March 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


May shapes German imagination 100 years on (Deeutsche-Welle, 3/30/12))

You can gain a sense of May's unrelenting popularity in Germany from the sheer number of fan clubs that meet regularly here around the country. At the "Karl May Society" in Leipzig alone, often over 50 members attend meetings - complete with lectures from literature professors - to discuss aspects of the author's life and work.

One of those members, Jenny Florstedt, said on the occasion of the group's 250th meeting in Leipzig that she was fascinated above all by May's "imaginative narrative":

"It's kind of like reading the German version of Sherlock Holmes," Florstedt told DW, adding that "[May] creates another world, and you can go in and ride with his heroes in another country, in the plains ... It's a chance to leave the world you find here."

Werner Geilsdörfer, an internationally recognized May commentator who gave a lecture at the 250th meeting, added that May's romanticized depiction of the Wild West - though never having been there when he wrote his novels - essentially shaped the way Germans view the American frontier.

"Without Karl May we, the Germans, would all see the Wild West and the nascent developments in the United States in a different light. And this vision has been passed down through the generations. If you see a young girl or boy here today dressing up as a cowboy or Indian, you have a good idea where it's come from."
As bizarre as it may seem, it's not all that rare to see German children dressed up as American Indians or Cowboys during Carnival, which is celebrated primarily in western German cities.

In eastern Germany, where May comes from, there are "Karl-May-Festivals" every year that feature theatrical presentations of his novels. This has become an institution for many German families, one where children of all ages can enter the fantastical worlds of Winnetou the Apache chief and Old Shatterhand the heroic cowboy - two of May's most famous characters.

Germany's Best-Loved Cowboy: The Fantastical World of Cult Novelist Karl May (Jan Fleischhauer, 3/30/12, Der Spiegel)

There is no question that May created heroes that entered the collective mythology. There was the Native American Chief Winnetou, of course, or "The Red Gentleman," as he was once referred to in a subtitle in his famous series of novels. Then there was Winnetou's German friend and blood brother Old Shatterhand. But the indestructible German traveler of the Orient, Kara Ben Nemsi, whose popularity surpassed that of all of May's other characters while the author was still alive. Only after May's death did Chief Winnetou become his most beloved fictional character, partly as a result of the popular films with Pierre Brice and Lex Barker that were shown in theaters starting in 1962.

But his works remain adventure literature, driven by the author's desire to dream his way out of the narrow confines of his real life, a unique mixture of genius and triviality. May introduced his readers to people and landscapes they had known only by name, capitalizing on a yearning for distant places that was just as prevalent in the late 19th century as it is today.

Still, May didn't stop at dreaming. Through his literature, he transformed his own life. For him, writing was initially a way of finding himself, and later a way of rescuing himself. In this sense, he could be seen as an early advocate of the modern age.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Unsinkable (L. JON WERTHEIM, 4/02/12, Sports Illustrated)

The grass courts were green, the collars were white and, at least to the casual observer, the fourth-round match at the Longwood Bowl in Boston on July 18, 1912, was typical of that year's U.S. lawn tennis circuit. Richard Williams, a 21-year-old upstart from Philadelphia, faced Karl Behr, 27, a veteran from New York City. Though a "tennis generation" apart in age, the two men cut similar figures: handsome Ivy Leaguers of East Coast patrician stock. (Behr was a Yale man; Williams would enter Harvard that fall.) Both were at home at the tournament's venue, the Longwood Cricket Club, whose wealthy members often arrived in high style, piloting a new mode of transit: the automobile.

This was top-level tennis 100 summers ago: men in starched polo shirts, long pants, leather shoes and stoic expressions, using wooden rackets strung with beef or sheep gut to bat the ball around for hours in the afternoon sun. They might reconvene afterward in the clubhouse for a brandy, perhaps stopping first to call back to the office. In the era before prize money, many of the male players moonlighted as lawyers or bankers.

From the clubhouse the winners would repair to their rooms to prepare for the next day's matches; the losers would throw on seersucker suits and head for Newport (R.I.) or Merion (Pa.) or Chevy Chase (Md.), whichever moneyed enclave was hosting the next tournament. But in 1912 some of the losers at Longwood might have stayed on for a day to check out a baseball game nearby at newly opened Fenway Park.

The Williams-Behr match was full of precise shotmaking, savvy tactics and gyrating momentum. The lanky, dark-haired Williams brought his aggression and superior athleticism to bear and won the first two sets. Then the sturdier Behr, who wore wire-rimmed glasses and held back his sandy hair with a not-yet-voguish headband, surged and gradually wore down Williams's resistance. Over five gripping sets the veteran beat the newcomer 0--6, 7--9, 6--2, 6--1, 6--4.

It was a classic match by any measure, two future Hall of Famers exploring the limits of their talent. Fans ringing the court applauded lustily, and the other players toasted the two men as they walked off at the end. The following day's New York Times gushed that the match "was declared by old-timers to be one of the hardest fought tennis battles seen during the 22 years of tournaments at Longwood."

Something gave the encounter a deeper texture, however. Few press reports mentioned it, and those that did hardly played it up. Certainly neither Williams nor Behr discussed it openly. Nor did the fans at Longwood seem to be aware of it. But just 12 weeks earlier--and 100 years ago next month--the two players, traveling separately, had survived the most famous maritime disaster in history.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


The Roots of Hardship: Despite massive amounts of aid, poor countries tend to stay poor. Maybe their institutions are the problem. (WILLIAM EASTERLY, 3/30/12, WSJ)

Much of European colonization was extractive, since either no Europeans or only a small minority of them settled in the colonies for the long haul. That North America was different was due to the majority middle class of family farmers that settled it, compared with a minority European elite in South America. Extractive institutions also produce more violence as rival elites fight over the reins of power--which helps to explain South America's long history of military coups and civil wars.

"Why Nations Fail" also offers this crucial insight: Experts cannot engineer prosperity with the right advice to rulers on policies and institutions. Rulers "get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose." Change happens only when a broad coalition revolts, forcing the elite to allow more pluralistic political competition (e.g., the Glorious Revolution in England, the Meiji overthrow of Japanese feudalism and Botswana's democratic ouster of British colonizers).

Extractive states can have bursts of growth. After all, even a kleptocratic elite will covet a larger economy ripe for plundering. The elites have an incentive to invest in their own businesses. But authoritarian growth miracles cannot last. As economists have understood since Joseph Schumpeter in the 1940s, sustained economic growth requires "creative destruction," as new technologies replace old ones. The booming Chinese economy may look impressive today, but for Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson, China's leaders revealed a critical flaw in 2003 when they arrested Dai Guofang and sentenced him to five years in prison.

What was Mr. Dai's crime? He had dared to start a low-cost steel company that would compete with Party-sponsored factories. Members of an extractive elite will not allow creative destruction to eliminate their own enterprises; the potential of existing technologies is fully exploited, but no innovation develops--and growth cannot be sustained. Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson note that the Soviets experienced rapid growth in the 1950s and 1960s but then, hamstrung by an economy unable to innovate, fell into stagnation and collapse. The authors make a bold prediction: "The spectacular growth rates in China will slowly evaporate," and the Chinese will ultimately follow the Soviet trajectory.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Harry Crews, Writer of Dark Fiction, Is Dead at 76 (MARGALIT FOX, 3/29/12, NY Times)

Harry Eugene Crews was born on June 7, 1935, in Alma, Ga., a rural community near the Okefenokee Swamp where, he later wrote, "there wasn't enough cash money in the county to close up a dead man's eyes." There was rarely enough to eat; local people supplemented their diet with clay for the minerals it contained.

His father, Ray, a tenant farmer, died before Harry was 2. Not long afterward his mother, Myrtice, married Ray's brother, a violent alcoholic.

"We lived on a series of tenant farms," Mr. Crews told The New York Times in 1978. "The kinds of places where you could lay awake at night and look through the roof and see the stars and you could fish for chickens through the big wide cracks in the floor by tying a piece of tobacco twine to a fish hook."

Young Harry loved stories, but there were few books to be had. Instead, his narrative gifts took root in the Sears Roebuck catalog. "Things were so awful in the house that I'd fantasize about the people in the catalog," he said in the same interview. "They all looked so good and clean and perfect, and then I'd write little stories about them."

When Harry was about 5, an illness, possibly polio, paralyzed his legs for a time, causing them to fold up behind him in unremitting spasm. A parade of family, faith healers and the merely curious passed before his sickbed, gawking, he later said, as if he were something in a carnival.

About a year later, recovered from his illness, he fell into a cauldron of scalding water used to slough the skin off slaughtered hogs. It sloughed off his skin. Once more, he was bedridden. [...]

For many years, as Mr. Crews openly discussed in interviews, alcohol was his anesthetic of choice. He stopped drinking in the late 1980s.

"I had an ex-wife and I had an ex-kid and I had an ex-dog and I had an ex-house and I'm an ex-drunk," he told The Times in 2006. "I've supported whores and dopers and drunks and bartenders. Thank God I don't do that anymore."

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Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


I think, therefore I choke: But the new science of head games could turn shanks into scores (Jaimal Yogis, 3/08/12, ESPN The Magazine)

SOON AFTER Cundiff's kick sent the Ravens back to Baltimore, I travel to the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, Calif. In an office shaded by mountain redwoods, White hooks me up to an emWave and rigs it to a computer screen. There is my heart rate -- the rhythm looked far more like a jagged mountain range than the uniform pulse I'd expected.

"This is perfectly healthy," White says, but not so ideal for performance. The anxiety I was feeling with all those scientists staring at me was causing the wild heartbeats that can harm academic and athletic results. Feelings of gratitude and love, on the other hand, create gentle, repeating HRV waves that HeartMath terms "coherence." That's the state in which expert archers shoot more accurately, pro golfers hit the ball farther and kickers (though there hasn't yet been an official study) get closer to Cundiff circa 2010 and 2011.

It's easy to be skeptical of coherence -- until you see it. White asks me to breathe -- five seconds in and five seconds out -- visualizing each breath entering and exiting my heart. Instantly the peaks become more even slopes. One minute later, White asks me to conjure up people I love, and the wave looks even more consistent. "It's not perfect," says White, "but close." That is in just two minutes. Imagine, White adds, how coherent athletes and soldiers who practice every day could be.

If the zone is real -- a biologically measurable state -- how could Cundiff have gotten back into it during the chaotic last seconds against the Patriots? Ask 15 psychologists, psychiatrists or biologists this question and you'll get somewhere around three times as many answers.

Still, a semiconsensus is developing among the most advanced scientists. In the typical fight-or-flight scenario, scary high-pressure moment X assaults the senses and is routed to the amygdala, aka the unconscious fear center. For well-trained athletes, that's not a problem: A field goal kick, golf swing or free throw is for them an ingrained action stored in the striatum, the brain's autopilot. The prefrontal cortex, our analytical thinker, doesn't even need to show up. But under the gun, that super-smart part of the brain thinks it's so great and tries to butt in. University of Maryland scientist Bradley Hatfield got expert dart throwers and marksmen to practice while wearing a cumbersome cap full of electrodes. Without an audience, their brains show very little chatter among regions. But in another study, when dart throwers were faced with a roomful of people, the pros' neural activity began to resemble that of a novice, with more communication from the prefrontal cortex.

"Stress and worry aren't what necessarily cause the problem," says Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago psychologist and author of the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. "But if they lead to trying to control performance" -- that is, trigger the prefrontal cortex -- "it's more likely to end in a choke."

The body's reaction to that is akin to what happens when your computer runs on RAM rather than the hard drive, says Dr. Michael Lardon, author of Finding Your Zone and a trainer for many PGA golfers, Olympians and NFL players: "Reaction and accuracy decrease."

It's the athlete's job to shut up the prefrontal cortex, and Cundiff -- given his leading-edge routine -- surely could have done this under normal circumstances. (The kicker refused The Mag's interview requests.) But he simply may not have had the time, or enough experience with a scoreboard snafu, to get back out of his head.

That's why the most advanced mental trainers now discourage thinking...
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Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


CBS predicts Arab-haredi majority in 2059 (Ynet, 03.28.12)

A Central Bureau of Statistics forecast predicts that haredim and Arabs will outnumber the secular population in Israel in 47 years. Israel's population is slated to grow to 15.6 million.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Study: Hispanics Poised to Be 'Mega-Force' in Housing (Meg Handley, March 28, 2012, US News)

Still saddled with a huge overhang of distressed properties and lackluster demand, it seems the housing market could really use a knight in shining armor to slay the metaphorical dragons choking its growth.

According to a study released this month, that white knight could come in the form of Latino homebuyers who are expected to provide a deep well of housing interest over the next decade, propelling demand for condos, starter homes, and trade-up homes. [...]

During the third quarter of 2011, the Hispanic homeownership rate rose to almost 48 percent, accounting for more than half of the total growth in homeownership over that period. Drilling down to the raw numbers, Hispanics bought almost 300,000 housing units in the third quarter of 2011, compared with 190,000 units bought by African-Americans, 66,000 by Asians, and just 18,000 by non-Hispanic white households.

March 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Gingrich In Race 'Until Romney Gets Majority' (Russell Goldman, 3/30/12, ABC News)

Newt Gingrich vowed today to remain in the GOP presidential race until Mitt Romney "gets the majority" of the delegates.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Mega Millions Winning Strategies Not In Your Favor, Say Mathematicians (Susanna Kim, 03/29/2012, ABC NEWS)

Bruce Sacerdote, economics professor at Dartmouth College, studied the effects of lottery winnings from Massachusetts winners in the 1980s.

When asked why people are obsessed with the lottery, Sacerdote said, "for certain small bets we are 'risk loving.' That is to say we are willing to make a poor expected value bet for the chance to have an enormous 'transformative' gain."

Based on the survey, "we don't find that winning the lottery makes people miserable or destroys their lives in the long run. In fact, many people continue working after winning the lottery."

Several years after winning big prizes about 40 percent of winners are still working. People save about 16 percent of their gross winnings, on average. For each $100,000 won per year, people reduce labor market earnings by $11,000.

"People actually get utility from dreaming about what they would do with the money," Sacerdote said. "And again, actually getting the money does not make them unhappy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM

North American exclusive: Album stream of Willis Earl Beal's Acousmatic Sorcery (Leor Galil, 03.29.12, Chicago Reader)

Last May I visited Wicker Park coffee shop Filter to meet local antifolk musician Willis Earl Beal for the first time--I'd gotten in touch after coming across a flyer of his at Myopic Books. Beal was in a bit of a bind at the time; a couple months earlier, he'd brought two cassettes of his music to Roscoe Village studio Handwritten Recording to get the material digitized and transfered onto CD, but he didn't have the $100 he needed to actually walk out with the disc. Beal handed me a business card from Handwritten co-owner Rick Riggs and told me, "There's some good music at this place." On the back of the card Beal had written the name of his recording project in all caps: ACOUSMATIC SORCERY BY WILLIS EARL BEAL.

A lot has changed since then. Found magazine, which put one of Beal's flyers on the cover of its January 2010 issue, picked up Beal's tab at Handwritten and eventually released Acousmatic Sorcery as part of a small-run box set called The Willis Earl Beal Special Collection. In July 2011, my B Side feature on Beal introduced the world to his music and to his story; it caught the eye of photographer Jamie-James Medina, who signed Beal to his new XL imprint, Hot Charity. Next Tuesday, Hot Charity/XL will release Acousmatic Sorcery, and the Reader is the first North American outlet to host a stream of the album.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


A Social Network Built for Two: A new app gives couples a private network to share texts, videos, and virtual kisses--and shows there's space for social innovation. (Rachel Metz, 3/30/12, Technology Review)

You probably have a lot of friends on Facebook, but chances are there are only a few people--and one in particular--that you interact with most in real life.

A new, free app called Pair wants to make it easier to connect with your special someone, whether it's a significant other, family member, or friend. And while the app--which allows you to share messages, videos, and "kisses" with one other person--may sound a bit silly, it shows there's still plenty of room for innovating in the increasingly crowded field for social mobile apps. [...]

Recognizing that we tend to communicate mostly with just one or two people, and that many of us use a number of methods to communicate with these folks, Rajendiran and his collaborators came up with Pair to simplify and amplify one-on-one connections.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Paul Ryan unplugs the political third rail (Michael Gerson, 3/30/12, Washington Post)

Ryan has no second thoughts. "It is morally right," he says, "legally right, politically right." And he is armed with more than confidence. Despite the criticisms of Ryan's budget, it is simply correct on the biggest matter. By the 2030s, federal health-care commitments, along with interest on the debt, will consume just about all government revenue. Federal health spending is expected to grow from 5.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to nearly 20 percent -- about the modern average for the whole federal government. Maintaining "Medicare as we know it" and other unreformed health entitlements will make every other function of government as we know it impossible.

Ryan's proposals to move toward a premium-support system in Medicare and a block-grant system in Medicaid are controversial, and he has modified them in response to criticism. But their seriousness stands alone. "President Obama has given us four budgets," Ryan says, "and four times he has punted on the debt problem." The Democratic strategy has been "to wait for Republicans to propose solutions, then attack them."

Ryan bristles at the notion that he is unraveling the social safety net. He sees it unraveling of its own accord. "The poor would be hurt worst in a debt crisis," he says, when spending cutbacks would be sudden, drastic and indiscriminate. Reform is required to "make the safety net work, to make it sustainable." 

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Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


GOP fears Latino revolt (MANU RAJU, 3/29/12, Politico)

Republicans worried about their party's standing with Hispanic voters have launched an election-year scramble to put a better face on their party's immigration problem.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, is working with senators from other immigrant-heavy states like Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas on their own version of the DREAM Act to help undocumented children. Kyl and Hutchison have held several closed-door meetings with a key Democrat to see whether there's bipartisan support for a compromise plan. Republicans are also exploring changes in visa rules to attract more high-skilled workers and tourists.

Happily for the Party's nominee, this is one area where he is out of step with his church and can portray his coming reversal on the issue as just a matter of faith.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


The Phantoms I've Killed (Tom Murphy, Do the Math)

You can always tell a physicist from a magician, even if both show tricks/demonstrations in front of an audience. The physicist is eager to explain how and why the "trick" works, perhaps repeating the performance and encouraging onlookers to view from all angles. So I can't wait to tell you how we pulled off this fantastic reduction. [...]

An easy move to reduce electricity consumption is to switch to fluorescent or LED lighting. These typically consume one-quarter of the energy that incandescent lights do for the same level of light output. If a house uses 1000 W of incandescent lighting for six hours of the day (6 kWh), then the same practices using efficient lighting consumes only 1.5 kWh and therefore reduces the typical American house's electricity usage by 15%. I'll take it.

Incidentally, You can buy a 100 W incandescent bulb for about $1 that will last 1000 hours. Or you can spend $5 to get a quality compact fluorescent light (CFL) that will last 10,000 hours (don't spend $3, or your CFL may not last long). Over the same period, you would need to buy 10 incandescent bulbs for a total outlay of $10. But that's not the worst of it. In that 10,000 hour period, the incandescent bulb racks up 1000 kWh of electricity, costing about $100 at a price of $0.10/kWh. Meanwhile the CFL sips power at 25 W and will cost $25 in its lifetime. In either case, the electricity cost dwarfs the hardware cost. In the end, you can spend $110 for incandescent lighting (and nine bulb changes) or $30 for CFL lighting of the same intensity. Yet many people huff at the $5 CFL cost (and as a result may get cheap versions that don't last so long and turn them off further).

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


A short history of privatisation in the UK: 1979-2012: From the first experiments with British Aerospace through British Telecom, water and electricity to the NHS and Royal Mail (Richard Seymour, 3/29/12,

• 1997-2001: New Labour's compromise

The Cumberland Infirmary in Cumbria, the first hospital built under the private finance initiative (PFI). Photograph: Loftus Brown/PA
New Labour had made electoral capital out of the Tories' unpopularity over privatisation, but only pledged to stop the sell-off of air traffic control. Even this minor promise was betrayed. For, if Thatcherism had not won the argument on public services, it had so comprehensively demolished the militant left and trade unions that there was nothing to prevent Labour from adapting to neoliberalism. The major privatisation policy introduced in this period was thus an awkward compromise between a managerial leadership and Labour's electoral base, known as the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) - a fudge originally pioneered by Norman Lamont. Introduced into the London Underground, the NHS and schools, these policies raised money in the short-term without the need for higher taxes. But there was also a streak of pro-market evangelising involved. Both Peter Mandelson and his successor at the department of trade and industry believed it was the role of government to foster entrepreneurial culture.

• 2002-8: Aggressive PFI

Northern Rock customers queue outside the Kingston branch, 2007. Photograph: Cate Gillon/Getty Images
The second and third New Labour administrations pressed aggressively for further state down-sizing and privatisation. Blair had based his 2001 re-election campaign on the extremely unpopular PFI. The calculation was that even if the measure wasn't popular, his victory would prove that there was no realistic alternative. Though there were few major sell-offs, the government's policies on the Royal Mail and the NHS had, as their logical conclusion, the privatisation of these services. Even the fiscal crisis in the NHS, resulting from the high costs of PFI initiatives, did not dampen the ardour. It was not until the credit crunch and the ensuing crisis that the pendulum began to swing, if only temporarily, in the opposite direction when Brown was forced to belatedly nationalise a string of failing banks. But even then, it was clear that the intention was to restore these companies to private ownership as quickly as possible.

...just dispute over which party should preside over the progress towards the Third Way. It's why Democrats passed Republican health care reform.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 AM


A Movement Explained: What does the Tea Party mean? (Matthew Continetti, April 2, 2012, Weekly Standard)

Tea Partiers are less concerned with the size of government than with its character. They are worried less that government welfare will be generous than that it will be undeserved. For years, Democrats have joked that this supposedly "anti-government" group does not want to see drastic cuts in Social Security and Medicare. But the Democrats' condescension has been doubly misplaced: The Tea Party is more anti-Obamacare than it is anti-New Deal, and Tea Partiers regard Social Security and Medicare as deserved benefits.

Correspondingly, the reason for the rise of the Tea Party was the feat that the money to pay for those welfare checks was going to others.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Dr. John's Unlikely New Partner (STEVE DOUGHERTY, 3/30/12, WSJ)

On record and stage, where as Dr. John he performed in a voodoo headdress and alligator- and lizard-skin coat, with a mummified human head hanging from a microphone stand, Mr. Rebennack conjured what he called a "fonky gumbo" of sounds. Spiked with chanted spells and the psychedelia of the day, the stew's stock was drawn from the music he absorbed growing up in the Third Ward of New Orleans--the birthplace he shares with one of American music's prime creators and where he began his own professional career as a child guitar and boogie-piano prodigy. "Once upon a time we were the youngsters and Louis Armstrong heard all the music before him and passed it on to us," Mr. Rebennack, now 71, says of the jazz great he reveres. "Now we're the elders and it's like a duty to keep it all alive and pass it down." [...]

"I think it was very mystical how this all came together," Mr. Rebennack says during a phone conversation from his home in New Orleans. "Before I ever heard of the Black Keys, my granddaughter gave me one of their records. Then the next thing I know, Dan calls me out of the blue." That chat, followed by a trip Mr. Auerbach made to New Orleans for a visit, led to the two appearing together at last year's 10th anniversary Bonnaroo Festival, the annual Tennessee music carnival that takes its name from a 1974 Dr. John album. That jam in turn led to the "Locked Down" sessions last September at Mr. Auerbach's studio in Nashville. Mr. Auerbach, who assembled an adventurous group of young hip-hop-, rock- and funk-savvy musicians, including Black Keys tour veterans Nick Movshon (bass) and Leon Michels (keyboards), for the recording, hopes the results will help Mr. Rebennack reach a generation of fans who may not be aware how richly he has influenced the music they embrace today.

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March 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM


'Nanorefrigerator' is cooled using sunlight (Tushna Commissariat, Mar 29, 2012, Physics World))

Researchers in Belgium have drawn up plans for an electronic "nanorefrigerator" device that is driven by high-energy photons, and so could potentially be directly powered by the Sun. The device consists of two electrodes, one of which is cooled by replacing hot electrons with cool ones via photon absorption. While this is definitely not the first system that applies the "cooling by heating" concept, it is the first that can be applied for a nanosized device, with no moving parts or electrical input, allowing a lower temperature to be achieved at the nanoscale.

Cooling with heat is not a new idea - the simplest description of the concept would be "sweating" or more scientifically evaporative cooling. While physicists have been using coherent laser light to cool gasses since the 1980s, a theoretical method for cooling a quantum system with noncoherent light, by using an "optomechanical device", was proposed only last year.

What Bart Cleuren and colleagues at Hasselt University, Belgium, have proposed is a rather simple solid-state device that would potentially use solar energy directly to cool. While that might not sound immediately impressive - many houses that run on solar energy have a refridgerator - what is new about this device is that it does not first convert solar energy into electricity. Rather, the device bypasses the need to generate another form of energy - which usually results in some amount of energy loss.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Of Monsters and Men stopped by The Current studios to play a few songs and chat with the Morning Show's Jill Riley.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Is Conservatism Our Default Ideology?: New research provides evidence that, when under time pressure or otherwise cognitively impaired, people are more likely to express conservative views. (Tom Jacobs, 3/29/12, Miller-McCune)

A research team led by University of Arkansas psychologist Scott Eidelman argues that conservatism -- which the researchers identify as "an emphasis on personal responsibility, acceptance of hierarchy, and a preference for the status quo" -- may be our default ideology. If we don't have the time or energy to give a matter sufficient thought, we tend to accept the conservative argument.

"When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient," the researchers write in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. "These conditions promote conservative ideology."

Eidelman and his colleagues' paper will surely outrage many on the left (who will resist the notion of conservatism as somehow natural) and the right (who will take offense to the idea that their ideology is linked to low brainpower). The researchers do their best to preemptively answer such criticism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Irish is third most used language in the country - 2011 Census (RTE, 29 March 2012)

Nearly 82,600 people - or 1.8% of the population - speak Irish every day outside of school according to the first definitive results of the 2011 census, making it the third most used language in the country.

The census figures, released by the CSO today, show that 119,526 of people in Ireland speak Polish at home... 

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Canada Eliminates Penny Costing Penny-and-a-Half to Make (Jacqueline Thorpe, Mar 29, 2012, Bloomberg)

Canada will withdraw the penny from circulation this year, saving taxpayers about C$11 million ($11 million) annually and forcing retailers to round prices to the nearest nickel, the government announced in its budget today.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


The Supreme Court should have taken a pass on Obamacare: Health care reform isn't much different from abortion or deadlocked presidential elections -- the constitutional basis for the justices weighing in on it is scant. What ever happened to judicial restraint? (David A. Kaplan, 3/29/12, Fortune)

After all the chatter about the Commerce Clause and federal power run amok, the case argued this week at the Supreme Court is pretty much just another example of losers in the political arena racing to the courthouse to undo their defeats. Just as the Court should have taken a pass on abortion, just as the Court should have left the presidential deadlock to Congress, so, too, should the justices leave health care to elected representatives.

The core problem with the justices being involved isn't so much how they in fact rule. At the end of the day, it's that they shouldn't be players in a political process. When they are, they make us a little, or a lot, less democratic. When some counter-majoritarian principles are involved -- free speech, safeguards for criminal defendants, anti-discrimination -- the Court's anti-democratic prerogatives are a valuable brake. Health care is hardly in the same category.

Conservatives love to rail about "judicial activism." Some justices themselves made it to the Court by preaching "judicial restraint" and deference to other branches of government. Now would be a fine time to see such slogans actually honored. Now would be a fine time to see the triumphalist legacy of Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore broken at long last. The Constitution would rejoice.

...the Court ought to be able to simply vacate the rulings of lower courts which have chosen to intervene in such cases.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


In cancer science, many "discoveries" don't hold up (Sharon Begley, Mar 28, 2012 , Reuters)

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 "landmark" publications -- papers in top journals, from reputable labs -- for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"It was shocking," said Begley, now senior vice president of privately held biotechnology company TetraLogic, which develops cancer drugs. "These are the studies the pharmaceutical industry relies on to identify new targets for drug development. But if you're going to place a $1 million or $2 million or $5 million bet on an observation, you need to be sure it's true. As we tried to reproduce these papers we became convinced you can't take anything at face value."

The failure to win "the war on cancer" has been blamed on many factors, from the use of mouse models that are irrelevant to human cancers to risk-averse funding agencies. But recently a new culprit has emerged: too many basic scientific discoveries, done in animals or cells growing in lab dishes and meant to show the way to a new drug, are wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


10 Weirdest Last Words (MELANIE JONES, 3/29/12, IB Times)

Convicted sex offender and child killer Jesse Joe Hernandez, 47, was executed Wednesday in Texas for the beating death of 10-month-old Karlos Borja. [...]

But Hernandez is making news less for his grisly death than for what he reportedly said before losing conscious: a shouted tribute to his favorite football team.

"God bless everybody. Continue to walk with God," Hernandez said, before shouting, "Go Cowboys!"

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Saudi Arabia will act to lower soaring oil prices (Ali Naimi, 3/28/12, Financial Times)

There is no lack of supply. There is no demand which cannot be met. Total commercial stocks for OECD nations are within target, and there is at least 57 days forward cover, enough to handle almost any eventuality. [...]

Saudi Arabia's current capacity is 12.5m barrels per day, way beyond current levels demanded, and a reliable buffer against any temporary loss of production. [...]

For the record, as things stand today, our inventories in Saudi Arabia and around the world are full. Our Rotterdam inventory is full, our Sidi Kerir facility is full, our Okinawa facility is full - 100 per cent full.

It should also be noted how other Opec members, such as Libya, Iraq and Angola, have also taken positive strides forward in increasing output and they are well poised for further advances. If you look towards Canada and the US, these nations are increasing oil production this year and beyond, and further supplies are being contributed from Russia, South America, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

So the story is one of plenty. Supply is not the problem, and it has not been a problem in the recent past. There is no rational reason why oil prices are continuing to remain at these high levels.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Nudge nudge, think think: The use of behavioural economics in public policy shows promise (The Economist, Mar 24th 2012)

 The idea of nudging is based on research that shows it is possible to steer people towards better decisions by presenting choices in different ways.

That theory is now being put to the test. One of the book's co-authors, Cass Sunstein, has been recruited by Barack Obama to the White House. Richard Thaler, the other co-author, has been advising policymakers in several countries including Denmark, France and, above all, Britain, where David Cameron has established a Behavioural Insights Team, nicknamed the Nudge Unit.

The Nudge Unit has been running dozens of experiments and the early results have been promising*. In one trial, a letter sent to non-payers of vehicle taxes was changed to use plainer English, along the line of "pay your tax or lose your car". In some cases the letter was further personalised by including a photo of the car in question. The rewritten letter alone doubled the number of people paying the tax; the rewrite with the photo tripled it.

Changes to language have had marked effects elsewhere, too. A study into the teaching of technical drawing in French schools found that if the subject was called "geometry" boys did better, but if it was called "drawing" girls did equally well or better. Teachers are now being trained to use the appropriate term.

Another set of trials in Britain focused on energy efficiency. Research into why people did not take up financial incentives to reduce energy consumption by insulating their homes found one possibility was the hassle of clearing out the attic. A nudge was designed whereby insulation firms would offer to clear the loft, dispose of unwanted items and return the rest after insulating it. This example of what behavioural economists call "goal substitution"--replacing lower energy use with cleaning out the attic--led to a threefold increase in take-up of an insulation grant.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs dies at 88 in Tenn. (CHRIS TALBOTT, 3/29/12, AP)

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Earl Scruggs to American music. A pioneering banjo player who helped create modern country music, his sound is instantly recognizable and as intrinsically wrapped in the tapestry of the genre as Johnny Cash's baritone or Hank Williams' heartbreak.
Scruggs passed away Wednesday morning at 88 of natural causes. The legacy he helped build with bandleader Bill Monroe, guitarist Lester Flatt and the rest of the Blue Grass Boys was evident all around Nashville, where he died in an area hospital. His string-bending, mind-blowing way of picking helped transform a regional sound into a national passion.

"It's not just bluegrass, it's American music," bluegrass fan turned country star Dierks Bentley said. "There's 17- or 18-year-old kids turning on today's country music and hearing that banjo and they have no idea where that came from. That sound has probably always been there for them and they don't realize someone invented that three-finger roll style of playing. You hear it everywhere."

Country music has transcended its regional roots, become a billion-dollar music and tourist enterprise, and evolved far beyond the classic sound Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys blasted out over the radio on The Grand Ole Opry on Dec. 8, 1945. Though he would eventually influence American culture in wide-ranging ways, Scruggs had no way of knowing this as he nervously prepared for his first show with Monroe. The 21-year-old wasn't sure how his new picking style would go over.

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March 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM

Booker T. Jones On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, March 26, 2012)

During his Mountain Stage set, Jones plays a few of his well-known favorites, touches on his work with heavyweights like Bob Dylan and Albert King, and shares songs from his latest collaboration with The Roots, The Road From Memphis. This segment includes three songs not heard in the radio broadcast: an instrumental cover of Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything" and the MG's hits "Time Is Tight" and "Hip Hug-Her," which features a hip-hop vocal solo from drummer Darian Gray.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Homage to the Spanish: a review of The Spanish Holocaust by Paul Preston (HUGH THOMAS, April 2012, Standpoint)

I have a number of observations. I am not sure that Professor Preston has quite entered into the minds of the Right in Spain,  who from 1934 onwards felt threatened by a left-wing revolution on a Russian model. Even the British ambassador in Moscow, Lord Chilston, thought the civil war in Spain "likely to end in the establishment of a Communist regime". That had been tried out up to a point in 1934 when the Left recklessly refused to accept their defeat in the national elections of that year and embarked on a destructive rebellion causing among other things the ruin of the University of Oviedo. The Labour spokesman for foreign policy, Hugh Dalton, thought that the rebellion of 1934 removed the justification for anyone feeling outraged by the Right's rising of 1936. 
It will be argued that there was really no danger in Spain of a Soviet-style revolution. But the once staid secretary general of the socialist trade union Large Caballero promised such a thing in early 1936 and approved the merger of his own socialist youth movement with the Communists. How were people to know that he was being rhetorical?

In Spain there was also a cult of violence in the anarchist movement which had captured the imaginations of landless labourers in Andalusia and industrial workers in Catalonia. That movement was brilliantly analysed by Gerald Brenan in his admirable book, The Spanish Labyrinth. The anarchists talked of "the propaganda of the deed" and many genuinely believed that paradise would be on its way  when "the last king was strangled with the guts of the last priest". The world could be remade "with a pistol and an encylopaedia". Half the working class of Spain in, say, 1920 believed in this idea. The consequent murders in Catalonia in particular were all the same atrocious and unpardonable. 

A second national eccentricity was the anarchists' rejection of everything to do with the state, an evil institution with which one should have nothing to do, certainly nothing like casting a vote. This meant that the Restoration  parliamentary system of 1875-1923 and the Republic of 1931-36 would have to do without any participation by half the labour force. The anarchists of the FAI (Federación Anarquista Ibérica) thought, as Professor Preston reminds us, that "the Republic, like the monarchy, was just an instrument of the bourgeoisie". The FAI wanted an insurrecction against the Republic by "revolutionary gymnastics" and the latter's replacement by libertarian Communism. That meant the abolition of the state and of private property, with communes established in the cities and villages.

The larger and slightly less doctrinaire CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo)was also anarchist in its outlook. It expected the Republic to change nothing and so also aspired in 1931 to "propagate its revolutionary objectives". The political system was thus flawed from the start. There was no anarchist vote in 1931, 1933 and 1936 though, eventually, once the war had begun the anarchists provided four ministers to the socialist government of Largo Caballero.

The anarchists' negative conduct, combined with their violence, goes a long way to explain why the civil war occurred.

Rare is the instance where a country was not well served by its fascist interlude, which, after all, merely preserves the state and traditional institutions from assault by Communists. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


U.S., Australia to broaden military ties amid Pentagon pivot to SE Asia (Craig Whitlock, March 26, 2012, Washington Post)

The United States and Australia are planning a major expansion of military ties, including possible drone flights from a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean and increased U.S. naval access to Australian ports, as the Pentagon looks to shift its forces closer to Southeast Asia, officials from both countries said.

The moves, which are under discussion but have drawn strong interest from both sides, would come on top of an agreement announced by President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard in November to deploy up to 2,500 U.S. Marines to Darwin, on Australia's northern coast.

