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.