence.

The Magna Carta, while famed as the first major declaration of rights under English monarchy, is a bit outdated in its actual prose. The overarching idea of personal freedoms and liberties served as a benchmark for framers of the American Constitution, but most of the feudal barons' 63 demands of King John of England dealt with the tedium of the day. [...]

[K]ingsbury said the "primary motivation" for the bill was to honor the Magna Carta's upcoming 800-year anniversary in 2015. Citing quotes from the document will bring its historical importance to the public's attention, he said.

Vita admitted he needs to "bone up" on the content of the charter, but said "it's a document that still functions." He views the bill as similar to efforts in Congress requiring all legislation to cite constitutional authority.

"This is a little bit older than the Constitution, but the same thought is there," he said.

Asked about any legal hang-ups in requiring New Hampshire bills to derive their authority from an English charter, Kingsbury said "that's an interesting thought."

"Everything has an analog, everything has an origin, and this is part of the origin of what we have in our country," he said.

The past isn't that long ago here.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 PM


Hawaii Elevated Train Project Ready to Get Off the Ground (AMIR KHAN, January 4, 2012, IB Times)

Hawaii is slated to begin construction on an elevated train in Honolulu this spring, resolving a 40-year battle to build the mass transit system. The train, which would stretch from Honolulu to Waikiki, a span of 20 miles, would be 40 feet in the air and travel across a variety of areas, from farmland to commercial districts to beaches.

The elevated train will be suspended 40 feet in the air and have a 30-foot wide span with 21 stations. It is designed to alleviate some of the congestion on the roads from an increase of commuters and tourists, while encouraging new growth.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


David Hockney is always right and always wrong (Richard Dorment 03 Jan 2012 The Telegraph)

It's what he said later in the interview that I find so moving. "I used to point out, at art school you can teach the craft; it's the poetry you can't teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft.'' He's saying that students used to be taught how to draw perfectly at the expense of their individuality. Now scores of students graduate from art colleges believing that everything they do or touch or say can be labelled a work of art but they couldn't draw a rabbit if you held a gun to their heads.

...craftsmanship is hard.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Israeli minister warns religious-secular tensions could tear apart country's society (ROLANDO PUJOL, 1/04/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

The deepening tensions between ultra-Orthodox extremists and more moderate Jews that are roiling Israel "will tear Israeli society apart" unless cooler heads prevail, the nation's minister of religious affairs told Reuters on Wednesday.

His comments follow growing alarm over clashes between extremist sects within Israel's small but growing ultra-Orthodox community, and more moderate and secular Jews in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Bachmann: 'I have decided to stand aside' (Jamie Novogrod, 1/04/12, NBC)

"Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice," Bachmann said. "And so I have decided to stand aside."

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


The Post-Colonial Hangover: Some empires really were worse than others. (JOSHUA E. KEATING, JAN/FEB 2012, Foreign Policy)

Stanford University Ph.D. candidate Alexander Lee, with Professor Kenneth Schultz, looked at Cameroon, a rare country that includes large regions colonized by separate powers, Britain and France, and then united after independence in 1960. The only country with a similar history is Somalia, where it is understandably difficult to get economic data after more than three decades of war.

The results? There may be something to that British-legacy theory: Lee and Schultz found that formerly British rural areas of Cameroon today boast higher levels of wealth and better public services than those in the formerly French territory. To take one example, nearly 40 percent of rural households in the British provinces examined have access to piped water, while less than 15 percent on the French side do. This could suggest that the British colonial system, which had what Lee calls "greater levels of indirect rule and the granting of local-level autonomy to chiefs," was more beneficial -- or at least less damaging -- than the more hands-on French model, which involved a "greater level of forced labor."

It's even better if you were an island added to the Anglosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Nature's new surprise (The National, Jan 5, 2012)

Scientists studying marine life along Australia's Pacific coast have made the stunning discovery of the world's first hybrid sharks.

The two species of black tip sharks are admittedly very similar in evolutionary terms. But that they have been found to be interbreeding is still an unprecedented discovery, according to the researchers.

"It's very surprising because no one's ever seen shark hybrids before, " Jess Morgan, from the University of Queensland, told AFP. "This is evolution in action."

No one who paid any attention would be surprised that there's no such thing as species.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


A Life of Passion: Progressive Eugenics and Planned Parenthood (Angela Franks, January 4, 2012, The Public Discourse)

To a Sanger supporter, the accusation of eugenics touches a nerve. To understand this, one must grasp the subconscious syllogism underlying the emotional reaction: Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are progressive feminist institutions. Progressive feminism cannot coexist with eugenics, which is a malady of the right-wing. Therefore, Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are free of eugenic contamination. QED.

Something new has happened over the last ten years, however, that challenges such easy assumptions, and both Cain's and Clinton's language reflected it. No one with any command of the facts can deny any more that Sanger was in some way a eugenicist.

First, scholars of women's history have begun examining the feminist movement with more objectivity, producing a new literature that is less afraid to detail the unsavory aspects of feminist history. Historical work on eugenics has also begun to shift: Historians of the subject have long recognized Sanger's involvement in eugenics, but had not sufficiently acknowledged her importance for the movement.

Second, as positive as these improvements in scholarship are, probably the most crucial factor in bringing about a more realistic and balanced assessment of Sanger and eugenics has been the internet. Sanger's own words are more accessible than ever (a process aided by the multivolume edition of The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger). Planned Parenthood is simply unable to deny convincingly the truth about its founder.

And what is that truth? Margaret Sanger was many things admirable: a vibrant personality, a brilliant organizer, a canny reader of the temperature of the times, a woman who built powerful institutions in a man's world. But she was also many things ugly and even despicable: an egotist who frequently clashed with others; a free-love advocate who had a dizzying number of affairs and who hurt many men as a result; and a eugenicist who argued that "birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective."

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Will Republicans Hand the Left a VAT Victory? (DANIEL J. MITCHELL, 1/04/12, WSJ)

Most Republican supporters are drawn to the VAT for relatively benign reasons. It is a single-rate system, like the flat tax, for raising revenue, so it does not raise the possibility of class-warfare demagoguery. The VAT also doesn't hit savings and investment. And there are no distorting and corrupt loopholes. So there's a lot to like about the levy--or would be, if there were some practicable way of substituting a VAT for taxes on income.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Ed Miliband must trust his instincts and stand up for real change (Maurice Glasman, 04 January 2012, New Statesman)

On the face of it, these look like bad times for Labour and for Ed Miliband's leadership. There seems to be no strategy, no narrative and little energy. Old faces from the Brown era still dominate the shadow cabinet and they seem stuck in defending Labour's record in all the wrong ways - we didn't spend too much money, we'll cut less fast and less far, but we can't tell you how.

Labour is apparently pursuing a sectional agenda based on the idea that disaffected Liberal Democrats and public-sector employees will give Labour a majority next time around. But we have not won, and show no signs of winning, the economic argument. We have not articulated a constructive alternative capable of recognising our weaknesses in government and taking the argument to the coalition. We show no relish for reconfiguring the relationship between the state, the market and society. The world is on the turn, yet we do not seem equal to the challenge.

That is how it looks: Labour stranded in a Keynesian orthodoxy, with no language to talk straight to people. As Gramsci said of the 1920s, the old is dead and the new is not yet born, and in the meantime all kinds of morbid symptoms emerge, including the fraternisation of impossibles. I am aware that Blue Labour is seen in that light by many, a symptom of malaise rather than a strategy of renewal. But if Ed is going to offer the possibility of a transformational Labour government, then he is going to have to break the grip of progressive policy rationalism and grasp a bigger political change. He is going to have to be both insurgent and establishment, conservative and radical, democratic and competent, patriotic and internationalist.

In other words, 2012 must be a year of surprises, of engagement with the people and their concerns. 

In other words, Ed needs to be even more like Maggie than Tony was.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Placebo Effect Stronger Than We Thought?: Double-blind trials have long been considered the gold standard to determine drugs' effectiveness. Do we need to rethink that assumption, given the power of the placebo effect? (Beryl Lieff Benderly, 1/04/12, Miller-McCune)

There's one more treatment that seems to have, in some cases, eased symptoms of Parkinson's disease: the administration of placebos. How should such results be understood?

The prevalent assumption of researchers has long been that placebo treatments are inert, and that "placebo and treatment are independent, and that there's no interaction effect between" them, Cohen says. From this idea flows the conclusion that any sign of improvement among patients receiving a placebo must indicate the presence of some kind of experimental bias, by which scientists mean some factor that systematically distorts experimental results in favor of a particular conclusion. This logic served medical science well for many decades and has accounted for huge advances in both knowledge and cures. In cases of treatments intended to cure infections, kill microbes, or serve as vaccines, for example, inactive controls -- placebos -- can reveal whether or not a treatment really works.

But suppose the assumption that the control is inert -- that it has no effect and is independent of any results from the treatment being tested -- is not always correct. The human brain doesn't act like infectious microbes or research animals that cannot, so far as is known, believe that a treatment will make them well. Nor, as healers have understood for centuries, are positive changes from inactive treatments necessarily bogus. Rather, a placebo effect, even if caused by a well-intentioned sugar pill, can bring real improvement in a human patient's condition.

This has been well accepted since 1955, when Harvard anesthesiologist Henry Beecher published an influential article in The Journal of the American Medical Association called "The Powerful Placebo." An incident of benevolent deception that he had witnessed during World War II inspired Beecher to undertake postwar research on the placebo effect. He had seen a nurse tell a wounded soldier he was getting a shot of morphine when all she had to give him was salt water. The man's severe pain abated nonetheless. After the war, Beecher studied existing research and became convinced that about 35 percent of patients showed improvement that could be attributed to placebos. The news riveted the medical world.

In a 2010 article in The Lancet, Damien G. Finniss of the University of Sydney Pain Management and Research Institute, and co-authors, wrote, "Placebo effects are genuine psychobiological phenomenon" that occur because of "the overall therapeutic context" and can happen both in the laboratory and the clinic. Research well supports the fact that, unlike experimental animals, people given placebos hope or expect that treatment will make them better, but recent findings also show that there is a connection between Parkinson's and placebo use that is even deeper than hope or expectations.

"In Parkinson's disease ... the placebo effect is associated with release of endogenous dopamine" -- the very neurotransmitter in short supply because of the illness -- in two areas of the brain, write Sarah C. Lidstone and colleagues at the Pacific Parkinson's Research Centre, in the Archives of General Psychiatry. It's possible that the placebo effect may act on the very brain pathways involved in the disease.

Such findings about placebos and dopamine in Parkinson's patients indicate that old assumptions need revision, argue Finniss and other researchers. The late J. Stephen Fink, a Parkinson's researcher who chaired the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, for example, noted in an article on the American Parkinson's Disease Association website that the gains that placebo recipients experience in Parkinson's trials may even result in part from "actual physiological changes in the damaged brain dopamine nerve cells."

These developments require researchers to "reconsider placebos and placebo effects," looking not at what they can't accomplish, but at what they are "actually doing to the patient," write Finniss and co-authors. A paradox lies at the center of the traditional concept, they note, because an inert agent, by definition, can't have an effect. Therefore, the role that a patient's expectations might have in the results of a trial needs to be understood as an important factor. Could placebo responses possibly trigger or even enhance the effects of treatments? The reconsideration that Finniss and co-authors are advocating could give placebo reactions a specific role in treatment techniques and even "encourage the use of treatments that stimulate placebo effects," they write.

It's a good way to cut rising medical costs too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Montana Supreme Court upholds election spending limits (Kim Murphy, 1/04/12, Los Angeles Times)

In a 5-2 opinion, the Montana court's majority concluded that the state's long history of well-funded natural resource extractors, small population and historically inexpensive political campaigns allow it to demonstrate compelling government interest in regulating corporate financial muscle. Even one of the justices who dissented -- saying that the U.S. Supreme Court left no room for states to exempt themselves -- argued forcefully against the broad corporate latitude encompassed in the Citizens United decision.

"Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people -- human beings -- to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government," Justice James C. Nelson wrote in his reluctant dissent.

"Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons," he wrote.

Pretending that they are persons is just a case of judicial activism at its worst.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


TV Makers Seek Fatter Profits in Thinner Sets: LG, Samsung Ready Widescreens That Are Less Than an Inch Thick, but at What Price? One Estimate Says $8,000 (EVAN RAMSTAD And JUNG-AH LEE, 12/31/11, WSJ)

Television manufacturers, stung by steep profit declines this year, will start making TV sets that are even thinner and lighter in hopes of sparking new consumer interest and driving average prices higher.

LG Electronics Co., the world's second-largest TV manufacturer, said Friday it will sell a 55-inch TV that is just 3/16 of an inch thick and weighs only 16.5 pounds. Crosstown rival Samsung Electronics Co., the world's largest maker of TVs, is expected to unveil a similarly sized TV at the industry's big trade fair, called the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas in early January.

The companies aren't yet talking about pricing, but are expected to charge a hefty premium for the products. NPD DisplaySearch estimates the new 55-inch TV models will start selling for about $8,000 in the third quarter of 2012, falling below $4,000 by the end of 2013 as sales volumes increase and companies find ways to manufacture the sets less expensively.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


China's President Lashes Out at Western Culture (EDWARD WONG, 1/03/12, NY Times)

The essay, which was signed by Mr. Hu and based on a speech he gave in October, drew a sharp line between the cultures of the West and China and effectively said the two sides were engaged in an escalating war. It was published in Seeking Truth, a magazine that evolved from a publication founded by Mao Zedong as a platform for establishing Communist Party principles.

"We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration," Mr. Hu said, according to a translation by Reuters. [...]

Chinese leaders have long lamented the fact that Western expressions of popular culture and art seem to overshadow those from China. The top-grossing films in China have been "Avatar" and "Transformers 3," and the music of Lady Gaga is as popular here as that of any Chinese pop singer. In October, at the sixth plenum of the party's Central Committee, where Mr. Hu gave his speech, officials discussed the need for bolstering the "cultural security" of China.

"The overall strength of Chinese culture and its international influence is not commensurate with China's international status," Mr. Hu said in his essay, according to another translation.

"The international culture of the West is strong while we are weak," he added.

It's revealing that China's only strengths are a function of abandoning its own past and adopting the capitalism of the West. It has nothing indigenous to offer the world.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Capitalism is busting out all over: Signs of resilience in troubled times (Chicago Tribune, January 4, 2012)

[I]t's not as if any other system is rising up to take the place of the one we've got.

On the contrary, capitalism is busting out all over.

Who imagined during the Cold War that Russia would join the free-marketeers at the World Trade Organization, which approved its entry last month? Or that China would push, with strong justification, for more influence over the global bankers at the International Monetary Fund?

State control lingers in some sectors, and government subsidies remain problematic in every big nation. Government management of national economies, however, is falling by the boards. Western-style private enterprise, despite its penchant for booms and busts, will lead the world out of the mess it led the world into. We should all be grateful for that, because it is the most efficient path forward.

Where to? The destination that matters most for the leading economies: Out of debt.

The ease with which capitalism sailed through the recent credit crisis is the most salient feature of the entire episode.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Iowa's a Win for Romney as Strategy Becomes Clear for Next Primaries (Rich Galen Jan 4, 2012, Daily Beast)

The Romney theory: Ron Paul will never be the GOP nominee. The best he can do is exact some language in the platform and get a prime speaking slot at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, in August.

Santorum did so well here because he has essentially lived among the beans, corn, and sorghum for the past 10 months and it paid off.  That, of course, will not work in New Hampshire, six days away, nor in South Carolina, 10 days after that, nor in Florida a week following South Carolina.

The political reality is that none of the candidates who might win the nomination have the capacity to fully operate in more than one state at a time. They are essentially running a serial campaign.  Romney is running a parallel campaign. In fact, his campaign announced a few hours before the caucuses began that it was buying advertising time in Florida. Florida?  Hell, that's four weeks away!

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Media Hype About Mitt Romney'