The talks are the latest indicator of how the Obama administration is rapidly turning its strategic attention to Asia as it winds down a costly decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. government is finalizing a deal to station four warships in Singapore and has opened negotiations with the Philippines about boosting its military presence there. To a lesser degree, the Pentagon is also seeking to upgrade military relations with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

The UR merely presides over the world that W left his successors.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


People Are Born with Religious Belief Argues New Book (Jesse Singal, Mar 28, 2012, Daily Beast)

One day, Anna, the 5-year-old daughter of two "proudly secular, well-educated urban Danes," asked her mother if God had created the world. Frederick, her father, carefully explained, "The world wasn't created. It has always been here." Anna didn't buy it, so he went a little more in-depth: "Well, a long, long time ago there was this big bang and suddenly everything just appeared." The girl thought about this, trying to wrap her mind around a concept we all have trouble with.

"God must have been surprised," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Taxation's legality is key to health reform (Michael Hiltzik, March 28, 2012, LA Times)

One afternoon in 1934, Supreme Court Justice Harlan Fiske Stone decided to quietly help Labor Secretary Frances Perkins out of a jam.
Her quandary was how to write a Social Security law that would survive scrutiny by the court's conservative bloc. Stone, a progressive, pulled her aside during a tea party at his home, glanced around to make sure he wasn't overheard, and whispered, "The taxing power of the federal government, my dear; the taxing power is sufficient for everything you want and need."

As Stone counseled, the court had earlier held that the government's taxing power was virtually absolute. And so it was that tax provisions were liberally sown throughout the bill enacting the nation's landmark social insurance program, which handily survived Supreme Court challenge a few years later. [...]
Once the lectern was turned over to lawyers for the challengers, including the small-business group and 26 states, that wasn't so clear. Kennedy and Roberts both indicated that they were at least receptive to the government position that healthcare is an interstate market that involves virtually every American, and is therefore ripe for congressional regulation.

"The young person who is uninsured is uniquely proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries," Kennedy said. "That's my concern in this case."

Will Scalia Rule in Favor of Obamacare? (Noah Kristula-Green Mar 27, 2012, Daily Beast)

 For amateur and professional court watchers who want to have a refresher on just how much power Scalia thinks Congress has, here are some of the key parts of Scalia's ruling on the subject. Doug Mataconis provides the highlights:

The authority to enact laws necessary and proper for the regulation of interstate commerce is not limited to laws governing intrastate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. Where necessary to make a regulation of interstate commerce effective, Congress may regulate even those intrastate activities that do not themselves substantially affect interstate commerce.
The regulation of an intrastate activity may be essential to a comprehensive regulation of interstate commerce even though the intrastate activity does not itself "substantially affect" interstate commerce. Moreover, as the passage from Lopez quoted above suggests, Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce. See Lopez, supra, at 561. The relevant question is simply whether the means chosen are "reasonably adapted" to the attainment of a legitimate end under the commerce power. See Darby, supra, at 121.
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March 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


In Memoriam: Priscilla Buckley : Remembering with gratitude one who lived graciously. (Mona Charen, 3/27/12, National Review)

Bill Buckley was the founder, owner, editor, and guiding spirit of National Review. But Priscilla, his sister, set the daily tone at the offices on East 35th Street in Manhattan. Her rule was benevolent and irenic, thank God, because magazines of opinion are known for eccentric and prickly characters and NR was no exception. But while writers would be late with their copy, or fail to show up for meetings, or squabble with their editors, everyone seemed mentally to tuck his shirt in when Priscilla was around. She was so gracious and professional and discerning that people wanted to be better in her presence. (They didn't always succeed.)

She set a standard of unassuming excellence, and deeply appreciated talent in others. James Burnham, her office mate for many years, was a particular hero, but her admiration was catholic. On the other hand, Priscilla would set you straight if you needed correction.

REVIEW: of Living It Up At National Review: A Memoir (BrothersJudd) 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


German president: Poland is 'Europe's land of freedom' (Deutsche Welle, 3/27/12)

German President Joachim Gauck has praised Poland as "Europe's land of freedom" during a trip to Poland. Gauck broke with tradition by choosing the Eastern neighbor instead of France for his first trip abroad. [...]

The fight against dictatorships in the past as well as the fight for democracy today united the two countries, Gauck said.

Gauck, who arrived with his partner Julia Schadt in Warsaw on Monday evening, chose Poland for his first trip to stress the importance of German-Polish relations.

"Our peaceful revolution in the former East Germany was only possible because our Polish neighbors showed that it was possible to fight for freedom," Gauck, himself a former anti-Communist activist in East Germany, told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza ahead of the visit.

"It is this admirable story of freedom and democracy that I associate with Poland," said the president.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


The Original Individual Mandate, Circa 1792 (BRADLEY LATINO, 7/23/10, NY Times)

The ongoing debate over the mandate's constitutionality has uncovered an unlikely precedent to the PPACA's individual mandate to possess health coverage. I recently wrote about this overlooked original individual mandate in an article, "The First Individual Mandate: What the Uniform Militia Act of 1792 Tells Us about Fifth Amendment Challenges to Healthcare Reform."

The Militia Acts of 1792, passed by the Second Congress and signed into law by President Washington, required every able-bodied white male citizen to enroll in his state's militia and mandated that he "provide himself" with various goods for the common weal:

 [E]ach and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States . . . shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia . . . .provid[ing] himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein . . . and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service

This was the law of the land until the establishment of the National Guard in 1903.  For many American families, compliance meant purchasing-and eventually re-purchasing-multiple muskets from a private party.

This was no small thing.  Although anywhere from 40 to 79% of American households owned a firearm of some kind, the Militia Act specifically required a military-grade musket.  That particular kind of gun was useful for traditional, line-up-and-shoot 18th century warfare, but clumsy and inaccurate compared to the single-barrel shotguns and rifles Americans were using to hunt game.  A new musket, alone, could cost anywhere from $250 to $500 in today's money.  Some congressmen estimated it would cost £20 to completely outfit a man for militia service-about $2,000 today.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the militia mandate is how uncontroversial it was.  For instance, although the recently-ratified Bill of Rights was certainly fresh on Congress' mind, not one of militia reform's many opponents thought to argue the mandate was a government taking of property for public use. Nor did anyone argue it to be contrary to States' rights under the Tenth Amendment. Rather, the mandate was criticized as an unfair burden upon the poor, who were asked to pay the same amount to arm themselves as the rich.  Indeed, the Militia Acts did nothing to defray costs, although a few years later Congress did appropriate funds to pay militia members for the use of their time and goods-in effect subsidizing the purchases.

Why even pretend the opposition is based on principle? 


Why the Right Turned Its Back on the Individual Mandate: At the heart of the apocalyptic health-care rhetoric is the individual mandate--that not long ago was a conservative idea. (John Avlon  | March 27, 2012, Daily Beast)

The roadmap for what was then the signature Republican approach to health-care reform was provided by the once quintessentially Reaganaut think tank, the Heritage Foundation, which now denounces "the cancer of Obamacare."  The offending document was written in 1989, at the dawn of the first Bush presidency, and its rationale for the individual mandate was as follows:

"There is an implicit contract between households in society, based on the notion that health insurance is not like other forms of insurance protection. If a young man wrecks his Porsche and does not have the foresight to obtain insurance, we may commiserate but society feels no obligation to repair his car. Healthcare 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."

This is, of course, almost precisely the argument made by both the Obama administration and Governor Romney when he was preparing his signature legislative accomplishment in Massachusetts. Namely, that we have a hole in the social contract, where a lack of individual responsibility causes great financial costs for society as a whole in the realm of health care, which everyone will need at some point in their lives. The solution, reiterated several times by Heritage in policy papers leading up to the fight over Hillarycare, was to put an end to fiscally irresponsible freeloaders by advancing the principle of individual responsibility. By comparison, the Clinton health plan's imposition of a requirement for employers to provide health insurance purchased through HMOs seemed positively socialistic.

In another time, President Obama's adoption of a Republican policy to pass health-care reform could have been characterized as classic Clintonian triangulation, an extension of the dynamic that enabled a Southern Democrat like Lyndon Johnson to pass civil-rights legislation or Nixon to go to China.

But in our polarized era, memory is short and policy consistency often takes a backseat to partisan expediency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Global Warming Models Are Wrong Again: The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with predictions. (WILLIAM HAPPER, 3/26/12, WSJ)

Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today. Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels, and because warming and other supposedly harmful effects of CO2 have been greatly exaggerated. Nations with affordable energy from fossil fuels are more prosperous and healthy than those without.

The direct warming due to doubling CO2 levels in the atmosphere can be calculated to cause a warming of about one degree Celsius. The IPCC computer models predict a much larger warming, three degrees Celsius or even more, because they assume changes in water vapor or clouds that supposedly amplify the direct warming from CO2. Many lines of observational evidence suggest that this "positive feedback" also has been greatly exaggerated.

There has indeed been some warming, perhaps about 0.8 degrees Celsius, since the end of the so-called Little Ice Age in the early 1800s. Some of that warming has probably come from increased amounts of CO2, but the timing of the warming--much of it before CO2 levels had increased appreciably--suggests that a substantial fraction of the warming is from natural causes that have nothing to do with mankind.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Another ACORN? Tax-funded course teaching homeless how to squat in abandoned buildings (Greg Goodsell, 3/26/2012, Catholic Online)

A taxpayer-funded nonprofit in the Bronx is teaching the local homeless on a crash-course in "squatting." A group calling themselves "Picture the Homeless," has focused city-owned buildings in particular.  Teacher Andres Perez says that the "best properties are city-owned properties or bank-owned properties.They warehouse these properties. They're sitting on them."

According to the New York Post, who first broke the story, the organization has received $240,000 in taxpayer funds over the last five years.

According to the Post, Andres Perez held a teach-in on how to wrest "control" of vacant apartments. He called it "homesteading."

Even setting aside the centuries old doctrine of adverse possession, driven by our Anglospheric loathing of unutilized property, it's worth recalling that Hernando de Soto became a conservative icon advocating for just such homesteading.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Declaring War on Newborns: The disgrace of medical ethics. (Andrew Ferguson, 3/24/12, Weekly Standard)

As "After-birth Abortion" spread around the world and gained wide publicity​--​that damned Internet ​--​non-ethicists greeted it with derision or shock or worse. The authors and the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics were themselves shocked at the response. As their inboxes flooded with hate mail, the authors composed an apology of sorts that non-ethicists will find more revealing even than the original paper.

"We are really sorry that many people, who do not share the background of the intended audience for this article, felt offended, outraged, or even threatened," they wrote. "The article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments." It was a thought experiment. After all, among medical ethicists "this debate"​--​about when it's proper to kill babies​--​"has been going on for 40 years."

So that's what they've been talking about in all those panel discussions! The authors thought they were merely taking the next step in a train of logic that was set in motion, and has been widely accepted, since their profession was invented in the 1960s. And of course they were. The outrage directed at their article came from laymen​--​people unsophisticated in contemporary ethics. Medical ethicists in general expressed few objections, only a minor annoyance that the authors had let the cat out of the bag. A few days after it was posted the article was removed from the publicly accessible area of the Journal's website, sending it back to that happy, cozy world.

You'd have to be very, very well trained in ethics to see the authors' argument as a morally acceptable extension of their premises, but you can't deny the logic of it. The rest of us will see in the argument an extension of its premises into self-evident absurdity. Pro-lifers should take note. For years, in public argument, pro-choicers have mocked them for not following their belief in a fetus's humanity to its logical end. Shouldn't you execute doctors who perform abortions? Why don't you have funerals for miscarriages?

As one pro-choice wag, writing about the Republicans' pro-life platform, put it in the Washington Post a few years ago: "The official position of the Republican Party is that women who have abortions should be executed."

And now we know the pro-choice position is that children born with a facial deformity should be executed too, as long as you get to them quick enough. Unwittingly the insouciant authors of "After-birth Abortion" have shown where pro-choicers wind up if they follow their belief about fetuses to its logical end. They've performed a public service. Could it be that medical ethicists really are more useful than aromatherapists?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM

LEAVE THE DRIVING TO US (via John Thacker):

the car that can drive itself (Alisa Priddle, 3/23/12, Detroit Free Press)

Automotive supplier Continental is testing a self-driving car that, by month's end, could be among the first licensed for use on public roads in Nevada, the first state to pass laws governing driverless vehicles.

Continental, which has its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, removed brake and steering controls in a Volkswagen Passat and replaced them with sensors and advanced technology to read the surroundings and drive accordingly.

To qualify for Nevada's special license, Continental engineers have racked up and documented almost 10,000 miles of autonomous driving. That included a recent trip from Las Vegas to Brimley, Mich., near Sault Ste. Marie, where Continental has a development and testing center nestled in the forest. More than 90% of the journey was without a hand on the wheel or a foot on a pedal, said Ibro Muharemovic, one of three engineers riding shotgun.

A final trip is being planned to hit the 10,000 mark in the next few weeks.

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March 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


We'll never see another Bert Sugar: Iconic writer always had a cigar in mouth, a fedora on head and a joke on his lips (Wallace Matthews, 3/26/12,

He was a brilliant guy, with a law degree from the University of Michigan, and as he loved to remind everyone, that was the last bar he ever passed. Instead of making a living as a lawyer, he chose to become a professional character, an expert on things most people either no longer think are important or, even worse, never knew about to begin with.

And he may well have been the last of a breed, that typically New York wiseguy who possessed one priceless and seemingly vanishing skill: The ability to tell a story at a bar. There was a time when this was an essential talent for anyone drawing a paycheck as a journalist, because at heart, we're all supposed to be storytellers.

But what the new breed lacks, despite having its noses buried in an array of electronic devices and a full slate of "platforms" upon which to express the most trivial thoughts, is the ability to communicate on a one-to-one, eye-to-eye, interpersonal level.

These days, there's a plethora of "social media" and a dearth of real socializing.

And socializing was what Bert Sugar -- no one but his publishers used his middle name, "Randolph" -- was all about.

He was most closely identified with boxing, a subject he wrote nearly 100 books about, but he had a voracious interest in a variety of subjects, from baseball to vaudeville acts to thoroughbred racing to the comparative merits of Groucho Marx vis-a-vis W.C. Fields.

He could sing all the words to "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," trace the lineage of every heavyweight champion back to John L. Sullivan, and explain how Houdini did his famous Water Torture Escape.

Clearly, this was not his world anymore.

But when it was, the world was a better place when Bert Sugar was around.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


South Korea trade deal 'may bring £500m to UK economy' (BBC, 3/25/12)

A trade deal has been agreed between the UK and South Korea, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced.

The UK has approved a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and South Korea, which could bring £500m a year into the British economy, he said.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Saving Sovereignty: Book review of Taming Globalization: International Law, the U.S. Constitution, and the New World Order, by John Yoo and Julian Ku (John Fonte, 4/2/12, National Review)

The core argument of the book runs something like the following. Globalization is a powerful force that is transforming American society. Increased globalization brings many benefits, as well as potential problems, to the U.S. While greater international cooperation will be needed, some aspects of what is called global governance present serious challenges to the American political and legal system. The American polity is built on the principle of popular sovereignty; thus, ultimately, authority and sovereignty reside in the people, not the government. In this sense, American sovereignty differs from traditional Westphalian sovereignty. The people are the principal, and the federal government and state governments are the agents of the people. Popular sovereignty is exercised through the Constitution and particularly through separation of powers and federalism. These devices provide checks and balances on the federal government and limit the authority of both the federal government and state governments. New trends in international law directly challenge American popular sovereignty. The key issue is how to accommodate globalization within the American constitutional system. The task at hand is to ensure that the global rules that we choose to follow are incorporated into American law through our constitutional democratic process. Finally, it is possible to accommodate globalization to popular sovereignty. 

To accomplish this goal of obtaining the benefits of globalization while preserving American popular sovereignty, Yoo and Ku propose three "doctrinal devices": 1) a presumption that treaties are non-self-executing, 2) presidential discretion in interpreting customary international law, and 3) a reasonable degree of state autonomy in areas of law reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment. These doctrines would ensure that the political (i.e., elected and democratic) branches of government -- and not simply federal judges -- incorporate or not incorporate (as they see fit) international law into domestic American law. 

If most treaties were not self-executing, they would require congressional legislation and presidential signature (in addition to the approval of two-thirds of the Senate) in order to become part of American law. Thus, the House of Representatives, the most "democratic" branch of the federal government, would be involved in incorporating treaty law into American domestic law. This additional democratic step would, as Yoo and Ku point out, strengthen the legitimacy of those international laws that we decide should be part of American law.  [...]

To ensure the participation of the more democratic branches of the federal government, Yoo and Ku propose that the policy interpretation of customary international law be primarily in the hands of the executive, which has the constitutional authority (and expertise) in foreign policy. Meanwhile, the incorporation of customary law into American domestic law should follow the normal constitutional process -- as legislation approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. 

Yoo and Ku point out that the Tenth Amendment does not disappear when the U.S. signs a treaty or adopts new customary international law. They cite the Supreme Court's Medellin decision (2008). In this case, the court gave Texas the green light to execute a convicted murderer who was a Mexican national, despite complaints by the International Court of Justice (backed by the American Bar Association) that the U.S. had violated its commitments under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to notify the Mexican consulate. The Court declared the Vienna Convention non-self-executing and, in the absence of federal legislation, state law prevailed. The Court also rejected an appeal by the Bush administration to prevent Texas from carrying out the sentence. Taming Globalization notes that, in ratifying international human-rights treaties, Congress almost always includes "federalist" reservations that insist upon a measure of state autonomy in those areas constitutionally reserved for the states. 

One of the great strengths of this book is that the authors dig into the weeds of prominent Supreme Court cases to deftly rebut transnationalist claims. For example, in the famous (at least among international lawyers) Paquete Habana case of 1900, the court declared that "international law is part of our law" -- a phrase repeated ad nauseam by transnational progressives. But the authors make it clear that even Paquete Habana affirmed that the ultimate interpretation of international law resided primarily with Congress and the president, not the federal courts. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


S. Korea to shoot down N. Korea rocket if it strays (AFP, March 26, 2012)
South Korea is preparing to shoot down a North Korean rocket if it strays into the South's territory during a launch planned for next month, the defence ministry said Monday.

The South Korean and US military are closely monitoring activity at the Tongchang-ri base, a ministry spokesman said, a day after Seoul confirmed the main body of a rocket had been moved to the site in the North's northwest.

Never waste a provocation. Far more so than an attack on Iran, taking out North Korea's nuclear  and rocket sites would establish the principal of deterrence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


The Case for Sleep Medicine (GAYLE GREENE, 3/25/12, NY Times)

ACCORDING to a new study in the journal BMJ that has received wide media coverage, people who regularly took sleeping pills were nearly five times more likely to die over a two and a half year period than those who didn't take them.

Oh no, I groaned, reading the headlines, not another scare story about sleeping pills. As a lifelong insomniac who has extensively researched the topic, I find such stories alarming -- but not because of the information they present. Rather, I'm afraid that they will cause doctors to stop prescribing these medications to people who need them. [...]

The study in BMJ alludes to "the meager benefits" of sleep medications and the greater success of behavioral methods of dealing with insomnia, which include things like going to bed and getting up at set times and using the bed only for sleep. But such strategies are not as effective as is sometimes claimed: studies that demonstrate their efficacy tend to look at small numbers of carefully screened, self-selected and highly motivated subjects. Face it, if behavioral modification were that simple, there wouldn't be so many of us taking medications.

In other words, she doesn't need them, she just lacks the will to simple changes to her behavior instead.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Popcorn has more antioxidants than fruits, veges (Cosmos Online, 3/26/12)

Joe Vinson from the University of Scranton in the U.S., a pioneer in analysing healthful components in chocolate, nuts and other common foods, explained that antioxidant substances called polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4% water, while polyphenols are diluted in the 90% water that makes up many fruits and vegetables.

"Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It's the only snack that is 100% unprocessed whole grain. All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called 'whole grain', this simply means that over 51% of the weight of the product is whole grain," said Vinson.

"One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70% of the daily intake of whole grain. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, and popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way."

In another surprising finding, the researchers discovered that the hulls of the popcorn - the part that everyone hates for its tendency to get caught in the teeth - actually has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fibre. "Those hulls deserve more respect," said Vinson. "They are nutritional gold nuggets."

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


India Rallies to Forge Stronger Ties with South Korea (ESTHER TANQUINTIC-MISA, March 26, 2012, IB Times)

Eager to cement an apparent budding friendship between India and South Korea, the two countries on Sunday announced plans to increase their annual bilateral trade to $40 billion by 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Holy &%$! inventions: These innovative creations, available now as prototypes, are rough drafts for technology that could be transformative when it's perfected. (CNN Money, 3/26/12)

What if your car could charge on the go? That wild idea is already being lab-tested.

Engineers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have developed technology for embedding in a highway electric coils that transfer powerto similar coils that could be built under cars. Passing over a single coil at 60 miles per hour won't amount to much, but a long stretch of them could give a car battery significant juice.

The technology doesn't come cheap: The bill could top $10 million per mile. The project envisions starting with specially marked "charging lanes" on small stretches of road. But the engineers suspect that price will come down significantly, especially if the coils become widespread enough to create competition in the market. That could make charging your car easier than going to the gas station -- you'd never have to stop.

March 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


The Democrat Who Took on the Unions: Rhode Island's treasurer Gina Raimondo talks about how she persuaded the voting public, labor rank-and-file and a liberal legislature to pass the most far-reaching pension reform in decades. (ALLYSIA FINLEY, 3/23/2012, WSJ)

The former venture capitalist is a Democrat, which means that she believes in government as a force for good. But "a government that doesn't work is in no one's interest," she says. "Budgets that don't balance, public programs that aren't funded, pension funds that are running out of money, schools that aren't funded--How does that help anyone? I don't really care if you're a Republican or Democrat or you want to fight about the size of government. How about a government that just works? Put your tax dollar in and get a return out the other end."

Yes, that would be nice. Unfortunately, public pensions all over the country are gobbling up more and more taxpayer money and producing nothing in return but huge deficits. It's not even certain whether employees in their 20s and 30s will retire with a pension, since many state and municipal pension systems are projected to run dry in the next two to three decades.

That included Rhode Island's system until last year, when Ms. Raimondo drove perhaps the boldest pension reform of the last decade through the state's Democratic-controlled General Assembly. The new law shifts all workers from defined-benefit pensions into hybrid plans, which include a modest annuity and a defined-contribution component. It also increases the retirement age to 67 from 62 for all workers and suspends cost-of-living adjustments for retirees until the pension system, which is only about 50% funded, reaches a more healthy state.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


Juliane Koepcke: How I survived a plane crash (Juliane Koepcke, 3/25/12, BBC Magazine)

When we saw lightning around the plane, I was scared. My mother and I held hands but we were unable to speak. Other passengers began to cry and weep and scream.

After about 10 minutes, I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left. My mother said very calmly: "That is the end, it's all over." Those were the last words I ever heard from her.

The plane jumped down and went into a nose-dive. It was pitch black and people were screaming, then the deep roaring of the engines filled my head completely.

Suddenly the noise stopped and I was outside the plane. I was in a freefall, strapped to my seat bench and hanging head-over-heels. The whispering of the wind was the only noise I could hear.

I felt completely alone.

I could see the canopy of the jungle spinning towards me. Then I lost consciousness and remember nothing of the impact. Later I learned that the plane had broken into pieces about two miles above the ground.

I woke the next day and looked up into the canopy. The first thought I had was: "I survived an air crash."

I shouted out for my mother in but I only heard the sounds of the jungle. I was completely alone.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


You are invited to join my on-line college hoops bracket
group! To accept this invitation and join the group, click
the link below (or cut and paste the link into your
browser's address field). You'll be asked to enter the
group's password before you can join. The group password is
included in this e-mail.

Our Group password is: ericjulia

The good folks at Macmillan are giving us an audio copy of their new thriller, The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith, to give away in the contest.  You can hear an excerpt here.

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


As Dems rack up debt, youth should flock to GOP (Jeff Jacoby, 3/25/12, Boston Globe)

'I Don't mean to be flip with this,'' said Mitt Romney during a q-and-a with students at the University of Chicago last week. "But I don't see how a young American can vote for a Democrat.'' He cheerfully apologized to anyone who might find such a comment "offensive,'' but went on to explain why he was in earnest .

The Democratic Party "is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, mounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for,'' Romney said. While Democrats are perpetrating "the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,'' Republicans are "consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.''

The government's record-breaking debts "are not frightening to people my age, because we'll be gone,'' Romney argued, but "they ought to be frightening to death to people your age!'' He regretted not doing a better job of getting that message across to younger voters. "You guys ought to be out,'' Romney insisted, "working like crazy for me and for people like me: conservatives, who want to keep the cost of government down and give you a brighter future.''

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


A federal budget plan, and reality (LA Times, 3/25/12)

Democrats are already focusing their protests on the big changes Ryan proposes for Medicare, starting in about a decade. But it's not the draconian outline Ryan offered last year, which would have replaced Medicare with insurance subsidies for the elderly that probably wouldn't have kept pace with the rising cost of medical care. The new plan, developed with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would preserve Medicare as an option but have private insurers compete with it for customers.

More problematic are Ryan's proposals to require states to pick up a growing share of the cost of Medicaid, a joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor, and to limit federal spending to about 20% of the economy, which eventually would force painful trade-offs between honoring the increasing obligations to retirees (in the form of Social Security and Medicare benefits) and maintaining other federal programs. 

Are they really arguing against the Ryan budget on the basis of a bipartisan plan that keeps Medicare but offers other choices and the fact that it makes the citizenry prioritize future spending?
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Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


"Capitalism Should Not Be Run By Capitalists": Last year, the British journalist Charles Moore caused a stir in conservative circles when he asked: Has the Left been right after all? Now, he sat down with Martin Eiermann to discuss contemporary conservatism, the future of Europe, and the comfort of original sin. (Charles Moore, 20.03.2012, The European)

The European: It seems to me that the crisis extends beyond a strict focus on markets. Religion has traditionally been an anchor for conservatism, but the influence of religion seems to be on the decline. In the context of gay rights or environmental regulation, conservative ideas are increasingly out of step with popular opinion. 

Moore: I think it is true that conservative ideas have to be articulated differently. The state of capitalism has been misrepresented. If you are a true believer in the free market, you are - as Tony Blair put it - on the side of the many, not the few. Adam Smith's argument was that transparency and the rule of law are important for free markets to function properly. Markets should not be controlled by the capitalists because their interests are not the same as the public interests. But here is the real problem: Everyone has gotten rather confused about the balance of liberty and authority. British conservatives are very keen to appeal to the nation-state. But free trade and the European Union have subverted that order. The EU is essentially opposed to the political unit of the nation-state, and conservatives instinctively feel threatened by that. The British government has decided that the Euro will collapse, and it tries to stand in the right spot when it does. The assumption is that Britain will ultimately benefit from a collapse of the Eurozone.

The European: German conservatives tend to be very pro-European. So is this a conservative confusion or a British peculiarity? 

Moore: It's an Anglo-Saxon thing. The whole human rights discourse presents a certain threat to our political liberty because it transfers authority from our own elected representatives to a foreign jurisdiction.

The European: Would you be more in favor of the EU if it had more democratic structures? 
Moore: Yes, in principle, but No in practice. In order to have these structures, you need a demos - shared assumptions about culture and history - that does not exist in Europe. The European Parliament is merely a pretense of democracy. The crisis of the Eurozone is now vindicating a lot of British sentiments about the problems of the European Union. What we said about the EU in the late 1980s has turned out to be right, and for almost the exact reasons that we mentioned. What we have not been able to do is answer questions about the balance between free trade and the independence of the nation-state. Mervyn King said that "the big banks are global in life but national in death." They come home to die, and we have to pay for their funeral. That is a very bad situation and leads us to espouse a vaguely Marxist view of the world: the view that decisions are made at the international level without taking our interests into account. The way the EU is run is essentially an international elite that gives each other jobs and pensions. And when they make a mess of things, they try to run the countries that have been messed up by their policies. For example, the current Greek government has never been elected. That is very alarming. [...]

The European: You earlier invoked Gramsci. Are you an optimist of the heart?

Moore: Yes, because of a Christian belief in original sin. It is a very comforting doctrine. If you know that you are bad, there is a sense that we are all in this together. The people who think that human nature is intrinsically good have to wonder why the world is so bad. But if you embrace your badness, you can review it and improve as a result. Free societies do that, and it is particularly strong in the Anglo-Saxon world. I have always been bothered by the tendency of contemporary European culture to sweep things under the carpet. One thing that European nations don't want to do right now is analyze why they are in this economic mess.

And the reason the Left and Right get reality so wrong, as Mr. Moore mentions, is that the one thinks the State is not Fallen and the other thinks Business is not.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Homophobia, football, and the French kiss making headlines (Daniel Jacobius Morgan, 25 March 2012, New Statesman)

A viral video of two French international footballers tenderly kissing in front of a stadium full of fans has entranced the Francophone media. After scoring against Germany in a friendly match, Olivier Giroud is shown grabbing his teammate Mathieu Debuchy's face with both hands and kissing him on the lips. As one blogger breathlessly wrote, "It was fleeting but passionate."

The clip was played repeatedly on French news channels in slow motion and from a variety of different angles, with pundits and fans agitatedly debating whether it was a moment of harmless heteronormative bonding, or something altogether more subversive. Asserting his heterosexuality, Giroud told the media, "We simply brushed [cheeks]. I was just thanking him. I am an affectionate person. There's nothing more to it." Despite the fact that these two men are resolutely straight, the reaction to the clip raises the question of why a moment of apparent homosexuality in the context of a football match raises so many eyebrows.

What would be genuinely shocking is a video of one of them throwing overhand.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


A Bailout by Another Name (GRETCHEN MORGENSON, 3/24/12, NY Times)

But what the proponents of principal reductions at Fannie and Freddie don't talk about is what a transfer of wealth from taxpayers (again) to large banks such a program would represent. The fact is, principal reductions by Fannie and Freddie are not the panacea that they may seem.

As of last September, only 2.5 percent of Fannie and Freddie mortgages were seriously delinquent, versus 7.2 percent for banks' mortgages. [...]

While some of the same people who helped get us into this housing mess call for Mr. DeMarco's head, it's instructive to see what Fannie and Freddie have done to help troubled homeowners -- and to compare, where you can, the companies' efforts with those of banks.

In the quarter ended last September, Fannie and Freddie were responsible for 36.3 percent of all loan modifications, compared with 19.2 percent by banks. Of the 54,000 loan modifications initiated under the Treasury Department's HAMP program in the September quarter, 44 percent were on Fannie and Freddie mortgages; bank-held loans accounted for a little more than half that share, at 23.6 percent.

The September quarter is by no means an anomaly. Fannie and Freddie have consistently led in loan modifications since the beginning of 2010.

Since the companies were taken over by taxpayers in September 2008, they have provided 1.1 million permanent loan modifications for homeowners. This compares with 950,000 permanent loan modifications under the HAMP program done by banks in a slightly shorter period -- April 2009 to January 2012. These include modifications on loans held by investors, however.

There's more. According to a recent report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, loan modifications by Fannie and Freddie have performed far better than those on privately held mortgages. Since the taxpayers took over the companies, re-default rates have been consistently lower at Fannie and Freddie than among privately held mortgages, the report shows.

This suggests that the types of loan modifications provided by Fannie and Freddie -- reducing borrowers' monthly payments -- are working fairly well. Addressing borrowers' ability to repay loans has been the focus, Mr. DeMarco said. At the same time, these changes in loan terms do not encourage people to default in spite of being able to pay.

"What we're doing with the bulk of underwater borrowers is offering loan mods for principal forbearance, taking a good chunk of underwater principal and setting it aside at a zero rate of interest," Mr. DeMarco said in an interview. "We're getting the borrower into a mortgage they have an ability to repay."

Moreover, most of the borrowers who owe more on their Fannie and Freddie loans than their homes are worth continue to pay their mortgages. The most recent statistics from the companies show that nearly 80 percent of underwater borrowers were current as of June 30 last year. Among those borrowers defined as deeply underwater -- their loan-to-value ratios are currently above 115 percent -- 74 percent were current.

Throughout the crisis and its aftermath, banks have been very good at ensuring that others -- whether taxpayers, Fannie and Freddie, or private investors who hold loans in mortgage securities -- do more to help troubled borrowers than banks have been willing to do themselves. This refusal to share the sacrifice is a major flaw in the recent foreclosure-abuses settlement that regulators have crowed about.

Bailout the home buyers and make the banks eat the costs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Obama Is Humbled by the Market (JIM MCTAGUE, 3/24/12, Barron's)

The irony here is that higher pump prices gradually phased in over, say, 10 years, as opposed to rapidly increased in a few months, might benefit the economy immensely, solving a host of problems from pollution to traffic congestion. Economists from both political parties for years have been urging presidents to adopt a federal gasoline tax significantly higher than the current 18.4 cents a gallon to reduce wasteful consumption. However, presidents including Obama have refused to touch the suggestion with a 10-foot pole because it's considered political suicide to ask voters to accept higher fuel levies.

Harvard University economist Greg Mankiw, currently an advisor to GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, has long been an advocate of a $1-per-gallon gas-tax hike phased in over 10 years (Romney won't countenance the tax). Absent the tax, politicians resort to crazy, Obama-like schemes to achieve the same end of reducing our dependence on foreign oil supplies.

MANKIW PRESCIENTLY STATED during a 2006 interview conducted by CNBC's Larry Kudlow that the alternative to a simple gas tax is "an energy policy that looks like it was created in the Kremlin."

"An alternative in Washington to gas taxes," he said, "is very heavy-handed regulation that's extraordinarily intrusive and not particularly effective. Things like CAFE standards"--the fuel-efficiency rules that auto manufacturers are required to follow--"and biofuel mandates are tremendously regulatory. The gas tax is really the least invasive way of getting toward our energy goals."

In an Oct. 20, 2006, op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Mankiw said higher gasoline taxes would be the least invasive way to reduce pollution and highway congestion. The tax would encourage manufacturers to make fuel-efficient cars and eliminate the need for bureaucratic mandates. Mankiw estimated in his 2006 article that tax revenue would amount to $100 billion a year, which could be used to lower the deficit.

It needs to be much higher that a $1 increase.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Why Won't They Listen?: a review of THE RIGHTEOUS MIND: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion By Jonathan Haidt (WILLIAM SALETAN, NY Times Book Review)

Haidt seems to delight in mischief. Drawing on ethnography, evolutionary theory and experimental psychology, he sets out to trash the modern faith in reason. In Haidt's retelling, all the fools, foils and villains of intellectual history are recast as heroes. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher who notoriously said reason was fit only to be "the slave of the passions," was largely correct. E. O. Wilson, the ecologist who was branded a fascist for stressing the biological origins of human behavior, has been vindicated by the study of moral emotions. Even Glaucon, the cynic in Plato's "Republic" who told Socrates that people would behave ethically only if they thought they were being watched, was "the guy who got it right."

To the question many people ask about politics -- Why doesn't the other side listen to reason? -- Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they've decided. The funniest and most painful illustrations are Haidt's transcripts of interviews about bizarre scenarios. Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why.

The problem isn't that people don't reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn't work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments.

To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others.

A live chicken is a whole 'nother story....

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March 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Islamist Victors in Egypt Seeking Shift by Hamas (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 3/24/12, NY Times)

The intervention in the Palestinian issue is the clearest indication yet that as it moves into a position of authority, the Brotherhood, the largest vote getter in Egypt's parliamentary elections, intends to both moderate its positions on foreign policy and reconfigure Egypt's.

Brotherhood officials say that they are pulling back from their previous embrace of Hamas and its commitment to armed struggle against Israel in order to open new channels of communications with Fatah, which the Brotherhood had previously denounced for collaborating with Israel and accused of selling out the Palestinian cause. Brotherhood leaders argue that if they persuade the Palestinians to work together with a newly assertive Egypt, they will have far more success forcing Israel to bargain in earnest over the terms of statehood.

"Now we have to deal with the Palestinian parties as an umbrella for both of them, and we have to stand at an equal distance from each," said Reda Fahmy, a Brotherhood leader who oversees its Palestinian relations and is now chairman of the Arab affairs committee in Egypt's upper house of Parliament. "Any movement of the size of the Muslim Brotherhood, when it is in the opposition it is one thing and then when it comes to power it is something completely different."

The shift in the Brotherhood's stance toward neutrality between Hamas and Fatah -- acknowledged by officials of both groups -- may relieve United States policy makers, who have long worried about the Brotherhood's relationship with the more militant Hamas. The United States considers the Palestinian group to be a terrorist organization. But the shift in Egypt's policies may unnerve Israel, because it is a move away from former President Hosni Mubarak's exclusive support for the Western-backed Fatah movement and its commitment to the peace process. Israeli officials have said they will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

But Mr. Fahmy said the Brotherhood believed that Palestinian unity could break the deadlock in talks with Israel. "A Palestinian negotiator will go the table and know that all the Palestinian people are supporting his project," Mr. Fahmy said.  "This will be a huge change and very important to both sides." Jailed at times by the Mubarak government for his role in the Brotherhood, Mr. Fahmy spoke this month from an ornate hall of Parliament.

After decades of denunciations and enmity -- Brotherhood texts still sometimes refer to the Jewish state as "the Zionist entity" -- Brotherhood leaders have said that as members of the governing party they will honor Egypt's 1979 peace accord with Israel. Some of its leaders say they believe that such coexistence can become a model for Hamas as well, if Israel moves toward accepting a fully independent Palestinian state.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Once Imperiled, U.S. Aid to Egypt Is Restored (STEVEN LEE MYERS, 3/23/12, NY Times)

A delay or a cut in $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt risked breaking existing contracts with American arms manufacturers that could have shut down production lines in the middle of President Obama's re-election campaign and involved significant financial penalties, according to officials involved in the debate.

Since the Pentagon buys weapons for foreign armed forces like Egypt's, the cost of those penalties -- which one senior official said could have reached $2 billion if all sales had been halted -- would have been borne by the American taxpayer, not Egypt's ruling generals.

The companies involved include Lockheed Martin, which is scheduled to ship the first of a batch of 20 new F-16 fighter jets next month, and General Dynamics, which last year signed a $395 million contract to deliver component parts for 125 Abrams M1A1 tanks that are being assembled at a plant in Egypt.

"In large part, there are U.S. jobs that are reliant on the U.S.-Egypt strong military-to-military relationship," a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under rules set by the department. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Health reform at 2: Why American health care will never be the same (Sarah Kliff, March 23, 2012, Washington Post)

In February 2009, Michael Zucker told a group of high-paid surgeons something they did not want to hear: The way they earned a salary was about to change.

Zucker is the chief development officer at Baptist Health System, a five-hospital network in San Antonio. For 37 common surgeries, such as hip replacements and pacemaker implants, it would soon collect "bundled" Medicare payments. Traditionally, hospitals and doctors had collected separate fees for each step of such procedures; now they would get a lump sum for treating everything related to the patient's condition.

If a hospital delivered care for less than the bundled rate, while hitting certain quality metrics, it would keep the difference as profit. But if costs were high and quality was too low, Baptist would lose money. For the first time in their careers, the doctors' paychecks depended on the quality of the care they provided.

Four surgeons quit in protest.

"I'd describe the reception as lukewarm at best," Zucker says. "There was a lot of: 'How could you do this?' and 'I'm not going to participate.' "

The program launched in June 2009 with a checklist of quality metrics. To earn a bonus, surgeons would, among other things, need to ensure that antibiotics were administered an hour before surgery and halted 24 hours after, reducing the chances of costly complications.

Only three doctors hit the metrics that first month, but their bonuses caught the attention of others. "There was a lot of, 'Why are those doctors getting more, and I'm not?" Zucker says. Eight doctors got bonus payments in July; two dozen got them in August. Compliance with certain quality metrics steadily climbed from 89 percent to 98 percent in three months.

Two-and-a-half years later, Baptists' surgeons have earned more than $950,000 in bonuses. Medicare, meanwhile, has netted savings: Its bundled rate is about 5 percent lower than all the fees it used to pay out for the same services. "It wasn't a home-run," says Zucker, noting the start-up costs in administering the program -- not to mention a handful of lost employees. "But I'd call it a solid triple."

The Affordable Care Act is mostly known for its mandate to expand health insurance to 30 million more Americans within a decade. That's the side of the legislation Democrats touted last week, when the law hit its two-year anniversary. It's also the point that has roused the most ire from opponents. Insurance expansion is at the heart of legal challenges the Supreme Court will take up on Monday, which argue that forcing people to buy insurance coverage is unconstitutional.

But much of the law's 905 pages are dedicated to an effort that's arguably more ambitious: an overhaul of America's business model for medicine. It includes 45 changes to how doctors deliver health care -- and how patients pay for it. These reforms, if successful, will move the country's health system away from one that pays for volume and toward one that pays for value.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


So I took the older kids to see Hunger Games last night, and read the book in preparation. The adaptation is sufficiently faithful--given time constraints--that we need no quibble over the variations, though they were nearly all the book-obsessed Daughter cared about. Instead, two of the great weaknesses of the story stand out even more starkly in the film. Them we really should address.

The first concerns one of the most difficult tasks that faces any writer of science fiction/fantasy: the creation of some depth to the world that is created to frame the story. Of course, anyone working in the genres will inevitably be measured against the impossibly high standard that JRR Tolkien established in the Lord of the Rings. There every character and his people had a voluminous backstory, traditions, language, art, etc. No one is just a plot device or window dressing. Great themes twine throughout the whole history of Middle Earth. Nothing is merely surface. And, as a result, Tolkien's story is always internally coherent and consistent. It does not matter whether there are elves and dwarves in real life. Within the four corners of the narrative they not only exist but behave in ways that make sense.

Susan Collin's world of Panem, on the other hand, makes no sense. Here we have a world that has developed technology sufficiently advanced that trains hover above their tracks and whisk you from outlying districts to the futuristic Capitol, where hovercrafts can deposit troops at a moments notice, where communications screens are omnipresent, where bioengineering produces a range of mutated livestock, and where computer programs generate material goods. And yet, we are asked to believe that provincial coal mining, timber harvesting, farming and the like are all vital to the survival of the regime. Huh? That train was not being pulled by a steam engine (the visual is especially damning in that regard). And if you want more food why don't the game programmers just adapt their code?

Importantly, the problem here is not just that the folks running The Capitol could feed the masses more easily than the masses supposedly feed them, but that this is exactly what an authoritarian government would do. Just as the games are the circuses with which the patricians keep the plebians quiescent, so too would they give them bread. If a simple reality tv show has managed to keep the internal peace for seven decades, imagine how much more docile the people would be if you fattened them up a bit? 

Which raises an awkward question, that flows from such an underdeveloped mythos: what is the point of the repression, such as it is, in Panem? It seems to be just a function of preventing another rebellion, but rebellion against what? The regime is not terribly harsh. It's not homicidal/genocidal. Its security services hardly seem a factor in every day life. There's so little surveillance that the heroine and her boy friend can routinely sneak out of their District to hunt and can freely trade what they kill or capture on the flourishing black market. It is a government that has the capacity to observe and track people at every step, yet oddly chooses not to do so for the general population it is supposedly terrified of. There's a camera in every tree on the game set but not a one in anyone's home?

But if the motivations and rationales of The Capitol are annoyingly opaque, those of the dwellers in the Districts are fatally so. These are people who have no culture, no metaphysical belief, no nothing that we care about them preserving. Sure, it would be nice if the kids didn't have to die violent deaths in the Games or starve back home, but if all their existence amounts to is feeding themselves, then Katniss's friend, Gale, is pretty much right that killing what is left of the human species is no different than killing other animals. 

Here Ms Collins and company run into the same problem that plagued Ridley Scott's Gladiator: the story has a void at its core because the Christianity is removed. Just as Maximus was stuck with little clay figurines that meant nothing, Katniss carries a crucifix-substitute, a mockingjay pin, that is devoid of any meaning. And there's one scene that captures the emptiness of the lives lived in Panem with a haunting clarity. Lenny Kravitz plays Cinna, who starts as the stylist for District 12 but becomes a fan of Katniss. As he's wishing her farewell before she heads into the arena, he reveals that he put the pin on her garment, tells her he would have bet on her if he could, and then a deafening silence descends. In the absence of culture, he has nothing to say to her, nor she to him, that has any meaning. She should live just because she should. But, of course, she's going to die sometime. If that's all there is, then who cares when she dies, or why? 

We know what they should be saying to each other, what is required that they say to each other. But they don't, which makes them startlingly hollow. 

What we ultimately have here is another instance of how misshapen a story becomes when the teller tries to escape the truth of the One Story

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Unrestricted Seniors Endanger German Roads</a>: The number of elderly German drivers is rising significantly, as is the accident risk for everyone who uses the country's roads. Experts recommend more consideration from other drivers and say seniors should be given regular tests. But as their constituencies age, lawmakers are resisting tougher regulations.  (Guido Kleinhubbert, 3/23/12, Der Spiegel)

While cars in Germany are required to undergo regular technical and safety inspections, drivers are not held to similar standards. Anyone who has ever obtained a driver's license can get behind the wheel of a car. As a result, an increasing number of drivers on busy autobahns and bustling downtown streets are people with heart problems, poor circulation and other age-related limitations, like vision problems, hearing deficiencies and the first symptoms of dementia.

According to the German Automobile Club (ADAC), 1.7 million people between the ages of 75 and 84 own a car in Germany, and they often drive under the influence of strong medications that can significantly impair their reflexes and ability to react. Based on the amount of driving they do, the threat posed by seniors is similar to that of beginning drivers aged 18 to 21. And it's to be expected that the number of accidents they cause will increase considerably in the coming years.

Hardly any other population group is growing as fast as people over 75. And soon, for the first time in German history, the majority of people who reach this age will have a driver's license. "For that reason, road traffic and accidents will change considerably in the coming years," says Dresden traffic psychologist Bernhard Schlag.

Accident statistics show that in 2011 seniors were involved in accidents at an above-average rate, were more likely than others to suffer serious consequences and bore the brunt of the blame in about 70 percent of all accidents in which they were involved. "While the situation tends to be improving in other age groups, it is getting worse among the elderly," says Schlag.

March 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 PM


Gas consumption falling as prices rise (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 23 March 2012)

Americans have pumped less gas every week for the past year.

During those 52 weeks, gasoline consumption dropped by 4.2 billion gallons, or 3 percent, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse. The decline is longer than a 51-week slide during the recession.

The main reason: higher gas prices. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 PM



My favorite LED lightbulb is the Philips 12.5 watt ambientLED, a lamp as bright and as warmly colored as a traditional 60 watt incandescent. Nearly everyone who reviewed it found it to be their favorite.

But let me get this out of the way: it's $25. LED Lightbulbs aren't cheap. But they'll last 15-25 years compared to about a year for regular bulbs. And they only use 1/5th of the power that older bulbs require-about $1 vs $5 a year. So they can eventually save you hundreds of dollars because you won't have to replace them as often, and they'll burn less energy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 PM


Supreme Court sides with Idaho landowners against EPA (Bettina Boxall and David G. Savage, 3/23/12, Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court strengthened the rights of property owners who are confronted by federal environmental regulators, ruling Wednesday that landowners are entitled to a hearing to challenge the government's threats to fine them for alleged Clean Water Act violations. [...]

Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau said that he doubted the opinion would have much effect on Clean Water Act enforcement because it applied to "an extremely narrow range of cases" and that most people in similar situations complied with the agency orders.

"I think the court was certainly very concerned that EPA was telling people they had to ... pay all these fines but also saying, we're not going to tell you when, if ever, you're going to get a day in court," Parenteau said. "I think the court was right to call the EPA on that."

The Sacketts bought a parcel of less than an acre in 2005, intending to build a three-bedroom house. The lot is in a residential area near Priest Lake, and other houses had been constructed between their land and the lake. They obtained a county permit and trucked in dirt and gravel fill. A few months later the EPA informed them that their property contained wetlands and said they had violated clean water regulations.

The proper line of argument is that designating the property as a wetlands constitutes a taking for public use and, therefore, the owners are entitled to just compensation.  The EPA can clean it up and the owners can buy a new lot.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM



With me out of the game, another teammate eliminated, and a third being held hostage, that leaves only one remaining member of Team Sahafi (Arabic for "journalists"): Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger captain who retired after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and has since become a noted counterinsurgency expert. When he's not playing paintball in the basement of a Beirut strip mall, Exum is flying to Kabul to advise the US military or writing papers with phrases like "population-centric" in their titles. He also heads up, a blog revered by War on Terror geeks. The main thrust of Exum's strategy is to separate insurgents from the broader population. Tonight, however, as two Hezbollah fighters drag and push his comrade-turned-hostage toward him, Ranger Exum makes little effort to separate good guy from bad and shoots all three of them repeatedly. This delights our opponents, who appear to appreciate the lack of emotion shown by the American warrior. Finally, they relent--no one can doubt they have been "killed"--and forfeit the game.

We all convene back in the arena's cantina, where there are snacks and weird murals suggesting that paintball is the best way to deal with one's inner aggression. If the initial introductions between the two sides had been slightly tense--the fighters seemed nervous about being identified, and we were anxious about them backing out--the realization that they had just attempted to use a hostage as a human shield during a paintball fight loosened things up. The Hezbollah guys all laugh when Exum jokes that he killed Ben to keep him off some Al Jazeera reel. And they respond--pointing at me--that after the next game "the Germans will have to negotiate for this one." It's a somewhat sick inside joke: German diplomats are usually tasked with negotiating Hezbollah-Israeli prisoner and body swaps.

Soha--my Lebanese girlfriend, who agreed to serve as a translator/liaison--decides that Team Hezbollah's use of actual military hardware, their hostage-taking tactics, and, most of all, their refusal to leave the game when hit means that the rules need clarifying. She has a few words with the arena's confused manager, who five seconds into the first match quickly realized he was hosting a very peculiar party tonight and who, for the first two games, was too intimidated to remind the four guerrillas to adhere to the posted rules. So it's up to Soha to badger both him and the Hezbollah boys so that they quit it with the cheating. In setting up the ground rules for the game, the Hezbollah team members sent word that "no Lebanese" could be present, concerned that someone would recognize them and tell their bosses they were breaking some serious rules. But Soha charmed them within a few minutes, and her presence slowly became welcome.

Quickly, Soha brokers a deal: Everyone agrees that, for the rest of the game, only head shots will count as kills. Also, "outside equipment" is officially banned. During the first two games, it was clear that Team Hezbollah had little fear of nonlethal paintball fire; they'd all been hit multiple times and stubbornly stayed in the game. But they seem to respect the notion that when someone is shot in the head, he's done. Plus, it'll be more fun if everyone's harder to kill. We decide to call the first two games down the middle: one win for them, the other for us.

This gets Coco's attention. "Really?" he asks. "But Hezbollah always wins." [...]

My motivation for brokering the match was largely driven by the simple journalistic need to better understand the group. Hezbollah's highly professional press office is quite friendly toward Western journalists--eagerly taking meetings and repeating the same bland propaganda spewed by their official outlets. Requests for access to its foot soldiers, however, are always ignored. Even the idea of such a meeting happening is taboo. Partly, it's an institutional thing. Top Hezbollah boss Hasan Nasrallah likes to joke about how taciturn his fighters can be, once explaining that when the 2006 war broke out, his security detail moved him to a location so secret he didn't know where he was for 34 days.

After more than five years in Beirut, I'd never once found a way to interact closely with Hezbollah fighters. So I wondered: What might I learn if I could get them out of their tightly disciplined environment, into a place where they might relax a little and trust me enough to reveal even a fleeting truth or insight? The rest of Team Sahafi is composed of similarly minded foreign correspondents.

Our roster includes Ben Gilbert, a radio and print reporter who moved to Lebanon in 2006 after a year reporting from Iraq; Nicholas Blanford, who has been reporting on Lebanon and Hezbollah for 17 years and who just put out Warriors of God, an exhaustive military history of the group; the impossibly tall and baby-faced New York Times photographer Bryan Denton, who has been in Beirut for the past five years, covering various outbreaks of violence and the 2006 war with Israel, before deciding to cover the revolution in Libya; and Exum, our secret weapon. Our only nonjournalist, Exum was the key both to getting the fighters to show up and to our having any real chance at winning. He left the army before his 30th birthday and is now wrapping up a PhD in "insurgency studies." His take on the situation was that it'd serve as an indispensable bit of field research.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


The Story of Us, A People in Exile: On The New American Haggadah (JESSICA FREEMAN-SLADE, March 23, 2012, The Millions)

The New American Haggadah's strengths are especially prominent in the commentary dispersed throughout the text. Each major portion of the Seder is accompanied by four perspectives -- Middle-East historian Jeffrey Goldberg ("Nation"), director of the Center of Jewish Studies, Nathaniel Deutsch ("House of Study"), novelist and scholar Rebecca Newberger Goldstein ("Library"), and novelist Lemony Snicket ("Playground"). These contrasting voices bring out the multitudes of questions and quandaries inherent in the Passover story, and by secularizing the commentary, giving it over to political, liturgical, literary, and elementary analysis, they have made this into a vitally relevant piece of philosophical inquiry. Goldberg's "Nation" contributions are especially vital, contextualizing the Seder as a moral code that we as global citizens have tried (and failed) to uphold. (Sharp eyes will immediately scan the text for his take on the Israel-Palestine quagmire.) And Snicket's witty asides bring the perfect amount of snark to the text -- it will keep the antsy adolescent attendee entertained throughout the Seder while keeping them engaged with the evening's message. (Especially great is the retort to that ever-condescending narration of the Four Children -- Snicket offers, as an antidote, "The Four Parents.") Ending the Seder with Snicket's Seinfeldian examination of the bizarre Aramaic song, "Chad Gadya," lets you leave the table with a belly laugh -- made even more enjoyable after the required four glasses of wine.

What makes this volume such a pleasure to read, and what makes it the best book of modern religious thought in recent memory, is its demand that dialogue be a central part of worship. "Tonight is the night," Goldstein says, "that we sanctify storytelling," and nowhere is this more clear than in Englander's translation, framed with the essence of narrative-in-community in mind: "Adonai" becomes "Lord God-of-us, King of the Cosmos." The latter half is a bit grandiose, but the first part is spot-on. The voice of the storyteller-as-representative of the audience is central, and the translation of the Seder's outline suddenly clarifies why each part is crucial -- reading each stage as one line of dictation, "Sanctify and wash; dip split and tell; be washed and bless the poor man's bread; bitter, bundle, and set down to eat; hide it and bless; praise it; be pleased." Prayers are translated leniently, as if preparing for the not-so-adherent Jew, i.e. if you fail to dispose of all the leavened bread in your house, it's no big whup. And he lets the beauty of the language flow, turning prayers into poems. In a prayer for compassion, the plea is to "rescue and recover them -- delivering them from gorge to meadow, from darkness to light. Break them free of their shackles and lead them on to salvation. Do it with speed and in our days, and let us all say, Amen."

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Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Obama nominates Dartmouth's Jim Yong Kim to be World Bank chief (Don Lee, March 23, 2012, LA Times)

President Obama on Friday nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, a physician and anthropologist by training, to succeed Robert Zoellick as the next president of the World Bank.

The naming of Kim was seen as a surprise.  Kim, 52, though highly regarded for his leadership in global health issues, is not well known in political or financial circles. But the appointment of the South Korean-born Kim may also deflect criticisms from developing economies of the United States having a lock on the World Bank's top position.

Hanover will be happy to see his tail lights.  He seriously told someone that one of his goals here was to see more ethnic restaurants open.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


The chia craze (Lauren Everitt, 3/23/12, BBC News Magazine)

Chia, or Salvia hispanica L, is a member of the mint family from Mexico and South America. The flowering plant can sprout in a matter of days, but chia's appeal is in the nutritional punch of its tiny seeds.

With more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon, a wealth of antioxidants and minerals, a complete source of protein and more fibre than flax seed, the seeds have been dubbed a "dieter's dream", "the running food", "a miracle", and "the ultimate super food", by advocates and athletes.

We've been selling them at the King for awhile.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


U.S. Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence (CLIFFORD KRAUSS and ERIC LIPTON, 3/23/12, NY Times)

At the same time, Americans are pumping significantly less gasoline. While that is partly a result of the recession and higher gasoline prices, people are also driving fewer miles and replacing older cars with more fuel-efficient vehicles at a greater clip, federal data show.

Taken together, the increasing production and declining consumption have unexpectedly brought the United States markedly closer to a goal that has tantalized presidents since Richard Nixon: independence from foreign energy sources, a milestone that could reconfigure American foreign policy, the economy and more. In 2011, the country imported just 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from a record high of 60 percent in 2005.

"There is no question that many national security policy makers will believe they have much more flexibility and will think about the world differently if the United States is importing a lot less oil," said Michael A. Levi, an energy and environmental senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "For decades, consumption rose, production fell and imports increased, and now every one of those trends is going the other way."

How the country made this turnabout is a story of industry-friendly policies started by President Bush and largely continued by President Obama -- many over the objections of environmental advocates -- as well as technological advances that have allowed the extraction of oil and gas once considered too difficult and too expensive to reach. But mainly it is a story of the complex economics of energy, which sometimes seems to operate by its own rules of supply and demand.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Big Kill, Not Big Chill, Finished Off Giant Kangaroos (David Biello, March 22, 2012, Scientific American)

Around 40,000 years ago, the giant kangaroo disappeared from Australia. So did Diprotodon (rhinoceros-size wombats) and Palorchestes (tapirlike marsupials) as well as supersize birds, reptiles and some 50 other so-called megafauna--big animals. And now a record of fungal spores pulled from the swamp at Lynch's Crater in the northeastern corner of the continent reveals humans as the culprit.

"The megafauna declined soon after the time that we know people arrived in the region," explains zoologist Christopher Johnson of the University of Tasmania, lead author of the report published March 23 in Science. "We conclude that humans, not climate, caused the extinction."

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Jeb Bush: It's time to support Romney as Republican candidate (Salena Zito, 3/22/12, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW)

Bush, 59, the son of a president and brother of another, pushed aside any interest in running with Romney. But he has strong feelings on whom he wants Romney to pick as a running mate.

"Marco Rubio," he said of the freshman Florida GOP senator, who served as a volunteer on Bush's governor's campaign. Bush described Rubio, 40, as "dynamic, joyful, disciplined and principled."

"He is the best orator of American politics today, a good family man. He is not only a consistent conservative, but he has managed to find a way to communicate a conservative message full of hope and optimism," Bush said. [...]

Bush, who has urged the GOP to be more sensitive to Latino voters, said the party has a long way to go.

Latino voters are expected to represent the margin of victory in at least 10 to 15 key battleground states in November. Stopping the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico and South America emerged as a significant issue in GOP presidential debates.

"The problem lies in the tone," Bush said. "You do not have to sacrifice principle to win the Latino vote."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


The Ottoman Empire's Life-or-Death Race (Smithsonian, 3/22/12, Mike Dash)

When very senior officials were sentenced to death, they would be dealt with by the bostancı basha in person, but--at least toward the end of the sultans' rule--execution was not the inevitable result of a death sentence. Instead, the condemned man and the bostancı basha took part in what was surely one of the most peculiar customs known to history: a race held between the head gardener and his anticipated victim, the result of which was, quite literally, a matter of life or death for the trembling grand vizier or chief eunuch required to undertake it.

How this custom came about remains unknown. From the end of the eighteenth century, however, accounts of the bizarre race began to emerge from the seraglio, and these seem reasonably consistent in their details. Death sentences passed within the walls of the Topkapi were generally delivered to the head gardener at the Central Gate; Godfrey Goodwin describes the next part of the ritual thus:

It was the bostancibaşi's duty to summon any notable.... When the vezir or other unfortunate miscreant arrived, he well knew why he had been summoned, but he had to bite his lip through the courtesies of hospitality before, at long last, being handed a cup of sherbet. If it were white, he sighed with relief, but if it were red he was in despair, because red was the color of death.

For most of the bostancıs' victims, the sentence was carried out immediately after the serving of the fatal sherbet by a group of five muscular young janissaries, members of the sultan's elite infantry. For a grand vizier, however, there was still a chance: as soon as the death sentence was passed, the condemned man would be allowed to run as fast as he was able the 300 yards or so from the palace, through the gardens, and down to the Fish Market Gate on the southern side of the palace complex, overlooking the Bosphorus, which was the appointed place of execution. 

If the deposed vizier reached the Fish Market Gate before the head gardener, his sentence was commuted to mere banishment. But if the condemned man found the bostanci basha waiting for him at the gate, he was summarily executed and his body hurled into the sea.

Ottoman records show that the strange custom of the fatal race lasted into the early years of the nineteenth century. The last man to save his neck by winning the life-or-death sprint was the Grand Vizier Hacı Salih Pasha, in November 1822. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


REVIEW: of Once (Terry Teachout, 3/23/12, WSJ)

"Once" is the most touching new musical to come to Broadway since "The Light in the Piazza" opened here in 2005, and it deserves to be a hit. Sure, it belongs off-Broadway, but if you don't see it now, you won't get to see Cristin Milioti, who is giving the kind of performance that in a just world would do for her what "Venus in Fur" did for Nina Arianda. What she does in "Once" would be worth seeing even if the show were less good than it is.

Not much happens in "Once," which is set in a Dublin pub and whose principal characters, Steve Kazee and Ms. Milioti, are identified only as "Guy" and "Girl." Guy is a singer-songwriter who lives with his father (David Patrick Kelly) and fixes vacuum cleaners for a living. He got dumped by his girlfriend, wrote a bunch of songs about the breakup, and sings them on the street. Just when he starts to lose faith in his talent, he meets Girl, an abrupt, intense Czech émigré who is sincere to the point of humorlessness ("I'm always serious--I'm Czech"). She loves his songs and encourages him to make a demo record, become famous and win back his girlfriend.

Naturally they fall for each other, but...I'd better stop there. It's enough to say that Guy and Girl may or may not be destined to live happily ever after, and that "Once" portrays their should-we-shouldn't-we difficulties with unexpected honesty. Here as in the film, the emphasis is on characterization, not action, and while Enda Walsh, who wrote the book, has spelled out much of what was implied in John Carney's screenplay, he's done so in a way that is anything but heavy-handed.

John Tiffany has staged "Once" with appropriate simplicity on an unpretentious set designed by Bob Crowley. The members of the 13-person cast double as the onstage orchestra, and their performances are as plain-spoken as the show itself.

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March 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Protesters See Tweets Used Against Them (TAMER EL-GHOBASHY, 3/22/12, WSJ)

As they prosecute hundreds of Occupy protesters on lower-level charges such as disorderly conduct, Manhattan prosecutors have turned one of the movement's principal organizing tools--social media such as Twitter--against the defendants.

In short Twitter messages, protesters coordinate activities and warn others of law-enforcement efforts. In doing so, prosecutors believe some have revealed an intent to break the law.

"The lesson is, if you're speaking publicly and leaving a record as to who you are, that's information the government can legally access," said Orin Kerr, a professor of law at George Washington University who specializes in electronic evidence and Internet law.

Tweets could address a key problem for prosecutors as the cases move through court: establishing the actions and intentions of specific people who were arrested in huge groups.

.Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very prison!
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Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Biden in 2016? Not so crazy (Glenn Thrush, March 22, 2012, Politico)

Obama aides, by and large, are amused rather than threatened by Biden, although they are none too eager to reprise the veep vs. White House storyline in the "West Wing" TV show or the real-life Bill Clinton-Al Gore drama that inspired it.

But if Biden was picked in part because he posed no threat to the man at the top of the ticket...

....than in the fact that Dick Cheney (along with Don Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Tommy Thompson, etc.) was already qualified to be president, whereas no one in this administration was.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Who's Progressive? (PETER HANNAFORD, 3.22.12, American Spectator)

It is not surprising that the "mainstream" media use the word "progressive" without quotation marks to describe liberal Democrats and their proposals. What is surprising is that conservative commentators often do the same thing, as if the people who use the word to describe themselves deserve it. Even some Republican lawmakers in interviews treat the word as a common description. and not what it is, an effort by their adversaries to attach good overtones to bad ideas.

Here is a proposal: Let every Republican office holder or office seeker and every conservative commentator vow to put quotation marks around "progressive" in any written communication or article and, in radio or television appearances, precede it with the phrase "so-called." Thus, in print, it would be the "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party and in broadcasts, the so-called "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party." Bolder voices might go further and call it by its accurate name, the regressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Indeed, it is currently folks like Paul Ryan and Ron Wyden, who are prepared to move past both the First and Second Ways, who are progressive, though W was the most progressive politician we've had since FDR.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


In Iraq, growing gap sets Kurdistan apart (Ernesto Londoño, 3/10/12, Washington Post)

This is Iraqi Kurdistan, a region that was semiautonomous even under Saddam Hussein, but one that has been transformed in remarkable ways since the American invasion of 2003. While the rest of Iraq remains saddled by scars and trauma from the conflicts the U.S. invasion unleashed, the Kurdistan region increasingly stands apart, with its own fractious, impoverished past mostly a distant memory.

But Kurdistan can only be held up as a success story with significant caveats. Security has come at the expense of the repressive features of a police state. Two ruling political parties have held on to power through a vast network of patronage that has given the opposition little breathing room.

Perhaps most alarmingly, its historically acrimonious relationship with Baghdad has become downright poisonous since the last U.S. soldiers left the country last December -- casting a pall over the sustainability of its aspirations. 

"If the other Iraq cannot lift itself you will have a gap, and that gap will lead to conflict,'' Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdistan's president, Massoud Barzani, said in an interview in his office in Irbil.

Declare nationhood and end the charade.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


I'd forgotten this one, courtesy of Friend Driscoll.
Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Roberto Clemente: The King of Béisbol: Fifty years ago, the sports superstar and humanitarian transcended baseball's borders (David Maraniss, April 2012, Smithsonian)

What a surprisingly light object this helmet is! The sensation is of holding balsa wood, so insubstantial it seems almost ready to float away. Six and a half ounces, fiberglass and polyester resin, made from the formula used in bulletproofing materials for the armed forces. Coated in black, with a yellow P embossed on the front--the colors of the Pirates. Eight air holes on top, no ear flaps (they would not be mandatory in the Majors until 1974), scuff marks here and there, many of them with flecks of green. How could this object protect a head from the impact of baseballs thrown at velocities of 90 to 100 miles an hour from a distance of 60 feet 6 inches by the likes of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal? The question raises many thoughts, but first consider the remarkable head inside that helmet.

Clemente represents more than baseball. That explains why his helmet is at the museum, where it will appear among more than 100 objects--along with the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the original Kermit the Frog and a 150-pound piece of Plymouth Rock--in the exhibition "American Stories," which opens April 5. Clemente became a patron saint in the Spanish-speaking baseball-playing world, as well as in his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh, a black Latino embraced by the nation's quintessential white working-class town. His devoted following extends around the world; 40 schools and more than 200 parks are named in his honor, from Puerto Rico to Africa to Germany. The way he died is part of it. The plane that carried him to his death at age 38 was bound for Managua, Nicaragua, from San Juan, carrying humanitarian aid to a nation that had been devastated by an earthquake. That trip was in keeping with the way Clemente lived. He was that rare athlete who was growing as a human being as he aged; so many diminish as their talents diminish. In the final years of his life, his mantra was: If you have a chance to make life better for others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth. Clemente was aboard the plane because earlier aid sent to Nicaragua had been diverted by military thugs working for the nation's strongman ruler, Anastasio Somoza Debayle. If I go, it will reach the people, he said.

Months after he died, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the first Latino so honored, and joined Lou Gehrig, who also died young, as the only members not required to wait five years after their playing days were done. Clemente was not the best ever, but there was no one like him on the field or off. Here is No. 21 in full--the soulful way he looked in his cutoff Pirates uniform with the black long-sleeved undershirt; the way he moved slowly to the plate, as though about to face an executioner, rolling out the persistent kinks in his neck all the way from the on-deck circle; the trademark clothesline throw from the deepest corner of right field to third base; the incessant physical complaints of a perfectionist and hypochondriac; the busting pride for his homeland and the determination with which he confronted American sportswriters who ridiculed his accent (none of them spoke Spanish) and described him in the racial stereotypes of that era; the beautiful fury with which he swung his big-barreled bat at any pitch within reach and ran the bases as if fleeing a horror, his helmet often flying off as he rounded first after another of his precisely 3,000 hits.

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March 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


Why Jeb Bush's Nod Is the Beginning of the End of the Primary Race (ALEX ROARTY, 3/21/12, NATIONAL JOURNAL)

It's the ninth inning of the Republican presidential primary, and Mitt Romney just brought his ace closer into the game. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's support of the GOP front-runner, one of the race's most coveted endorsements, sends an unequivocal message to Republicans everywhere that after a long, bitter primary fight, it's time to unite behind Romney as the party's presidential nominee.

Bush's imprimatur won't strong-arm conservative insurgent Rick Santorum out of the race, but, coming a day after Romney's commanding victory in the Illinois primary, his support leaves the ex-senator from Pennsylvania suddenly in desperate need of another primary victory to maintain credibility. the discipline they demonstrated in holding off the Jeb endorsement until Mitt had won the race himself.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Paul Ryan's New-and-Improved Plan for Medicare and Medicaid Reform (Avik Roy, 3/21/12, Forbes)

Ryan's proposal for Medicaid reform involves "converting the federal share of Medicaid spending into a block grant indexed for inflation and population growth." This contrasts meaningfully with a plan put forth by four House members on the conservative Republican Study Committee: Reps. Todd Rokita (Ind.), Tim Huelskamp (Kans.), Paul Broun (Ga.), and Jim Jordan (Ohio).  The RSC proposal aims to keep Medicaid spending flat, with no inflation adjustment, after block-granting it to the states.  [...]

The new GOP budget would create a "Medicare Exchange"--much like Obamacare's insurance exchanges but with a public option--for future retirees who are under the age of 55 today. Critically, the level of premium support would be determined by the second-least expensive plan in a region, or traditional fee-for-service Medicare, whichever was lower. Seniors would keep the savings if they chose a cheaper plan:

The second-least expensive approved plan or fee-for-service Medicare, whichever is least expensive, would establish the benchmark that determines the premium-support amount for the plan chosen by the senior. If a senior chose a costlier plan than the benchmark plan, he or she would be responsible for paying the difference between the premium subsidy and the monthly premium. Conversely, if that senior chose a plan that cost less than the benchmark, he or she would be given a rebate for the difference. Payments to plans would be risk-adjusted and geographically rated. Private health plans would be required to cover at least the actuarial equivalent of the benefit package provided by fee-for-service Medicare.

This is meaningfully different from PTP 1, in which seniors didn't gain any savings from choosing a plan cheaper than the premium support level, and where traditional Medicare was not an option.

Another key detail: Ryan's plausible assumption is that competitive bidding could drive Medicare spending down without hard spending caps. However, as a backstop, the proposal caps the growth of premium support levels to GDP plus 0.5 percent, which--not coincidentally--matches the targeted Medicare growth rate in President Obama's budget.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Speculators are driving up gas prices (Dennis Kelleher, 3/21/12, @CNNMoneyMarkets)

Commodity markets -- including those for wheat, corn and crude oil -- are very different from capital markets, which exist for anyone to speculate in stocks.

The commodity markets, however, are for commercial purchasers and producers to control their risks by hedging against future price moves.

Commodity futures markets were created so that wheat farmers and oil producers could sell their products today -- even though they won't produce and deliver them for months.

A food company that uses wheat to make cereal could pay a farmer today for delivery in a few months. The farmer can then plant his crops knowing there will be a buyer at a set price come harvest time.

Similarly, commercial buyers can plan today because they know what price they will pay tomorrow. Commodity futures markets allow buyers and sellers to match up and ensure that they get paid.
Speculators are allowed to participate on a limited basis because there aren't always enough sellers to match the demand for buyers, or buyers to match the availability of sales.

For decades, market participants have known that commodity markets work best when speculators make up 30 percent of market activity, with the remaining 70 percent devoted to commercial traders.
With the new tidal wave of investment, that ratio has flipped. Now, speculators are about 70 percent of activity in many commodity markets and commercial hedgers only about 30 percent. This is largely the result of investment banks creating and selling "commodity index funds" that gamble on, and usually drive up, food and energy prices.

Our organization, Better Markets, has conducted a comprehensive study showing that this "invasion of the commodity index funds" has radically changed the price structure of commodity markets.

In the past, prices were based largely on supply and demand, but they are now driven up by investors placing self-fulfilling bets on higher prices for oil, wheat and other products.

The study finds strong evidence of a direct causal link between speculative buying and selling, and changes in commodity price curves resulting in increasing prices.

To combat this and, in particular, to remove the speculative price distortion, commodity index funds should be prohibited.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Mitt Romney cleans up in Illinois (John Dickerson, 3/21/12, CBS News/Slate)

Illinois primary day was a laundry day for Mitt Romney. He washed his shirt in the sink and then took Rick Santorum to the cleaners. The former Massachusetts governor beat his closest rival handily, 47 percent to 35 percent. It was the first no-caveat, everyone-is-watching, takes-place-in-a-location-you've-heard-of contest that Romney has dominated since his victory in Florida two months ago.

The Republican nominating contest could take a long time. So it's probably wise not to clutch the dashboard every time there's a bend in the road. Still, there was something different about Romney's win in Illinois. On recent primary days, he has been able to claim he won the most delegates, but Santorum has emerged from those nights with the energy and excitement. Tonight Romney can crow about having the excitement and winning the most delegates in a state where he didn't have a home field advantage like Michigan or a regional connection like New Hampshire. Even when he has won, Romney has had to say unsatisfying things like "a win is a win." After Illinois, he can just smile. Everyone gets it.
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March 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


REPLAY: As he faced an ailing economy, what could Obama have done differently? (John Cassidy, MARCH 26, 2012, The New Yorker)

Scheiber recounts how, a couple of days after Lehman Brothers collapsed, Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago who had been advising Obama during the campaign, travelled overnight from Montana to Miami on three different flights for an emergency meeting with the candidate. When he got there, he found Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, the twin titans of Clintonian neoliberalism, who had jetted in on a private plane. Together with Obama and several others, they discussed which parts of the financial system would need help from the government to survive, and which could be left to their own devices. "It was here that the candidate struck Rubin and Summers as impressively fluent," Scheiber writes. "After the meeting ended, they mused about how they would grade his financial know-how, and both were pleasantly surprised to find themselves in agreement: A or A-plus. Obama had won over the establishment." Or possibly vice versa.

After the election, Rubinites like Geithner, Summers, and Peter Orszag were ushered into the inner circle. Geithner, who had advised the Bush Administration on its bailout of A.I.G. and other big financial institutions, warned Obama, "You will be tying yourself to a strategy I was intimately involved in. . . .You need to understand the cost you take in doing that.'' One consequence was a raft of books and articles accusing Obama of abandoning progressive principles or being duped by the Rubinites. Yet the sellout narrative has obscured an equally important and less explored question: Could Obama have been a more effective technocrat? Given the political and financial constraints he was facing, were better policy options available than the ones he adopted?

Take the stimulus debate. Together with the Bush Administration's seven-hundred-billion-dollar bailout of the banking system and large-scale emergency lending by the Fed, the stimulus helped prevent a downward spiral of layoffs, bankruptcies, and foreclosures of the sort that ravaged the country during the early nineteen-thirties. That's the good news. Clearly, though, the government-induced boost to spending wasn't big enough to prevent unemployment rising to ten per cent by October, 2009, or to bring it back down much over the ensuing two years. What's more, the White House knew it wouldn't be. Summers, fearful of the reaction in the markets and on Capitol Hill, declined to entertain larger proposals (such as the $1.2 trillion favored by Christina Romer, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers), and he stacked the terms of the internal debate from the beginning. In a December 15, 2008, memo to the President that my colleague Ryan Lizza unearthed, Summers initially presented two stimulus packages--one totalling six hundred and sixty-five billion dollars and the other eight hundred and eighty billion dollars. "Notice that neither of these packages returns the unemployment rate to its normal pre-recession level," the memo said. "To accomplish a more significant reduction in the output gap would require stimulus of well over $1 trillion based on purely mechanical assumptions--which would likely not accomplish the goal because of the impact it would have on the markets."

In size, the Obama stimulus, which was budgeted at seven hundred and eighty-seven billion dollars over two years, probably wasn't very different from what a McCain Administration would have introduced. In October, 2008, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's, who was advising McCain, told the Times, "Nothing is off the table. That includes all the various stimulus tools that might be used, given the severity of the crisis." Before sending the President his memo on the stimulus, Summers canvassed the opinions of other economists, Zandi included. Zandi advocated a stimulus of at least six hundred billion dollars in the first year, which is much bigger than what the White House proposed, and other Republican economists proposed similar figures. Larry Lindsey, who served in both Bush Administrations, estimated that eight hundred billion to a trillion would be desirable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Brian Lamb's America: How C-SPAN stepped into the breach and became our national historian. (David Brooks, November 8, 1999, Weekly Standard)

The quintessential C-SPAN moment came during a Booknotes program in 1991, while host Brian Lamb was interviewing Martin Gilbert, the author of a biography of Winston Churchill. Gilbert was talking about the interplay between private scandal and public life when the following exchange took place:

GILBERT: When Churchill was 20 and a young soldier, he was accused of buggery, and, you know, that's, you know, a terrible accusation. Well, he ended up prime minister for just quite a long time.

LAMB: Why was he accused of buggery and what is it?

GILBERT: You don't know what buggery is?

LAMB: Define it, please.

GILBERT: Oh dear. Well, I -- I'm sorry. I thought the word we -- buggery is what used to be called a -- the -- an unnatural act of the Oscar Wilde type is how it was actually phrased in the euphemism of the British papers. It's -- you don't know what buggery is?

Over the twenty years that C-SPAN has been in existence, its founder Brian Lamb and his colleagues have pioneered a distinct interviewing style. The questions are flat, short, and direct. And they are centered around facts. The guests might be longwinded or erudite or both, but usually what sets them off is some six-word question about a specific fact. You get the impression that if Brian Lamb were called in to interview Jesus the first questions out of his mouth would be: "It's said you fed the multitudes with loaves and fish. What kind of fish was that? How many people does it take to make up a multitude?"

It seems like such an easy thing to ask direct questions about simple facts. But when you zap up and down the TV dial, you notice that few of the other talk shows do it. The broadcast network interviewers ask mostly about emotions and feelings. On many of the cable talk shows, the host is the star so the questions are really rococo essays that render the answers superfluous. And when you cast your eye out to the broader culture, you see even more that curiosity about simple facts has been submerged amidst the more sophisticated interest in theory and perceptions.

In Edmund Morris's notorious biography Dutch, the facts of what Ronald Reagan did and knew are upstaged by the drama of the author's own quest to "understand" and "capture" his subject. And that is just the tip of the postmodern iceberg. Despite the efforts of E. D. Hirsch and other cheerleaders for fact-based "cultural literacy," school curricula no longer focus on the simple whats, wheres, and whens of history. University historians are even less interested in that stuff -- obsessed as they are with social forces and group consciousness. Even in a publicly funded showcase institution like the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the displays are concerned less with illuminating historical events or history-making individuals than with lionizing aggrieved groups.

Indeed, when you step back far enough you begin to appreciate that C-SPAN is so far out of tune with the times that it has become an intellectual counterculture. Especially on the weekends, the people who fill its screens seem quaintly and bravely out of step: the historian who has devoted her career to researching Pickett's Charge, the auctioneer who specializes in rare 18th-century books, the biographer who has spent years describing John Adams.

C-SPAN is factual in a world grown theoretical. It is slow in a world growing more hyper. It is word-oriented in an era that is visually sophisticated. With its open phone lines, it is genuinely populist in a culture that preaches populism more than it practices it. And occupying its unique niche -- C-SPAN is funded by the cable industry to cover Congress and public events -- it has managed to perform feats of civic education that are unmatched by better-funded institutions, such as the History Channel, PBS, the Smithsonian, or the multi-billion-dollar foundations.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Obama to fast track southern half of Keystone XL Pipeline (Brianna Keilar, 3/20/12, CNN)

President Obama plans to announce in Cushing, Oklahoma Thursday that his administration will expedite the permit process for the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, a source familiar with the president's announcement tells CNN. [...]

Such an announcement would no doubt be met with opposition from environmentalists, many of whom spent weeks protesting the Keystone XL project outside the White House late last fall into the early winter, before the administration announced its objection to the pipeline.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


C-SPAN World (Jonathan Bernstein, 3/20/12, Washington Monthly)

Brian Lamb is stepping down from heading C-SPAN, which he founded 33 years ago.

You don't need me to tell you how wonderful C-SPAN is. But it's worth remembering that C-SPAN didn't have to happen, and it didn't have to be a good as it all seems so obvious to us, but none of it was sure to happen, and without Brian Lamb it might not have happened. [...]

But Brian Lamb brought us live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, and TV ads from the presidential race, and sub-presidential debates, local news election night coverage, and candidate appearances, and gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, and conference panels and historical clips such as Inaugural Addresses and Convention Speeches. And Book TV, and the Supreme Court and White House and other special series, and long-form interviews, and more and more and more.

Thank you for C-SPAN, Brian Lamb -- a true Hero of the Republic.

C-SPAN is why the First Amendment affords the Press special rights.
Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


House GOP budget chief aims at tax code (Jeanne Sahadi and Deirdre Walsh, March 19, 2012, CNNMoney)

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, the lead writer on the budget, and his caucus will call for a reduction in individual tax rates and brackets. Instead of today's six brackets, with rates from 10% to 35%, they are calling for just two -- 10% and 25%. It's not clear how much income would fall under each bracket. [...]

It was not immediately clear whether the House GOP plans to replace that forecasted revenue, but it seems unlikely since it is proposing to keep revenues as a share of the economy on par with the 40-year average of 18.1% of the economy's GDP.

Since the financial crisis in 2008, revenues as a share of GDP have hit 60-year lows, coming in at around 15%. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran (MARK MAZZETTI and THOM SHANKER, 3/19/12, NY Times)

The results of the war game were particularly troubling to Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, according to officials who either participated in the Central Command exercise or who were briefed on the results and spoke on condition of anonymity because of its classified nature. When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.

The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans, according to officials with knowledge of the exercise. The United States then retaliated by carrying out its own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

The initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian nuclear program by roughly a year, and the subsequent American strikes did not slow the Iranian nuclear program by more than an additional two years.

You damage their program, such as it is, by changing the regime, not by bombing a mountain.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Conservatism Properly Understood: A review of Conserving Liberty, by Mark Blitz (Robert P. George, March 19, 2012, Claremont Review of Books)

What is it, exactly, that contemporary American conservatism seeks to conserve? What should it conserve? What is worth conserving?

How about liberty?

Most American conservatives would applaud that proposal, which shows, among other things, how far the American Right is from the "throne and altar" conservatism of old Europe, with its class system and devotion to hierarchy and stability. American conservatives are, in truth, old-fashioned liberals--in the tradition of the American Founders, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Abraham Lincoln. Because American conservatives prize liberty, they might be described--as Mark Blitz describes them in his new book, Conserving Liberty--as "conservative liberals."

A professor of political philosophy and the director of the Henry Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College, Blitz points out that just as contemporary American conservatism differs from European conservatism, it differs, too, from contemporary liberalism with its "affirmative action, gender politics, and ethnic spoils and sensitivities that affirm such groups." American conservatives believe in equality, to be sure, but theirs is the God-given equality of the Declaration of Independence, not the equality of results or the "equality"--based moral relativism promoted by many contemporary liberals.

Although the book's title might sound like a brief for libertarianism, Blitz quickly sets the reader straight. It is not that he opts for "big government conservatism," but rather that he recognizes that liberty is valuable not so much for its own sake as for the sake of something larger, namely, human excellence or human flourishing. And he understands that liberty is sustained--if it is sustained at all--by virtues that themselves must be transmitted by healthy institutions of civil society, beginning with the marriage-based family and communities of religious faith.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


American Islam (Scott Korb, 3/18/12, The Chronicle Review)

Here's what I know. These three men, all converts, appeal to young American Muslims. They appeal, in large part, because they were born and raised in this country and have a vision for Islam that is unmistakably American. Though they've all spent time studying in Muslim-majority countries--Imam Zaid and Sheik Hamza were away for years--their focus remains on building a Muslim community that looks and feels, in every way possible, American. They are not alone, of course, and they do not always agree, but they have been in the vanguard over the last 15 years, at least; their students are just now growing into leadership roles of their own, compelled by the notion that the religion must adapt, within the norms of the tradition, to the culture of the lands where Islam has moved over the centuries.

Committed to building things up and not tearing things down, Siraj Wahhaj, throughout the 1980s, revitalized his little corner of the world--the dangerous corner of Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn--through the efforts of his community at Masjid At-Taqwa, or the Mosque of God-Consciousness. When last December he celebrated the 30th anniversary of the masjid and raised funds to build a state-of-the-art community center in Brooklyn, including space for a school to serve hundreds of local kids, he invited not just Imam Zaid and Sheik Hamza but also called on the Brooklyn native, Muslim emcee and film star Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, to offer his reflections on the neighborhood before the imam brought it back to life.

It's true, of the three Muslim leaders named in the NYPD report, Imam Siraj remains the least comfortable with modern American life, and especially modern American policing. According to the NYU adjunct law professor Paul M. Barrett, who writes about Imam Siraj in his book American Islam (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), he's most inclined to think of law-enforcement allegations against Muslims as "evidence of a government conspiracy," not one among the Muslims. My own interactions with Imam Siraj suggest he's eased up in recent years. It's also worth noting that his effort to clean up the crack houses of Bed-Stuy was met with high praise by the NYPD. The Brooklyn borough president honored the imam with an official Siraj Wahhaj Day on August 15, 2003.

As his own community in Brooklyn has grown, Siraj Wahhaj has become a national figure. He served for a time as vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, currently leads the Muslim Alliance in North America, and lectures and preaches around the country, usually on matters of special concern to inner-city communities. "Islam came," he has said, "to deal with the inequalities in the neighborhood." Moving seamlessly from English to Arabic and back, he brings Islamic ideas of justice, for instance, to bear on chronic unemployment among African-Americans, and in a recent speech, located within Islam the roots of black pride and self-love, bringing together two passages from the Koran: "It was Allah who created you in the womb--as He pleased." His gloss: "So if Allah was pleased to make me a black man, I was happy to be a black man."

Imam Zaid, who like Imam Siraj is African-American and who also has roots in poor, urban neighborhoods, has been likened to his hero Malcolm X. Born Ricky Mitchell in Berkeley, Calif., and raised in housing projects from Georgia to Connecticut, Imam Zaid, with Sheik Hamza, went on to found Zaytuna College, the nation's first four-year Muslim liberal-arts institution.

Embodying an American story if ever there was one--including proverbial bootstraps, military service, political activism, and deep religious commitment--Zaid Shakir draws young Muslims to himself because his message of social justice in the face of poverty and racism he has known first hand makes him endlessly and, it often seems, effortlessly relevant. He is as approachable a man as I've ever met; tall and somewhat too lean--he fasts one day per week--he's all wingspan when embracing his followers at the mosque. To them he says, "Islam is calling us to be bigger than what the world has made us." And they see in him--whether in his tirelessness, his intelligence, or his fire--a model.

His students call him Superman. When I first heard him preach in Oakland, not far from the new college in Berkeley, he faced what he called a "humble gathering ... representing 30 or 40 different ethnicities and national origin." To them he issued the charge: "We have to raise our voices, we have to present our example, and we have to institutionalize our example. We have to develop institutions that reflect our diversity. We have to develop institutions that bring all of this potential power ... of these people, coming with all of their collective experience, all of their collective spiritual and emotional energy, all of their collective histories ... and say, 'This is how we can live in this country.'"

Like Imam Siraj's Brooklyn mosque, Zaytuna College is one of those places where Muslims come together to learn how to live in this country. With a reputation for classical Islamic scholarship and community building dating back to 1996, when Sheik Hamza established the Zaytuna Institute and began his public life, the founders see the college in historic terms and as an essential part of the nation's religious fabric. Speakers at Zaytuna's inaugural convocation in August 2010 included Virginia Gray Henry, a descendent of Patrick Henry; the keynote speaker was the Jesuit-trained president of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, the ethicist James A. Donahue. His address highlighted the work ahead for Zaytuna, as the school incorporates into its mission the value American democracy places on rights and liberties, pluralism, pragmatism, democratic justice, and creative novelty. "Zaytuna," he said, "is an academic institution--a college. It is not a mosque; it is not a community center; it is not a gathering space for religious rituals; it is not a cultural center--although elements of each of these will surely be part of Zaytuna. The challenge for Zaytuna will be to determine in what ways it will serve the Islamic tradition and how it can enable that tradition both to preserve and grow."

Sheik Hamza Yusuf, perhaps the most influential Muslim scholar in the country, praised Donahue for his remarks and drew connections between the challenges to founding Muslim institutions and the struggle Catholics faced to establish themselves in this country. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Catalyst Helps Store Hydrogen In Liquid Form for Simple, Safe Future Fuel Use (Rebecca Boyle, 03.19.2012, Popular Science)

A future powered by hydrogen fuel, whose only byproduct is water, has long been an eco-friendly dream too difficult to realize. Storing and transporting hydrogen can be difficult and dangerous, and hydrogen production methods can also produce unwanted carbon dioxide. A new catalyst promises to solve these problems, using CO2 and hydrogen to store energy in liquid form. The only thing you need to worry about is pH.

It's the first catalyst to combine hydrogen and CO2 at room temperature and pressure, using water as the liquefying solution. As such, it could use existing fuel infrastructure built for the liquid hydrocarbons we have been using since the dawn of the combustion engine.

In basic (as in alkaline) conditions, the catalyst converts hydrogen and CO2 into formic acid, a promising hydrogen-storage fluid that is safer to handle and transport than cryogenically stored dihydrogen. If you flip the pH switch to acidic, the resulting redox reaction frees the hydrogen from its carbon bonds, allowing you to grab and use the hydrogen for use in a fuel cell.

March 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


Lamb's Slaughter: Thank you, C-SPAN. (Andrew Ferguson, January 18, 2010, Weekly Standard)

"America is grateful to Brian Lamb," said President Bush a couple of years ago, when he awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to the founder and CEO of C-SPAN. The network Lamb founded more than 30 years ago may be the greatest boon to American self-government since the Fifteenth Amendment. But Lamb has other great gifts, notably as an interviewer who with a single, simple, apparently artless question can bring down a guest's most meticulously constructed edifice of baloney.

He did it again on December 30, when he addressed a letter to congressional leaders noting that they had "all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the health care system." He therefore asked--politely, always politely--that they open the final negotiations of the bill to broadcast. One question, and the walls of baloney came tumbling down. [...]

What a spectacle--a three-ring circus of political cant--all set loose for our enjoyment in response to a simple, seemingly innocent request. My, what big questions you ask, Mr. Lamb! Has there ever been a more elegant bomb-thrower than the founder of C-SPAN, a more relentless mutineer, a populist at once so quiet, so sane, and so subversive? No wonder America is grateful.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


HOLDING COURT (Jeffrey Toobin, MARCH 26, 2012, The New Yorker)

Late last year, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit voted, two to one, to uphold President Obama's health-care reform, known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Kavanaugh dissented, primarily on the ground that the lawsuit was premature. In a sixty-five-page opinion, Kavanaugh appeared to offer some advice to the Republicans who are challenging Obama in the election this year. "Under the Constitution," Kavanaugh wrote, "the President may decline to enforce a statute that regulates private individuals when the President deems the statute unconstitutional, even if a court has held or would hold the statute constitutional."

In other words, according to Kavanaugh, even if the Supreme Court upholds the law this spring, a President Santorum, say, could refuse to enforce ACA because he "deems" the law unconstitutional. That, to put the matter plainly, is not how it works. Courts, not Presidents, "deem" laws unconstitutional, or uphold them. "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is," Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in Marbury v. Madison, in 1803, and that observation, and that case, have served as bedrocks of American constitutional law ever since. 

Had the Founders intended to grant the Court that power it would be found in the Constitution, not in a mere judicial opinion.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


The End of Pax Papyra and the Fall of Big Paper (Venkatesh Rao, 3/19/12, Forbes)

Paper it seemed, had attained some sort of spiritual-mythical ineffability that would forever elude the grasp of rude digital technology.

Except that in the last 10 years, very quietly, paper has actually started on what promises to be a long decline.

Turns out the stuff isn't as ineffable as we thought. It's just that paper isn't so much a single technology as a foundation for all of modern economic and cultural life. It is simply taking time to swap the stuff out. In the process, we are realizing that there isn't just one replacement for paper. There are many.  The Kindle and other e-ink readers for books, tablets for general reading and tablets with styluses for sketching, handwritten note-taking and doodling (I have fallen in love with my stylus; it has increased my use of my iPad tenfold). On the more bureaucratic end, we have APIs for structured data transfer, systems like ACH and modern electronic invoicing for finance. Even the dragon of electronic medical records seems like it will be slayed soon. Signage may be doomed once technologies like OLED wallpaper go mainstream. Smartphones and QR codes are slowly killing ticketing.

To use Sellen/Harper language, not all affordances matter in all situations, and paper is being killed in different domains by partial substitutes that replicate the key affordances for that domain, and add enough value on top that the switch is a no-brainer. Sure, you cannot scribble on paperless bank statements, but that's not an affordance you actually want in that situation. Sure, you cannot (yet) fold a tablet into a post-card sized object and shove it into your pocket, but for quick scribbling or coupons, the smartphone isalready pocket sized.

There are a few straggling applications that are yet to be conquered (paper receipts, the bane of business book-keeping is a big one, as is the ever-elusive digital-signature world), but they will succumb within the decade as the electronic payments problem is finally solved.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Confident Romney calls for unity, looks to Ill. (STEVE PEOPLES, 3/19/12, Associated Press)

Mitt Romney's increasingly confident campaign is intensifying calls - publicly and privately - for his Republican opponents to concede defeat in the presidential nomination battle, even before Illinois voters have their say Tuesday in the campaign's next big contest.

Romney extended his delegate lead Sunday in Puerto Rico, where he trounced rival Rick Santorum and scored all 20 of the Caribbean island's delegates. Romney has collected more delegates than his opponents combined and is poised to win the delegate battle in Illinois, even if he loses the popular vote, thanks to missteps by Santorum's shoestring operation.

Romney's wife, Ann, declared Sunday night in suburban Illinois that the time has come for her husband's rivals to quit the race.

"We need to send a message that it's time to coalesce," she said, Mitt at her side. "It's time to get behind one candidate and get the job done so we can move on to the next challenge, bringing us one step closer to defeating Barack Obama."

The congressmen face a choice between ego-stroking or the good of their party and country.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Brian Lamb Steps Down as CEO of C-SPAN (Christopher Peleo-Lazar, March 18, 2012, Hotline)

C-SPAN's Board of Directors announced the end of an era on Sunday: Founder Brian Lamb will step down as CEO. Lamb has served as CEO since the founding of the network in 1978. He has been chairman of the C-SPAN board since 1985 and now will become the Executive Chairman of the board. C-SPAN co-presidents Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain will become co-CEOs of the network.

...Tom Wolfe.
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March 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


The Americanisation of Turkey (Dimitar Bechev, 18 March 2012, OpenDemocracy)

In post-Kemalist Turkey, the earlier American vision is coming to full fruition. Europe's evident failure to accomplish its transformative mission means that Turkish politics is coming under the sway, not of Europeanisation but of Americanisation.

There are many manifestations of the trend. Perhaps the clearest is Turkey's foreign relations. Before the Arab spring of 2011, Turkey had confidently pursued what it called a "zero-problems" regional approach (its own version of Brussels's "European neighbourhood policy" that promotes functional integration with states on the European Union's periphery).

But the violent upheavals in Libya and Syria effectively derailed the "zero-problems" principle. Instead, the region's new turmoil reinforced Ankara's bonds with Washington as they forged a common front on the Syrian crisis (while agreeing to disagree on Israel). Turkey shifted towards projecting the notion of a "Turkish model" as something the awakened Arabs could emulate - whose traces of a "freedom agenda" had resemblances to the outlook of neocons in the George W Bush administration.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has even spoken of a "golden era" in US-Turkish relations (which suggests she may be unaware of how close the states were in the 1950s). The contrast with Europe is stark, as Turkey's relations with EU heavyweights such as France and Germany over its stalled membership negotiations have become poisoned. From Ankara's perspective, the shift towards Washington is natural: after all, what security assets does crisis-stricken Europe have to help Turkey fend off threats emanating from an imploding Syria, an expansionist Iran or an unstable Iraq?

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Mexico's middle class is becoming its majority (William Booth and Nick Miroff, 3/18/12, Washington Post)

"As hard as it is for many of us to accept, Mexico is now a middle-class country, which means we don't have any excuse anymore. We have to start acting like a middle-class country," said Luis de la Calle, an economist, former undersecretary of trade in the Mexican government and the co-author of a new report called "Mexico: A Middle Class Society, Poor No More, Developed Not Yet."

The stereotype is no longer an illegal immigrant hustling for day labor outside a Home Depot in Phoenix. The new Mexican is the overscheduled soccer dad shopping for a barbecue grill inside a Home Depot in booming Mexican cities like Queretaro.

When President Felipe Calderon of the center-right National Action Party won in 2006, outpolling the leftist Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, it was the middle class that gave Calderon his wafer-thin victory.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


BGE to begin smart meter installation in May (Hanah Cho, 3/18/12, The Baltimore Sun)

Starting in May, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. will begin installing "smart meters" in a huge undertaking intended to modernize Central Maryland's electricity grid and save customers money by helping them control energy use.

The three-year, $482 million rollout is scheduled to begin in Pasadena and continue in stages until 1.3 million analog electric meters are replaced with digital ones and 700,000 gas meters are upgraded by the end of 2014. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


How one man escaped from a North Korean prison camp: There was torture, starvation, betrayals and executions, but to Shin In Geun, Camp 14 - a prison for the political enemies of North Korea - was home. Then one day came the chance to flee... (Blaine Harden, 3/18/12,

The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea's labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. Numbers 15 and 18 have re-education zones where detainees receive remedial instruction in the teachings of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, and are sometimes released. The remaining camps are "complete control districts" where "irredeemables" are worked to death.

Shin's camp, number 14, is a complete control district. Established around 1959 near Kaechon County in South Pyongan Province, it holds an estimated 15,000 prisoners. About 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, it has farms, mines and factories threaded through steep mountain valleys.

Shin and his mother lived in the best prisoner accommodation the camp had to offer. They had their own room, where they slept on a concrete floor, and they shared a kitchen with four other families. Electricity ran for two hours a day. There were no beds, chairs or tables. No running water.

If Shin's mother met her daily work quota, she could bring home food. At 4am, she would prepare breakfast and lunch for her son and for herself. Every meal was the same: corn porridge, pickled cabbage and cabbage soup. Shin was always hungry and he would eat his lunch as soon as his mother left for work. He also ate her lunch. When she came back from the fields at midday and found nothing to eat, she would beat him with a shovel.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Obama's evolution: Behind the failed 'grand bargain' on the debt (Peter Wallsten, Lori Montgomery and Scott Wilson, 3/18/12, Washington Post)

On that Sunday in July, Boehner, the old-school pol from Ohio, seemed willing to hash it out. He had met in private with the president and his aides many times. Their sessions were so sensitive -- especially for the speaker, who was dealing with a House teeming with tea party rebels -- that Obama's aides were under strict orders to "protect Boehner" and not talk about his private entreaties. Obama liked Boehner; they got along well during the private sessions and a round of golf. But there was doubt in the White House as to whether the speaker could bring his party along. He "probably could not deliver a pizza," was one administration aide's skeptical assessment.

Cantor, a Virginian, was more closely aligned with the tea party wing. The fact that he was there, and had been involved since Friday, however reluctantly, was taken by the White House as an encouraging sign.

The conversation during that brief gathering inside the Oval Office did nothing to dampen the optimism. When the trio emerged and returned to the roomful of aides, Obama appeared upbeat.

"I want a deal," he said.

The aides put down their muffins and BlackBerrys and snapped to attention.

Secrecy would be essential as the details came together, the president told everyone. He spoke openly with Boehner about how the two sides might sell the emerging plan to their respective parties, an imposing task from either end.

"How soon can we get this drafted?" the president asked, according to notes taken during the meeting by a top Republican staff member. When Obama left, the negotiations rushed forward, staffers on both sides now energized by the prospect of a deal.

Three days later, the grand bargain was cold and dead.

What happened? Obama and his advisers have cast the collapse of the talks as a Republican failure. Boehner, unable to deliver, stepped away from the deal, simple as that.

But interviews with most of the central players in those talks -- some of whom were granted anonymity to speak about the secret negotiations -- as well as a review of meeting notes, e-mails and the negotiating proposals that changed hands, offer a more complicated picture of the collapse. Obama, nervous about how to defend the emerging agreement to his own Democratic base, upped the ante in a way that made it more difficult for Boehner -- already facing long odds -- to sell it to his party. Eventually, the president tried to put the original framework back in play, but by then it was too late. The moment of making history had passed.

The actions of Obama and his staff during that period in the summer reflect the grand ambitions and the shortcomings of the president's first term.

A president who promised to bring the country together, who confidently presented himself as the transformational figure able to make that happen, now had his chance. But, like earlier policy battles, the debt ceiling negotiations revealed a divided figure, a man who remained aloof from a Congress where he once served and that he now needed. He was caught between his own aspirations for historical significance and his inherent political caution. And he was unable to bridge a political divide that had only grown wider since he took office with a promise to change the ways of Washington, underscoring the gulf between the way he campaigned and the way he had governed.

In the end, that brief effort, described by White House officials as the most intense and consequential of Obama's presidency, not only illuminated pitfalls in the road he had taken during the previous three years but also directed him down a different, harder-edged, more overtly partisan path that is now defining his reelection campaign.

It was always obvious that a guy who'd never been an executive was unlikely to be a leader, but another important consideration is that someone whose career advancement has always been a function of affirmative action was unlikely to challenge the institutions (like the Democratic Party) he'd been advanced within. He just owes the Party too much to take it on.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


To my delight, two of them have been shortlisted for the People's Book Prize: The Waste Land for fiction and Angels, Dragons and Vultures for non-fiction.
The People's Book Prize is decided by readers' votes. Voting takes a couple of minutes. These instructions may help:
1.       follow the link  to register by entering your name, email address, the anti-spam code and click 'Submit'

2.       you will receive by return an email with a password; copy the password from the email

3.       go to and click on the cover of The Waste Land  

4.       at the bottom of the next page enter the anti-spam code where indicated, type your email address and paste your password into the appropriate boxes

5.       check the box to vote and click submit

6.       click on the turquoise Non-Fiction tab at the left of the page and follow the same process for Angels, Dragons and Vultures

It goes without saying that I would be immensely grateful for your support.
With best wishes
Simon Acland

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


In secular France, can faith carry the election? (Ségolène ALLEMANDOU, 3/16/12, France24)

At 57.2%, Catholics make up the majority of voters in France. Muslims (5%) form the second biggest religious group, followed by Protestants (2%) and Jews (0.6%). Some 30% of French voters describe themselves as having "no religion".

Claude Dargent specialises in research on French voting patterns and has published reports on both Muslim and Catholic voter behaviour ahead of next month's presidential election.

FRANCE 24: The Muslim electorate has expanded massively in the past decade. How do French Muslims tend to vote?

Claude Dargent: In 1997, Muslim voters in France made up only 0.7% of voters, whereas in 2007 [at the last presidential election] they had reached around 5%. This is because of the increasing numbers of Muslims on the electoral roll, most of them having been born into Muslim families of foreign origin.

French Muslims are largely left-leaning - 95% of them voted for [Socialist candidate] Ségolène Royal in the first round of the 2007 presidential election, while only 5% voted for [conservative, UMP party] Nicolas Sarkozy.

Around 75% of French Muslims are working class, but the French working class as a whole does not vote in the same way. In fact, they span left, right and far-right circles. Because of this comparison, we can deduce that French Muslims tend to vote left-wing because of their membership of a religious group rather than their social class.

F24: What about the Catholic vote?

C.D.: Practicing Catholics are five to six times more likely to vote right-wing than those who describe themselves as "without religion". In the first round of the 2007 election, some 49% of Catholics voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, against only 12% for Ségolène Royal. According to a January survey carried out by TNS-Sofrès for [Catholic weekly] Le Pèlerin, 50% of Catholics plan to vote for Sarkozy this time round while just 13% will support [Socialist candidate] François Hollande.

In a country where the young are Muslim and the old are Catholic, the former will be anti-socialist, after all, it will be their labor funding the leisure of the latter.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


First big piece of 'Electric Highway' gets juice (Jeff Barnard, 3/16/12, Associated Press)

The stations go from the California border north to the Oregon city of Cottage Grove and are located at gas stations, restaurants and motels just off the nation's second-busiest interstate. One is at an inn that was once a stage coach stop. [...]

"I would say range-anxiety with these fast chargers will be nearly a non-issue for me," said Justin Denley, who owns a Nissan Leaf and joined the caravan.

Inspired by the stations, his family is planning a trip from Medford to Portland, a distance of about 280 miles. Last summer, he took the family on a 120-mile trip to the coast and had to include an overnight stop at an RV park to charge up.

He expects the trip to Portland to take perhaps three hours longer than in a gas car,

because the only chargers available for the last 100 miles are slower, level 2 chargers.
Level 1 car chargers use 110 volts, like a regular home outlet, and it can take an entire night to charge a vehicle. Level 2 uses 240 volts, like a home dryer or range, and can charge a car in three or four hours.

But Level 3, which uses 480 volts of direct current, makes en route charging feasible by boosting a Nissan Leaf's 45-kilowatt battery from a 20 percent charge to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes.

Bruce Sargent said, when he was using a Level 1 charger at home, he barely noticed the difference in his electric bill. When he installed a Level 2 charger, it went up about $15 a month, still far below what he was spending on gas.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


US extremist in Somalia fears life in danger (AFP, 3/18/12)

A US-born Islamist fighter viewed as a key foreign leader within Somalia's Shebab militia allied with Al-Qaeda says he fears his life is now in danger from fellow extremists.

Omar Hamami -- better known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki -- gave the warning in an undated video posted on several Somali websites and YouTube Saturday.

"To whomever it may reach from the Muslims, from Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, I record this message today because I feel that my life may be endangered by Harakat Shebab al-Mujahideen due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of the Shariah (Islamic law) and matters of the strategy," he said, speaking in English.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Whit Stillman and the Song of the Preppy (CHIP BROWN, 3/16/12, NY Times)

"Damsels in Distress" follows four college girls, Heather, Lily, Rose and Violet, as they grapple with problems ranging from love troubles to toxic frat-house odors and suicide attempts by education majors who insist on throwing themselves off two-story buildings. ("If they can't even destroy themselves, how are they going to teach America's youth?" Rose asks.) The students at Seven Oaks, the fictional college, have a lot in common with the preppies and patricians of "Metropolitan" (1990), "Barcelona" (1994) and "The Last Days of Disco" (1998), the autobiographical trilogy that prompted reviewers to call Stillman "the WASP Woody Allen" and "the Dickens of people with too much inner life." They grope for direction but are seldom lost for words, and beneath their barmy crotchets and pretentious dissertations there's heartache and yearning. Stillman is the knight-errant of sneered-at bourgeois values. He extols the overlooked merits of convention and the hidden virtues of the status quo. Inveighing against "cool people" and the social cachet of "uniqueness, eccentricity, independence," the transfer student Lily asks: "Does the world really want or need more of such traits? Aren't such people usually terrible pains in the neck? What the world needs to work properly is a large mass of normal people -- I'd like to be one those."

Even the frat-house dolts who provide a counterweight of broad comedy -- the character Thor can't identify colors because he skipped kindergarten -- aren't belittled for their simple-minded aspirations. What Stillman captures best are people who aren't quite adults but are no longer children: bewildered fledglings of beleaguered traditions who have a mostly abstract grasp of suffering, an often-preposterous belief in their own moral integrity and an optimistic faith that their destiny is part of a divine plan -- ideally one of God's.

Stillman watched as Scene 24 unfolded on the monitor. The film's main character, Violet, played by the lauded young star Greta Gerwig, was defending a guy at a bar who'd sent drinks over to Lily and another student.

"He was probably just yearning for some intelligent discourse," Gerwig said. "He could see that Alice and Lily are college students. College students are well known for their interesting conversation. After all, they can talk about their courses. That's probably what attracted him -- "

"Nonsense," said Megalyn Echikunwoke, who was playing Rose with a fluty British accent.

"His aspirations were perhaps even loftier -- to court Lily, with a view to matrimony. We're in the North, but occasionally a Southern gentleman will wander into these parts."


When the scene finished, Stillman said: "That's really great. Can we do it again?" He asked Echikunwoke: "Can you do a 'nonsense' with more oomph? More like your 'rubbish.' "

She nodded.

"Quiet," Curtis Smith shouted.

On the brink of action, Stillman spotted a hair malfunction on one of the actresses and sprang up to fix it, plantar fascia be damned. He began to plump one of the bunk-bed duvets. That glare on the top bunk -- could someone black it out with a Sharpie please? And then he took after a fly on the set, trying to bat it out of the scene with some wild forehands. He limped back to the monitor, shaking his head.

"Chasing flies, fixing hair -- I think I'm showing off," he confessed. "Normally on my movies there's no direction at all."

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but wry self-deprecation is one of the hallmarks of the well-bred WASP, and Stillman is a museum-quality specimen. 

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Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Against Interpretation: a review of COSMIC CONSTITUTIONAL THEORY: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance By J. Harvie Wilkinson III (JEFFREY ROSEN, 3/18/12, NY Times Book Review)

More surprisingly, however, Wilkinson is just as critical of the jurisprudence of original understanding, embraced by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Calling originalism a form of "activism masquerading as restraint," he says that the methodology "fails to constrain judicial choices" when the historical evidence is ambiguous, which it is in every hard case.

Wilkinson is withering about the Supreme Court's recent decisions striking down gun control laws under the Second Amendment, which he compares to Roe v. Wade in their tendency to impose "judicial value judgments based on thin and shaky grounds." He warns that a Supreme Court decision overturning health care reform would be just as activist as one legalizing gay marriage, although he approves of gay marriage, but not President Obama's health care reform ("seems misconceived in many ways"), on policy grounds. And he has no patience for Bush v. Gore, which he calls "no friend of self-governance."

Wilkinson also extensively criticizes Judge Richard Posner and his methodology of constitutional pragmatism, which endorses the idea that judges should be policy makers. "Arming judges with reams of data and telling them to go about doing empirical good encourages aggressive review and substitutes judicial fiat for representative policy making," he writes.

Having expressed dissatisfaction with the leading cosmic constitutional theories for "abetting judicial hubris," Wilkinson confesses that he has no theory to offer as a substitute. Instead, he points to those great judges in the past "who took the habit of deference seriously," including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, John Marshall Harlan and Lewis Powell Jr. These justices rarely struck down laws passed by Congress or the states, unless the constitutional arguments for invalidation were so clear that both liberals and conservatives could readily embrace them.

Unless such laws run afoul of liberty concerns the courts ought not even accept cases about them.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


In New Delhi, a good monkey catcher is hard to find (STEPHANIE NOLEN, 3/15/12, Globe and Mail)

Since 2007, the MCD has also been under court order to catch the monkeys that run amok through the city and to relocate them to a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of town.

But the MCD went back to court this week to say it cannot meet that responsibility because it can't hire monkey catchers, despite running dozens of newspaper advertisements and scouring the monkey-management world.

"In spite of all efforts, only one monkey catcher has turned up ... to undertake this work," the MCD said in its request to the court, according to The Indian Express. "This in turn has resulted in a lot of difficulties in dealing with the monkey menace."

Reliance on untrained labour means the monkeys are winning, the city said.

This is no joking matter. In 2007, the deputy mayor of Delhi, S.S. Bajwa, died of head injuries after he fell from his terrace: He was set upon by a troop of monkeys while reading the morning paper.

Monkeys are trapped but not killed here in part because of reverence for Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, and because a powerful animal-rights lobby insists they be humanely relocated.

Since 2007, the MCD says, it has relocated some 12,850 monkeys. But thousands more continue to leap in packs from rooftop to rooftop in residential areas - they have also shown a preference to colonize the area of New Delhi home to many government offices.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


REVIEW: 'The Crusader: The Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan' by Timothy Stanley (Matthew Continetti, 3/18/12, Washington Post)

It was in electronic journalism that Buchanan would have the greatest influence. In 1977, he was invited to co-host a D.C. area radio show called "Confrontation." He and a liberal counterpart spent hours verbally ripping each other apart. The program was such a hit that it spawned a local television version, which moved to CNN in 1982 and was rechristened "Crossfire."

Together with the syndicated "McLaughlin Group," which also premiered in 1982 and featured Buchanan as a frequent guest, "Crossfire" established a template for televised political commentary that has lasted 30 years. You can decide for yourself whether that is something to be proud of.

The two years Buchanan spent as Ronald Reagan's communications director between 1985 and '87 were his only other stint in government. Even as a Reagan adviser, however, he was sailing to the political frontier, where the eccentric and offbeat turn into the ugly fringe. By 1991, when George H.W. Bush warred with Saddam Hussein and global communism was no longer the threat that held various factions of conservatives together, Buchanan was totally at odds with the Republican mainstream.

He was against overseas intervention, free trade, immigration and much else. His frequent criticism of Israel and prominent American Jews prompted William F. Buckley Jr. to examine Buchanan's record for signs of anti-Semitism. Buckley was unable to acquit him of the charge. As a commentator, Buchanan had mild words for Hitler beginning in the newspaper columns he wrote in the 1970s; he took up the "cause" of Nazi war criminals John Demjanjuk and Karl Linnas; he aggressively defended Reagan's decision to visit the German war cemetery at Bitburg; and he blamed America's wars with Iraq on Israel and the pundits who he said served as the Israeli Defense Ministry's " 'Amen' corner in the United States." Such comments served as an indictment against Buchanan.

So did the company he kept. In each of his three campaigns for the presidency, two as a Republican and one as a Reform Party candidate, Buchanan's supporters included writers such as anti-Semite Joe Sobran and miscegenation-obsessive Sam Francis, actor Mel Gibson, activists associated with the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review, numerous black-helicopter spotters, and others hot on the trail of the international banking conspiracy. Such was the well from which Buchanan drew strength.

For 50 years the Right hated Communists more than any other group, and so they made compromises to fit in with the broader conservative movement and with the Republican Party.  But once that enemy was removed and they had nothing to fall back on but their essentially racial and religious hatreds they moved steadily from the mainstream back to the margins.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Maya Jasanoff's "Liberty's Exiles," on British Loyalists after the revolution: a review of LIBERTY'S EXILES: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World By Maya Jasanoff (Pauline Maier, Washington Post)

What happens to people who take the losing side in a revolution or a civil war?

In this ambitious, empathetic and sometimes lyrical book, Maya Jasanoff tells the story of the Loyalist exiles of the American Revolution -- the 60,000 people who fled the 13 colonies of North America after their countrymen had declared their independence, had founded a republic and had successfully defended their revolution in a war that set friends, neighbors and family members against one another. Those stalwart, loyal defenders of British rule eventually dispersed into far-flung parts of the world. Although other historians have studied the Loyalists and parts of their widespread migration, "Liberty's Exiles" justly claims to be "the first global history of the Loyalist diaspora."

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March 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Post-zionism is just another name for Israel hatred (David Frum, Mar 17, 2012, National Post)

Over the past few years, there's been an interesting shift among opponents of the state of Israel. They've begun to call themselves "post-Zionist" -- a bland, bloodless phrase. The idea embedded in the phrase is that Israel can somehow be transitioned away from its current status as a Jewish homeland via some technical process not involving massacres and exile -- that Israel can be abolished without harm to the Israelis.

Anti-Israelism has always been about the destruction of one nation and one people.

Obviously if there can only be "one people" in the one nation of Israel--and Jews are a people different than the Palestinian/Arab people or than Christians--then to be a Zionist would be to be a racist. On the other hand, using Mr. Frum's own definition, the belief that Jews, Christians and Muslims can all be Israeli citizens is post-Zionist. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Simon Criotchley Interview (Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, Stir)
With the publication of his new book The Faith of the Faithless, I spoke to philosopher Simon Critchley about why a counterfactual faith is so important to modern politics, why it offers an "archive of possibilities" for those involved in political transformation, why there is still an obsession with "big men", and what the the true political terrain is today... [...]

Simon Critchley: [...]

For me, I've never been a particularly secularist thinker and I've never had a strong faith in the ideas of secular modernity.  I've had a huge interest, as long as I've been aware of such things, in religious thinkers like Paul, Pascal, Augustine and many others.  It seems to me that if you start from some idea that philosophy or theory has to do without religion then you are cutting yourself off from that incredibly useful archive of possibilities.  So, I think that philosophy is inconceivable without religion, or shouldn't be done without religion as it shouldn't be done only with religion.  I am not a theist in that sense.  It means using the best and most powerful ideas in that tradition for other ends.  Of the people who have gone back to using religious sources to think about politics, then I would say that Alain Badiou's Saint Paul is the most powerful.

The question for me is two-fold.  Firstly, it is diagnostic:  to understand the nature of political forms is to think of them as different forms of sacralisation.  In my view, I have this idea that the history of political forms -- fascism, liberal democracy, Stalinism -- is different forms of the sacral.  There is always some sacred object: the nation, the people, the race, or whatever it might be.  So, rather than seeing the history of politics as the movement from the religious to the secular, I see politics as a shift in the meaning of the sacred.

For me, that is an incredibly useful diagnostic tool when you are, say, looking at political forms in a country like the one I am living in (the US), where an incredibly powerful political theology exists in terms of American civil religion which is able to exert a unusual power over citizens and using that to find out how that works.  [...]

Stir: Many of Terry Eagleton's forays into political theology have been to argue that faith is performative rather propositional.  Does this chime with your claims in the book about the nature of faith?

SC: I am very close to Terry's concerns and maybe as time goes on I will get even closer to them.  His trajectory is one where he started off as a radical catholic and then became a Marxist.  In a sense, nothing has really changed because the object of critique is the same: liberal democracy and the secular theology that underpins it - human rights, freedom, individuality, and so on.

Faith, for me, is not theistic.  It does not require a belief in some metaphysical entity like God.  Faith is a subjective proclamation.  It is a proclamation in a relationship, in my jargon, with a demand.  It places a demand on you so that you can bind yourself as an ethical or political subject.  That is the way it works.

Now, if we have a strange situation where there are people, like myself for example, who are faithless but have an experience of faith in relationship to an infinite demand, say, the prohibition of murder or the furthering of equality.  Then there are people where that faith is underwritten by some theistic reality in their worldview.  My view is that it makes no difference at the subjective level:  the belief in God is neither here nor there.  It is a useless distraction.  It does not matter what you believe but rather how you act.

Of course, the infinite demand is a metaphysical entity like God. The personal view that Mr. Critchley is here describing is the one that differentiated Anglospheric philosophy from Continental and saved us from Modernity: given that we can never have any metaphysical certitude about anything, all that matters is our faith.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


It's About Immigrants, Not Irishness (PETER BEHRENS, March 16, 2012, NY Times)

This March 17, on this side of the water, we ought to be celebrating immigration, not just Irishness.

Before the mass exodus from Ireland provoked by the great famine of the 1840s, new arrivals to North America were either settlers or slaves. The Catholic Gaelic Irish were the first cohort consistently labeled as "immigrants" in the modern, quasi-pejorative sense, and their experience established a stereotype, a template, applied ever since to whichever national or ethnic group happened to be the latest impoverished arrivals: French-Canadians, Chinese, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Hispanics.

It's embarrassing to listen to prosperous 21st-century Americans with Irish surnames lavish on Mexican or Central American immigrants the same slurs -- "dark," "dirty," "violent," "ignorant" -- once slapped on our own, possibly shoeless, forebears. The Irish were seen as unclean, immoral and dangerously in thrall to a bizarre religion. They were said to be peculiarly prone to violence. As caricatured by illustrators like Thomas Nast in magazines like Harper's Weekly, "Paddy Irishman," low of brow and massive of jaw, was more ape than human, fists trailing on the ground when they weren't cocked and ready for brawling.

Soon it was another people's turn. During the 1890s, when hundreds of thousands of French-Canadians were quitting rocky farms in Quebec for jobs in New England textile towns, The New York Times wrote, "It is next to impossible to penetrate this mass of protected and secluded humanity with modern ideas or to induce them to interest themselves in democratic institutions and methods of government."

It was bad enough to be invaded by unmoderns. But the real danger was in the numbers, because, as The Times went on, "No other people, except the Indians, are so persistent in repeating themselves. Where they halt they stay, and where they stay they multiply and cover the earth."

The hate is the constant, only the hated change.
Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Christie 'Very Leery' of Picking a President From Congress (Arlette Saenz, 3/16/12, ABC News)

"In our Republican primary, let's be very leery, very wary of sending another member of Congress to the White House. Now see members of Congress they can be okay, but they don't know the first thing most of the time about using executive authority. They don't know the first thing about getting things done," said Christie. "We don't need Ron Paul, we don't need Newt Gingrich , and we don't need Rick Santorum. We need an executive. We need Mitt Romney in the White House."

Christie hailed Romney's personal success, arguing that his record as a job creator and as an executive has extended wealth to other Americans.

"He didn't just create wealth for himself. He did what American entrepreneurs have done better than any entrepreneurs around the world in the history of the world. He created wealth for himself and he created wealth for lots of other people," said Christie.

March 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Can Radical Efficiency Revive U.S. Manufacturing?: Both traditional and new U.S. industries will have to increase energy efficiency if the nation is to retain its global position as a leading manufacturer (Robert Hutchinson and Ryan Matley  | Friday, March 16, 2012, Scientific American)

[W]hereas U.S. manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence, its old foundation--built on cheap fossil fuels and plentiful electricity--is showing cracks. Rising and volatile fuel prices, supply-security concerns and pressures on the environment are wrecking balls thumping away at many of the underpinnings of our country's key industries--and thus our prosperity.

Fortunately, we can render these wrecking balls harmless through a systematic drive to upgrade industrial energy efficiency. Even with no technology breakthroughs such an effort can, in just over a generation, transform U.S. industry and provide 84 percent more output in 2050 consuming 9 to 13 percent less energy and 41 percent less fossil fuel than it uses today. This scenario, outlined in Reinventing Fire, a book and strategic initiative by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), can help U.S. industry build durable competitive advantage and keep jobs from going overseas.

These seem like incredible numbers: Twice today's efficiency? Output nearly doubled with reduced energy use? The opportunity is so significant because, in spite of efficiency gains over the past decade, plentiful opportunities for energy efficiency remain for industry. The U.S. Department of Energy's 24 industrial assessment centers, which have offered energy audits for more than 30 years, report that energy savings per recommendation increased by 9 percent between 1985 and 2005. Turning our wastefulness into profit is our biggest opportunity to reinvent fire.

Dramatic efficiency gains in industry can be enabled by transformations occurring in tandem in other key sectors of our economy. For example, the hugely energy-intensive petroleum refining industry will shrink or eventually disappear as vehicles electrify. But efficiency can be doubled in two main ways: applying new technologies to old sectors, and applying old technologies to new sectors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Et Tu, Chafee, Mi Fili? (Josh Barro, 3/16/12, Forbes)

Last fall, Rhode Island enacted a sweeping pension reform that other states would be wise to imitate. Now, Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) is pushing the state to enact mandate reform--eliminating rules that impose mandatory costs on municipal governments. Ted Nesi of WPRI remarks that Chafee's mandate reform agenda sounds very much like the one championed by his predecessor, Donald Carcieri (R).

Chafee, a governor often painted as the anti-Carcieri, is back at it, asking lawmakers to take another look at many of his predecessor's proposals: pension benefits, health insurance, joint purchasing, collective-bargaining rights, school bus monitors, "nurse-teachers," and more. (A pre-governor Chafee actually testified in favor of some of the municipal tools in 2010 - though, notably, he said lawmakers shouldn't touch workers' benefits.)

Chafee's pitch on Thursday sounded much like his predecessor's in December 2009. "I urge the General Assembly to pass the municipal tools articles immediately upon returning to session," Carcieri said. "There is no need to debate them again this year. Pass them and free the cities and towns to manage their own budgets."

Carcieri is a conservative, while Chafee was widely viewed as the leftmost candidate in a four-way race in 2010. Chafee came in with the support of public employee unions, but they can't be happy with the pension reform he signed or with the mandate relief proposals he is now advocating.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM

The Shins On World Cafe (World Cafe, 3/16/12)

The Shins will release their fourth record, Port Of Morrow, March 20th. This 10-track collection represents a new beginning of sorts -- Mercer has recruited a new backing band with ties to Modest Mouse, Beck and Crystal Skulls. The result is joyful and introspective, influenced in part by Mercer's new familial situation. As he put it, "Having children is something that makes you think about the importance of love and relationships between humans."

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Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


In Europe, North Battles South: To save the EU, competitive northern nations expect troubled southern economies to sacrifice now (Joergen Oerstroem Moeller, 3/16/12, YaleGlobal)

The clash between the northern and southern models is shaping up in the forthcoming presidential election in France. In many ways France is a microcosm of the eurozone with an economy and a societal structure reflecting both the efficient northern economies and the southern non-competitive ones. Underlying the programs presented by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger François Hollande is the contest between an old-fashioned, less malleable structure found in the southern tier of the European Union and the model successfully used by Germany.

The election's outcome may indicate which way European citizens want to go. German Chancellor Angela Merkel senses this, which explains why she has openly, strongly supported Sarkozy. He's trying to change course, get into the German lane and pull southern Europe along by example. Merkel fears that Hollande, if elected, will spread uncertainty about France's pledge to reform and in the process roil the entire eurozone.

The vast gulf within the eurozone, apparent in recent years, has long been  plagued by this dichotomy between northern Europe's competitive economies, in particular Germany, plus the Netherlands and Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the southern nation-states epitomized by Greece, but also Italy, Spain and Portugal.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Sexually deprived flies turn to alcohol (Renae Soppe, 3/16/12, Cosmos Online)
Frustrated by their unsuccessful attempts at mating, spurned male fruit flies turn to alcohol, say researchers, which highlights the relationship between different reward systems in the brain.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM

Alabama Shakes, Live In Concert: SXSW 2012 (NPR, March 15, 2012)

Armed with a bright new batch of songs, lead singer Brittany Howard fed off a crowd 2,000 strong.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Time for Talks in Syria Has Passed (DARON ACEMOGLU AND JAMES ROBINSON, 3/15/12, Why Nations Fail)

This path has been mostly shaped, and the possibility of reform shut out, by the underlying logic of the regime Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, created in 1970. On the face of it this was a one party state under the control of the Ba'ath Party which came to power in Syria via a military coup in 1963. Though the Ba'ath Party, which also brought us Saddam Hussian in Iraq, espoused a nationalist Pan-Arab ideology with heavy tinges of socialism, the reality in Syria is that it became a vehicle for a particular Syrian community, the Alawis. The Alawis, who comprise around 10% of the Syrian population concentrated in the northwest, adhere to a particular interpretation of Islam. On assuming power in 1963 the Ba'athists, already dominated by Alawis, inherited a state molded by centuries of imperialism under the Ottoman Empire and a rather shorter span of French colonialism between 1920 and 1946. This state sat atop a set of extractive economic institutions, designed to enable the extraction of resources by a small minority from the rest of society. During the Ottoman and French times, this minority comprised the colonial powers as well as its allies in Syria. Under the Ba'athist rule, it comprised mainly the Alawis.

These extractive economic institutions have several consequences. One of the most important is poverty. No society which organizes the economy to benefit just 10% of the population will generate prosperity. To grow and become prosperous the most critical thing a society must do is to harness its talent and human potential which is widely disbursed in the population. Though post-independence Syrian regimes have invested in education, heavily laced with propaganda, only those with the rights connections stand to benefit from a government appointment or having the chance to open a business.

A second set of implications is political. Extractive economic institutions do not exist in a vacuum. They need to be supported by extractive political institutions, concentrating power in the hands of the same narrow elite controlling the economy, and stripping away any constraints on the use of this political power. The logic is simple: how else would the elite convince the rest of society to go alone with this extraction? It is thus no coincidences that Syria ended up with a repressive dictatorship in which the same elites controlled all levers of power. Despite all that repression, extractive political institutions are not fully stable. An obvious source of instability is that when institutions are extractive those at the top do very well from the extraction. This means that other people would like to replace them and benefit from the extraction themselves. This is one way to think about the transition from Ottoman to French, and then to Ba'athist and Alawi rule. Any of these groups could have changed the organization of society away from extraction, but they saw it in their interests not to. All that extraction creates deep-rooted grievances and resentment in society as people wish to change the institutions which block their chances and aspirations. [...]

[T]he genie is out of the bottle. The regime cannot survive given the mobilization of society. There is no clear timetable when it will be toppled. Next year this time, it may still be in power, but if so, its ability to control many areas will have been much diminished; we are now probably in the final act of the Assad regime.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


In assassinating Anwar al-Awlaki, Obama left the Constitution behind: Memo or no memo, the administration lacks any legal principle behind the killing of the anti-American American citizen (David Dow, 3/16/12, Daily Beast)

Last week Attorney General Eric Holder seemed to confirm what many have long suspected: that the Obama Administration's Office of Legal Counsel prepared a secret memorandum authorizing the targeted killing of U.S. citizens living abroad. Until these killings began, the idea that an elected official could be judge, jury, and executioner was just an empty expression. But when Hellfire missiles from Predator drones killed American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan on September 30th, it appeared that the Obama Administration had transformed metaphor into policy.

Despite Holder's ambiguous acknowledgment of its existence, the memorandum--purportedly prepared by administration lawyers to justify these acts--remains unreleased. But even without holding the memo in my hands, I feel confident saying one thing: These killings were, and will continue to be, lawless.

For starters, we can assume the memo takes as true what the Obama Administration has said about al-Awlaki. According to the government, at least two of the 9/11 hijackers attended a Washington, D.C., area mosque where al-Awlaki was the imam and delivered incendiary sermons. Al-Awlaki presided at the funeral of the mother of Nidal Hasan, the accused Fort Hood shooter (and another worshipper at the mosque). Al-Awlaki's phone number was found in the German apartment of the supposed 20th hijacker. He has been connected to the unsuccessful effort to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day 2009, to recent efforts to place bombs on commercial aircraft destined for the United States, and to an article that called for the murder of, among others, a cartoonist living in Seattle. these guys sound exactly like all those libertarians who complain that Lincoln was a tyrant for the manner in which he won the Civil War.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


The Man Who Broke Atlantic City: Don Johnson won nearly $6 million playing blackjack in one night, single-handedly decimating the monthly revenue of Atlantic City's Tropicana casino. Not long before that, he'd taken the Borgata for $5 million and Caesars for $4 million. Here's how he did it. (MARK BOWDEN, April 2012, Atlantic)

DON JOHNSON FINDS IT HARD to remember the exact cards. Who could? At the height of his 12-hour blitz of the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, last April, he was playing a hand of blackjack nearly every minute.

Dozens of spectators pressed against the glass of the high-roller pit. Inside, playing at a green-felt table opposite a black-vested dealer, a burly middle-aged man in a red cap and black Oregon State hoodie was wagering $100,000 a hand. Word spreads when the betting is that big. Johnson was on an amazing streak. The towers of chips stacked in front of him formed a colorful miniature skyline. His winning run had been picked up by the casino's watchful overhead cameras and drawn the close scrutiny of the pit bosses. In just one hand, he remembers, he won $800,000. In a three-hand sequence, he took $1.2 million.

The basics of blackjack are simple. Almost everyone knows them. You play against the house. Two cards are placed faceup before the player, and two more cards, one down, one up, before the dealer. A card's suit doesn't matter, only its numerical value--each face card is worth 10, and an ace can be either a one or an 11. The goal is to get to 21, or as close to it as possible without going over. Scanning the cards on the table before him, the player can either stand or keep taking cards in an effort to approach 21. Since the house's hand has one card facedown, the player can't know exactly what the hand is, which is what makes this a game.

As Johnson remembers it, the $800,000 hand started with him betting $100,000 and being dealt two eights. If a player is dealt two of a kind, he can choose to "split" the hand, which means he can play each of the cards as a separate hand and ask for two more cards, in effect doubling his bet. That's what Johnson did. His next two cards, surprisingly, were also both eights, so he split each again. Getting four cards of the same number in a row doesn't happen often, but it does happen. Johnson says he was once dealt six consecutive aces at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He was now playing four hands, each consisting of a single eight-card, with $400,000 in the balance.

He was neither nervous nor excited. Johnson plays a long game, so the ups and downs of individual hands, even big swings like this one, don't matter that much to him. He is a veteran player. Little interferes with his concentration. He doesn't get rattled. With him, it's all about the math, and he knows it cold. Whenever the racily clad cocktail waitress wandered in with a fresh whiskey and Diet Coke, he took it from the tray.

The house's hand showed an upturned five. Arrayed on the table before him were the four eights. He was allowed to double down--to double his bet--on any hand, so when he was dealt a three on the first of his hands, he doubled his bet on that one, to $200,000. When his second hand was dealt a two, he doubled down on that, too. When he was dealt a three and a two on the next two hands, he says, he doubled down on those, for a total wager of $800,000.

It was the dealer's turn. He drew a 10, so the two cards he was showing totaled 15. Johnson called the game--in essence, betting that the dealer's down card was a seven or higher, which would push his hand over 21. This was a good bet: since all face cards are worth 10, the deck holds more high cards than low. When the dealer turned over the house's down card, it was a 10, busting him. Johnson won all four hands.

Johnson didn't celebrate. He didn't even pause. As another skyscraper of chips was pushed into his skyline, he signaled for the next hand. He was just getting started.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


LANA DEL REY PERFORMS IN THE CURRENT STUDIO (Steve Seel, 3/15/12, Minnesota Public Radio)

Lana Del Rey has had to deal with this unremitting dialogue on her image and back-story, often times threatening to overshadow her passion for songwriting. For Grant, none of this conversation so much matters -- it's a good path for anyone who has an inspiration and acts on it: do what you love, make mistakes and disregard those who lack a sense of encouragement.

Her newest record was largely heard ahead of its release on YouTube and at intimate live shows, a unique set-up for an album which has now gone on to hit number one in a handful of countries and the top 10 in dozens more. For an artist who edited the famous "Video Games" in a trailer park in Jersey during her early-20s, that feeling of world-wide impact will forever be ingrained.

Songs performed: "Video Games," "Blue Jeans," and "Million Dollar Man"
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March 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


David Cameron's special relationship with President Obama (Dana Milbank, 3/15/12, Washington Post)

The prime minister even defended Obama's slow progress on debt reduction: "Actually, if you look at the U.S. plans for reducing the deficit over coming years, in many ways they are actually steeper than what we're going to be doing."

All that was missing was for Cameron to cut a campaign ad for Obama -- and he just about did that, too. The prime minister accompanied Obama to an NCAA basketball tournament game Tuesday night that just happened to be in the swing state of Ohio, and it produced some impossibly good press for the president.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously became President George W. Bush's "poodle" after he followed the United States into Iraq. Now it's the opposite relationship -- an American politician from the left and a British prime minister from the right -- but a similar dynamic is developing.

The absence of any meaningful difference between the parties of the left and right in the English-speaking world has made politics more partisan but relationships among nearly identical national leaders more personally amicable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Amazon to offer $10 gift cards for $5 (Julianne Pepitone, March 15, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Amazon will sell $10 gift cards to its site for half the price on Tuesday, through its daily deals site AmazonLocal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM

La Vida Boheme, Live In Concert: SXSW 2012 (NPR, March 15, 2012)

Wearing paint-splattered shirts, the Venezuelan dance-rock band kicked off NPR Music's day party at The Parish in Austin, Texas with chant-along songs and stage-shaking energy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Obama re-election team unleashes Biden (David Jackson, USA TODAY)

"Stated simply, we're about promoting the private sector -- they're about protecting the privileged sector," he said.

That would be public vs. private.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


From J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels to Real Life: The Sport of Quidditch Takes Flight (Jace Lacob, Mar 14, 2012, Daily Beast)

The sport, brought to life from J.K. Rowling's seven-volume Harry Potter novel series, has quickly become a permanent fixture on many college campuses, including UCLA, which last weekend hosted the third annual Western Cup. Nineteen teams--including the Power Grangers, Dirigible Plums, Narwhals, and The Prisoners of Kickasskaban--faced off in a grueling two-day tournament that pitted their strength, speed, endurance, and hand-eye coordination--not to mention the ability to keep a broomstick between their legs at all times.

Quidditch, as Harry Potter fans know, is played flying atop broomsticks. While I saw no one soar through the air, experiencing the nascent and theatrical sport firsthand gives you the opportunity to see just how brutal, competitive, and unique it is--a combination of rugby, basketball, and dodgeball, mixed in a witch's cauldron.

Despite misconceptions about "Muggle" (i.e., nonmagical types) or "Ground" Quidditch, it is not a sport for nerds. "It's really competitive and it's not a sissy sport," said UCLA freshman Sarah Coleman, a beater--they play defense--on the Wizards of Westwood team. "There's blood ... It is full-contact, with no pads, and it's more intense than rugby." Many Quidditch players are serious athletes who, to borrow parlance from the books, look more like Cedric Diggory than, say, Neville Longbottom.

...with a tennis ball wrapped in tape, a sawed off goalie stick, and milk cartons for the wickets.  When we had to pause to let two professors cross the field, one turned to the other and said: "At least we're importing a better class of ruffians these days."

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Home schooling: Why more black US families are trying it (Brian Wheeler, 3/15/12, BBC News)

The number of inner-city parents choosing to educate their children at home, for educational rather than religious reasons, has been growing for a while, but until recently few black families were thought to be among them, according to NHERI director Dr Brian Ray.

"For the African-American community there was a huge amount of pressure against it, because in America, the grandparents of today's home-schooled children fought for desegregation of schools. They thought, 'The public schools are going to save us,'" he says.

But Dr Ray, who regularly interviews black home-schoolers as part of his research, says attitudes are changing fast - and it's also a lot easier today for black families to try it than it was 20 years ago, he points out.

Joyce Burges, co-founder of National Black Home Educators, who home-schooled all five of her children, aged 16 to 35, says the practice is growing "exponentially" in the African American community.

"The failings of public schools have caused all of us, whether we are white or black, to come up with creative ideas about how we can educate children.

"That explains the rise of the co-ops and African Americans seeing that this is not just a white thing any more."

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Social Security by Choice (MERRILL MATTHEWS, 3.15.12, American Spectator)

The Alternate Plan does not follow either of the traditional defined-benefit or defined-contribution models. Rather, employee and employer retirement contributions are pooled and actively managed by a financial planner -- in this case, First Financial Benefits, Inc., of Houston, which originated the plan and has managed it since inception.

Like Social Security, employees contribute 6.2 percent of their incomes, which the counties match. (Galveston has chosen to provide a slightly larger share.) Once the county makes its contribution, its financial obligation is finished. As a result, there are no long-term unfunded liabilities.

Guaranteed Interest

Unlike a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, which account holders can actively manage, the contributions are pooled, like deposits to a bank savings account, and top-rated financial institutions bid on the money.

Those institutions guarantee a base interest rate -- usually about 3.75 percent -- which can increase if the market does well. Over the last decade, the accounts have earned between 3.75 percent and 5.75 percent every year, with an average of around 5 percent. The 1990s often saw even higher interest rates, 6.5 percent to 7 percent. Thus, when the market goes up, employees make more; but when the market goes down, employees still make something. This virtually eliminates the risk that a major drop in the market will cause workers to delay retirement.

Death and Disability

Social Security is not just a retirement fund, but a social insurance program that provides death, disability and survivors benefits. When financial planner Rick Gornto devised the Alternate Plan for Galveston County, he wanted it to be a complete substitute for Social Security. Thus, part of the employer contribution provides each worker a term life insurance policy, which pays four times the employee's salary, tax free, up to a maximum of $215,000. That's nearly 850 times Social Security's death benefit of $255.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


China ousts Bo Xilai as Chongqing party boss (Tania Branigan, 3/14/12,

State news agency Xinhua announced Bo Xilai's removal as Chongqing party secretary in a one-sentence statement on Thursday morning, hours after premier Wen Jiabao took a thinly veiled swipe at him.

Bo, a complex and divisive figure, had been tipped to join China's top political body in this autumn's power transition, until a scandal broke involving his former ally and police chief, Wang Lijun. "After Wang Lijun's case, he should have resigned himself. But he didn't want to and instead fought back with a high profile," said political scientist Zhang Ming of Renmin University.

"Considering Bo's attitude, it's possible that the transition would have difficulties [without his removal] ...It shows there are still people supporting him, but Wang Lijun's case makes them unable to say anything.

"Bo was really the only politician since 1978 to trumpet his own movement independently of the party centre. That must have alarmed other senior figures in the party, suggesting he was someone who could upset the political equilibrium," said Victor Shih, an expert on elite politics at Northwestern University.
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March 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM

ONE CHILD-SIZED SERVING (via The Other Brother):

Homemade Shamrock Shake (Re, 3/14/12)

makes one serving

1 cup vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup milk
4 drops of peppermint extract
3 drops of green food dye

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Before Wolves May Be Hunted, Science, Faith and Politics Clash (JAMES GORMAN, 3/14/12, NY Times)

Once again, science, religion and politics have become entwined in a thorny public policy debate. This time, however, the discussion is not about abortion, birth control or health insurance mandates.

It's about wolves.

Specifically, a bill in the Wisconsin Legislature to authorize a hunting season on wolves. The State Senate has approved it, and the Assembly is set to consider the bill on Tuesday.

Hunters approve of the season, and Republicans are all for it, as are some Democrats. Wildlife biologists have a number of criticisms and suggestions about the bill involving how, when and how many wolves should be killed.

But the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Game Commission, which represents 11 tribes of the Ojibwe (also known as the Chippewa, or Anishinaabe) in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, opposes the hunt on the basis of religious principle and tradition.

In written testimony presented to both legislative houses, James Zorn, the executive administrator of the commission, said, "In the Anishinaabe creation story we are taught that Ma'iingan (wolf) is a brother to Original man."

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM

Imelda May On World Cafe (World Cafe,  March 14, 2012)

Imelda May began her affair with rockabilly early on in life -- by the time she was 9, she'd already begun to emulate Elmore James and Billie Holiday. In 2007, after years of singing in clubs, May stole the spotlight with Love Tattoo. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


They're both wrong: Neither Obama nor the Republicans have the right strategy to turn the recovery into a full-fledged economic revival (JOSH BARRO, 3/14/12,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Last year's debt ceiling negotiations produced a deal that is scheduled to produce $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. Meanwhile, the George W. Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of December, which would mean an extra $2.8 trillion in revenue.

However, it is widely expected that Congress and the President will intervene to stop many of those gap closing measures, just as they have done in the past. Obama remains committed to making permanent the tax cuts that apply on incomes below $250,000, which is about 80% of the total. Republicans want to make all of the cuts permanent, and all of the GOP presidential candidates want to cut taxes even further than that.

Those would all be major fiscal mistakes. In retrospect, the Bush tax cuts were never affordable, and today the long-term budget gap is a much larger threat to the U.S. economy than excessively high tax rates. Some prominent economic voices from the right and left, including Alan Greenspan, Peter Orszag and Mayor Bloomberg, have called for letting all the Bush tax cuts lapse. They are right, and the President should heed their advice.

On the expenditure side, the main threat is that Congress and the President will agree to undo the "triggered" cuts that will take about $100 billion a year out of the federal budget, due to last year's debt supercommittee deadlock. These triggered cuts don't start until 2013; if growth is strong between now and then, Congress should maintain them, though it should feel free to tinker with where they fall -- and, particularly, to cut Medicare more and discretionary spending less.

Washington's dirty secret is that everybody there wants to cut Medicare. No wonder: It's where the money is. But because Medicare cuts are politically toxic, the parties spend more time attacking each other's Medicare plans than discussing their own.

Republicans want to introduce more private competition and hold traditional Medicare to no more cost increases than in the private sector. Democrats want top-down controls on traditional Medicare spending.
Some members in each party want to narrow the scope of the Medicare benefit, for example by raising the retirement age and further means testing the program.

The one nice thing about the Medicare fight is that all of these are good ideas, and there is no reason they can't be combined as a cost-saving compromise. An aggressive program to save money in Medicare -- starting today, not in 10 years -- would have the added benefit of lessening the need to collect more tax revenue and deeply cut discretionary spending programs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Want to Improve Goldman Sachs? Convert it Back into a Partnership (Avik Roy, 3/14/12, Forbes)

There is a huge difference between Goldman Sachs, the partnership, and Goldman Sachs, the publicly-traded entity. If you're a partner at an investment bank, your incentives are long-term-oriented. You're going to be a partner for decades, and you know that you stand to be best rewarded by maintaining the loyalty of your best clients. This incentive, in turn, leads you to want to take pride in your work, as something that is about your clients, rather than about short-term moneymaking.

On the other hand, Goldman the publicly-traded entity is owned by its shareholders, who demand quarterly profits. A bank that is oriented towards quarterly profits is going to put short-term financial incentives above the long-term interests of its clients. When it comes to investment banks, not all profit motives are created equal.

Goldman's 1990s partners did just fine. At the time of the Goldman IPO, the largest partnership interest belonged to Jon Corzine. Corzine converted his 0.9 percent partnership interest into $305 million. But Goldman's clients were not as well-served by the change.

Goldman wasn't the first major investment bank to convert from a partnership into a public company. Indeed, it was one of the last. It was John Gutfreund, the former kingpin of Salomon Brothers, who pioneered the conversion of investment bank partnerships into public corporations. Indeed, one can make the case that one of the primary causes of the financial crisis was Gutfreund's innovation. "No investment bank owned by its employees would have levered itself 35 to 1 or bought and held $50 billion in mezzanine C.D.O.'s," observed Michael Lewis in 2008. "I doubt any partnership would have sought to game the rating agencies or leap into bed with loan sharks or even allow mezzanine C.D.O.'s to be sold to its customers. The hoped-for short-term gain would not have justified the long-term hit."

So what can be done about this problem? The stock left-wing answer is: tax the rich. If you reduce bankers' profits, the thinking goes, you reduce their ability to be rewarded by their greed. But eliminating greed is impossible, whether in bankers or painters. The more thoughtful question to answer is: how can bankers' self-interest be realigned with that of their clients and the public? And that answer, necessarily, involves moving back to the partnership model.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


The rise and fall of the House of Assad (George Jonas, Mar 14, 2012, National Post)

The Syrian sunset is proceeding on schedule. I wonder if Bashar al-Assad and his pretty wife, Asma, realize that their days are numbered. It's hard to see how they wouldn't, but the capacity of human beings for self-delusion is limitless and, of course, miracles do happen.

It would take one to save this couple. Just to escape with their lives will be miraculous, unless steps have already been taken to ensure the safety of Mrs. Assad, the British-born daughter of a London-based Syrian cardiologist. Bashar's chances of salvaging the family business, a bloody dictatorship he inherited from his father, Hafez al-Assad, are slim to none.

Fighting has now spread to the city if Idlib in the northwest, where the Syrian army's tanks and artillery are poised to repeat the massacres of the city of Homs. Having the stomach to massacre his own people is necessary for a dictator's survival -- look what happened to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak -- but it's not sufficient. Look what happened to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. For survival, tyrants need the spirit of the times and supportive friends. But the Arab world has turned its back on the Assad regime, along with the alphabet powers, the U.S., the UN and the EU.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Far more Christian than Muslim migrants worldwide, Pew study says (Tom Heneghan MARCH 8, 2012, Reuters)

Christians far outnumber Muslims as migrants around the world, including in the European Union where debates about immigration usually focus on new Muslim arrivals, according to a new study issued on Thursday.

Of the world's 214 million people who have moved from their home country to live in another, about 106 million (49 percent) are Christians while around 60 million (27 percent) are Muslims, the study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said. [...]

"Many experts think that, on the whole, economic opportunities - better jobs and higher wages - have been the single biggest driver of international migration," it said.

"At the same time, religion remains a factor in some people's decisions to leave their countries of birth and their choices of where to go."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Conservative Models (John O'Sullivan, March 14, 2012, National Review)

Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, offers a very different approach -- but one that makes good sense in the Canadian context: He underpromises and overdelivers.

Conservatism was seen until recently as a doomed philosophy in a Canada permanently governed by a large and ideologically sprawling Liberal party with brief intervals of power granted to a "Progressive Conservative" party that, as its name suggests, was like a schizophrenic confined in a state asylum.

Harper has been described (by an admirer) as "Canada's Nixon" -- a cerebral politician who quietly calculates the steps necessary to gain his objectives and then, having also calculated the opposition to them, methodically sets about achieving them.

The objective of replacing both the Liberals and the "Red Tories" as governing parties by a genuinely conservative party was surely too ambitious even for a Nixon. There must have been many disappointments, second thoughts, and adaptations along the way. Still, that is what has actually happened, and Harper was a leading player at every stage of the game.

He first set about undermining the Tories by helping to found a rival conservative party, Reform; then he amalgamated Reform with rump Tories to form the Conservative Party of Canada; next he led the CPC into minority government on a "softly, softly" program of moderate reform; finally, last year, he gained a clear majority and made the CPC the natural party of government in an election in which the Liberals fell into third place.

This is an impressive record by any measure. Still, conservative Canada-watchers such as Mark Steyn, David Frum, and indeed me have sometimes suggested that Harper's gradualist conservatism in government was so gradual that it was unlikely to shift Canada rightwards -- to a smaller state or a more self-reliant society or a more patriotic national self-image -- to any real extent.

After six years, social conservatives do feel let down -- though not very far down, since they had modest expectations of a political leader who has avoided issues such as abortion and embraced conventional views on immigration. For other conservatives, however, that judgment looks questionable in ways large and small.

Building on the earlier budget-tightening of Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, Harper has cut the size of government to one of the smallest in the advanced world. Canada's tax burden is now similarly low, at about 31 percent of GDP. And its budget deficit, though somewhat higher as a result of the 2007-11 world recession, is on course to disappear by 2013. Overall, Canada's economy is one of the freest, according to the Heritage Foundation's index.

The other side of Tony Abbott (PAUL KELLY, 10/01/12, The Australian)

There are three truths about Abbott. First, he has a conservative set of values that he champions yet his policy outlook is highly flexible and pragmatic (witness his famous changes of mind on multiculturalism, hospitals, carbon pricing and paid parental leave, among others).

Because Abbott is seen to stand for enduring values he gets away with multiple policy switches with impunity.

Second, unlike leaders of the past generation Abbott is not defined by economics and does not wear free-market economics as his badge. This is a sharp break from Paul Keating, John Hewson, Costello and even Howard. If Abbott wins, it will become a departure point for Australia. Abbott told me back in 2003: "I have never been as excited about economics as some of my colleagues." An understatement.

Throughout his life, Abbott's social philosophy has been paramount. He is a libertarian in neither personal nor economic terms. Abbott has never hidden this truth, declaring that while many Liberals stress the "individual" and "choice" his message is always "individuals as part of the social fabric".

For Abbott, it is society, family and community that count. Individualism must always be seen within society. This is the powerful legacy of his Catholicism. It has been apparent at each stage of his life, trainee priest, journalist, community volunteer and MP.

It is what makes Abbott a different Liberal leader and what makes the Abbott Liberal Party different. Such philosophy is likely to be popular with the public but hardly encouraging to free-market reform.

Third, Abbott is a community based politician rather than an inside-the-beltway policy wonk. He is bright enough and arrogant enough to think he doesn't necessarily need to genuflect before the latest policy advice or conventional wisdom (think carbon pricing or mining tax).

Abbott is a natural populist and has materialised into something Labor never imagined - a potent threat to its voting base.

The only basis for seeing Abbott as a radical lies in the fusion of his populism and social values. The feminists preaching his infamy are clueless, with Abbott easily batting away their attacks: "Am I worried about the extent of abortions and family breakdown today? Yes, I am worried. Do I intend in office to legislate against abortion and family breakdown? No, I don't." With this formula he projects his values yet claims immunity from imposing them.

Where Labor was convinced Abbott would narrow the Coalition's appeal, the opposite has happened with Abbott widening its appeal, a point verified by applying this test in terms of regions, class and values.

The Coalition is strong in the resource states of Queensland and Western Australia, much of NSW, manages to hold its own in the southern states.

Analysis by class shows Abbott is stealing the working-class vote through his persona and ability to re-mobilise the so-called Howard battlers. On values, Abbott embodies the large-scale transfer of the Catholic vote from Labor to Liberal. This is symbolised not just by his Democratic Labor Party origins but by the December 2009 Liberal leadership contest involving Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey, each of them Catholic, a situation inconceivable in the Menzian Liberal Party and testimony to the widening of the conservative net.

For all our enchantment with our own exceptionalism, what's most notable about politics across the Anglosphere is how similar we all are.
Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Mitt Romney may win some, lose some, but moral victories in Deep South keep him on top (THOMAS M. DEFRANK, 3/14/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

It's not often that a politician enjoys the luxury of winning even when he loses. Mitt Romney finds himself Wednesday morning in that rare and enviable position. That's because Romney exceeded expectations in both Alabama and Mississippi.

Yes, it's certainly true Jabba the Hutt would win those states in the fall as the Republican nominee. But Romney showed surprising strength in a region totally alien to his persona.

Let's face it -- a guy who desperately needs a tutorial on Southern cuisine (it's not kosher to call them "cheesy grits") shouldn't be competitive in Dixie, but he was. That bodes well for Romney.

Moreover, he padded his above-the-pack delegate totals, buttressing the belief of his advisers -- and leading party professionals -- that it's all but impossible to catch him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs (GREG SMITH, 3/14/12, NY Times)
I truly believe that this decline in the firm's moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm's "axes," which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) "Hunt Elephants." In English: get your clients -- some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren't -- to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It's purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client's success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

March 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


Hieroglyphics turn prisoner away from a life of crime: The high school dropout became fascinated after reading a prestigious archaeology magazine in a prison waiting room. The rest may be history. (Thomas H. Maugh II, 3/14/12, Los Angeles Times)

The letter to the editor of a prestigious archaeology magazine came from inmate No. J81961 at Tehachapi State Prison.

Prisoner Timothy Fenstermacher, a high school dropout, wrote to disagree with an article by an archaeologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Archaeologist Orly Goldwasser had based her story on the birth of the alphabet in part on the appearance of the rare "Sinai hieroglyph," which she said was used in the Sinai during Egypt's Middle Kingdom.

Fenstermacher thought otherwise. "I believe the rarity of this hieroglyph has been overstated," he wrote to Biblical Archaeology Review.

Drawing on expertise gleaned from books sent to him in prison, improvised flashcard drills and correspondence with scholars, Fenstermacher gave examples of the hieroglyph's appearance outside the Sinai.

The magazine published the letter, just as it has others from prisoner J81961.

"The extent of this guy's self-taught scholarship is mind-boggling," said the review's editor, Hershel Shanks, adding that his staff had grown "quite fond" of Fenstermacher. "I wonder how a man could come from such difficulty and achieve such heights of scholarship."
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Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM

'Leaving Eden' and the Legacy of Americana (BARRY MAZOR, 3/13/12, WSJ)

Exciting audiences as instrumentalists, singers, even as dancers, while digging further into the broad legacy of Southern music, particularly African-American Southern music, the group--a core trio of Mr. Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins (who recently replaced the departing third founder, Justin Robinson) and an array of additional contributors--have defied genre classification by charging, fully prepared, into many fields. The Carolina Chocolate Drops' last release, 2010's "Genuine Negro Jig," won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album, but they have also been featured at the Newport Jazz Festival, on the Grand Ole Opry and in rock clubs; they have topped the bluegrass charts, and have been referred to as an Americana jug band, an old-timey African-American string band and even as an R&B group.

Mr. Flemons, a showman who handles guitar, jug, harmonica and bones for the band, started out as a more conventional roots-rock and pop musician. Ms. Giddens, the group's stunning, soulful vocalist and banjo and fiddle player, was classically trained. They, along with Mr. Robinson, the former Chocolate Drop multi-instrumentalist, were in their 20s when they met at the Black Banjo Gathering, an annual get-together in Boone, N.C., for those interested in reviving the African-American stringband tradition.

They went on to study under and perform with Joe Thompson, who was considered--before his death last month at age 93--the last of the great fiddlers left playing that generations-old music. (One of Thompson's instrumentals, "Riro's House," leads the new CD.) While rural stringband music was a large part of the Chocolate Drops' initial focus--and its newcomer, Mr. Jenkins, is also a banjoist--the band's interest in reviving older music and performance styles for contemporary audiences was never limited to solemn turns on traditionalist folk styles. The more exuberant parts of the musical spectrum--hokum blues, jazz, vaudeville--were always included in the music they chose to bring forward, which has ranged from a turn on 1920s banjoist Papa Charlie Jackson's "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine" to Ms. Giddens's soulful, always show-stopping version of 1990s R&B singer Blu Cantrell's "Hit'em Up Style."

The Carolina Chocolate Drops On Mountain Stage (NPR, January 31, 2012)

Fresh off a recent win at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, The Carolina Chocolate Drops make their second appearance on Mountain Stage. The band modifies and preserves the traditional fiddle and banjo music of the Piedmont, recently adding two new members -- multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins and beatboxer Adam Matta -- to its continually evolving sound.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


Who Is Happy? (Dennis Prager, March 13, 2012, National Review)

People who do not see themselves or their group as victims.

Virtually every person can legitimately see himself as a victim -- of an unloving upbringing; of bullies in school; of a loveless, or just plain bad, marriage; of financial problems; of membership in a victim group; of health problems; and of so much else. But however valid the fact of one's victimhood, perceiving oneself primarily as victim is the road to misery.

If the primary conclusion you have reached after years of therapy is that you are a victim, you really are a victim -- of lousy therapy.

The post-60s labeling of virtually everyone except WASP males (blacks, women, and Hispanics, etc.) as victims has exponentially increased unhappiness in America.

People who rarely complain.

Complaining not only ruins everybody else's day, it ruins the complainer's day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get. Want to raise children who will be happy adults? Teach them not to whine.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


Obama Betrayed Ideals on Israel: The president sacrificed his ideals and misplayed his hand. How Bibi got the better of Barack. (Peter Beinart,  March 12, 2012, Daily Beast)

At the behest of Hillary Clinton, his new secretary of state, Obama appointed former Senate majority leader George Mitchell as his envoy for the peace process. It was a telling choice. In 2000, Bill Clinton had asked Mitchell to investigate the causes of the second intifada, an investigation that led Mitchell to write a report calling on Israel to freeze settlement construction. The report also demanded that the Palestinians more aggressively fight terrorism, but by 2009, even Israeli military officials conceded that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were doing just that. In his new job, Mitchell wanted to show Palestinians that eschewing violence brought tangible rewards. The prize Abbas and Fayyad wanted: a settlement freeze.

But the administration's motivation was not only instrumental; it was moral, too. In March 2009, Hillary Clinton, Mitchell, and a few aides traveled from Jerusalem, where they had met Israeli officials, to Ramallah. As they sped through the West Bank, passing boulders that blocked Palestinian villages from accessing settler-dominated bypass roads, the Americans grew palpably uncomfortable. "There was a kind of silence and people were careful," remembers one former senior State Department official, "but it was like my God, you crossed that border and it was apartheid." In meetings in Washington, Obama spoke bluntly about Palestinian suffering. One Washington insider noted that in all his years of going to the White House, he had never heard Clinton, Reagan, or either Bush speak the same way.

Inside the Obama administration, the call for a settlement freeze sparked little dissent. After all, Mitchell had proposed a freeze in 2001, and two years later, by accepting the Bush administration's "Road Map" to peace, Israel had actually agreed to one, although it was never carried out. National Security Adviser James Jones had written an unpublished 2008 study that reportedly criticized Israeli policy in the West Bank. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had a record of opposing settlement growth too. In 2003, he had been one of only four Jewish members of Congress to sign a letter endorsing the Road Map. Privately, he told associates that the Bush administration had coddled Israel, and that it was time for Israel's American friends to speak more frankly to the leaders of the Jewish state. When Netanyahu tried to establish back-channel discussions with Emanuel, bypassing Mitchell, Obama's chief of staff refused. 

Among the few administration skeptics of a settlement freeze was former Clinton administration envoy Dennis Ross, who considered it unrealistic given Netanyahu's right-leaning government. But Ross was working at the State Department, not the White House, and his job description was restricted to Iran. He had tried to broaden his mandate during the transition, arguing that in order to effectively craft Iran strategy he needed the freedom to dabble in every aspect of Middle East policy, including the peace process. A statement by Ross's former employer, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had even declared that he would be working on a "wide range of Middle East issues, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran." But Jones promised Mitchell that Ross would not meddle in his work, and when a State Department spokesman announced Ross's appointment, he insisted that Ross "will not be, in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the peace process." Whether Ross abided by that pledge while at the State Department is a matter of sharp dispute. But either way, he did not control the Israel-Palestinian portfolio. Not yet.

If the White House was largely united, Obama and Netanyahu could hardly have been further apart. Not only was Netanyahu a longtime champion of settlement expansion, but during his own election campaign he had refused to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state and made it clear that he considered peace talks aimed at creating one a waste of time. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM


Can the Electric Car Survive?: Sales are low and companies are struggling. Is the problem premature innovation? (Steve LeVine, March 13, 2012, Slate)

There is good reason to conclude that electrified vehicle creators may not be the latest Charles Babbages, and despite this rough patch will soon play a major role in the automotive industry. Consider who holds the betting line against them: Big Oil, which has a highly personal reason to cast a skeptical eye--namely, self-survival. ExxonMobil and BP, among others, have issued 25- and 30-year projections saying that motorists will embrace the marginal added fuel efficiency of cars like the Prius with smallish batteries, but not pure electrics like the Leaf or plug-in hybrids like the Volt. These Big Oil projections assert that the electric crowd will fail to produce the innovations necessary for plug-in hybrids or electric cars to make a big commercial splash. Instead, says ExxonMobil, 90 percent of global transportation will continue to be fossil fuels at least through 2040.
It is arguable that plug-in hybrids are early, even very early, but would you bet the company on chronic scientific and commercial failure lasting three decades? If the electric crowd is guilty of hope-led naiveté, Exxon and BP may be misleading themselves through self-interest-driven blindness.

Yet the electric-car industry remains uncertain as to where it is situated in the innovation cycle. The other side of the valley of death--to be reached at the earliest when the next generation of lithium-ion batteries lowers the price of electrified cars--is at least three to five years in the future, industry hands believe. At this point, electrified vehicles can begin to seriously close the price-and-performance gap with gasoline-driven cars, allowing them to commence a long ascent toward a mass consumer market. But until that starts, one must survive.

So how can companies end up like Thomas Edison and avoid the fate of his commercial failure rival--Nikola Tesla, a legend only in death, and the namesake of Musk's electric company?

Musk's solution is to grapple with the market currently at hand. In the case of electric cars, there is no mass consumer market as yet. So he has sold out a niche $109,000 sports car and begun to work his way gradually down the pricing scale. Electric cars are following the long innovation-and-commercial arc of cell phones, asserts Ricardo Reyes, Musk's vice president of public communications. "[Cellphones] were almost prohibitively expensive at first," Reyes told me. "You had some adoption by early adopters, initially wealthy folks. As technology went up and price went down, market demand increased. Now you have everyone with a cellphone in their pocket."

...but from ones that run on LNG, hydrogen and the like.  They can easily end up being lapped. After all, from a public policy standpoint it doesn't matter which of the various alternatives replaces the gas engine.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM


Keeper of Islamic Flame Rises as Egypt's New Decisive Voice (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 3/12/12, NY Times)

One year after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak brought Mr. Shater freedom, he has emerged as the most decisive voice in the leadership of the Brotherhood, the 83-year-old fountainhead of political Islam, at the moment when it has established itself as the dominant power in Egyptian politics.

With firm control of Egypt's Parliament, the Brotherhood's political arm is holding talks to form the next cabinet while Mr. Shater is grooming about 500 future officials to form a government-in-waiting. As the group's chief policy architect, Mr. Shater is overseeing the blueprint for the new Egypt, negotiating with its current military rulers over their future role, shaping its relations with Israel and a domestic Christian minority, and devising the economic policies the Brotherhood hopes will revive Egypt's moribund economy.

With power he could only dream of when he padded around Mr. Mubarak's prisons in a white track suit, Mr. Shater meets foreign ambassadors, the executives of multinational corporations and Wall Street firms, and a parade of United States senators and other officials to explain the Brotherhood's vision. To the Brotherhood, he tells them, Islam requires democracy, free markets and tolerance of religious minorities.

But he also says that recent elections have proved that Egyptians demand an explicitly Islamic state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Free the Banks! The Case for Massive Deregulation of the Financial System</a> (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 3/12/12, Atlantic) 

My blueprint has two basic planks:

A return to the partnership model

Almost complete deregulation of the financial system [..]

[W]e need a structure that solves both the agency and scale problems. And the partnership model seems to be it. The partnership model holds that stockholders in a financial institution must also be employees of that institution, and that they have unlimited liability in a bankruptcy. 

It's easy to see how it solves the agency problem: the people providing the equity capital, the people running the ship and the people who are on the hook when the ship sinks are the same people. Will this prevent mistakes from being made? No, humans are foolish and greedy sorcerer's apprentices, and we'll always figure out ways to make stuff blow up in our face. But it gives everyone the incentive to be more careful. Bubbles would still happen, but people would drink less kool-aid. It doesn't guarantee they won't happen, but it's the best incentive structure to limit their destructive effects. 

And it also solves the scale problem: without access to the public or even most of the private markets (I should like partnerships to be able to have up to 20/25% of their capital open to outsiders) to expand their equity capital, banks would necessarily be much smaller. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Why Some Countries Go Bust (ADAM DAVIDSON, 3/19/12, NY Times Magazine)

By his own admission, Daron Acemoglu is a slightly pudgy and fairly nerdy guy with an unpronounceable last name. But when I mentioned that I was interviewing him to two econ buffs, they each gasped and said, "I love Daron Acemoglu," as if I were talking about Keith Richards. The Turkish M.I.T. professor -- who, right now, is about as hot as economists get -- acquired his renown for serious advances in answering the single most important question in his profession, the same one that compelled Adam Smith to write "The Wealth of Nations": why are some countries rich while others are poor?

Over the centuries, proposed answers have varied greatly. Smith declared that the difference between wealth and poverty resulted from the relative freedom of the markets; Thomas Malthus said poverty comes from overpopulation; and John Maynard Keynes claimed it was a byproduct of a lack of technocrats. (Of course, everyone knows that politicians love listening to wonky bureaucrats!) Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world's most famous economists, asserts that poor soil, lack of navigable rivers and tropical diseases are, in part, to blame. Others point to culture, geography, climate, colonization and military might. The list goes on.

But through a series of legendary -- and somewhat controversial -- academic papers published over the past decade, Acemoglu has persuasively challenged many of the previous theories. (If poverty were primarily the result of geography, say, or an unfortunate history, how can we account for the successes of Botswana, Costa Rica or Thailand?) Now, in their new book, "Why Nations Fail," Acemoglu and his collaborator, James Robinson, argue that the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy. It's an idea that was first raised by Smith but was then largely ignored for centuries as economics became focused on theoretical models of ideal economies rather than the not-at-all-ideal problems of real nations. [...]

According to Acemoglu's thesis, when a nation's institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Are you practicing good 'sleep hygiene'?: For various reasons, about 75 million Americans don't get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer some tips. (David Lazarus, March 13, 2012, LA Times)

To achieve lasting have to address the causes of sleeplessness and change your behavior accordingly.

In the sleep trade, this is known as having good sleep hygiene.

The CDC recommends avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine anywhere near bedtime. It also advises skipping large meals and vigorous exercise as rock-a-bye time approaches.

A key element of good sleep hygiene is acclimating your body to a regular schedule. That means trying to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning your bedroom into "a cool, comfortable sleeping environment that is free of distractions."

The foundation also advises keeping a "worry book" next to the bed. If anxiety is keeping you up, write down what's on your mind, jot down a few ideas about how to cope with things, and then forget about everything until morning.

There's also a technique called "sleep restriction" that's worth considering (It worked for me). If you get into bed and often toss and turn for an hour or more, start going to bed later at night, while still getting up at the same hour each morning.

That may sound counterintuitive for someone who wants more sleep -- and it certainly wipes you out for a while -- but the idea is to provide deeper, more restful sleep by limiting your time under the covers to the hours you're actually catching z's.

As you become more proficient at staying down, you gradually try to lengthen the amount of time in bed until you get closer to the seven or eight hours most experts say is preferable.
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March 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Cheap Solar Power at Night (KEVIN BULLIS, 3/12/12, technology Review)

Solar power has two main problems: it's expensive, and it's intermittent, since the output of a solar power plant depends on the time of day and cloud cover. Halotechnics, an early-stage solar-thermal startup, could help solve both problems.

The company has developed new heat-storage materials that promise to not only make solar-thermal power plants more efficient, but also reduce the cost of storing energy from the sun for use when it's most needed.

The materials, which include new mixtures of salts as well as new glass materials, could be key to making solar-thermal power plants cheap enough--and reliable enough--to compete with fossil fuels on a large scale.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Two Novelists Take on the Haggadah (ALEX WILLIAMS, 3/11/12, NY Times)

AFTER a lengthy interview with President Obama in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, had one more question, and it had nothing to do with Iran.

"I know this is cheesy ..." Mr. Goldberg started, but before he could finish, the president interrupted him. "What, you have a book?" Mr. Obama asked. Turns out, Mr. Goldberg did, but "it's not just any book," he replied.

Mr. Goldberg reached into his briefcase and handed the president an advance copy of the "New American Haggadah," a new translation of the Passover liturgy that was edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and contains commentary by Mr. Goldberg and other contemporary writers.

After thumbing through the sleek hardcover book, Mr. Obama looked up and asked wryly, "Does this mean that we can't use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Why I Won't Get a Colonoscopy (John Horgan, March 12, 2012, Scientific American)

I recently visited a doctor for one problem, and, as doctors are wont to do, he recommended tests for completely unrelated problems. My hearing has seemed muffled lately, so I wanted the doctor to peer in my ears. He said my ears looked fine; I'm probably just experiencing normal, age-related hearing decline. (Delayed effects, no doubt, from sitting in the front row during a Jimi Hendrix concert in 1968.)

The doctor asked me when my last check-up was. Five years ago, I said, after I got a sports hernia playing hockey, but I feel fine. He nonetheless recommended a blood test for high cholesterol and other potential problems, a PSA test for prostate cancer and maybe a screen for colon cancer. No thanks, I said coldly, and left his office. Little did he know he was talking to an anti-testing nut.

As I reported last fall, men are 47 times more likely to get unnecessary, harmful treatments--biopsies, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy--as a result of receiving a positive PSA test than they are to have their lives extended, according to a major study.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Cry, the Beloved Constitution (J. HARVIE WILKINSON III, 3/12/12, NY Times)

It is tempting to shout states' rights when deeply flawed federal legislation is enacted, but the momentary satisfactions of that exercise carry long-term constitutional costs. Badly conceived bills die a thousand political deaths -- in the appropriations process, in the states, through electoral retribution, in the executive appointments of a succeeding administration and ultimately in amendment and repeal. However, if courts read the Constitution in such a way that it enables them to make Congress ineffectual, and instead to promote 50 state regulatory regimes in an era of rapidly mounting global challenges, the risks should escape no one. Making our charter more parochial while other nations flex their economic muscle seems like poor timing.

Liberals are mounting their own, equally damaging, assault on the Constitution. They have forsaken the textual and historical foundations of that document in favor of judicially decreed rights of autonomy. It is one thing to value those rights our cherished Bill of Rights sets forth. But to create rights from whole cloth is to turn one's back on law.

Just like the opponents of the Affordable Care Act, the proponents of reproductive choice and same-sex marriage have strong arguments -- but they are political, not constitutional. What are the consequences when liberals shortchange democratic liberty in favor of judicial expansion of unenumerated personal rights? Well, for one, creating constitutional rights without foundation frays the community fabric and, with it, the very notion that the majority can enact into law some expression of shared values that make ours a society whose whole is more than the sum of its parts. In pushing a constitutional vision of autonomous individuals divested of location in larger social settings, liberals risk weakening the communal values and institutions that best afford our most disadvantaged the chance for a good life.

At a time of dismay over democratic dysfunction, the temptation to ask courts to supplant self-governance runs high. And yet when I look past the present debacle, and think of where democracy has brought this country, I would not lose faith.

Better we govern ourselves questionably than a small elite dictate to us.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Rescuing marriage from no-fault divorce: Two out of three unhappily married adults who stayed together were happily married five years later. (William West, 12 March 2012, MercatorNet)

Now one organisation - the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada - is trying to change that with the report "Finding fault with no-fault divorce". The report seeks not only to analyse the damage done by easy divorce, but to make concrete proposals to help rescue marriage.

On easy divorce, it says:

The shift from "fault" to "no-fault" divorce ultimately created a dynamic whereby one unhappy spouse who wanted out - for any reason or no reason at all - could unilaterally do so simply by moving out, be it two months or two years in. The end result is that we speak idealistic words ("till death do us part") on our wedding days, knowing full well that when the going gets tough, we can - and do - get going.

In most countries that have adopted no-fault divorce, marriages have been failing at a disturbing rate. In Canada, for instance, it is estimated that around 40 percent of marriages that took place in the year 2008 will have ended in divorce by 2035. In Australia the rate is around one in three. But there is a glimmer of hope for the newly wed. The IMFC report highlights the fact that in most failing marriages, at least one of the partners will be in favour of trying to salvage the marriage. It also points out that around 85 to 90 per cent of divorces are in the category of "low-conflict divorce" and that among these, two out of three "unhappily married adults" who manage to avoid divorce or separation end up describing themselves as "happily married" five years later.

Given these facts, the report argues that taking steps to save marriages should be considered as "at least as viable an option" as proceeding with divorce. This view is supported by the Institute for American Values, which argues that "unhappy marriages are less common than unhappy spouses". This is because its own research indicates that three out of four "unhappily married adults" are married to someone who is happy with the marriage. The IMFC concludes: "If divorce is pushed by one unhappy spouse, whose partner is happy - which, in a low conflict marriage means they have just as great a chance of being happily married five years later - then unilateral divorce simply makes it easy for the one unhappy partner to leave without explanation or negotiation."

...the divorcer should be required to repay any tax benefits reaped from the marriage and not be permitted to remarry.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Taking multi-vitamin pills 'does nothing for our health' (DAILY MAIL, 12/26/11)

Researchers spent more than six years following 8,000 people and found that those taking supplements were just as likely to  have developed cancer or heart disease as those who took an identical-looking dummy pill.
And when they were questioned on how healthy they felt, there was hardly any difference between the two groups.

Experts said the study - one of the most extensive carried out into vitamin pills - suggested that  millions of consumers may be wasting their money on supplements.

Many users fall into the category of the 'worried well' - healthy  adults who believe the pills  will insure them against deadly  illnesses - according to  Catherine Collins, chief dietician  at St George's Hospital in London. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Toward a Conservative Postmodernism: a review of Postmodernism Rightly Understood: The Return to Realism in American Thought, by Peter Augustine Lawler  (ROBERT  P. KRAYNAK, Modern Age)

Conservatives, of course,  are  horrified by this sweeping condemnation  of  the Western tradition and t h e  rejection  of  objective truth  and reason.  Yet  t h e  question  of  attacking  the modern  Enlightenment provokes genuine disagreement among conservatives.  Some take the  position that  the  best  response  to left-wing  postmodernism  is  t o  rally around t h e  Enlightenment-to argue that , even if it overstated the  case  for a narrow version of  rationalism (emphasizing empirical science and  critical reason),  i t s  
political influence ha s  been highly beneficial and,  like o r  not, it is here  to  stay.  Most neoconservatives  adopt the first line of  argument  a s  t h e  cornerstone of their  public  philosophy. They contend that  the Enlightenment may have been overzealous  in  seeking t o  replace  religion  and  custom with science;  but  its  more moderate strands  particularly the Anglo-American  Enlightenment)  produced t h e  doctrine of  natural rights as well as  capitalism and bourgeois civilization, which  a r e  largely responsible for the  freedom and prosperity tha t  we enjoy  today.  A  variation  on  the   neoconservative theme is Francis Fukuyama's argument  about   the   "end  of  history," which states  that  modern liberal democracy and  capitalism are  irreversible historical trends  because they satisfy the rational  demand for the  recognition  of human  dignity. Both  neoconservatives and Fukuyama acknowledge many short-comings of  the  modern age, but neither is willing to trade  it in for vague promises of  a postmodern future. 

Obviously, there  is some merit to this argument; and one  wonders why it fails to resonate with left-wing postmodernists, especially since they are so thoroughly bourgeois  and have such  a big stake in the leisure and conveniences of bourgeois modernity. I suspect  their resistance  is partly due  to  the  ingratitude that  one often finds in spoiled children, but it may also be due to elements of truth in the   postmodern critique that cannot be  ignored, even though the  Left fails t o  grasp the depth of the critique 
and makes  everything worse by attacking the  whole of the Western tradition and embracing cultural relativism.

If my suspicions are correct, then what we need is a response to  the  postmodern challenge that  develops  its  legitimate criticisms of the  Enlightenment and bourgeois modernity but  turns  them  into a conservative version of  postmodernism. Such a position would be much more emphatic about t h e  failures of  modernity than neoconservatives have been (at least in  their  public  pronouncements) and would look for solutions not in propping up the  noble lies of  the  Enlightenment, but in recovering the permanent truths  about  man and society that  lie hidden in the illusions and despair of  modern life. 
Since many  conservatives might  b e  intimidated by such a risky and ambitious project, they can be grateful that Peter Augustine  Lawler ha s  shown them the  way  in  his  new  book,  Postmodernism Rightly  Understood: The Return  to Realism. It  challenges religious  and cultural conservatives  to   take  postmodernism away from the  academic Left and to  develop  it themselves-"rightly  understood, "  of  course. The  point  is  not  t o  outdo  the  Left in bashing modernity but to show that  conservatives need not view the demise  of  t h e  Enlightenment  a s   a catastrophe  to  be avoided  at all costs; instead, they can look upon it as an opportunity t o  return t o  premodern thinkers  such  as  St. Thomas Aquinas, whose philosophy could b e  reformulated anew today . By  this logic , conservative  postmodernism   is  premodernism  brought up to date.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Do Multivitamins Really Work?: Sure, taking your multi is healthy--for a lucrative industry's bottom line. (Kiera Butler, March/April 2012, Mother Jones)

According to a survey by the National Institutes of Health, nearly a third of Americans take multivitamins regularly. The Vitamin Shoppe, a chain with more than $700 million in annual sales, has been growing by double digits year after year. Yet mounting data suggests that multivitamins aren't the nutritional wonders the industry would have us believe. "There is virtually no evidence that they make healthy people healthier," says author Marion Nestle, one of several nutritionists who told me that vitamin deficiency is quite rare in the United States. (Her latest book, Why Calories Count, is due out in April.)

Despite manufacturers' coded claims that multivitamins ward off chronic illness--D "promotes breast health," B is "heart healthy"--a large 2009 study of postmenopausal women published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that multis didn't protect against any of the diseases studied, including heart disease and lung, breast, and colon cancer. A 2011 study involving nearly 39,000 women reached similar conclusions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Harlem churches see gospel tourist boom on Sundays (Associated Press, 3/09/12)

Congregant Clinton Johnson, second from left, shakes hands with departing tourists after a service at the Mother AME Zion Church in New York, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The stern warning issued from the pulpit was directed at the tourists -- most of whom had arrived late -- a sea of white faces with guidebooks in hand. They outnumbered the congregation itself: a handful of elderly black men and women wearing suits and dresses and old-fashioned pillbox hats.

"We're hoping that you will remain in place during the preaching of the Gospel," a church member said over the microphone at this Harlem church on a recent Sunday morning. "But if you have to go, go now. Go before the preacher stands to preach."

No one left then. But halfway through the sermon, a group of French girls made their way toward the velvet ropes that blocked the exit. An usher shook his head firmly, but they ignored him and walked out.

The clash between tourists and congregants plays out every Sunday at Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the oldest black church in New York state. It's one of many Harlem churches that have become tourist attractions for visitors from all over the world who want to listen to soulful gospel music at a black church service. With a record number of tourists descending upon New York City last year, the crowds of foreigners are becoming a source of irritation among faithful churchgoers.

To preserve the sanctity of the service, pastors struggle to enforce strict rules of conduct.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Mass transit sees near-record year as gas prices soar (Steve Hargreaves, March 12, 2012, CNNMoney)

Ridership on the nation's trains and busses hit one of the highest levels in decades, with officials crediting high gas prices, a stronger economy and new technology that makes riding public transit easier.

In 2011, Americans took 10.4 billion trips on mass transit -- which includes buses, trains, street cars and ferries, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

That's a 2.3% increase over 2010 and just shy of the number of trips in 2008, when gasoline spiked to a record national average of $4.11 a gallon.

"As people get jobs and go back to work, they get on mass transit more," said Michael Melaniphy, president of APTA. "And then when people look at gas prices, they really get on transit more."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Reflections on Cambodia (Douglas B. Levene, March 12, 2012, National Review)

The term "genocide" historically refers to the mass extermination of a race or ethnicity, as with the Turks and the Armenians, or the Germans and the Jews, or the Serbs and the Bosnians. It doesn't seem to fit what happened in Cambodia, except for the scale of the slaughter.

Rather, what happened in Cambodia is what happened in the French Revolution, and in Stalin's purges and mass collectivization campaigns, and in Mao's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, only on a proportionately larger scale. It was mass murder in the name of equality. It wasn't "genocide"; it was Communist utopianism carried to its logical extreme. The Khmer Rouge, who called themselves Maoists, believed that the most important social and political value was equality and that in order to create their new, classless society in which everyone was equal, it was necessary to exterminate anyone who might be smarter, or better educated, or wealthier, or more talented than anyone else. Thus, they killed the educated, the bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and the rich; movie stars, pop singers, authors, urban residents, and workers for the former government; and anyone who protested -- as well as the families of all the above. Towards the end, they also killed cadres who were thought to be a political threat. Whatever their crimes were, the Khmer Rouge do not seem to have been motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious hatred.

Why then do Cambodians and the world call the mass murders by the Khmer Rouge "genocide"? I can think of several possible reasons. One is the superficial similarity to other mass slaughters -- as noted earlier, the pictures of the Cambodian killing fields look very much like the pictures from the German concentration camps. Surely many people who are largely ignorant of history know only that similarity. Another reason is the fact that the victims of genocide are sympathetic. The U.N. creates commissions, and wealthy countries send money. Cambodia today is filled with NGOs bringing aid of various kinds. The desire for international sympathy might explain why Cambodians use the genocide label.

However, I suspect that the most important reason for the usage worldwide is that many people in the international media, international agencies, and international NGOs (not to mention academia) are reluctant to face up to the crimes committed by Communism in the name of equality. To do so might call into question the weight attached by them to equality as the most important social value and undermine the multicultural faith that evil is predominantly the product of inequality, racism, ethnic hatred, or religious fanaticism. That cannot be permitted, so such crimes must be either ignored or mislabeled. And, of course, the remaining Communist regimes in the world are only too happy to cooperate in characterizing the killing fields as the products of irrational paranoia on the part of Pol Pot and his gang rather than the perfectly rational result of the quest for perfect equality.

Writing in the pages of the New York Times on April 13, 1975, just five days before the final fall of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, to the Khmer Rouge, Sydney Schanberg wrote that for the :

    ...ordinary people of Indochina, it is difficult to imagine how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.

And then there's this gem from the quintessential liberal:

The growing hysteria of the administration's posture on Cambodia seems to me to reflect a determined refusal to consider what the fall of  the existing government in Phnom Penh would actually mean.... We should be able to see that the kind of government which would succeed Lon Nol's forces would most likely be a government ... run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia.    -Senator George McGovern

March 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 PM


Global liquidity peak spells trouble for late 2012 (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 11 Mar 2012, The Telegraph)

Data collected by Simon Ward at Henderson Global Investors shows that M1 money supply growth in the big G7 economies and leading E7 emerging powers buckled over the winter.

The gauge - known as six-month real narrow money - peaked at 5.1pc in November. It dropped to 3.6pc in January, and to 2.1pc in February.

This is comparable to falls seen in mid-2008 in the months leading up to the Great Recession, and which caught central banks so badly off guard.

Hopefully there's nothing like the level of derivative fraud that was exposed in the last slowdown caused by misguided inflation-hawkery.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Saving the Press Clause from Ruin: The Customary Origins of a 'Free Press' as Interface to the Present and Future (Patrick J. Charles & Kevin Francis O'Neill, Utah Law Review)


If the Supreme Court were to reinterpret the Press Clause in accordance with the historical findings set forth in this article, what would be the result? As explained more fully below, current Press Clause jurisprudence would be altered in three significant respects. First, the difficulty of defining the institutional press would be alleviated -- the definition would focus on news-gathering organizations that investigate and report on the activities of government. Second, the leading Press Clause precedents outlined above (particularly Branzburg, Zurcher, and Pell) would be overruled as wrongly decided. Third, a new doctrine -- recognizing greater press access to newsworthy events and information under government control -- would have to be developed.

In First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, Chief Justice Burger cited the difficulty of defining the institutional press as a key reason for rejecting any special Press Clause protection for the news media. But the difficulty of defining "the press" is no reason for treating the Press Clause as an empty promise. Defining the institutional press becomes easier if we are guided by the historical findings sketched above, in which newspapers were valued primarily for their role as government watchdogs, gathering and disseminating information about the conduct of public officials. This theme accords with Justice Stewart‟s conception of the press as the "Fourth Estate," providing "organized, expert scrutiny" of public officials; and it is a theme that continues even now to define the role of the press. Envisioning a role for the institutional press in the 21st century, Lee C. Bollinger observes: "[A]s long as there is democracy or government based on some even minimal level of consent of the people, the press is a necessity. Someone must provide us with factual information and analysis of what is happening in the world while upholding values of -- in the language of the Pulitzer Prize -- „honesty, accuracy, and fairness.‟"459 And Bollinger adds that the institutional press must include "organizations large and powerful enough to be able effectively to monitor and check the authority of the state." When defining the institutional press, these two functions -- news-gathering and government-monitoring -- must reside at the center of our definition.

What does this mean for bloggers and other opinion writers? Don‟t they more closely resemble the printers and pamphleteers of the Revolutionary era than a modern media giant like the New York Times? In many respects yes, but news analysis and editorial opinion bear the stamp of individual expression that is more readily associated with the Speech Clause. A revitalized Press Clause would afford protections more pertinent to an investigative, fact-gathering organization -- like increased access to newsworthy events and information, and immunity from newsroom searches and grand jury subpoenas.

This brings us to our second point -- that if the Press Clause were reinterpreted in accordance with the historical findings outlined in this article, then Branzburg, Zurcher, and Pell would be overruled.
Branzburg and Zurcher are wrongly decided under the historical interpretation of the Press Clause because, as a government watchdog with a structural role to play in the separation of powers, the institutional press must be protected from government "ransack[ing]" of newsrooms (through search warrants) and government-compelled disclosure of confidential sources and information (through grand jury subpoenas).

Pell is wrongly decided for limiting press access to the same low level as public access vis-à-vis government-controlled information and events. As explained by Justice Douglas, this linkage completely misunderstands the institutional role of the press as representing the public, venturing into prisons and other government institutions on the public‟s behalf. Since the role of the press is to keep the public informed, individual members of the public will not likely undertake their own investigations of the prison system or other government institutions. So it makes no sense, under the Press Clause, to define press access in terms of public access. Though Richmond Newspapers and its progeny have afforded meaningful press access to criminal trials, they bear the same fundamental flaw as Pell, linking press access to public access. By rejecting an independent, affirmative right of press access, the Supreme Court has given the press an unseemly incentive to encourage unlawful leaks of secret information by government employees.

Finally, we come to our third point -- that a reinterpreted Press Clause would reject the linkage between press and public access, and would instead recognize greater press access to newsworthy events and information under government control. Contemplating a 21st century role for the institutional press, Lee C. Bollinger has called for such a doctrine:

When a new case comes along involving the public interest in knowing about information under the government‟s control, the [Supreme] Court should take the next step and announce a general right of access. A good example that could have been used this way was the dispute between the government and the press over access to the war zone in Afghanistan. Another example was the request by the press to visit military prisons in Iraq.

Bollinger acknowledges the likely criticism of such a doctrine -- that press demands will overwhelm the courts and overburden the government -- but "[w]e can take comfort," he says, "from the fact that we have successfully managed exactly this state of affairs under the freedom of information acts that have existed now for several decades." And he sees an existing First Amendment doctrine that can serve as a model:

The Court has often recognized a First Amendment right in situations that seem to open up endless problems of definition. The Public Forum Doctrine is a good analogy. The Public Forum Doctrine exemplifies how the Court has developed an affirmative duty under the First Amendment requiring the government to help expand the opportunities for speech. This doctrine compels the government to allow speech to take place on some public property, such as streets, parks, and sidewalks. The PublicForum Doctrine is a precedent for protections on the newsgathering side of freedom of the press.

Though Bollinger proposes this doctrine while envisioning a future role for the institutional press, its adoption will depend on the Supreme Court‟s willingness to be guided by the past -- specifically, by the unique history of the Press Clause revealed in this article.

Even after you accept that it's mostly just partisan hackery, the Right's argument that every corporate publication is a Press function for purposes of constitutional construction is risible. The fact is that only by disregarding the Founding and the Constitution can the Court temporarily extend them First Amendment "rights."

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


    -WIKIPEDIA: James Q. Wilson
    -GOOGLE SCHOLAR: James Q. Wilson
    -ARCHIVES: James Q. Wilson (National Affairs)
    -ARCHIVES: James Q. Wilson (Commentary)
    -ARCHIVES: q. wilson (City Journal)
    -ARCHIVES: James Q. Wilson (NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Broken Windows: The police and neighborhood safety (GEORGE L. KELLING and JAMES Q. WILSON, March 1982, Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: Decency (GEORGE L. KELLING and JAMES Q. WILSON, November 2007, Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: Crime and the Great Recession: Jobs have fled, lawbreaking hasn't risen--and criminologists are scratching their heads. (James Q. Wilson, Summer 2011, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: The DNA of Politics: Genes shape our beliefs, our values, and even our votes. (James Q. Wilson, Winter 2009, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Welfare Reform and Character Development (James Q. Wilson, Winter 1995, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Why Don't Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them?: Liberalism can't abide conservative evangelicals. (James Q. Wilson, Winter 2008, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: What Makes a Terrorist? (James Q. Wilson, Winter 2004, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Why We Don't Marry (James Q. Wilson, Winter 2002, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Thinking About Crime: The debate over deterrence (James Q. Wilson, September 1983, Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: Against Homosexual Marriage (James Q. Wilson -- March 1996, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future, by Michael Barone (James Q. Wilson, Claremont Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: James Q. Wilson (Claremont Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: James Q. Wilson (
    -INTERVIEW: No Easy Answers: James Q. Wilson on bureaucracy, crime, and community (William D. Eggers & John O'Leary from the February 1995, Reason)
    -INTERVIEW: The Man Who Defined Deviancy Up: Policing, religion, changes in gang life? Why has crime dropped since James Q. Wilson wrote about 'broken windows' in 1982? (HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR., 3/12/11, WSJ)
    -PROFILE: A Thinker Attuned to Thinking; James Q. Wilson Has Insights, Like Those on Cutting Crime, That Tend To Prove Out (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, August 22, 1998, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: James Q. Wilson: The power of his written word: His thoughts have left an indelible impression on Los Angeles and the nation. ( Jim Newton, June 3, 2007, LA Times)
    -INTERVIEW: James Q. Wilson Interview (The First Measured Century, PBS)
    -OBIT: James Q. Wilson, 80, co-author of 'Broken Windows' community policing strategy, died today (Bryan Marquard, 03/02/2012, Boston Globe)
    -OBIT: James Q. Wilson Dies at 80; Originated 'Broken Windows' Policing Strategy (BRUCE WEBER, March 2, 2012, NY Times)
    -OBIT: 'Broken Windows' Co-Author James Q. Wilson is Dead (DINO GRANDONI, MAR 2, 2012, Atlantic)
    -TRIBUTE: The Mind in the Oval Office: It is a shame that future presidents will not be able to benefit from James Q. Wilson's personal wisdom and guidance, as so many of them did for the past four decades. (Tevi Troy, March 2, 2012, The American)
    -TRIBUTE & LINKS: James Q. Wilson (Ira Stoll, Future of Capitalism)
    -TRIBUTE: Social Science With a Soul: Life for James Q. Wilson was like a roadside curio shop, full of hidden and unrecognized intellectual treasures. (ARTHUR C. BROOKS, 3/03/12, WSJ)
    -OBIT: James Q. Wilson: An empiricist with a moral sense--and he could write too. (WSJ, 3/03/12)
    -TRIBUTE: A Truly American Scholar : James Q. Wilson was able to make students enthusiastic over prudence, while other teachers gained applause only with displays of liberalism or extremism. (HARVEY C. MANSFIELD, 3/05/12, WSJ)
    -TRIBUTE: Man of Reason: James Q. Wilson's thinking about crime and policing saved lives and transformed cities for the better. (HEATHER MAC DONALD, 4 March 2012, City Journal)
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson: A Happy American Life: A man whose long and productive career leaves us much to be grateful for. (Michael Barone, 3/05/12, National Review)
    -TRIBUTE: The Empiricist: James Q. Wilson's prodigious learning--and modest temperament--will be missed. (KAY S. HYMOWITZ, 5 March 2012, City Journal)
    -TRIBUTE: Beyond 'Broken Windows' (PETER H. SCHUCK, March 10, 2012, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE: The Scholar and the Radical (Ross Douthat, 3/04/12, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson's Life-Saving Work : His writings helped reverse the anti-punishment trend. (Thomas Sowell, 3/06/12, National Review)
    -TRIBUTE: The Rediscovery of Character (David Brooks, 3/06/12, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE: How James Q. Wilson Nearly Alienated the Conservative Movement and Wrote a Forgotten Classic Instead (HELEN RITTELMEYER, 3/05/12, Cigarette Smoking Blog)
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson's Moral Sense (Peter Wehner, March 2, 2012, The American)
    -TRIBUTE: A Gentleman and a Scholar (Christopher DeMuth, 3/19/12, Weekly Standard)
    -TRIBUTE: Missing James Q. Wilson (Patt Morrison, 3/05/12, LA Times)
    -OBIT: James Q. Wilson: James Q. Wilson, investigator of American society, died on March 2nd, aged 80 (The Economist, 3/10/12)
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson Greatest Strength, Admitting When He Was Wrong (David Frum Mar 6, 2012, Daily Beast)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering James Q. Wilson: A wise professor and an exuberant cowboy (HEATHER HIGGINS, March 5, 2012, US News)
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson's Practical Humanity (Peter Moskos, 3/03/12, The Chronicle Review)
    -TRIBUTE: Honored Prophet (George Will, Washington Post
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson, 1931-2012 (FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, 3/04/12, American Interest)
    -OBIT: Political scientist James Q. Wilson dies (AP, 3/02/12)
    -OBIT: James Q. Wilson dies at 80; pioneer in 'broken windows' approach to improve policing (Elaine Woo, 3/03/12, Los Angeles Times)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering James Q. Wilson (Ed Feulner, March 2, 2012, Heritage)
    -TRIBUTE: In Remembrance of James Q. Wilson (Alan Wolfe, March 3, 2012, New Republic)
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson (NY Sun)
    -TRIBUTE: James Q. Wilson, 1931-2012 (Yuval Levin, March 2, 2012, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Moral Sense by James Q. Wilson (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Moral Sense (Roger Kimball, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Bureaucracy by James Q. Wilson (Beryl A. Radin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of American Politics, Then and Now and Other Essays, by James Q. Wilson. (R. Shep Melnick, Claremont Review of Books)
Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Obamalaise: Like Carter, Obama suggests that we have only ourselves to blame for being stuck in the doldrums (Kyle Smith, March 11, 2012, NY Post)

Liberals are forever fantasizing about militarizing social problems. In his first inaugural, FDR declared "war against the emergency." LBJ declared "war against poverty," and Carter said reducing energy consumption (by, for instance, turning down thermostats at night to a bone-chilling 55 degrees) was "the moral equivalent of war."

In his latest State of the Union, Obama said of our armed forces, "They're not consumed with personal ambition. They don't obsess over their differences . . . They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example."

Except if we followed their example, we'd all have to salute and say, "Yes, sir" to everything. That's not democracy. Generals who say the mission failed because the troops didn't follow orders shouldn't be surprised when the troops start to mock them. Blame deflection isn't leadership.

And that's why both Carter and Obama came to seem so tired, dull, repetitive, scolding, inept and irrelevant. Carter's poll numbers went up immediately after the malaise speech but retreated after a few days. His words gave him an anti-halo -- the shadow of a whiner.

"You can't castigate the American people," his vice president, Walter Mondale, told Carter, "or they will turn you off once and for all."

In his State of the Union, President Obama expressed wonderment that everything doesn't work like the Navy SEAL raid that got bin Laden. "No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. . . . This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other's backs." Obama sounded as if he was pleading with us to get his back.

"Carter, Clinton and I all have sort of the disease of being policy wonks," Obama told Ron Suskind in the book "Confidence Men." He sounded as if he was pleading that he was too smart for the American people.

...who'd actually been governors.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


A Misreading of Law and History on Preemptive Strikes (Peter Berkowitz, 3/10/12, Real Clear Politics)

[W]ithout ever quite saying so for obvious political reasons, the Obama administration has adopted -- and elaborated in major speeches by State Department Legal Counsel Harold Koh, top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, and Attorney General Eric Holder -- the Bush opinion that in an era of transnational terrorism, rogue states, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, considerable flexibility is needed in determining when a threat is imminent, and when preemptive action is justified.

Those opposed to launching a strike against Iran should guard against the temptation to bend the precedents and provisions of international law and twist the facts of American politics to conform to their policy preferences. At the same time, a brief in behalf of the legality of a military strike against Iran must not be confused with a brief in behalf of a military strike against Iran.

Whether to launch a strike to destroy or disable Iran's nuclear program is the weightiest decision Obama and Netanyahu face. It depends on multilayered judgments about the efficacy of diplomacy and sanctions, windows of opportunity for military action, and how far the program can be set back at this late stage.

And it depends on complex calculations about the likely backlash: thousands of missiles raining down on Tel Aviv by Iran-sponsored Hamas in the south, Iran-sponsored Hezbollah in the north, and Iran to the east; intensification of the international opprobrium to which Israel is already subject; military operations against American military assets and allies in the Persian Gulf and the spread of war throughout the region; closure by Iran of the Strait of Hormuz, triggering skyrocketing oil prices and paralysis of the international economy; and a wave of terrorist attacks on Israeli and American targets around the globe.

Grave, too, would be the costs of allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon. A rogue state ruled by theocrats and Holocaust deniers and dedicated to the expansion by force of Shia Islam, Iran would threaten Israel, the Arab world, Europe, and soon the United States with nuclear-armed missiles. It would also be likely to set off a nuclear arms race in the Gulf, resulting in not one but several regimes that contain Islamist elements sympathetic to jihadists and terrorism possessing the world's most dangerous weapons.

What can be safely said is that the effort to close off discussion about striking Iran by concocting a legal prohibition out of fragments of international law and cropped photos of the American constitutional tradition does more than betray illiberal and anti-democratic tendencies. It also would deprive the nation of the informed debate on which our security depends. 

The only real rational for a strike on Iran is that Israel will do it otherwise and we'd prefer to accept the blame ourselves rather than be forced to accept it for a client state's actions. It's basically a decision that our doing it would be less inflammatory than Israel doing it. There is no security rational on the ground in Iran.

The genuinely weighty decision the Administration currently faces is whether to intervene militarily in Syria and, significantly, the only rational there is liberal/humanitarian.  Our eventual intervention there, as in Libya, will be driven exclusively by our redefinition of sovereignty, such that we recognize no government as legitimate that is not a function of the consent of its people. 

Fretting about whether we can "legally" strike an enemy's nuclear program when the reality is that we increasingly routinely remove their governments is pretty silly.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


How India Became America (AKASH KAPUR, 3/09/12, NY Times)

[T]his Americanization of India -- had both tangible and intangible manifestations. The tangible signs included an increase in the availability of American brands; a noticeable surge in the population of American businessmen (and their booming voices) in the corridors of five-star hotels; and, also, a striking use of American idiom and American accents. In outsourcing companies across the country, Indians were being taught to speak more slowly and stretch their O's. I found myself turning my head (and wincing a little) when I heard young Indians call their colleagues "dude."

But the intangible evidence of Americanization was even more remarkable. Something had changed in the very spirit of the country. The India in which I grew up was, in many respects, an isolated and dour place of limited opportunity. The country was straitjacketed by its moralistic rejection of capitalism, by a lethargic and often depressive fatalism.

Now it is infused with an energy, a can-do ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit that I can only describe as distinctly American. In surveys of global opinion, Indians consistently rank as among the most optimistic people in the world. Bookstores are stacked with titles like "India Arriving," "India Booms" and "The Indian Renaissance." The Pew Global Attitudes Project, which measures opinions across major countries, regularly finds that Indians admire values and attributes typically thought of as American: free-market capitalism, globalization, even multinational companies. Substantial majorities associate Americans with values like hard work and inventiveness, and even during the Iraq war, India's views of America remained decidedly positive.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


What Holds America Together?: a review of The Roots of American Order by Russell Kirk (ROBERT SPEAIGHT, Autumn 1974, University Bookman)

Much has happened, of course, since Patrick Henry declared: "I know of no way of judging the future but by the past." The Irish, Italian, and German immigration has drastically modified the ethnic landscape of America; the Catholic ferment has challenged the native Protestant ethos, but it has not disturbed the separation of church and state--the recognition of Pope Gelasius' "two swords." The problem, as Burke saw so clearly, and as Dr. Kirk is at pains to emphasize, has been the reconciliation of liberty and order. Neither is an absolute; each is a condition of the good life. Liberty easily becomes a profligate; order quickly becomes a policeman. Yet order in the state is a sterile compulsion unless it reflects an order in the soul. As Cardinal Manning observed, "all human conflicts are basically theological," and Tocqueville asked: "What can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?" Many of the Founding Fathers may have been Deists, and nothing much more, but Alexander Hamilton declared, with the weight of human experience behind him, that "morality must fail with religion." Dr. Kirk maintains that "Americans adhere to faith in their religion and scepticism in their politics."

They do wisely if they adhere to the latter. A cynic has reason to proclaim that "democracy" is the Golden Calf of the twentieth century--Hobbes' Leviathan now raised to the altar. Montesquieu's (and Aristotle's) mixed constitution has become perilously unbalanced. De Tocqueville saw the danger of "democratic despotism," and it was a Roman historian, Polybius, who described "government of the multitude as the greatest of all evils." Government by the people can turn into government by the mob, and government by the mob into government by the masters--and by them alone.

Few Americans today would go as far as John Randolph with his defiant declaration: "I am an aristocrat; I love liberty; I hate equality."

Few might go that far, but it was the entire basis of the Long War.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


In India, a dynasty's tryst with decline (Reuters, March 11, 2012)

Vote tallies last week gave Congress just 28 of the 403 seats at stake for the state's legislative assembly, a miserable fourth place. 

Gandhi's performance was seen as a test of his fitness to take the reins of the party from his ailing Italian-born mother Sonia and eventually to become prime minister if Congress and its allies retain power in national elections due in 2014. 

That made the result a stinging slap for India's first family in the very state from which it rose as the beacon of freedom before independence from Britain in 1947. 

It was also another jolt to a party that has come to define itself by the Gandhi family rather than ideology or political conviction. 

The winner was the Samajwadi (Socialist) Party, a grouping founded by a former wrestler whose appeal does not extend much beyond Uttar Pradesh

Congress has been humbled before by regional parties that are often more in touch with local issues, but Gandhi's handling of the Uttar Pradesh campaign and his inability to even make a fight of it spells deep trouble for the party. 

"The Congress party is in decline," said Rashid Kidwai, who wrote a biography of Sonia Gandhi. "The problem with Congress is that they haven't looked for leaders beyond the Gandhis. There is no think tank in the party, there are no big ideas anymore." 

For all the talk of the need for change, the party's Pavlovian response has been to close ranks behind the Gandhis and insist there is nothing wrong with its strategy. 

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Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Not-So-Crazy Republicans (ROSS DOUTHAT, 3/10/12, NY Times)

Let's stipulate that this has not been the most edifying of primary seasons. The policy debates have often been vacuous, the rhetoric shrill, the attack ads pervasive and wearying. Almost four years after the Bush presidency, the Republican Party is obviously still rife with dysfunction, and struggling to define itself for a new era and a changing country.

But against this backdrop, the party's voters have behaved remarkably responsibly. Confronted with a flip-flopping, gaffe-prone front-runner whom almost nobody -- conservative or liberal -- finds very appealing, they have methodically sifted through the alternatives, considering and then discarding each in turn.

From early 2011 onward, the media have overinterpreted this sifting process, treating every polling surge for a not-Romney candidate almost as seriously as an actual primary result. They might nominate Herman Cain! They might nominate Michele Bachmann! Why -- they might nominate Donald Trump!

Not so much. Instead, despite an understandable desire to vote for a candidate other than Mitt Romney, Republicans have been slowly but surely delivering him the nomination -- consistently, if reluctantly, choosing the safe option over the bomb-throwers and ideologues.

The Republican nomination is decided by Republicans, not by the Right, so it's based on thought, not emotion.

March 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Disabling drunken drivers (Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2012)

In the United States, some 10,000 people die in such accidents each year. It's the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every four months.

In recent decades, efforts to curb drunken driving have grown -- raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, stepping up police enforcement, lowering permissible blood-alcohol levels and stiffening penalties.

Social norms have also evolved. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, founded by a woman whose daughter was killed by a chronic offender, have fostered greater awareness and intolerance of a practice that used to be joked about.

But changes like these can prevent only so many episodes of driving under the influence. Some people just refuse to reform, and as long as they have free access to four wheels, they remain a menace.

So 15 states use another remedy. They force everyone convicted of DUI to install an ignition interlock before they can regain driving privileges. More than 20 other states mandate these devices only for the most serious offenders.

Make it prophylactic, not just punishment..

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Deficits Push N.Y. Cities and Counties to Desperation (DANNY HAKIM, 3/11/12, NY Times)

Even as there are glimmers of a national economic recovery, cities and counties increasingly find themselves in the middle of a financial crisis. The problems are spreading as municipalities face a toxic mix of stresses that has been brewing for years, including soaring pension, Medicaid and retiree health care costs. And many have exhausted creative accounting maneuvers and one-time spending cuts or revenue-raisers to bail themselves out.

The problem has national echoes: Stockton, Calif., a city of almost 300,000, is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Jefferson County, Ala., made the biggest Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing in history in November and stopped paying its bondholders. In Rhode Island, the city of Central Falls declared bankruptcy last year, and the mayor of Providence, the state capital, has said his city is at risk as its money runs out.

New York City's annual pension contributions have increased to $8 billion from $1.5 billion over the past decade.

"We really are up against it," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said during a recent trip to Albany, urging the state to reduce pension benefits for future public employees. In a radio interview on Friday, Mr. Bloomberg noted the spreading financial woes of local governments, saying, "Towns and counties across the state are starting to have to make the real choices -- fewer cops, fewer firefighters, slower ambulance response, less teachers in front of the classroom."

The measure of whether it's a real crisis is whether they reform those retirement and health programs and cut jobs, no?

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Paris or Bust: The Great New York-to-Paris Auto Race of 1908 (Karen Abbott, 3/07/12, Smithsonian)

The men who lined up in the swirling snow of Times Square on the morning of February 12, 1908, were embarking on a nearly unimaginable feat: a race from New York to Paris, westward. The contest was sponsored not by Bank of America or Coors Light, but by the French newspaper Le Matin and the New York Times. The prize: a 1,400-pound trophy and proving it could be done.

The proposed route would take the drivers across the United States, including through areas with very few paved roads, and then head north through Canada. Next came a left turn at Alaska, which the drivers had to cross in order to arrive at the Bering Strait, which separated the American wilderness from the Russian one. The race's organizers started it in the middle of winter in the hope that the strait would be frozen. The course then led through Siberia, which no one had traveled by car, before heading into the final stretch: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Paris--overall, a 22,000-mile trek in an age when the horse was considered more reliable than the horseless carriage. The New York-to-Paris race was suppoed to be (and is still largely considered) the greatest of them all, even surpassing the prior year's Peking-to-Paris competition, in which the winner, Italian Prince Scipione Borghese, enlisted donkeys and mules to pull his car and sipped oily water from its radiator to relieve his thirst. His reward was a magnum of champagne.

In Times Square that morning 17 men, including drivers, mechanics and journalists, crammed into six cars from four countries: three from France, and one each from Germany, Italy and the United States. A quarter of a million people lined Broadway up to northernmost Harlem; those who couldn't glimpse the cars had to settle for the whiff of gasoline and the strains of a brass band. The American entry, a 60-horsepower touring car called the Thomas Flyer, carried three extra gasoline tanks with a capacity of 125 gallons and primitive canvas convertible top. The race was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., when Mayor George B. McClellan Jr., son of the Union Civil War general, planned to fire the starting pistol, but he was characteristically late. At a quarter-past, railroad financier Colgate Hoyt snatched the golden gun from the table and shot it into the air.

The contestants represented an international roster of personalities. G. Bourcier de St. Chaffray, driving the French De Dion, once organized a motorboat race from Marseille to Algiers that resulted in every single boat sinking in the Mediterranean. His captain was Hans Hendrick Hansen, a swashbuckling Norwegian who claimed to have sailed a Viking ship, solo, to the North Pole. He declared that he and his companions would reach Paris or "our bodies will be found inside the car." Frenchman Charles Godard, driving the Moto-Bloc, participated in the Peking-to-Paris race without having driven a car and set an endurance record by driving singlehandedly for 24 hours nonstop.

Emilio Sirtori, the driver for the Italian Zust, took with him 21-year-old journalist and poet Antonio Scarfoglio, who had threatened to pilot a motorboat across the Atlantic if his father didn't let him enter the race. (His father, a prominent newspaper editor in Naples, relented.) The German entrant, driving the Protos, was an aristocratic army officer named Hans Koeppen who regarded the race as an opportunity to raise his rank from lieutenant to captain. Montague "Monty" Roberts, manning the Thomas Flyer, was a gregarious crowd favorite and one of few American drivers who actually trained for races. His teammate was George Schuster, a 35-year-old mechanic for the E. R. Thomas Motor Company in Buffalo, New York. One of 21 children born to Casper Schuster, a German immigrant who worked as a blacksmith, George was an expert radiator solderer, chassis inspector, motor tuner and test driver. To Roberts, he was an ideal choice--high enough in the factory hierarchy to be considered indispensable, but too low to steal attention from Roberts himself. After the starting shot, the cars moved forward, Scarfoglio wrote, "between two thick hedges of extended hands amidst a roar as of a falling torrent." The poet blew a kiss to the crowd, and they were off.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Eternal music from a literary quartet: George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Anthony Powell are rarely discussed together, and yet are best understood as a cohort (Simon Kuper, 3/09/12, Financial Times)

What the four men shared was first of all their prose: lucid and rhythmic at once. They were lucky to emerge as novelists around 1930, when frilly overwriting - "Edwardian debris", Powell called it - and Joycean obscurity were both going out of fashion. "Good prose is like a window-pane," wrote Orwell, but even he was never simply stark. His dictum itself has a wonderful metre, and he praised Henry Miller for his "flowing, swelling prose, a prose with rhythms in it".

Waugh, who could write perfect sentences, thought Powell and Greene also had "intensely personal and beautiful styles". He suggested it was because they had all studied Latin from age nine. "They acquired a basic sense of the structure of language which never left them," Waugh wrote, "they learned to scan quite elaborate metres; they learned to compose Latin verses of a kind themselves."

Their second commonality: all four believed in the novel. Unlike Joyce, they saw no need to deconstruct it. They were fundamentally unexperimental, more interested in describing the world than in worrying about whether it could be described.

That was partly because the world gave them endless material. Their predecessors who matured in peace before 1914 - P.G. Wodehouse, J.M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling - mostly wrote light stories, often for children. But the second world war gave even Powell a taste of hardship. These four men witnessed their time, and were generally contemptuous of W.H. Auden for sitting out the war. 
"Scuttling off to America in 1939 with his boyfriend like a, like a ... " blustered Powell, decades later.

The war also helped the quartet look beyond England. Love abroad or hate it (as Waugh did), it provided yet more material and allowed these men to see England from the outside, especially from the 1940s when the country of their youth disappeared. Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four are very different exercises in nostalgia for a lost England.

Above all, these four made you laugh. There's a basic rule of English communication that foreigners often miss: everything must be funny, especially when the topic is weighty.

The great advantage of such writers is that because they were of the Anglosphere they were premodern and conservative and, thus, funny. 

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Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


The new old lie: On war art and the meaning of war (Thomas Bruscino, March 2012, New Criterion)

All of this points to why critics should think again about the implications of their insistence that war is meaningless, especially in the American context. In their effort to direct the culture toward new ideals by dismissing the old ones, they have focused inward and lost sight of an important truth. War requires at least two sides. If war is just meaningless, then the motivations and causes of each side do not matter--they are equally invalid or valid. That conclusion should make even the most dedicated cynic recoil, because in those terms, when the wrong side wins, war, combat, and its aftermath become fraught with meaning. In that sense, at least, the critics should realize that there is coherence, meaning, in the chaos of war.

War, after all, is about competing purposes, competing causes, competing ideals--produced by polities, defined by policymakers, put into action by military professionals, and fought for by average soldiers. War itself does not care about the relative merits of those ideals, but the outcome of war, and therefore the outcome of combat, determines which ideal wins. The outcome of war determines which cause gets to survive, thrive, and guide the lives of people in peace, and just as importantly, which cause does not get to shape the peace. Most vitally, war decides which ideal gets to be fought for again. War is regrettably a part of the human condition, and it is many awful things, but it is never meaningless.

This leaves the critics with a great responsibility. At the onset of World War II, with fascism on the march, American leaders in and out of the military noted that they could not get the younger generation to grasp the greater purpose of the war. The critics noticed this too. Some of them, like poet Archibald MacLeish, realized that the critical cynicism about World War I had taught a generation to be outright dismissive of all political causes. As the professor and literary critic Howard Mumford Jones put it, "We debunked too much."

What MacLeish and Jones understood was that no matter what the weaknesses they saw in existing American ideals, those ideals were better than the alternative. That is as true today as ever, and that is what scares the critics. If they accept that truth, then they will have to explore what has made the existing ideals consistently better than the alternative ones. In the process, they will discover that the foundational American ideals are not just relatively good, but that they are inherently good. As such, they can be refined and improved, but they must be preserved, not replaced.

Since the critics hold on to their utopian progressivism with a religious fervor, such an assessment would cause a crisis in faith, so it is exceedingly unlikely for them to undertake it.

...does it not then matter that one of them is a beautiful lie?  If we're going to live by a lie no matter what we do, why not choose the best of them?

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Yemen air strikes kill 15 militants linked to al-Qaida: Bombing raid on Ansar al-Sharia group's base reported to have been carried out by US fighter planes (Damien Pearse and agencies,  Saturday 10 March 2012, The Guardian)

Ansar al-Sharia is inspired by al-Qaida but the precise nature of its ties to the global network are unclear. The Yemeni government says they are one and the same.

Al-Arabiya television reported that Friday's raid was believed to have been carried out by US planes.

Working with the Yemeni authorities, the US has repeatedly used drones to attack militants from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, foreign affairs successes are only ever a negative in re-election races.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Obama's Weekly Address - Investing in Clean Energy (Mary Bruce, 3/10/12, ABC News)

President Obama is calling for Congress to end $4 billion in subsidies to oil and gas companies, and invest in clean energy instead, arguing that decreasing the nation's dependence on oil will ease the pain at the pump.

"We've been handing out these kinds of taxpayer giveaways for nearly a century. And outside Congress, does anyone really think that's still a good idea?" the president asked in his weekly address.

No.  So why is he proposing more taxpayer giveaways?  How about achieving these ends through tax paying? Just raise gas taxes and we'll decrease dependence on gas while being able to cut taxes on savings and investment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


REVIEW: Justice and the Enemy, By William Shawcross (ZIAUDDIN SARDAR   FRIDAY 09 MARCH 2012, Independent)

Shawcross has no notion of context. There is no awareness of the fact that despotic regimes in the Muslim world have been imposed and supported by the West. There is not even a hint of the possibility that some people may have genuine grievances against the US. The world is divided into evil doers and angelic America. And the way of Bush is the only way to deal with those who stand up to the US. Obama is praised where he agrees with Bush; and condemned where he disagrees.

It may be "war on terror" but the terrorists themselves are not prisoners of war. Since the Taliban, as Bush declared, "represent no nation, they defend no territory, and they wear no uniform", they are "unlawful combatants" and the Geneva Convention does not apply. In fact, the Taliban are a part and hence representative of a nation called Afghanistan. Their claim is probably more justified than those of the current, American-imposed, regime. They do defend a territory called Afghanistan. And they do wear a uniform, visible to all but the blind: a turban, a tribal dress, and a universally recognised beard.

Am I wrong in thinking that Mr. Sardar would be (this time justifiably) troubled if we just put in place a policy of shooting these uniformed enemy on sight since they are so easily recognizable?

And, of course, one can recognize context--like forcing an unfair peace on the German people--and still be aware that there is more context after that--allowing a Nazi regime to take over.  
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March 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 PM


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calls Navy veteran an 'idiot'  (NINA MANDELL, 3/09/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Christie began to explain the plan, when Brown shouted "what about my son? What about my neighbors? What about my friends?"

That's when Christie became slightly agitated, but continued his explanation. When Brown, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the State Assembly last year, interrupted again, the governor became irate.

Eventually, Brown was escorted from the meeting by police.

"Let me tell you something, after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is going to be thrown in jail, idiot," Christie shouted as Brown was led away.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Spanish-Language TV Dramas Heat Up Miami (AMY CHOZICK, 3/08/12, NY Times)

Although telenovelas were long churned out in Mexico, the two dominant Spanish-language networks in the United States, Univision and Telemundo, are increasing production in South Florida, attracted by American marketing opportunities, tax breaks and the growing Hispanic audience in the United States.

Telenovelas imported from Mexico can still bring big ratings on American networks, but increasingly Hispanics in the United States want to watch stories that resonate with their lives here, network executives said.

Actors, producers and writers from Latin America have descended on the city, turning Miami into a telenovela Tinseltown. The design district and its luxury stores and restaurants like Michael's Genuine Food & Drink have become a hub for paparazzi from Spanish-language publications on the lookout for stars like Ms. Soto, who plays Camila on Univision's telenovela "El Talismán."

"We joke that the best thing about Miami is that it's so close to the United States," said Luis Balaguer, founder and chief executive of Latin World Entertainment, a talent management and production company.

What does immigration give us besides culture, economic growth and human capital?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


John Carter: Michael Chabon interview - Goodbye, cool world: How on earth did witty Pulitzer-winning novelist Michael Chabon find himself writing a monster movie set on Mars? By channelling his inner 11-year-old, he tells Tim Martin. (Tim Martin, 3/09/12, The Telegraph)

When the 11-year-old Michael Chabon, deliriously steeped in the Martian fictions of Edgar Rice Burroughs, doodled a title page in his notebook that advertised the "Literary Masterpieces" of "Mike 'Burroughs' Chabon", he can't possibly have imagined that 37 years later the first big-budget film adaptation of the novels would have his name on the credits.

But the involvement of Chabon - who is now, at 48, a novelist with the unique distinction of having won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Hugo Award, literary fiction and science fiction's top accolades -- is just one of several surprising things about John Carter that you might not guess from the trailer. It also represents the live-action debut of Andrew Stanton, co-writer of Toy Story and writer-director of the animated masterpieces Finding Nemo and Wall-E, and the first faithful adaptation of a series of books whose tendrils of influence stretch through a century of science fiction. Perhaps most arresting, though, is that beneath John Carter's sci-fi trappings and lavish special effects beats the heart of a thrillingly old-fashioned character drama, rather as though a Michael Curtiz swashbuckler had been dragged into the modern age and loaded up with four-armed green monsters, mechanical walking cities and insect-winged flying battleships.

John Carter is the kind of film that so easily could have felt assembled by committee: instead it feels built with love, by a set of writers - Stanton, his Toy Story colleague Mark Andrews and Chabon - who are all dedicatedly channelling their inner 11 year-olds.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


'Responsibility to protect': the moral imperative to intervene in Syria: The moral imperative of the international 'responsibility to protect' doctrine, also known as R2P, compels the world to react and respond to the widespread persecution and killings in Syria. (James. P. Rudolph / March 8, 2012, CS Monitor)

R2P's current incarnation appeared in the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, a committee created in 2001 under the auspices of the Canadian government but involving other members of the UN General Assembly. The central dilemma involved, on the one hand, the deeply rooted notion of sovereignty (a right that trumps nearly all others) and, on the other, the almost knee-jerk impulse to intervene on behalf of a besieged community.

Thus the report had to find an accommodation. It did so not by turning international law on its head but rather by redefining sovereignty to include the element of responsibility. That is, sovereignty still involves exclusive control and supremacy over a defined territory, but it now includes the primary responsibility of the state to protect its own citizens from so-called mass atrocity crimes - i.e., genocide, crimes against humanity, etc.

If the state cannot or will not live up to this basic responsibility, the traditional doctrine of non-intervention in internal affairs yields, and it is the international community's responsibility to react and respond.

The redefinition goes much deeper than that.  Mass atrocities are not required.  No regime is legitimate unless it governs by the consent of its people. Essentially, governments are required to meet Anglo-American standards or they are fair game.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM

The Shins In Concert (MPR: The Current, March 7, 2012)

After a five-year hiatus, James Mercer and his band The Shins are back with a new lineup and one of the year's most anticipated new albums, Port of Morrow. Watch the group play old and new songs in an NPR Music Presents show at NYC's Le Poisson Rouge.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Test Drive--2012 Chevrolet Volt and Cruze Eco (Cookie the Dog's Owner, March 08, 2012, Amazon Blogs)

For the most part, driving a Volt is just like driving a Cruze Eco with an automatic. The Volt has better pickup because, as my fellow contributor Chuck noted in his review of the Nissan Leaf, electric motors produce maximum torque at all times. Put your foot down, and every one of the Volt's 273 foot-pounds report for duty right the Hell now! (When I tested this out, Ellen broke radio silence to remind me that speeding tickets were my own responsibility.) The Volt also stops in a shorter distance than the Cruze, thanks to the regenerative braking system. Other than that, it's the same car in terms of how it drives.

On the one hand, this is an impressive accomplishment. GM has managed to build a car with a completely new powertrain technology that uses less fuel (for the most part) but gives almost nothing away in terms of functionality. (The Cruze seats three across in back; the Volt can only seat two because the battery pack intrudes into the passenger compartment, and the cargo area is a bit smaller as well.) The problem with electrics up to now has been limited range and long recharge time, but the Volt, with its onboard generator, can go as long as there's gas in the tank and refuel at the same gas stations as its conventional competitors.

On the other hand, the Volt is a forty-one thousand dollar car. The Cruze Eco, as tested by your humble narrator, comes in at around twenty-one thousand. 

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Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


New York's White Roofs Prove They're Cool: A new study quantifies the true beauty of white roofs -- dramatically cooler surfaces that reduce discomfort, cooling costs, and a tad of global warming. (Sam Kornell, 3/08/12, Miller-McCune)

Miller-McCune has in the past reported on the curious phenomenon scientists refer to as the "urban heat island effect," in which cities -- dark jungles of asphalt, metal, and concrete -- turn into heat reservoirs, soaking up the warmth of the sun. By failing to reflect solar radiation back into the atmosphere, they can end up more than 5 degrees warmer than surrounding areas.

Last summer, on the most sweltering day in New York -- July 22, 2011 -- the researchers discovered that a white-surfaced roof was 43 percent cooler than a typical black counterpart (which reached up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit). Not coincidentally, July 22 set a city record for electricity use, as miserable citizens twisted the dials of their air conditioners to "high."

In 2007, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into a law a program to reduce the city's greenhouse emissions by 30 percent by 2030. According to the authors of the study, increasing the city's "albedo" -- the degree to which it reflects solar radiation -- by brightening its surfaces is one of the quickest, cheapest, and most effective ways to achieve significant reductions.

The study compared the benefits of two methods of increasing reflectivity. Professionally installed white membrane coverings, which cost about $15 to $28 per square foot, were found to be more durable, but for 50 cents a square foot, the job could be done with white acrylic paint, with repainting expected every two years. This second, DIY method is being promoted by the city's CoolRoofs program as a highly cost-effective way to cool the city and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by lowering energy demand during hot summer months.
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March 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Obama Approval Averages 45% in February: Forty-seven percent disapproving mirrors the 50% calling his presidency a "failure" (Lydia Saad, 3/07/12, Gallup)

The 50% approval mark is a crucial one for presidents in a re-election year. All incumbents who have been elected to a second term had a 50% or higher average approval rating by February of that year, and in the case of all but George W. Bush, they maintained that through Election Day.

Whether Obama can break out of this inauspicious pattern in an election year remains to be seen. But it is noteworthy that no elected president from Dwight Eisenhower through George W. Bush saw his approval rating drop below 50% for this long leading up to his re-election year. Rather, all seven presidents -- including Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, both of whom lost their re-election bids -- received at least 50% approval at some point late in their third year or early in their fourth year, if not routinely throughout their first term.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


LED converts heat into light (Tim Wogan, Mar 8, 2012, Physics World)

A light-emitting diode (LED) that emits more light energy than it consumes in electrical energy has been unveiled by researchers in the US. The device - which has a conventional efficiency of greater than 200% - behaves as a kind of optical heat pump that converts lattice vibrations into infrared photons, cooling its surroundings in the process. The possibility of such a device was first predicted in 1957, but a practical version had proved impossible to create until now. Potential applications of the phenomenon include energy-efficient lighting and cryogenic refrigeration.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Lessons from the Shale Revolution (Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, February 22, 2012, The American)

Recovering gas from shale formations at a commercial scale requires injecting vastly more water, sand, and lubricants at vastly higher pressures throughout vastly larger geological formations than anything that had been attempted in earlier oil recovery efforts. It requires having some idea of where the highly diffused pockets of gas are, and it requires both drilling long distances horizontally and being able to fracture rock under high pressure multiple times along the way.

The oil and gas industries had no idea how to do any of this at the time that federal research and demonstration efforts were first initiated in the late 1960s--indeed, throughout the 1970s the gas industry made regular practice of drilling past shale to get to limestone gas deposits.

This is not just our opinion, it was the opinion of the natural gas industry itself, which explicitly requested assistance from the federal government in figuring out how to economically recover gas from shale starting in the late 1970s. Indeed, shale gas pioneer George Mitchell was an avid and vocal supporter of federal investments in developing new oil and gas technologies, and regularly advocated on behalf of Department of Energy fossil research throughout the 1980s to prevent Congress from zeroing out research budgets in an era of low energy prices.

The first federal efforts to demonstrate shale gas recovery at commercial scales did not immediately result in commercially viable technologies, and this too has been offered as evidence that federal research efforts were ineffective. In two gas stimulation experiments in 1967 and 1969, the Atomic Energy Commission detonated atomic devices in New Mexico and Colorado in order to crack the shale and release large volumes of gas trapped in the rock. The project succeeded in recovering gas, but due to concerns about radioactive tritium elements in the gas, the project was abandoned.

These projects are easy to ridicule. They sound preposterous to both anti-nuclear and anti-government ears. But in fact, the experiment demonstrated that it was possible to recover diffused gas from shale formations--proof of a concept that had theretofore not been established.

A few years later, the just-established Department of Energy demonstrated that the same result could be achieved by pumping massive amounts of highly pressurized water into shale formations. This process, known as massive hydraulic fracturing (MHF), proved too expensive for broad commercialization. But oil and gas firms, with continuing federal support, tinkered with the amount of sand, water, and binding agents over the following two decades to achieve today's much cheaper formula, known as slickwater fracking.

Early federal fracking demonstrations can be fairly characterized as big, slow, dumb, and expensive. But when it comes to technological innovation, the big, slow, dumb, and expensive phase is almost always unavoidable. Innovation typically proceeds from big, slow, dumb, and expensive to small, fast, smart, and cheap. Think of building-sized computers from the 1950s that lacked the processing power to run a primitive, 1970s digital watch.

Private firms are really good at small, fast, smart, and cheap, but they mostly don't do big, slow, dumb, and expensive, because the benefits are too remote, the risks too great, and the costs too high. But here's the catch. You usually can't do small, fast, smart, and cheap until you've done big, slow, dumb, and expensive first. Hence the reason that, again and again, the federal government has played that role for critical technologies that turned out to be important to our economic well-being.

In fact, virtually all subsequent commercial fracturing technologies have been built upon the basic understanding of hydraulic fracturing first demonstrated by the Department of Energy in the 1970s. [...]

[O]nce we acknowledge the shale gas case as a government success, not a failure, it offers a powerful basis for reforming present clean energy investments and subsidies. Federal subsidies for shale gas came to an end, and so should federal wind and solar subsidies, at least as blanket subsidies for all solar and wind technologies. In many prime locations, where there is good wind, proximity to transmission, state renewable energy purchase mandates, and multiple state and federal subsidies, wind development is now highly profitable.

If federal investments in wind and solar are really like those in unconventional gas, then we ought to set a date certain when blanket subsidies for wind and solar energy come to an end. Imposing a phase-out of production subsidies would encourage sustained innovations and absolute cost declines.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Bernanke Needs Some Bounce in His Tail (Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers Mar 5, 2012, Bloomberg)

Chairman Eeyore is a true dismal scientist, who sees bad news everywhere. He's sure the economy will be in the doldrums for years. Indeed, he's so worried that folks who don't understand his pessimistic outlook will make bad decisions that he gives a speech warning them about it. He says the economy is so weak that he'll need to keep rates low for several years.

Eeyore's message is so sobering that it mutes the desired stimulus effect of the low interest rates. After all, why would you buy anything, or invest in producing it, if you have just learned that some of the smartest forecasters in the country think the economic outlook is so awful that they dare not raise rates until 2014?

Chairman Tigger has a totally different approach. He figures that the prospect of a terrific party will revive everyone's animal spirits. He also knows what folks are thinking: Every time the economy gets going, the 
Fed spoils the party by taking away the punch bowl -- that is, by raising interest rates to keep inflation in check. So Tigger gives a speech promising to keep interest rates low for several years -- even when the economy recovers.

The prospect of low interest rates sustaining a long and robust recovery leads everyone to start spending. After all, good times are just around the corner.

Eeyore and Tigger both did essentially the same thing. They announced that interest rates would be low for several years. But their messages are importantly different, and so yield very different effects.

It might also be helpful if he just explained all the structural forces that limit the prospect of inflation in the long term.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Dire Poverty Falls Despite Global Slump, Report Finds (ANNIE LOWREY, 3/07/12, NY Times)

A World Bank report shows a broad reduction in extreme poverty -- and indicates that the global recession, contrary to economists' expectations, did not increase poverty in the developing world.

The report shows that for the first time the proportion of people living in extreme poverty -- on less than $1.25 a day -- fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008. And the biggest recession since the Great Depression seems not to have thrown that trend off course, preliminary data from 2010 indicate.

The progress is so drastic that the world has met the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half five years before its 2015 deadline.

"This is very good news," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the United Nations' special adviser on the Millennium Development Goals. "There has been broad-based progress in fighting poverty, and accelerating progress. There's a lot to be happy about."

History's over.

March 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Treasury launches sale of $6B of AIG stock (Associated Press, 3/07/12)

Treasury also announced an agreement with AIG for it to repay the government's remaining $8.5 billion preferred-stock investment in the company.

A price for the common shares wasn't specified. AIG shares closed at $29.45 in trading Wednesday. The share price at which taxpayers would break even is about $28 or $29.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Ringleader Reveals He Faked Many More Works (Andreas Teichmann, 3/07/12, Der Spiegel)

In October 2011, what is likely Germany's biggest-ever postwar art scandal came to an end when forger Wolfgang Beltracchi was sentenced to six years in prison. As the ringleader of the operation, he was found guilty of counterfeiting 14 paintings by six well-known artists including Heinrich Campendonk, Fernand Léger and Max Ernst, costing damages of an estimated €34 million ($45 million).

Beltracchi and three accomplices were sentenced after just nine days at the Cologne District Court, with the defendants receiving shorter sentences in exchange for full confessions. But in a SPIEGEL interview the 61-year-old has now admitted to creating phoney works by "about 50" different artists.

Speaking to the media for the first time since he was sentenced, Beltracchi refused to name the exact number of paintings he forged throughout his career, which he began in the 1970s by creating "unpainted works by old masters, and later Jugendstil and Expressionists" and selling them at flea markets. But during the interview with SPIEGEL, Beltracchi said that due to high demand, he could have easily put "1,000 or 2,000" forgeries on the art market.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


'Mary Poppins' songwriter Robert Sherman dies at 88 (Alan D. Abbey, March 7, 2012, JTA)

Sherman and his brother Richard were on staff for Disney during its glory years in the 1950s and 1960s and wrote pop confections such as "Tall Paul," for Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, which hit the pop charts in the early days of rock. Their most remembered and honored songs came from "Mary Poppins," including the novelty "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocius," a word the Shermans said they made up out of double-talk. A Wikipedia entry defines the word as meaning, "atoning for educability through delicate beauty." The pair received their only Oscar of three nominations, for the film's songs, which also won them a Grammy Award.

The Shermans also wrote songs for such childrens' films as "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," "Charlotte's Web," and "The Jungle Book." The two worked together until recently, reviving and adding songs for British stage versions of Poppins and Chitty in the last few years.

A 2009 documentary, "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story," made by the Shermans' sons detailed their creative successes but also the personal issues the two brothers had. They were an inseparable musical team but bitter enemies away from the piano. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Nasrallah: Lebanon Chose to Distance Itself from Regional Events to Preserve the Govt. (Naharnet Newsdesk 24 February 2012)

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah defended on Friday Lebanon's decision to distance itself from regional developments.

He said: "Lebanon is part of the region, but its decision is aimed at preserving the government."

Memo to Iran and Assad: You're on your own.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Hysteria and the Teenage Girl (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, 1/29/12, NY Times)

CHEERLEADERS with Tourette's syndrome. Like a fly buzzing against the window, this weird arrangement of words flitted across the edge of my consciousness last week. I kept thinking I should take a minute to track down the Onion piece from which this kooky phrase surely emanated, but finally committed some desultory Googling, and discovered that the buzzing idea correlated (more or less) to an actual event. [...]

Googling quickly led me to an almost identical episode, this one in 2002, in a high school in rural North Carolina. Once again, a cheerleader was first to manifest the strange symptoms, and once again other girls, some of them cheerleaders, were struck with the same condition.

There are famous cases that closely mimic these strange events. In 1962, in a girls' school in Tanzania, a laughing epidemic spread to 95 students and lasted for months. In 1965 there was a fainting episode at a girls' school in Blackburn, England, that landed 85 girls in the hospital. In 1983, when there was a widespread fear of chemical warfare in the West Bank, more than 900 Arab schoolgirls and a few female Israeli soldiers exhibited the symptoms of having been gassed, but doctors found no specific cause for the outbreak.

In all of these cases, the ultimate diagnosis -- unpalatable in our post-Freudian age -- was good old-fashioned hysteria. In the cheerleader cases, the first girl seems to have suffered from some kind of mental or emotional distress, which she expressed through otherwise unrelated physical symptoms. The other girls -- victims of yesteryear's mass hysteria and today's mass psychogenic illness, in which the symptoms of hysteria pass from person to person, like contagion -- believed the condition to be communicable and "caught" it.

Hysteria is the most retrograde and non-womyn-empowering condition. It's not supposed to happen anymore (we have Title IX!), but it won't seem to go away. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Hamas rules out military support for Iran in any war with Israel (Harriet Sherwood, 3/06/12,

"If there is a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war," Salah Bardawil, a member of the organisation's political bureau in Gaza City, told the Guardian.

He denied the group would launch rockets into Israel at Tehran's request in response to a strike on its nuclear sites. "Hamas is not part of military alliances in the region," said Bardawil. "Our strategy is to defend our rights"

The stance underscores Hamas's rift with its key financial sponsor and its realignment with the Muslim Brotherhood and popular protest movements in the Arab world.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Valedictorian Facing Deportation Can Stay (KAREN FRANKLIN,  03/06/2012, NBC Miami)
The lawyer for the North Miami Senior High School valedictorian facing deportation confirmed Tuesday that she is getting a two-year waiver to stay in the United States.

As a result of her stay extension, Daniela Pelaez and her family plan to fly to Washington Wednesday to meet with Senator Marco Rubio.

At the end of the day, America is too decent for nativism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


How Romney won Ohio (Samuel J. Best, 3/06/12, CBS News)

Romney eked out a narrow victory in the Ohio Republican primary on Tuesday. The CBS News exit poll of Ohio Republican primary voters showed that Rick Santorum's coalition of crossover Democrats and socially conservative voters was not quite large enough to offset Mitt Romney's base of ideogically moderate voters. Romney's draw, once again, centered on his electability and his attractiveness to voters prioritizing economic issues.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM



On Monday 21 August, 1911, an Italian man named Vincenzo Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with the Mona Lisa hidden under his jacket. No one saw him steal the world's most famous painting; no one heard him prise it from the wall. Peruggia slipped out unnoticed and took the painting home to his apartment.

The greatest art theft of the 20th century could scarcely have been more simple. On the previous day - a Sunday - Vincenzo had visited the Louvre shortly before closing time. Once inside, he had slipped into a closet and spent the night in hiding.

In the morning - aware that the museum was closed to the public on Mondays - he put on one of the white artist's smocks worn by the Louvre's employees. He then made his way to the gallery in which Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting hung and lifted its box frame off the wall.

None of the Louvre's employees noticed that the painting was missing. Fully twelve hours after it was stolen, the duty caretaker reported to his boss that everything in the museum was in order.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Drunk driving study: Car interlock devices reduce repeat offenses (Jerry Hirsch, March 6, 2012, LA Times)
Drunk drivers receiving their first conviction were less likely to repeat the crime if they were forced to have alcohol interlock devices on their vehicles, according to an insurance industry study.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied driver records for people with convictions related to alcohol-impaired driving in Washington. When the state expanded its interlock requirement to everyone convicted of driving under the influence eight years ago, the rate of repeat offenders fell by 12%, the study found.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Forget fittest, it's survival of the most cultured (David Sloan Wilson, 3/05/12, New Scientist)

Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel enters tricky terrain to argue that social structures are key to human evolution in Wired for Culture

FOR decades, proponents of the power of culture in human development have been tribal enemies of those who champion the power of evolution. The former have been vilified for portraying humans as blank slates; the latter scorned for embracing genetic determinism. The middle ground was no-man's-land.

Now, at last, the war might be over. A consensus is emerging that humans have an impressive capacity for open-ended change, much as culturalists have claimed, but that this is a result of genetic evolution - and is itself an evolutionary process. Culture can now be approached from an evolutionary perspective, while evolutionists have much to learn from the "natural historians" of cultures.

God didn't evolve us, we did!

March 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Green donors bet on Romney flip-flop (Darren Samuelsohn, March 5, 2012, Politico)

Other green-minded financial backers may not be giving as much as Robertson, but they still share the view that climate-change science and a solid environmental agenda wouldn't be a lost cause if Romney won the White House.

"My feeling is that on these issues that people learn," said former Gov. Thomas Kean (R-N.J.), who maxed out last fall to Romney with a $2,500 check. "And my hope is, as time goes on, he will understand that not everybody agrees on how you deal with these issues, but I hope he will agree with 99 percent of the scientists who believe this is an issue that we have to deal with."

As president, Kean said he hoped Romney could duplicate his Beacon Hill successes in building coalitions with Democrats on issues such as energy and the environment. In addition, Kean noted that Romney wouldn't face the same gridlocked climate debate of recent years, in large part because of the boom in domestic natural gas production that's helped lower the nation's greenhouse gas emission levels. "The whole game has changed," Kean said.

Rob Sisson, president of the Republicans for Environmental Protection, said he's scraping together personal funds to write a check to the Romney campaign after getting a chance to meet him for the first time last month during a town hall campaign stop in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"I think his record as governor was pretty good as far as Republicans go," said Sisson, who also gave $1,000 last June to Jon Huntsman's campaign. "I really get the sense from him and the folks around him with whom I've spoken that as president he'd really look at each situation, gather the data and really make a decision that's best for the country."

"If that goes against the grain of how he's campaigning now, so be it," Sisson added. "He's going to be driven by data and facts and not emotions and getting pushed into one corner by one faction of the party."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Fighting gas prices with biodiesel and GPS (Jose Pagliery, March 6, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Gas prices are rising fast, and companies are bracing for the impact -- shedding old habits and adopting new technology.

In an effort to cut fuel costs, small businesses have turned to light trucks retrofitted to carry bigger loads and vehicles that can run on biodiesel. Some are even using special GPS devices that let bosses know when employees keep engines running hundreds of miles away.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


The Acceptable Man (Robert Costa, March 6, 2012, National Review)

The exchanges highlighted Romney's key weakness this cycle -- even as he surges ahead, scooping up primary victories, the former governor seems to be besting lesser opponents on the electability question, not necessarily winning over converts to his cause.

And for the most part, Romney seems to be fine with that. He's clearly not on an ideological mission; he's not desperate to be a movement hero. Instead, in his words and his persona, he remains a data-driven executive who's running a presidential campaign on automatic pilot, pursuing standard conservative remedies without trying to incite resentment..

"There are other folks in this campaign talking about a lot of other things, and that's fine," Romney told the audience, in a subtle shot at former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, his chief rival in the Ohio polls, who frequently speaks about social issues on the campaign trail. "But for me," he said, "the issues are more jobs, less spending, and smaller government."

That message, which has been delivered repeatedly on Romney's bus tour this week, may be enough for him to win this swing state's primary. It may not warm the heart of every conservative voter, but it clicks with the bulk of Republican voters, many of whom told me in Youngstown that economic growth -- not contraception or marriage -- is their number-one concern.

The latest polls show a dead heat. But Romney has closed strong, erasing Santorum's double-digit lead from last month.  Two polls released on Monday -- from Quinnipiac and the American Research Group -- show Romney leading Santorum. A third poll released on Monday, conducted by Suffolk University, shows Santorum leading Romney by four percentage points.

The upward trend has Romney backers optimistic about their chances.

March 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Iraq Oil Production to Hit Three-Decade High (PIERRE BERTRAND, March 5, 2012, IB Times)

Iraqi officials on Monday announced their country's oil production has exceeded 3 million barrels a day, a level not seen in several decades.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, Iraq has been on an aggressive schedule to increase its oil production. The country wants to produce 12 million barrels of oil a day, and hopes to double its current production over the next three years, Reuters reported.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Pickups powered by natural gas and gasoline (Chris Isidore, March 5, 2012, CNNMoney) 

General Motors and Chrysler Group are about to start selling full-size pickups that can seamlessly switch back and forth between natural gas and gasoline. [...]

The cost savings of using CNG instead of gasoline is marked. The amount of CNG that is equivalent to a gallon of gasoline now sells for between $1.50 to $2 less than a gallon of regular gasoline. And with growing and abundant supplies cutting natural gas prices, coupled with rising gasoline prices, that gap could grow even larger in the years ahead, saving drivers using CNG thousands of dollars a year. (Watch: How to spend less on gas)

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


This is opportunism! (Tariq Alhomayed, 5/03/12, Asharq Alawasat)

Yet the oddities of the Maronite Patriach's words did not end here. He said that "Syria, like other countries, needs reforms which the people are demanding. It's true that the Syrian Baath regime is an extreme and dictatorial regime but there are many others like it in the Arab world"! He added that "All regimes in the Arab world have Islam as a state religion, except for Syria. It stands out for not saying it is an Islamic state ... The closest thing to democracy (in the Arab world) is Syria"! Such talk is provocative and in no one's interest at all. Furthermore, what are the other extreme and dictatorial regimes in the Arab world that he is referring to? Does he mean Muammar Gaddafi? Where is Gaddafi now? He received his dues and is now subject to God's judgment. Does he mean Saddam Hussein? Where is he now? Does he mean Ali Abdullah Saleh? Likewise, where is he now? Does he mean Hosni Mubarak or Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali? They have done nothing in comparison to Bashar al-Assad! If, according to the Maronite Patriach, democracy consists of merely removing the phrase "Islam is the state religion", then this is a disaster. This means that the Patriarch does not care about the blood of the Syrians, and supports the tyrant of Damascus only because he does not say that the state religion is Islam. Even the Syrian opposition have become wary of al-Rahi, because they rejected the principle of limiting the presidency to Muslims, as stipulated by the farcical constitution put forth by al-Assad, a man who al-Rahi considers to be a supporter of reform!

Israeli-made drones providing Syrian regime with intel (Asharq Al-Awsat, 04/03/2012)

Turkish sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that its country's radars have picked up drones flying over the Syrian territories. The sources say that these drones are being used to spy on Syrian activists and attack them. The sources point out that these drones are Israeli made.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Tocqueville Would Be Proud (G. TRACY MEHAN, III, 3.5.12, American Spectator)

The growth of the private land trust movement in the United States has often been cited as a premier example of Alexis de Tocqueville's insight regarding the American genius for forming voluntary associations to achieve common goals, avoiding both the perils of hyper-individualism and an intrusive government. When done properly, these trusts or conservancies typify the best of what is sometimes called "free market' environmentalism.

Land trusts engage in entirely free-market transactions with willing landowners who are able to sell or donate the development rights on all or part of their land in return for compensation or favorable tax treatment. They grant a conservation easement to the land trust which is responsible for protecting the easement for generations to come. [...]

At the end of 2011, LTA released its new 2010 National Land Trust Census for the period from 2005 to 2010, which covers conservation work right through the depths of the Great Recession of 2008. Incredibly, the new data indicate that private land trusts protected 10 million acres over those five years, totaling 47 million acres-an area the size of Washington state. Wendy Koch of USA Today notes that this is a jump of 27 percent since 2005.

The new Census shows that, while the number of land trusts has stabilized, the number of active volunteers increased by 70 percent since 2005.

The land trust movement is not just buying land. It is also paying attention to monitoring its investment given its legal, fiduciary and tax obligations in terms of ongoing stewardship. So it is encouraging that between 2005 and 2010 trusts more than doubled the amount of funding they have dedicated to monitoring, stewardship and legal defense. This was backed up by almost a tripling of their operating endowments.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Michigan Wants More Immigrants: Republican Governor Rick Snyder wants to attract talented foreigners he sees as crucial to the economy (Chris Christoff, February 6, 2012, Business Week)

Rick Snyder has something to say to foreign students and entrepreneurs wary of settling in the U.S., where tough new laws in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina aimed at illegal aliens have also led to an exodus of legal workers: Come to Michigan.

"I'm the most pro-immigration governor in the United States," says Snyder, a first-term Republican who believes his party's focus on rounding up illegal immigrants is repelling talented foreigners he sees as crucial to the economic recovery. While Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spar over who will more vigilantly guard the border, Snyder has assigned state agencies to persuade skilled foreigners to put down roots in Michigan. Snyder's program will promote Michigan abroad as a friendly place for entrepreneurs to open businesses, and match employers to foreign students with training in science and engineering. He's betting an influx of immigrants to the state, which led the nation in unemployment for much of the last decade as the auto industry collapsed, will help revive the economy. "I knew it was the right answer from doing startup companies," says Snyder, a former venture capitalist who was chief executive officer of Gateway, the computer maker, in the 1990s. "They generated jobs."

It's not a question of whether the future is Open Borders, but of what inducements nations will offer to lure waves of immigrants.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Satirist sees 'new dawn' in Burma (Peter Goodspeed,  Mar 4, 2012, National Post)

He spent five years in solitary confinement and was once locked in a dog kennel in Insein Prison. He was also beaten and tortured.

In 2006, he was banned indefinitely from performing publicly and prohibited from participating in any kind of entertainment-related work.

Two years later, when Burma was ravaged by Cyclone Nargis, which killed 140,000 people, Zarganar organized hundreds of entertainers to deliver relief supplies to victims. He was immediately jailed after he criticized the military government's incompetence and indifference to the emergency during a foreign television interview.

He was sentenced to 59 years in prison.

When that punishment triggered international outrage, an appeals court reduced his sentence to 35 years.

His jail term was suspended in October, when Zarganar was suddenly released, along with several hundred other political prisoners, as part of a reform movement being promoted by a new civilian government, led by President Thein Sein, a retired general.

After decades of harsh military rule, Burma has embarked on a series of dramatic changes that seek to bring opposition movements into the political process and saw Ms. Suu Kyi released from 18 years of house arrest.

Restrictions have been relaxed on the media, exiles have been invited to return home and ceasefires have been signed in Burma's ethnic conflicts. Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has also been allowed to register as a political party and will contest 48 parliamentary by-elections in April.

"Our country is starting to change," says Zarganar, who is in Toronto to speak at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto on Saturday.

"We stand at a new dawn. This is the very beginning of change in our country. We don't want to go back to the dark."
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March 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


David Rose on the Moral Foundations of Economic Behavior (Hosted by Russ Roberts, 1/11/12, Econ Talk)

David Rose of the University of Missouri, St. Louis and the author of The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book and the role morality plays in prosperity. Rose argues that morality plays a crucial role in prosperity and economic development. Knowing that the people you trade with have a principled aversion to exploiting opportunities for cheating in dealing with others allows economic actors to trust one another. That in turn allows for the widespread specialization and interaction through markets with strangers that creates prosperity. In this conversation, Rose explores the nature of the principles that work best to engender trust. The conversation closes with a discussion of the current trend in morality in America and the implications for trust and prosperity.

The Other Brother just posted his review of this book.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


The Car of the Future Will Drive You: A truly auto-mobile is coming if liability laws don't stop it. (L. GORDON CROVITZ, 3/04/12, WSJ)

Mr. Ford outlined a future of what the auto industry calls "semiautonomous driving technology," meaning increasingly self-driving cars. Over the next few years, cars will automatically be able to maintain safe distances, using networks of sensors, V-to-V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communications and real-time tracking of driving conditions fed into each car's navigation system.

This will limit the human error that accounts for 90% of accidents. Radar-based cruise control will stop cars from hitting each other, with cars by 2025 driving themselves in tight formations Mr. Ford describes as "platoons," cutting congestion as the space between cars is reduced safely.

This is not as far-fetched as it may sound. The electronics in high-end cars already run 100 million lines of computer code--more than the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Self-driving cars developed by Google are becoming a regular sight around Silicon Valley. Google engineers describe automating driving as just another information problem: With enough sensors and detailed digital maps of roads, algorithms should be able to make computer-driven cars safer than human-driven cars.

The February issue of Wired magazine has an evocative description of a ride in a Google test car driving itself along a California highway. Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book "Traffic," writes: "After a few minutes the idea of a computer-driven car seemed much less terrifying than the panorama of indecision, BlackBerry-fumbling, rule-flouting, and other vagaries of the humans around us--including the weaving driver who struggled to film us as he passed."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM

PUNCH BROTHERS PERFORM LIVE IN THE CURRENT STUDIO (Bill DeVille, Minnesota Public Radio, Peter Valelly, Minnesota Public Radio, March 4, 2012, The Current)
The band recently wrote and recorded their third full-length record, Who's Feeling Young Now?, was released on February 14th on the group's longtime label Nonesuch, and they're touring in support of it now. The Punch Brothers stopped by The Current studios to play a few songs for The United States of Americana and chat with Bill DeVille. Songs played: "Movement and Location," "Patchwork Girlfriend" and "Flippen."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


A Young Bush Works to Nurture Hispanic Roots Within the Republican Party (JULIÁN AGUILAR, 3/04/12, NY Times)

"There really wasn't an entity that was focused on the campaign finance element of Hispanic outreach, nor was there really an entity that was doing the blocking and tackling and mechanics of educating Latinos to actually run for office," Mr. Bush, a 35-year-old lawyer, said of the PAC's genesis.

Its board, including lawyers, former aides to government officials, advertising executives and a professor, is working to reach a traditionally blue-collar demographic. Mr. Bush said that is part of the message.

"They represent the American dream and are less than a generation from very humble origins," Mr. Bush said of the board members, who have endorsed candidates from myriad backgrounds.

"This organization is also meant to be aspirational, and I think the Hispanic community is aspirational," said Mr. