February 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Welfare reform worked: The success story among poor mothers shows how public policy can reduce poverty by encouraging individuals to work. (Peter H. Schuck and Ron Haskins, February 28, 2012, LA Times)

The data refute these dire predictions. In fact, according to Census Bureau data, between 1996 and 2000, the percentage of never-married mothers in jobs increased by about a third (to 66%), while the poverty rate for these mothers and their children declined by about a third (to 40%). For the poorest of the poor, this large an improvement based on their own efforts was unprecedented. Since then, two recessions have reduced these gains somewhat; their employment rate is down to 58.7% (still better than for women generally) and their poverty rate is up to 49.3%.

Yet even in the worst recession since the Depression, more are employed and they are less poor than they were before the 1996 law. In fact, researchers Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago and James Sullivan of Notre Dame have found that if all the work-based benefits given to low-income workers were included -- such benefits are mostly ignored by the official poverty measure -- the incomes of these mothers and children would be even higher and their poverty rate even lower.

The reasons for this policy success are clear, suggesting some lessons for the future. The 1996 law created strong incentives, both positive and negative, for the most uneducated, untrained and unpromising welfare recipients to join the workforce. As shown by their high employment rates, poor mothers responded to these incentives even more resourcefully than most policymakers had expected despite their often chaotic domestic circumstances. The federal law meshed well with many experimental state and local welfare-to-work programs, helping states pay for job search and readiness, health insurance, child care and other vital work support services.

Bill Clinton won two elections on reforming Welfare.  W won two on reforming SS.  Mitt Romney just needs the courage of their convictions.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Ryan's Medicare Revolution: With little fanfare, the Wisconsin Republican congressman has persuaded presidential candidates and even some Democrats. (FRED BARNES, 2/29/12, WSJ)

Over the past year, an entitlement revolution has taken place on Capitol Hill. It has gotten relatively little attention from the media. Yet its implications for the budget deficit and the health care of senior citizens are enormous.

The revolution involves Medicare, the health-care program for the elderly and the single biggest cause of America's looming debt crisis. Reform of Medicare would be achieved by a policy known as "premium support." It would bring consumer choice and spending restraint to the beleaguered program.

You may not have heard of premium support. But thanks to the efforts of Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, it is now the leading alternative to current, fee-for-service Medicare. Indeed, it is the only credible alternative.

How would premium support work? Beginning in 2022, it would create a marketplace in which seniors have a fixed amount of money to buy health insurance. The amount of "support" would match the price of the insurance "premium." The poor would get additional support to offset out-of-pocket expenses. The better-off would get less. Payments would be "risk-adjusted" so the sick would be assured of full coverage.

Shhhhh...the Right thinks we're losing...
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Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


The Unbreakable Smartphone That Lasts For Weeks Without Recharging: It sounds utopian, but a new kind of memory is going to make your phone drastically more efficient and less prone to breaking down. (Ariel Schwartz, 2/29/12, CoExist)
Stuart Parkin's digital storage research is the reason why the video stored on your cell phone works. It's also the reason why Google and Facebook can build giant data centers. The IBM researcher's work on data storage has changed the way we use electronic devices. Now he's about to do it again--this time, by soaring past Moore's Law with a new kind of memory technology that's 100 times faster and far more energy efficient than what we have now.

The technology is called racetrack memory, and eight or so years from now, it might be what's storing data in your laptop or cell phone. Racetrack memory is more stable than flash (which is what Apple is rumored to be using for memory in the next generation of MacBooks), allows for long battery life, and stores unfathomable amounts of data. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Describe Willis Earl Beal's sound however you want - stripped down, raw, gritty, emotional, soulful - but this burgeoning anti-folk hero from the South Side of Chicago is nothing but real, and people are starting to notice. Beal, who fronted Chicago blues outfit The Ghostones as recently as last November, is a unique voice in today's overly auto-tuned and digital music scene. Recording directly to tape (paging Dave Grohl), he crafts songs that indicate a wide range of influences from blues, soul, and old school R&B to folk, punk, and indie, and it's all done in an incredibly lo-fi fashion, giving the recordings the feel of an old Robert Johnson vinyl record.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Say hi to the Raspberry Pi, the $35 computer (Megan Riesz / February 29, 2012, CS Monitor)

Released early today, the inexpensive computer sold out within hours, sending the websites of distributors Premier Farnell and RS Components into ordering frenzies.

Raspberry Pi is the size of a chip, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The circuit board has an Ethernet connection, an audio jack, two USB slots, and a port for an SD memory, plus RCA video and HDMI capabilities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Israel raids Palestinian TV stations (Joel Greenberg, 2/29/12, Washington Post)

Israeli troops raided two private Palestinian television stations in the West Bank city of Ramallah early Wednesday, seizing transmitters and other equipment, the army and Palestinian officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM

(via Bart):

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


The Keystone Fight Is Uniting Tea Partiers With Environmentalists (BRIAN BEUTLER, FEBRUARY 27, 2012, TPM)

In Washington, DC, the fight over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline mostly divides common enemies: Republicans and Democrats; environmentalists and fossil fuel interests; big business and the federal bureaucracy.

But though the project exists in a state of suspended animation, TransCanada -- the company that wants to connect the tar sands in Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico -- is preparing to build anyhow. In particular, on the portion of the pipeline that would link Nebraska to Texas, TransCanada has threatened to use disputed eminent domain powers to condemn privately held land, over the owners' objections. And that's creating unusual allies -- Occupiers, Tea Partiers, environmentalists, individualists -- united to stop TransCanada from threatening water supplies, ancient artifacts, and people's basic property rights.

How can anyone not love politics?

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


The Democrats' nightmare scenario (Greg Sargent, 2/29/12, Washington Post)

If Republicans regain the Senate, will they seek to reform the filibuster, sweeping away an obstacle that bedeviled Dems and making it far easier for them to enact their own agenda with a simple Senate majority?

Matt Steinglass argues that the GOP will get rid of the filibuster because unlike Democrats, they're not skittish about doing what it takes to realize their legislative will. But Kevin Drum makes a strong argument that Republicans won't take the risk because the GOP's demographic foundation is deteriorating, meaning it's only a matter of time until Dems retake the Senate.

I just checked in with Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein, and he argued that there is indeed a scenario under which Republicans would likely target the filibuster.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Michigan Seems Like a Dream to Me Now (ANDREW ROSENTHAL, 2/29/12, NY Times)

Are you still trying to wrap your head around last night's Republican primaries, and what they mean?  Mitt Romney won Michigan, which everyone expected. But he didn't win by much, and may split the delegates down the middle with Rick Santorum. So was it a "real" victory? He also won Arizona, but does anyone care? And is Super Tuesday still going to be super?

Here's my CliffsNotes version: Mr. Romney was always going to be the nominee. He is still going to be the nominee.

...Jeb and Mitch didn't run; TPaw quit (too early); and Perry was a disaster.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Threats and promises in global warming, says study (Pilita Clark, 2/26/12, Financial Times)

It is not often that reports on climate change highlight the benefits of global warming, as well as the risks.
Yet that is what the 464-page Climate Change Risk Assessment published on Thursday by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seeks to do.

But it also forecasts several benefits of global warming, including the chance to grow commercial crops more suited to warmer climates, and what it calls the "potentially very large" social and economic benefits of falling demand for winter heating that could add up to more than £1bn a year by the 2050s.

That is probably to be expected in a report supposed to help the government forge policies to help the UK adapt to climate change, said Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham research institute on climate change and the environment at the London School of Economics. "That does require that it recognises opportunities and not just threats."

But it is also true that critics have rounded on some recent climate studies for failing to emphasise potential benefits, he added. Researchers are more aware of such criticism now, he said, "but it's important to recognise that in all these assessments, the potential upsides seem to be fewer and more far between than the potential downsides".

Climate change may be the most entertaining public issue going, what with the curious belief of the Scientific that but for human activity the climate would be unchanging.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


2012 or Never: Republicans are worried this election could be their last chance to stop history. This is fear talking. But not paranoia. (Jonathan Chait, Feb 26, 2012, New York)

What's novel about the current spate of Republican millennialism is that it's not a mere rhetorical device to rally the faithful, nor even simply an expression of free-­floating terror, but the premise of an electoral strategy.

In that light, the most surprising response to the election of 2008 is what did not happen. Following Obama's win, all sorts of loose talk concerning the Republican predicament filled the air. How would the party recast itself? Where would it move left, how would it find common ground with Obama, what new constituencies would it court?

The most widely agreed-upon component of any such undertaking was a concerted effort to win back the Hispanic vote. It seemed like a pure political no-brainer, a vital outreach to an exploding electoral segment that could conceivably be weaned from its Democratic leanings, as had previous generations of Irish and Italian immigrants, without altering the party's general right-wing thrust on other issues. George W. Bush had tried to cobble together a comprehensive immigration-reform policy only to see it collapse underneath a conservative grassroots revolt, and John McCain, who had initially co-sponsored a bill in the Senate, had to withdraw his support for it in his pursuit of the 2008 nomination.

In the wake of his defeat, strategists like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy urged the GOP to abandon its stubborn opposition to reform. Instead, incredibly, the party adopted a more hawkish position, with Republicans in Congress rejecting even quarter-loaf compromises like the Dream Act and state-level officials like Jan Brewer launching new restrictionist crusades. This was, as Thomas Edsall writes in The Age of Austerity, "a major gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote."

None of this is to say that Republicans ignored the rising tide of younger and browner voters that swamped them at the polls in 2008. Instead they set about keeping as many of them from the polls as possible. The bulk of the campaign has taken the form of throwing up an endless series of tedious bureaucratic impediments to voting in many states--ending same-day voter registration, imposing onerous requirements upon voter-registration drives, and upon voters themselves. "Voting liberal, that's what kids do," overshared William O'Brien, the New Hampshire House speaker, who had supported a bill to prohibit college students from voting from their school addresses. What can these desperate, rearguard tactics accomplish? They can make the electorate a bit older, whiter, and less poor. They can, perhaps, buy the Republicans some time.

...is that trying to keep the party old and white is what keeps it from embracing the sorts of reforms that W and Paul Ryan and others advocate.  

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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Arab Spring Headed to Iran, Warns Senior Muslim Brotherhood Member (AMRUTHA GAYATHRI, February 29, 2012, IB Times)

A senior Muslim Brotherhood member and the head of the foreign affairs committee in the Egyptian parliament said on Monday that the popular political uprising that swept across the Middle East last year, overthrowing many dictatorial regimes including that of Egypt, is headed to Iran.

Essam al-Arian, an Egyptian lawmaker, said Egypt could potentially lead the changes in the region in the wake of the political turbulence referred to as the Arab Spring, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

This is the first instance of a senior and official representative of the Muslim Brotherhood speaking publicly about the possibility of the revolution reaching Iran.

Iranians start with a big advantage because they can just vote their leader out if they return to the polls.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Romney Regains Frontrunner Status (Fred Barnes, February 29, 2012, Weekly Standard)

To fight off Santorum, Romney unveiled a supply-side tax plan to cut income tax rates 20 percent across the board. He also proposed reforming Medicare in a way similar to that of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, the top Republican thinker on domestic policy.

And when Romney spoke at a rally after his Michigan victory, he downgraded the pitch that used to dominate his campaign appearances - his experience in business, with the 2002 winter Olympics, and as governor of Massachusetts. That was relegated to the tail end of his speech.

Instead he stressed a new slogan: "More jobs, less debt, smaller government." He said, if elected, he will save the country from the "deficits, debt, and decline" that President Obama has imposed on the country. The federal government, he added, will be "simpler, smaller, smarter."

And he ticked off a list of provisions in his tax reform scheme, including elimination of the estate, overseas corporate profits, and alternative minimum taxes.  For a moment, Romney sounded almost wonkish.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Quinn's bad news budget: 'Our rendezvous with reality has arrived' (Monique Garcia, Ray Long and Alissa Groeninger, February 22, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn today delivered a bad news budget speech, calling for prison closures, layoffs and cutbacks to health care for the poor.

"This budget contains truths you may not want to hear," Quinn said. "But these are truths that you do need to know. And I believe you can handle the truth."

Quinn said too many governors and lawmakers have spent too much over the past 35 years.

"Today, our rendezvous with reality has arrived," Quinn said.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


The Power of Habit: How the history of toothpaste explains why you can't lose weight. (Charles Duhigg, Feb. 28, 2012, Slate)

So, how did Hopkins start America brushing?

By taking advantage of a quirk in the neurology of habits. It wouldn't be until almost a century later that medical schools and psychology labs would fully understand why habits exist and how they function. Today, we can create and change habits almost like flipping a switch.

But there are historical outliers who seemed to intuitc or accidentally stumble into - these insights before anyone else. Hopkins created a toothbrushing habit by identifying a simple and obvious cue, delivering a clear reward and --most important --by creating a neurological craving.

And craving, it turns out, is what powers a habit.

When Hopkins signed on to promote Pepsodent, he realized he needed to find a trigger for its daily use. He sat down with a pile of dental textbooks. "It was dry reading," he later wrote in his autobiography. "But in the middle of one book I found a reference to the mucin plaques on teeth, which I afterward called 'the film.'
"That gave me an appealing idea. I resolved to advertise this toothpaste as a creator of beauty."

Soon, cities were plastered with Pepsodent ads. "Just run your tongue across your teeth," read one. "You'll feel a film--that's what makes your teeth look 'off color' and invites decay."

"Note how many pretty teeth are seen everywhere," read another. "Millions are using a new method of teeth cleansing. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth? Pepsodent removes the film!"

All habits--no matter how large or small--have three components, according to neurological studies. There's a cue--a trigger for a particular behavior; a routine, which is the behavior itself; and a reward, which is how your brain decides whether to remember a habit for the future. When Hopkins identified tooth film, he found a cue that had existed for eons. Moreover, the reward that Hopkins was promising was hard to resist. Who doesn't want a prettier smile? Particularly when all it takes is a quick brush with Pepsodent?

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Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


Romney Claims Victory in Michigan and Arizona (JEFF ZELENY, 2/29/12, NY Times)

Mitt Romney fought back a vigorous challenge from Rick Santorum in Michigan on Tuesday, narrowly carrying his native state, and won the Arizona primary in a pair of contests that reasserted his control over the Republican presidential race as it advances to critical Super Tuesday contests next week.

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February 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 PM


Fed turns $2.8 billion profit on AIG bonds (Annalyn Censky, February 28, 2012, CNNMoney)

Remember those pesky mortgage-backed securities the Federal Reserve had to take off AIG's hands at the worst of the financial crisis?

The Fed just finished selling all of them, and their return on investment isn't too shabby. The sales of the $19.5 billion portfolio turned a $2.8 billion profit for taxpayers.

Avoiding a Depression and turning a buck?  We need more MBA presidents and fewer lawyers..

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


Harper's strategy gets double boost: Obama and McGuinty prove Ottawa's ­market-based energy plan is working (Peter Foster  Feb 28, 2012, National Post)

The Harper government's notion of an energy strategy -- emphasize the power and efficiency of markets, get rid of red tape, finger environmental radicals, and remind the U.S. how secure Canadian supplies are -- received a double boost this week.

The obvious one was the Obama administration's embrace of the news that TransCanada plans to proceed with the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. This is half the pipeline whose approval the White House recently nixed. The White House also seems favourably disposed towards a more ecologically sensitive route for the Northern leg. Just don't ask for any decisions until after the presidential election. [...]

Mr. Obama's new vision of a bright future for hydrocarbons is also related to the fact that the global green energy bandwagon has hit less of a pothole than a chasm. Not only is it economically unsustainable, but the "settled" science behind it is being increasingly questioned, while the Kyoto political process is stone dead.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Justices Divided on Corporate Liability for Human Rights Violations (Ariane de Vogue, Feb 28, 2012, ABC News)

Kathleen M. Sullivan, a lawyer for Shell, argued that her client could not be sued under the federal law in question -- the Alien Tort Statute -- because it applies to individuals, not corporations. She interpreted a footnote in a prior Supreme Court case to say that courts must look to international law for guidance and that international law does not recognize corporate responsibility for the alleged offenses.

"International law holds corporations liable for some international law violations," Sullivan said, and she pointed to conventions on the financing of terrorism and the bribery of public officials. "But the human rights offenses here do not arise from conventions like those which allow corporate liability. To the contrary. The human rights offenses here arise from conventions that speak to individual liability. The liability of individuals."

Justice Elena Kagan pressed Sullivan on whether corporations are "meaningfully different from individuals."

Why would anyone have thought that conservative activism on the Court would leave the law any more coherent than liberal activism did?

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Market Exuberance? What Market Exuberance? (Tom Sowanick, 2/28/12, IB Times)

While equity markets have risen sharply since bottoming in the spring of 2009, the rally has been accompanied with an even sharper increase in corporate earnings. The result is that the global rally has yet to lift the market's price/earnings (P/E) multiples to even their averages of the past four years.

The S&P 500 Index is currently sporting a P/E of 14.15-x on 2012 earnings and 11.67-x for 2013. These multiples compare quite favorably with the four-year average multiple of 15.6-x.

Germany's DAX Index is currently priced at a P/E of 11.87-x versus its four-year average of 17.4-. The Hang Seng Index of Hong Kong is priced at a multiple of 10.0-x with a four year average of 13.6-x. Brazil's Bovespa Index is priced to an 11.4-x multiple versus its four-year average of 14-x.

Another interesting indicator to consider is the investor sentiment reading for bulls and bears. Since the start of the year, bullish sentiment has declined from 48.88 to 43.69, while bearish sentiment has increased from 17.16 to 27.51. Since the start of the stock market rally in March of 2009, bullish sentiment readings have averaged 39.26 with a high read of 63.3 and low read of 18.92. During the same period, the bearish reading
has averaged 34.99, with a high read of 70.27 and a low read of 16.4.

From these data points it is hard to find any hint that exuberance is being priced into the market.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is Wikileaks for Taking It Seriously (Max Fisher, FEB 27 2012, Atlantic)

Maybe what these emails actually reveal is how a Texas-based corporate research firm can get a little carried away in marketing itself as a for-hire CIA and end up fooling some over-eager hackers into believing it's true. 

The group's reputation among foreign policy writers, analysts, and practitioners is poor; they are considered a punchline more often than a source of valuable information or insight. As a former recipient of their "INTEL REPORTS" (I assume someone at Stratfor signed me up for a trial subscription, which appeared in my inbox unsolicited), what I found was typically some combination of publicly available information and bland "analysis" that had already appeared in the previous day's New York Times. A friend who works in intelligence once joked that Stratfor is just The Economist a week later and several hundred times more expensive. As of 2001, a Stratfor subscription could cost up to $40,000 per year.

It's true that Stratfor employs on-the-ground researchers. They are not spies. On today's Wikileaks release, one Middle East-based NGO worker noted on Twitter that when she met Stratfor's man in Cairo, he spoke no Arabic, had never been to Egypt before, and had to ask her for directions to Tahrir Square. Stratfor also sometimes pays "sources" for information. Wikileaks calls this "secret cash bribes," hints that this might violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and demands "political oversight." 

For comparison's sake, The Atlantic often sends our agents into such dangerous locales as Iran or Syria. We call these men and women "reporters." Much like Statfor's agents, they collect intelligence, some of it secret, and then relay it back to us so that we may pass it on to our clients, whom we call "subscribers." Also like Stratfor, The Atlantic sometimes issues "secret cash bribes" to on-the-ground sources, whom we call "freelance writers." We also prefer to keep their cash bribes ("writer's fees") secret, and sometimes these sources are even anonymous. 

So why do Wikileaks and their hacker source Anonymous seem to consider Stratfor, which appears to do little more than combine banal corporate research with media-style freelance researcher arrangements, to be a cross between CIA and Illuminati? The answer is probably a combination of naivete and desperation.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


If You Feel O.K., Maybe You Are O.K. (H. GILBERT WELCH, 2/27/12, NY Times)

EARLY diagnosis has become one of the most fundamental precepts of modern medicine. It goes something like this: The best way to keep people healthy is to find out if they have (pick one) heart disease, autism, glaucoma, diabetes, vascular problems, osteoporosis or, of course, cancer -- early. And the way to find these conditions early is through screening. [...]

Recently, however, there have been rumblings within the medical profession that suggest that the enthusiasm for early diagnosis may be waning. Most prominent are recommendations against prostate cancer screening for healthy men and for reducing the frequency of breast and cervical cancer screening. Some experts even cautioned against the recent colonoscopy results, pointing out that the study participants were probably much healthier than the general population, which would make them less likely to die of colon cancer. In addition there is a concern about too much detection and treatment of early diabetes, a growing appreciation that autism has been too broadly defined and skepticism toward new guidelines for universal cholesterol screening of children.

The basic strategy behind early diagnosis is to encourage the well to get examined -- to determine if they are not, in fact, sick. But is looking hard for things to be wrong a good way to promote health? The truth is, the fastest way to get heart disease, autism, glaucoma, diabetes, vascular problems, osteoporosis or cancer ... is to be screened for it. In other words, the problem is overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Eat It, Range Anxiety! Data Tells The Truth About Electric Cars: A new infographic should put to rest everyone's fears about electric cars. (Morgan Clendale, 2/28/12, Co.exist)

Since the advent of the electric car consumers have been continually reassured that, no, in fact, you really probably don't drive more than a few miles a day and an EV will be a totally acceptable transportation choice for you. And yet, the idea of range anxiety--that you will be left on the side of the road as your sad little electric car loses juice--persists. In this series of infographics from GE's Ecomagination, the company aims to challenge some of our assumptions about EVs and driving habits in general.

ev-infograph-2.jpg (585×326)

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think: a review of Abundance:  The Future is Better Than You Think By Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Kate Vander Wiede, February 28, 2012, CS Monitor)

"Imagine a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care, and nonpolluting, ubiquitous energy. Building this better world is humanity's grandest challenge," they write at the book's inception.

And then they issue a gentle challenge: "What follows is the story of how we can rise to meet it."

In just 250 pages, Kotler and Diamandis offer a blue print of what it will take to achieve abundance. They call it the Abundance Pyramid. First, ensure food, water and shelter for every person on the planet. Then, guarantee abundant energy, educational opportunities, and communications and information access. Finally, produce a world where freedom and health care is in the province of all.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Study: Cheaper gas lowered emissions (UPI, Feb. 27, 2012)

[T]he primary factor in the reduction in emissions from power generation was a decrease in the price of natural gas, which allowed the industry to reduce its traditional reliance on coal, they said.

The economic model used to determine this also suggests emissions could be cut further by the introduction of a carbon tax, with negligible impact on the price of electricity for consumers, the researches reported in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

"Generating 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity from coal releases twice as much CO2 to the atmosphere as generating the same amount from natural gas, so a slight shift in the relative prices of coal and natural gas can result in a sharp drop in carbon emissions," environmental studies professor Michael B. McElroy said.

February 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Black pastors take heat for not viewing same-sex marriage as civil rights matter (Marc Fisher, 2/22/12, Washington Post)

Nathaniel Thomas spent decades as an administrator in Howard University's student affairs office, counseling young people not only about their course work but also about their personal quests for justice. He came to the ministry at the dawn of middle age, eager to help people, and especially fellow black men, discover in the word of God a path out of despair.

Over the past couple of years, as Thomas and dozens of other black clergymen in Prince George's County have stood on the front line of the campaign against same-sex marriage, he has come to see the revolution at hand -- in his view, a rebellion against religion and tradition -- as an assault on the sustainability of the black family.

Which is why Thomas and his friend Reynold Carr, director of the Prince George's Baptist Association, are gearing up for the next battle, a statewide ballot referendum in November to challenge the legalization of same-sex marriage, which the state House of Delegates approved last Friday. The state Senate passed a measure Thursday evening; Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said he will sign the bill. The pastors are not predicting victory in a referendum, but they think they stand a better chance among voters than politicians.

"This is a cultural war, a cultural shift, and those who are in rebellion have decided to portray us as bigots and prejudiced," says Thomas, pastor of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church, a trim, pale-brick building across from a storage facility on a dead-end road just inside the Beltway near Pennsylvania Avenue.

He knows that some gay activists are incredulous that black ministers could oppose a civil rights initiative. " 'How dare a black preacher take this position,' they say, 'because you've felt this pain,' and I have," he says. Over the decades, he has marched for voting and housing rights and fought for equal protection for blacks.

But Thomas and the 77 other Baptist ministers in the association do not see same-sex marriage as a civil rights matter. Rather, they say, it is a question of Scripture, of whether a country based on Judeo-Christian principles will honor what's written in Romans or decide to make secular decisions about what's right. In Maryland, as in California and New York, opinion polls have shown that although a majority of white voters support recognition of same-sex marriage, a majority of blacks oppose it, often on religious grounds.

One should always be prejudiced against ideas and behaviors that are immoral.
Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


White House Backs Part of Keystone XL Pipeline (PIERRE BERTRAND, February 27, 2012, IB Times)

White House officials Monday welcomed plans by TransCanada to reapply for the Keystone XL pipeline and showed support for the Canadian company's aims to build the southern portion of the controversial pipeline as a standalone project. [...]

White House Press secretary Jay Carney announced President Barack Obama backed the separate project.

"As the President made clear in January, we support the company's interest in proceeding with this project, which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight year high," Carney said. "Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production."

Bizarrely, there were people who thought the White House opposed the pipeline.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Battery breakthrough could bring electric cars to all (Katie Fehrenbacher,  Feb. 26, 2012, GigaOm) 

A startup working on battery technology says it's developed a key breakthrough that could one day lead to an electric car that has a 300-mile range and could cost around $25,000 to $30,000. Envia Systems, backed by venture capitalists, General Motors, and the Department of Energy, plans to announce on Monday at the ARPA-E conference that the company has created a lithium ion battery that has an energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, which Envia CEO Atul Kapadia told me in an interview could be the tipping point for bringing electric cars to mainstream car owner.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


The American bus revival (Brian Wheeler, 2/26/12, BBC News)

[R]ising petrol prices and a new breed of British-owned discount operators, based in the densely populated north-east corridor, have made the coach a viable alternative to the car, plane or train for a growing number of travellers.

According to the authors of a report by DePaul University's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, Megabus and BoltBus could even make bus travel "cool".

The two British-owned companies, which went head-to-head on key US routes for the first time in 2008, increased their number of trips by 32% last year and are adding new routes all the time.

The key to their success is offering tickets between major cities such as New York and Philadelphia, or Boston and Washington, for as little as $1 (63p), with typical one-way fares between $15 (£9.53) and $27 (£17.07).

But the fact that they offer free wi-fi and pick up passengers on the kerbside - rather than bus terminals which are seen as dirty and intimidating - is also a factor, helping to make them popular with more affluent passengers and women travelling alone, according to the DePaul research.

The companies also stress the green credentials of buses, which offer better carbon dioxide emissions than air or car travel.

American operators such as DC2NY are also getting in on the act, but while passengers travelling between Washington DC and New York pay a lot less than rail or air travellers, the journey is at least an hour slower than the slowest train.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Buyers Take a Shine to 'Junk' (MATT WIRZ, 2/27/12, WSJ)

Investors of all stripes are once again piling into "junk" bonds.

The buyers are coming from both sides of the investing fence--from bond investors eschewing the low yields of U.S. Treasury debt to stock investors seeking protection from swings in the market.

Retail investors have plowed $11.8 billion into junk-bond mutual funds this year, compared with $4.8 billion for stock funds and $9.9 billion for investment-grade bond funds, according to research firm Lipper. Mutual-fund managers say they are also increasingly buying up junk bonds, or bonds of companies with below-investment-grade credit ratings.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


A Free Trade Agenda For the U.S. and Taiwan (Winston Wong, 2/26/12, Forbes)

With a "dynamic capitalist economy," as the U.S. CIA World Factbook describes it - with nearly $274 billion (U.S.) in exports in 2010 - Taiwan obviously would benefit from additional free trade agreements. And none would be more appropriate than a U.S.-Taiwan FTA.

For now that seems unlikely, though there is considerable political support for such an agreement. Speaking last fall in Washington, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, a former Democratic vice presidential candidate, called on the Obama administration specifically to negotiate such an agreement with Taiwan. "There's an odd irony here," Lieberman said. That is: "Taiwan's trade relations with mainland China are now arguably more free than their trade relations with the United States."

This shouldn't be.

In 2010, the United States exported an estimated $26 billion in goods and services to Taiwan, while importing some $36 billion worth of Made in Taiwan electronics, plastics and other goods, making Taiwan America's ninth-largest trading partner.

As an interim step many have suggested adding Taiwan to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which currently include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. That would be a good start, but no substitute for a bilateral U.S.-Taiwan FTA or a Taiwan-NAFTA agreement.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


World Bank to China: Free up your economy or bust (Annalyn Censky, February 27, 2012, CNNMoney)

The World Bank and a Chinese think tank have a stern warning in store for China's government: Transition to a freer commercial system, or else face an impending economic crisis.

The "China 2030" report, released by the World Bank on Monday, recommends China enact reforms promoting a freer economy. Those reforms include a major overhaul turning China's powerful state-owned companies into commercial enterprises.

Critics point out that China cannot keep up its rapid growth under this system forever. Emerging economies tend to start slowing when their economy reaches about $16,740 per capita, according to research by economists Barry Eichengreen of the University of California at Berkeley, Donghyun Park of the Asian Development Bank and Kwanho Shin of Korea University.

They suspect China will hit that point around 2015. The report forecasts that economic growth in China will gradually slow, from an average of 8.6% in 2011-2015 to an average of 5% in 2026-2030. Without the reforms, the report said China would be on an even slower growth path.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


How Will China Pay Off Its Debt? (Gordon G. Chang, 2/26/12, Forbes)

The 16.3% calculation excludes Beijing's "hidden liabilities."  Once you add them in, China's debt-to-GDP ratio increases to somewhere between 90% and 160%.  And if you believe Beijing has been overstating its GDP recently--it has, at least starting from the last quarter of last year--China's ratio approximates Greece's 164%.

Analysts, surprisingly, don't seem to be concerned about Beijing's debt, no matter how it is calculated.  As Tom Holland of the South China Morning Post points out, the assumption is that China can grow its way out of this problem because it has always been able to do so in the past.

China's economy, despite the Economist's assessment, is already landing hard.  January's results were dismal--the economy looks like it may even have contracted last month--and there will not be much improvement until the summer, if then.  If there is no marked uptick this year, Beijing faces difficult choices because, as the "ghost city" phenomenon indicates, there has been a gross misallocation of capital since the end of 2008.

What are Beijing's choices?  First, central government technocrats could force the banks to absorb losses.  At first glance, it appears the banks could afford substantial write-offs.  The industry's non-performing loan ratio was 0.96% at the end of last year, down from an already unbelievable 1.14% at the end of 2010.  Yet the central government will not force banks to write off large quantities of loans because the year-end 2011 ratio does not reflect the real state of bank balance sheets.  The Ministry of Finance could again recapitalize the banks, but that may not be feasible.  The central government has yet to clear all the bad loans from the big bailout at the end of the 1990s.  China's hidden liabilities include warehoused loans from that era, which Holland estimates amount to 7.5% of GDP.

So there is no or minimal growth, the banks are not strong enough to shoulder significant losses, and the central government is weighed down by 1990s-era bad loans.  What is a central government technocrat to do?

"Beijing can take the path traditionally followed by other governments around the world and inflate its way out of the problem," Holland wrote on Friday.  

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February 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Nick Cave Idolized Johnny Cash (Doc Shoe's Music Blog, 11/10/11)
[B]oth artists rejected modern sensibilities in favor of Biblical themes of sin, damnation, violence, and redemption. I suspect this last affinity may have been the most important to Nick Cave, who once said in his lecture "The Secret Life of the Love Song" that every love song is really about our yearning for God--which would make Cave a devotional artist, albeit a frequently somber one, much like the Man In Black.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM

Galactic In Concert (NPR, February 23, 2012)

Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club was home to a night of New Orleans soul and funk when Galactic took the stage for a performance, originally webcast live on NPR Music Feb. 23.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The State of the Anglosphere: The decline of the English-speaking world has been greatly exaggerated. (JOEL KOTKIN AND SHASHI PARULEKAR, Winter 2012, City Journal)

Not surprisingly, Anglosphere countries retain close cultural and economic ties with one another. In making foreign direct investments, the United States shows a strong preference for Anglosphere countries, especially the United Kingdom and Canada (see Chart 3). The same is true for Australia, a nation whose economic future might seem to lie with Asia's budding economic superpowers. Notwithstanding its worries about becoming a mere attendant to a rising China, Australia tilts its overseas investment heavily toward the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand.

Anglosphere countries possess overwhelming military superiority to protect their economic interests. While the United States dominates military technology and hardware, Britain ranks fourth in military spending, with both Australia and Canada ranking in the top 15. The U.S. is headquarters to the world's three largest defense companies: Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing. America's Anglosphere ally Australia has joined informally with Singapore and the Philippines (both are nations where English is spoken widely) to provide a potential regional military counterweight to China.

Anglosphere economic and military leadership is reflected in, and grows out of, the English-speaking world's remarkable technological leadership. The vast majority of the world's leading software, biotechnology, and aerospace firms are concentrated in English-speaking countries. Three-fifths of global pharmaceutical-research spending comes from Britain and America; more than 450 of the top 500 software companies in the world are based in the Anglosphere, mainly in the U.S., which hosts nine of the top ten. Out of the ten fastest-growing software firms, six are American and one is British. Internet giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon have no foreign equivalents remotely close in size and influence.

English is an ascendant language, the primary global language of business and science and the prevailing tongue in a host of key developing countries, including India, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Kenya, Malaysia, and Bangladesh. Over 40 percent of Europeans speak English, while only 19 percent are Francophone. When German, Swedish, and Swiss businesspeople venture overseas, they speak not their home language but English.

Long-run trends in the developing world also point to the expansion of the English language. French schools have been closing even in former French colonies, such as Algeria, Rwanda, and Vietnam, where students have resisted learning the old colonial tongue. English is becoming widely adopted in America's biggest competitor, China, and it dominates the Gulf economy, where it serves as the language of business in hubs such as Dubai. The Queen's tongue is, of course, broadly spoken in that other emerging global economic superpower, India, where it has become a vehicle for members of the middle and upper classes to communicate across regional boundaries. In Malaysia, too, English is the language of business, technology, and politics.

With linguistic ascendancy comes cultural power, and the Anglosphere's remains uncontested. In total global sales of media, movies, television, and music, it has no major competitor. Its exports of movies and TV programs dwarf those of established European powers like France and Germany and upstarts such as China, Brazil, and India (see Chart 5). Exports from Hollywood and the cultural capitals of other Anglosphere countries are growing enormously in developing countries: Hollywood box-office revenues grew 25 percent in Latin America and 21 percent in the Asia-Pacific region (with China accounting for 40 percent of that region's box office). The hit movie Avatar made over $2 billion outside North America; in Russia, Hollywood films earn twice as much as their domestic counterparts. Anglophone preeminence extends to pop music, with Americans Eminem, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift, along with the U.K.'s Susan Boyle, ruling global charts. Japanese, Korean, and Chinese pop artists do have large followings in Asia, but the biggest global stars continue to originate in the Anglosphere. 

Globalization consists of nothing more than the universal extension of the Anglosphere.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


The corruption of US politics: From Occupy to the Tea Party, the obsession with corruption is far more damaging to democracy than politicians' alleged shady dealings (Sean Collins, 2/24/12, spiked)

Among students of American history, it is generally recognised that American politics is much less corrupt than it was in the past. Sure, politicians on the take, like the Nucky Thompson character in the Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire, still exist: witness William Jefferson, the Louisiana congressman who was found in 2005 to have $90,000 in bribes stashed in his freezer. But examples like Jefferson stand out precisely because they are so rare.

And yet, more and more today you hear claims that the money-changers are overrunning the temples of Congress and the White House. Campaign fundraising by so-called 'Super PACs' (or Political Action Committees), created by a recent Supreme Court ruling, are said to be distorting the 2012 contest for president. Occupy protesters suggest that the roots of our problems lie in corporations controlling politics, and a common cry from them is to 'get money out of politics'. And it is not just a liberal-left complaint: many conservatives, including the Tea Party types, contend that 'crony capitalism' is alive and well in Washington, and that's why we shouldn't trust big government.

If you cling to the delusion that you are a populist and yet politicians won't give you what you want, it's only natural to imagine that their corruption is thwarting the popular will.  The problem, of course, is that Populists don't actually hold popular views.  

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Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The End of Money: A new book asks: Why do we need cash at all? (Farhad Manjoo, Feb. 24, 2012, Slate)

Cash is ridiculous. Like hugging or shaking hands, money is one of those social constructs that you're better off never thinking about too deeply, lest you begin to wonder how someone decided that this should be how things work. Imagine the first guy broaching the idea: Hey there, brother Jebediah! Instead of growing my own sorghum--sorghum being what I imagine we all ate in olden times--I was wondering if you'd like to toil a few hours longer to grow some extra for me, and in exchange, I'll give you ... some of these pieces of metal! Deal?

It sounds like a prank, right? [...]

Wolman picks a side in this fight: He hates cash, and he talks to several smart people who aggressively make the case against paper. Cash is inconvenient. It can't be traced or insured; if you lose your cash or if it's stolen, that's that. It's expensive--think about all the costs involved in producing, moving, protecting, scrutinizing, and reissuing bills and coins. Wolman cites a study that estimates that by switching from paper-based currencies to electronic ones, countries could save about 1 percent of their gross domestic product annually. That's about $150 billion a year in the United States. Cash is also dirty, both literally--all your bills are contaminated with germs and drugs--and legally, a key enabler of the criminal underworld and mass tax evasion. If we didn't have paper money, we'd probably have less crime and better-funded governments.

I'm right there with these arguments. As part of his research, Wolman tries to live without cash for a year, and for the most part, he's able to do so without major problems. That's the story of my life; I keep almost nothing in my wallet, and I resent the few local businesses that insist on cash transactions.

...you have to assume they're either running a tax dodge or laundering money for the mob.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


America Is Europe (DAVID BROOKS, 2/25/12, NY Times)

The U.S. does not have a significantly smaller welfare state than the European nations. We're just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks.

For example, in Europe, governments offer health care directly. In the U.S., we give employers a gigantic tax exemption to do the same thing. European governments offer public childcare. In the U.S., we have child tax credits. In Europe, governments subsidize favored industries. We do the same thing by providing special tax deductions and exemptions for everybody from ethanol producers to Nascar track owners.

These tax expenditures are hidden but huge. Budget experts Donald Marron and Eric Toder added up all the spending-like tax preferences and found that, in 2007, they amounted to $600 billion. If you had included those preferences as government spending, then the federal government would have actually been one-fifth larger than it appeared.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently calculated how much each affluent country spends on social programs. When you include both direct spending and tax expenditures, the U.S. has one of the biggest welfare states in the world. We rank behind Sweden and ahead of Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Canada. Social spending in the U.S. is far above the organization's average.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


The Innovative 10: Blending vision with action (Modern Baking, 2/24/12)

Successes in the bakery industry can sometimes go unheralded, but here are 10 bakeries, allied companies, decorators and pastry chefs who have uniquely contributed to the baking community. [...]

When Google comes calling, you don't turn them down. Last year, King Arthur Flour was selected from a group of Vermont-based small businesses by the search engine giant to star in a national TV ad promoting the Google Chrome browser. Google chose the 200-year-old flour supplier for its reputable history and innovation-particularly for using the web to build its business during the past 20 years.

"One of the biggest factors in our innovation is social media and how we've embraced it," says Halley Silver, web marketing project manager. "Our first foray into social media was a community tab we launched on our website before Facebook came out. It's an online forum for customers and we respond to every single comment or question."

King Arthur Flour recently hosted a series of online instructional baking videos for professionals, an effort that helped them get noticed by Google. And the company is building a "device agnostic" website that responds across desktop, mobile and tablet computers for a better user experience, Silver says.

The day after the Google ad aired nationwide in November 2011, King Arthur Flour's website got more than 75,000 hits, double the number seen that day in 2010. The company catapulted to one of the top 10 brands on Google+.

"The brand awareness has been huge," says Terri Rosenstock, public relations manager. "Some people didn't even realize they had King Arthur Flour on their shelf. It's really helped build our brand."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Republican Race's Volatility is Historic (Alex Roarty, February 23, 2012, National Journal)

I wrote in October, when Cain's campaign was at its peak and before Gingrich's and Santorum's rise, how the contest had already seen the most upheaval since 1964. That year, four different people - Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge and Barry Goldwater -- were leading the race in at least one poll. A fifth man, William Scranton, surged to within a point of the lead two weeks before the party's convention. 

But now, after the volatility of the last four months, even the '64 race seems tame in comparison. The fact of seven front-runners doesn't quite capture all of the movement in the polls: It doesn't include Michele Bachmann's temporary status as the Iowa front-runner or that Gingrich and Santorum both fluctuated between contender and also-ran twice. Or that Romney has oscillated between front-runner and underdog nearly every month for the last six months. 

Polling data supplied by Gallup dating back to 1930 shows that no other race since that time has even come close to the same level of volatility.

...and let the Convention decide.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The vanishing workforce (Buttonwood, 2/24/12, The Economist)

[A] hat tip to Edward Bonham-Carter of Jupiter who passed on a chart (from Bank of America Merrill Lynch) showing the expected change in working age population between 2010 and 2035. The chart is too big to reproduce here but the following nations are all set to see declines of more than 10%; Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Poland, South Korea, Russia, Japan and Germany. In the last two cases, the decline is set to be a remarkable 20%.

The US is likely to show a rise of almost 10%; Britain a more modest increase.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


A ray of hope: International plans to help Somalis create regional governments are the best news in years for the miserable country (The Economist, Feb 25th 2012)

An initiative launched at an international conference in London on February 23rd could give Somalis new hope. Attended by Hillary Clinton, America's secretary of state, and senior representatives from 40 countries, it is the first push on this scale. The British, prime movers of the event, are pursuing a fresh diplomatic approach. Instead of trying to boost the "transitional federal government" in the capital, Mogadishu, the conference participants--foreign and Somali--say they will accept that the country is, for the time being, irretrievably broken into five or six zones of influence. Rather than put their faith in the feeble internationally recognised government, whose writ extends barely beyond Mogadishu, in the vain belief that it can bludgeon the rest of the country into submission, the leaders of the country's various fiefs have pledged to develop a more or less federal system.

The plan's timing is propitious, as the Shabab militia, which has for the past few years controlled the biggest swathe of Somalia, mainly in the country's south and centre, has recently lost ground and popularity. Ethiopian and Kenyan forces, with logistical backing from the Americans, French and British, have squeezed it in a pincer movement from the west and south. Moreover, the Shabab failed to feed the people in its zone of influence during last year's terrible drought. The Shabab's refusal to allow Western agencies such as Oxfam and the International Committee of the Red Cross into its territory is said to have alienated many of its former supporters.

Why even retain a federal fiction?
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Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Jeb Bush eyed as latest 'white knight' candidate in GOP presidential race: Former Florida governor was critical of current field in a speech this week, prompting rumours he could be a surprise contender (Paul Harris, 2/25/12, guardian.co.uk)

Bush, who is the brother of President George W Bush and son of President George Bush Sr, is a beloved figure among many conservatives who see him as a strong and charismatic leader who is popular in the must-win swing state of Florida.

That contrasts with a widespread unease among many Republican leaders and grassroots activists with the remaining crop of Republican candidates and the vitriolic nature of the fight between frontrunner Mitt Romney and his main challengers Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

In answers to questions from the audience after a speech in Dallas on Thursday, Bush cautioned the remaining Republican campaigns from drifting so far to the right that they put off the key independent voters needed to beat President Barack Obama in November.

"I think it's important for the candidates to recognise though they have to appeal to primary voters, and not turn off independent voters that will be part of a winning coalition," Bush told the audience according to CBS news.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Labor pains: Australia looks on aghast as vicious leadership struggle erupts: Party rivals Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd plot, sulk and tear each other apart in public as they fight in secret ballot to become PM (Paola Totaro, 2/24/12, guardian.co.uk)

It is one of the most vicious battles in world politics. In one corner stands a woman prime minister, well liked by her colleagues but unpopular with the public at large. Squaring up to her from across the ring is her predecessor, a man popular with voters but loathed by the majority of his fellow MPs.

On Monday, we will see who comes out on top when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd take part in a ballot for the leadership of the Labor party, and thereby of Australia.

Gillard, the country's first woman prime minister, Welsh-born but more Aussie than her Mandarin-speaking arch-rival, ought to be coasting comfortably to win a second term in government.

Instead, the Australian electorate is watching aghast as Labor's two major political stars plot and sulk and tear each other apart in public - and fight to the death in a secret party ballot.

"Rightly or wrongly Julia has lost the trust of the Australian people," Rudd said on Friday. "On Monday I want to start restoring that trust and that's why I have decided to contest the leadership of the Australian Labor party."

"This is not an episode of Celebrity Big Brother," retorted Gillard. "This is about who can lead the nation, who can get things done."

Although, putting the two of them in a Big Brother house would be more amusing than our campaign has been.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Should Corporations Have More Leeway to Kill Than People Do? (PETER WEISS, 2/25/12, NY Times)

NEXT week, the Supreme Court will hear a case with many potential ramifications for American and international law, and for corporate responsibility for human rights around the globe. The justices will be asked to decide whether the corporations to which they have been extending the rights of individuals should also be held accountable for crimes against human rights, just as individuals are.

Arguments against do expose the absurdity of the notion of corporate personhood.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The Emperor of Vanished Kingdoms: Europe's pre-eminent historian says all nations eventually end--even the United Kingdom, and perhaps America. (RAYMOND ZHONG, 2/25/12, WSJ)

After World War II, Europeans set about forming a union along three axes: politics, defense and economics. Britain quickly rejected political union, however, and soon enough NATO came along to become the only defense union Western Europe needed. An economic union--the European Economic Community, established in 1957--was the only remaining pillar of integration left to pursue.

But the early, unexpected success of the single market made policy makers cocky, Mr. Davies says. They forgot to answer important questions about EU governance--that little matter of whether Europe would need a more integrated political union before it could have a currency union, for instance.

And as the Cold War ended, the EU's plate filled up further. The reunification of Germany and the wars in the Balkans dominated policy attention during the 1990s, as did the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO. That process finished in 2004, a few years into the euro era, with the accession of 10 nations to the EU, most of them former Soviet republics or satellite states.

Then the financial crisis hit, in 2008. By that score, Europe has had only four years since the war when it didn't have its hands full--not much time to make a functioning union for 500 million people.

Instead, Mr. Davies says, the EU has become a vehicle by which the stronger countries promote their interests--led, for the moment, by the tag team of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "So although all the member states have to be democracies--this is one of the conditions for entry--they're not required to act democratically once they're in."

The problem is clear enough: this anti-democratic European project runs headlong into the Anglospheric project, which has been beating it like a drum since the French Revolution triggered the Long War.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Spring on the way to Sweden: expert (The Local, 26 Feb 12)

February 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


The best way for government to reduce oil dependence? Do nothing (David Frum  Feb 25, 2012, National Post)

After the oil shocks of the 1970s, the United States succeeded in reducing its use of oil. As late as 1995, the United States was using no more oil than it had used in 1978. Not its use per person, or use per vehicle, but its use, period.

This progress was not accomplished by reinventing the internal combustion engine. It was accomplished by (1) shifting homes from oil to gas heat; (2) ending the burning of heavy oil by electrical utilities; and (3) shifting freight traffic from trucks to trains. No government official planned these changes. They just happened, in response to market forces. Result: Even as Americans put more cars on the road -- and drove further in them -- they successfully decreased their oil reliance.

More impressively, they dramatically decreased the "energy intensity" of their economy: the amount of oil it took to generate an additional dollar of Gross National Product. In the cheap-oil era from 1995 to 2005, that progress slowed. By 2005, the United States was using 10% more oil than at the peaks touched in 1978 and 1995.

Such progress could resume again without any need for dramatic technological change. We don't need to imagine anything heroic, like Los Angeles shifting from cars to subways -- just an accumulation of small incremental changes: a consumer shift to hybrid cars or to smaller homes located closer to work.

Not all the changes are obviously energy-related. Americans move away from central cities in part to find better schools. Improve schools nearer to where Americans now live, and fewer Americans will feel pushed to move to more distant exurbs to pursue something better. Build condo towers atop shopping and entertainment areas, and more people will choose to enjoy a lifestyle where they can walk to their fun instead of driving.

If, however, people are told that today's prices are an outrage, that oil can be made cheaper again -- well then they won't make the changes and investments needed to move to a post-oil future. They'll just cut back their spending on other things, and tough out today's prices.

...just not our own.  So as we seek to replicate it, why not make it our policy?

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Evangelical leaders call for immigration overhaul (Tom Bassing, Feb 23, 2012, Reuters)

Evangelical Christian leaders took up a bully pulpit on Thursday to call for a "humane" overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in response to tough crackdowns on illegal immigrants enacted by Alabama and other states.

"Because I'm a Christian I believe in comprehensive, common-sense, humane immigration policy," the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the New York-based National Latino Evangelical Coalition, told a conference of evangelical leaders in Birmingham.

"Hospitality is not at the margins of scripture. Jesus wasn't kidding around when he said, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me,'" Salguero said at the G92 South Immigration Conference at Samford University.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


The flying men of Yungas Valley: Bolivia's coca farmers make a living criss-crossing deep valleys on a web of makeshift cables high above forest canopy. (Al Jazeera,  22 Feb 2012)

In Bolivia's jungles and steep cliffs the Yungas people do not walk. They fly. On ropes. Like birds. Faster than astronauts.

These 'birds' are known as cocaleros, or coca harvesters. They use ropes to swing across the narrow valleys, suspended from ancient rusting pulleys.

It takes all of 30 seconds from one side to the other. By foot it would take more than an hour.

"This must be about six or seven years old. Before then there was nothing. Nothing," Synthe, a harvester, says. "We had to walk down to the bottom, cross the river and then climb up the other side. It used to be quite a hike."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Jeb Bush bashes Republican presidential field for stoking 'fears' during the campaign : Bush says candidates should be looking over the horizon with a 'broader perspective' (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 2/24/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Jeb Bush slammed the current slate of Republican presidential candidates, saying it was "troubling" that the group was playing to people's fears.

Bush, the dream candidate of many Republicans unhappy with the current slate of contenders, likely fueled those flames with his criticism of the 2012 field.

"I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and...I don't think I've changed," Bush said during an appearance Thursday, according to reports.

"But it's a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion," he said, "rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective, and that's kind of where we are."

Leave the emotions to the female party.

February 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Romney: A Conservative on Immigration? (http://www.nationalreview.com/blogs/print/291860Steve Baldwin & Deroy Murdock, February 24, 2012, National Review)

[Q]uite consistently during the 2012 campaign, Romney made clear in nearly every debate that he opposed amnesty for illegal aliens in any and all forms whatsoever.

However, these statements conflict with Romney's earlier view on amnesty. Romney gave the Boston Globe an interview in 2005 in which he argued that the McCain-Kennedy immigration-reform bill was "quite different" from an amnesty bill and even called the bill "reasonable":

I think an amnesty program is what -- which is all the illegal immigrants who are here are now citizens, and walk up and get your citizenship. What the president has proposed, and what Senator McCain and Cornyn have proposed, are quite different than that. They require people signing up for a, well, registering and receiving a registration number. Then working here for six years and paying taxes -- not taking benefits. . . . And then at the end of that period, registering to become a citizen. . . . And I think that those are reasonable proposals.

And in contrast to his attacks on a "pathway to citizenship," Romney specifically supported such an approach while governor, saying:

Those who've been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn't be here; those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.

But Romney didn't stop there. In 2006, as reported by the AP, Romney even criticized Republicans who didn't support the Bush-McCain amnesty legislation:

Meantime, one of McCain's potential rivals for the GOP nomination, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has made it known that he supports the president's immigration position, saying that Republicans who have broken rank with Bush "made a big mistake."


Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM

The Soul Rebels In Concert (NPR, February 24, 2012)

Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club was home to a night of New Orleans soul and funk when The Soul Rebels took the stage for a performance originally webcast live on NPR Music Feb. 23.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


In Break, Hamas Supports Syrian Opposition (FARES AKRAM, 2/24/12, NY Times)

Marking the first public break with its longtime patron, a leader of Hamas spoke out against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, throwing its support behind the opposition and stripping Damascus of what little credibility it may have retained with the Arab street.

Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said during Friday prayers, "I salute all people of the Arab spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform."

The worshippers shouted back, "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," and "Syria! Syria!"

Mr. Haniya made his remarks in support of the uprising that is seeking to oust Mr. Assad, a reversal after years in which Mr. Assad has given safe haven to leaders of Hamas while helping supply it with weapons and cash in its battle against Israel. But the remarks were almost as significant for where they were made: in Cairo, at Al Azhar Mosque. During the years in which Syria supported Hamas, Egypt's leaders were hostile to the group, treating it as a despised relative of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was also tagged an outlaw and banned. So Mr. Haniya's remarks in Egypt served as another measure of how much has changed since popular uprisings began to sweep the region, removing President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and now attempting to topple Mr. Assad.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


How Habits Hold Us (Jonah Lehrer, , 2/18/12, WSJ)

The malleability of habits isn't news to Madison Avenue: Effective commercials show how people can be quickly trained to do something new and then keep on doing it. The secret, it turns out, is the quick combination of a memorable cue and a rewarding experience.

Consider Febreze, a product designed by Procter & Gamble in the 1990s to remove bad odors. As Charles Duhigg recounts in his fascinating new book, "The Power of Habit," Febreze underperformed in early tests and was in danger of being canceled. Consumers couldn't fathom what the product was for.

Febreze didn't become a superstar until the P&G marketing team created an ad campaign based on habit formation. The television spots showed homemakers performing a chore--making a bed, mopping the kitchen--and then spritzing a little scented Febreze into the air. The spritz was always followed by a big smile.

What's most interesting is that instead of focusing on removing bad smells, the ads set up Febreze--to which perfume had been added--as the reward for a bout of cleaning, satisfying the desire to make things smell nice, not just look good. The ads taught consumers a new habit, training them to associate the rewarding positive cue--a spotless space--with the use of Febreze. Before long, the product was a best seller.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Flour, flour everywhere when baking is at hand (Carolyn Ossorio, FEBRUARY 23, 2012, Renton Reporter)

According to the King Arthur Flour website, here's how it works:

Teaching to an audience of students in grades 4, 5, 6, and/or 7, a King Arthur Flour instructor and two student assistants present a 50-minute demonstration on the bread baking process. Then, each future baker takes home materials, including our nutritious whole-grain flour, and the know-how to get baking. Students bake two delicious loaves - one to enjoy, the other for donation to a community organization chosen by the school. King Arthur Flour brings this exciting program to schools FREE of charge.

A FREE program that teaches kids a life skill and the importance of sharing with others. That's a no-brainer.

"Let's do it!" I say.

Things were looking really good when Paula Gray, Life Skills Bread Baking program manager sent me a message that said King Arthur Flour has set aside the week of Feb. 6-10 to visit schools in the area, the first time ever in Washington.

I was "over the moon" excited about this opportunity for our kids.

Until I received word from the contact I'd been working with at the Renton School District.

She said, "I learned from the elementary and middle school staff that they are getting ready to prepare students for testing, so they are unable to fit this program into the early February timeframe.  Unfortunately, we are going to have to pass on your offer."

I'll be honest with you I never imagined ever having this much trouble selling something free -- especially with all the budget cuts.

I understand the importance of testing our kids.

But are our kids really too busy to learn about making bread with their families and giving back to our community? [...]

I hope that the Renton Schools will be the first to experience this amazing program.  Check out Life Skills at King Arthur Flour at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/life-skills-baking.html
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Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Wireless Spectrum Deal Could Unleash Super Wi-Fi: Washington budget agreement could ward off congestion and aid innovation. (DAVID TALBOT, 2/23/12, Technology Review)

Imagine Wi-Fi that spans two kilometers; or a car safety system that beams news of an accident, vehicle to vehicle, from far ahead on a lightly traveled road; or a mobile phone whose calls almost never drop.

These and other new communications technologies could be helped along by a deal announced in Washington last week that permits the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to sell off unused TV spectrum in two years. The agreement covers lower frequencies--previously set aside for analog TV broadcasts--that allow for longer-range, higher-capacity communications. But making use of the frequencies will require technology capable of flitting rapidly between different frequencies at high speed.

"This will absolutely open up new innovation," says Dipankar Raychauduri, director of Rutgers University's WinLab, a leading wireless research lab. "It's really quite a breakthrough, because the U.S. would be the first country to allocate such spectrum."

Thanks, Congress!

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Romney, Santorum Closely Matched Against Obama Nationally (Frank Newport, 2/23/12, Gallup)

U.S. registered voters are closely divided in their 2012 presidential election preferences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and between Obama and Rick Santorum. Romney is slightly ahead of Obama, 50% to 46%, while Obama edges Santorum, 49% to 48%, but neither of these differences is statistically significant.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


A $100 solar-powered tablet is coming soon (Laurie Segall, February 24, 2012, CNNMoney)

The Swiss designer, now based in San Francisco, has plenty of commercial hits. That gives him the financial freedom to pursue his belief that design can change the world. It's a passion he put to work on his most famous project, One Laptop Per Child, better known as "the $100 laptop."

Now he's nearing completion of the sequel: A $100 tablet. It's rugged, solar-powered, and designed for children in the world's poorest countries.

"The tablet is a refinement of the laptop," Behar told CNN's Sanjay Gupta in interviews for The Next List. "It's much smaller, it's much lighter, it uses less energy, less materials -- it can be even more cost effective."

The project began six years ago when Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT's Media Lab, approached Behar with an idea many deemed impossible: create an inexpensive and impeccably designed laptop for children across the world. [...]

It took years to turn the vision into reality, but OLPC has now distributed more than 2.5 million laptops around the world, stretching from Birmingham, Ala., to Uganda.

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, OLPC showed off its next breakthrough: the XO-3 tablet. Like the original laptop, it's designed to appeal to kids -- and to survive their rough handling.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


America's Alibis for Not Helping Syria: We can lend a hand to its tyrannized people or risk turning the country into a devil's playground of religious extremism. (FOUAD AJAMI, 2/23/12, WSJ)

Yet the tortured dissertations on the uniqueness of Syria's strategic landscape are in fact proofs for why we must thwart the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah nexus. Topple the Syrian dictatorship and the access of Iran to the Mediterranean is severed, leaving the brigands of Hamas and Hezbollah scrambling for a new way. The democracies would demonstrate that regimes of plunder and cruelty, perpetrators of terror, have been cut down to size.

Plainly, the Syrian tyranny's writ has expired. Assad has implicated his own Alawite community in a war to defend his family's reign. The ambiguity that allowed the Assad tyranny to conceal its minority, schismatic identity, to hide behind a co-opted Sunni religious class, has been torn asunder. Calls for a jihad, a holy war, against a godless lot have been made in Sunni religious circles everywhere.

Ironically, it was the Assad tyranny itself that had summoned those furies in its campaign against the American war in Iraq. It had provided transit and sanctuary for jihadists who crossed into Iraq to do battle against the Americans and the Shiites; it even released its own Islamist prisoners and dispatched them to Iraq with the promise of pardon. Now the chickens have come home to roost, and an Alawite community beyond the bounds of Islam is facing a religious war in all but name.

This schism cannot be viewed with American indifference. It is an inescapable fate that the U.S. is the provider of order in that region. We can lend a hand to the embattled Syrians or risk turning Syria into a devil's playground of religious extremism. Syria can become that self-fulfilling prophesy: a population abandoned by the powers but offered false solace and the promise of redemption by the forces of extremism and ruin.

We make much of the "opaqueness" of the Syrian rebellion and the divisions within its leadership. But there is no great mystery that attends this rebellion: An oppressed people, done with a tyranny of four decades, was stirred to life and conquered its fear after witnessing the upheaval that had earlier overtaken Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Sure, Turkey and Israel prefer "stability" to the freedom of the people in Syria.  Tough.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


The Methanol Alternative to Gasoline (TOM RIDGE and MARY E. PETERS, 2/23/12, NY Times)

We're producing more natural gas these days than we can use, thanks to new techniques to extract gas from shale. A recent report from the M.I.T. Energy Initiative, "The Future of Natural Gas," called methanol "the liquid fuel that is most efficiently and inexpensively produced from natural gas." China has already taken notice. Automakers there, like Chery, Geely and Shanghai Maple, have all introduced vehicles capable of running on methanol. Indeed, methanol is so much less costly per mile than gasoline that illegal fuel blending is rampant in China.

Unfortunately, most cars sold in the United States offer consumers no choice beyond gasoline. The so-called flex fuel vehicles that are now on the market are warranted to operate only on gasoline and ethanol. If Congress were to enact an open fuel standard that required new cars to be warranted to run on all-alcohol fuels, including methanol, natural gas could compete with oil in the liquid fuels market. Producing these cars would cost about $100 more. And these fuels could be distributed through the current refueling infrastructure with only slight retrofits.

The current global spot price for methanol made from natural gas is $1.13 per gallon, without any subsidy. 

February 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


A Chinese Parable: What history can teach us about nuclear deterrence (MICHAEL BURLEIGH,  23rd February 2012, Daily Mail)
In the final months of his presidency, John F Kennedy contacted Khrushchev with a view to a joint pre-emptive strike against the Chinese nuclear research complex at Lop Nor.

Despite being appalled by Chairman Mao's disregard for the consequences of nuclear war, Khrushchev was not interested in Kennedy's soundings.

On 24 October 1964 China detonated its first test bomb at Lop Nor. President Lyndon Johnson contemplated destroying the site, but his commanders explained that only a nuclear strike would ensure such an outcome. Johnson settled for containing China instead.

The fatal flaw of deterrence is that it is always accompanied by acceptance of the evil regime.  A nuclear strike on their arsenal/program, on the other hand, is destabilizing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Mitt Takes a Walk on the Supply Side (G. TRACY MEHAN, III, 2.23.12, American Spectator)

At the heart of Governor Romney's tax plan are permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cuts in marginal tax rates while limiting deductions, exemptions and credits for higher income Americans to insure revenue-neutrality.

As reported by John Harwood for CNBC.com, Glenn Hubbard, Romney's top economic advisor, said the plan would cut all six current tax brackets --10, 15, 25, 28, 33, and 35 percent (depending on the taxpayer's income) -- by the same proportion of 20 percent. This yields new brackets of 8, 12, 20, 22.4, 26.4, and 28 percent. "It's a marginal rate cut for every American," claims Hubbard. Hubbard, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, is now dean of Columbia University's business school.

The Romney plan will also maintain the current 15 percent rate on income from qualified dividends and capital gains but will cut taxes further for lower- and middle-income citizens with annual incomes below $200,000. In addition, it abolishes the Death Tax, i.e., inheritance tax, and repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for both individuals as well as corporations.

The proposal also calls for reducing the current 35 percent corporate tax rate, one of the highest in the industrial world, to a very competitive 25 percent. It makes permanent the R&D tax credit as a spur to innovation for both manufacturing and non-manufacturing businesses.

It's not 1980 anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles join the Army (Peter Valdes-Dapena, February 23, 2012, CNNMoney)

The United States Army is looking at hydrogen fuel cell vehicles hoping that sometime in the near future they'll play some important military roles, maybe even on the battlefield.

The military has been looking at alternative fuels like this because the difficulty, expense and danger of securing oil and gasoline supplies among other reasons. [...]

For now, the U.S. is testing a fleet of 16 General Motors fuel cell vehicles in Hawaii. They run on compressed hydrogen gas. The hydrogen is combined in a fuel cell with oxygen from the air in a process that generates electricity. The only exhaust the vehicles produce is water vapor.

This new fleet includes one vehicle that can be used as a portable generator, supplying enough energy to keep the lights on in several homes. The same technology could be useful in an "tactical" vehicle, said Matthews, providing power to a command center, for instance. [...]

Their biggest advantage over electric cars is that it takes much less time -- usually just a few minutes -- to pump a tank full of hydrogen than it does to charge a large battery.

These vehicles have a range of about 200 miles on a full tank. The state of Hawaii, where the cars are being tested, has also partnered with GM to test hydrogen fuel cell cars.

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February 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


Goldline agrees to refund up to $4.5 million to former customers (Stuart Pfeifer, 2/23/12, Los Angeles Times)

Santa Monica precious metals dealer Goldline International Inc., one of the nation's largest gold retailers, has resolved a criminal prosecution by agreeing to refund as much as $4.5 million to former customers.

Goldline agreed to an injunction that requires the company to "change its unfair sales practices" and to disclose price markups in recorded telephone conversations with customers, said Adam Radinsky, head of the Santa Monica city attorney's consumer protection unit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


A Bond Born At Speed: Distance runners Mo Farah and Galen Rupp come from different worlds, but their lives are in step as each carries his nation's hopes toward London (TIM LAYDEN, 2/27/12, Sports Illustrated)

One of the two distance runners, the one born in Somalia and raised from age eight in west London, will race the Olympics at home. Mohammed (Mo) Farah will circle the track and hear a sound unlike anything he's heard before, initially in the 10,000 meters on the first Saturday night in August and then seven days later in the 5,000. He will feel a nation's passion, sprung not just from patriotic medal lust but from a cultural love of the long run, an affair gone fallow for decades and now revived by this 127-pound wisp of a man with a shaved head and a small tuft of black hair that clings to the point of his chin, like a little climber on the underside of a cliff.

On that Saturday night he will give Great Britain its first real chance at a gold medal in track and field at the London Games, and its first ever in a flat track event longer than 1,500 meters. He will understand what Cathy Freeman felt in Sydney 12 years ago when she won the 400 meters in her home country, sprinting through a torrent of noise. "Of course, Cathy ran for 49 seconds," says retired British triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, who won a gold medal on the same night as Freeman. "Mo will be running for 27 minutes."

The other of the two distance runners, the one who was born in Oregon and lives there still, will race the Olympics far from home. Galen Rupp will circle the track in relative anonymity except to the track fanatics who understand his quest and follow it in corners of the Internet, alternately praising his performances and criticizing the training regimen that produced them. He will be a tall, blond American surrounded mostly by tiny East Africans, and he will be trying--along with Bernard Lagat--to break a U.S. men's Olympic medal drought in the long track events that approaches five decades.

They will shake hands before the start and wish each other luck, because while they seem to share almost nothing, they in fact have shared more than most brothers. Thousands of miles on trails in New Mexico and France. Hundreds of lung-searing interval laps on tracks in Oregon and Utah. A passion for soccer, both on the pitch and on PlayStation. Meals, hotel rooms, plane rides; a hometown, a coach, a goal.

They came together in the winter of 2011. Former marathon record holder Alberto Salazar, 53, who had coached Rupp since he was in high school as part of the Nike Oregon Project, had been asked by British intermediaries if he would consider adding Farah to the NOP stable, which has included several other world-class distance runners. "I was leery," says Rupp, 25, of the idea. "I think we've got the best training program in the world, with Alberto's coaching and Nike's resources. And now we're adding one of our chief competitors. I said to Alberto, 'Why are we bringing this guy in?'" They talked in a cafeteria on the Nike campus, and Salazar sold Rupp. Farah, with career bests of 27:28.86 for 10K and 12:57.94 for 5K, was on the cusp of world championship medals and needed a professional environment. Rupp needed a consistent and talented training partner in his own events. At the end, Salazar said, "We're doing it."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


U.S., Egypt Look to Settle Nerves Over Aid, Trial (MATT BRADLEY, 2/22/12, WSJ)

Mr. McCain (R., Ariz.) and his delegation of four other senators, three of them Republicans, also hinted at warming relations between conservative American lawmakers and the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group whose triumphant performance in parliamentary elections rattled U.S. nervesamong U.S. policy makers. [...]

Despite months of warnings of a potential aid cut, the visiting senators projected a dramatically different posture toward Egypt's government on Monday, portraying the dispute as little more than an inevitable collision between a new generation of Egyptian reformers and the repressive legal system they inherited.

Mr. McCain, who is chairman of the board of the International Republican Institute, one of the accused American NGOs, told reporters in Egypt's capital that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's de facto president, assured the senators that the leading council of generals is "working very diligently" to "resolve" the NGO issue.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt's newly elected Parliament also told the lawmakers that they would redraft a restrictive NGO law that the deposed regime of President Hosni Mubarak used to repress civil-society organizations.

"After talking with the Muslim Brotherhood, I was struck with their commitment to change the law because they believe it's unfair," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who was traveling with Mr. McCain. Mr. Graham and other lawmakers praised the Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party won a plurality of nearly 50% of the seats in Parliament, as a strong potential partner for the future of U.S. relations with Egypt.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Making Solar Power Competitive with Coal: A study identifies early-stage technologies that could be combined to cut the cost of solar panels in half. (KEVIN BULLIS, 2/22/12, Technology Review)

The report, from researchers at MIT led by Tonio Buonassisi, a professor of mechanical engineering and manufacturing, identifies early-stage technologies that, if employed together, could reduce the cost of making solar panels to 52 cents per watt. Currently, the cost is over a dollar per watt. At 52 cents per watt, assuming similar cost reductions for installation and equipment such as inverters, solar power would cost six cents per kilowatt-hour in sunny areas of the U.S.--less than the average cost of electricity in the U.S. today. Solar power in sunny areas now costs roughly 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, although the cost can be sharply higher in small installations or in cloudy areas where solar installations generate less electricity.

The best way to reduce the cost per watt is to make solar cells more efficient--as a result, more power can be produced with a given amount of material and factory equipment. Increasing efficiency also decreases installation costs, since fewer solar panels are needed. But efficiency improvements aren't enough to reach 52 cents a watt. Manufacturers will also need to make solar cells from thinner silicon wafers, make wafers in a way that wastes less silicon, and speed up manufacturing. If a high-efficiency solar cell design slows down manufacturing or requires thick wafers, it likely won't lead to the necessary cost reductions.

One major way to reduce costs involves technologies that offer an alternative to the wasteful process now used to make silicon wafers. Currently, half of the high-quality silicon needed to make wafers ends up as waste. One startup, 1366 Technologies, makes thin wafers directly from a pool of molten silicon. It plans to replace conventional crystallization furnaces, sawing stations, and ingot-handling equipment with a single machine that requires fewer workers to operate. Others startups are replacing sawing with processes that free thin wafers of silicon from a larger piece of silicon using chemical etching, or by peeling them off.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Palestine Securities Exchange a Bright Spot in Equities (SARA HAMDAN, 2/22/12, NY Times)

Analysts say investor interest in public Palestinian companies has grown over the past two years, with many new listings on the exchange at a time when initial public offerings have remained at a standstill elsewhere in the Middle East. New venture capital funds are investing in companies in Palestinian territories that have turned profits despite the challenges of their operating environment.

"Strong stock market performance proves that these Palestinian companies are well managed, resilient and adaptive," Fayez Husseini, manager of Abraaj Capital's $50 million Palestine Growth Capital Fund, said by telephone. "Markets have been turbulent in other parts of the Mideast recently -- Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain -- so in terms of regional investment these days, the Palestine stock exchange is a top pick among fund managers."

Amid the political and economic instability that swept the Middle East and North Africa last year, the Palestinian market ranked second, behind Qatar, as the best performing regional exchange, falling only 2.58 percent over the course of the year. That compared with 2011 losses of 11.7 and 20 percent for the markets in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain -- two oil-rich Gulf neighbors.

"The 'Arab Spring' type risks already existed in Palestinian territories, it's already priced in and there's nothing new for investors to take into account," said Eric Swats, head of asset management at Rasmala Investments in Dubai. "When you look at big companies there, you see that they are not just doing well in business, but growing."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Aren't High Gas Prices What Democrats Want? (David Harsanyi, 2/22/12, RCP)

So why aren't Democrats making the case that the spike in prices is a good thing? Isn't this basically our energy policy these days? How we "win the future"? If high energy prices were to damage President Barack Obama's re-election prospects, it would be ironic, considering the left has been telling us to set aside our "dependency" -- or, as our most recent Republican president put it, "addiction" -- for a long time.

If Democrats had their way, after all, we would be enjoying the economic results of cap-and-trade policy these days -- a program designed to increase the cost of energy by creating false demand in a fabricated market. As the theory goes, if you inflate the price of fossil fuels, the barbarians might finally start putting thought into how peat moss might be able to power a toaster.

While the higher prices are good--though they need to be much higher to effect change--the profits ought to be going to the Treasury, as part of a considered public policy, not to speculators feeding off transient hysterias.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Race Finished (Jan Sapp, March-April, American Scientist)

Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth is a beautifully presented book, elegantly reasoned and skillfully written. Tattersall, a physical anthropologist, and DeSalle, a geneticist, are both senior scholars at the American Museum of Natural History. Their aim is to explain human diversity in terms of human evolution and dispersal since our ancestors walked out of Africa some 100,000 years ago. The patterns of diversity, they write, reflect the processes of divergence and reintegration, the yin and yang of evolution.

In biology, a grouping has biological meaning based on principles of common descent--the Darwinian idea that all members of the group share a common ancestry. On this basis, and on the ability to interbreed, all humans are grouped into one species as Homo sapiens, the only surviving member of the various species that the genus comprised. Species are arranged within the "tree of life," a hierarchical classification that situates each species in only one genus, that genus only in one family and so on. Nothing confuses that classification more than the exchange of genes between groups. In the bacterial world, for example, gene sharing can occur throughout the most evolutionarily divergent groups. The result is a reticulate evolution--a global net or web of related organisms, and no species. Among humans, reticulation occurs when there is interbreeding within the species--mating among individuals from different geographical populations. The result of such genetic mixing of previously isolated groups--due to migrations, invasions and colonization--is that no clear boundaries can be drawn around the variety of humans, no "races" of us.

The data for tracking lineages come from genomics, DNA comparisons and the study of genetic markers. Tattersall and DeSalle argue that not only are the differences between the classically defined "races" very superficial, they are also of surprisingly recent origin; the variety of human populations seems to have both accumulated and begun to reintegrate within the past 50,000 to 60,000 years. The diversity among us has arisen in a blink of evolution's eye. The process of relative geographic isolation of local populations into what might have been true races (genetically differentiated populations) during the last Ice Age began to reverse as formerly isolated human groups came back into contact and interbred. That reintegration, which has occurred intermittently throughout human history, is sped up today because of great migration and widespread mating of individuals from disparate geographic origins. The result is that individuals identified as belonging to one "race," based on the small number of visible characters used in historical race definitions, are likely to have diverse ancestry.

Nothing became modern Darwinists like their willingness to abandon any coherence to their theory in favor of Christian morality .  Faced with the realization that you couldn't be both decent and Darwinist they overwhelmingly chose the former.  Sure, it left the theory in tatters, but it made them better people. Bully for them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


The Oil Market Panic (Richard A. Epstein, 2/20/12, Defining Ideas)

W. Howard Coudle, an ordinary American recently quoted by the Associated Press, says that the rise of his monthly gasoline bill from $60 to $80 in the last eight weeks has made a difference: "We're going to have to drive less, consolidate all our errands into one trip. It's just oppressive."

His are genuine hardships, as are those of millions of other Americans. Coudle's heartfelt claim of "oppression" is an early harbinger of political discontent. But the private adaptive responses of Mr. Coudle make far more sense than any political response to the rising price of oil. The question on the table is how best to respond to the disruptions in oil supplies, not to pretend that these disruptions do not exist. On this score, the great advantage of a market system is that it forces Mr. Coudle (and everyone else) to think hard about the relative value of the goods and services he consumes and to make cutbacks in a cheap and rational fashion. In both good times and bad, people are always having to decide which goods and services to spend their incomes on, and which to forego.

Price movements give them an accurate, instantaneous, and impersonal picture of how other people value various goods and services. When oil prices rise, its least valuable uses are the first to drop out of the system. The decisions are typically made on a continuous basis, so that if some people find that they have cut back purchases by too much (or too little), they can increase (or decrease) their purchases in the next pricing period. Spurred on by these price increases, people can also make changes in their spending patterns elsewhere to offset the inconvenience of the higher prices for oil products. Purchasing a hybrid, insulating your home, and moving closer to work are just some of the many ways to save money. Good luck to Mr. Coudle, who provides an object lesson in how that task should be done.

...we could just raise the price of gas permanently, via taxation, both filling our own coffers instead of those of Iran and speculators and creating the pressure for the changes Mr. Epstein welcomes.  Instead the price of gas will soon be plummeting again and the Coudles will return to all their inefficient behaviors.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Obama to offer corporate tax reform plan (Jessica Yellin, 2/22/12, CNN) 

The Treasury Department will unveil President Barack Obama's corporate tax reform plan on Wednesday that will reduce the overall corporate tax rate, an senior administration official told CNN.

The President's tax plan is intended to "enhance American competitiveness by simplifying the tax code and eliminating dozens of tax loopholes and subsidies, incentivizing job creation and investment here at home and lowering the business rate while broadening the tax base," the official said.

The proposal calls for lowering the overall corporate tax rate to 28%, and the effective rate for manufacturing to 25%.

Even beside the economic reasons for dropping the rate to 0%, it would be the most effective form of campaign finance and lobbying reform.

February 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Gary Carter Showed Me How to Play the Game: I never met the baseball great, who died last week. But he spoke to me in my darkest hour. (ANDREW KLAVAN, 2/21/12, WSJ)

I was not a Christian then--not yet--and if Carter had preached religion at that moment, it would have gone right past me. But he didn't. He said something else, something much simpler but also true. I don't remember the words exactly but a fair translation would be this: "Sometimes you just have to play in pain."

Carter's words somehow broke through my self-pitying despair. "Play in pain?" I thought. "Hell, I can do that. That's one thing I actually know how to do."

I had been looking for answers but I didn't know the answers. I had been looking for solutions, but solutions were for another day. It hadn't occurred to me that maybe, for now at least, the only way to go on living was to do like the great athletes do and just tough it out.

I did tough it out, and I got therapeutic help, and I abandoned lifelong self-destructive habits and thoughts. And had I known in that moment how very close I was to genuine mental health and happiness, I would have slapped myself stupid for ever thinking to end it all.

Gary Carter didn't save my life. He was just a ballplayer I'd never met. He didn't have that power. But because he was how he was and played how he played and spoke with a brash, sunny optimism that made journalists hate him--well, let's say he lit a candle when a little bit of light made all the difference.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Gallup survey shows 'sharp deterioration in job market' in Feburary (Justin Sink, 02/21/12, The Hill)

Unemployment could rise back to 9 percent of the U.S. population in Feburary, according to a Gallup survey released Tuesday, painting a grim picture for the Obama administration, which had been temporarily buoyed by promising jobs figures at the end of January. 

Gallup's mid-month reading, which traditionally previews the government report issued at the end of the month, shows a rise of seven-tenths of a percentage from the 8.3 percent unemployment rate at the end of January. That would be the worst unemployment figure since September of last year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


NEURONS V FREE WILL: The notion of free will is under attack again, this time from the advance of neuroscience. (Anthony Gottlieb, March/April 2012, More Intelligent Life)

Every age finds a fresh reason to doubt the reality of human freedom. The ancient Greeks worried about Ananke, the primeval force of necessity or compulsion, and her children, the Fates, who steered human lives. Some scientifically minded Greeks, such as Leucippus in the fifth century BC, regarded the motion of atoms as controlled by Ananke, so that "everything happens...by necessity." Medieval theologians developed a different worry: they struggled to reconcile human freedom with God's presumed foreknowledge of all actions. And in the wake of the scientific revolution of the 17th century, philosophers grappled with the notion of a universe that was subject to invariable laws of nature. This spectre of "determinism" was a reprise of the old Greek worry about necessity, only this time with experimental and mathematical evidence to back it up. 

In the 20th century, the new science of psychology also seemed to undermine the idea of free will: Freud's theory of unconscious drives suggested that the causes of some of our actions are not what we think they are. And then along came neuroscience, which is often thought to paint an even bleaker picture. The more we find out about the workings of the brain, the less room there seems to be in it for any kind of autonomous, rational self. Where, in the chain of events leading up to an action, could such a thing be found? Investigations of the brain show that conscious will is an "illusion", according to the title of an influential book by a Harvard psychologist, Daniel Wegner, in 2002--a conclusion that has been echoed by many researchers since. In 2011, Sam Harris, an American writer on neuroscience and religion, wrote that free will "could not be squared with an understanding of the physical world", and that all our behaviour "can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge".

Really? There are now hopeful signs of what might be called a backlash against the brain. Hardly anybody doubts that the grey matter in our skulls underpins our thoughts and feelings, in the sense that a working brain is required for our mental life. This is not a new, or even a modern, idea: Hippocrates proclaimed as much in the fifth century BC. But there is a growing realisation among some neuroscientists that looking at flickers of activity inside our heads can be a misleading way to see how our minds work. This is because many of the distinctively human things that people do take place over time and outside their craniums. Perhaps the brain is the wrong place to look if you want to find free will. This is a theme of recent books by Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Raymond Tallis, a retired British doctor and neuroscientist. As Dr Tallis puts it in his "Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity", trying to find human life in the brain is like trying to hear the rustle of a forest by listening to a seed.

In part, this backlash against the brain results from the conviction that today's technologies for investigating it have been hyped. The existence of diagnostic hardware such as fMRI and PET scanners, which let you peek inside brains while they are still alive and thinking, has encouraged some neuroscientists to think they can find the locus of moral responsibility, the seat of love and all manner of things in the gaudy images produced by brain scans. But although our mental lives depend on the brain, it doesn't necessarily follow that our behaviour is best understood by looking inside it. It's like the old joke about a drunk who drops his car keys at night and walks down the road to look for them under a distant streetlight--not because that's where they're likely to be, but because it's where he can see.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM

AMAZIN' (via The Mother Judd):

Spring of '62: Revisiting the Dawn of the Mets (ROBERT LIPSYTE, 2/19/12, NY Times)

Among the Mets acquired in the expansion draft because they were considered past their prime or otherwise expendable were some star players, including Frank Thomas, a three-time All-Star slugger at Pittsburgh; Gus Bell, a four-time All-Star at Cincinnati; and the onetime Phillies Whiz Kid Richie Ashburn, a former batting champion with a .308 career average. Alas, there were more critical numbers -- the three made up an outfield with 19 children and a combined age of 102.

While most of the reporters, including me, saw this as further proof of the Mets' inevitable haplessness (why else would I have taken my glove?), my best friend on the team, Jay Hook, saw stars. He was, like me, a 24-year-old college boy, but he was also a real prospect, expected to become one of the club's starting pitchers.

"I was optimistic that spring, I was optimistic for years," he told me recently from his farm in northern Michigan. "The beauty of baseball is that it's a new game every day. I never thought we were that bad. There were some pretty good guys on the team, especially the old Dodgers."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Why Toxic Debt Looks a Lot Less Toxic (Jody Shenn and Saijel Kishan, 2/16/12, Business Week)

Some of the same investors who made big profits betting against mortgage bonds before the 2007 housing bust have started snapping up the toxic assets. Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, who made $500 million when subprime debt cratered, is raising a fund to buy them. He's joining John Paulson, who made $15 billion in 2007 thanks to the housing bust. Goldman Sachs Group has bought the bonds this year. Remarkably, so has American International Group (AIG) --the insurer that had to be rescued by the U.S. government in 2008 after its wagers on risky mortgages went bad. [...]

Typical prices for a type of mortgage bond tied to option adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) rose to 55¢ on the dollar in the second week of February from 49¢ in November, according to Barclays Capital (BCS). The securities are bouncing back "almost like a coiled spring," says Clayton DeGiacinto, chief investment officer of hedge fund Axonic Capital. Option ARMs allowed borrowers to pay less than the monthly interest due with the shortfall added to the balance and were among the toxic debt that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission said helped fuel the housing boom and subsequent bust. About 45 percent of the option ARM loans that are in bonds are delinquent, according to JPMorgan Chase (JPM) data.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


The Maghreb's modern Islamists must look West (Moha Ennaji, 2/21/12, The Daily Star)

So far, both Ennahda and the PJD have taken a pragmatic stance. They recognize that, while their supporters may be devout Muslims, they also need to earn a living; empty hotels and beaches would be economically disastrous. Thus, tourism professionals in both countries have received strong government assurances that business will continue as usual.

Islamist parties will now have enormous influence on economic policy, after decades of official separation of mosque and state. Islamic banking, for example, may soon be introduced, though some local and foreign investors argue that Shariah regulations could drive away much-needed foreign investment. There are also concerns about inexperienced Islamist officials' ability to run finance ministries.

But the region's Islamist parties appear to be conscious of these risks, and determined to mitigate them. They know that they need economic growth to curb unemployment and pay for social services, so they are working to bolster the private sector. In many cases, they are even advocating the kind of free-market policies that their secular predecessors favored.

Those policies should include trade liberalization. Until now, less than 2 percent of the Maghreb countries' foreign trade has remained within the region. If the region's new leaders can integrate their economies, a market of more than 75 million consumers would attract more foreign investment and trade with the rest of the world.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Crying wolf about an Iranian nuclear bomb (JACQUES E. C. HYMANS, 17 JANUARY 2012, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

It is one thing for Iran to want nuclear weapons; it is an entirely different matter for it to actually build them. Even taking the darkest possible view of Iranian nuclear intentions, the historical record provides ample reason to doubt that Iran is on the verge of entering the nuclear weapons club.

As strategic analysts Anthony Cordesman and Khalil al-Rodhan remind us, in the 1990s, high-level American and Israeli policymakers repeatedly warned of an Iranian bomb by the year 2000. When that did not come to pass, policymakers warned of an Iranian bomb by the year 2005. Then they said it would happen by 2010. Now the talk puts Iran's nuclear debut in the 2013-2015 time frame, if not sooner.

The story of the boy who cried wolf comes to mind.

This is not to deny that the Iranian regime has made some progress toward the bomb during its quarter-century of intensive nuclear efforts. Most notably, Iran has accumulated a decent amount of low-enriched uranium, enriched to about 3 percent, and a small amount enriched to around 20 percent. The country has recently embarked on a major campaign to build up its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, and once this is accomplished, Iran will be well-positioned to amass a significant quantity of bomb-grade, 90 percent enriched uranium. Bottom line: Today, Iran is about halfway to its putative goal; not many countries have been able to make it even this far.

That being said, however, it is crucial to recognize that the quality of Iran's nuclear workmanship has been consistently poor, so it has been able to progress at no more than a snail's pace.

For instance, Iran imported powerful Pakistani P2 centrifuge models in the mid-1990s, but it was not until 2011 that it finally began using a version of them in its enrichment drive. Even now, the vast majority of the Iranian enrichment effort relies on the very inefficient Pakistani P1 centrifuge design. 

Indeed, in recent years -- despite the headlines about Iranian nuclear progress -- its number of working gas centrifuges has actually been declining, due to wear and tear, poor maintenance, a lack of spare parts, and impure feedstock. (As of 2005, Iran's uranium hexafluoride gas feedstock was still not much better than "garbage.")  As a result, even before the devastating 2010 Stuxnet virus attacks, the Iranian program was already experiencing a "tremendous slowing down," in the words of former IAEA safeguards chief Olli Heinonen.

Is it really reasonable to expect such low-quality, brittle technical infrastructure to create a single, Hiroshima-size nuclear device -- let alone a bona fide nuclear weapons arsenal?

In the story a wolf eventually shows up. In reality, North Korea doesn't even have nukes yet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Solar-Panel Giant Poised to Get Even Bigger. (KEVIN BULLIS, 2/21/12, Technology Review)

Solar Frontier makes CIGS solar panels, which are based on a thin film of semiconductor made from copper, indium, gallium, and selenium. The semiconductor material is far better at absorbing sunlight than silicon, so less of it is required, and it can be processed using fewer steps than silicon. Both attributes could reduce the cost of a solar panel. But it's proved difficult to manufacture CIGS panels at large scales and at costs low enough to compete with the incumbent technology. Dozens of companies have tried, but so far, they make only relatively small amounts of solar panels. One such company, Solyndra, famously failed to reduce the costs of the process and ran out of money.

Solar Frontier, with nearly a gigawatt of solar-panel production capacity, is the notable exception. The company's direct competitors include other CIGS companies, but also silicon solar-panel manufacturers and First Solar, which makes thin-film solar panels based on cadmium telluride. Taken together, these companies make most of the world's solar panels. Solar Frontier declined to give specific cost figures, but it says its costs are competitive, even with low-cost Chinese solar-panel makers using conventional silicon technology. Because its panels work well in low-light conditions, they can generate more electricity than silicon solar panels of the same peak power output. The company says this allows its customers to earn more revenue from solar-panel installations than they could using other solar panels.

Since starting work on the technology decades ago, the company has developed a number of innovations, says Gregory Ashley, chief operating officer of the American operations of Solar Frontier. It has developed techniques for ensuring the precise composition of the CIGS material, and developed a technique for adding sulfur to the mix to improve power output. It learned how to make the thickness of the material extremely uniform to aid in patterning it to make solar cells, and eliminated the need for cadmium, a toxic metal. The innovations brought down manufacturing costs and allowed the company to achieve the world record for CIGS solar-panel efficiency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


The Funniest President Of Them All (James Dodson, September 1987, Yankee)

"President Coolidge," a female reporter asked him not long after he'd taken office, "do you do anything as a hobby?"

"I hold office," deadpanned Coolidge.

The casual remark infuriated Democrats in Congress, who agreed. Yet back in his beloved Vermont a well-spoken neighbor finally put the issue in perspective. "Listen," he pointed out to a group of reporters," the nation wanted nothin' done -- and Old Cal sure has done it! What more can you ask of an honest man?"

But some Vermonters liked to stretch the truth a bit. During his presidency, thanks to policies that placed government at the service of American business interests ("The business of America is business," quoth Cal, in a moment of giddy chattiness), the stock market climbed steadily and personal income in the United States reached the highest levels in the nation's history. What more could anyone in Congress want? Yankee Stadium was built, and Babe Ruth smacked 60 home runs. The electric shaver was invented, and the five-day work week was introduced. Talking movies were invented, and Hollywood handed out the first Oscar.

Fortunately while he was president not much happened on the world stage to detract from valuable sleep time. But even so, Coolidge's social schedule was a surprisingly animated ledger -- and a source of continual personal annoyance. Once, a talkative young woman failed to get any response from Coolidge through the course of a lengthy dinner party. "Mr. Coolidge, you go to so many dinner parties," she persisted. "They must bore you a great deal." Without lifting his eyes from the table, Coolidge gloomily admitted, "Well, a man must eat somewhere."

The young lady in question was Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of the former president, who gleefully circulated her conviction that Cal Coolidge looked like a man "who was weaned on a pickle." When he smiled, someone else added, "the effect was like ice breaking up in a New England river." Coolidge himself was not without humor on this point, cracking: "I think the American people want a solemn ass as a president. And I think I'll go along with them."

Coolidge's fabled taciturnity made him the perpetual challenge of Washington social butterflies. A lady sitting next to the brittle Vermonter at a dinner party once tried to coax him into talking to her by explaining, "I have made a bet, Mr. President, that I could get more than two words out of you."

"You lose," said Coolidge.

Even near the end of his term, Coolidge's relationship with the press was scarcely more intimate. The ambassador of a great nation called at the White House one day for an important meeting with the president. Mrs. Coolidge -- her name was Grace, and by all accounts she was as good as her name -- came in while the ambassador was preparing to leave. "Why don't you offer the ambassador a drink?" she suggested. "Because he's already had one," replied the president testily. The next day, reporters besieged Coolidge for details of the important meeting -- did he have anything to say about the conference? The state of international relations? The fate of the world?

"No," snapped Coolidge. "And don't quote me on that!"

Perhaps the most famous Coolidge story also involved his wife Grace. One Sunday when she was feeling under the weather, Coolidge ventured out to church alone. When he came back, his wife asked him what the minister had preached about.

"Sin," replied the president tersely.

"Well," persisted the first lady, "what did he have to say about it?

"He was against it," replied Coolidge.

Coolidge himself later disclaimed the anecdote, but other sparrings with his wife were well publicized. The president and Mrs. Coolidge once visited a government sponsored farm and were taken around on separate tours. At the chicken pens Mrs. Coolidge paused to inquire of the overseer whether the rooster copulated more than once a day

"Yes, ma'am," replied the farmhand, blushing. "Dozens of times a day.

"Tell that to the president," requested Mrs. Coolidge.

The president soon ambled by the pens and was informed about the rooster. "Same hen every time?" he asked the farmhand.

"Oh no, sir, a different one every time," replied the worker.

"Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge," said Cal.

Cal Coolidge shocked the nation, and his myriad critics, by choosing not to run for re-election in 1928, even though most polls showed he would have won in a landslide. His "I do not choose to run" address was short and to the point -- the job no longer interested him, he said. That was that.

"Mr. Coolidge," a reporter demanded after the famous (and short) speech, pressing the issue, "Why don't you want to be president anymore?"

Coolidge took a breath, then reflected: "Because there's no chance for advancement." A lady admirer rushed up a short while later and breathlessly exclaimed, "Mr. President, your speech was so moving I stood up the entire time."

"So did I," Coolidge told her. 

On the other hand, how many presidential speeches ever are better than this one.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Driverless cars are sneaking up on you (Peter Valdes-Dapens,  February 21, 2012, CNN Money)

The first "autonomous driving" systems will be part-timers, only able to handle the boring stuff. They'll only take full control in certain environments, such as Interstate highways.

And cars like that from mainstream automakers are close to reality.

Self-driving cars aren't just a matter of convenience, either; it's safety that's the driving force. That's why some people are pushing for a faster roll-out of the technology, said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at Stanford Law School who has written extensively about self-driving cars.

Over 30,000 people a year are killed in car crashes, the majority of which are caused by human error. Computers may not be perfect, but they're almost certain to be far better than us.

"How long are we willing to wait and let people die before we move to the autonomous car?" said Smith.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Kerala May Train Monkeys to Pick Coconuts Due to Labor Shortage (PALASH R. GHOSH, February 20, 2012, IB Times)

The government of the southern Indian state of Kerala may start a program to train monkeys to pick coconuts

Apparently, the Kerala Coconut Development Board (CDB) is concerned by the unwillingness of increasing numbers of low- caste men to engage in such dangerous work for such low pay. Local farmers, facing a shortage of coconut tree-climbers, are now reluctant to grow coconuts, a staple of Kerala's culture and economy.

February 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


AP Exclusive: al-Qaida links with SE Asia fraying (NINIEK KARMINI, 2/20/12, Associated Press)

A top Indonesian terror suspect captured in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was later killed insists he was unaware of the al-Qaida leader's presence there, according to the video of his interrogation obtained by The Associated Press.

Alleged master bomb maker Umar Patek also described his frustration in re-establishing militant ties in his quest to go to Afghanistan and fight American soldiers. After flying on his own to Pakistan, he waited there for months before a years-old militant contact finally came for him.

His remarks, if true, would further bolster evidence that Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist movement, responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, is now largely cut off from its long-standing al-Qaida sponsorship, thanks in part to a relentless crackdown that has largely decimated their ranks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Rick Santorum's Part D Vote: His support of Medicare's prescription drug benefit is a feature, not a bug. (DAVID CATRON,  2.20.12, American Spectator)

[P]resident Bush stole the issue from the Democrats and, with much wrangling, convinced majorities in both houses of Congress to support option two. Part D was created by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA), which passed in the House with a slim majority that included such notorious spendthrifts as Paul Ryan and was pushed over the top in the upper chamber with the votes of Santorum and 53 other Senators, including several current Romney surrogates.

MMA established a system in which private insurers competed with one another to provide health and prescription drug coverage to seniors. The idea was that this competition would put downward pressure on Medicare costs in general, and the first signs that it was beginning to work came in the area of prescription drugs. Part D went into effect in 2006 and, by 2007, some if its initial critics began to acknowledge its efficacy. The Washington Post, for example, grudgingly admitted that "the new Medicare drug benefit appears to be slowing the growth in national spending on prescription medicines because the drug plans are negotiating lower prices with drug companies.... In the program, private insurers negotiate prices with drug companies as they compete to attract Medicare beneficiaries."

This result was precisely the opposite of what the program's critics had predicted, and it made the Democrats very nervous indeed. They correctly saw the success of Part D's emphasis on the free market and patient choice as a threat to their plans to implement a government-run health care system. These Democrat fears were stoked by the obvious enthusiasm shown by low-income and minority seniors for Medicare Advantage (MA), the primary vehicle through which patients acquire Part D. MA appeals to these patients precisely because its benefits, including prescription drug coverage, are more comprehensive than those of traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

Too bad none of these guys have learned from W's example.  He won an unwinnable election by running on things like making SS and Medicare more market-based.  If Romney and Santorum were running on doing the same for Obamacare it would be easier to take them seriously and they'd appeal to the vast middle.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


At Last, They See: E-Books 'Democratize' Publishing (LYNN NEARY, 2/19/12, Weekend Edition)

"The power to create great books and the power to distribute great books is transferring to the author," [Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords] says. "Just a few years ago, publishers controlled the printing press and they controlled access to retail distribution. So if you couldn't get your book printed and you couldn't get it distributed, you'd never reach readers. But today, the printing press is completely democratized."

Smashwords doesn't edit or curate its books, and Coker says the readers should decide which books will rise to the top and which will fail. And in the brave new world of digital publishing, Coker says, a book is a constant work in progress.

"In the old days, in the print-book days, books were relatively static objects. The publisher would wrap up the book, ship it out and that book would rarely change," he says. "But with e-books, they're these dynamic creatures. Authors have the ability to change anything about the book at any time."

Why wait until a book is finished to find out what readers are thinking? Dominque Raccah, CEO and publisher of Sourcebooks, is experimenting with the "agile publishing" model -- which allows authors and readers to interact as the book is still being written.

"You really are publishing into a community already," Raccah says. "So what you are going to be doing is developing that book in front of that community, having the community interact with the author to develop the book [and] provide feedback."

A lot of the digital publishing experiments that are getting underway today may not be here a few years from now, but Raccha says the experimentation is key to learning what will and won't work in the future.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Venezuela's Hugo Chavez faces an uprising at the ballot box (Jackson Diehl, 2/20/12, Washington Post)

The opposition Capriles now heads has learned lessons that might benefit some of the revolutionaries of the Middle East. It tried and failed to oust Chavez with mass demonstrations and strikes; it foolishly boycotted elections it believed would be unfair; it indulged in endless internal quarrels. The result was the entrenchment of a strongman who has thoroughly wrecked what was once Latin America's richest country and who now presides over the highest inflation and murder rates in the Western Hemisphere, shortages of basic goods and power, and a drug-trafficking industry whose kingpins include the defense minister.

The opposition could have turned savage; instead it grew civil. Capriles, lanky and somewhat wonky, has insisted on pursuing power peacefully and by electoral means, even when the playing field is tilted. In 2004 Chavez jailed him on bogus charges; he won acquittal and in 2008 stunned Chavez's hand-picked candidate for governor in Miranda, the populous state that surrounds Caracas. Now some pollsters are giving him even-money odds of beating Chavez himself, if the votes are counted fairly. His campaign has focused not on the caudillo but on the country -- how he would begin to piece the economy and democratic institutions back together, while preserving social programs for the poor. His model, he says, is Brazil's social democratic hero, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Chavez has responded by importing the rhetoric of the Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad, whom he recently welcomed to Caracas. He has tried to seize the ballot papers from the opposition primary, probably in order to identify and punish those who participated; such an operation targeted signers of a 2004 recall petition.

Meanwhile he is pouring borrowed money into the economy in a frantic effort to buy back support. The government budget calls for a 46 percent increase in spending this year. The state oil company borrowed $17.5 billion last year and is expected to sell another $12 billion to $15 billion in bonds. There is also a $30 billion credit line from China, to be paid back with discounted oil sometime in the future.

For Chavez, the future beyond October may not matter much. Operated on for cancer in Cuba last June, he has never disclosed the details of his illness; more than one foreign report suggests that he suffers from an incurable malignancy.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Out of Virtue, Greatness: Washington as Aristotle's Magnanimous Man (Dr. Jose Yulo, July 4, 2007, Ignatius Insight)

In what ways do the great Greek philosopher's findings parallel Wood's analysis of Washington's character? First, and not coincidentally, the ideal Aristotle wrote of which most conformed to the paradigm set forth by Washington was that of the "proud," "great-souled," or "magnanimous" man. One of the telltale characteristics of the magnanimous man--a man Aristotle felt deserved the highest of all prizes--was his oftentimes haughty and aloof nature, "Hence proud men are thought to be disdainful." Aristotle explained the purpose of this reticence as a response to the perpetually transitory travails of life, travails prone to buckle lesser men to unseemly displays of emotion and abandon. 

Likewise, Washington bore his considerable gravitas buttressed by walls of stoic stone. As Wood wrote, "Despite the continued popularity of Parson Weems's biographical attempt to humanize Washington, the great man remained distant and unapproachable, almost unreal and unhuman." Wood described this otherworldly ethos as incomprehensible to modern sensibilities. It is not too far a stretch to assume it awed the President's contemporaries as well. Ultimately, this was traced by the historian to Washington's being a product of the "pre-egalitarian world of the eighteenth century," a century which lionized exalted military stature and reputation.

As Aristotle was a philosopher who emphasized the metaphysical concept of purpose, this ideal is also woven throughout his ethical study. The magnanimous man then, above all other things, sought out honor as his purpose and end: "It is chiefly with honours and dishonours, then, that the proud man is concerned..." Within this spectrum, the magnanimous man grew conscious of precisely where and from whom he received his honors. Since he occupied a solitary, elevated pedestal by virtue of his stature, he could not welcome honors and praise from peers. Yet, he did accept accolades from "good men" since "they have nothing greater to bestow on him." In contrast, the magnanimous man directly, or indirectly sought to foster hierarchical relationships by disdaining "honour from casual people and on trifling grounds."

Washington, like most of his contemporaries, was concerned with this Aristotelian end. "Honor was the esteem in which they were held..." Wood explained, "To have honor across space and time was to have fame, and fame was what the founders were after, Washington above all." Because of his accomplishments, Washington was the first of the founding generation to achieve this vaunted status. Nevertheless, he carefully cultivated his image. According to Wood, it was this selfsame concern which finally pushed a reluctant Washington to attend the Philadelphia Convention of 1787: "What finally convinced Washington...was the fear that people might think he wanted the government to fail so that he could then manage a military takeover." 

In this, the then general exhibited his Aristotelian disdain for "trifling grounds." What makes this most remarkable was that for Washington, the seeking of power was somehow beneath and the antithesis of his classical reputation. Centuries before, Machiavelli would instruct his patron prince that power should be seen as the ultimate good, or end to political practice. Most modern (and postmodern thought), subsisting in the vacuum created by the renunciation of virtue, is given to this utilitarian dictum. Yet, here is Washington, schooled in fine Greek form, viewing power as Aristotle viewed it, "Power and wealth are desirable for the sake of honour..." As the logic follows, this perspective of lowering power beneath honor seems only possible when virtue, or goodness, is part of the rich fabric of a leader's identity.

Aristotle stated as much when he elaborated on the magnanimous man's moral state: "Now the proud man...must be good in the highest degree; for the better man always deserves more, and the best man most." Considering current political thought, this Greek ideal appears more distant than the millennia already allow. As stated already, power in contemporary politics is seen as an end, therefore its attainment is paramount, and often at the expense of virtue. Aristotle reminds his reader of an alternative, a more real and natural relationship--that of the glory gained not by winning power, but by serving virtue. 
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February 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


When George Washington Became Great: Those were the times that tried men's souls. (MYRON MAGNET, Winter 2012, City Journal)

Meanwhile, Congress had written new roles for him and his army, and Washington had to establish them credibly in the eyes of the British commanders he faced, including General Thomas Gage, the commander in chief and governor of Massachusetts, who had served with him in the French and Indian War 20 years earlier. Little more than a month after taking command, Washington wrote Gage that he had heard reports that American soldiers captured at Bunker Hill, even "those of the most respectable Rank, when languishing with Wounds and Sickness," had been "thrown indiscriminately, into a common Gaol appropriated for Felons." Just be aware, he wrote, that we'll treat British POWs exactly as you treat Americans. You choose: either "Severity, & Hardship" or "Kindness & Humanity." Gage replied that of course he mixed up officers and enlisted men promiscuously, "for I acknowledge no rank not derived from the king." This was the wrong response, especially to a newly minted commander in chief who, as a mere colonial officer two decades earlier, had resented having to defer to officers with less merit than he but with royal commissions.

"You affect, Sir, to despise all Rank not derived from the same Source with your own," Washington thundered back, asserting a new, democratic understanding of legitimacy and worth. "I cannot conceive any more honourable, than that which flows from the uncorrupted Choice of a brave and free People--The purest Source & original Fountain of all Power." Furthermore, you claim that you've shown "Clemency" by not hanging my men as rebels. But it remains to be seen "whether our virtuous Citizens whom the Hand of Tyranny has forced into Arms, to defend their Wives, their Children, & their Property; or the mercenary Instruments of lawless Domination, Avarice, and Revenge best deserve the Appellation of Rebels." A higher authority than you will decide. "May that God to whom you then appealed, judge between America & you!"

Lord North, the prime minister, got the point, noting that "the war is now grown to such a height that it must be treated as a foreign war." Others were slower on the uptake, and Washington had to assert his new character strenuously at least once more. When Admiral Lord Howe, the British naval commander, and his brother General William Howe, who had led the assault up Bunker Hill and then replaced Gage as commander in chief, wanted to negotiate with Washington in New York in July 1776, they sent an envoy with an invitation addressed to "George Washington Esq., etc. etc." Washington's aides wouldn't take the letter, saying that "there was no such person in the Army," and indeed, "all the world knew who Genl Washington was." Some days later, the Howes sent another message addressed to "His Excellency, General Washington," asking him to meet their envoy to discuss a parley. But when the envoy arrived at the meeting with the original, misaddressed letter, Washington refused it with frigid politeness, the gentlemanly savoir faire of which he underscored by inviting the ambassador "to partake of a small collation" before he dismissed him. "I would not upon any occasion sacrifice Essentials to Punctilio," Washington reported to John Hancock, president of Congress, "but in this Instance . . . I deemed It a duty to my Country and my appointment to insist upon . . . respect."

Good fortune as 1776 dawned finally gave Washington the means to stage a spectacular coup de théâtre in Boston. A month before Bunker Hill, Connecticut militia captain Benedict Arnold, along with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, had rowed across Lake Champlain to the New York side and seized the lightly manned British Fort Ticonderoga, with its rich cache of arms and ammunition. In an almost superhuman feat, Colonel Henry Knox, a hulking, 300-pound, stentorian-voiced Boston bookseller who had taught himself gunnery from his shop's stock of artillery manuals, had gone to Ticon- deroga on Washington's orders and dragged 55 mortars and cannon, weighing some 120,000 pounds, on ox-drawn sleds through 300 miles of snowy mountains and frozen rivers, presenting them to Washington on January 17. He happily discovered that Washington had acquired 2,000 muskets and two tons of ammunition, separately captured in the meantime.

Washington crowned Knox's feat with a suitably dramatic finale. Across a narrow strip of Boston Harbor and looking down upon the city from the south towered Dorchester Heights--sheer cliffs over 100 feet high (though now leveled and part of South Boston). The British had carelessly failed to occupy this territory, and if Washington could get Knox's guns up there, he would command Boston in a military checkmate. But how to do it without the British overpowering him in the process?

Out of tree trunks, poles, baskets of earth, and hay bales, Washington built portable fortifications, like a stage set. On the night of March 2, he began a deafening cannonade of Boston from various places away from Dorchester Heights, and this diversion continued incessantly through the night of the 4th, when, as a bright moon shone on the Heights but unusual warmth swathed harbor and city in fog, oxen dragged the heavy weapons and prefabricated fortifications on straw-muffled wheels up a slope frozen firm, while the diversionary bombardment masked what little noise the operation made. When the British awoke on the morning of the 5th, they found themselves pinned down under the many guns of a fortress instantly conjured up, it seemed to one British officer, by "the Genii belonging to Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp."

Both Washington and General Howe wanted to attack at once, but a fierce rainstorm and prudent second thoughts held them back. Seeing his position now untenable, Howe resolved to leave the city. He, too, tried the theatrics of a diversionary cannonade, but Washington glimpsed the "hurry, precipitation and confusion" of his preparations, and he gloated that when the British sailed away on March 17, they left behind £30,000 to £40,000 worth of cannon and provisions, he estimated, along with a wilderness of destroyed baggage wagons and artillery carriages drifting in the harbor. The town itself "has shared a much better Fate than was expected," and Washington was pleased to write Hancock that his house had "receiv'd no damage worth mentioning" and that "the family pictures are all left entire and untouch'd." As for Boston's Loyalists: "no Electric Shock--no sudden Clap of thunder--in a word the last Trump" could have "Struck them with greater Consternation" than the thought of facing "their offended Countrymen." Many fled by any vessel they could find; one or two committed suicide.

For Washington, those countrymen had universal praise for a miraculous, morale-boosting achievement. To one who called him "the savior of your country," the theatrical general replied by paraphrasing his favorite line from Addison's Cato: "To obtain the applause of deserving men is a heartfelt satisfaction, to merit it is my highest wish."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


The Doom Loop: Andrew Haldane writes about equity and the banking system (Andrew Haldane, 2/23/12, London Review of Books)

By the end of the 1930s, only six British banks still maintained reserve liability. The governance and balance sheets of banks were, by this time, unrecognisable from those a century earlier. Banks were now controlled by arms-length managers, no longer major shareholders, while ownership was held by a widely dispersed set of shareholders, unvetted and anonymous, their upside pay-offs unlimited but their downside risks now capped by limited liability.

What impact did these changes have on banks' incentive to take risks? The answer was provided in 1974, around a hundred years after the introduction of limited liability, by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Merton, who showed that the equity of a limited liability company could be valued as if it were a financial option - that is, an instrument which offers rights over the future fruits of the company's assets. This option has value - in the jargon, it is 'in the money' - provided a firm's assets cover its debts. But the most extraordinary implication of Merton's framework is that the value of those options can be enhanced by increases in the degree of uncertainty about the value of the bank's assets. How so? Because while uncertainty increases both upside and downside risks, downside risks are capped by limited liability. For shareholders, the sky is the limit but the floor is always just beneath their feet. To maximise shareholder value, therefore, banks need simply to seek bigger and riskier bets.

The response to these incentives has been entirely predictable. Since 1880, the ratio of UK bank assets to GDP has risen roughly tenfold, and the increase has been particularly steep over the past thirty years, peaking at well over 500 per cent of GDP. The pattern in other developed countries has been similar, if less dramatic. The bets weren't just bigger, but also riskier. During the 20th century, an alphabet soup of exotic and complex instruments, often known by three-letter acronyms, came to displace simple loans on banks' balance sheets. These boosted banks' returns. But if returns are high, risks are never far behind. Returns on bank assets were two and a half times more volatile at the end of the 20th century than at the beginning.

Finance has a further trick up its sleeve, a trick that at a stroke boosts both volatility and returns to the owners of a bank. Leverage, simply put, is borrowing against your capital stake. For example, if borrowing allows a bank to hold assets of 120 against capital of ten, then its leverage is 12. The beauty of leverage is that it effortlessly multiplies the amount shareholders receive as a return on their assets. Consider a bank that makes a 1 per cent return on its assets. By allowing leverage (assets relative to equity) of two, shareholders can double their money; with leverage of four, they can quadruple their money. And so on. Banks have been using this device for well over a century. As unlimited liability was phased out, leverage among banks rose from about three or four in the middle of the 19th century to about five or six at its close. Leverage continued its upward march when extended liability was removed, and by the end of the 20th century it was higher than twenty. In 2007, at its high-water mark, bank leverage hit thirty or more.

This strategy translated, by the arithmetical magic of leverage, into higher shareholder returns. Having begun the 20th century in modest single figures, equity returns to banks were, on average, close to 20 per cent by its end. At the height of the boom, bank equity returns touched 30 per cent. Higher leverage accounted for almost all of this. Bank managers no longer had to sweat their assets: they simply had to borrow against them.

The downside of this strategy is now only too clear. With leverage of two (UK banks in 1850), 50 per cent of your assets must go bad before your equity is wiped out and you go bust. But with leverage of twenty (UK banks in 2000), you will go bust if you lose only 5 per cent of your assets. Over the last hundred years, as returns to banking have increased so too has their volatility, rising by a factor of between six and sevenfold. In the recent financial crisis, UK banks' shareholder returns fell from twenty-something to below zero in the space of a year.

In principle, market discipline ought to form a natural counterweight to these balance-sheet risks. Debt-holders in a bank, including depositors, ought to worry about shouldering increased risk, and should respond by raising the cost of funds or restricting their quantity, thereby restraining risk-hungry, excess-profit-seeking shareholders. During the 19th century, that theory fitted the facts. Depositor flight and bank runs followed when banks were perceived as fragile. But as the 20th century progressed, evidence of debtors exerting discipline over managers became increasingly patchy. Nowhere was the ineffectiveness of market discipline better illustrated than in the run-up to the recent financial crisis. At the same time as they were leveraging themselves up to the hilt, banks traded in debt markets as though they were riskless. Debtors should act as a brake on risk-taking, but in practice they served as an accelerator. The reason, once again, lies in incentives. When they face a crisis, it is dangerous for banks to have debtors take a hit. To do so may scare the horses, risking a stampede of deposits out of the door. Debtor discipline then has the effect of making a bad situation worse. Extended liability was abolished for just that reason. And the complex debt instruments issued by banks a hundred years later buckled under the same pressure.

In fact, making debtors shoulder the burden of risk in a crisis may have become harder over the past century. The structure of banking has been transformed during that time, in particular by the emergence of financial leviathans considered 'too big to fail'. At the start of the 20th century, the assets of the UK's three largest banks accounted for less than 10 per cent of GDP. By 2007, that figure had risen above 200 per cent of GDP. When these institutions hit problems, a bad situation can become catastrophic. In this crisis, as in past ones, catastrophe insurance was supplied not by private creditors but by taxpayers. Only they had pockets deep enough to refloat banks with such huge assets. This story has been repeated for the better part of a century and a half; in evolutionary terms, we have had survival not of the fittest but the fattest. I call this phenomenon the 'doom loop'.

Consider the effects of the too-big-to-fail problem on risk-taking incentives. If banks know they will be bailed out, those holding their debt will be less likely to price the risk of failure for themselves. Debtor discipline will therefore be weakest among those institutions where society would wish it to be strongest. This encourages them to grow larger still: the leverage cycle isn't merely repeated, but amplified. The doom loop grows larger. The biggest banks effectively benefit from a disguised, and growing, state subsidy. By my estimate, for UK banks this subsidy amounts to tens of billions of pounds per year and has often stretched to hundreds of billions. Few UK government spending departments have budgets this big. For the global banks, the subsidy can reach a trillion dollars - about eight times the annual global development budget.

We have arrived at a situation in which the ownership and control of banks is typically vested in agents representing small slivers of the balance sheet, but operating with socially sub-optimal risk-taking incentives. It is clear who the losers have been in the present crisis. But who are the beneficiaries? Short-term investors for one. More than anyone else, they benefit from a bumpy ride. If their timing is right, short-term investors can win on both the upswings (by buying) and the downswings (by short-selling) in financial prices. Bank shareholding has become increasingly short‑term over recent years. Average holding periods for US and UK banks' shares fell from around three years in 1998 to around three months by 2008.

Bank managers have benefited too. In joint-stock banking, ownership and control are distinct. That means managers may not always do what their owners wish. They may seek to feather their own nests by making decisions that boost short-term profits and thereby justify an increase in their own pay. Such decisions may also increase banks' vulnerability to shocks. In an attempt to avoid this problem, shareholders have sought to align managerial incentives with their own. One way of doing that, increasingly popular over the past decade, has been to remunerate managers not in cash but in equity or using equity‑based metrics. This can generate hugely powerful pecuniary incentives for managers to act in the interests of shareholders. At the peak of the boom, the wealth of the average US bank CEO increased by $24 for every $1000 created for shareholders. They earned $1 million for every 1 per cent rise in the value of their bank. But such equity-based contracts also set up some peculiar risk incentives. In the 19th century, managers monitored shareholders who monitored managers; in the 21st, managers egged on shareholders who egged on managers. The results have been entirely predictable. Before the crisis, the top five equity stakes were held by the CEOs of the following US banks: Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Countrywide. We know how these disaster movies ended.

The evolution of banking as I have described it has satisfied the immediate demands of shareholders and managers, but has short-changed everyone else. There is a compelling case for policy intervention. The best proposals for reform are those which aim to reshape risk-taking incentives on a durable basis. Perhaps the most obvious way to tackle shareholder-led incentive problems is to increase banks' equity capital base. This directly reduces their leverage and therefore the scale of the risks they can take. And it increases banks' capacity to absorb losses, reducing the need for taxpayer intervention. Over the past few years, this case has been pushed by regulatory reformers. Under the so‑called Basel III agreements struck in 2010, banks' minimum equity capital ratios will rise fivefold over the next decade, from 2 per cent to close to 10 per cent of assets for the largest global banks. That is a significant shift. Will it be enough?

Recent academic studies suggest not.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


QUADZILLA: Aksel Svindal has three Olympic medals, two World Cup titles, and the affections of fellow ski racer Julia Mancuso. But can he transcend the sport and become the next Hermann Maier? HAMPTON SIDES tracks down the Norwegian beast slopeside to talk about the 2007 crash that nearly ended his career and his chances of dominating the 2012 World Cup. (HAMPTON SIDES, March 2012, Outside)

Nearly all sports champions have a defining moment that exposes something profound in their character and summons a previously unseen dimension of greatness. For Svindal that moment began on a training run here at Birds of Prey almost exactly four years ago, on this same downhill course. It was November 27, 2007, a cold, overcast Tuesday. Svindal was 24 years old then, the reigning king of the World Cup ski-racing circuit. Going into the race, he was right where he wanted to be: first place in the standings for best overall World Cup skier. "I was on fire," Svindal said. "I didn't think anything could go wrong."

But something about the piste that day wasn't quite right. A dearth of storms that fall had forced Beaver Creek officials to spray down layer after layer of artificial snow. The coverage was still a little thin in places, and the course was erratic, full of unforgiving bumps and dips. The third skier out of the chute, Austrian Andreas Buder, promptly crashed, bruising his heel so severely that he would be out of commission for weeks. Several other skiers remarked on the tricky conditions. After his run, Didier Cuche, a Swiss champion hot on Svindal's trail for the overall title, expressed his reservations. "If you make an edge mistake," he said, "you're going to fly--but not in the right way."

A few moments into his run that day, Svindal dropped over the Brink, a terrifying transition roughly akin to plummeting over a waterfall. Within seconds, he accelerated from 35 mph to 60. At six feet three inches and 220 pounds, Svindal is one of the biggest skiers on the World Cup circuit, and his considerable mass helped him gather even more speed in the midsection of the course.  

By the time he flew over the Screech Owl jump, Svindal realized he was having one of the runs of his life. "I was hitting everything perfectly," he said. He had never gone faster, never skied a tighter line or felt so in tune with the flow of the mountain. It was almost surreally quiet, only the wind gushing in his ears and the occasional fan hooting somewhere beyond the safety fences.

Today, as I watch Svindal approach the flats that lead toward the course's biggest obstacle, a notorious spot called the Golden Eagle Jump, I cringe when I think of what happened here in 2007. Just before the lip on that fateful morning, Svindal hit a slight compression that threw him off balance. With all the speed he was carrying, his skis scooted out in front of him, just a little, so that when he reached the jump, he was leaning back--exactly the wrong posture. The G-forces he'd so carefully harnessed during his extraordinary run now rearranged themselves into something hideous.

"As soon as I was airborne, I knew it was going to be bad," he said. In the updraft, his skis tipped backward, throwing him into a long, terrible arc. He attempted to correct himself, trying in vain to best the laws of physics. His arms instinctively flailed in desperation--rolling down the windows, as racers say--but it was no use. As he vaulted through the air, his body kept rotating backward.

"You hope you're going to save yourself," he said. "But once you can't see the snow anymore, you don't even know where to land." His skis were now in the intensely compromising position that some coaches call bases to the sun. Svindal had given up trying to right himself and was twisting his torso sideways, to the snow, in order to protect his neck from the coming fall. 

At this point, he was traveling 72 mph--flying, but not in the right way. When he finally collided with the ground, along a stretch of course known as the Abyss, Svindal had sailed 197 feet through the air.   
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Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Bitter Sweet: How Big Sugar Robs You (Michael Wohlgenant and Vincent H. Smith, February 14, 2012, The American)

For decades, sugar beet and sugar cane farmers and processors have been the beneficiaries of a sugar program that stealthily drives up sugar costs--and, consequently, the cost of that heart-shaped box of chocolates. Over the past 30 years, the annual burden on U.S. consumers has averaged over $3 billion in higher food prices.

The "no-romance" sugar program has largely been ignored by legislators and groups concerned with tax burdens because there are no direct federal subsidies for the sugar industry. Instead, U.S. sugar policy raises prices indirectly by taxing consumers through the marketplace. A system of import quotas and domestic supply controls works to raise sugar prices for households and food processors to a target level of 23.3 cents per pound of raw sugar when world prices fall below that amount. This system drives up consumer food prices and destroys jobs in the food processing sector because of reduced competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Over the 30-year period from 1980 through 2009, the sugar program effectively doubled the price U.S. consumers paid for sugar and increased annual food costs by about $9 per person. That may not sound like a big price tag, but it resulted in a $1.3 billion deadweight loss for the U.S. economy (think of all the extra money that could've been spent on red roses and high-end confectionary!). And how did the sugar farmers, who are fewer than 20,000 in number and relatively wealthy, fare? They received a $1.7 billion net gain.

How Big Sugar gets its way (Virginia Chamlee, 09.19.11, Florida Independent)

As one of Florida's top agricultural commodities, sugar has a lot to lose from regulations and a lot to gain from agricultural legislation. So the top companies spread campaign donations fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats across the country, and are often rewarded with support.

During the 2010 cycle, U.S. Sugar donated $12,400 to then-Rep. Allen Boyd, while PACs and individuals working with Flo-Sun gave $16,000 and American Crystal Sugar gave $10,000. Sugar companies have also given heavily to Reps. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, and Tom Rooney, R-Stuart. Ross' second-largest contributor has been Flo-Sun; individuals working for the company donated at least $13,000 to his campaigns since 2009.

It is no surprise, then, that Boyd (before losing his 2010 reelection bid), Ross and Rooney have all crusaded against environmental regulations. The three have been especially vocal about the EPA's "numeric nutrient criteria," which could potentially affect agricultural interests including sugar, whose nutrient-laden effluent often makes its way into state waterways, causing noxious algal blooms and fish kills.

According to OpenSecrets, Big Sugar gave more than $4.2 million to federal candidates and party committees during the 2008 election cycle alone, 63 percent of which went to Democrats.

Companies with ties to Florida Crystals (which has contributed nearly $4.5 million to campaigns since 1991) gave at least $100,000 to now-Gov. Rick Scott's gubernatorial campaign. The head of Florida Crystals also hosted a large campaign fundraiser for Scott only four weeks after he blasted the company's rival -- U.S. Sugar -- over its role in a planned Everglades restoration project.

Adam Putnam, meanwhile, was one of the group's largest recipients in 2002, when he was running for reelection as a congressman. Big Sugar donated at least $61,000 to Putnam's successful 2010 campaign to become the Florida agriculture commissioner. Shortly after taking office, Putnam sought to delay a ban on sugary drinks in Florida public schools.

"We have been blessed in that the support for farm policies and sugar policies has not been a partisan issue."
The lobbying arm of U.S. Sugar is enormously powerful. In 2009, crop producers spent more than $20.5 million on federal lobbying. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


GOP HEAVIES MAY SEEK NEW HORSE IF MITT BUCKED ON FEB. 28: 'If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate' -- Doing the Hail Mary math (MIKE ALLEN,  02/18/12, Politico)

Our friend handed us a printout of FEC deadlines for ballot access, with five of them circled and starred: California (March 23), Montana (March 12), New Jersey (April 2), New Mexico (March 16) and South Dakota (March 27). The point: Even after Feb. 28, it might be possible to assemble a Hail Mary candidacy that could garner enough delegates to force a CONTESTED convention (a different nuance than BROKERED, which implies that someone is in charge).

Under RNC rules, the delegate count builds slowly: just 15% before Super Tuesday, March 6; 19% through Super Tuesday (brings you to 34%); 17% in the rest of March (brings you to 51%); with 48% in April, May and June (21%, 12%, 15%).

Our friend said: "If somebody came on the scene that week after Super Tuesday with, 'I'm coming in. I'm taking a look at this,' there are enough delegates. He would suck all the oxygen out of the race. People wouldn't even give a s[***] who won on these other dates in March that are after Super Tuesday. I mean, seriously, who would care?  It would all be about a new savior."

The very reason that such scenarios are dismissed--they're just about politicos praying for some excitement in the process--is exactly why it would work, because it would be so exciting.  Jeb would dominate the news until the Summer, when politics ceases to exist for several months, and then you just have that Labor Day to Election Day tussle.  No one would even get a chance to be sick of him before the whole thing was over.
Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


The War on Wyden: For daring to work on Medicare reform with Republican Paul Ryan, the Democratic senator from Oregon is lambasted by keepers of the liberal flame. (Kimberley A., Strassel, 2/16/12, WSJ)

Mr. Wyden has been stressing to colleagues that this joint proposal is different from Mr. Ryan's initial reform--which Democrats attacked--and offers plenty to reassure his party. It preserves the option for seniors to stay in government-run Medicare, makes Mr. Ryan's "premium support" plan more generous, even adds a catastrophic benefit. Mr. Wyden notes there'd have been no plan had not Mr. Ryan agreed to "traditional Medicare remaining a permanent part of the program," a fact, he says, that rebuts any notion of it "withering on the vine."

The real problem, he acknowledges, is ideological opposition to any private-sector involvement--a position that frustrates the senator, since it is already reality. More than 40% of Oregon seniors already use private coverage, through Medicare Advantage or Medigap.

"This is a disconnected conversation," he pronounces. The Wyden-Ryan bill is simply acknowledgment that any serious entitlement reform must encompass choice and markets.

That's been clear since the 1990s, when Democrats like John Breaux and Bob Kerrey came out for premium support. 

Medicare Reform Faces Reality (Joseph Antos, February 17, 2012, The American)

The Coburn-Burr solution is premium support, a system based on fair and open competition that gives the health sector a reason to find more efficient ways to deliver necessary care. Medicare would move from a defined-benefit program, which promises unconstrained fee-for-service payment for covered benefits, to a defined-contribution plan, which gives consumers the resources to choose a health plan that best meets their needs.

All the plans, including traditional Medicare, would bid against each other and would have an incentive to seek more efficient ways of delivering necessary care. No senior would be forced to leave traditional Medicare, but a better deal might be found in one of the competing plans that can offer the full benefit package for less.

Rather than waiting a decade to make this fundamental reform, Coburn and Burr would start competitive bidding in 2016. They recognize that delaying competitive bidding means delaying the efficiencies that the health sector will implement when given the financial incentive. Why wait when delay only means wasting more money?

Premium support with competitive bidding has the potential to save the taxpayers substantial sums without forcing seniors to pay more for their Medicare benefits. A recent AEI report shows that one form of competitive bidding could reduce Medicare outlays by $339 billion over the next decade without cutting benefits. If we do not find a way to achieve savings of this magnitude, Medicare will become an increasingly difficult burden on younger people, who pay most of the program's costs through their taxes.

Other steps must also be taken. Medicare enrollees are going to have to pay higher premiums, and doctors are going to have to accept today's payment rates for the next few years. Wealthier seniors will pay more out of their own pockets for their healthcare, and millionaires on Medicare will have to pay the full cost of coverage themselves. Medicare's eligibility age will gradually increase to 67. One clear improvement: Medicare will become a more streamlined benefit that, for the first time, offers protection against catastrophic expenses.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM

Joe Louis Walker In Concert From World Cafe (NPR, February 17, 2012

After 50 years of music, the modern blues icon continues to churn out powerful, gritty, heavy blues rock.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


The cool new Palestinians: geeks: The West Bank and Gaza Strip is home to hundreds of tech companies, creating everything from websites to smart phone apps. (Jackie Spinner, February 18, 2012, CS Monitor)

Until now, the primary Palestinian contribution to technology has been outsourcing programmers and engineers to firms in the United States and Israel, including Google and Cisco Systems.

But these new entrepreneurs want to do more. They want to create companies based on their own ideas and hire people to implement them. Already their ventures range from smart phone apps to Web design.

Crucially, the community is now beginning to attract investors. 
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Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Why Obamacare is good for America (Dede de Percin, 2/19/12, Denver Post)

People without public or private insurance coverage are costly to all of us. In a familiar mechanism called "cost-shifting," hospitals charge higher rates for services to those with insurance in order to offset the losses from uncompensated emergency department care. Insurers raise rates to cover the cost of inflated bills, and the uninsured and underinsured are sent to collection agencies and/or forced into bankruptcy. Companies respond by scaling back on or eliminating health care benefits for their employees, and more Coloradans fall from the insured universe.

Indeed, small businesses have struggled for years with the double whammy of escalating health care premium costs and the inability to secure the better rates that large companies are able to negotiate. Now business owners with fewer than 25 workers may qualify for tax credits to help pay for employee health care benefits, thanks to Obamacare. These tax credits inspired some business owners to start offering health care coverage benefits for the first time and allowed other struggling entrepreneurs to continue offering benefits in a challenging economy.

Obamacare is starting to hold insurance companies accountable, controlling the runaway costs that prevent Coloradans from access to health care. For example, insurers must now justify premium rate hikes. Just last month, the Department of Health and Human Services found that a Pennsylvania insurance company's proposed rate increase of 12 percent was unjustified in relation to the benefits provided, and urged the insurer to rescind the rate, issue refunds or publicly explain their refusal to do so. While some states, including Colorado, were already regulating rate increases, before Obamacare there were no national limits on what insurers could charge as administrative costs. Now at least 80 cents of every dollar must be spent on actual medical care. [...]

A major cost-containment initiative of Obamacare is the exchange. In 2014, Coloradans will be able to purchase affordable insurance in the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange, a statewide nonprofit organization. Intended to be a competitive, online marketplace similar to Travelocity, Coloradans will be able to easily compare insurance plans. Subsidies to purchase a product will be available on a sliding scale based on income (an estimated 590,000 individuals in Colorado will be eligible), meaning many currently uninsured will be able to afford coverage.

While most Coloradans will continue to receive their coverage through work, small businesses and individuals finding it difficult to find affordable health coverage will be able to do so on the exchange, governed by a politically balanced board of directors.

Even members of Congress will receive their health care coverage through the exchange, ensuring that even our elected leaders will have some skin in the game.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


The Kid (Joe Posnanski, 2/17/12, Sports Illustrated)

Everyone assumed that Gary Carter was going to play college football. He had twice been a Punt, Pass and Kick finalist -- he would always say that he should have won the second time, but he slipped on the ice in the bitter cold of Green Bay -- and he had a scholarship waiting for him at UCLA. He looked the part of the star quarterback; he would say that his dream was to be the next Joe Namath.

But legendary scout Bob Zuk -- who had signed Willie Stargell and Darrell Evans and so many others -- saw Gary Carter play baseball. He was blown away. It wasn't just the talent; anyone could see Carter's strong arm and hitting power. Zuk was an old-time scout, the sort who believed that he could see beyond talent, beyond tools, and peer deep into a player's soul. Carter's soul was there on the surface -- he played baseball with so much energy and life and excitement. Zuk told the Montreal Expos management that they had to see this guy. The Expos drafted him in the third round. Soon after that, he went to spring training and was dubbed Kid. Soon after that, he finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting. And in time, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Carter was a fabulous player in Montreal, and a very good one for a while in New York. He hit with power -- nine times he hit between 20 and 32 homers, this in times where those home run numbers meant something. He was a smart, tough catcher who could really throw -- three times he led the league in caught-stealing percentage. He might have been the best player in the National League in 1982. He led the league in RBIs in 1984. He made every All-Star Game for 10 years. And, of course, he refused to make the last out of the 1986 World Series, and was one of the key players in one of the most jolting and memorable comebacks in the history of the game.

But for some reason, it always seemed to me, Carter was never quite as big a star as he should have been. The Montreal teams he played on seemed to underachieve annually -- he took blame for that. His clean-cut image and personality did not quite fit in with those wild New York Mets teams -- he took blame for that, too. He played years past his prime -- and for four different teams in his last four years -- which probably led people to lose sight of his greatness. His relatively low batting averages (Carter never hit .300 for a full season) played a role, too.

There was also just this too-good-to-be-true thing going with Gary Carter -- he didn't drink, didn't smoke, seemed to be happily married to the same woman, studied the Bible, gave good quotes, smiled for the camera, smiled for everybody, reached down to pick up garbage he happened to see anywhere near the field. Teammates, many of them, just didn't quite get him. Strangers, many of them, were suspicious. There he was, in late August, still smiling while their bodies ached, still going full speed when the temperature was scorching 100, still the Kid, long after most of the others had grown up.

Certainly the most poignant tributes have come from former teammates like Daryl Strawberry and Wally Backman, who've expressed the wish that they had lived their lives as he lived his.

He was never quite as good as a Met as he had been as an Expo, not atypical for an aging catcher, but he was right in the middle of the two greatest games in Met history, maybe the two best ever:

25 Years Later: Mets And Astros Play The "Other" Game 6 (Ed Leyro, Mets Merized)

Jesse Orosco was called upon to pitch the bottom of the 14th for the Mets, as McDowell had been removed for pinch-hitter Howard Johnson in the top of the inning.  After his five-inning, 58-pitch effort, McDowell was done for the late afternoon/early evening and it was up to Orosco to deliver the pennant.  His first batter was Bill Doran.

Doran was a speedy second baseman for the Astros who made excellent contact and had one of the best eyes in the league.  With 42 stolen bases in 1986, Doran placed fifth in the NL in that category.  He also finished fifth with 81 walks and was one of the toughest batters to strike out (57 Ks in 550 at-bats).  Doran's eye for strikes became even better in the postseason, as he had fanned only once in his first 25 postseason at-bats up to that point.  So what did Doran do as he faced Orosco in what quite possibly could have been his last at-bat of the season?  He struck out on four pitches.

The next batter was centerfielder Billy Hatcher.  Hatcher had just finished his first full season with the Astros after playing in 61 games for the Cubs in 1984 and 1985.  He had never been considered a power threat and was not a top candidate to get on base, as evidenced by his eight home runs in his first 641 career plate appearances and his .297 on-base percentage.  Hatcher had gone 5-for-23 in the series and should have been an easy out for Orosco, as he had never gotten a hit off the Mets' reliever in four career plate appearances.  But with a full count on him, Hatcher hit one of most memorable home runs in postseason history, crushing Orosco's offering to deep left field.  The ball was hit far enough, but would it stay fair?  That question was answered as the ball hit the screen attached to the foul pole, rolling down said screen, washing away the Mets' 14th inning pennant hopes.  The game was now tied, 4-4, and Orosco's save situation had now turned into a "let's get out of this inning alive" situation.

With the three and four hitters coming up, including the dangerous Glenn Davis, Orosco had to settle down or else a seventh game against Mike Scott would become a shocking reality.  The Mets' veteran got back on the mound and promptly retired Denny Walling and Davis on a weak grounder to first and a pop-up to second, respectively, to end the inning.  The game, which had already reached epic proportions, would go on.

Stunningly, despite his best efforts to blow the game for the Astros in the 14th inning, Aurelio Lopez was still on the mound for the 15th, but this time he fared better against the Mets, allowing only a two-out single to Gary Carter.  With Darryl Strawberry at the plate, Lopez threw a 1-1 pitch wildly, but Carter was thrown out at second base by catcher Alan Ashby to end the inning.

Orosco also went back to the hill for the bottom of the 15th, and he did even better than Lopez, striking out Kevin Bass and Jose Cruz to start the inning, before getting Alan Ashby to ground out to Wally Backman for the final out.  The 16th inning was upon us, only one day and 2,000 miles after the Mets and Astros had played 12 scintillating innings in New York.  Something had to give after 27 innings of pulse-pounding baseball.  Something did give when the Mets came to bat in the top of the 16th.

After his relatively easy 15th inning, Lopez was given the ball again to start the 16th, but this time he wouldn't be so lucky.  Darryl Strawberry, who was given a fresh turn at-bat after Gary Carter ran his way into the final out in the previous inning, led off the 16th with a double.  He was followed by Ray Knight, who delivered an opposite field single to score Strawberry from second.  That was it for Aurelio Lopez, who was removed from the game for Jeff Calhoun.  With Wally Backman at the plate and an 0-2 count on him, Calhoun uncorked a wild pitch, sending Knight to third.  Backman fought back from the 0-2 hole and was able to draw a walk.

Next came Jesse Orosco, who was allowed to stay in the game to sacrifice Backman over to second.  On the very first pitch to Jesse, who had already squared around to bunt, Calhoun threw another wild pitch, scoring Ray Knight and moving Wally Backman to second.  The Mets were now up by two runs in the 16th, but they were not done yet.  Orosco laid down a successful sacrifice, with Backman taking third on the play, and Lenny Dykstra drove him in with a single to right, giving the Mets a 7-4 lead.  Even though Mookie Wilson ended the inning by grounding into a double play, the Mets surely had to be happy with their three-run lead.  This time, they weren't going to give up the lead like they did in the 14th, especially with the Astros riding on fumes, right?  Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, those fumes had one more rally left in them.

The bottom of the 16th began as the 14th inning had, with Jesse Orosco striking out the first batter (in this case, it was Craig Reynolds) to bring the Mets within two outs of winning the National League pennant.  But then Orosco started showing fatigue of his own, allowing the next three batters to reach base.  Pinch-hitter Davey Lopes started the rally with a walk, followed by consecutive singles by Bill Doran and Billy Hatcher.  The latter single scored Lopes from second base and put the tying runs on base for Denny Walling.

Davey Johnson could have taken Orosco out of the game there, especially since both singles by Doran and Hatcher were hit on the first pitch, but the Mets manager stayed with his veteran closer, hoping he would reward his faith in him by getting the final two outs of the game.  It seemed as if Orosco would get out of the jam and deliver the pennant to New York when Denny Walling hit a ground ball to Keith Hernandez, who attempted to start an inning-ending double play.  However, the ball wasn't hit hard enough and the only out the Mets could get was a forceout of Billy Hatcher at second base.  The Astros now had runners on first and third and Glenn Davis was coming up.  A home run by the Astros' slugger would give Houston the improbable victory, adding more suspense to an already tense moment.  Although the left-handed Orosco didn't give in to the right-handed Davis, he still wasn't able to send him back to the dugout, as Davis produced a run-scoring single to center, scoring Doran and moving Walling to second base.  The game was now 7-6, and the tying and winning runs were on base for Kevin Bass.

Bass had already committed a mistake in the game way back in the first inning (hence the "more on him later" 21 paragraphs ago) when he got tagged out by Bob Ojeda trying to score on a failed double steal attempt.  Had Bass not made that gaffe, the game might have ended after nine innings.  Instead, the Mets and Astros were playing on into the Houston night in a game that seemingly did not want to end.

Baseball is a game of redeeming features, and Bass was being given a second opportunity to make up for his costly first inning baserunning error.  Orosco was one out away from giving the Mets a hard-fought pennant, but was not making it easy for himself or his team.  After going to a 3-2 count on Bass, Keith Hernandez came over to the mound to deliver an ultimatum to Orosco.

"If you throw him another fastball, we're going to fight."

With those words, Jesse buckled down, looked in at catcher Gary Carter's signs and threw Kevin Bass a full-count slider.  In a moment that will forever live on in the minds and hearts of Mets fans, Bass flailed wildly at the pitch, striking out on the 3-2 offering and touching off a wild celebration on the Astrodome mound and on the streets of New York.

If I recall correctly, Hernandez was actually speaking to Carter, who was trying to preserve his pitcher's aching elbow.

Fighting To the End: New York's No-Nonsense Approach To Baseball (Ash Marshall, 3/10/10, Bleacher Report)

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Eric Davis--pinch running for Pete Rose--stole second and then slid hard into third, getting into a fight with Mets third baseman Ray Knight. The benches emptied and the teams brawled: Kevin Mitchell raced in from right field, and Reds' pitcher Mario Soto, the losing pitcher from the day before, also got involved. 16 minutes later, Ray Knight emerged from the pile, bodies strewn everywhere.

All four men were ejected, forcing Davey Johnson to play All-Star reliever Jesse Orosco in right field for three innings, reliever Roger McDowell in both left and right field, and catcher Gary Carter at third base (for four innings, no less) for just the second time in his career.

But the excitement didn't end there. In the bottom of the 12th inning, with the game still tied at 3-3, the Reds had runners on first and second with nobody out, threatening to win the game. Carl Willis, who had just retired the Mets one-two-three in the top of the frame, looked to move the winning run 90 feet away, but he bunted into a double play, first-to-third.

The Mets went on to win the game in the 14th inning when Howard Johnson hit a three-run home run, and Roger McDowell, who had recorded three outs in the 11th inning before playing the outfield, came back in to get three ground ball outs to seal the victory.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Ex-NFL players sue league in La. over concussions (AP, 2/18/12)

Nearly a dozen former NFL players living in Louisiana have sued the NFL, the latest players to accuse the league of failing to protect players from the risks associated with concussions.

Several former New Orleans Saints players, including John Fourcade, are among the 11 ex-players named as plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in New Orleans. The lawsuit says each of them has developed mental or physical problems from concussions or concussion-like symptoms.

Several similar suits blaming the NFL for concussion-related dementia and brain disease already have been consolidated in Philadelphia. James Dugan, a lawyer for the former players from Louisiana, said he expects the case to be transferred to Philadelphia within a month.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Congress to Sell Public Airwaves to Pay Benefits (EDWARD WYATT and JENNIFER STEINHAUER, 2/17/12, NY Times)

The need for revenue to partly cover the extension of the payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits has pushed Congress to embrace a generational shift in the country's media landscape: the auction of public airwaves now used for television broadcasts to create more wireless Internet systems.

If a compromise bill completed Thursday by Congress is approved as expected by this weekend, the result will eventually be faster connections for smartphones, iPads and other data-hungry mobile devices. Their explosive popularity has overwhelmed the ability, particularly in big cities, for systems to quickly download maps, video games and movies. [...]

The spectrum auctions are at least one to two years away, but most of the programs they pay for would be covered immediately. Consumers are unlikely to see additional charges since the auction would add new spectrum rather than adding to the costs of existing spectrum.

The payroll tax exemption would be extended through the end of this year, providing a worker earning $50,000 annually with $1,000 more in take-home pay over that time. The bill would also prevent a reimbursement cut for doctors who accept Medicare.

The legislation is the result of an unusual degree of cooperation between two parties that have fought bitterly over recent issues, and members of the conference committee that negotiated the deal played to the cameras on Thursday. One by one, members filed into the office of the committee's chairman, Representative Dave Camp, Republican from Michigan, to sign the papers splayed out neatly on a large table that rested under an ornate chandelier.

Mr. Camp and his chief negotiating partner, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, linked hands for the cameras, as Mr. Baucus said helpfully for anyone who did not get the visual cue: "Working together!"

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


John Fairfax, Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74 (MARGALIT FOX, 2/18/12, NY Times)

Mr. Fairfax was among the last avatars of a centuries-old figure: the lone-wolf explorer, whose exploits are conceived to satisfy few but himself. His was a solitary, contemplative art that has been all but lost amid the contrived derring-do of adventure-based reality television.

The only child of an English father and a Bulgarian mother, John Fairfax was born on May 21, 1937, in Rome, where his mother had family; he scarcely knew his father, who worked in London for the BBC.

Seeking to give her son structure, his mother enrolled him at 6 in the Italian Boy Scouts. It was there, Mr. Fairfax said, that he acquired his love of nature -- and his determination to bend it to his will.

On a camping trip when he was 9, John concluded a fight with another boy by filching the scoutmaster's pistol and shooting up the campsite. No one was injured, but his scouting career was over.

His parents' marriage dissolved soon afterward, and he moved with his mother to Buenos Aires. A bright, impassioned dreamer, he devoured tales of adventure, including an account of the voyage of Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, Norwegians who in 1896 were the first to row across the Atlantic. John vowed that he would one day make the crossing alone.

At 13, in thrall to Tarzan, he ran away from home to live in the jungle. He survived there as a trapper with the aid of local peasants, returning to town periodically to sell the jaguar and ocelot skins he had collected.

He later studied literature and philosophy at a university in Buenos Aires and at 20, despondent over a failed love affair, resolved to kill himself by letting a jaguar attack him. When the planned confrontation ensued, however, reason prevailed -- as did the gun he had with him.

In Panama, he met a pirate, applied for a job as a pirate's apprentice and was taken on. He spent three years smuggling guns, liquor and cigarettes around the world, becoming captain of one of his boss's boats, work that gave him superb navigational skills.

When piracy lost its luster, he gave his boss the slip and fetched up in 1960s London, at loose ends. He revived his boyhood dream of crossing the ocean and, since his pirate duties had entailed no rowing, he began to train.

He rowed daily on the Serpentine, the lake in Hyde Park. Barely more than half a mile long, it was about one eight-thousandth the width of the Atlantic, but it would do.

On Jan. 20, 1969, Mr. Fairfax pushed off from the Canary Islands, bound for Florida. His 22-foot craft, the Britannia, was the Rolls-Royce of rowboats: made of mahogany, it had been created for the voyage by the eminent English boat designer Uffa Fox. It was self-righting, self-bailing and partly covered.

Aboard were provisions (Spam, oatmeal, brandy); water; and a temperamental radio. There was no support boat and no chase plane -- only Mr. Fairfax and the sea. He caught fish and sometimes boarded passing ships to cadge food, water and showers.

The long, empty days spawned a temporary madness. Desperate for female company, he talked ardently to the planet Venus.
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February 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 PM


Paul Babeu's Mexican Ex-Lover Says Sheriff's Attorney Threatened Him With Deportation (Monica Alonzo, Feb 16 2012, Phoenix New Times)
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu -- who became the face of Arizona border security nationally after he started stridently opposing illegal immigration -- threatened his Mexican ex-lover with deportation when the man refused to promise never to disclose their years-long relationship, the former boyfriend and his lawyer tell New Times.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Pugin: the man who made the Steam Age medievallAt the bicentenary of that Victorian whirlwind, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, there's real cause for celebration. (christopher Howse, 2/18/12, The Telegraph)

Pugin got going before he quite knew what was to be done. He couldn't write a sentence without a mistake in spelling or grammar, but he wrote a million sentences in carriages, in vestries, in ships, in inns, in trains (which he took to avidly), in daylight and lamplight, haste post haste and reply by return. He told the world that only Gothic would do before he half understood Gothic idiom. He committed a thousand solecisms only because his imagination blew up details that his pencil had traced from medieval originals, and produced ideal buildings, such as the Deanery or St Marie's College, which by 1834 existed fully formed on paper before Pugin had ever built a house.

He got it into his head that because Gothic architecture had historically been Catholic, then Catholic architecture ought to be Gothic. A Neo-Classical church was to him a pagan temple. It was an attitude that amused and exasperated John Henry Newman, who knew Rome, to which Pugin had made one hurried visit, where only a single Gothic church had ever been built amid its scores in the Classical mode. But it was not by building Catholic churches that Pugin exerted most influence.

Because of him, St Pancras station, finished 16 years after his death, was to have pointed arches, like the cathedrals of old. The pagan Neo-Classicism of King's Cross was old hat now to advanced Victorian taste. For Pugin had invented a style fit for the Victorian polity. When we see the Queen open Parliament, she sits on the throne designed by Pugin, on a carpet of his design, in the chamber of his design in the Palace of Westminster, design by Charles Barry, but with Pugin's constant aid. Even the clocktower for Big Ben bears strong resemblance to one designed by him for Scarisbrick Hall in Lancashire.

There is also a domestic side to Pugin that is very winning. He made buildings for use and houses to be lived in. The house he built himself at Ramsgate, the Grange, with its one entrance for both family and servants, and its staircase-hall for a parlour, is safe in the hands of the Landmark Trust. Next to it stands St Augustine's church, built at his own expense unhampered by patrons' whims. Outside, it is of dark, vitreous, knapped flint. The tile-floored interior has, like his house, one space opening into another. "There in stone, oak, iron and glass," wrote his pupil J H Powell, "the inner spirit of his genius lives - Faith and Truth."

And today there's good news for this, Pugin's cherished project. After years of uncertainty, when it was hard to find the church open, St Augustine's has raised enough money to keep the roof on, and under the custodianship of Fr Marcus Holden is set fair to preserve Pugin's legacy, defended by the Pugin Society, while working as the living church he meant it to be.

The BBC special is terrific.


ON comparing the Architectural Works of the present Century with those of the Middle Ages, the wonderful superiority of the latter must strike every attentive observer; and the mind is naturally led to reflect on the causes which have wrought this mighty change, and to endeavour to trace the fall of Architectural taste, from the period of its first decline in this country to the present day; and this will form the subject of the following pages. 

It will be readily admitted that the great test of Architectural beauty is the fitness of the design to the purpose for which it is intended, and that the style of a building should so correspond with its use that the spectator may at once perceive the purpose for which it was erected.

Acting on this principle, different nations have given birth to so many various styles of Architecture, each suited to their climate, customs, and religion; and as it is among edifices of this latter class that we look for the most splendid and lasting monuments, there can be but little doubt that the religious ideas and ceremonies of these different people had by far the greatest influence in the formation of their various styles of Architecture. 

The more closely we compare the temples of the Pagan nations with their religious rites and mythologies, the more shall we be satisfied with the truth of this assertion. 

But who can regard those stupendous Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Middle Ages (the more special objects of this work), without feeling this observation in its full force? Here every portion of the sacred fabric bespeaks its origin; the very plan of the edifice is the emblem of human redemption--each portion is destined for the performance of some solemn rite of the Christian church. Here is the brazen font where the waters of baptism wash away the stain of original sin; there stands the gigantic pulpit, from which the sacred truths and ordinances are from time to time proclaimed to the congregated people; behold yonder, resplendent with precious gems, is the high altar, the seat of the most holy mysteries, and the tabernacle of the Highest! It is, indeed, a sacred place; and well does the fabric its destined purpose: the eye is carried up and lost in the height of the vaulting and the intricacy of the ailes; the rich and varied hues of the stained windows, the modulated light, the gleam of the tapers, the richness of the altars, the venerable images of the departed just, --all alike conspire to fill the mind with veneration for the place, and to make it feel the sublimity of Christian worship. And when the deep intonations of the bells from the lofty campaniles, which summon the people to the house of prayer, have ceased, and the solemn chant of the choir swells through the vast edifice, -- cold, indeed, must be the heart of that man who does not cry with the Psalmist, Domine btlíxi betorcm ïromus гиге, et locum babita itom's gloria: tuce. 

Such effects as these can only be produced on the mind by buildings, the composition of which has emanated from men who were thoroughly embued with devotion for, and faith in, the religion for whose worship they were erected. 

Their whole energies were directed towards attaining excellence; they were actuated by far nobler motives than the hopes of pecuniary reward, or even the applause and admiration of mankind. They felt they were engaged in the most glorious occupation that can fall to the lot of man, that of raising a temple to the worship of the true and living God. It was this feeling that operated alike on the master mind that planned the edifice, and on the patient sculptor whose chisel wrought each varied and beautiful detail. 

It was this feeling that induced the ancient masons, in spite of labour, danger, and difficulties, to persevere till they had raised their gigantic spires into the very regions of the clouds. It was this feeling that induced the ecclesiastics of old to devote their revenues to this pious purpose, and to labour with their own hands in the accomplishment of the work; and it is a feeling that may be traced throughout the whole of the numerous edifices of the middle ages, and which, amidst the great variety of genius which their varied styles display, still bespeak the unity of which influenced their builders and artists. 

They borrowed their ideas from no heathen rites, nor sought for decorations from the idolatrous emblems of a strange people. The foundation and progress of the Christian faith, and the sacraments and ceremonies of the church, formed an ample and noble field for the exercise of their talents; and it is an incontrovertible fact, that every class of artists who flourished during those glorious periods selected their subjects from this inexhaustible source, and devoted their greatest efforts towards the embellishment of ecclesiastical edifices. 

Yes, it was, indeed, the faith, the zeal, and, above all, the unity, of our ancestors, that enabled them to conceive and raise those wonderful fabrics that still remain to excite our wonder and admiration. They were erected for the most solemn rites of Christian worship, when the term Christian had but one signification throughout the world; when the glory of the house of God formed an important consideration with mankind, when men were zealous for religion, liberal in their gifts, and devoted to her cause; they were erected ere heresy had destroyed faith, schism had put an end to unity, and avarice had instigated the plunder of that wealth that had been consecrated to the service of the church. When these feelings entered in, the spell was broken, the Architecture itself fell with the religion to which it owed its birth, and was succeeded by a mixed and base style devoid of science or elegance, which was rapidly followed by others, till at length, regulated by no system, devoid of unity, but made to suit the ideas and means of each sect as they sprung up, buildings for religious worship present as great incongruities, varieties, and extravagances, as the sects and ideas which have emanated from the new religion which first wrought this great change. In order to prove the truth of these assertions, I will proceed, first, to shew the state of Architecture in this country immediately before the great change of religion; secondly, the fatal effects produced by that change on Architecture; and, thirdly, .the present degraded state of Architectural taste, and the utter want of those feelings which alone can restore Architecture to its ancient noble position.

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Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Social Issues and the Santorum Surge: Jeff Bell, an 'early supply-sider,' on the roots of American social conservatism--and why the movement is crucial to building a Republican majority. (JAMES TARANTO, 2/18/12, WSJ)

If you're a Republican in New York or another big city, you may be anxious or even terrified at the prospect that Rick Santorum, the supposedly unelectable social conservative, may win the GOP presidential nomination. Jeffrey Bell would like to set your mind at ease.

Social conservatism, Mr. Bell argues in his forthcoming book, "The Case for Polarized Politics," has a winning track record for the GOP. "Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964," he observes. "The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix--I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections."

The Democrats who won, including even Barack Obama in 2008, did not play up social liberalism in their campaigns. In 1992 Bill Clinton was a death-penalty advocate who promised to "end welfare as we know it" and make abortion "safe, legal and rare."

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


The Big Creep: An attempt to rehabilitate Bill Clinton is in full bloom. Unsurprisingly, the would-be hagiographers leave a lot out. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 2/27/12, Weekly Standard)

Through a sequence of legal switchbacks, Clinton ended up before a federal judge and grand jury. They were investigating whether anyone was tampering with potential witnesses in the Jones suit. Monica Lewinsky, who in her dawning disillusionment had taken to calling him "The Big Creep," was among them. In his federal deposition, as he had in Jones's civil suit, Clinton lied in multiple instances. Indeed, it was Clinton himself who was behind the witness tampering. He had pressured Monica to sign a false affidavit in the Jones case when he learned she was on a witness list. He enlisted his secretary, Betty Currie, to retrieve gifts that he'd given Monica and which were by then under subpoena. Currie hid them under her bed at home. 

Clinton also encouraged Currie to lie in her own deposition. "I was never alone with Monica, right?" he asked her twice privately, shortly before she was to testify under oath, though she knew as well as he that Lewinsky had been alone with him at least a dozen times. Currie also knew it was a lie when the president said to her, "Monica came on to me and I never touched her, right?" Worried that Lewinsky might flip, as others never had, he leaned on a friend to find her a new, higher-paying job. When it became clear that Lewinsky would, under questioning, testify truthfully, he instructed aides to slander her to reporters, on background. Clinton told one aide, an energetic leaker named Sidney Blumenthal, that she was a "stalker," a mentally unbalanced young woman with a Clinton fixation. And as night follows day, descriptions of Lewinsky as a stalker duly appeared in the papers. 

There was much, much more to Clinton's behavior that was just as reprehensible, and all of it long ago disappeared down the country's memory hole. One more instance: After he publicly denied his affair with Lewinsky, he recruited his cabinet officers, among them Bill Daley and Madeleine Albright, to go before the press and reaffirm their trust in him--trust that he knew to be laughable. That's not an impeachable offense. Taking advantage, as the most powerful man in the world, of a dizzy 22-year-old woman is not an impeachable offense; neither, probably, is using your power as president to libel her after she proved a danger to your political viability. Even the famous incident with the cigar isn't an impeachable offense. On the other hand, witness tampering and lying under oath to a federal grand jury are felonies, whatever the merits of the underlying case that occasioned the tampering and the perjury. Those are impeachable offenses. And so the president was impeached.

It was impossible at the time, and still is, to disentangle the partisan motives of the congressional Republicans who impeached Bill Clinton from whatever genuine sense of duty they felt to insist that his crimes be formally proved, recorded, and censured. Yet the question is beside the point, for the motives, whatever they were, don't violate the soundness of the case made against him. An ethics committee of the Arkansas state supreme court, comprising mostly Democrats, came to the same conclusion that congressional Republicans did, and insisted that Clinton be disbarred. The federal judge to whom he lied under oath fined him $90,000, saying "no reasonable person would seriously dispute" that Clinton had given "false, misleading, and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process." These affirmations of the Republican case do undermine the "consensus" that the impeachment was, as the Esquire editors put it, "so political as to be illegitimate."

The common view of Clinton's impeachment, like the common view of his presidency in general, is exquisitely wrong. The distance of time and the stilling of passions haven't made the case assembled by Starr look more trivial and absurd; if anything the case today looks even more compelling to someone who, at this remove, can go through it with a disinterested eye. And the defense mounted by the president's lawyers and publicists, a tissue of misdirection and question-begging, looks flimsier than ever. 
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Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


GM leads the US auto industry on road to success (Michelle Krebs, 2/17/12, guardian.co.uk)

[T]he most compelling argument turned out to be the damage not bailing out GM and Chrysler would inflict on the entire economy. The demise of GM and Chrysler would decimate the supplier network, which, in turn, would destroy Ford and cripple foreign automakers operating in the United States, some of whom were already having second thoughts about the country at all. Ultimately, the US economy would be in shambles worse than it was, the thinking went.

Heeding warnings that if GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy, they might never come out, the Obama administration chose a hybrid solution. GM and Chrysler were forced to file for Chapter 11 reorganization under US bankruptcy laws, and undergo a painful restructuring, but they would merge from the process in short order, funded by loans from US and Canadian taxpayers.

Fast forward three years and the investment to save GM and Chrysler, the full amount of which may never be recovered, continues to be debated. But what can't be argued is that US auto sales are recovering and so, too, are Detroit automakers. When the books closed on 2011, US vehicle sales had risen for the third consecutive year to 12.8m vehicles - from 11.6m in 2010, and 10.4m in 2009, the lowest in 27 years.

In 2011, GM, Chrysler and Ford combined grabbed 47.1% of the American vehicle market, up 1.7 percentage points in a market where tenths of a point are significant. Last year marked the highest combined market share for the Detroit three since 2008, when it was 48.3%.

In the past month, the Detroit Three have reported significant profits. Ford earned $20.2bn, its best earnings since 1998 and its second-biggest annual profit in its 109-year history. After losing $652m in 2010, Chrysler made $183m last year, its first full year of positive earnings since 2005 - and that was despite paying off loans to the US and Canadian governments. Of all major automakers selling vehicles in the United States, Chrysler experienced the largest sales increase at 26% from 2010, prompting a gain in market share to 10.5%, from 9.2%. GM, which last year returned to its perch as world's biggest volume automaker, has posted a record 2011 profit of $7.6bn, Thursday.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM


US economy is stepping on the gas: Employment, profit and car sales figures are looking much brighter across the Atlantic than in Britain. (Jeremy Warner,  18 Feb 2012, The Telegraph)

[A] new industry has come to town, bringing investment, thousands of jobs and growing prosperity. Steubenville is one of scores of new boom towns springing up along the American Appalachians, from Ohio and Maryland, to West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, all of them beneficiaries of the shale gas revolution, a new technology that allows access to abundant reserves of natural gas trapped within the rock.

The results are startling. It's not just the mini-boom in business investment. It's also meant that for the first time in more than 40 years, the US is close to achieving its goal of energy self-sufficiency. Energy costs have fallen so sharply that Methanex Corporation, the world's biggest methanol maker, recently announced it was dismantling its factory in Chile and reassembling it in Louisiana, perhaps the biggest example yet of the new found fashion for "onshoring".

This is just one of any number of similar decisions that stem from the shale gas revolution. Dow Chemical plans a new propylene unit in Texas by 2015. Formosa Plastics similarly proposes a $1.5 billion investment in ethylene-related plants in the same state, while both US Steel and Vallourec are planning multi-million dollar investments in new steel capacity to meet demand for shale gas extraction.

Nor is shale the only part of America's economic renaissance. All over the shop, the American economy is spluttering back into life. Just this week, General Motors, bankrupted almost beyond redemption three years ago, reported its best bottom line profit.

Automobile sales are at their highest level since the start of the financial crisis, and there are even signs that the delinquent housing market is finally beginning to turn. Sales to listings, a key measure of the health of the US housing market, are at last moving in the right direction, while in some states, prices have actually started to rise.

Just wait until the borders reopen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Our unrealistic attitudes about death, through a doctor's eyes (Craig Bowron, 2/17/12, Washington Post)

But I'm not always lucky. The family may ask me to use my physician superpowers to push the patient's tired body further down the road, with little thought as to whether the additional suffering to get there will be worth it. For many Americans, modern medical advances have made death seem more like an option than an obligation. We want our loved ones to live as long as possible, but our culture has come to view death as a medical failure rather than life's natural conclusion.

These unrealistic expectations often begin with an overestimation of modern medicine's power to prolong life, a misconception fueled by the dramatic increase in the American life span over the past century. To hear that the average U.S. life expectancy was 47 years in 1900 and 78 years as of 2007, you might conclude that there weren't a lot of old people in the old days -- and that modern medicine invented old age. But average life expectancy is heavily skewed by childhood deaths, and infant mortality rates were high back then. In 1900, the U.S. infant mortality rate was approximately 100 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2000, the rate was 6.89 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The bulk of that decline came in the first half of the century, from simple public health measures such as improved sanitation and nutrition, not open heart surgery, MRIs or sophisticated medicines. Similarly, better obstetrical education and safer deliveries in that same period also led to steep declines in maternal mortality, so that by 1950, average life expectancy had catapulted to 68 years.

For all its technological sophistication and hefty price tag, modern medicine may be doing more to complicate the end of life than to prolong or improve it. If a person living in 1900 managed to survive childhood and childbearing, she had a good chance of growing old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person who made it to 65 in 1900 could expect to live an average of 12 more years; if she made it to 85, she could expect to go another fouryears. In 2007, a 65-year-old American could expect to live, on average, another 19 years; if he made it to 85, he could expect to go another six years.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


The Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class? (Francis Fukuyama, January/February 2012, Foreign Affairs)

Trade and tax policies may have accelerated this trend, but the real villain here is technology. In earlier phases of industrialization -- the ages of textiles, coal, steel, and the internal combustion engine -- the benefits of technological changes almost always flowed down in significant ways to the rest of society in terms of employment. But this is not a law of nature. We are today living in what the scholar Shoshana Zuboff has labeled "the age of the smart machine," in which technology is increasingly able to substitute for more and higher human functions. Every great advance for Silicon Valley likely means a loss of low-skill jobs elsewhere in the economy, a trend that is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Inequality has always existed, as a result of natural differences in talent and character. But today's technological world vastly magnifies those differences. In a nineteenth-century agrarian society, people with strong math skills did not have that many opportunities to capitalize on their talent. Today, they can become financial wizards or software engineers and take home ever-larger proportions of the national wealth.

The other factor undermining middle-class incomes in developed countries is globalization. With the lowering of transportation and communications costs and the entry into the global work force of hundreds of millions of new workers in developing countries, the kind of work done by the old middle class in the developed world can now be performed much more cheaply elsewhere. Under an economic model that prioritizes the maximization of aggregate income, it is inevitable that jobs will be outsourced.

Smarter ideas and policies could have contained the damage. Germany has succeeded in protecting a significant part of its manufacturing base and industrial labor force even as its companies have remained globally competitive. The United States and the United Kingdom, on the other hand, happily embraced the transition to the postindustrial service economy. Free trade became less a theory than an ideology: when members of the U.S. Congress tried to retaliate with trade sanctions against China for keeping its currency undervalued, they were indignantly charged with protectionism, as if the playing field were already level. There was a lot of happy talk about the wonders of the knowledge economy, and how dirty, dangerous manufacturing jobs would inevitably be replaced by highly educated workers doing creative and interesting things. This was a gauzy veil placed over the hard facts of deindustrial­ization. It overlooked the fact that the benefits of the new order accrued disproportionately to a very small number of people in finance and high technology, interests that dominated the media and the general political conversation.

One of the most puzzling features of the world in the aftermath of the financial crisis is that so far, populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-wing one.

In the United States, for example, although the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, its members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. They include a deeply embedded belief in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome and the fact that cultural issues, such as abortion and gun rights, crosscut economic ones.

In a country where--even before the Baby Boomers have retired--half the population pays no income taxes and 70% of the federal budget goes to dependency programs, how could populism be anything but conservative in nature?

Americans are not anti-redistributionist, we're just a tad too dishonest about ourselves to discuss its popularity openly and to make the decisions about how to redistribute efficiently yet. The future of liberal democracy is just a matter of reforming that redistribution so that more of it occurs up front and market forces are allowed to build it over a citizen's lifetime.  It's the movement from defined benefit to defined contribution.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Not Betting a Dime, He Cleans Up at the Slots (COREY KILGANNON, 2/12/12, NY Times)

Mr. Bemsel has been a devoted horseplayer since getting hooked at Monmouth Park on the Jersey Shore at age 16. After high school, he worked in a warehouse until he was 40, when he saw a man at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey pulling betting slips out of the trash. He became a top stooper, and he still never misses the huge stooping jackpots: the Kentucky Derby, and August in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he and three other stoopers rent a house to work the racing session.

On Wednesday, he strode quickly through the two huge casino levels, checking several thousand video terminals -- with optimistic names like Instant Winner, Stinkin' Rich and Wall Street Winner -- and accumulating a fistful of vouchers, to be redeemed at a nearby window.

He works 12-hour days and finds $600 to $1,200 a week, Mr. Bemsel said, but winds up blowing most of it on bad horse picks. "The whole reason I do this is to feed my gambling addiction," he said. "It's an illness."

The racino has been a godsend, he said, because "the golden years of stooping are over."

In those days, he said, he could make $1,000 a day, and he stayed regularly in Las Vegas and Atlantic City suites.

He paused during his racino rounds on Wednesday and said, "I'll hit a big one, one of these days, and be back on top."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Between hope and fear (Roula Khalaf, 2/10/12, Financial Times)
The same idea is picked up by Marwan Bishara, the senior political analyst for Al Jazeera English television, in The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolutions.

In his journey into the past abuses that explain the Arab spring, Bishara argues that the youth awakening was inspired by the sacrifices of political, community and labour leaders over many years. In Egypt, these people include George Ishaq from Egypt's Kefaya movement, an organisation that had played an instrumental role in raising awareness about the dangers of a hereditary transition years before the youth launched the revolution.
In Tunisia, Bishara rightly notes, the uprising started by young men and women in a remote town became a nationwide revolution when labour unions and banned opposition groups joined in. "While the revolution marked a break with the past, it was also a by-product of a long history of social and political struggle in the Arab world," he says.

The old political activists were given renewed hope by an internet-savvy generation who broke the wall of fear, taking to the streets to protest against a political order that had oppressed society, sought to fool it by creating façades of democracy and pretended to liberalise the economy. During the rule of the autocrats, no segment of society was spared state pressure. Regimes' political opponents were harassed and jailed; the youth were subdued by state intervention in universities and even their sports were hijacked by the patronage of members of the regime. In Egypt, for example, both of Mubarak's sons, Gamal and Ala'a, styled themselves as youth leaders.

Worse yet, writes Bishara, the dictators focused "less on the utility of their leadership and more on the continuity of their legacy", promoting their heirs and producing what he calls "autocrats in waiting". The sons, in fact, became "power brokers, or power mediators, between the three pillars of influence: the regimes' old guard, the 'business whales' or the new oligarchs who devoured everything they had access to, and western governments and multinationals with interests in the region's emerging markets."

The author does not spare the west from blame for perpetuating the region's dictatorships. Governments that claimed to have supported the Arab revolutions had in reality "folded" the dictators into the US regional order, with little regard to the fact that the Arab world had become "ever more stagnant, leaderless, polarised and downtrodden".

The US and others are now treading carefully as they adapt to a new Middle East in which the main political actors - the Islamists - were largely shunned in the past for fear of upsetting the ruling autocrats. The pictures of Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Egypt, visiting the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo last month would have been unthinkable a year ago.

The relationship between western governments and Islamists will be an important factor in future regional stability. For the first time the US and its allies must deal with representative governments and with popular sentiment opposed to many western policies in the Middle East. But the Islamist-led governments that are assuming power at a time of extraordinary economic difficulty will also have to recognise that they need western support, including financially.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Payroll tax cut undermines Social Security's security: If Social Security becomes just another line item in the federal budget, what's to save it from being swept up in an across-the-board orgy of spending reductions? (Michael Hiltzik, February 19, 2012, LA Times)

To be fair, thus far the payroll tax holiday hasn't impaired Social Security's fiscal resources one bit. By law, 100% of the cut must be compensated for by transfers from the general fund; those transfers have come to about $130 billion since 2010, covering the original "temporary" one-year holiday and a two-month extension passed late last year.

The new extension will require a further transfer of about $94 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Yet because of the unique features of the program's financing, tampering with its revenue stream is playing with fire. The payroll tax is currently set at 12.4% of wages, split equally between employer and employee, up to a maximum of $110,100. The tax holiday cuts the employee's 6.2% share to 4.2%.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) put it well when he excoriated President Obama and his fellow congressional Democrats for approving a measure that places Social Security's financial stability on the table. "I never thought I would live to see the day when a Democratic president ... would agree to put Social Security in this kind of jeopardy," he said. "Never did I ever imagine a Democratic president beginning the unraveling of Social Security."

Only a Democrat can unravel it.

February 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM

Vitka Kempner Kovner, Vilna Partisan, Dies: Credited With First Act of Sabotage Against Nazis in Ghetto (Itzik Gottesman, February 16, 2012, Forward)

The legendary Vilna partisan Vitka Kempner Kovner died on February 15.

Widow of the poet and partisan leader Abba Kovner, she was born in the Polish town of Kalisz in 1920 and escaped from there to Vilna when the Germans invaded Poland. [...]

Her act of sabotage act, blowing up a Nazi train, was the first carried out by the FPO organization and possibly the first act of resistance by any woman against the Nazis in Eastern Europe.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM

Pulling a Monday All-Nighter (JOHN JURGENSEN, 2/17/12, WSJ)
For the New Orleans funk band Galactic, the marathon party of Mardi Gras culminates with an all-night concert. Next week, to mark Lundi Gras, on the eve of the city's annual Fat Tuesday bacchanal, the quintet will do a midnight-to-sunrise performance at the famed uptown club Tipitina's. They began the tradition unintentionally 12 years ago. "Maybe the crowd just showed up later that night, but suddenly, wow, the sun was coming through the window," recalls bass player Robert Mercurio. "Now we're the 'they play all night' band."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM

Often known as "The Screaming Eagle of Soul," soul and R&B singer Charles Bradley has been playing music all his life, but it wasn't until he moved back to his hometown of Brooklyn, New York at the age of 51 after years working as a cook that he began aggressively pursuing his career in music and eventually landing on Daptone Records alongside Sharon Jones and the Budos Band.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Self-Driving Tech Veers into Mid-Range Cars: Sensor technologies once limited to luxury cars are increasingly available in the mass market. (DAVID TALBOT, 2/17/12, Technology Review)

Take the Ford Taurus and Fusion: in 2013, you can get a radar system that senses if you are about to rear-end another car. It flashes red warning LEDs in the windshield, and even preprimes the brakes, building up pressure so that when you do tap the brakes, you'll get full stopping power.

These kinds of high-tech features have been available for years in luxury cars, especially high-end Mercedes and Volvo models. Now they're going mainstream. "It's the democratization of advanced driver assistance technology into high-volume cars," says Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst for automotive research at IHS iSuppli. "The biggest trend is going to be these technologies finally making their way outside of the luxury space."

Beyond crash warnings and the related technology of adaptive cruise-control--which keeps you locked at a fixed distance behind the car in front of you when you've got cruise control switched on--there are ultrasonic systems that allow the car to sense a parking space and park itself, and cameras that keep track of lane markings, keep an eye on blind spots, and warn if you are about to bump into something while backing up.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


The Myth of Runaway Health Spending: The growth rate of national health expenditures has been declining for a decade, driven by better medical care and consumer choice. (J.D. KLEINKE, 2/17/12, WSJ)

New data show that health spending over the past several years has been normalizing toward the rate of general inflation, rather than growing higher and higher, as had been the case almost continuously since the 1970s. [...]

The moderation has been driven by cumulative improvements in medical care and by insurers, and by marketplace disciplines on the demand for medical care. Consumers are finally getting more involved in managing and paying for their own care. [...]

Much of this change got off the ground around 2001 as managed care (i.e., the hated "HMOs") gave way to a renewed era of unlimited consumer choice and access--for a price. Those with insurance were suddenly free again to choose whatever health care they wanted, but this time with their own money. Higher deductibles, new co-payments, Health Savings Accounts, "tiered" drug plans--these were all rolling out between 2000 and 2004, the same years that health-care inflation was starting to cool.

Suddenly, a $5 generic drug might work just as well as a $50 branded one. People concluded that going "out of network" for an extra $100 out of their own pocket might not be worth it. It turned out that a nurse practitioner in an urgent care clinic can spot an ear infection for $30 a whole lot faster than an emergency-room physician can for $1,000. There were many new drugs available, many others going generic and some, such as Tagamet for ulcers and Claritin for allergies, even going over the counter.

Once Republicans return to office they just need to tweak the mandate towards universal HSAs.  The Third Way works, you just have to put it to us harder.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


The EU's Emissions Trading System Isn't Working (Alexander Jung, 2/17/12, Der Spiegel)
In the perfect world of economic liberals, every commodity has its price. Limited supply makes goods more expensive and vice versa. That's how markets work -- at least in theory.

In practice, things often look different, and this is especially true when it comes to emissions trading, a business subject to a very different mechanism: laws dictated by the European Union.
Economists have generally praised the trading scheme as a nearly ideal instrument for reducing harmful carbon dioxide emissions. In this system, businesses purchase pollution permits, with prices determined according to supply and demand, in an efficient and self-regulating process. Companies that invest in environmentally friendly technology need to buy fewer certificates, or may even have some left over to sell.

But for the last half year, prices for CO2 certificates have dropped almost continuously, decreasing by about half, to around €8 ($10.60) per metric ton. Not even the closure of eight German nuclear power plants in 2011, and the resulting increase in demand for coal power, has done much to lastingly reverse the trend.

Michael Kröhnert, an emissions trader in Berlin, refers to the plunging prices as a slaughter. And he fully expects it to continue. "The spiral is spinning downward," he says.

Analysts at Swiss bank UBS even go so far as to warn that this creeping decline could escalate into a true crash. "The trading system isn't working," is their scathing conclusion. The emissions trading system, once so highly acclaimed, seems to be producing nothing more than hot air.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


An instant classic: single-serve microwave cake  (LINDA CICERO, 2/16/12, Miami Herald)

Single Serve 3-2-1 Cake is bound to become one of those instant Cook's Corner classics. Reader Bunny Shea emailed the recipe to me because she knew readers would love it. I was so intrigued I ran right out to pick up the two cake mixes required.

What you get is a mix that in minutes produces four dozen single servings of a sweet something resembling a cupcake. It's a perfect mix to mail away to children at school or friends in the service, since all they need to "bake" a single serving is a mug or bowl, a microwave and water. [...]

It is easy to remember how to make the cake if you remember it is called 3-2-1: You use 3 tablespoons of the mix stirred with 2 tablespoons water and microwave 1 minute. But go ahead and put an index card into the bag with directions.

Single Serve 3-2-1 Cake Mix

1 box angel food cake mix

1 box any flavor cake mix

Mix: In a gallon-size, self-sealing food-storage bag, mix the dry ingredients from the two cake mixes. Seal bag (or transfer to other airtight container) and store in pantry up to 3 months, using as needed. Makes about 6 cups mix, which will make 48 small cakes.

Cake: For each individual cake serving, measure 3 tablespoons of the mix into a small microwave-safe container, such as a mug or bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons water. Microwave on high for 1 minute. If desired, top each cake with whipped topping or a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


King cakes are a great way to indulge before Lent: The traditional New Orleans pastries are best homemade -- don't forget the fillings and the toy baby inside. (Noelle Carter, 2/16/12, Los Angeles Times)

At first sight, it comes across as, well, a little unusual. A large wreath-shaped cake bedazzled in vibrant shades of purple, green and gold -- there's nothing subtle about it. It might be flavored simply with a touch of cinnamon sugar, or maybe it's decked out with any of a number of creative fillings. Help yourself to a slice, or two -- just be careful you don't accidentally bite into the plastic baby.

Behold the wonder that is the king cake. For many, a New Orleans-style Mardi Gras is simply not complete without it.

While it may look rather odd -- perhaps even gaudy -- on its own, the king cake fits right in with a colorful season of festive parade floats and marching bands, masked revelers and flying beads as far as the eye can see.

Forget scratch, just order one of our kits.
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February 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


In East Orange, Recalling Whitney Houston Before She Was a Star (JOHN LELAND, 2/17/12, NY Times)

EAST ORANGE, N.J. -- To the people who knew her here she was always Nippy, the long-legged girl who ran track and liked to act out scenes from television. Sometimes she introduced herself to strangers by her full name, Whitney Elizabeth Houston, but in the makeshift memorial at her old elementary school, it is the local name that carries the day: "Nippy," one card begins, "thank you for sharing God's gift, your voice."

East Orange was her town, an aspirational city where middle-class black families bought big houses and went to church alongside less-affluent neighbors. When she moved here from neighboring Newark at age 4, the family left behind a city on a downward arc for one then on the rise.

Henry W. Hamilton, the principal of her old elementary school, remembered when Ms. Houston arrived in the first grade with her two older brothers, the children of a famous gospel singer. The boys always had her back, he said.

"I never thought she had the potential to be a great singer," said Mr. Hamilton, 73, who is still the school's principal. 
"I thought her brother Gary had the potential. I missed that one."

...the biggest thing that happened was when East Orange's own John Amos came to visit Mr. Hamilton.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Driving the green: New study suggests that electric-powered trucks will save money for businesses. (Peter Dizikes, 2/01/12, MIT News Office)

 A company looking to purchase an electric-powered delivery truck today will likely experience some sticker shock: Such a vehicle costs nearly $150,000, compared to about $50,000 for the same kind of truck with a standard internal-combustion engine. 

But before long -- perhaps surprisingly -- it's a purchase that should pay for itself. That's the conclusion of a new MIT study showing that electric vehicles are not just environmentally friendly, but also have the potential to improve the bottom line for many kinds of businesses. 

The study, conducted by researchers at MIT's Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL), finds that electric vehicles can cost 9 to 12 percent less to operate than trucks powered by diesel engines, when used to make deliveries on an everyday basis in big cities. 

"There has to be a good business case if there is going to be more adoption of electric vehicles," says Jarrod Goentzel, director of the Renewable Energy Delivery Project at CTL and one of four co-authors of the new study. "We think it's already a viable economic model, and as battery costs continue to drop, the case will only get better." 

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Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Sovereignty, Syria, and the Arab Spring (Mario Loyola, February 16, 2012, National Review)

Article 2(7) of the Charter enshrines the principle of non-interference "in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state." If the text of the Charter is strictly followed, there are only two exceptions for this rule: (1) enforcement action by the Council under Chapter VII, on threats to the peace, and (2) collective or individual self-defense under Article 51, if an armed attack occurs.

That rule is silly in practice, and wrong in principle. Among other things, it implies that diplomatic recognition for the representatives of a given regime -- which requires only that the regime control its territory -- automatically triggers the full rights of sovereignty. It can't, and it shouldn't.

Our founding documents had a lot to say on this topic. The Declaration of Independence argued that the British King and Parliament had lost their claim to sovereignty over the American colonies because in the place of self-government, they had orchestrated a tyranny. The Declaration of Independence in particular was obviously and self-consciously derived from John Locke's Two Treatises on Government, written a century before, following England's own Glorious Revolution.

Locke's Second Treatise argued that only institutions of self-government could constitute a government properly so-called. Most explosively, Locke argued that where there was foreign occupation or tyranny (the two were equivalent in his thinking), there was no government properly so-called, and the people then had the right to establish a government, by force of arms if necessary. The right of rebellion claimed in the Declaration of Independence was straight out of John Locke.

So is the right of humanitarian intervention. The sovereignty of a tyrant is no greater than that of a foreign occupier. If that tyrant also happens to be an enemy of ours, and has already given us casus belli, our right of intervention should be asserted forcefully and explicitly.  

In Syria, even more than in Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt, the intrinsic illegitimacy and criminality of the regime has been manifest for decades. Despite his touching friendship with Senator John Kerry, Syrian dictator Basher Assad is a sponsor of international terrorism, facilitates the extension of Iranian military support for terrorists in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, facilitated the transit of thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of Arab insurgents into Iraq to kill Americans, and is up to his neck in clandestine WMD, including nuclear-weapons technologies. The justifications for ending that regime, to make no mention of stopping a massive humanitarian disaster, have been present for years.

The other side of the coin is this: What if the regime falls tomorrow? How do we know that the regime which replaces it is any more legitimate? Should we try to be "on the right side of history" by recognizing the new regime simply because it is acclaimed by a mob in the street and has some diplomatic support among non-democratic governments? That's how we got into this whole situation to begin with.

U.S. diplomacy needs to become much more focused on basic constitutional issues. The full rights of sovereignty should be recognized only when a government constitutes "self-government" in the Lockean sense. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Fields Apart: Physics, past and future: a review of The Infinity Puzzle, By Frank Close and Physics on the Fringe, By Margaret Wertheim (Sam Kean, Winter 2012, American Scholar)

The book's star, its driving personality, is Jim Carter, who manages a ramshackle trailer park in Washington state. (Some tenants used to barter guns for rent.) Carter is a genius with his hands--he can fix any car--and runs a booming side business that helps people salvage wreckage from the ocean. And this mechanical aptitude in turn informs his physics. Carter rejects field theory outright, preferring a mechanical universe based on particles he calls "circlons." Circlons look like long springs coiled into a donut, and he has reimagined everything from the big bang to the periodic table in terms of them.

Heavy stuff, but Wertheim notes that Carter is an outsider even among outsiders in that he doesn't take himself too seriously. In one capti- vating scene, Carter transforms a few trashcans and a smoke machine into a device that makes giant smoke rings. Carter believes that smoke rings behave as circlons do at a microscopic level, and the device will allow him to test a few ideas rattling his brain. But instead of getting down to business, he regales his neighbors by puffing rings across his yard all afternoon.

Wertheim uses the scene to make a discomfiting point. It turns out that Carter's smoke-ring experiments mirror almost exactly some experiments in the 1860s by William Thompson. One of the most establishment scientists of all time, Thompson, known as Lord Kelvin, did fundamental work in thermodynamics. But he also championed the idea that atoms behave like convoluted smoke rings on a microscopic level. And like Carter, Kelvin frittered away many happy hours with smoke machines, an aspect of his work that scientists today conveniently ignore.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Latino Groups Want GOP Candidates to Campaign Like George W. Bush (LAUREN FOX, February 15, 2012, US News)

Brent A. Wilkes, LULAC's executive director, points to George W. Bush as an example of how a candidate should reach out to the Latino community. Bush ran on the platform of "compassionate conservatism," supporting the creation of temporary work visas for illegal immigrants, appointing Latinos like Alberto Gonzales to key cabinet positions and inviting Mexico's President Vicente Fox to address Congress in a quest to develop a comprehensive immigration policy.

"We need a Bush Republican," Wilkes says. "He was familiar with what was important to Latino voters. He'd worked with Latinos when he'd been the governor of Texas."

Wilkes says Latinos and Bush didn't agree on every policy, but adds the Hispanic community respected Bush's willingness to engage with Latinos. With less than three weeks until Super Tuesday, and Hispanics not pleased with President Obama's deportation policies , Latino officials are encouraging the GOP candidates to reach out before it's too late.

February 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Why Obama Will Embrace the 99 Percent (NATE SILVER, 2/15/12, NY Times Magazine)
By early February, Obama's approval rating had climbed to 49 percent in the Real Clear Politics average, a six-point improvement from three months earlier. Although it's not a terrific approval rating, it may be enough to get Obama another term. In 2004, George W. Bush won a narrow victory with essentially identical metrics: G.D.P. growth of 2.9 percent and an approval rating of about 48 percent on Election Day.

Still, Obama's position isn't solid enough for him to beat just anybody. Bush benefited from running against a middling opponent like John Kerry, against whom he was able to squeeze every ounce out of his approval rating.

The model I created evaluates the strength of the opposition candidate by considering his ideology on a left-to-right scale. Candidates who are closer to the center have historically done better than those closer to the wings. (I've updated the model's measure of ideology to account for new data.)

Obama's most likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, continues to rate as a "generic Republican." In fact, he now scores at exactly 50 on the 100-point scale from centrist to extremist. That means an election against Romney, like Bush's against Kerry, would mostly be dictated by the fundamentals of the economy and by evaluations of Obama's job performance. With 2.5 percent G.D.P. growth from now through November, Obama would be a 60 percent favorite to win the popular vote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


GM moves from pension plan to 401(k) (Aaron Smith and Chris Isidore, February 15, 2012, CNNMoney) 

General Motors has shifted its senior salaried workers away from a traditional pension plan to a 401(k) plan, said a company spokeswoman on Wednesday.

GM (GM, Fortune 500) froze its defined benefit pension plans for 19,000 U.S. salaried workers and shifted them to a 401(k) plan, said GM spokeswoman Lynda Messina.

These 19,000 workers were hired before 2001, when the automaker was using the traditional pension plan. The pension plan is not eliminated. Instead, it is frozen, so whatever funds were put into it until now will be received upon retirement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Toxic? Says Who? Taste For 'Subprime' Returns (SERENA NG, 2/15/12, WSJ)

Investors' belief that the worst is over for the U.S. housing market is fueling renewed interest in once-toxic mortgage bonds that were at the heart of the financial crisis.

Prices of some distressed bonds backed by subprime home loans--those issued before the crisis to borrowers with sketchy credit histories--have chalked up double-digit percentage gains this year, with one prominent market index rising 14%.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Luck Is a Winner for HBO (Tim Surette, Jan 30, 2012, TV.com)

I've never understood some people's fascination with horses. Horse lovers can go on and on about the creatures' beauty, their gracefulness, their mystique. Me, I see overgrown donkeys that would love nothing more than to kick me in the nads. But HBO's Luck, the new drama about horse racing that debuted tonight, is taking my ignorance for quite a ride of clarity. Through the eyes of Michael Mann (Heat) and the words and characters of David Milch (Deadwood), the jaw-dropping beauty of horses and desperate atmosphere of the world of horse racing come to light in what could be HBO's best new series.

Just as Boardwalk Empire's pilot benefited from producer Martin Scorsese's directing chops, Luck's pilot benefited from Mann's. But Mann outdid his fellow Directing Hall of Famer and just about everyone else on the planet with masterful work here. Luck is absolutely gorgeous, and Mann's ability to capture the brutality and grace of the Sport of Kings with mind-boggling camera angles and how-did-they-do-that tracking shots (seriously, how DID they do that?) is staggering. Shots that dart back and forth between a wild horse's eye and an intense jockey's eye only emphasize the tenuous bond between rider and animal, and remind us that these are human beings careening around a track at ridiculous speeds on top of a frickin' beast.

But Luck isn't just about the duos racing around the track, it's about everything that goes on around the track. Milch turns his eye toward all tiers of the racetrack hierarchy; here, they involve the recently released from prison Ace (Dustin Hoffman), scheming horse trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz), a pair of jockeys looking to make names for themselves, an owner named Walter Smith (Nick Nolte) who just might have the next great thoroughbred on his hands, and a quartet of lowly gamblers trying to win enough to buy their next meal. In the pilot, we saw how all of their lives intersect, and how risks and gambles taken by one of them affect the lives of the others.

One of the best things about having Mann direct was that he brought in a couple of the regulars from the great series Crime Story--Ted Levine and Dennis Farina. 

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Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Rising Gas Prices: Not Demand Driven (Matthew Philips, 2/14/12, Business Week)

Strangely, the current run-up in prices comes despite sinking demand in the U.S. "Petrol demand is as low as it's been since April 1997," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. "People are properly puzzled by the fact that we're using less gas than we have in years, yet we're paying more."

Kloza believes much of the increase is due to speculative money that's flowed into gasoline futures contracts since the beginning of the year, mostly from hedge funds and large money managers. "We've seen about $11 billion of speculative money come in on the long side of gas futures," he says. "Each of the last three weeks we've seen a record net long position being taken."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Man In Full (CHRIS BALLARD, 2/13/12, Sports Illustrated)

Powell stares at the bar, disbelieving. His entire life he's been the strongest guy in the room. Growing up in nearby Forest Park, he was doing pull-ups at age three. By four he could do handstand push-ups and had earned the nickname Mikey Powerful. In eighth grade he set a school mark for pull-ups; at Indiana he set multiple weight-room records. Angry, he tries again but doesn't make it past three pull-ups. Again the boys laugh, only this time nervously. Is Powell playing a joke on us? If not, this is weird.

This is, after all, Coach Powell. No one attacks coaching, or life, as he does. This is the man who signs his e-mails in relentless pursuit, who works 18-hour days and is the first one back in the gym, smiling and hopping around. "We may not be the most talented," Powell tells his wrestlers, "but no one in the state of Illinois will outwork us." During the regular season he ran the boys through torturous exercises, timing them as they pushed weighted sleds through the rough grass of the school outfield, the boys so drenched in sweat that they took their soggy workout clothes home in knotted plastic bags. He tacked a poster board labeled MANLINESS on the training room wall so he could track each wrestler's personal bests: how many times he could flip a 100-pound tire in two minutes, how many times he could clean-and-press half his body weight in four minutes, how many dips and pull-ups he could rip off in 10 minutes.

The boys might have bristled at the demands if they'd come from a different coach. But not from Powell, for he was right there beside them. He pushed the sled and heaved the tire and did the dips and kept going after the boys faltered. He wrestled them all, relying on his quickness against 103-pounders and his power against heavyweights. He challenged them to push-up contests. He dared them to be true warriors--to become, as he put it, "not just good but great men."

That was a theme he brought up almost every day, because Powell believed that the idea of masculinity had become twisted in modern society, that it had become derogatory to call someone macho or manly. "Try to be a different kind of man," he told them. "One who's true to his word, who's respectful to women and his family."

"Macho men can also be sissies!" he'd shout in his booming, raspy voice. "You can grind it out in a grudge match and then go read Shakespeare. You can read The New York Times and lift weights."

Once kids joined the team, they became part of Powell's family. He arranged tutors for boys who struggled in school. He drove one recently graduated wrestler 300 miles to college and helped him move into his dorm. Every summer he took the entire team on a backpacking trip, one year to Glacier National Park in Montana, the next to Zion National Park in Utah, paying for the kids who couldn't afford it. He took the ungainly boys aside and talked to them about girls; he took the cocky ones aside and talked to them about the value of finding mentors. Always he gave them love. Before every match he kissed the forehead of Ellis Coleman, one of the roughest of the rough, whose father and stepfather had both spent time in prison. Before every meet Powell said, "Character, boys, that's all it's ever been about, all it will ever be about and all it's about tonight."

The boys idolized him. They walked like Powell, as if carrying imaginary holsters on their hips. They talked like him, referring to anything subpar as jayvee, as in, "There are two options for lunch: the good sandwich place and the jayvee one around the corner." The older boys cultivated cauliflower ears, lighting up at the first bruising. Several wrestlers started a Facebook page called WWMPD, for What Would Mike Powell Do. "Whatever Powell said held 100 times the weight of a parent, teacher, anyone," says Michele Weldon, whose three sons wrestled for him. "The boys craved his approval. They would do anything they could for him."

That's why that afternoon in the workout room was so unsettling. As Brooks puts it, "We'd never seen him like that before, so weak."

February 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


On thin ice, and a long course, with the Dutch  (AP, 2/09/11) 

As I lace up my ice skates while sitting on the banks of the Zijlroade river Thursday, grizzled men old enough to be my father glide past me, leaning into the bone-chilling wind and effortlessly propelling themselves across the frozen surface.

I drop down onto the ice and flail my arms to get balanced. Surely my feet can't be hurting already. But it's been years since I've done a serious skating run, and this one, well ...

When organizers announced Wednesday night that the Elfstedentocht - the Netherlands' mythical Eleven Cities Tour - would not be staged because the ice was too dangerous, a colleague suggested I skate the waterways that make up the course for a story.

I'm not sure he knew the tour is 125 miles (200 kilometers) long.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


The Case of the Rising Health Care Stocks (IRA STOLL, 2/13/12, NY Sun)

[B]efore shedding any tears for the insurance companies, check their stock prices. One of the most remarkable moments of the administration came on June 24, 2009, when, during a nationally televised ABC News "town hall" meeting on health care from the White House, Mr. Obama told Aetna's CEO, "Aetna is a well-managed company, and I am confident that your shareholders are going to do well."

If you took that stock tip from President Obama, you would have done pretty well -- shares in Aetna, one of the country's largest publicly traded health insurance companies, are up 89% since then, assuming reinvestment of dividends, far outpacing the 49% return of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index over the same period. Other large, publicly traded health insurance companies have also prospered during since that June 24, 2009 moment when passage of ObamaCare was far from assured. UnitedHealth Group is up an astonishing 120% since then. Humana is up 184%.

If you look at other inflection points, it's a similar story. Since Mr. Obama signed the health care bill into law on March 23, 2010, Aetna is up 33%, UnitedHealth is up 65%, and Humana is up 76%, all outpacing the 14% rise in the S&P 500 Index over the same period.

Since Mr. Obama's January 20, 2009, inauguration, Aetna is up 80%, UnitedHealth is up 127%, Humana is up 170%, and WellPoint, another large health insurer, is up 79%, all exceeding the 67% increase in the S&P 500 Index over the same period. For all the alarms that were raised during the ObamaCare debate that the regulation of profit and mandates of benefits, such as free birth control pills, would savage the insurance companies, the market seems to have a different opinion. That opinion seems to be that being one of just a few vendors of a product that the government is going to force every American to buy isn't such a bad business to be in.

It's always amusing to hear folks claim that Obamacare will ruin the insurance industry.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Japan's Welfare Ministry Proposes Means Testing State Pensions (Stephen Harner, 2/14/12, Forbes)

On February 14 the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) formally proposed to the quasi-government committee interfacing with the Diet a "means testing" fiscal reform plan for Japan's national pension system (equivalent to U.S. Social Security).   The plan calls for limiting maximum benefits to persons with annual incomes of JPY 8,500,000 (USD 110,000) or less.  Above this income level, up to an annual income of JPY 13,000,000 (USD 169,000) benefits would be gradually reduced by half.

As for funding, MHLW not surprisingly endorses the Noda government proposal (which also came from the bureaucracy) to raise the consumption tax from the current 5 percent to 10 percent in two steps by October 2015, calling for passage of enabling legislation in the current Diet session.

Boldly, the MHLW reform proposes that the means testing and cuts in benefit payments apply not just to future pension recipients, but also to current ones.  An estimated 243,000 current recipients would be affected.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Man maimed by own bomb in Thai capital (Reuters, 2/13/12) 

A man thought to be Iranian was seriously wounded in Bangkok on Tuesday when a bomb he was carrying exploded and blew one of his legs off, police and a government spokeswoman said.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


The Monster of Glamis (Mike Dash, 2/10/12, Smithsonian)

"If you could even guess the nature of this castle's secret," said Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore, "you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours."

That awful secret was once the talk of Europe. From perhaps the 1840s until 1905, the Earl's ancestral seat at Glamis Castle, in the Scottish lowlands, was home to a "mystery of mysteries"--an enigma that involved a hidden room, a secret passage, solemn initiations, scandal, and shadowy figures glimpsed by night on castle battlements.

The conundrum engaged two generations of high society until, soon after 1900, the secret itself was lost. One version of the story holds that it was so terrible that the 13th Earl's heir flatly refused to have it revealed to him. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Komen for the Cure's Biggest Mistake Is About Science, Not Politics (Christie Aschwanden, 2/10/12, Discovery)

But these problems are minuscule compared to Komen's biggest failing--its near outright denial of tumor biology. The pink arrow ads they ran in magazines a few months back provide a prime example. "What's key to surviving breast cancer? YOU. Get screened now," the ad says. The takeaway? It's your responsibility to prevent cancer in your body. [...]

Years of research have led scientists to discover that breast tumors are not all alike. Some are fast moving and aggressive, others are never fated to metastasize. The problem is that right now we don't have a surefire way to predict in advance whether a cancer will spread or how aggressive it might become. (Scientists are working on the problem though.)

Some breast cancers will never become invasive and don't need treatment. These are the ones most apt to be found on a screening mammogram, and they're the ones that make people such devoted advocates of mammography. H. Gilbert Welch of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, calls this the overdiagnosis paradox. Overdiagnosis is what happens when a mammogram finds an indolent cancer. A healthy person whose life was never threatened by breast cancer is suddenly turned into a cancer survivor. She thinks the mammogram saved her life, and so she becomes an advocate of the test.
Some cancers behave just the opposite of these slow-growing, indolent ones. Researchers now know that some cancers are extremely aggressive from the start. There's simply no such thing as "early" detection for these cancers. By the time they're detectable by any of our existing methods, they've already metastasized. These are the really awful, most deadly cancers, and screening mammograms* will not stop them.

Then there are cancers that fall somewhere in between the two extremes. These are the ones most likely to be helped by screening mammography, and they're the lives that mammography saves. How many? For women age 50 to 70, routine screening mammography decreases mortality by 15 to 20% (numbers are lower for younger women). One thousand women in their 50′s have to be screened for 10 years for a single life to be saved.

So let's recap. Getting "screened now," as the Komen ad instructs can lead to three possible outcomes. One, it finds a cancer than never needed finding. You go from being a healthy person to a cancer survivor, and if you got the mammogram because of Komen's prodding, you probably become a Komen supporter. Perhaps a staunch one, because hey--they saved your life and now you have a happy story to share with other supporters. Another possibility is that the mammogram finds a cancer that's the really bad kind, but you die anyway. You probably don't die later than you would have without the mammogram, but it might look that way because of a problem called "lead time bias." The third possibility is that you find a cancer that's amenable to treatment and instead of dying like you would without treatment, your life is saved. Here again, you're grateful to Komen, and in this case, your life truly was saved.

Right now, breast cancer screening sucks. It's not very effective, and if you measure it solely based on the number of lives saved versus healthy people unnecessarily subjected to cancer treatments, it seems to cause more harm than good. For every life saved, about 10 more lives are unnecessarily turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis that will only harm them. In a study published online in November, Danish researchers concluded that, "Avoiding getting screening mammograms reduces the risk of becoming a breast cancer patient by one-third."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Students at East Orange school named for Whitney Houston mourn singer's death (Eugene Paik, 2/13/12, The Star-Ledger )

EAST ORANGE - Students at the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts opened the school week by mourning the loss of their school's namesake icon.

Nearly 450 students at the Dodd Street school memorialized Whitney Houston this morning on the school's front lawn by reflecting on the singer's legacy and walking by her childhood home nearby.

"A lot of times when I look at them, they look like Whitney," Principal Henry Hamilton said of his students. [...]

A local hero in the area, Houston grew up just a few blocks away and attended the school as a child. Hamilton, who has been at the school since 1969, said he knew Houston since she was 6 years old.

Formerly called the Franklin School, the Whitney Houston Academy was renamed in honor of the singer in 1997.

...and Mr. Hamilton was our principal.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


LEDs that Burn 10 Times Brighter: Startup Soraa thinks it can make LEDs cheap enough to replace regular bulbs. (PHIL MCKENNA, 2/13/12, Technology Review)

LED lightbulbs promise a highly efficient, nontoxic, long-lasting alternative to today's incandescent and halogen lightbulbs. Lighting entire rooms using LEDs has, however, proved both technically challenging and expensive.

Soraa, a startup based in Fremont, California, has developed a new type of LED that it says generates 10 times more light from the same quantity of active material used in other LEDs. The company's first product is a 12-watt bulb that uses 75 percent less energy than a similarly illuminating 50-watt halogen bulb. Company officials would not disclose the cost of the bulb, but say it will pay for itself in less than one year through energy savings. 

February 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Gas Prices Rising, So Cars' Fuel Economy Rising, Too: Study (BRETT LOGIURATO, February 13, 2012, IB Times)

The average fuel economy of 2012 model year vehicles is 14 percent higher than the same mark of just four years earlier, according to a University of Michigan study, confirming automakers' push to appeal to consumers' desires for more fuel efficient vehicles.

Model-year 2012 "light-duty vehicles" -- cars, pickup trucks, minivans, vans and sport utility vehicles -- averaged 21.5 miles per gallon, which compares to 18.9 miles per gallon for model-year 2008 vehicles. The number is also up from 21.2 from last year, 20.7 two years ago and 19 in 2009, continuing a steady trend.

"This implies that consumers tend to choose vehicle models with better fuel economy than the average of all vehicles available," said Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. "The recent economic downturn, coupled with rising gas prices, has led to an increased interest in purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles."

Move over and let Mr. Pigou drive.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Dilemmas of Jewish Power (ROGER COHEN, 2/13/12, NY Times)

Peter Beinart's "The Crisis of Zionism" is an important new book that rejects the manipulation of Jewish victimhood in the name of Israel's domination of the Palestinians and asserts that the real issue for Jews today is not the challenge of weakness but the demands of power.

"We are being asked to perpetuate a narrative of victimhood that evades the central Jewish question of our age: the question of how to ethically wield Jewish power," he writes. That power, for 45 years now, has been exercised over millions of Palestinians who enjoy none of the rights of citizenship and all the humiliations of an occupied people.

Beinart, a prominent liberal journalist, is right to invert the treacherous victimhood trope. This is not 1938 revisited, or even 1967. Israel is strong today, a vibrant economy and the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state. Its unwavering ally, the United States, is home to a Jewish community that has never been more integrated or influential. Turbulent Arab states are focused on their own reinvention, not Israel; Iran's principal regional ally, Syria, teeters on the brink. [...]

Beinart notes (well-meaning Israeli diplomats who would "rebrand" Israel take note): "Israel does not have a public relations problem; it has a policy problem. You can't sell occupation in a postcolonial age." That occupation, prolonged in perpetuity, would mean, as President Barack Obama has put it, that "the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled."

The only thing uglier than victim politics is the victim politics of the powerful, like when Newt Gingrich whines about being bullied.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


One hopeful sign, it's directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


This Man Wants to Kill QR Codes. Can He Do It?: Herbert Bay's company, Kooaba, has a new app, called Shortcut, to digitize printed matter for your phone. Next up: interactive tricks with the content (Bobbie Johnson, 2/09/12, Business Week)

The app, Shortcut, allows users to take a photo of newspaper pieces, magazine articles, advertisements, and even billboards and link them to a digital version on their phone. With a Path-like UI, users can then share, comment on, or store what they've found--or play with it if interactive extras are attached.

"The pitch when we talk to newspapers and printed publications is that we can make them interactive--and they don't need to place any QR codes anywhere," says Bay. "In addition, they can sell their advertisers on that interactivity. ... It removes the need for QR codes."

It already works with such publications as USA Today and the New York Post, and more are being added all the time. In practice, it is not a million miles from Google Goggles, but Shortcut has more focus.

The app--for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone--is actually a retooling of a previous release known as Paperboy, chiefly for news media. That remains its strong point, as it recognizes more than 1,000 newspapers and magazines from all over the world. Through a partnership with the international media sales company Publicitas, however, Bay and his team realized they wanted to branch out to advertising--and that meant they needed to rework what they had done.

Even though Shortcut has broadened its remit a little, the reality is that Kooaba could actually apply its technology to any media: DVD cases, books, movie posters, CDs. Instead, the company has chosen to keep its focus narrow to try to gain traction.

"The thing with a startup is deciding where to put your resources," says Bay. "Newspapers and magazines are low-hanging fruit for our app, so we're focused on those for now."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Confusing Health Insurance with Health Care Is Bankrupting Us (Dean Zarras, 2/12/12, Forbes)

Until this country stops confusing health insurance with health care, we're on a road to certain national bankruptcy.   Indeed, many would argue we're already there.

To see why, it's instructive to review what insurance actually is, mathematically.  The entire premise centers around the estimation of risk to an individual and spreading that risk amongst a larger pool.   With this at the root of a business plan, funding an insurance plan is a conceptually simple exercise:      Estimate the total annual expenses for the insured pool, divide that number by the size of the pool, let's call that "N", and then charge each person in the pool some amount more than N.

Note that I said "conceptually simple" on purpose.  Obviously the actuarial studies that underly the above are often fraught with uncertainty.   Insurance companies compensate for this uncertainty by charging higher premiums.

Given the above, any individual's insurance cost then is a direct function of the expenses incurred by the total group.   If everyone wants to insure themselves against some low probability medical and financial catastrophe,  the annual cost might be very reasonable when spread around the pool.  Say one person in a million is going to get hit with a $1 million dollar catastrophe.   If a million people join a pool to insure themselves against that unlucky lottery ticket, the theoretical break-even cost to the insurer (ignoring their own operational expenses) is a mere $1 per person.  At $5 a person, each person gladly signs up, and even in a statistically unusual year, the insurer likely stays in business to be able to meet the $1 million claim or claims that come in.

All of the above cost savings to the individual (spending $5 to get $1 million of coverage) go out the window when we start try to "insure" ourselves against things that are guaranteed to happen to most people.  [...]

Indeed, because human wants are unlimited, the definition of "human care" is unlimited, too.  As wonderful as it sounds, society simply can't afford "unlimited" and will tear itself apart trying to do so.   But we can afford reasonable risk management: insuring against the truly catastrophic, low-probability events that hopefully never afflict us.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the above, but it flies in the face of big government, the proponents of which are all too close to a permanent voting majority:  Health Savings Accounts.   Only Health Savings Accounts separate the costs of health care from the costs of health insurance and address both issues independently. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and ROBERT GEBELOFF, 2/12/12, NY Times)

There is little poverty here in Chisago County, northeast of Minneapolis, where cheap housing for commuters is gradually replacing farmland. But Mr. Gulbranson and many other residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient members of the American middle class and as opponents of government largess are drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year.

Dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in the county in 2009, a 69 percent increase from 2000 after adjusting for inflation. In Chisago, and across the nation, the government now provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income.

Older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare, but aid for the rest of the population has increased about as quickly through programs for the disabled, the unemployed, veterans and children.

The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.

And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.

...is the illusion of independence via the mechanisms of a government-mandated safety net.   But the reality is that such people resent the possibility that the other will get too much of the benefit money, not that they get it themselves.

February 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


A push to make Jeb the third Bush in the White House is just a dream - at least until 2016  (THOMAS M. DEFRANK, 2/12/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

[T]the second son of George H.W. and Barbara Bush is everything Romney is not: smooth, reliably conservative, with a natural bedside manner.

Two weeks ago at the Alfalfa Club dinner, an annual gathering of the bipartisan crème de la crème of the Beltway establishment, Jeb brought down the house as he accepted the clubs whimsical nomination for President.

In the presence of his father and brother, Jeb touted his qualifications as the governor of a large and important state.

In my family that makes me an underachiever, he cracked.

During family squabbles, he added, he'll sometimes ask, Who put you in charge?

Dad says, The American people,' he deadpanned. George says, 'The Supreme Court.'

The star turn had some Republican attendees wistful for what might have been.

People walked out saying, Too bad its not Jeb,' one noted.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


'Do not follow me down the road to jihad. Go and get a good education in the West' (TARA BRADY, 12th February 2012, Daily Mail)

Osama Bin Laden told his children to live peacefully in the West where they would get a good education, his brother-in-law has revealed.

Zakaria al-Sadah, whose sister is the fifth wife of the Al-Qaeda leader, said Bin Laden did not want his children and grandchildren following in the same path of terrorism like him. 

'He told his own children and grandchildren, go to Europe and America and get a good education,' according to an interview with Sadah in The Sunday Times.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


The world's losing its workers. How will we compete? (DOUG SAUNDERS, 2/11/12, Globe and Mail

The world is on the threshold of what might be called "peak people." The world's supply of working-age people will soon be shrinking, causing a shift from surplus to scarcity. As with "peak oil" theories - which hold that declining petroleum supplies will trigger global economic instability - the claims of the doomsayers are too hyperbolic and hysterical. These are not existential threats but rather policy challenges. That said, they're very big policy challenges.

Canada's crisis is mild compared to most countries, but it's still serious. There are currently almost five working-age Canadians whose income taxes pay the pension and health-care costs of each retiree; within 20 years, there will be only three. As a result, according to Ottawa, health-care costs will double and social-service costs will rise by a third. Compared to, say, Japan, where pensioners will become a majority this century, that's nothing.

But population aging will affect us in far more profound ways, because it is global.

About 11 per cent of the world's people are over 60 at the moment. In the next 25 years that will double, to almost a fifth, and one in six of those people will be over 80, according to a forthcoming book, Global Aging in the 21st Century, by sociologists Susan McDaniel of the University of Lethbridge and Zachary Zimmer of the University of California.

While this is affecting every country and region - even sub-Saharan Africa is now seeing a very fast rise in its proportion of seniors - some countries are being hit very hard. While 12 per cent of Chinese are now over 60, in two decades, there will be more than 28 per cent. Brazil faces a similar blow. It will be very difficult for countries that are only just emerging from poverty to suddenly face huge elder-care costs.

Peak people will be an age when jobs compete for workers rather than vice versa.

Setting aside what rotten societies the nations with the worst demographic problems have, their young will seek to come here just to avoid the tax burden of paying for the elderly cohort.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


A Whimsical Journey on the Brothers Grimm's Fairy-Tale Road: Once upon a time, the Fairy-Tale Road north of Frankfurt was known as a kitsch- and schnitzel-strewn diversion. On the bicentennial of the Brothers Grimm's first volume of stories, Raphael Kadushin follows the bread crumbs and discovers one of Germany's most underrated pastoral dreamscapes (plus what might really have happened to those lost children of Hameln . . .) (RAPHAEL KADUSHIN, FEBRUARY 2012, Conde Nast Traveler)

The fear was still haunting enough to make me pause before opting to drive the official Fairy-Tale Road. The route, often dismissed as the gooey epicenter of Teutonic kitsch, is worth reconsidering. Twisting approximately 370 pastoral miles north of Frankfurt, mostly through the back roads of Hesse and Lower Saxony, before petering out in Bremen, it reveals one of the most underrated pockets of a German dreamscape. And there is no better time to go: 2012 is the bicentennial of volume one of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Children's and Household Tales, the collection that includes Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, The Pied Piper of Hameln, Snow White, and Rapunzel and which launched the Grimms' lifework as aggregators of fables. The route follows both the trail of the brothers' evolving careers and the tales themselves. If the villages and castles (some now converted, timed to the bicentennial, into chic schloss hotels) look twee enough to inspire fairy tales--the pitch made by every European pit stop boasting a thatched cottage or two--this time, at least, you know the claim is justified. That adds its own kind of gravitas. The winding backdrop for so many of our earliest shared stories and nightmares is an example of that thing travelers always hunt for: the place as bona fide muse.

SO I SET OUT, on a cloudless mid-July day, nerves steady. Behind me was Frankfurt, the shiny, largely rebuilt city, as anodyne and familiar as a strip mall, and ahead was the same scary trip all lost boys and girls make--and the proof you shouldn't leave home--into the bramble, the forest, the strange place. At least I was seasoned enough to know that every journey features its own bogeyman or two, even if it's just the stranger in the window seat next to you unwrapping a really big sub sandwich. My first stop, in Steinau, was an apt start to the route, because it began with the storytellers themselves.

Fittingly, Steinau is picture-book ready; it's mostly a one-street town framed by half-timbered houses that leave you wondering how any of the region's forests are still standing. While the brothers were born just south, in Hanau (Jacob in 1785, Wilhelm in 1786), this is the town where they moved as young boys and that they would remember most lovingly. It's easy to see why. Their childhood home--the recently renovated Brüder-Grimm-Haus museum--is a sprawling manor sprouting one small aspiring tower.

"The brothers were unfortunate," Burkhard Kling, the museum director, told me as we toured the house. "Their father had a high court position as a magistrate, but when he died, in 1796, their childhood was finished." Exiled from their happy household, they literally wound up in the town poorhouse, just next door.

Fortunately, the museum isn't a study in gloom. True, downstairs there is the restored kitchen with an open oven big enough to spit-roast some kids, but otherwise the house is a cabinet of curiosities that reads like an homage to the brothers' coming success. There is a gallery of foreign translations of the tales, a contemporary David Hockney edition, and a collection of storybook toys that includes a Little Red Riding Hood doll kitted out like a goth vamp in scarlet miniskirt.

After the poorhouse, the brothers surfaced an hour north in Kassel, where they lived for almost thirty years, working partly as court librarians. En route I was looking for the brewery and tavern Brauhaus Knallhütte, and the address was vague. That's true of a lot of Fairy-Tale Road addresses, which tend to forgo street numbers for the lyrical "schloss under the oak tree" approach, which approximates a treasure hunt.

Inside the Brauhaus I discovered a lumberyard of beams--ceiling beams, wall beams, beams apparently supporting nothing but other beams--and maybe the only men's room on the planet featuring framed fairy-tale illustrations hanging above the urinal. The menu, like most along the route, is a traditional roll-call of all the schnitzels, Wiener to apple, and brats (clearly I could have stayed home in the Midwest) plus some flourishes. There are beer-infused offerings (start with beer goulash, end with beer tiramisu), and you can special-order a Cinderella meal that includes a baked potato carved into the shape of a slipper. Most people stop at the Brauhaus Knallhütte for the sense of history, because the inn is where one of the Grimms' top fairy-tale suppliers, Dorothea Viehmann, was born, in 1755. Serving mugs of beer in the family pub, she grew up listening to the fables of tradesmen, soldiers, and peasants, which she later brought to the brothers.

This occasionally made for rawer versions of stories like Cinderella, which is fairly genteel in the Gallic, Perrault rendition but takes a macabre turn in the German telling. Forget dainty French girls. The Grimms' stepsisters, who slice off a toe and a chunk of heel to squeeze into their bloodbath of a slipper, are the kind of muscular Hessians who get the job done with the can-do spirit that can plant a field fast. They're still standing at Cinderella's wedding--stoically hemorrhaging, like the world's worst bridesmaids, even after pigeons pluck out their eyes.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Jewish Roots of the New Testament: New Book Says Much of the Scripture is Jewish Literature (Jay Michaelson, February 12, 2012, Forward)

It's remarkable to me how surprised and offended some Christians become when one makes even the simplest claims about the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples, or by how upset some Jews get at the very notion of engaging with the Christian Bible. Have you had any pushback from those concerned about proselytization, intermarriage or assimilation?

The separation of Judaism and Christianity was the result of a process of self-definition on both sides, and the earliest followers of Jesus perceived of themselves, and were perceived by non-Jesus-following Jews, as Jewish. We are both synagogue members and active in our Jewish communities; we believe in the importance of Judaism as a religion and in Jewish identity in the 21st century, and we are not advocating intermarriage or assimilation. But intermarriage and assimilation are facts of contemporary Judaism, and we hope and believe that JANT can, for example, help intermarried couples understand what they share as well as how they differ. It can also help families -- Christian grandparents with Jewish grandchildren, for example -- better understand each other. To the extent that many American Jews are assimilated, they are assimilated into mainstream American Christian culture, and we hope that JANT can offer them an introduction to that culture's sacred scripture.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


The long road to Damascus: There are signs that the Syrian regime may become still more violent (The Economist, Feb 11th 2012)

More recently, the state-owned press has spoken ominously of the need to shift away from what it terms "restraint". A new security plan does indeed seem to have been launched on February 3rd, a day seared in Syrian memories as the anniversary of a merciless 1982 artillery assault on the then-rebellious city of Hama, during the rule of Mr Assad's father, Hafez, that left the ancient town's picturesque old quarter in ruins and some 20,000 dead.

Since that date, Bashar Assad's troops have mounted an unprecedentedly brutal show of force. They have showered artillery and rocket fire on Baba Amr and Khaldiyeh, two rebel-held districts of Homs, Syria's third-largest city and the hub of the current uprising. They have also attacked the nearby town of Rastan, the mountain resort of Zabadani, near the Lebanese border, the city of Idlib, close to Turkey, and other towns. Attacks have taken place simultaneously and relentlessly. Opposition sources say they think the shelling is a prelude to ground assaults on all these areas.

With up to several hundred projectiles raining into Homs every hour, the nationwide casualty toll has surged from around 20 a day to more than 50. Transport and telephone links, along with power, water and fuel supplies have been severed to many of the stricken areas, which were poor to begin with and have seen their incomes shrivel during the long months of unrest. With thousands of civilians choosing to abandon their homes despite cold winter weather, Syria is likely soon to confront a grave internal refugee crisis within its sealed borders. "We ask for nothing from the world, except for coffins, since there are not enough of them here for our bodies," declares a sarcastic tweet from Homs.

Mr Assad's government seems to believe that such tactics will succeed in stanching the revolt. A Syrian businessman recounts that in a chance meeting with a senior security official at a posh gym he was told confidently that the current offensive would be decisive. It would in effect "decapitate" the Free Syrian Army, the official boasted.

There are nearby precedents for such success. Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, ruled for more than a decade following his brutal suppression of an uprising in the country's south after the first Gulf war. Turkey's army has put a fairly tight lid on Kurdish separatism, just as Israel has crushed two Palestinian intifadas. And Mr Assad's own father outlived the rebels in Hama.

There are other reasons why Mr Assad might feel he will prevail. The centre of Damascus does, on the surface, appear surprisingly normal. Shops and cafés are open, if largely empty. Traffic is busy at times. Syria's president felt secure enough recently to venture out to a restaurant.

Despite the rotting of state institutions under one-party rule, Mr Assad's army and security forces have, to general surprise, so far suffered relatively few defections. Conscripts typically serve far from their hometowns, and the army is believed to have culled potentially disloyal soldiers from active units. Nor has Syria's army yet unleashed its full array of firepower, which could include helicopter gunships and jet bombers. Despite making inroads, the rebels, who have briefly controlled areas close to Damascus, have as yet neither the supply lines, nor the communications capacity and heavy weaponry, to mount more than localised pinprick raids.

Perhaps more importantly, Mr Assad still enjoys at least tacit backing from a fair proportion of Syrians. The very brutality of his crackdown has, ironically but perhaps deliberately, bolstered loyalty among minorities that together make up a third of Syria's 23m people. The Assad clan, which has ruled since 1970, are Alawites, an esoteric branch of Shiism that dominates Syria's coastal mountains as well as the armed forces. Poor Alawites also make up much of the rank and file of more shadowy government militias, such as the plainclothes thugs known as the shabiha. Vicious government tactics have served to implicate the Alawites as a whole, raising fears of retribution should the regime fall.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Lin's Appeal: Faith, Pride and Points (MICHAEL LUO, 2/12/12, NY Times)

Like Lin, I'm a Harvard graduate, albeit more than a decade ahead of him, and a second-generation Chinese-American. I'm also a fellow believer, one of those every-Sunday-worshiping, try-to-read-the-Bible-and-pray types, who agreed with Lin when he said to reporters after the Jazz game, "God works in mysterious and miraculous ways."

Being a believer can mean different things in different circles. In a lot of the ones Lin and I have traveled, it can mean, essentially, you are a bit of a weirdo, or can make you an object of scorn.

For me, as an Asian-American, the chants of "M.V.P.!" raining down on Lin at the Garden embody a surreal, Jackie Robinson-like moment. Just as meaningful to me as a Christian, however, is the way the broadcasters have hailed Lin as not just the "Harvard hero" but the "humble Harvard grad." His teammates appear just as overjoyed at his success as he was. Both seem to be testaments to his character.

Some have predicted that Lin, because of his faith, will become the Taiwanese Tebow, a reference to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, whose outspokenness about his evangelical Christian beliefs has made him extraordinarily popular in some circles and venomously disliked in others. But my gut tells me that Lin will not wind up like Tebow, mainly because Lin's persona is so strikingly different. From talking to people who knew him through the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Christian Fellowship, and watching his interviews, I have the sense that his is a quieter, potentially less polarizing but no less devout style of faith.

Lin comes across as soft-spoken and winsome; he comes across as thoughtful. He comes across, actually, as a distinctly Asian-American Christian, or at least like so many that I know.

An Asian-American Christian? What's that?

Many in this country have probably never even heard of this subcategory on the religious spectrum. But if you are a relatively recent graduate of the Ivy League or another top-tier college, you will probably recognize the species.

Harvard's Asian American Christian Fellowship, which started in the 1990s, is one of the most active student groups on campus. You will also immediately know it if you are part of a historically orthodox church in a major metropolitan center like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston or Los Angeles because your pews are probably filled with them. Like Lin, many Asian-American Christians have deep personal faith, but they are also, notably, almost never culture warriors. That is simply not what is emphasized in their churches and college Christian fellowships, including the one that played such a formative role in Lin's life at Harvard.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Egypt's Human Bellwether (ROBERT F. WORTH, 2/12/12, NY Times Magazine)

On a recent winter evening, a gray Mitsubishi sedan made its way slowly down the narrow main street of Qalyubiya, a farming town in the Nile River delta, hemmed in on all sides by shouting fruit vendors, bumping donkey carts, strings of colored lights and tiny bakeries and butcher shops. Election posters were plastered to every available surface, and a voice squawked loudly over a distant, tinny loudspeaker: "God willing, we will all soon live in an era of social justice. The revolution taught us that we are all equal." As the sedan reached a crowded election rally outside a mosque, the back door opened and out stepped a striking man with deep-set eyes and a broad forehead. "He is here!" someone shouted. "The hero of the revolution!" Almost instantly, a murmur rippled through the crowd, and the man was surrounded by adoring fans. A pair of burly aides grabbed his arms and bustled him through. "God is great!" the crowd chanted as he smiled and waved, making his way toward a brightly lighted stage. "Freedom and Justice! Tomorrow we will be strong!"

The man of the hour was Mohamed Beltagy, one of the central protagonists of the Egyptian Revolution and perhaps the country's most versatile and dynamic politician. He is a senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood who, unlike his peers, is also beloved by many liberals for his fierce support of the protests in Tahrir Square. But in a country divided ever more sharply between Islamists and secularists, his ability to straddle both worlds has only grown more precarious. He has been attacked by hard-line protesters for his association with the Brotherhood and dressed down within the Brotherhood for his willingness to side so vocally with the revolutionaries. Even his appearance sets him apart: at 49, Beltagy looks sleek and youthful next to the Brotherhood's bearded, pot-bellied, somnolent top men. He wears dark suits and natty ties, like a flashy Cairene lawyer, but he also has a prominent zabiba, or prayer callous, in the middle of his forehead, the ritual badge of piety in Egypt.

"Why did the police and army attack the protesters so brutally on Sunday?" he asked the thousands assembled in Qalyubiya, referring to recent military crackdowns in Tahrir Square. "They did it to create a crisis. The military could have stopped this massacre, but they did not." As the crowd began chanting its approval, Beltagy went on, making demands that went well beyond anything the Brotherhood had called for up to that point. "We must hold presidential elections immediately," he shouted, "so that the military can go back to its barracks. We want a real president, a real parliament, with the power to monitor every security institution, including the military council. We refuse all guardianship!" The crowd rose, giving him a standing ovation long before he was finished. Days after that speech, the Brotherhood's party, Freedom and Justice, swept the elections for Egypt's Parliament, where they now appear to control about half of all seats. It was the latest in a string of victories by newly unleashed Islamist parties across North Africa. Beltagy, the movement's most liberal and charismatic leader, is a natural diplomat and seems poised to play a major role in the next phase of Egypt's chaotic struggle toward democracy.

First, however, he must survive within the Brotherhood itself. The group has waited more than 80 years for this moment; its aging leaders are famously cautious and pragmatic, and therefore profoundly uneasy with Beltagy's confrontational stand toward the military council. The Brotherhood's secretive and hierarchical structure is notoriously opaque to outsiders, but several members and analysts of the movement told me they believed that Beltagy would soon be pushed to the side. The leadership, they say, will not tolerate his outspokenness and risk a military crackdown, no matter how popular that stance is with the younger generation and on the Egyptian street.

In other words, Beltagy has come to personify the Muslim Brotherhood's identity crisis as it moves, after decades underground, to become the dominant political group in Egypt. Will it rein him in or cast him aside in order to pursue a narrow Islamist agenda? Can it even afford to strike down such a popular figure, now that it is competing for the first time in an open, democratic forum? Khalil Anani, one of the keenest analysts of Egyptian Islamic movements, told me that the Brotherhood is likely to face a critical choice in the coming months. "There is a delayed confrontation between the Brotherhood and the military," he said, "and when it happens, much will depend on how well they cooperate with liberal and secular forces." Beltagy is essential to securing such cooperation, but the Brotherhood could also choose to cut out the liberals and make a deal with the military, Anani said, accepting the military's continued dominance in exchange for concessions on religious issues. This possibility, sometimes called the Saudi scenario, is what gives liberals nightmares: the prospect of an Egypt ruled by military men and mullahs.

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February 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 PM


Whitney Houston, superstar of records and films, dies at 48 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/11/12)

She seemed to be born into greatness. She was the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, the cousin of 1960s pop diva Dionne Warwick and the goddaughter of Aretha Franklin.

Ms. Houston first started singing in the church as a child. In her teens, she sang backup for Chaka Khan, Jermaine Jackson and others, in addition to modeling. It was around that time when music mogul Clive Davis first heard Ms. Houston perform.

"The time that I first saw her singing in her mother's act in a club ... it was such a stunning impact," Davis told "Good Morning America."

"To hear this young girl breathe such fire into this song. I mean, it really sent the proverbial tingles up my spine," he added.

After the Newark riots, in '67, her family moved to East Orange, and she was in the Mother Judd's class one year, along with the Other Brother.  Our school had a Gospel Ensemble, which I was eventually the only white member of, and we used to sing in churches in Newark all the time.  The responsive nature of black Baptist congregations made it one heck of a training ground.

The Mother Judd saw her in a club in NYC when she was first breaking into the business and had no doubt she was going to be a star.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Rabbit, Run Is an Exhortation Oft Heard in England Now: Bunnies Bred and Trained in Sweden Win Big Contests, but Don't Count U.K. Out (JAVIER ESPINOZA and ANNA MOLIN, 2/10/12, WSJ)

She was the fastest rabbit in town, taking just 11 seconds to jump all the hurdles in the round. Cherie, a 2-year-old Swedish bunny, left the competition in the dust at the U.K.'s Rabbit Grand National, held in the dignified Yorkshire town of Harrogate in late January.

The lop-eared speed demon, who also won the competition last year, elicited gasps from the audience as she jumped hurdles close to 28 inches high. But she faced no competition from upstart locals. While the British bunnies were invited to "showcase" their skills, they didn't compete in the main event because the organizers felt the Swedes were in a league of their own. "It's like the English Premier League versus L.A. Galaxy," says Jason Madeley, one of the promoters of the event, finding a soccer analogy.

See the bunnies of Britain compete with champion Swedish jumping rabbits. Javier Espinoza reports from the Rabbit Grand National in Harrogate, England.

"It's really new in England and they can't jump as high as we can," says 24-year-old nursery-school teacher Magdalena Åhsblom, owner of the champion. "I don't think they can compete against us yet."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


CPAC straw poll: Mitt Romney wins (Aaron Blake, 02/11/2012, Washington Post)

Mitt Romney won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll on Saturday, taking 38 percent of the vote at the annual gathering of party activists in Washington, D.C.

Romney stole the crown from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who has won the contest the past two years but did not appear before the CPAC crowd this year.

With more than 3,400 ballots cast, the final results showed Romney beating former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum 38 percent to 31 percent. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich was third with 15 percent, and Paul finished fourth with 12 percent.

What didn't they put in the water?

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM

Sharon Van Etten In Concert (NPR: World Cafe, February 10, 2012)

Van Etten seems to be everywhere in the wake of her excellent new album, Tramp. Hear her demonstrate why during a performance at WXPN's World Cafe Live.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


What Would the End of Football Look Like?: An economic perspective on CTE and the concussion crisis (Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier, February 9, 2012, Grantland)

Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist. The original version of Napster no longer exists, largely because of lawsuits. No matter how well a business matches economic conditions at one point in time, it's not a lock to be a leader in the future, and that is true for the NFL too. Sports are not immune to these pressures. In the first half of the 20th century, the three big sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing, and today only one of those is still a marquee attraction.

The most plausible route to the death of football starts with liability suits.1 Precollegiate football is already sustaining 90,000 or more concussions each year. If ex-players start winning judgments, insurance companies might cease to insure colleges and high schools against football-related lawsuits. Coaches, team physicians, and referees would become increasingly nervous about their financial exposure in our litigious society. If you are coaching a high school football team, or refereeing a game as a volunteer, it is sobering to think that you could be hit with a $2 million lawsuit at any point in time. A lot of people will see it as easier to just stay away. More and more modern parents will keep their kids out of playing football, and there tends to be a "contagion effect" with such decisions; once some parents have second thoughts, many others follow suit. We have seen such domino effects with the risks of smoking or driving without seatbelts, two unsafe practices that were common in the 1960s but are much rarer today. The end result is that the NFL's feeder system would dry up and advertisers and networks would shy away from associating with the league, owing to adverse publicity and some chance of being named as co-defendants in future lawsuits.

It may not matter that the losses from these lawsuits are much smaller than the total revenue from the sport as a whole. As our broader health care sector indicates (try buying private insurance when you have a history of cancer treatment), insurers don't like to go where they know they will take a beating. That means just about everyone could be exposed to fear of legal action.

This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players -- or worse, high schoolers -- commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn't worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it's mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.

There's a lot less money in the sport, and at first it's "the next hockey" and then it's "the next rugby," and finally the franchises start to shutter.

Along the way, you would have an NFL with much lower talent levels, less training, and probably greater player representation from poorer countries, where the demand for money is higher and the demand for safety is lower. Finally, the NFL is marginalized as less-dangerous sports gobble up its market share. People -- American people -- might actually start calling "soccer" by the moniker of "football."

Of course, it could be saved by technology, which, perversely enough, is what killed track, tennis, golf and racing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


417.6 Million Bites Later ... (SARAH LYALL, 2/09/12, NY Times)

Why this particular video?

"Videos are videos. They're either popular or they're not," said Mr. Davies-Carr, who originally uploaded the video as a way to keep a family friend in Colorado apprised of his sons' progress. The viral part came later, unexpectedly, he said, when the video was apparently picked up by a college humor site and somehow things took off.

If its charm seems straightforward -- Harry's cute accent, Charlie's maniacal laugh -- its unprecedented global popularity is mysterious. We are not talking about "Citizen Kane" here, or even "Porky's Revenge." Although videos of cute animals, cute kids and hapless people unexpectedly falling down do better than videos of things that are not cute or funny, figuring out what makes one video touch a viral nerve and another fizzle into unwatched obscurity is one of the great challenges of the YouTube age.

In Britain, some commentators have struggled to fathom the appeal of the video and sequels showing the boys and their brothers, Jasper, 3 ½, and Rupert, 8 months, engaging in nonbiting activities. "They are not, to put it politely, exceptional," wrote Terence Blacker in The Independent.

That is not how the world sees it, and Mr. Davies-Carr said he had thought long and hard about how to "monetize" in a responsible way what has become a very valuable property.

He is a YouTube "partner," meaning that the family shares in advertising revenue generated by the site. The boys make the odd commercial. A new "Charlie" app is in the works for iPhone and Android devices. There is talk of children's books and a YouTube channel.

The family is represented by a company called Viral Spiral, whose clients include the people behind the sneezing baby panda video and the babbling twin baby video. Damian Collier, who founded the company about a year ago -- the Davies-Carrs were his first clients -- said he had been impressed by their approach. "When I first met up with Howard, it was clear that he was enormously concerned to protect his boys and make sure anything done was tasteful and not exploitative," Mr. Collier said.

It has been a hard line to walk. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Obama, Explained: As Barack Obama contends for a second term in office, two conflicting narratives of his presidency have emerged. Is he a skillful political player and policy visionary--a chess master who always sees several moves ahead of his opponents (and of the punditocracy)? Or is he politically clumsy and out of his depth--a pawn overwhelmed by events, at the mercy of a second-rate staff and of the Republicans? Here, a longtime analyst of the presidency takes the measure of our 44th president, with a view to history. (JAMES FALLOWS, March 2012, The Atlantic)

What have we learned about Barack Obama's particular versions of the weaknesses every president brings to office? The diagnoses I heard, and have myself observed, fall into four main categories:

Inexperience: that Obama's own lack of executive experience left him reliant on the instincts and institutional memory of others--and since so many of his appointees came from the Clinton administration, he was also vulnerable to '90s-vintage groupthink among them. This was particularly true, as we'll see, during his response to the economic crisis in his first year in office, and then during his showdowns with Congress after Tea Party-inspired Republicans regained control of the House.

Coldness: that what looks serene in public can seem distant and aloof in his private dealings and negotiations.

Complacency about talent: that the disciplined excellence he demands of himself--in physical fitness and appearance, in literary polish of his speeches, in unvarying control of his mood and public presentation--has not extended to demands for a comparably excellent supporting staff.

Symbolic mismatch: that Obama's personal achievement in rising to the presidency betokened, for much of the electorate, far more sweeping ambitions for political change than Obama the incrementalist operator ever had in mind.

You could write a treatise on each of these, as scholars undoubtedly will. Here is the sort of material you would use in the discussion.

About inexperience: "The key to everything is that he was a first-term senator, and one who began running for the presidency in the second year of his first term," Gary Hart told me. "Governors have better odds of becoming president, but the Senate can be an ideal place to meet ... the new thinkers, hear about things and ideas that are over the horizon, and develop your own network of people you trust and will draw from. Because he began running so quickly, that is something he had little chance to do."

Several people pointed out that Bill Clinton, though younger than Obama when he became president, had developed a network of advisers, friends, and thinkers through his nearly 12 years as a governor and a lifetime as a contact-maker across the United States and around the world. By the time Bill Clinton ran for the White House, thousands of people considered themselves FOBs, Friends of Bill. If you asked who his closest or "best" friend was, apart from Hillary, you would never get to the end of the answers. Obama had a much thinner array of Friends of Barack. When I asked associates and friends who his confidants were, apart from Michelle, the one name that kept recurring was Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of both Obamas in Chicago and a senior adviser in the White House, sometimes followed by his strategist David Axelrod.

...really think Michelle is his friend?

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


A Kosovo Model for Syria: Bill Clinton stood up to Milosevic. Barack Obama can confront Assad. (FOUAD AJAMI, 2/10/12, WSJ)

President Obama isn't about to adopt the exercise of American power and burdens during the era of George W. Bush as his own. But in the face of this Syrian dilemma, he would be wise to consider the way Bill Clinton dealt with the crisis of Kosovo in 1999. Not unlike our current president, President Clinton wanted nothing to do with Kosovo when that last of the wars of Yugoslavia erupted with fury in early 1999.

American power, it should be recalled, had rallied to the defense of the Bosnians four years earlier. The horror of Bosnia had gone on for 30 cruel months, under George H.W. Bush and President Clinton alike. Legends were told about the might of the Serbs, but they were broken with relative ease and the Bosnians were rescued when President Clinton decided that American honor was sullied by the genocide in that corner of Europe--and he unleashed the power of NATO's bombers.

But the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic was not done. He was determined to deny the Kosovars their autonomy. There had been a terrible summer in 1998, more than 300,000 Kosovar Albanians had been forced to leave their homes. "Ethnic cleansing," that awful euphemism, was again everywhere in the news.

For President Clinton, it was yet another plunge into the Balkan inferno. He authorized a NATO air campaign against Serbia that began on March 23, 1999, the very same day a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress voted to support it. Two days later, President Clinton spoke to the American people and laid out the stakes in that conflict--the future of Europe, the line to be drawn for brigands and killers challenging the order of nations.

The air campaign lasted 11 weeks, included more than 30,000 sorties, and crippled Milosevic's ability to wage war on the Kosovars. The economic and military infrastructure of Serbia was damaged, even the home of Milosevic was targeted. Though a "war president" is the last thought that comes to mind when thinking of Bill Clinton, he stayed the course.

Prompted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Clinton was even willing to countenance the use of ground troops. It didn't come to that--an independent Kosovo was midwifed by a moderate and limited exercise of American power. We lost no American soldiers in that campaign. Two planes were lost, but their crews were recovered safely.

All this was done outside the suffocating confines of the U.N. Security Council. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Been Workin' on the Railroad (WILLIAM G. THOMAS, 2/10/12, NY Times)

[T]he constant moving and confusion of the railroad boom also made escape easier. In April 1862, with Union forces outside Fredericksburg, Va., Ballton and a small group of men escaped their camp and struck out for the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. They followed it north toward Fredericksburg, at one point meeting the road master who had hired them. Claiming to be on the job, they made their way along the railroad and then through to the Union lines, where they encountered the Sixth Wisconsin, a unit later made famous for its toughness on the battlefield.

Ballton wasn't the only slave to utilize the lines cut by railroads to escape. The R. F. & P. and the Virginia Central Railroad connected some of the wealthiest slaveholding counties in Virginia. Nearly 80,000 enslaved people lived in the surrounding counties, almost a fifth of Virginia's total slave population. This north-south axis, running from Richmond to Washington, became an avenue of freedom: tens of thousands of blacks used the railroad to guide them north to Union lines.

The Richmond Daily Dispatch reported 36 slaves had run away from the R. F. & P. in April 1862, almost certainly to the Union Army. One of them, "John Henry," who was "owned by Mrs. B.B. Wright," was 26 years old and described as "5 feet 10 inches high, black, [and] slow spoken." Whether he became the John Henry of railroad legend on the C & O cannot be known, but the R. F. & P. was still looking for these former slaves three months later. None had returned or been recaptured.

In August 1862, when the Union forces retreated back up the line toward Washington, black families went with them. Col. W.W. Wright, the engineer and superintendent of the United States Military Railroads, witnessed the evacuation: "The contrabands fairly swarmed about the Fredericksburg and Falmouth stations, and there was a continuous black line of men, women and children moving north along the [rail] road, carrying all their worldly goods on their heads. Every train running to Aquia was crowded with them." According to Wright, well over 10,000 contrabands walked or rode on the tracks north toward freedom in one week. Meanwhile, Confederate railroad operators took back the R. F. & P. The road superintendent immediately took out advertisements in the Richmond Daily Dispatch for the 36 slaves who had run away in April and put up an additional $5 reward for their recapture.

The skilled African-American railroad workers who had moved north with the Union troops proved a boon for the Northern war effort. Some of the earliest photographs we have of African-Americans in the Civil War come from Alexandria in 1861, where black railroad workers assembled at the Orange and Alexandria Railroad shops. They and thousands of others would soon return south, rebuilding sabotaged rail and ensuring the swift movement of troops and supplies.

Turning the Confederate railroads against the Confederacy was not only a military act but also a social and political one. It challenged the South's vision of itself as an advanced modern society marked by railroads and slavery. In the premier industry of the age, slave labor on the South's railroads stood in stark contrast to white labor on the North's, and black railroad workers knew that the Confederate railroads relied on their labor and skill.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Allies blitzed White House, calling for birth-control compromise (Stephanie Simon, Feb 10, 2012, Reuters)

From the start, Obama officials were receptive to calls for change, Campbell and others said. But they seemed uncertain about how to proceed, and the talks had little urgency.

People close to the White House said formulating the policy on contraceptive coverage had been a bruising fight, lasting for months last fall and into the winter, with deep divisions among senior staff - including its Catholics - about the wisdom of requiring Catholic colleges and hospitals to subsidize free birth control for their employees in the name of improving women's health care access.

The administration seemed prepared for a furious protest from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a formidable adversary in the earlier debate over healthcare reform, people with knowledge of the internal debate said.

But officials appeared taken aback by the intensity of the pleas coming from close Obama allies, several of whom argued to anyone who would listen that the policy was not only morally wrong, but out of step with the president's values.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


"Price tag" graffiti daubed on Jerusalem monastery (Reuters, 2/10/12)

A Jerusalem monastery, built on the site where tradition says the tree used in the making of Jesus's cross once stood, was defaced with "Death to Christians" graffiti on Tuesday.

The words "Price Tag" daubed on a vandalized car parked outside the 11th-century Monastery of the Cross suggested that militant Jewish settlers were responsible and police said they were investigating that possibility as well as other angles.

Elsewhere in Jerusalem on Tuesday, "Death to Arabs" was painted in Hebrew on the wall of a playground of a Jewish-Arab bilingual school.
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February 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


McDonald's shamrock shake goes nationwide (Aaron Smith, 2/10/12, CNNMoney)

McDonald's extreme-green shamrock shake is going nationwide for the first time, the fast food franchise revealed on Wednesday.

The leprechaun-colored shake is currently available at every one of McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500) 14,000 U.S. restaurants, according to company spokeswoman Ashlee Yingling.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Obama revises contraceptives rule (Ali Weinberg, 2/10/12, NBC)

 President Obama announced changes to a rule that would have required some religious institutions to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees on Friday in a bow to complaints from religious groups and conservative Republicans.

That was a whole lot of wasted hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Gingrich Group Looks for New Money as Big Donor Checks Stop (Julie Bykowicz, Feb 10, 2012, Bloomberg)

Five losing contests later, Gingrich and Winning Our Future, an outside political action committee supporting him, are almost silent on television airwaves, offering free water and coffee at events, and revamping a fundraising strategy based largely on the support of a single wealthy backer, Sheldon Adelson, and the Las Vegas casino owner's family. [...]

For now, the Adelsons don't plan to deliver another big check to float Gingrich's campaign, according to a person familiar with their deliberations. The family has donated a combined $11 million to Gingrich's super-PAC in the past two months, according to interviews and Federal Election Commission records. An Adelson spokesman declined to comment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


The toughest place to be a train driver (Eamonn Walsh, 2/10/12, BBC News)

It takes both skill and courage to control huge locomotives laden with mineral ore as they wind up and down the Andes mountains - making Peru possibly the toughest country in the world to be a train driver.

The Ferrocarril Central Andino (FCCA) travels from sea level to the mines at Cerro de Pasco, one of the highest cities in any country, at 14,200ft (4,330m) above sea level.

The ascent, on some of the steepest tracks in the world, is a slow grind, but the real skill is in bringing the fully loaded locomotive back down to the Pacific coast, west of the capital Lima.

"You need to have nerves of steel," says driver Daniel Garcia Zegarra. "This is how you need to treat the train, caress it little by little, no roughness, but slowly."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Hamas drifting away from longtime patron Iran  (AP, 2/10/12)

Hamas appears to be drifting away from its longtime patron Iran -- part of a shift that began with last year's Arab Spring and accelerated over Tehran's backing of the pariah regime in Syria.

The movement's top leader in exile, Khaled Mishal, wants Hamas to be part of the broader Islamist political rise triggered by the popular uprisings sweeping across the Arab world. For this, Hamas needs new friends like the wealthy Gulf states that are at odds with Iran. [...]

Hamas has reduced its presence in Iran-allied Damascus in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on a popular uprising against him. Hamas also rejected Iran's demand that the group publicly side with Assad, standing firm even when Tehran delayed the monthly support payments Hamas needs to govern the Gaza Strip, according to a senior Hamas official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

At the same time, Hamas is increasingly relying on political and financial support from the Gulf, particularly tiny Qatar, which also has close ties to the West.

This week, Qatar brokered a breakthrough unity deal between Mishal and his longtime rival, internationally backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. After five years of separate Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza, Abbas is now to head an interim unity government and lead the Palestinians to elections.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


China says top cop spent a day in US consulate (Scott McDonald, 2/10/12, Associated Press)

The Foreign Ministry spokesman's office said that Wang entered the consulate on Monday and "remained there for one day." The statement, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, said the incident was being investigated. Dozens of newspapers carried the Xinhua report prominently on Friday without additional reporting, a sign that official censors were trying to limit potentially embarrassing coverage.

Wang was the top police officer in Chongqing until he was mysteriously removed last week.

He stayed on as a deputy mayor and was reassigned to duties involving the local economy and education. As the city's top cop, he had helped carry out a widespread crackdown on organized crime groups seen as part of a campaign to promote Bo Xilai, the city's Communist Party secretary and one of the country's most prominent political figures.

Bo has been seen as maneuvering for a seat on the ruling Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, which will appoint new members later this year.

Wang's whereabouts is unknown. There were several unconfirmed reports online, including one that showed a photo of Wang's name on a plane ticket from Chengdu to Beijing. The report said he had been brought to the capital for questioning by anti-corruption officials, a claim repeated by the usually reliable independent Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Breaking Global Warming Taboos: 'I Feel Duped on Climate Change' (Der Spiegel, 2/09/12)

Will reduced solar activity counteract global warming in the coming decades? That is what outgoing German electric utility executive Fritz Vahrenholt claims in a new book. In an interview with SPIEGEL, he argues that the official United Nations forecasts on the severity of climate change are overstated and supported by weak science.

The articulate utility executive is nervous at the beginning of the conversation. He is groping for words -- not a common occurrence for the practiced provocateur. After all, Fritz Vahrenholt, 62, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, has been a rebel throughout his life. "Perhaps it's just part of my generation," he says.

He is typical of someone who came of age during the student protest movement of the late 1960s, and who fought against the chemical industry's toxic manufacturing plants in the 1970s. His party, Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), chose him as environment senator in the city-state of Hamburg, where he incurred the wrath of the environmental lobby by building a waste incineration plant, earning him the nickname "Feuerfritze" (Fire Fritz). He worked in industry after that, first for oil multinational Shell and then for wind turbine maker RePower, which he helped develop. Now, as the outgoing CEO of the renewable energy group RWE Innogy, he is about to embark on his next major battle. "I'm going to make enemies in all camps," he says.

He wants to break a taboo. "The climate catastrophe is not occurring," he writes in his book "Die Kalte Sonne" (The Cold Sun), published by Hoffmann and Campe, which will be in bookstores next week.

February 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


View image

...they're making for Dartmouth Winter Carnival.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


As time goes by, a night in Rick's Café means more than ever before: As 'Casablanca' is re-released this week, 70 years after its premier, Matthew Bell says play it, Sam (MATTHEW BELL, 05 FEBRUARY 2012, The Independent)

The film's inception dates back to the summer of 1938, when an American English teacher called Murray Burnett travelled to Vienna to help his Jewish relatives escape the Nazis. Afterwards, he spent some time on the Cote d'Azure, where he visited a nightclub where a black pianist played to a mixed crowd of Nazis and refugees. When he got home, he wrote a play called Everybody Comes to Rick's. He sold the script in January 1942 to Warner Brothers for $20,000, and they changed the title to Casablanca, apparently in an attempt to replicate the success of the 1938 hit Algiers. Filming began on 25 May, and was wrapped up by 3 August. Unlike most movies today, it was made in sequence because only the first half of the script was ready when shooting began. Hollywood was like that in those days.

Many myths have emerged from the making of Casablanca, among them the rumour that Ronald Reagan was lined up to play Rick. This isn't true, though the future president would have had one advantage over Bogart, who was so short that he had to stand on blocks next to Bergman. But more interesting than the backstory of Casablanca's slapdash production is the film's story itself. At its heart is the idea of personal sacrifice for the greater good. Rick may come across as a hard-bitten cynic, who "sticks his neck out for nobody". In fact (look away now if you haven't seen it) he is an idealist who once ran guns to Ethiopia and fought in the Spanish Civil War. Given the choice between running away with the love of his life, Ilsa, or saving a hero of the Resistance, Victor Laszlo, who will save thousands of Jews, he chooses the latter. Or, as Rick puts it, "the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans".

While Ilsa and Laszlo are the perfect doe-eyed romantic heroes, and Major Strasser is a pantomime baddie, it's the shadier characters in between that elevate Casablanca from a standard schlock-fest to a nuanced observation of human nature. Take the appalling Captain Renault, played by Claude Rains - a spineless stooge of Vichy France, who will appease anyone to make his own life agreeable. Like Rick, he wishes to remain neutral, but unlike Rick has no shame, and forces desperate girls to sleep with him in exchange for an exit visa. As an allegory of wartime France, you couldn't get more damning. His refrain of "Round up the usual suspects" whenever the Germans stamp their feet is the pithiest lesson in how to dissemble that any politician could ask for.

Someone once said that all the best novels revolve around a big house with plenty of people coming and going. This is one of the key plot devices of Casablanca, as Rick's Café provides the opportunity for several sub-plots to be spun around the main story. So tinkling away at the piano there's Sam, Rick's sidekick, who promised never to play "As Time Goes By", as it reminds Rick of Ilsa. Then there's the story of the young Bulgarian couple, desperate to flee . She's prepared to sacrifice her dignity by secretly sleeping with Captain Renault in exchange for an exit visa. But in a neat example of a small act of evil being committed to stop a greater one, Rick rigs the roulette table so that her husband wins enough money to buy their way out, and her dignity is spared. Again, the themes of sacrifice and duty are lightly packed into one little sub-plot.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


PODCAST: Good Story 027: Lars and the Real Girl

Our review here.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Purcell and a pint - welcome to a new kind of classical concert: I and my fellow musicians from the OAE are currently on a pub crawl. And it's changing the way we play and audiences listen. (Maggie Faultless, 2/06/12, guardian.co.uk)

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - where I'm joint leader - are mid-way through something a little unusual. We're out on the road on tour, but rather than concert halls, our venues are London pubs. Our aim is to put the social back into music. The music that we're playing - Purcell, from the 17th century and Italian chamber music from the 18th - was, after all, written to be played in domestic settings, not to a hushed, seated and reverential audience. We're including some of Purcell's drinking songs, songs that would have been played in a London pubs just like this, where his audience wouldn't have been sitting quietly - on the contrary!

I'd like to think that some people will feel that we have broken down some conventions and after this they might like to try other performances of classical music, but this isn't about enticing people into the concert-hall to hear an 80-piece OAE in concert, this is about empowerment. Audiences want to have a bit more ownership of what they're listening to. The best performances involve a three-way relationship - the music (ie what's on the page) the audience and the performers. The performers react not only to the written notes but to each other and most importantly, to the audience. But all too often in today's concerts, the third part of that equation is forgotten. Often when we're performing you can't even see beyond the first couple of rows, let alone to the back of a thousand-seat hall.

Playing in pubs to a group of people so close you can touch them has been an amazing experience. I'm loving it, and I can see and feel that audiences are too. We've played two nights of our pub-crawl so far, tomorrow night we're at The Paradise, Kensal Green and there are two more to come (Soho and Islington) on this tour. As we wound down after the last set in New Cross last week our cellist, Robin Michael said to me, "How about Haydn next? They'd love it!" And it's true - the fantastically social nature of Haydn's quartets would be wonderful to enjoy, explain and encounter with a pub audience.

You might think that the informality of these venues would create a casual relationship with the music - I'm often asked if pub venues means it's noisy, but not a bit of it (the clank of a few glasses from the bar aside). In fact we've found that there seems to be an enhanced degree of listening as people are much more directly involved in the music making, and this intense listening creates the atmosphere of the performance. I like to think that we are sharing in each other's listening.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND YOU'RE DEAD:  The freediving world championships occur at the outer limits of competitive risk. ­During the 2011 event, held off the coast of Greece, more than 130 athletes assembled to swim hundreds of feet straight down on a single breath--without (they hoped) ­passing out, freaking out, or drowning. JAMES NESTOR reports on the amazingly fit, unques­tionably brave, and possibly crazy people who line up for the ultimate plunge. (James Nestor, March 2012, Outside)

"Freediving is as much a mental game as a physical one," says Trubridge, who, in his wraparound dark glasses, cropped hair, and worn-out T-shirt, fits right in. He pulls up a seat beside me at the swimming pool. "It's a sport that's open to everybody."

Well, maybe. You still have to be able to hold your breath an incredibly long time, exert yourself tremendously, and not freak out--something I find extremely challenging, even though I spend most of my spare time surfing. Recreational freediving is one of the fastest-growing watersports--a trend that will accelerate this year when Scuba Schools International expands its freediving courses to dozens of locations worldwide--but it's hard to imagine competitive freediving in the Olympics anytime soon. It just seems too damned dangerous. I ask Trubridge to walk me through the physics and physiology of what he endures. Before long my stomach is tightening again.

In the first 30 or so feet underwater, the lungs, full of air, buoy your body to the surface, requiring strenuous paddling and constant equalization of the middle-ear cavities to gain depth. "This is where you use up to 15 percent of your energy," Trubridge says. And you've still got 600 feet of swimming to go.

As you dive past 30 feet, you feel the pressure on your body double, compressing your lungs to about half their normal size. You suddenly feel weightless, your body suspended in a gravityless state called neutral buoyancy. Then something amazing happens: as you keep diving, the ocean no longer pushes your body toward the surface but instead pulls you relentlessly toward the seafloor below. You place your arms at your sides in a skydiver pose and effortlessly go deeper.

At 100 feet, the pressure has quadrupled, the ocean's surface is barely visible, and you close your eyes and prepare for the deep water's tightening clutch. 

Further still, at 150 feet, you enter a dream state caused by the high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas in your bloodstream: for a moment, you can forget where you are and why. At 300 feet, the pressure is so extreme that your lungs shrink to the size of oranges and your heart beats at less than half its normal rate to conserve oxygen. You lose some motor control. Most of the blood in your arms and legs has flooded to your body's core as the vessels in your extremities constrict. Vessels in your lungs swell to several times their normal size so they won't be crushed by the incredible pressure.

Then comes the really hard part. You open your eyes, struggle to force your semiparalyzed hand to grab a ticket from the plate, and head back up. With the ocean's weight working against you, you tap your meager energy reserves to swim toward the surface. Ascending to 200 feet, 150 feet, 100 feet, your lungs ache with an almost unbearable desire to breathe, your vision fades, and your chest convulses from the buildup of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream. You need to hurry before you black out. Above you, the haze of blue water transforms into a sheen of sunlight on the water's surface. You're going to make it.

You resurface, the world spins, people are yelling at you to breathe. Is this just another altered-state dream? It's hard to tell. So you sit there, whacked out, trying to come to quickly enough to complete the surface protocol. You take off your goggles, flick a sign, say "I'm OK"--then you get out of the way and make room for the next diver.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE THIS IS something you want to do? That you can do?

"I was always drawn to the ocean," Trubridge shrugs when I ask him how he got into freediving. "My first memories were of the sea." Born near the small village of Haltwhistle, Scotland, Trubridge was 20 months old when his parents, seeking adventure, sold their house, bought a 45-foot sailboat, loaded up Trubridge and his brother, Sam, and took off. For the next nine years they lived on the boat, sailing west. For fun, William and Sam would challenge each other to breath-holding dives. "We probably made it to 25 or 30 feet," he says, then laughs. "Which, you know, in retrospect was all pretty dangerous."

By the time Trubridge was 12, the family had settled in Havelock, a tiny town near New Zealand's east coast. He studied genetic biology at the University of Auckland, where he tested himself one day to see if he could swim 80 feet underwater on one breath. One lap soon became two. Trubridge was slowly drawn into the sport.

After a stint in London as a bellhop in his early twenties, Trubridge took off for Honduras to explore freediving. "I remember diving one day, to maybe 60 feet, and lying down in a sea garden, relaxing, meditating, watching all the life and just being part of the environment," he says. "Not having to breathe for a minute or two. It was just the most amazing and peaceful feeling you can imagine."

For the next few years, Trubridge dropped out and dedicated himself full-time to freediving, honing his body into a machine built for undersea performance. He trained for hours a day, every day, swimming, doing yoga and breathing exercises. A rower and junior chess champion, Trubridge found that the combination of mental and physical training came naturally to him. "Freediving requires body, mind, and even spirit to be aligned and directed toward a common intent," he says. "I'm the sort of person who requires a challenge." When not diving, he translated freediving manuals, taught, and studied videotapes. At the end of a two-year stint bouncing around Central America, the Bahamas, and Europe, he hit the freediving scene as one of the best in the world.

"Here's a guy who spent two years sitting on a mountain alone, just waiting," says Sebastian Näslund, a Swedish freediver. "And when he came down, he was just kind of unstoppable."

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Pentagon Should Embrace Larger Budget Cuts (MATTHEW LEATHERMAN, February 9, 2012, US News)

Some perspective: The Congressional Budget Office calculated last August, immediately after Congress passed a sweeping federal debt-reduction deal, that continuing at that spending rate would cost the United States $5.7 trillion on national defense between 2013 and 2021. That is before adding in the costs of the wars-but also before crediting Congress for getting a head start on the savings plan by capping national defense spending this year.

At stake from sequester is a $492 billion cut to projected spending, and it would come on top of the reductions enacted when a special congressional panel failed last year to produce a debt-reduction deal. Together, national defense could fall $858 billion, or 15 percent, below CBO's August defense-spending projection. That is significant--and barring any new military operations--the potential savings from ending the wars could double the reduction.

Yet, even then, the total reduction would be entirely in line with each of the U.S.'s three previous military overhauls since the end of World War II. President Dwight Eisenhower cut national defense spending by 28 percent after the Korean War; Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford cut it by a full 40 percent after the Vietnam War; and Presidents George. H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton together reduced national defense spending by 28 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Heritage Rewrites History: The think tank proposed the individual mandate years before Clinton took office. (JAMES TARANTO, 2/08/12, WSJ)

In an October column, we recounted the origins of the ObamaCare individual mandate at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. In a USA Today op-ed earlier this week, Heritage's Stuart Butler offers his own account. But crucial elements of it are at variance with the facts. Here is the key paragraph:

The confusion arises from the fact that 20 years ago, I held the view that as a technical matter, some form of requirement to purchase insurance was needed in a near-universal insurance market to avoid massive instability through "adverse selection" (insurers avoiding bad risks and healthy people declining coverage). At that time, President Clinton was proposing a universal health care plan, and Heritage and I devised a viable alternative. [...]

[Butler]  first proposed the individual mandate almost 23 years ago, in a 1989 "Critical Issues" monograph titled "A National Health System for America." (The Heritage website lists the publication date as Jan. 2, 1989, but it was actually June 1 of that year, according to a contemporaneous Washington Post story.)

For most purposes, "20 years ago" is a close enough approximation for 23. In this case, however, it gives the lie to Butler's claim that Heritage first embraced the individual mandate as an "alternative" to President Clinton's "universal health care plan." Bill Clinton became president more than 3½ years after the monograph's publication.

Butler also writes: "My idea was hardly new. Heritage did not invent the individual mandate." He offers only one item of evidence for this assertion: "Even libertarian-conservative icon Milton Friedman, in a 1991 Wall Street Journal article, advocated replacing Medicare and Medicaid 'with a requirement that every U.S. family unit have a major medical insurance policy.' "

That Friedman piece ran in the Journal Nov. 12, 1991--more than 20 years ago, but 29 months after Heritage published the monograph.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Obama and Romney exhibit striking similarities (Ruth Marcus, 2/09/12, Washington Post)

"From early childhood, he formed his views through observation and analysis, by hanging back as the world unfolded before him," Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write in "The Real ­Romney."

David Maraniss, whose biography, "Barack Obama: The Story," will be published in June, describes the president in similar terms. Much like his mother, "Obama is an anthropologist -- a participant/observer," Maraniss, a Post associate editor, told me.

Both Obama and Romney exude cool detachment, even insularity, as The New Republic's Timothy Noah demonstrated with an array of indistinguishable snippets from "The Real Romney" and Jodi Kantor's "The Obamas." They are not party animals, in either sense of that phrase -- neither extroverted socializers nor partisan champions.

Both men lack the typical politician's craving for external approval and validation. They exhibit a disdain for the ordinary obligations of political life, whether endlessly posing for photos (Obama) or robotically delivering a stump speech (Romney).

"It is the opinion of some of Romney's friends," Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, "that the repetitive business of campaigning simply bores him and that this boredom is responsible for the fairly sizable gap between the charismatic man they know in private and the battery-powered figure who often appears in public."

Obama, likewise, deems himself above the meet-and-greet aspect of politics. The president, Kantor wrote, "hated to waste time, and . . . schmoozing -- like making emotional speeches -- was another part of politics he seemed to have decided was mostly fake."

Indeed, Obama and Romney are less back-slappers than ­report-readers, technocratic elitists with an abiding faith in the meritocracy. Confronted with a problem, their instincts are to assemble the experts and split the difference.

It is no accident, then, that their health care programs share the distinguishing -- perhaps politically disqualifying -- feature of requiring individuals to obtain coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


China Laces Up Its Chuck Taylors (FRANK LANGFITT, 2/09/12, NPR)

The canvas-and-rubber shoe that dates to 1917 Massachusetts is now considered reasonably cool among 20-somethings in Shanghai.

Even some seniors wear them. Xuan Zhihui, a 62-year-old retiree from a state-run factory, strolls past the city's glass-and-steel towers in brown, 15-year-old high tops her daughter handed down to her.

Last year, about 5 million pairs of Chuck Taylors were sold in China -- not counting all the fakes. That's not a huge number in this giant market, but it's up 50 percent from 2007.

To understand the shoe's emerging popularity here, it's worth looking at how its image has morphed over time.

The Chuck Taylor spent its first decades as a hoops sneaker. When Wilt Chamberlin scored 100 points in a single game in Hershey, Pa., in 1962, he was wearing Chuck Taylors.

In the 1970s, punk rockers began adopting the shoe: The Ramones wore Chuck Taylors. As did Kurt Cobain of Nirvana in the 1990s. The shoe finally arrived in China in 1993, and Chinese rockers followed the fashion lead of American groups they admired.

Yang Haisong sings with the Beijing indie band, P.K.-14. He's been wearing Chuck Taylors for years. Yang thinks they are popular because of their price, image and the sense of individuality that comes with the shoe's variety of colors and styles.

"It's quite cheap compared with Nike or Adidas," he says. "The second reason is people like to look back."

It's retro. That stripped-down look contrasts with the prevailing trend among increasingly wealthy Chinese consumers: the rush for showy, status brands like Louis Vuitton bags and Bentley sedans. And Chuck Taylors are comparitively affordable. Pairs sold for as little as $35 a pair during the recent Chinese New Year celebrations.

Growing up in the 'hood, you were only allowed to wear Chuck Taylors and never black ones and never low-tops.  For awhile, the fad was to wear white hightops with colored laces.  So the Mother Judd gave me my $13 one Saturday and I rode to Bloomfield to buy a pair and red laces.  

Rode home through Bloomfield Park, happy as a clam....then got home and realized that the puddles I'd been whizzing through had made the dye in the cheap laces run and my cool sneakers were pretty much pink.  Washing them in bleach didn't work, so she had to--and I mean had to--buy me another pair.  God bless, Mom.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


The Mystery Monk Making Billions With 5-Hour Energy (Clare O'Connor, Feb. 27, 2012, Forbes magazine.

In one corner of Manoj Bhargava's office is a cemetery of sorts. It's a Formica bookcase, its shelves lined with hundreds of garishly colored screw-top plastic bottles not much taller than shot glasses. Front and center is a Cadillac-red bottle of 5-Hour Energy, the two-ounce caffeine and vitamin elixir that purports to keep you alert without crashing. In eight years 5-Hour has gone from nowhere to $1 billion in retail sales. Truckers swear by it. So do the traders in Oliver Stone's 2010 sequel to Wall Street. So do hungover ­students. It's $3 a bottle, and it has made Bhargava a fortune.

His company, Living Essentials, is the biggest player by far in the ­energy-shot market, and not because 5-Hour is so delicious. Chalky cough syrup is more like it. The reason Bhargava has won is that he plays tough. Sitting in that cemetery are a dozen or so neon copycats with names like 6-Hour Power and 8-Hour Energy. Each has been sued, bullied or kicked off the market by Living Essentials' lawyers. In front of each are little placards with a skull and crossbones drawn in felt-tip pen. Bhargava points at the gravestone of one of his late competitors and says with a chuckle, "Rest in peace."

The privately held Living Essentials doesn't report revenue or profits, but a source with knowledge of its financials says the company grossed north of $600 million last year on that $1 billion at retail. The source says the company netted about $300 million. Checkout scan data from research firm SymphonyIRI say that 5-Hour has 90% of the energy-shot market. Its closest competitor, NVE Pharmaceuticals' Stacker brand, has just over 3%.

Yet Bhargava, 58, is so under the radar that he barely registers on Web searches. His paper trail is thin, consisting primarily of more than 90 lawsuits. This is his first press interview. "I'm killing it right now," he says, adjusting a black zip-up cardigan from behind the table of a soulless conference room in a beige low-rise building in a suburban business park in Farmington Hills, Mich. "But you'll Google me and find, like, some lawyer in Singapore."

Vague and inscrutable is how ­Bhargava likes things. The names of 5-Hour's parent company, Living Essentials LLC, and that company's parent firm, Innovation Ventures, are purposely bland. "They were intended as placeholders, and they stuck," he says, smiling.

Colleagues and acquaintances uniformly describe Bhargava as "humble," and he seems proud of his frugal lifestyle: his ancient flip phone, his cheap office furniture, the modest two-story home he shares with his wife and 20-year-old son. Yet, over vegetarian lasagna at Antonio's, his favorite strip-mall Italian joint off Detroit's Twelve-Mile Road, Bhargava says, apropos of nothing: "I'm probably the wealthiest Indian in America."

The rise of 5-Hour began in the spring of 2003, when Bhargava found himself at a natural products trade show in Anaheim, Calif. At one booth the sales reps peddled a 16-ounce concoction claiming to boost productivity for hours. Bhargava took a swig. "For the next six or seven hours I was in great shape," he says. "I thought, Wow, this is amazing. I can sell this."

Right away, though, he knew 16 ounces wouldn't sell. He didn't want to compete with Red Bull, at the time new to the market. Nor did he want to share fridge space with Coke or Pepsi. "I thought, If I'm tired, am I also thirsty? Is that like having a headache and a stomachache? It didn't make any sense." He glanced at the ingredients label and made a mental note. Six months later his version was on the shelves, two ounces of ­caffeine-infused B vitamins such as niacin mixed with acids like taurine.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


A U.N. for Good Guys (Jonah Goldberg, February 8, 2012, National Review)

None of this is an argument for getting rid of the U.N., though I'd certainly be happy to see it go. But it does point to the stupidity of expecting nobility and idealism from it. Sure, the U.N. does good things from time to time, but that is because good nations want to see good things done.

What would be so terrible about giving those good nations someplace else to meet? And by good, I mean democratic. A league, or concert, of democracies wouldn't replace the U.N., but it would offer some much-needed competition.

We've had to go around the U.N. before, and usually we go to NATO. That's what President Clinton did in the Balkans and what President Obama did in Libya. Now Hillary Clinton wants an ad hoc "friends of a democratic Syria" similar to the coalition that helped topple Muammar Gadhafi (and Saddam Hussein).

That's all fine, but there are problems with making these things up as you go. NATO is a military alliance. Many friends of a democratic Syria are not, themselves, democratic.

A permanent global clubhouse for democracies based on shared principles would make aiding growing movements easier and offer a nice incentive for nations to earn membership in a club with loftier standards than mere existence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


The Great Illusion of Gettysburg: How a re-creation of its most famous battle helped erase the meaning of the Civil War (Yoni Applebaum, 2/05/12, The Atlantic)

"No person should die without seeing this cyclorama," declared a Boston man in 1885. "It's a duty they owe to their country." Paul Philippoteaux's lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.

For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.  

Cyloramas -- paintings wrapped around the interior of a rotunda, their foregrounds filled with props to create an impression of depth -- were a familiar sight in Europe throughout the 19th century. Philippoteaux, a French artist, had already painted a number of European battles when he was hired by a consortium of Chicago investors to apply his magic to Gettysburg. He spent months researching the clash and interviewing survivors, and even commissioned photographs of the landscape, before embarking upon the greatest challenge of his career. A team of artists labored for months in Brussels. The finished painting, unveiled in Chicago in 1883, weighed six tons and cost the investors $200,000. The same team produced three other versions, with only minor alterations, for display in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. 

Four hundred feet long. Fifty feet high. It was art on an astonishing scale. All four versions were housed in massive, purpose-built rotundas. In Boston, for example, visitors walked through a grand crenelated archway, paid for their tickets, and proceeded along a dark winding passage toward the viewing platform. They ascended a winding staircase to another time and place. "The impression upon the beholder as he steps upon this platform," one reviewer wrote, "is one of mingled astonishment and awe."

July 3, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg rages on for a third day. From just behind Cemetery Ridge, visitors watched Pickett's Charge crash against the Union lines. There, in the distance! General Lee and his staff. Much closer, an artillery caisson explodes. All around, soldiers crouch, charge, level rifles, bare bayonets, fight, die.

A dozen different twists heightened the illusion. Drapes hung over the platform from the ceiling, limiting and directing the view and leaving the viewers shrouded in shadows. The indirect lighting shone most brightly on the top of the canvas, illuminating the sky in brilliant blue. The canvas bowed outward by a foot in the middle, receding as it approached the ground and horizon. Tinsel lent a convincing gleam to the bayonets and buckles in the painting. 

What most astonished observers, though, was the diorama, which began near the edge of the platform and ended at the painting, 45 feet away. Hundreds of cartloads of earth were covered in sod and studded with vegetation, then topped with the detritus of the battlefield. Shoes, canteens, fences, walls, corpses: near the canvas, these props were cunningly arranged to blend seamlessly into the painting. Two wooden poles, painted on the canvas, met a third leaned against it to form a tripod. A dirt road ran out into the diorama. A stretcher borne by two men, one painted and the other formed of boards, had its poles inserted through holes in the painting. "So perfect is the illusion," as the Boston Advertiser voiced the common sentiment, "that it is impossible to tell where reality ends and the painting begins."

Cycloramas proved capable of confounding even the most sophisticated of observers. In New York, a nighttime burglary of the cyclorama building brought out the police, who spent 30 minutes searching fruitlessly for the suspects. At last, one officer shouted in triumph, "I got him! I got him!" But he had been fooled by the illusion; the figure he clutched was a dummy representing a dead soldier, amid the debris strewn about the foreground. He "felt very bad," the Times reported, "until another officer made the same mistake."

Success brought flattery, in its sincerest form.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Do Jews Curse the Christians?: A New Book Analyzes Famed Birkat Haminim Prayer (Raphael Magarik, February 09, 2012, Forward)

"Cursing the Christians? A History of Birkat Haminim" is the product of Langer's efforts. The book traces birkat haminim from its murky origins in late antiquity -- just how late remains contentious -- through a long period of censorship and revision by both Jews and Christians, and up to the present. But it is tricky to say what a history of birkat haminim is a history of. About all one can say for sure is that the prayer invokes the speedy end of someone, or something, bad.

The earliest surviving complete versions of birkat haminim were found in the Cairo Geniza and date from the 10th century or later. But since the prayer appears in Talmudic and Christian discussions from 500 years earlier, we know at least half a millennium of the text's history is missing. Earlier Jewish scholars viewed rabbinic stories -- that describe the fixing of birkat haminim at the council of Yavneh in the first century -- as sources of history and dated the prayer to the late first century.

After the Holocaust, Christian theologians and scholars became newly interested in Christian-Jewish relations, in the history of anti-Semitism and in exploring the parting of the ways through which the two religions originally split. Birkat haminim seemed to resonate with John 9:22 ("for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue"). But Langer rejects the speculative reconstructions that, drawing upon Talmudic stories, connect birkat haminim to John and place its origins in the first century. The passages in the New Testament aren't very specific (and some other early Christian references don't fit birkat haminim at all), and Talmudic origin stories may just be legends. Jerome (347-420 CE), a church father best known for translating the Bible into Latin, discusses the prayer, so it existed in some form by the 4th century. But that's about all we know.

If we know too little about birkat haminim before the Cairo Geniza, afterward we know too much. The Geniza, famously discovered by Solomon Schechter in 1896, contains many versions of the prayer. Though Langer's count has six original types (from roughly 1000 CE), this textual fecundity persisted; much of "Cursing the Christians?" involves cataloguing and analyzing the innumerable later variants. The Geniza texts disagree on important points. For instance, most versions ask that nozerim -- a fairly clear reference to Christians -- immediately perish, but some don't.

The word "nozerim" shows up in hardly any contemporary versions of the prayer; neither does the phrase "malchut zadon" ("empire of insolence"). After Christian authorities learned about birkat haminim in the 13th and 14th centuries, they censored the prayer. Censorship intensified when the printing press made books more common, uniform and universal. Some of the most interesting parts of Langer's book document the give and take of censorship: Christian polemics complain of anti-Christian language long after those words had been censored, for instance, which proves that Jews did not always follow the censored text of their siddurim.

But over time, censorship prevailed, and in the modern era, liberal movements have, of their own initiative, softened the prayer, replacing concrete nouns ("enemies of your people") with abstractions ("wickedness"). In the 18th and 19th centuries, Hasidim and others tried to retrieve the "original" text of the prayer, comparing the available siddur texts and different local traditions, but these "retrievals" usually just resulted in more changes. There isn't any one text of birkat haminim; there are many.

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February 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Poll finds broad support for Obama's counterterrorism policies (Scott Wilson and Jon Cohen, 2/07/12, Washington Post)

The survey shows that 70 percent of respondents approve of Obama's decision to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He pledged during his first week in office to close the prison within a year. But he has not done so.

Even the party base appears willing to forgive that failure.

The poll shows that 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats -- and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats -- support keeping Guantanamo Bay open, even though it emerged as a symbol of the post-Sept. 11 national security policies of George W. Bush, which many liberals bitterly opposed.

Obama has also relied on armed drones far more than Bush did, and he has expanded their use beyond America's defined war zones. The Post-ABC News poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama's drone policy, which administration officials refuse to discuss, citing security concerns. [...]

[F]ully 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones, meaning that Obama is unlikely to suffer any political consequences as a result of his policy in this election year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Where the U.S. Election Stands Now: A review of key indicators that could help determine the outcome (Frank Newport, Jeffrey M. Jones, and Lydia Saad, 2/06/12, Gallup)

Obama's job approval rating in Gallup Daily tracking is at 46% for the week ending Feb. 5. His weekly approval ratings have remained at the 45% to 46% level each week so far this year. Obama's current job approval rating in Gallup's tracking is below the historical threshold of winning incumbents, although it has shown marked improvement in recent months, after matching his term-low 40% weekly average in October. Obama's three-day job approval rating reached 47% in Gallup tracking at one point in January. Additionally, although Gallup did not conduct Daily tracking interviews Feb. 3-4, a separate Gallup poll conducted Feb. 2-5 found 50% of Americans approving of Obama, suggesting the president may have received an approval bounce after Friday's jobs report. These results indicate that Obama is generally not far from reaching a job approval situation more conducive to his re-election.

The three presidents since World War II who were not re-elected -- Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush -- all had job approval ratings below 50% in the last Gallup measure before the election took place. Five presidents who won re-election -- Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton -- all had job approval ratings above 50% in the last Gallup poll before the election. Two presidents were re-elected with sub-50% approval ratings. George W. Bush had 48% approval in October 2004 among national adults. Harry Truman's final Gallup job approval rating in 1948 was 40%, but that was from a poll conducted nearly five months before Election Day, making it unclear precisely what Truman's level of support was at the time of the election.

This historical pattern suggests that Obama would need to see his job approval rating climb to 50% to be in a comfortable position for re-election. History shows that by March of the election year, all winning presidents in the modern era, including George W. Bush, had job approval ratings above 50%, and all losing presidents had job approval ratings below 50%. This suggests that where Obama stands by next month may be an important indicator of his ultimate re-election chances.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Quality friends make good Valentires ... sweet (Sue Ade, 2/08/12, Bluffton News)

Our friends at the 100 percent employee-owned King Arthur Flour Company (America's oldest flour company) also strives to make our Valentine's Day foolproof, by providing us with, among other things, baking ingredients that are in a word -- sublime. Whether its flour, cocoa, extracts or any of one of the hundreds of their items they offer to make our baking experience infallible, King Arthur Flour is always my go to choice for trusted, quality baking ingredients. (The company's new "All-Purpose Baking Cocoa" blend of natural and Dutch-process cocoas is one of the best cocoas I've ever used for baking.) 
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Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Physicists 'record' magnetic breakthrough (PhyOrg, February 7, 2012)

The researchers found they could record information using only heat - a previously unimaginable scenario. They believe this discovery will not only make future magnetic recording devices faster, but more energy-efficient too.

The results of the research, which was led by the University of York's Department of Physics, are reported in the February edition of Nature Communications.

York physicist Thomas Ostler said: "Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat. This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes (thousands of Gigabytes) of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Whatever Happened to the Spitball?: Once upon a time, a pitcher would do anything to doctor a baseball (Jonah Keri on February 8, 2012, Grantland)

How and why did all of that vanish from the game?

"Bruce Sutter," said Mike Maddux, the Texas Rangers pitching coach and 15-year major league veteran whose own pitching career briefly coincided with the Hall of Fame reliever's. "He mastered the splitter. All of a sudden you had a pitch that had the same action you could get with the greaseball."

Though Sutter started his big league career in the mid-'70s and retired nearly a quarter-century ago, the emergence of his split-fingered fastball and the decline of the spitball are fairly recent events by historical standards. Pitchers threw spitters as far back as the early 1860s, when baseball was just getting started as an organized sport. It became a favorite of numerous early 20th-century pitchers, including future Hall of Famers Jack Chesbro and Ed Walsh.

That period became known as the Deadball Era. Baseballs lacked the lively center that would usher in an offensive explosion in the 1920s. But the balls were dead for another reason: There weren't enough of them. Teams made do with just a handful of balls per game, and umpires would do anything in their power to conserve their supply. This would have been bad enough with balls simply getting whacked by bats and smacking the rough infield dirt. But pitchers and their supporting infielders goosed the process along, spitting all over the ball and unleashing streams of tobacco juice. Chewing licorice, then spewing sweet, viscous liquid on the ball was another common practice.

There was so much more. Pitchers slathered mud on balls. They rubbed wax, soap, or grease on them. You could scuff or cut up a ball using sandpaper, or a tack, or anything else you could find. Eddie Cicotte, a little right-hander who also got pinched in the Black Sox scandal of 1919, became famous for his shineball, a move that required scooping a special oil used to treat infields onto the ball, creating a shine on one side and making the ball move in ways that confounded even the best hitters. Depending on what they smeared on the ball and how good they got at manipulating oozy substances, pitchers could make pitches drop, fade away, or ride in on hitters, all while using their same old throwing motions.

All of that trickery put bats to sleep. It was also, in a word, disgusting. When the league finally cracked down on the spitball after the 1920 season, you could tick off two major reasons: jump-start offenses, and clean up one of the most unsanitary practices any sport had ever practiced -- or has since.

The clinching argument, though, came August 16, 1920. Facing Cleveland in a dimly lit game, Yankees righty Carl Mays fired a spitball wildly toward the plate. Indians shortstop Ray Chapman couldn't pick up the ball until it was too late. The pitch struck him in the head, and killed him, making him one of only two players to ever die of an injury suffered during a major league game. Long before MLB made batting helmets mandatory, it banned doctored pitches and made umpires replace dirty balls regularly during a game, doing more to alter the game than perhaps any other rule change of the past 100 years.

Long after that ban, even long after the last generation of amnestied spitballers retired, pitchers kept on messing with pitches. Five pitchers -- Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, and Negro League star Bullet Rogan -- all threw spitters and other doctored pitches after the practice was banned and after the league-sanctioned grandfather clause had expired, only to still make the Hall of Fame. Of the four major leaguers on the list, only Sutton avoided overt admission of his crimes. In one oft-told account, Sutton was asked if it was true that he used foreign substances on the ball. "Not true at all," he replied. "Vaseline is manufactured right here in the United States."

That kind of cheekiness became common as pitchers got better at harnessing illegal pitches and those who remembered the Ray Chapman tragedy left the game for good. Some pitchers grew to be known as artists, skilled practitioners who worked for years on mastering their tricky pitches and hiding their guilt.

"I was a big fan of Gaylord Perry," said Derek Zumsteg, author of the book The Cheater's Guide to Baseball. "I would go with my dad to see him pitch for the Mariners. Dad would say to me, 'He throws a spitball, watch for it,' and my eyes would be as big as saucers. You'd watch him fidget through his whole routine. Then he'd throw this crazy pitch. The batter would swing and miss, then look at the ump as if to say, 'Come on!' It was so, so cool."

Perry was a very good pitcher with great command and exceptional endurance, firing 300 or more innings six times between 1969 and 1975. But you couldn't separate his success from the Vaseline-loaded pitches he slimed at hitters. Perry was so successful throwing illegal pitches and so impossible to catch that after the 1973 season, baseball began granting much broader powers of judgment to umpires who suspected cheating. The next year, Perry spilled his guts in his book, Me and the Spitter, An Autobiographical Confession, copping to his rule-breaking and even sharing intimate details on exactly how he threw his various spitballs and greaseballs. He was already 35 years old by then. All he did thereafter was pitch another decade and rack up 137 more wins, returning to his illicit ways in rapid order.

"It was like a Penn & Teller thing," Zumsteg said. "'I'm going to tell you how the trick is done, I'm going to stop doing it ... then I'm going to do it again.' He really was a magician."
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Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Tim Kaine splits with Obama on birth control rule for religious groups (Ben Pershing, 2/08/12, Washington Post)

Former Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine criticized the Obama administration's new policy requiring some religious institutions to provide coverage for prescription contraceptives, a rare instance of disagreement between the Senate candidate and his close political ally.

The insurance rule has sparked fierce criticism from religious groups., particularly the Catholic Church, who say the policy will require them to violate their own beliefs. Republicans have used the controversy to attack the White House, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowing Wednesday that the new policy "will not stand."

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Tim Thomas Causes Stir on Facebook (John Beattie, Feb 8, 2012, NESN)

The Bruins goalie, who skipped out on the team's visit to see president Barack Obama in the nation's capital earlier this year, posted the following on his Facebook page at about 1:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon.

"I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Holland Abuzz about 'Mythical' Skating Race (Charles Hawley, 2/08/12, Der Spiegel)

The event hasn't been held for 15 years. But, this week, Holland is abuzz with anticipation that the famed "11 Cities Tour" might take place in the coming days. All that's needed are a few more cold nights before 16,000 skaters can take to the 200-kilometer course.

The activity is reminiscent of a small Alpine town after a blizzard. Thousands of volunteers this week have grabbed their shovels and are frantically clearing away a thick layer of white stuff amid frigid temperatures. Even military troops have joined in the effort.

But the scenes are not from a mountain village buried by a heavy snowstorm. Rather, the massive army of helpers can be found in the Netherlands, where the entire nation is excitedly anticipating the prospect of a massive ice-skating event -- and one that hasn't been held for 15 years.

Called the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Cities Tour, the event follows a course almost 200 kilometers (125 miles) long through the extensive network of canals, lakes and rivers in Friesland, the Dutch province in the very north of the tiny country, passing through 11 towns in the region. And it can only be held when the ice along the entire track reaches a thickness of 15 centimeters (six inches).
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Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Why Pay for Intro Textbooks? (Mitch Smith, 2/07/12, Inside Higher Ed)

If ramen noodle sales spike at the start of every semester, here's one possible reason: textbooks can cost as much as a class itself; materials for an introductory physics course can easily top $300.

Cost-conscious students can of course save money with used or online books and recoup some of their cash come buyback time. Still, it's a steep price for most 18-year-olds.

But soon, introductory physics texts will have a new competitor, developed at Rice University. A free online physics book, peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers' offerings, will debut next month through the non-profit publisher OpenStax College.

Using Rice's Connexions platform, OpenStax will offer free course materials for five common introductory classes. The textbooks are open to classes anywhere and organizers believe the programs could save students $90 million in the next five years if the books capture 10 percent of the national market. OpenStax is funded by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Newt's Two-Man-Race Narrative Collapses After Santorum Victories (John Avlon, Feb 8, 2012, Daily Beast)

This is the story of Newt and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

It is a tale of two caucus states where Newt was schooled by Rick Santorum in the ways of social-conservative voters and one state where he failed to even make the primary ballot.

Worst of all, it was the day when Newt's narrative of a two-man race collapsed.

Because right now, angry and almost broke, Newt is no longer the leading candidate to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. That man is Rick Santorum. And what makes Gingrich especially grumpy is that the man he is losing to was once just a pimply backbencher in the 1994 Republican Revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


12 greenest cars of 2012: The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has released its list of the most environmentally friendly cars of 2012, but there's one glaring omission. (Money/CNN, 2/08/12)

Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Fuel ecomony: 126 city / 99 hwy MPGe
Price: $29,125 - $31,125

Mitsubishi's very light lithium-ion powered electric car is the "greenest" car on sale in America today, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit group. The i-MiEV, also known as the i, is powered by a 66 horsepower electric motor.

There's your $30k Volt, next the $20k.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


US-India Relations: Pivot Problems (David J Karl, 6 February 2012, ISN Blog)

There is a conundrum at the heart of the Obama administration's "pivot" toward Asia, at least as it relates to India.  The US is eager to extricate itself from military conflicts in the Greater Middle East (Iraq and Afghanistan) so it can focus on a region where, as President Obama put it, "the action's going to be."  Shoring up the US strategic posture in East Asia amid China's ascendance will entail a deepening of geopolitical cooperation between Washington and New Delhi.  But the quickening withdrawal from Afghanistan will increase bilateral frictions, pushing relations in the opposite direction.

The Pentagon's just-released strategic guidance paper calls for "investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region."  Both Obama during his visit to India in November 2010 and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip last summer have called on New Delhi to play a more active strategic role in East Asia.
One of the unheralded stories of the past year is how India has begun to do just that. 

W understood that friendship with India serves both countries to both West and East.  But he had vision. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Why the Early U.S. Didn't Go the Way of the Euro (

The early nation was so fractured that the U.S. Armed Forces relied heavily on state militias until after the War of 1812. So what kept the new nation together?

First-rate economic statesmanship, not a shared unit of account. In the early 1790s, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton defined the dollar in terms of gold and silver, but more significantly he established the taxes and institutions (collection system, central bank) that made it possible for the national government to service its own debts and those of the states. Assumption of state debts, as it was called, was positioned not as a bailout but rather as a way of ensuring that each state shouldered the burden of the Revolutionary War equally. Just as importantly, assumption made bondholders beholden to the national government, cementing the union together as Hamilton predicted it would.

The U.S. Constitution effectively prevented state governments from endangering the monetary union by prohibiting them from issuing money or making anything other than gold or silver a legal tender. The Constitution didn't enjoin the states from incurring debt but -- with the exception of assuming war burdens -- the early national government refused all responsibility for state debts. [...]

By leaving state debts to the states, the national government protected itself, the dollar union and the residents of fiscally sound states from the depredations of profligate or rapacious ones (like Rhode Island, which was so willing to benefit at the expense of other states that it was referred to as Rogue Island). What kept the tender young republic together during its formative decades, then, was not a shared unit of account called the dollar but a shared sense of fairness. Debts incurred in the defense of all were shared by all. Debts undertaken to build a state canal or to thwart federal law were not.
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February 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Luck plays huge role in Super Bowl (Gregg Easterbrook, 2/07/12, ESPN)

Whenever a football game ends with a margin of less than a touchdown, the contest might have gone either way based on a bounce of the ball. In New England's three Super Bowl victories, the critical bit of luck favored the Patriots. In New England's two Super Bowl loses, the critical bit of luck favored the Giants.


In the 2002 Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, New England was outgained by 160 yards. But Rams quarterback Kurt Warner had an unblocked rusher in his face and short-armed a pass that Ty Law cut in front of and returned for a touchdown. New England went on to a three-point victory.

In the 2004 Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers, the Panthers tied the score with 1:08 remaining. But the Panthers' place-kicker honked the kickoff, which went out of bounds. Taking possession on their 40, the Patriots moved into position for the winning field goal just ere the clock struck midnight.

Midway through the 2005 Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, New England safety Eugene Wilson went out injured, which sent a rookie into the game. But the Eagles' coaching staff did not realize there was a backup at safety until about five minutes remained. Then the Eagles, who had only one receiver per side most of the second half, lined up with double wides and ran a deep post at the new defender -- touchdown. The Patriots held on to win by three. Had Philadelphia attacked the novice safety earlier, the outcome could have been different.

In the 2008 Super Bowl versus the Giants, perhaps you have heard about a long catch a Jersey/A player made against his helmet. New England lost by three.

And with four minutes remaining in Sunday's Super Bowl, Wes Welker, among the most reliable receivers in football annals, dropped a pass that would have put New England in position to ice the game. New England went on to lose by four.

In many aspects of life, luck is a bigger factor than we care to admit. We want to think some become rich and others poor based on merit, not luck. We want to think some teams win and others lose because the winner "deserved" laurels. In a 20-point football win, the winner did deserve to win. In games that come down to the final snap, either team might have prevailed: luck calls the ultimate shot. Change a couple bounces of the ball and the best team of the 21st century could be anything from 5-0 to 0-5 in the Super Bowl.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Planet of the Apes: Luckless Lamarck, whose evolution theory preceded Darwin's (Faye Flam, 2/06/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Lamarck's name was in the news recently when Columbia University Medical Center researchers published work they said could be viewed as a partial vindication of so-called Lamarckian evolution - a term that's come to mean the inheritance of acquired traits, no DNA needed.

In this case, flatworms were exposed to viruses; they mounted a defensive mechanism, and then passed that immunity down through several generations of offspring.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Bush Defends Auto Bailouts Amid Growing Political Debate: 'I'd Do It Again' (BRETT LOGIURATO, February 7, 2012, IB Times)

Former U.S. President George W. Bush defended the emergency bailout funds his administration provided to General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC in a speech to car dealers, saying he would "do it again."

"I didn't want there to be 21 percent unemployment," Bush said Monday in the closing speech at National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas, according to Bloomberg. "I didn't want to gamble. I didn't want history to look back and say, 'Bush could have done something but chose not to do it.' And so I said, 'No depression.'"

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Bob Bradley is standing up as a leader of Egypt (Kristian Dyer, 2/07/12,  Dirty Tackle)

The face of the United States in the Middle East right now isn't President Barack Obama, any elected official or a military leader. It is Bob Bradley.

The 53-year old Bradley, who coached the United States national team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup after they captured their opening round group, took over as national team head coach of Egypt this past September. Now living in a Cairo apartment with his wife, he saw the impact of a riot following a match in Port Said, resulting in 74 dead.

Realizing he was a part of something bigger than himself, Bradley and his coaching staff joined the peace march on the next day.

"We felt it was important to show our respect to the families of the young people who lost their lives; we felt it was important to share that moment with the people there in Sphinx Square," Bradley told Yahoo! Sports.

"When there is a tragedy, it is important that all leaders stand up -- whether that is leaders in the government or in the community. When you are the national team coach in Egypt, you're a leader and you must stand up and help. And I've found that people here, when you do anything at all that they see as good for Egypt, they appreciate it."

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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called to account before Iranian parliament (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 2/07/12, guardian.co.uk)

The Iranian parliament has summoned the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to answer a series of questions over the government's handling of the economy and his personal judgments.

The move is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic republic.

After a year of internal debate and unsuccessful attempts to question or impeach the president, MPs secured enough signatures for an attempt to summon Ahmadinejad. They succeeded in persuading the parliament's presiding board to read the motion during Tuesday's open session.

The move comes at a time of discontent at home owing to western economic sanctions and growing international isolation over Iran's nuclear programme. In recent weeks, fears of a major confrontation between Iran and the west have grown.

Within a month of receiving the summons, Ahmadinejad is required by law to appear in the parliament. Otherwise, MPs may impeach him. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


The Tortuous Conservative History of the Individual Mandate (Avik Roy, 2/07/2012, Forbes)

It all started with a piece of legislation passed in 1986 by a Democratic House and a Republican Senate and signed by Ronald Reagan, called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA. [...]
EMTALA, one of the great unfunded mandates in American history, required any hospital participating in Medicare--that is to say, nearly all of them--to provide emergency care to anyone who needs it, including illegal immigrants, regardless of ability to pay. Indeed, EMTALA can be accurately said to have established universal health care in America--with nary a whimper from conservative activists. [...]

[S]ome conservatives, seeking a more market-oriented path to universal coverage, began endorsing an individual mandate over an employer mandate. An individual mandate would address the "free rider" problem caused by EMTALA, by requiring people to buy their own insurance. In addition, moving to a more individual-based system from the employer-based one would significantly increase the efficiency of the health-insurance market.

With these considerations in mind, in 1989, Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation proposed a plan he called "Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans." Stuart's plan included a provision to "mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance," which he framed explicitly as a way to address the "free rider" problem and employer mandates (emphasis added):

Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seatbelts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement.

This mandate is based on two important principles. First, that health care protection is a responsibility of individuals, not businesses. Thus to the extent that anybody should be required to provide coverage to a family, the household mandate assumes that it is the family that carries the first responsibility. Second, it assumes that there is an implicit contract between households and society, based on the notion that health insurance is not like other forms of insurance protection. If a young man wrecks his Porsche and has not had the foresight to obtain insurance, we may commiserate but society feels no obligation to repair his car. But health care is different. If a man is struck down by a heart attack in the street, Americans will care for him whether or not he has insurance. If we find that he has spent his money on other things rather than insurance, we may be angry but we will not deny him services--even if that means more prudent citizens end up paying the tab.

A mandate on individuals recognizes this implicit contract. Society does feel a moral obligation to insure that its citizens do not suffer from the unavailability of health care. But on the other hand, each household has the obligation, to the extent it is able, to avoid placing demands on society by protecting itself...

A mandate on households certainly would force those with adequate means to obtain insurance protection, which would end the problem of middle-class "free riders" on society's sense of obligation. [...]

In 1992 and 1993, some Republicans in Congress, seeking an alternative to Hillarycare, used these ideas as a foundation for their own health-reform proposals. One such bill, the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993, or HEART, was introduced in the Senate by John Chafee (R., R.I.) and co-sponsored by 19 other Senate Republicans, including Christopher Bond, Bob Dole, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Richard Lugar, Alan Simpson, and Arlen Specter. Given that there were 43 Republicans in the Senate of the 103rd Congress, these 20 comprised nearly half of the Republican Senate Caucus at that time. The HEART Act proposed health insurance vouchers for low-income individuals, along with an individual mandate.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who were both House backbenchers in 1993, were also in favor of an individual mandate in those days. (Gingrich continued to support a federal individual mandate as recently as May of last year. We don't know much about the timing of Santorum's change of heart.)

It would seem that 1990s conservatives weren't concerned with the constitutional implications of allowing Congress to force people to buy a private product. "I don't remember that being raised at all," Mark Pauly told Ezra Klein last year. "The way it was viewed by the Congressional Budget Office in 1994 was, effectively, as a tax...So I've been surprised by that argument."

The UR can never be forgiven making a conservative health care plan the centerpiece of his presidency.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


BLACKBERRY SEASON (James Surowiecki, FEBRUARY 13, 2012, The New Yorker)

[E]ven as the BlackBerry was at the height of its popularity, we were entering the age of what's inelegantly called the consumerization of I.T., or simply Bring Your Own Device. In this new era, technological diffusion started to flow the other way--from consumers to businesses. Social media went from being an annoying fad to an unavoidable part of the way many businesses work. Tablets, which many initially thought were just underpowered laptops, soon became common among salesmen, hospital staffs, and retailers. So, too, with the iPhone and Androids. They've always been targeted at consumers, and tend to come with stuff that I.T. departments hate, like all those extraneous apps. Yet, because employees love them, businesses have adapted (and the iPhone and Androids have upgraded security to make themselves more business-friendly). As a result, the iPhone and Androids now control more than half the corporate mobile market.

Consumerization has been disastrous for R.I.M., because the company has seemed clueless about what consumers want. R.I.M. didn't bring out a touch-screen phone until long after Apple, and the device that it eventually launched was a pale imitation of the iPhone. Although the BlackBerry brand name was once seen as a revolutionary success, over time R.I.M.'s product line became bewilderingly large, with inscrutable model names. If you're a consumer, do you want the 8300 or the seemingly identical 8330? And the BlackBerry's closed system has left R.I.M. ill equipped for a world in which phones and tablets are platforms for the whole app ecosystem.

The consumerization of I.T. has deep economic and social roots and is unlikely to go away. Technological innovation has dramatically lowered the cost of computing, making it possible for large numbers of consumers to own powerful new technologies at reasonably low prices. (Apple's products seem pricey, but despite the weak economy it has sold more than a hundred million iPhones and more than forty million iPads.) The workplace is changing, too. The barrier between work and home has been eroded, and if people are going to have to be constantly connected they want at least to use their own phones. Companies have quickly come to love consumerization, too: a recent study by the consulting firm Avanade found that executives like the way it keeps workers plugged in all day long. And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs. One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt. It's a brave new world. It's just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.

Demand drives evolution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Meet Li-Fi, the LED-based alternative to household Wi-Fi (Michael Watts, February 2012, Wired )

Using off-the-shelf electronics, he can stream videos using an ordinary light bulb fitted with signal-processing technology of his own design. The lamp shines directly on to a hole cut into the oblong box on which it sits. Inside this box is a receiver that converts the light signal into a high-speed data stream, and a transmitter that projects the data on to a screen as a short video. If Haas puts his hand in front of the lamp, excluding the light, the video stops.

Haas, 43, holds the chair of mobile communications at Edinburgh University's Institute for Digital Communications. His demo is scientifically groundbreaking: it proves that large amounts of data, in multiple parallel streams, can be transferred using various forms of light (infrared, ultraviolet and visible). The technology, he says, has huge commercial potential. His device can be used with regular lighting and electronics -- albeit reconfigured -- and could transform the way we access everything from video to games, accelerating the speed of internet access by many hundreds of megabits. It could let us download movies from the lamps in our homes, read maps from streetlights and listen to music from illuminated billboards in the street.

Haas's discovery is based on a subset of optical technology called visible light communication (VLC), or Li-Fi, as it has been dubbed. VLC exploits a hack of human perception: light-emitting diodes can be switched on and off faster than the naked eye can detect, causing the light source to appear to be on continuously. Rapid on-off keying enables data transmission using binary code: switching on an LED is a logical "1", switching it off is a logical "0". Thereby flows the data.

The potential applications are enormous: divers working at depths could use light to communicate; air passengers could connect to the internet through the LEDs inside the aircraft. Haas sees the technology potentially disrupting industries from telecoms to advertising.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Experts Divided Over Recommendation To Screen Children For Cholesterol (Michelle Andrews, FEB 07, 2012, Kaiser Health News)

Working with these kids to eat more healthfully and to exercise more may reduce the cumulative negative effect of high cholesterol on their cardiovascular systems and lead to fewer heart attacks and strokes later in life, the experts say.

Others, including clinicians who authored a pair of articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month, express concerns that screening may do more harm than good. To identify the relatively small number of kids who really need medical treatment, doctors cast a wide and expensive net that identifies many children as at risk who will never develop  premature cardiovascular disease, says Matthew Gillman, director of the obesity prevention program at Harvard Medical School, who co-authored one of the articles. Some of those children will probably be needlessly put on cholesterol-lowering medications, he says. [[...]

"[I]f you're going to test every child, it's a sure bet you're going to be medicating more kids," says H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, who has written extensively on the problems created by aggressive screening.

Meanwhile, you're effectively telling the other parents that their kids don't need to eat healthy or exercise either because the screening doesn't reveal the "condition" or because you'll give them drugs instead.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Government expects lending fund to turn taxpayers a profit (Jose Pagliery, 2/07/12, CNNMoney) 

An Obama administration lending program set up to funnel cash to small banks was expected to cost taxpayers $1.3 billion. Instead, it will turn a profit of $80 million.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Asperger's, Overdiagnosed, Ill Defined, May Not Be a Syndrome Much Longer: Psychiatrists working on the latest edition of their profession's diagnostic manual are thought to be tightening the definition of autism and dispensing with Asperger's completely. (Casey Schwartz, 2/07/12, Daily Beast)

It wasn't until the 1980s, when British psychiatrist Lorna Wing translated Asperger's original paper into English, that the idea of this syndrome took hold in the United States.

Wing's phrase for describing the essence of the syndrome has become famous: Asperger's kids, she wrote, are "active but odd." [...]

Many doctors believe Asperger's is significantly overdiagnosed--so much so that it might singlehandedly account for why there has been such a dramatic uptick in the total number of autism-spectrum diagnoses handed out each year.

Bryna Siegel, a child psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, was a member of the DSM IV working group. She says she "undiagnoses" Asperger's far more frequently than she diagnoses it. For every 10 children who come to see her with a diagnosis of Asperger's, she "undiagnoses" nine.

Siegel believes that one reason why Asperger's has become so widely applied is the appealing meaninglessness of its name. 

"I think part of the proliferation of the Asperger's diagnosis is that if you say that a kid has oppositional defiant disorder, and especially if you say that about a normally intelligent upper-middle-class kid, parents don't like to use the word 'oppositional' and they don't like to use the word 'defiant' and they don't like to use the word 'disorder.' And 'Asperger's' just sounds so much more neutral. It doesn't have any connotations ... It's a name, it's not a descriptive term." [...]

The confusion extends outside of patient-doctor conversations. At the height of the Silicon Valley tech bubble, Wired magazine published a questionnaire developed by autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen, a self-report test for Asperger's syndrome.

Siegel, whose office is in San Francisco, recalls that the questionnaire caused such a stir among the techie set that she was flooded with responses.

...what's not to like about a justification to medicate boys who are active and/or socially awkward?  When we posted the Wired test here (I think it was that one), nearly every male was "diagnosed" as being on the autism sepctrum.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


The Heartland Tax Rebellion: More states want to repeal their income taxes. (WSJ, 2/06/12)

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is starting to feel surrounded. On her state's southern border, Texas has no income tax. Now two of its other neighbors, Missouri and Kansas, are considering plans to cut and eventually abolish their income taxes. "Oklahoma doesn't want to end up an income-tax sandwich," she quips.

On Monday she announced her new tax plan, which calls for lowering the state income-tax rate to 3.5% next year from 5.25%, and an ambition to phase out the income tax over 10 years. "We're going to have the most pro-growth tax system in the region," she says.

She's going to have competition. In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback is also proposing to cut income taxes this year to 4.9% from 6.45%, offset by a slight increase in the sales tax rate and a broadening of the tax base. He also wants a 10-year phase out. In Missouri, a voter initiative that is expected to qualify for the November ballot would abolish the income tax and shift toward greater reliance on sales taxes.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Left in the Past (Roy M. Brewer, February 2012, LA Times Magazine)

I first became aware of the collection a decade ago, when I was a Washington, D.C., reporter researching Reagan. I was fascinated with this Roy Brewer character. In Hollywood lore, he is almost universally despised because of his alleged Red-baiting. However, in newspapers published during the 1940s and '50s, when he was a representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, he was covered as an influential liberal. But I hadn't read any recent interviews with Brewer and, frankly, thought he was dead.

When I rang Brewer's son to get some background on his father, Roy Jr. agreed to cooperate but suggested, "You could just as easily talk to my dad. He'd love that." [...]

Figures like Brewer are the reason people go into journalism. They are the keepers of the past. A gritty, often misunderstood character, Brewer was a tough union man, yet he would almost weep when quoting Scarlett O'Hara's "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again" line from Gone with the Wind. The line spoke to his personal determination, New Deal loyalties and socialist leanings. A portrait of FDR hung on his wall. He regarded Joseph McCarthy as a demagogue. (In the archive, I found far-right McCarthyite propaganda smearing Brewer as soft on Communism and castigating Reagan as a "flagrant Red.") Politically, Brewer supported Reagan in all his campaigns, but in the Florida recounts, he backed Al Gore. He didn't like George W. Bush.

After meeting Brewer, I spent the next five years traveling between Washington and L.A. and building our relationship. We had suppers at Musso & Frank, milkshakes at the Polo Lounge ("I used to live here," he'd tell the maître d') and pancake-and-egg breakfasts at Jerry's Deli and Carrows, often at all hours of the night. He revealed the archive to me piecemeal, then once he trusted me, I was allowed to go through it on my own. When his daughter and her husband sold their house in 2005, I was given exclusive, unfettered access to the collection.

The archive showcases Reagan the liberal before liberal became a dirty word. While the broad strokes of his Hollywood years are familiar--Warner Bros. star, SAG president, host of the hit CBS anthology series General Electric Theater--what specifically happened during that time is part of the little-known history of Reagan and even Hollywood itself.

The Hollywood in which Reagan worked was very different than the time portrayed in blacklist dramas like The Way We Were, The Front and Guilty by Suspicion. The Communist Party operated more like an underground cult than a political party, recalled the people I talked to, including some who never ended their party membership.

American Communists believed the Soviets represented the future. Today's public perception is that Communists were merely liberals in a hurry. That's because the Reds "wrote their own histories," as screenwriter Richard Collins, a former Communist, shared with me. They erased the part about their connections to Moscow.

Just as Reagan was becoming a movie star at Warner Bros. (more than a dozen pictures in his first four years), Soviet spies Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey began operating in Hollywood. As the L.A. Times reported in 2009, the couple finessed their way into mingling with Hollywood's elite--Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, even staunch anti-Communist Walt Disney. "Many famous people in Hollywood were in touch with the White House...and through them we got the information we needed," the Times quoted the couple from their 2004 memoir.

And what has been typically portrayed as anti-Communist hysteria--for instance, that writers exploited their position for the party agenda--may be true after all, according to documents.

May be?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Planned Parenthood's Hostages: The abortion provider uses a vast media and political network to maintain its subsidies from government and private charities. (ROBERT P. GEORGE AND O. CARTER SNEAD, 2/06/12, WSJ)

The reality is that Planned Parenthood--with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion--does little in the way of screening for breast cancer. But the organization is very much in the business of selling abortions--more than 300,000 in 2010, according to Planned Parenthood. At an average cost of $500, according to various sources including Planned Parenthood's website, that translates to about $164 million of revenue per year.

So how did Planned Parenthood and its loyal allies in politics and the media react to Komen's efforts to be neutral in the controversy over abortion?

Faced with even the tiniest depletion in the massive river of funds Planned Parenthood receives yearly, the behemoth mobilized its enormous cultural, media, financial and political apparatus to attack the Komen Foundation in the press, on TV and through social media.

The organization's allies demonized the charity, attempting to depict the nation's most prominent anti-breast cancer organization as a bedfellow of religious extremists. A Facebook page was set up to "Defund the Komen Foundation." In short, Planned Parenthood took breast-cancer victims as hostages.

...the pink ribbon lobby, likewise, uses the media to scare women into useless mammograms.  They're both more like cults than health organizations and do more harm than good.

February 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


Hamas, Fatah agree on unity gov't; Abbas to be PM (KHALED ABU TOAMEH02/06/2012,  Jerusalem Post)

Fatah and Hamas announced Monday they had reached another reconciliation agreement to end their differences - this time under the auspices of Qatar.

According to the new accord, dubbed the Doha Declaration, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is to serve as interim prime minister of a unity government consisting of independent figures.

The government's main mission, the agreement stipulates, would be to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Things Are Not O.K. (PAUL KRUGMAN, 2/06/12, NY Times)

Furthermore, it's not hard to see how this recovery could become self-sustaining. In particular, at this point America is seriously under-housed by historical standards, because we've built very few houses in the six years since the housing bubble popped. The main thing standing in the way of a housing bounce-back is a sharp fall in household formation -- econospeak for lots of young adults living with their parents because they can't afford to move out. Let enough Americans find jobs and get homes of their own, and housing, which got us into this slump, could start to power us out.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


On campaign trail, Romney skips questions in taking up mantle of likely GOP nominee (Philip Rucker, 2/05/12, Washington Post)

As Romney solidified his front-runner status with back-to-back decisive wins in Florida and Nevada, his confidence -- and caution -- have been on stark display. He has pivoted from a retail campaign based on convincing people at his events that he has a command of the issues to a made-for-television spectacle where the people are simply props helping project an aura of momentum and inevitability to a national audience.

"You need to really start focusing on 'I am your man, and I'm the guy that will move this party forward,' " said Lanny Wiles, a veteran advance operative on Republican presidential campaigns. "It gets down to crowd building and enthusiasm, but a lot of that [voter] interaction is gone. For right now, it's about pushing this train down the track as fast as you can."

This is a natural evolution for any presidential campaign. In the volatile 2012 sweepstakes, it marks an inflection point as Romney begins to claim the mantle of the presumptive nominee.

...he really ought to go on vacation until December.  The election has nothing to do with him.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The ballsiest call in Super Bowl history (Brian Burke, Feb. 6, 2012, Slate)

Bill Belichick may have made one of the gutsiest calls in Super Bowl history: instructing his defense to allow the Giants to score the go-ahead touchdown with just a minute remaining.

...if he went for the first on 4th and a yard from their own 30 in the first half, as every Pat fan at our Super Bowl was demanding.  But his play calling was too conventional the whole game.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


The End of National Sovereignty?: How aircraft carriers, drones, and special operations teams are making it easier for the US military to cross foreign borders without permission. (Tom Engelhardt,  Feb. 6, 2012, Mother Jones)

But here's the thing: even if the US military is dragging its old habits, weaponry, and global-basing ideas behind it, it's still heading offshore. There will be no more land wars on the Eurasian continent. Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on the Navy, the Air Force, and a policy "pivot" to face China in southern Asia where the American military position can be strengthened without more giant bases or monster embassies.

For Washington, "offshore" means the world's boundary-less waters and skies, but also, more metaphorically, it means being repositioned off the coast of national sovereignty and all its knotty problems. This change, on its way for years, will officially rebrand the planet as an American free-fire zone, unchaining Washington from the limits that national borders once imposed. New ways to cross borders and new technology for doing it without permission are clearly in the planning stages, and US forces are being reconfigured accordingly.

Think of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a harbinger of and model for what's to come. It was an operation enveloped in a cloak of secrecy. There was no consultation with the "ally" on whose territory the raid was to occur. It involved combat by an elite special operations unit backed by drones and other high-tech weaponry and supported by the CIA. A national boundary was crossed without either permission or any declaration of hostilities. The object was that elusive creature "terrorism," the perfect global will-o'-the-wisp around which to plan an offshore future.

All the elements of this emerging formula for retaining planetary dominance have received plenty of publicity, but the degree to which they combine to assault traditional concepts of national sovereignty has been given little attention.

And lots of people paid attention.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM

The Creole Choir of Cuba (NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Skip the 3,000 mile oil change (Trent Hamm, February 6, 2012, CS Monitor)

We've all heard the mantra of getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles. It gets repeated to us every time there's an ad for motor oil or oil change services.

That actually might have been true thirty or more years ago, when engines were built very differently than they are today.

However, the reality is that most of today's car models require oil changes every 5,000 miles, and some models require it even less frequently than that.

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Posted by Stephen Judd at 10:02 AM



Less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report!

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Tom Brady can't save Patriots this time (John Powers, 2/06/12, Boston GLOBE)

If Brady had the ball in his hands longer than 23 minutes, New England might well have prevailed. He'd shrugged off a safety on his first play and brought his squad from a 9-0 deficit to a 17-9 lead with bookend touchdown passes to Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez on either side of halftime.

And if a wide-open Wes Welker hadn't dropped the ball with barely four minutes to play, Brady might have been able to finish off the New Yorkers then. "He went up to try to make it, as he always does, and we just couldn't connect,'' said Brady. "He's a hell of a player. I'll keep throwing the ball to him for as long as I possibly can. He's a phenomenal player and teammate and I love that guy.''

If it hadn't been for the safety on the Patriots' first possession, Brady might have only needed to get within field goal range on the final drive. But when he'd gunned the ball well downfield to avoid being sacked in his end zone, he was called for intentional grounding and gave up what turned out to be 2 precious points.

Had Brady gotten the ball out of his hands and into those of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley (who I don't think they even dressed) & Aaron Hernandez they'd have won.   The naked backfield sets killed them and they bailed on the run when they were averaging 4.4 yards per carry.  Parcells must have wept.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Concordia Seminary basketball is a throwback (RON COBB, 2/05/12, ST. Louis Post-Dispatch)

It was about time for the tip-off at Concordia Seminary's Pederson Fieldhouse, but before the Preachers could start their game against visiting Williams Baptist College, there was the matter of the national anthem.

A crowd of some 25 people rose from their seats to hear the anthem -- sung by the Concordia players.

That's standard practice at Pederson Fieldhouse. This clearly was no ordinary college basketball game. It was more, or less depending on your point of view.

There was no admission charge, no bleachers, no concession stand and no game programs. The fieldhouse on the Concordia campus in Clayton is named for the Preachers' longtime coach, the late Eldon "Pete" Pederson. I didn't know Pederson, but I remember him as an imposing figure when I attended Preachers games as a youngster in the late 1950s and early '60s. It was during that era when I was a neighborhood gym rat and got to serve as a ballboy for the St. Louis Hawks during their preseason camp at Concordia.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


'I'd rather my children red than dead,' JFK told mistress about Cold War: book (CYNTHIA R. FAGEN, February 5, 2012, NY Post)

The president invited her for a personal tour. She got up, expecting the rest of the group to follow. They didn't. He took her to "Mrs. Kennedy's room."

"I noticed he was moving closer and closer. I could feel his breath on my neck. He put his hand on my shoulder," she recounts.

The next thing she knew, he was standing above her, looking directly into her eyes and guiding her to the edge of the bed.

"Slowly, he unbuttoned the top of my shirtdress and touched my breasts.

"Then he reached up between my legs and started to pull off my underwear.

"I finished unbuttoning my shirtdress and let it fall off my shoulders."

Kennedy pulled down his pants but, with his shirt still on, hovered above her on the bed.

He smelled of his cologne, 4711. He paused when he noticed her resisting.

"Haven't you done this before?" he asked.

"No," she said.

"Are you OK?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

So he kept going, this time a little more gently.

"After he finished, he hitched up his pants and smiled at me" and pointed her to the bathroom.

When she was finished, he was outside in the West Sitting Hall, where their evening had begun.

"I was in shock," she writes. "He, on the other hand, was matter-of-fact, and acted as if what had just occurred was the most natural thing in the world." [...]

On one visit, Kennedy was embroiled in one of the most defining moments of his presidency, the Cuban Missile Crisis. For 13 days in October 1962, the United States and the Soviets were at a nuclear standoff.

Although historians have dissected Kennedy's actions, none was privy to what he confided to Mimi.

"I'd rather my children red than dead," he told her.

It was a chilling insight.

When the president wasn't keeping the world from descending into war, there was plenty of wild partying. One instance was a raucous Hollywood bash at Bing Crosby's desert ranch.

"I was sitting next to him in the living room when a handful of yellow capsules -- most likely amyl nitrate, commonly known as poppers -- was offered up by one of the guests. The president asked me if I wanted to try the drug, which stimulated the heart but also purportedly enhanced sex. I said no, but he just went ahead and popped the capsule and held it under my nose."

He didn't try it himself.

"This was a new sensation, and it frightened me," Mimi recalls. "I panicked and ran crying from the room."

It wasn't her first glimpse of Kennedy's dark side.

"He had been guilty of an even more callous and unforgivable episode at the White House" during a noon swim. Powers had rolled up his pants to cool his feet in the water. "The president swam over and whispered in my ear. 'Mr. Powers looks a little tense,' he said. 'Would you take care of it?'

"It was a dare, but I knew exactly what he meant. This was a challenge to give Dave Powers oral sex. I don't think the president thought I'd do it, but I'm ashamed to say that I did . . . The president silently watched."

Alford, then Mimi Beardsley, says that later the president apologized to them both.

Another time, she writes, while back at Wheaton, she thought she was pregnant and told Powers. Obviously, this could explode into scandal. Abortion was illegal in 1962. Powers put her in touch with a woman who had a contact for a doctor. In the end, it was a false alarm.

There were tender moments, too.

Kennedy, alone and grieving the death of his infant child, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, reached out for his young confidante.

"I had never seen real grief in my relatively short life," she writes.

While Jackie was still recovering in Cape Cod, Kennedy was back at the White House.

"He invited me upstairs, and we sat outside on the balcony in the soft summer evening air. There was a stack of condolence letters on the floor next to his chair, and he picked each one up and read it aloud to me. Some were from friends and others from strangers, but they were all heartfelt and deeply moving. Occasionally, tears rolling down his cheeks, he would write something on one of the letters, probably notes for a reply. But mostly he just read them and cried. I did, too."

One of their last times together was at a Boston Democratic fund-raiser. Ted Kennedy, the president's baby brother, was in the room with them.

"I could see that mischievous look come into his eye. 'Mimi, why don't you take care of my baby brother? He could stand a little relaxation.'

February 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 PM


NY 21 - NE 17 (NBC Sports)

...with the injury to Gronkowski being what separated them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Lax U.S. gun laws enable killing in Mexico (Editorial Board, 2/05/12, Washington Post)

Law enforcement officials in both countries acknowledge that 70 to 80 percent of the traceable guns seized in Mexico can be tracked to the United States. Mr. Poire Romero, a top Mexican national security and criminal justice official, offers additional evidence that the United States has been an enabler of the violence. [...]

Mr. Poire Romero met with Post editors and reporters on the day that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was again being grilled on Capitol Hill about "Operation Fast and Furious," during which U.S. law enforcement agents, in order to trace weapons to higher-ups in a criminal enterprise, failed to interdict guns bought by suspected straw purchasers. The operation, a version of which was undertaken during the George W. Bush administration, was deeply flawed; some 2,000 weapons are unaccounted for. Weapons traced to Fast and Furious purchases were found on the scene of the 2010 killing of a Border Patrol agent. These revelations led to the resignation of the U.S. attorney in Phoenix and reassignment of the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

No one has ever made the argument for gun control as persuasively as House Republicans are doing.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Nevada's a Romney Romp (Gary Langer, 2/04/12, ABC NEWS)

Mitt Romney romped in the Nevada caucuses with a leg up from his Mormon co-religionists, but also with winning margins across faith groups -- evangelicals included -- and a knockout even among the very conservative voters with whom he's struggled elsewhere.

His calling card: defeating Barack Obama. In this entrance poll, analyzed for ABC by Langer Research Associates, more than four in 10 caucus-goers named it as the most important candidate attribute in their vote, and those who did backed Romney by a smashing 74-18 percent over Newt Gingrich
That's Romney's best to date among beat-Obama voters. [...]

But Romney also easily outpaced Gingrich among evangelicals, 45-29 percent, his best showing by far in this group to date. As such it was essentially inconsequential that, at 27 percent of the electorate, evangelicals were much less numerous than in most previous 2012 Republican events. They accounted for 65 percent, 57 percent, and 47 percent in South Carolina, Iowa and Florida, respectively. (One in six Mormons identified themselves as evangelicals. Among non-Mormon evangelicals, Romney and Gingrich split the vote, 35-33 percent.)

While light on evangelicals, Nevada was rich in "very" conservatives, 48 percent of caucus-goers, rivaled only in Iowa. As with evangelicals, Romney has struggled among very conservatives elsewhere, losing them in all previous contests save New Hampshire. He won them in Nevada by 2-1 over Gingrich.

And while Romney got hammered among the one in six looking mainly for a "true conservative," he stormed back among other groups. In addition to the big beat-Obama vote, he beat Gingrich by 23 points among voters looking for the candidate with the best experience, and Paul by 23 points among those focused on "strong moral character." The latter group, one in five voters, has been a weak one for the thrice-married Gingrich.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Obama's Turn on Nuclear Weapons: The White House and its Warheads (Joseph Cirincione, February 2, 2012, Foreign Affairs)

Ever since President Dwight Eisenhower, U.S. presidents upon taking office have asked the same question: Why does the country need so many nuclear weapons? The short answer is targeting. Current guidance requires the U.S. military to be prepared at any moment to unleash a first strike against targets in five countries: Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and North Korea. This thinking dates back to the targeting guidance developed by the Defense Department in the 1950s. The 1974 guidance, the most recent to be de-classified, details in 18 pages the types of facilities to be destroyed, including nuclear weapons and bases, conventional military installations, military and civilian command-and-control centers, and political and economic resources. In 1974, this included training "at least one weapon on an industrial facility in the top 250 urban areas in the Soviet Union and in the top 125 urban areas in the People's Republic of China," so as "to prolong their post-war recovery." This is the strategy that justifies the approximately 5,000 weapons in the U.S. arsenal today.

Here is where the budget squeeze could give nuclear reductions a new impetus. Current nuclear policy is very expensive. Each leg of the United States' nuclear triad -- long-range missiles, bombers, and submarines -- is reaching the end of its expected operational life. The Pentagon estimates that the U.S. Navy will have to spend $350 billion to build and operate a new fleet of 12 nuclear-armed submarines that it plans to slip into the water starting around 2030. The Office of Management and Budget recommended last December that the Navy build only ten, and some outside experts have suggested that eight would suffice. But the Navy argues that since submarines need time to get to and from port and undergo routine maintenance, it needs at least 12 subs to keep five on station at all times. Why would the Navy have to keep five of these new subs (two in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific), each with 16 missiles carrying up to eight nuclear warheads apiece, at sea ready to fire? Because the current nuclear policy guidance says it must.

That need not be the case. Obama could rewrite those policies to shrink the target list, eliminate the need to launch weapons in minutes, and make other common-sense improvements. For example, by dropping the requirement to launch approximately 1,000 weapons at targets within 20 minutes, he could reduce the number of submarines required on station, allowing for a secure submarine force of eight boats. That would save $20 billion over ten years and $120 billion over the life of the program. Delaying the new strategic bomber would save $18 billion over ten years, and canceling it, $68 billion over 20 to 30 years. Reducing the current arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles from 420 to 300 would save billions more, although no one is sure how much, because the government has never done what most businesses do routinely -- that is, cost out the options. 

Because one party or the other is going to get credit for the Peace Dividend.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Giants get ahead of themselves with 'Super Bowl Champions' home page ... on Saturday (Doug Farrar, 2/04/12,  Shutdown Corner)

The "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline is the most famous example of premature jocularity in media history, but on Saturday, the New York Giants inadvertently came a little too close to that mistake for a while on their official homepage:

Not just yet, fellas. (Patriots.com)

Uh, yeah. They haven't kicked anything off just yet, guys. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Smarter Stats: Super Bowl Edition -- New England's offense vs. New York's defense (Doug Farrar, 2/05/12, Shutdown Corner)

Actually, don't be surprised if the Patriots do a lot of different things to counteract New York's pass rush and multiple fronts. In Week 9, according to Football Outsiders' game-charting data, the Pats went with six offensive linemen on 13 of their offensive snaps. As the Ravens and Steelers do, New England likes running out of bunch formations, and they'll throw some interesting positional threesomes out there -- you could see BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Danny Woodhead, or Stevan Ridley running to bunches consisting of a receiver, a tight end, and tackle Nate Solder, who played tight end for two years at Colorado. When I talked to Solder about that versatility  on Thursday, he said that he was ready to go wherever Belichick sent him. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to see Solder get a goal-line target, Mike Vrabel-style, in this game.

So then, the question becomes, what of Aaron Hernandez?

The Patriots lined Gronkowski's battery mate up as a receiver 104 times in the regular season, but he was targeted just eight times and caught just five passes for 45 yards. Don't be surprised to see Hernandez -- who is probably the Patriots' best deep threat right now -- lined up in more of a flex, a la Dallas Clark, and catching more passes in a role that forces the Giants to stretch out. Hernandez has also been a valuable target coming out of the backfield, but in this game, he might be best utilized as a man who makes the Giants' defense scatter.

Through the Week 9 game, one of the Giants' most interesting defensive concepts was the use of an intermediate spy -- not to watch Brady and see if he ran, but to lurk and wait over the middle against the expected barrage of slants and crosses to Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and the tight ends. Brady's first of two interceptions came against such a concept. Hernandez occasionally ran underneath crossing routes to free things up for Welker upfield, but a series of combo or pick routes downfield involving Hernandez, with Gronkowski blocking to give Brady more time, would certainly make things interesting. [...]

One other thing to watch out for is how the Giants choose to cover Welker -- Antrel Rolle was on him a lot on Week 9, and I'd bet Rolle wasn't doing much talking after that game, because Welker beat him like a drum. Rolle has issues changing direction on quick plays in which the receiver cuts inside or out, and Welker caught nine passes for 136 yards in that game.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:33 AM


Can Tom Brady Get Revenge on the Giants? (Allen Barra, Feb 5, 2012, Daily Beast)

In terms of connections to working people, Brady is probably to the average NFL fan what Mitt Romney is to the average voter. And Brady could probably buy and sell Romney, especially if he and Gisele have a joint bank account. According to Sports Illustrated, Brady, who is winding up the first year of a four-year, $72 million contract, will be pulling in about $30 million this year in salary and endorsements. Gisele earns about $45 million a year which, according to Forbes, makes Tomsele the highest-paid celebrity couple of 2011, even more than Brad and Angelina.
It's no wonder that, to most fans around the country, the Patriots, who are three-point favorites over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, are probably the most hated team in the National Football League. Brady may be the only athlete in professional sports with at least two websites dedicating to despising him.  No other team and no other quarterback would be capable of making a New York team America's sentimental favorite. [...]

Sure, Eli, with his L'il Abner drawl and blue-collar image are the country's favorites, even though his unglamorous Giants are just 9-7 this year and will become one of the worst regular season teams to take the Super Bowl if they win. What a contrast Eli and the Giants are to that sleek, finely tooled corporate Patriots machine.

But ... how much of this picture reflects reality? It is Eli Manning, son of Archie and brother of Peyton, who, after all, is the child of football's royal family. In fact, to look at their respective histories in organized football is to wonder which one should be considered the underdog. Eli was a star before college, topping Parade's All-America High School list; Tom didn't even play organized football until he was a freshman in high school, and his team lost 8 of their 10 games. Manning was a college star and the first player drafted by the pros in 2004; Brady, who played for Michigan, was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. 

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Posted by orrinj at 12:14 AM


This could be Slater's special moment (MARK WHICKER, 2/04/12, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The Giants ran 1,028 plays from scrimmage in the regular season, and their kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns totaled 244. And in a capped-out league where equality is the grail, a special-teams turnover is often the game-clincher.

Slater is the Patriots' special teams captain, although he played safety in a game against the Colts this year and, in exhibitions, caught five passes for 190 yards.

"My father told me just to do everything I can prepare myself and live with no regrets," Slater told the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram and Gazette. "He had a mind-set that was unique. The more I play, the more appreciation I have for what he did."

The father, of course, is Jackie Slater, the 20-year Rams tackle who has reminded Matthew that he only got to one Super Bowl, after the 1979 season, when Vince Ferragamo almost conjured up what would have been the biggest Super Bowl upset. The Rams led the Steelers, and all their Hall of Famers, after three quarters but finally lost, 31-19.

The Slaters are the seventh father-son combo to play in a Super Bowl. The only father-son pair that went 2-0 are the DeOssies. Father Steve was a Giants linebacker and son Zak was, and is, the Giants long-snapper.

Obviously, Zak DeOssie can only make himself famous today by messing up. Obviously, Matthew Slater can thrust his number into lights by knocking loose a football. Obviously, some member of Super Bowl Special Forces will do something obvious.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:09 AM


Genius Belichick throwing Edelman to wolves as DB? That's just stupid (Gregg Doyel, 2/03/12, CBSSports.com)

Bill Belichick is a coaching savant. I get it, and I mean it. He's that good, one of the best of all time. Maybe the best of all time. Spygate was an ugly mark on his record, a failing of ethics that will follow him forever -- as it should -- but don't fool yourself. Belichick is brilliant.

Which brings me to the point of this story, the point being, how could he be so stupid?

How could Julian Edelman be his nickel cornerback in the Super Bowl? [...]

How does this happen to the Patriots? That's what I need to know, even more than I need to know the answer to another question, which is: How much will Eli Manning punish Julian Edelman on Sunday?

That one, I know. Manning will punish Edelman to the point of sadism. If you see a towel flying onto the field from the upper deck, that'll be from me, from my spot in press seating, calling it off. Because by the second quarter, Julian Edelman will have had enough. He'll be exhausted and dizzy from being spun around and run past and run over and treated, basically, like a former college quarterback who had to learn how to return punts and play receiver to stick in the NFL, and who then had to learn how to play cornerback about two months ago because Bill Belichick isn't as smart as we all thought he is.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


An Unusual Super Bowl (Joe Posnanski, 2/03/12, Sports Illustrated)

I will say that I'm surprised that so many people (here, anyway) are picking the Giants -- if only for this reason. No team like the 2011 Giants has ever won a Super Bowl.


• The Giants are trying to become the first team to be outscored during the season and win the Super Bowl.

• The Giants are trying to become the first 9-7 team to win the Super Bowl. The only teams with nine or fewer victories to win the Super Bowl are the 1967 Packers (9-4-1), who played only 14 games, and the 1982 Redskins (8-1), who played only nine games because of the strike.

• The Giants are trying to become the first team to give up 400 points (25 points a game) and win the Super Bowl.

• The Giants are trying to become the first team to lose four games in a row and win the Super Bowl.*

*Heck, 28 of the 45 Super Bowl winners didn't lose four games all season.

Point is: The Giants were very ordinary, until the end of the season, when they were suddenly terrific. There's no real precedent for any team like these Giants winning a Super Bowl. [...]

[I]f the Giants win on Sunday, they will become -- by the numbers, anyway -- the worst team to ever win the Super Bowl.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


In Defence of Little Israel: An Interview with Michael Walzer (Alan Johnson, 1/31/12, Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre)

ALAN JOHNSON: Can Israel be both a 'national homeland for the Jewish people' and a 'state for all its citizens'?

MICHAEL WALZER: 'Homeland' has been an ambiguous phrase ever since the Balfour Declaration.  Israel is not the state of the Jewish people; Jews outside Israel don't vote in its elections and non-Jews inside Israel do vote in its elections. The Jewish people are not sovereign in Israel; the citizens of Israel are sovereign there.

I think there is a sense in which Israel, I mean green line Israel, is right now politically a state of all its citizens. The real difficulties are not political, they are cultural, and they arise in every nation state. Minority groups do not find themselves present in, or supported, by the state-supported culture. That is a problem in every nation state that has national minorities. I don't think that Israel has dealt with it badly considering the circumstances in which it has had to deal with it - the circumstances that Alexander Yakobson describes in his piece, of continual conflict with its Arab neighbours. Compare, say, the treatment of German-Americans during World War One or of Japanese-Americans during World War Two, and you would have to say that Israel has actually done pretty well--despite continuing patterns of discrimination.

But this issue of minority rights needs more discussion. Talking about it, I always like to use the relatively innocuous example of Norway, which seceded from Sweden in the very early twentieth century in order to defend its 'Norweigenness'. The Norwegian state is a little engine for the reproduction of 'Norweigenness,' and a minority group like the Lapps in the North do not find themselves included in or supported by that state project. I don't think there is any remedy for that except full political equality - and then the minority groups can organise their own associations and support themselves. I don't think that is oppressive. I don't think the nation-state is a political formation that we need to transcend. We need to defend political equality within it, but the notion that the Greeks or the Finns or the French don't have the right to create a state that sustains and celebrates and promotes their history and culture - I think that is a mistaken view.  And if the Greeks, the Finns and the French have that right then so do the Jews.

JOHNSON: Some people would say there is a tension between the Jewish character of the state and the aspiration to be 'a state for all its citizens.' They point to the desire to retain a Jewish majority and suggest that is part of the explanation of, for example, last week's rejection by the Israeli Supreme Court of the appeal against the Citizenship Law. So we end up with a situation in which Israeli Arabs who marry a Palestinian from the West Bank can't bring their spouse to Israel, the spouse can't become an Israeli citizen, and so the couple can't have a family life in Israel. Some say this is the result of the desire to be a 'Jewish homeland' and preserve a Jewish majority cuts across what we would think of as equal citizenship rights. What do you say to this?

WALZER:  Yeah, that's a bad law and I think that liberal and left forces in Israel will oppose it and one day repeal it. But the desire to sustain a majority is, again, characteristic of every nation-state. Look, one of the most extraordinary features of American political history is that the Anglo-Americans, the English settlers here, who certainly thought they were creating an English nation-state, allowed themselves, with some resistance and resentment, to become a minority in what they thought was their own country. This is one of the uncelebrated but most distinctive features of American history. But it's not going to happen anywhere else. It could only happen in an immigrant society that wasn't a homeland. It's not going to happen in France. The French are not going to allow themselves to become a minority in France, or the Danes in Denmark. It's not going to happen. And if their majority status is ever threatened, they will respond with measures that will be illiberal. 

How'd that work out for the Afrikaaners?
Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Woodhead could be a big problem for Giants (Peter Abraham, February 5, 2012, Boston Globe)

 If the Patriots try short passes to negate the furious pass rush of the Giants, Woodhead could figure heavily into the game plan. He also has improved as a pass protector, something that will be vital.

"He takes a lot of pride in pass protection because people think he's a little bit undersized. But he's power-packed, he's a strong guy,'' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said. "A lot of those one-and-one blitz pickup sessions [in practice] have been really competitive and good. He's gotten a lot better at that in the two years that he's been here. He's played a key role in that.

"Part of that is his intelligence to understand our protections. He was able to pick things up right away. You can't say enough about him as a person and the way he's come in and accepted his role and tried to get better every day.''

Woodhead was a star running back at Chadron State in Nebraska, twice being named the Division 2 player of the year. Protecting the passer was not one of his responsibilities.

O'Brien said running backs coach Ivan Fears taught Woodhead the techniques needed to keep the heat off Tom Brady.

"We like unselfish guys, guys who accept their roles, and guys who love to practice and Danny is right at the top of that list,'' O'Brien said.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, And The Genius Of The Patriots' No-Huddle Offense (Chris Brown, 2/03/12, Deadspin)

 It's worth pondering, though, why NFL teams have been slow to react to something that seems intuitively to be so much better. Real-life huddles are not nearly as interesting as they are in sports movies, where players frequently debate, bicker, or deliver monologues, somehow within the strict confines of the play clock. Typically the only thing that's said in the huddle is the play call itself. This is part of the problem: In the NFL, these calls are absurdly long. With only 11 players on a side, there is really no reason other than inertia for there to be lengthy, polysyllabic bits of code to convey each player's assignment. But if that's how playbooks are written, then you really can't go no-huddle; it's impossible to shout "Scatter-Two Bunch-Right-Zip-Fire 22 Z-In Right-273-H-Pivot-F Flat" to a bunch of people scattered across the width of the field.

But led by Brady, things are changing. Almost all of the information in the play call above can be shortened to just a few words or numbers, or the relevant information can be conveyed to just the right people: Tell the receivers their assignment, the linemen theirs, and so on. And this is increasingly a necessity given the complexity of defenses: It's a lot easier to complete passes when you have a coherent idea of what the defense is doing. It's this defensive movement that's the difference between quarterbacking in college or the NFL. Pro and college teams run the same coverages and blitzes. There are just exponentially more disguises and variations in the NFL. [...]

 One of the downsides of the no-huddle is that the offense, like the defense, is unable to substitute. NFL coaches love their toys, and they spend a lot of time trying to outsmart each other by creating specific matchups. Belichick, by contrast, values versatility, and he has personnel--particularly his two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez--that allow him to be flexible. Gronkowski, if he's healthy, is a tremendous threat given his ability to decimate defenders on pass plays and as a run blocker. Hernandez, meanwhile, has recently added running the ball from the backfield to his typical repertoire of pass routes.

Belichick's use of Hernandez as a running back is the best example of how the Patriots outflank defenses. With no traditional runner in the game, Belichick can force the defense to substitute to a zero-running-back personnel grouping. Once they're in this pass-centric set-up, he can run the ball with Hernandez anyway. If the defense fails to react, the Patriots can simply drop back and run a pass play. And they can do this all with or without a huddle, and Brady can figure out his next move within seconds, on the fly.
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February 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 PM


Smarter Stats: Super Bowl Edition -- Giants' offense vs. Patriots' defense (Doug Farrar,  Shutdown Corner)

Eli Manning has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league with three-receiver sets through the 2011 season, but he wasn't successful at all out of that formation against the Patriots -- per Football Outsiders' game-charting, Manning threw 22 passes with three receivers on the field and competed just eight for 109 yards. Victor Cruz (Manning's not-so-secret slot weapon) was the targeted receiver on seven of those passes, and he caught two for 30 yards. That's interesting, because the Giants ran more plays out of three-wide than any team in the NFL, and the Patriots were at their worst defensively against that formation, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The Giants were scrambling because Nicks was out of the game, but it's the Patriots who will be scrambling if they don't run more defensive sets with extra DBs this time around. In the first half of Week 9, the Pats put five or six defensive backs on the field nine time when Manning threw a pass. Manning completed just three of those passes for 24 yards. The Pats didn't go nickel or dime at all in the second half, but they had a fairly decent reason. They lost two of their most important defensive players -- linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Patrick Chung -- during that game.

Those injuries really affected New England's defense. Before he was hurt, Chung was often tasked to hover about 8-15 yards off the line at the hash and beat the crap out of any seam receiver who came into that area, which limited Manning's options to underrated tight end Jake Ballard. Spikes was part of a linebacker corps that was responsible not only for dealing with New York's inside rushing attack, but also for reading run and helping to compensate when their cornerbacks (especially Devin McCourty) bit on play action -- and McCourty did that a lot

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 PM


Gingrich Patron Could Have a Plan B: Romney (JEFF ZELENY and JIM RUTENBERG, 2/04/12, NY Times)

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino executive keeping Newt Gingrich's presidential hopes alive, has relayed assurances to Mitt Romney that he will provide even more generous support to his candidacy if he becomes the Republican nominee, several associates said in interviews here.

The signals from Mr. Adelson, whose politics are shaped in large part by his support for Israel, reflect what the associates said was his deep investment in defeating President Obama and his willingness to play a more prominent role in the Republican Party and conservative causes.

The assurances have been conveyed in response to a highly delicate campaign by Mr. Romney and his top Jewish financial supporters to dissuade Mr. Adelson from adding to the $10 million that he and his wife have given to a pro-Gingrich "super PAC," Winning Our Future, that has been tearing into Mr. Romney through television advertising.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


The liberal case against Obama (Neal Gabler, FEBRUARY 04, 2012, Boston Globe)

[I]f you believe in the vitality of a robust Rooseveltian liberalism that can stand up to the right wing, then you might worry that Obama, by transforming the Democratic Party from an instrument for change into an instrument of compromise, and by legitimizing Republican talking points like deficit reduction over job creation, has fatally damaged progressivism - something far more important than the election prospects of any particular candidate. While his partisans say he had no choice, Obama seemed willing to burn down the Democratic Party to save it. Or at least he lit a match. And that may be the point today just as it was in the election 32 years ago. Sometimes, Ted Kennedy once famously declared, you have to sail against the wind. Sometimes you have to defy the conventional wisdom and sacrifice a candidate for a cause. For some liberals, those who believe in the good fight, this may turn out to be one of those times, just as 1980 was for Ted Kennedy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


The Success of Romney's Health-Care Pander (JAMELLE BOUIE, FEBRUARY 2, 2012, American Prospect)

Last year, at the University of Michigan, Mitt Romney gave a speech on health care to address his prior support for the individual mandate--the linchpin for the Affordable Care Act and Romneycare in Massachusetts. The core of his speech--and of his message on health care since then--was that it's unacceptable for the federal government to require health insurance for its citizens. As he said:

Our plan was a state solution to a state problem. And his is a power grab by the federal government to put in place a one size fits all plan across the nation.

Of course, this isn't true. The Affordable Care Act maintains the private health-insurance market and requires people to buy into it if they don't have insurance or qualify for Medicaid. If the ACA is a "one size fits all" plan, than by dint of similarity, Romneycare is the same.

It's for that reason that, at the time, I was skeptical of this whole maneuver. There was no way that conservatives could really believe Romney when he made the bogus distinction between his plan and the administration's. In the same way that discrimination is discrimination, whether it's practiced by local, state, or federal authorities, if the requirement to purchase health insurance is tyranny, then it's tyranny everywhere, regardless of how it's implemented.

As it turns out, I was completely wrong. Not only has Romney escaped any serious harm for his (huge) role in setting the template for "Obamacare" but his constant denunciations of the law have given him credibility with actual conservatives, who now endorse the former Massachusetts governor's logic on Romneycare. 

In order to be surprised by conservatives embracing conservative ideas you have to have ignored the way they likewise raged against W's NCLB act while insisting that all its provisions be enacted in their own states.  
Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


The 2016 Election, Already Upon Us (DAVID LEONHARDT, 2/03/12, WSJ)

Whoever the candidates turn out to be, they will inevitably need to define themselves in relation to Mr. Obama, even if they don't say so. (After George Bush called for a "kinder and gentler" society in his 1988 Republican convention speech, Nancy Reagan reportedly asked, "Kinder and gentler than whom?")

Mr. Obama cast himself in 2008 as a more ambitious Democrat than Bill Clinton had been, one who wanted to begin a new era of American politics, as Ronald Reagan had. Mr. Obama may yet succeed, at least partly, if he can win re-election and cement the legislation of his first two years.

Ideologically, however, he has largely followed Mr. Clinton's left-center playbook, preferring a mix of market-based and government solutions (like health-insurance exchanges) to a more radical approach (like Medicare for all). "The Obama presidency is not one in which the Democratic Party has been transformed," said Julian E. Zelizer, a Princeton historian. "Instead, it has been four and maybe eight years in which the path of the '90s was solidified."

A central question for 2016 is whether the mostly cohesive stitching of the left and center, a feature of both the Clinton and Obama years, will last. If not, Democrats could find themselves in the sort of turmoil that long characterized the party -- and that afflicted Republicans in 2008 and again this year.

The transition from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney would be almost as minor as the one from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush was.  The GOP, at the national level, is no worse than a mildly Third Way party (as witness the choice of the architect of Romneycare) and at best a full-fledged Third Way party (as witness nearly everything W did and wished to do).  

Democrats, on the other hand, have largely reacted against even the mild Third Way tendencies of Bill Clinton.  Al Gore, bizarrely, ran against that successful legacy; John Kerry was an extremely retrograde Second Way figure; and they opted against another nominal Clinton in '08, though they got one in practice.  

Their 2016 primaries, attempting to choose a successor to President "Obamney," will likely come down to either a truly Third Way governor (they basically all are at this point) or a Second Way Senator. It would be great for the country--as well as their party--if the rank and file could finally accept that the politics of the former represents the future.  But, as we've also seen in Republican reaction against W and Labour reaction against Tony Blair, it's not easy for either the former party of the First Way nor that of the Second to accept reality.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


No More Angling for the Best Seat; More Meetings Are Stand-Up Jobs (RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN, 2/04/12, WSJ)

Atomic Object, a Grand Rapids, Mich., software-development firm, holds company meetings first thing in the morning.

Employees follow strict rules: Attendance is mandatory, nonwork chitchat is kept to a minimum and, above all, everyone has to stand up.

Stand-up meetings are part of a fast-moving tech culture in which sitting has become synonymous with sloth. The object is to eliminate long-winded confabs where participants pontificate or tune out. Francesca Donner has details on Lunch Break.

Stand-up meetings are part of a fast-moving tech culture in which sitting has become synonymous with sloth. The object is to eliminate long-winded confabs where participants pontificate, play Angry Birds on their cellphones or tune out.

Atomic Object even frowns upon tables during meetings. "They make it too easy to lean or rest laptops," explains Michael Marsiglia, vice president. At the end of the meetings, which rarely last more than five minutes, employees typically do a quick stretch and then "go on with their day," he says.

...now replace the flooring with hot coals.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


JEFF The Brotherhood Brings The Noise To D.C. (NPR, February 3, 2012)

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Liberty, Equality, Hostility (GARY GUTTING, 2/03/12, NY Times)

[W]e have never gotten over the French Revolution.  The revolution introduced the basic liberal idea that government must be fundamentally democratic: that, as Lilla puts it, "we legitimately govern ourselves."  There is no sovereignty -- no king, no social or economic elite, apart from the people themselves -- that has ultimate political power.  We all, in principle, share in the power to govern ourselves.

But this idea led (or, at least, was feared to lead) to a much more radical one: that everyone should have an equal share in power.  Robin cites Edmund Burke: "The real object" of the French Revolution is "to break all those connections, natural and civil, that regulate and hold together the community by a chain of subordination."   Conservatism derived from the fear that the liberal project of democracy would destroy all the traditional privileges of men over women, employers over workers, rich over poor, educated over uneducated, whites over other races, and the like.

We are all today liberals in the sense that we accept universal political inclusion.  But we also tolerate and even support various forms of inequality, which amount to different degrees of political power.  Differences in wealth, education, job, gender, race and age all in fact correspond to differences in power.   Hardly anyone thinks all of these differences are bad, but conservatives on the whole think we have gone far enough or even too far in eliminating them, while liberals think that we are still far short of a proper distribution of power.

The Secret Appeal of 'Downton Abbey': Why do we adore a celebration of the British pecking order? Because social class is as American as apple pie (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 2/04/12, WSJ)

Americans like to think that they live in a classless society, which seems to accord better with the egalitarian promises of the Declaration of Independence. But this is nonsense: The Declaration promises people the right to the pursuit of happiness, not to happiness itself, much less to equal happiness.

The problem, however, is that marks of distinction and the fruits of effort tend to be hereditary, passed on from one generation to the next. Indeed, one of the reasons that people try to distinguish themselves in the first place is that they want to ease or improve the lives of those who come after them, particularly their own descendants.

So Americans uneasily both accept and reject the hereditary principle, a contradiction that's uncomfortable for them but very productive.

Contra Mr. Gutting, the Anglo-American model is premised on that pursuit--begin from equality of opportunity and the inequality of results is acceptable (within Christian limits).

The French-European model requires equality of results, even at the cost of our liberal values.

Mr. Gutting then is not ultimately noting a divide within liberalism but the way in which the Left has opposed liberalism, is, literally, anti-American.  

The struggle between the two models--in their variety of forms--was the Long War.

February 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 PM


TV prices plunge ahead of Super Bowl (Andrea Chang, 2/04/12, Los Angeles Times)

Whether the New England Patriots or the New York Giants win the Super Bowl this weekend, television buyers will be the ones scoring big.

Retailers have been slashing prices on big-screen HDTVs ahead of the big game, and are throwing in extras such as free delivery and installation, offers to pay the sales tax and complimentary Blu-ray players and 3-D glasses to attract customers.

"Consumers right now can definitely benefit," said Lisa Hatamiya, a research associate at market research firm IHS iSuppli, which tracks television sales data and trends. [...]

The swift rise in larger-screen, higher-quality sets has driven TV prices down for years, giving consumers more for their money, television experts say. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


An Update on Political Polarization (through 2011) - Part III: The Presidential Square Wave (voteview, 2/03/12)

[A]s seen below, President Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II, while President George W. Bush was the most conservative president in the post-war era.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Philippine Strike Kills 3 Terrorists (JAMES HOOKWAY, 2/03/12, WSJ)

The Philippines' military Thursday said it killed three of Southeast Asia's most-wanted al Qaeda-linked terrorists in an airstrike that could mark one of this key U.S. ally's biggest successes against Islamist militants operating in its remote, southern islands.

Army spokesman Marcelo Burgos said the dawn raid on a terrorist camp in Parang township on Jolo island killed Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan; Singaporean guerrilla Abdullah Ali; and a homegrown Abu Sayyaf leader, Umbra Jumdail, along with 12 other guerrillas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Romney's Tough Immigration View Is at Odds With His Church (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 2/03/12, NY Times)

The church was instrumental last year in passing controversial legislation in Utah that would provide "guest worker" permits to allow illegal immigrants with jobs to remain in the United States. The church also threw its weight behind the Utah Compact, a declaration calling for humane treatment of immigrants and condemning deportation policies that separate families, which has been adopted by several other states.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its reluctance to be seen as meddling in politics. But on immigration, the church actively lobbied legislators, sent Presiding Bishop H. David Burton to attend the bill signing and issued a series of increasingly explicit statements in favor of allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work.

The church's endorsement helped shift the debate on immigration in a Republican state where more than 80 percent of legislators are Mormons. It was the church's most overt involvement in politics since 2008, when it joined other conservative churches in the campaign to pass Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

"They were the defining factor in passing that immigration legislation," said Ronald Mortensen, a Mormon who is co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, which opposed it. "It was probably the most obvious intervention by the Mormon Church on any piece of legislation up here for years. They're usually a lot more subtle."

His witness on behalf of open borders will be all the more powerful for seeming to be driven by his faith.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Why We Shouldn't Attack Syria (Yet) (ROBERT A. PAPE, 2/03/12, NY Times)

A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide -- in which thousands have died and many thousands more are likely to die -- is occurring, a coalition of countries, sanctioned by major international and regional institutions, should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners.

The problem with his formulation is obvious it makes all the things he lists equal values, suggesting that we should countenance homicidal regimes if there is a risk of casualties or a lack of support from the UN or a shortage of allies or even a question about what will come after the regime change.  It effectively rules out all interventions.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Rocky Terrain: Obama's Electoral College Map Grows Steeper (Ronald Brownstein, February 2, 2012, National Journal)

In the 2011 numbers, the situation looks much more difficult for Obama. From 2010 to 2011, Gallup found, his average approval ratings dropped in every state except Connecticut, Maine and (oddly enough) Wyoming. As a result, to reach 270 Electoral College votes based on the 2011 numbers, he would need to win 20 states plus the District of Columbia where his approval rating stands at 44.5 percent or more. Since one of the states above that line is Georgia, which is also a stretch for Obama in practice, to reach 270 he would more likely need to carry Oregon and North Carolina, where his approval ratings stood at 44.5 percent and 43.7 percent, respectively. (It's worth filing away that the scenario based on either year's numbers - Virginia and North Carolina  stand right at the tipping point between victory and defeat for Obama.)

In sum then, Obama in 2010 could reach an Electoral College majority by carrying states where his approval rating stood at least at 46.6 percent, something that would be difficult but hardly impossible. To reach a majority based on the 2011 results, he'd need to carry states where his approval stood at 43.7 percent or above. That's a much more daunting prospect.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


10-Year-Old Accidentally Creates New Molecule in Science Class: Little Clara's tetranitratoxycarbon is brand new and explosive (Dan Nosowitz, 02.03.2012, Popular Science)

Clara Lazen is the discoverer of tetranitratoxycarbon, a molecule constructed of, obviously, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. It's got some interesting possible properties, ranging from use as an explosive to energy storage. Lazen is listed as the co-author of a recent paper on the molecule. But that's not what's so interesting and inspiring about this story. What's so unusual here is that Clara Lazen is a ten-year-old fifth-grader in Kansas City, MO.

Kenneth Boehr, Clara's science teacher, handed out the usual ball-and-stick models used to visualize simple molecules to his fifth-grade class. But Clara put the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms together in a particular complex way and asked Boehr if she'd made a real molecule. Boehr, to his surprise, wasn't sure. So he photographed the model and sent it over to a chemist friend at Humboldt State University who identified it as a wholly new but also wholly viable chemical.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


WAR HORSE: A REMARKABLE TRUE STORY FROM THE GREAT WAR (Giles Milton, January 2012, Surviving History)

He stood fearless and proud in readiness for the battle ahead.

He had already braved four years of warfare, including the battle of the Somme in 1916.

He had also survived the muddy hell of Passchendaele. Now, on 30 March, 1918, Warrior was to face his toughest assignment. This 20-year-old chestnut-brown gelding was to lead one of the last great cavalry charges in history.

His mission was to stop the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and his adventures were to prove every bit as extraordinary as those of Michael Morpurgo's fictional warhorse.

Warrior was one of the million horses sent to France between 1914 and 1918. Only 62,000 of these ever returned home.

They are forgotten victims of a conflict that pitted defenceless horses again tanks and machine guns.

Warrior belonged to General John Seely and both were born survivors. Legend has it that when Seely recommended Warrior for the Victoria Cross, his reasoning was simple: 'He went everywhere I did.'

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Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The Most Terrible Polar Exploration Ever: Douglas Mawson's Antarctic Journey (Mike Dash, 1/27/12, Smithsonian)

Even so, Mawson felt troubled by a series of peculiar incidents which--he would write later--might have suggested to a superstitious man that something was badly amiss. First he had a strange dream one night, a vision of his father. Mawson had left his parents in good health, but the dream occurred, he would later realize, shortly after his father had unexpectedly sickened and died. Then the explorers found one husky, which had been pregnant, devouring her own puppies. This was normal for dogs in such extreme conditions, but it unsettled the men--doubly so when, far inland and out of nowhere, a petrel smashed into the side of Ninnis's sledge. "Where could it have come from?" Mertz scribbled in his notebook.

Now a series of near-disasters made the men begin to feel that their luck must be running out. Three times Ninnis almost plunged into concealed cracks in the ice. Mawson was suffering from a split lip that sent shafts of pain shooting across the left side of his face. Ninnis had a bout of snow-blindness and developed an abcess at the tip of one finger. When the pain became too much for him to bear, Mawson lanced it with a pocket knife--without benefit of anesthetic.

On the evening of December 13, 1912, the three explorers pitched camp in the middle of yet another glacier. Mawson abandoned one of their three sledges and redistributed the load on the two others. Then the men slept fitfully, disturbed by distant booms and cracking deep below them. Mawson and Ninnis did not know what to make of the noises, but they frightened Mertz, whose long experience of snowfields taught him that warmer air had made the ground ahead of them unstable. "The snow masses must have been collapsing their arches," he wrote. "The sound was like the distant thunder of cannon."

Next day dawned sunny and warm by Antarctic standards, just 11 degrees below freezing. The party continued to make good time, and at noon Mawson halted briefly to shoot the sun in order to determine their position. He was standing on the runners of his moving sledge, completing his calculations, when he became aware that Mertz, who was skiing ahead of the sledges, had stopped singing his Swiss student songs and had raised one ski pole in the air to signal that he had encountered a crevasse. Mawson called back to warn to Ninnis before returning to his calculations. It was only several minutes later that he noticed that Mertz had halted again and was looking back in alarm. Twisting around, Mawson realized that Ninnis and his sledge and dogs had vanished.

Mawson and Mertz hurried back a quarter-mile to where they had crossed the crevasse, praying that their companion had been lost to view behind a rise in the ground. Instead they discovered a yawning chasm in the snow 11 feet across. Crawling forward on his stomach and peering into the void, Mawson dimly made out a narrow ledge far below him. He saw two dogs lying on it: one dead, the other moaning and writhing. Below the ledge, the walls of the crevasse plunged down into darkness.

Frantically, Mawson called Ninnis's name, again and again. Nothing came back but the echo.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM



In recognizing the continuing, and likely expanding, hegemony of the nation-state as the primary unit of global political, economic, and social organization, we need not deny the simultaneous expansion of cosmopolitan sympathies. Liberalization of government controls on trade and finance, greater cross-border immigration and global travel, and the constitution of something approaching a global public through mass media communication of serial cosmopol­itan "moments" all contribute to the spread of cosmopolitan sentiments. But those sympathies are likely to continue to exist alongside national identities and allegiances.

To be sure, global initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals and other antipoverty programs, as well as post-Cold War military interventions in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have been justified, to some extent, on cosmopolitan grounds. The US intervention in Libya, to take one recent example, appears to have involved a protracted debate within the Obama Administration between advocates of the cosmopolitan notion of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) and pragmatists opposed to the application of US military power in conflicts where there is no clear national interest. In this debate, the cosmopolitans appear to have prevailed.

But we should be careful not to read too much into these examples. In virtually every case, the nation-state remains the institution through which economic and military resources are deployed in service of cosmopolitan objectives. In many cases, it is often difficult to disentangle where national interest ends and cosmopolitan interest begins. The wars in the Balkans and the Middle East can just as easily be explained in terms of the national interests of the United States and its allies in defeating sponsors of terrorist attacks (Afghanistan), securing US regional military hegemony (Iraq and Libya), and averting destabilizing flows of refugees to Europe (a motivation behind European participation in the Balkan and Libyan wars), as through cosmopolitan ones. As such, even where cosmopolitan sentiments succeed in galvanizing national or international action in response to global and regional challenges, those responses are likely to only further establish the nation-state as the focal point for making those decisions and the primary institution through which such interventions are likely to be carried out.

The resulting organization of global affairs is better explained by liberal internationalism than by cosmopolitanism. In this view, nation-states, rather than individuals, corporations, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), will continue to be the main actors in world politics (though certainly not the only ones) for generations to come. Liberal internationalists maintain that all human beings have inalienable rights, which should be secured by governments resting on their consent. While those rights-securing governments may take various forms, the nation-state is the largest unit that has been able to combine effective government with a sense of solidarity among its citizens. The nation to which the state corresponds can be defined broadly, in terms of a shared culture and language, and it can be generous to minority nationalities that may share its territories. But there is a point at which linguistic and cultural diversity undermine the minimum of community needed to maintain a sense of shared citizenship. A global government would be a Tower of Babel which few would be willing to obey, to provide with taxes, or to support with military service.

Liberal internationalism answers the question of how the world can be organized, if each people, however defined, has a right to its own sovereign, accountable nation-state. The alternative to both Hobbesian anarchy and global cosmopolitanism is cooperation by nation-states. This cooperation can take the form of international law, international arbitration, and international agencies, as well as military alliances and concerts of power. But international is not supranational. Countries may delegate powers to international agencies for some purposes, but as long as the delegations are revocable, they are not surrendering sovereignty.

All America's wars boil down to nothing but the effort to allow each people to govern themselves.

February 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


At prayer breakfast and with birth-control decision, Obama riles religious conservatives (David Nakamura and Michelle Boorstein,

President Obama drew on the Bible and his interpretation of the Christian faith Thursday to deliver a sharp, if tacit, critique of his chief Republican rival's economic program, speaking at a forum that in the past has been largely free of electoral politics.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 PM


Cafe draws patrons despite prices: The introduction of King Arthur Flour Cafe was intended to promote the social atmosphere of Baker Main Hall following its renovation in early 2011. (Michael Riordan, February 2, 2012, The Dartmouth)

Many students interviewed by The Dartmouth expressed satisfaction with both King Arthur Flour's location and the quality of its food options, and said they willingly opt to purchase food from the cafe rather than use meal swipes elsewhere.

Gabriela Josebachvili '15, who said she likes "King Arthur Flour more than oxygen," frequents the cafe up to twice a day and said she considers King Arthur Flour the best dining option on campus.

"Their location within the library is very convenient, so I can go while I study," she said. "Their coffee is the best coffee on campus -- certainly better than Novack, which is the only other place to eat in the library."

Josebachvili said she switched from the SmartChoice dining plan offering 20 meals per week -- which members of the Class of 2015 were required to purchase during their first term -- to the option of five meals per week in order to spend more on meals at the cafe this term.

"On the 20-meal plan, I would just get coffee because meals were too expensive," she said. "Now I can get a sandwich or salad without feeling bad."

Phoebe Palmer '14 said that King Arthur Flour's main draw is its central location on campus.

"Location is probably the biggest factor -- I honestly like Collis much better," she said. "If King Arthur Flour wasn't in the library, I probably would barely go 

The relatively high price of items, with sandwiches costing around seven dollars with the addition of tax, is not a deterrent from eating at the cafe, she said. 
The College does not influence the price of items sold by independent vendors on campus, according to Anderson.

"King Arthur Flour is definitely expensive," Palmer said. "I'm from New York City, so I feel like I'm not as shocked by an eight or nine-dollar sandwich as I should be."

Zachary Myslinski '15 said he has only been to the cafe five times since the start of Fall term, often due to the long wait.

"Not only is the food expensive, but the lines are ridiculously inconvenient," he said. "It's more of a social space to meet people than a study area."

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Spain's big fix will enrage many workers (Charles Wallace, 2/02/12, FORTUNE)

Faced with the highest unemployment in the developed world and an economy skidding into a double dip recession, Spain is about to embark on a series of Reagan-style financial and labor market reforms whose success could affect the future of the entire euro project.

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told Fortune in an interview that the reform package would include two sweeping changes to the country's stringent labor rules with the goal of making it easier for companies to hire and fire staff and pay them according to their needs rather than meeting national regulations.

The other major initiative will be aimed at reducing the number of the country's problem banks by demanding that all institutions take hefty markdowns on their problem real estate loans.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:59 PM


Anonymous Expose Nazi Third Position 'Bridging Tactic' with Ron Paul (GIANLUCA MEZZOFIORE, February 2, 2012, IB Times)

The nationalist American Third Position Party (A3P) pursued a "bridging tactic" with the Ron Paul Revolution movement that support the Republican candidate for the White House, according to emails hacked by Anonymous. 

Calling for a "White uprising", A3P webmaster Jamie Kelso, whose email account was hacked by the collective, claims that his racist forum WhiteNewsNow is "the only W[hite] N[ationalist] forum working hard to form a bridge with the 100 times larger Ron Paul Revolution".

Other excerpts show Kelso's efforts in organising meetings between Ron Paul and other members of the A3P such as corporate lawyer William D. Johnson, chairman of the neo-Nazi A3P.

Johnson, who in 1985 proposed a constitutional amendment that would revoke the American citizenship of every non-white US citizen, founded the American Third Position along with anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald, professor at California State University, Long Beach.

"I'm going to go to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with Bill Johnson," reads an email to an A3P member dated January 2011. "Bill and I will be meeting with Ron and Ran Paul. I have a teleconference call with Bill (and Ron Paul) tonight. Much more later. Things are starting to happen (thanks to folks like you)."

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


The days the Giants beat the perefct Patriots (Paul Oberjuerge, Feb 3, 2012, The National)

For three quarters, the game was a 7-3 affair led by the Patriots, the 12-point favourites to win. What few appreciated was the damage the Giants, better in both lines, were doing in the battle of big men, softening up the presumptive champions. When the fourth quarter arrived, the best Super Bowl erupted.

The Giants sprinted 80 yards in six plays for a go-ahead touchdown pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree. That was not the biggest play those two would produce.

The Patriots responded with an 80-yard drive of their own, regaining the lead at 14-10 on a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Randy Moss with two minutes, 42 seconds to play, and that appeared to be that, the more accomplished team doing what they were supposed to do. Thanks, New York, for keeping it interesting.

The Giants, however, stunned the 70,000 in the University of Phoenix Stadium and nearly 100 million watching the game on television with an 83-yard drive that included the most amazing, astounding, ridiculous play in the history of the game.

On third-down-and-five, with the Giants still in their own half of the field and the punt team getting ready, Manning escaped heavy pressure (his jersey was nearly ripped off), rolled to his right and threw a long, desperately improvised pass towards Tyree, who was shadowed by Rodney Harrison, one of the finest defensive backs in the game.

Both men leapt for the ball. Tyree got his gloved hands on it, but one hand came off the ball as Harrison yanked at his right arm.

Tyree contrived to keep possession by pinning the ball, with his right hand, against his own helmet, something few have seen at any level of the game, and by the time he was on the ground he had secured it with both hands. (Replays showed the play to be even more remarkable than it appeared in real time.)

Four plays later, Manning threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to play, and a superior Super Bowl was in the books.

What made that game peculiar was that, despite nearly losing to the Giants during the regular season, the Pats--or, more accurately, Josh McDaniels--demonstrated a complete lack of respect for their opponents, starting with their first play from scrimmage, a bizarre fake end-around.  Happily, everyone is on board the Giants band wagon this time around and talking about the Pats even being blown out.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


...than Groundhog Day?
Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


After Lying About Providing Mammograms, Planned Parenthood Outraged That Breast Cancer Charity Cuts Off Grants (JOHN MCCORMACK, 2/02/12, Weekly Standard) 

Last spring, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards went on CNN and claimed that if Congress cut off funding to Planned Parenthood "millions of women are going to lose access, not to abortion services, to basic family planning, you know, mammograms." But as pro-life activist Lila Rose documented in a video, Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms.  [...]

"Wherever possible, we want to grant to the provider that is actually providing the lifesaving mammogram," [Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Komen foundation] said. 

Komen's Planned Parenthood decision all about politics (Lori Stahl, 2/02/12, Washington Post)

Brinker, a longtime GOP donor who was ambassador to Hungary under then-President George W. Bush, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2009. She has cast Komen as above politics, saying its focus is women's health.

But the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood comes shortly after Komen unveiled a new partnership that strengthens its ties to the George W. Bush Institute. The institute is the policy-making arm of Bush's presidential library, which is scheduled to open in Dallas next year.

Thanks, W!

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Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Exit Newt (R. EMMETT TYRRELL, JR., 2.2.12, American Spectator)

 Ah, yes, Newt Gingrich did in the last days of the Florida primary precisely what I predicted he would do. He hurled wild charges at Mitt Romney that suggested Newt was losing his grip. He charged Romney with lying and falling into the hands of George Soros and Goldman Sachs, and he did this while seeking the Republican presidential nomination!

Newt quoted Soros as saying, "We think either Obama or Romney's fine, but Gingrich, he would change things." Citing Goldman Sachs' profiting from the bailout, he linked the Wall Street firm to anti-Gingrich ads, filling in the dots: "Those ads," he averred, "are your money recycled to attack me." On Sunday, he suggested that Rick Santorum drop out of the race and support him. Santorum had left the campaign trail to be with his desperately ill daughter. That is the kind of grace we have come to expect from Gingrich, who, by the way, supplied no evidence of Goldman Sachs' or of Soros's aiding Romney.

Newt lost support in his last week in Florida because conservatives gave him a closer look. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Mitt Romney makes leap with Hispanics (Aaron Blake, 02/02/2012, Washington Post)

One of Romney's more remarkable turnarounds in the Florida primary between 2008 and 2012 was among the state's many Hispanic voters. While he increased his vote share overall by 12 points, from 31 percent to 43 percent, he increased his performance among Hispanics by 40, from 14 percent in 2008 to 54 percent on Tuesday, according to exit polls.

That's a pretty huge improvement, but how much does it mean going forward?

In reality, Romney's tiny share of the Hispanic vote in 2008 seemed to be at least partially about who he was running against, versus any issues Hispanics had with him.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), after all, was the chief Republican behind comprehensive immigration reform -- indeed, one of the only Republicans behind it -- and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has long had a good relationship with the Hispanic community, including taking 43 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 1997 mayor's race.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Five Paths Forward for G.O.P. Nomination (NATE SILVER, 2/01/12, NY Times)

What Happens Next -- The Long Version: Mr. Romney gets a lift in national polls and takes a considerable lead in most surveys. He easily wins next week's caucuses, building further momentum. He begins to roll out more endorsements, including some important and surprising ones from conservative leaders who are trusted by the Republican base. Rick Santorum drops out and either endorses Mr. Romney outright or otherwise makes clear that he considers Mr. Romney the most acceptable choice. Newt Gingrich either drops out or reverts to running a half-hearted campaign.

Popular attention to the nomination race dwindles, and the news media's focus shifts to the general election. The outcome of Super Tuesday is a foregone conclusion. Any further losses that Mr. Romney takes are a result of special circumstances -- for instance, to Mr. Gingrich in Mr. Gingrich's home state of Georgia.

Precedent: The 2000 Republican race is the best example of a contest in which the front-runner, George W. Bush, lost a couple of early states but was perhaps never in any real danger of losing the nomination.

The Evidence For: This is a fairly common path, historically speaking. Nominations are generally not won without at least a few twists and turns -- in the modern primary era, Al Gore was the only non-incumbent to sweep all 50 states.

There is also theoretical evidence for this scenario in the political science scholarship. A nomination race is a delegate-counting contest in theory, but if at all possible, the nominee is picked by consensus, with influential party leaders nudging the process along if it seems to go astray. Mr. Romney is the clear choice of party leaders, having far more endorsements than any other candidate. He was also the only candidate deemed to be acceptable by a majority of Republicans in a January Gallup survey.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM

"SAY HOWDY TO GEORGE" (via The Other Brother):

Former Slave's Letter to 'Old Master' is a Cheeky Must-Read (JULIA GREENBERG, 2/01/12, IB Times)

A captivating letter from a former slave to his "old master" has resurfaced online.The letter is a response from ex-slave, Jourdon Anderson, after his former owner, Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tenn., asked Jourdon to return to his farm to work after more than 30 years of servitude. The must-read letter's expression is cheeky, but clear.

Jourdon responds to the request in a letter written on Aug. 7, 1986. By August 1865, Jourdon had already been emancipated, had moved to Ohio, had found paid work and was supporting his family of five.

According to a statement from the New York Daily Tribune in 1965, the letter was dictated aloud by the former slave. The letter's expression is cheeky, but clear. Unsurprisingly, Jourdan expresses his hesitance and unwillingness to return to Anderson's farm.

"Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living," Jourdan writes.


Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Press Man: Why They Wept for Hitchens (Andrew Ferguson -- February 2012, Commentary)

As I say, I'm not so sure that Hitchens would have welcomed a hit-obit directed at himself, though I think he would have been pleased if everyone else believed he was the sort of person who would welcome it, in an amused, all's-fair spirit. In the event, no hit-obit of any consequence appeared. What he got instead from the world of mainstream journalism was an outpouring of love and praise that was staggering in its dimensions. The fabled jadedness of the wizened American journalist disappears at the oddest times. Certain details and themes recurred in the graveyard prose: the heroic drinking, for example, and the astounding productivity, and the unlikelihood that the drinking and productivity should be found in the same person. His bravery at his life's end was noted, and his expansive, seemingly indiscriminate gift for friendship.

And then, as always in gushers like this, there were the failures of taste and tone. Andrew Sullivan, a well-known blogger, reprinted a New York magazine story about his arrival at a Hitchens party: Sullivan, the magazine reported, "greeted [the host] with a hug and a kiss. 'I want tongue. Give me tongue,' Hitchens implored, to no avail." Sullivan offered his readers this story through "suddenly unstoppable tears." It was left to other journalists to give Hitchens, at least in words, what Sullivan had so cruelly denied him in fact. "He was a wild and beautiful boy," wrote the left-wing activist Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. "The thirty or so years that we were friends are studded..." etc.

Her 30 years beats my 25, which I hope you remember from this column's opening line. Mayer's piece and the other tributes demonstrated that mawkish self-flattery is unavoidable among journalists when they compete to advertise their intimacy with the famous. I wish I kept a list of everyone who modestly admitted they "didn't know Hitch well" but nonetheless recalled an encounter with him in which he recognized, with mystical discernment, their soul-deep connection. ("I had passed the only test that mattered to him," wrote one editor...)

Most unexpected of all, at least by me, was the overpraise for Hitchens's habits of mind, and for his politics, which supposedly placed him courageously at odds with the establishment. "He offered a model of how to think," wrote one grief-stricken acquaintance. The PBS historian Simon Schama mourned the "unfillable space where his prose rocked and rolled in face of the demure, the hypocritical, and the ignorantly self-important."

Such excess obscures the most obvious conclusion we can draw from Hitchens's politics, which is that he was a crank. In the early 1980s he was convinced that the Reagan administration had colluded in the Soviet Union's downing of the airliner KAL 007. A few years later he was a vigorous promoter of the "Secret Team" theory that fit the Iran-contra scandal into a world-girding conspiracy of international bankers and private militias. A handful of memorialists dismissed his hatred of Bill Clinton as a lapse in judgment, but maybe you had to be there to see how unhinged it was: He really did believe that Clinton had been an accessory to the murder of a pair of hillbillies back in Arkansas. And the Queen, that "whore," was almost as evil as the Albanian dwarf. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Could Wales leave the United Kingdom?: Talk of independence is growing - and the referendum in Scotland in 2014 is eagerly awaited. But could Wales really break free from England - and stand on its own? (John Harris, 2/01/12, guardian.co.uk)

As if to underline the idea that politics in Wales defies the staid norms of Westminster, both front-runners in the Plaid leadership contest are women. Wood's closest rival is 45-year-old Elin Jones from west Wales, whose odds of winning are currently put at evens. She is a much more strait-laced presence, but is equally convinced that the next few years could jump-start the case for Welsh independence. "If Scotland becomes an independent country, the UK ceases to exist," she tells me. "You get a combination of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Now, is that a country? Well, no, it's definitely not a country. Is it a state? It's so imbalanced that you couldn't make it up if you were starting from scratch. All that calls into question a huge number of issues about the future of what might be left, post-2014.

"I've said quite clearly that over the next 12 months I want to see us define a route map for independence in Wales," she says. "Two consecutive Plaid Cymru victories in an election could trigger an independence referendum. That could happen as early as 2020."

This, undoubtedly, is over-excited talk - but if you buy the idea that the UK is fracturing, and that Alex Salmond's success may not represent the only proof, there is still a specific Welsh story to tell. It may not point to independence - nor, given that large swaths of Wales remain firmly dominated by Labour, mean any huge advance for Plaid Cymru. But it says a lot about the increasingly separate journeys taken by Wales, Scotland and England, and the hugely uncertain future the UK now faces.

Not that many English people have been paying much attention, but since the late 1990s, devolution has inevitably created a specific and self-contained Welsh politics. Last year, a referendum granted the Welsh government full law-making powers in 20 fundamental areas, from health to transport, and an official commission is now looking at extending devolution yet further. On arriving here, you only need glance at the Western Mail to get an instant sense of a different reality: on the day I visit, the front page is taken up by stories about the Cardiff-produced Doctor Who, and the Welsh soccer star Craig Bellamy, along with the injured rugby internationals Dan Lydiate, Gethin Jenkins and Rhys Priestland, and Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones's latest attack on the coalition in London. "Dragging Wales to edge of double-dip recession," says the splash. "First minister hits out at UK government."

Big policy differences between Cardiff and Westminster extend into the distance. There are no Sats tests in Welsh schools, and until they are seven, children in primary education follow a "foundation phase" based on ideas from Finland and Italy, and built around "play and active involvement rather than completing exercises in books". Prescriptions are free, and the Welsh NHS will be unaffected by Andrew Lansley's market-based revolution. When the coalition in London raised tuition fees to £9,000, the government in Cardiff guaranteed to meet the cost of the increase for any student who lives in Wales. As with Scotland, there is a sharp sense of a shared politics well to the left of what prevails in England: I lived in Wales between 2004 and 2009, and though its brand of Celtic social democracy is far from perfect, there's a palpable sense of a society run along kinder, more communitarian ideas than those that hold sway to the east.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


The human capital imperative: bringing more minds to America (Nick Schulz, 1/31/12, National Chamber Foundation)

Over the past few decades, economists, social scientists, and other scholars have begun to realize the importance of "human capital" to a nation's economic success. When we think of capital, we typically think of hard assets that can produce income over time, such as factories, farm equipment, and manufacturing plants. Human capital is another kind of capital. It is the stock of talent, skill, know-how, intelligence, education, and experience embedded within individuals that helps them to produce income.

Consider what this means for the American economy as it has changed over time. The American economy transitioned from largely agricultural roots in the 18th century to an industrial power in the 19th and 20th centuries to include a large service and advanced technology dimension today. Over that time, as sophisticated technology has penetrated to the center of economic life, the role played in the American economy by human capital has grown steadily larger. Greater amounts of human capital are required to develop and manipulate the technology that drives the economy. The American economy has gone from one that emphasizes brawn to one that relies on brains.

How important is this human capital? According to recent estimates, the stock of human capital is over $750 trillion. According to a research report from JP Morgan called "U.S. Recession and Repression Are Only in Our Minds," this is much greater than the roughly $70 trillion of physical and financial assets owned by American households.

Opposition to immigration isn't just antihuman, it's anticapitalist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Emlen Tunnell: The Giants' Greatest Packer (BILL PENNINGTON, 1/14/12, NY Times)

Emlen Tunnell, a star defender for the glittering, magnetic Giants, had been summoned to Green Bay. It was 1959, and the new Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, traded for Tunnell, ending his run of 11 record-setting seasons in New York.

A longtime Giants assistant, Lombardi was plotting a thorny overhaul of the bumbling Packers and needed allies from his roots. Tunnell, a dynamic safety and a Manhattan fixture in the golden era of New York sports, gamely made the trip halfway across the country to northeastern Wisconsin.

On arrival in his new home, Tunnell was told he had just doubled the black population in Green Bay. The city's other African-American, Tunnell heard, was the shoeshine man at the Hotel Northland.

"Well, I'll live there, then," Tunnell said.

And so he did. Lombardi paid the rent, which seemed well worth it to ensure Tunnell's contentment.

Tunnell, then 34, was brought to Green Bay to help instill the tenacious Giants defensive philosophy in the Packers, to school them in the confrontational ways of their new coach and, not insignificant, to make it possible for Lombardi to entice more African-American players to nearly all-white Green Bay.

And how did Lombardi know Tunnell could handle all that? Because Tunnell had performed many of the same duties for the Giants, beginning in 1948, when he was the first black player to suit up for them -- and then, in a game against the Packers, intercepted three passes.

In the N.F.L., where the sidelines always seem crowded with helmeted, faceless warriors whose careers are often brief, the everlasting worth and contribution of even gifted players can pass unnoticed, especially for those from the era before television. As the Giants and the Packers prepare for their divisional playoff game here Sunday, the remarkable life of Emlen Tunnell is a rarely recalled tale of a landmark player for each franchise.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Fungi Discovered In The Amazon Will Eat Your Plastic (Michael J. Coren, Fast CoExist)

The group of students, part of Yale's annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory with molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, ventured to the jungles of Ecuador. The mission was to allow "students to experience the scientific inquiry process in a comprehensive and creative way." The group searched for plants, and then cultured the microorganisms within the plant tissue. As it turns out, they brought back a fungus new to science with a voracious appetite for a global waste problem: polyurethane. [...]

The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and--even more surprising--do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Romney, Gingrich and the Power of Ideas: The front-runner is tilted too heavily toward biography and not nearly enough toward policy. (KARL ROVE, 2/02/12, WSJ)

While traditional news organizations have been balanced or slightly favorable in their coverage of Mr. Romney, the GOP blogosphere has been decidedly negative on him all January, pointing to continuing unease among conservatives. [...]

The Romney campaign is tilted too heavily toward biography and not nearly enough toward ideas. It should make its mantra a line from President Ronald Reagan's final address to the nation: "I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things."

Mr. Romney showed he knows how to take an opponent down; now he needs to show the ability to build himself and the rationale for his candidacy up. He should become bolder in his prescriptions, presenting a confident agenda for economic growth and renewed prosperity through reforms of tax, regulatory and energy policies.

There's no reason he can't, or shouldn't do so. While Mr. Gingrich called Congressman Paul Ryan's entitlement reforms "right-wing social engineering," Mr. Romney complimented them last November. He can refresh that speech and give it again. He can also build on his best moments in recent debates, when he unapologetically and passionately defended free enterprise. Far better to best Mr. Gingrich in the weeks ahead by taking the fight to President Obama, challenging the incumbent's unpleasant attempt to appeal to envy and resentment.

...is ending up like Mr. Obama, elected but with nothing you want to do with your presidency.  His comments yesterday about helping the middle class--rather than the upper and lower, which don't need it--were a good start, provided he explains what that help is--accounts for Health, Retirement, unemployment, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Obama Approval Above 50% in 10 States and D.C. in 2011: District of Columbia, Hawaii most approving; Utah, Idaho, least (Jeffrey M. Jones, 1/31/12, Gallup)

Obama's approval rating at the state level provides some insight into his chances to win an Electoral College majority. He would seem to be well-positioned in the states in which his approval rating was above 50% last year, including three of the larger states in California, New York, and Illinois. The states with majority approval of Obama in 2011 account for 159 electoral votes. Obama won all of those states' electoral votes in the 2008 election.

On the other hand, states in which his approval rating was below 40% seem less likely to recover enough to allow Obama to claim their electoral votes this fall. Those states account for 153 electoral votes. All except New Hampshire voted for John McCain in 2008.

Thus, the key to Obama's winning a second term lies in the states whose approval rating is in the 40% range, which account for the remaining 226 electoral votes and include traditional "swing states" such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Obama won the vast majority of these states in 2008.

Gallup and USA Today have identified 12 swing states that will be vitally important in this year's election, and Obama's job approval rating within those states ranges from 39% in New Hampshire to 48% in Michigan.

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February 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


The Big Game's Best D ... Isn't Good (Carl Bialik, 2/01/12, WSJ)

[B]y three prominent objective measures, which adjust for opponent strength, more than half of the NFL was better than the Giants and Pats at stopping opposing offenses.

Advanced NFL Stats and Football Outsiders, two outfits that rank teams by how well they do in given down-and-distance situations against opposing offenses of a certain quality, are not impressed in the least by the defensive sides of the 2011-2012 conference champs. Advanced NFL Stats ranks the Pats 27th out of 32 teams in terms of points they'd be expected to have allowed, based on their performance. The Giants aren't much better, at 24th in the NFL. At Football Outsiders, the Giants rank 20th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, while the Pats are a dismal 30th.

Meanwhile, Pro Football Reference's Simple Rating System -- which accounts only for points scored and allowed, and opponent strength in those characteristics -- has the Pats tied for 17th and the Giants in 23rd. By SRS, the Pats yielded 0.1 point more per game than the average team would have against its schedule, while the Giants yielded 1.5 points more per game.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


St. Mary's puts the chemistry in baking (Jackie Burrell, 2/01/12, Bay Area News Group)

It's not often you see scientists clearing off their lab tables with dough scrapers.

But when the lab belongs to St. Mary's College chemistry professor Michelle Shulman, all bets are off. Crime scenes littered the lab during one January term, and art restoration equipment and paintings were splayed over the tables for another course.

So no one blinked when Shulman stocked her chem lab last month with King Arthur flour, gluten-free baking mixes and Kitchen Aid mixers for a four-week course on the science of baking.

Each January, students at this small liberal arts college in Moraga are encouraged to step outside their major to sample other curricular fare. Professors have grown savvy about marketing their "Jan Term" topics to students who might not otherwise enroll in a class on, say, the history of the Huns and Longobards though you can bet they'll take a class dubbed "Barbarians!!!" that includes falcons, Vikings and a medieval ball.

But who needs Vikings when you've got cinnamon rolls?
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Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Romney on the safety net; anti-Romney media still unhinged (Jennifer Rubin, 2/01/12, Washington Post)

Fresh from his win in Florida and a thumping for Newt Gingrich (and his right-wing media shills), Mitt Romney uttered these words in an interview on CNN this morning, which once again have sent the perpetually aghast on the right and left into a tizzy:

Mitt Romney: "They want someone who they have confidence in. I believe I will be able to instill that confidence in the American people. By the way, I'm in this race, because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I'll continue to take that message across the nation."

That's a pitch perfect theme for the General: the rich don't need help from anyone, let alone government; the poor already get plenty of help from government; what's needed are programs that can help the middle class.  [That they also help the poor is a bonus.] 

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Newt Gingrich's Nevada campaign appears in disarray (Amy Gardner, 2/01/12, Washington Post)

The former House speaker abruptly canceled a meeting with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval after his campaign had arranged the photo opportunity at Sandoval's office in Carson City. Not even Gingrich's campaign advisers know why the campaign scheduler called it off, irking them and those in Sandoval's office who had helped set up the event. [...]

Other signs of disarray appeared Wednesday. Gingrich's schedule called for a 1 p.m. rally in Reno, but volunteers put out word that the event would be at noon -- and that supporters should show up at 11:30. Gingrich is regularly late to his campaign events -- he showed up nearly two hours behind schedule to one rally in Tampa on Monday, prompting some supporters to leave before the candidate spoke.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


For Romney campaign, race unfolding almost precisely as predicted (Dan Balz, 2/01/12, Washington Post)

Romney's advisers knew that two of the first five states were trouble: Iowa and South Carolina. They saw New Hampshire and Florida as firewalls to protect against multiple defeats that could unravel the former Massachusetts governor's fragile front-runner status. They saw Nevada as they see it today, an exclamation point that could give their candidate enormous advantages heading into a slow month that could starve rivals desperate for attention and a victory.

Take the five early states in sequence. Iowa was a problem for Romney because its caucuses are dominated by the kind of Republican voters least likely to love him. Evangelical Christians and very conservative Republicans are not the governor's natural constituency. Romney poured millions into the state in 2008 and still got whipped by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. His advisers vowed not to make that mistake again.

This time they handled Iowa deftly, playing down expectations through most of last year, forgoing participation in the costly and ultimately irrelevant Iowa straw poll, and hoping they might do unexpectedly well with a late push. On that they succeeded, ahead by eight votes on the night of the caucuses and surrendering that apparent victory to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum only when it no longer mattered.

Anticipating a loss in Iowa, Romney's campaign team took no chances in New Hampshire. Romney spent a year or more securing his base there. Parsimonious with his campaign appearances in most states through much of last year, Romney slighted New Hampshire less than any other. He rounded up establishment leaders -- elected and otherwise -- and reached out as best he could to tea party activists. He was rewarded with a very big victory -- bigger than some had expected.

South Carolina always loomed as Romney's weakest of the early states. He was something of a misfit for the electorate there -- a Northerner in a Southern state; a moderate governor in a land of conservatives; a Mormon among evangelicals. He finished a poor fourth there in 2008 after essentially ditching the state in the final week of campaigning. He knew a loser when he saw it.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Romney to get Secret Service protection (Sarah B. Boxer, 1/31/12, CBS News)

Mitt Romney will be getting secret service by Thursday, CBS News and National Journal have confirmed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Mitt Romney finally shows some backbone and it leads him to win in Florida primary (THOMAS M. DEFRANK, 2/01/12,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

It wasn't his campaign's brains and brawn that made the difference. It was the candidate's backbone, on graphic if belated display, that propelled Mitt Romney to a game-changing Florida win.

Romney will never totally dispel those whispers on the Republican far right that he lacks ideological conviction.

But his muscular performance in last week's two debates did more than dismember Newt Gingrich and retrieve the momentum Romney dissipated in South Carolina.

He also offered skeptics desperate to be rid of President Obama compelling evidence he has the inner steel and brawler's DNA to get in an incumbent President's face this fall -- arguably the last great hurdle to his inevitability.

"You can't have an aggressive strategy without an aggressive candidate," one of Romney's confidants told the Daily News. "Only the candidate can demonstrate real strength, and he showed his spine at exactly the right moment."

Reportedly, the reason Jeb didn't endorse this week was precisely so that Mitt could be seen to have won on his own.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Is J.C. Penney the future of retail? (Hibah Yousuf, 2/01/12, CNNMoney)

On Wednesday, the company launched its "Fair and Square" pricing plan --the one featured in those maddening commercials with shoppers screaming "Noooooooooooo!" in frustration at complicated sale signs and coupons.

Rather than luring in customers with frequent sales that offer them deep discounts, J.C. Penney (JCP, Fortune 500) will introduce an "everyday price" that is essentially a permanent discount of at least 40% on all items.

Here's an example. A women's T-shirt regularly priced at $14 in 2011 will now have an "everyday price" of $7, the retailer said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Asperger's History of Over-Diagnosis (PAUL STEINBERG, 1/31/12, NY Times)

[P]eople with social disabilities are not necessarily autistic, and giving them diagnoses on the autism spectrum often does a real disservice. An expert task force appointed by the American Psychiatric Association is now looking into the possibility of changing the way we diagnose Asperger. True autism reflects major problems with receptive language (the ability to comprehend sounds and words) and with expressive language. Pitch and tone of voice in autism are off-kilter. Language delays are common, and syntactic development is compromised; in addition, there can be repetitive motor movements.

Eventually, biological markers, now in the beginning stages of development, will help in separating autism-spectrum disorders from social disabilities. For example, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have recently developed three-dimensional brain scans that look at brain wiring. In preliminary studies people with autism-spectrum disorders appear to have too much wiring and disorganized wiring in areas involved with language acquisition.

Nevertheless, children and adults with significant interpersonal deficits are being lumped together with children and adults with language acquisition problems. Currently, with the loosening of the diagnosis of Asperger, children and adults who are shy and timid, who have quirky interests like train schedules and baseball statistics, and who have trouble relating to their peers -- but who have no language-acquisition problems -- are placed on the autism spectrum. [...]

A 1992 United States Department of Education directive contributed to the over-diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. It called for enhanced services for children diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum and for children with "pervasive developmental disorder -- not otherwise specified (P.D.D.-N.O.S.)," a diagnosis in which children with social disabilities could be lumped. The diagnosis of Asperger syndrome went through the roof. Curiously, in California, where children with P.D.D.-N.O.S. were not given enhanced services, autism-spectrum diagnoses did not increase.

What a deal, you can not only treat a kid's awkwardness as if it were a disease but get money for it.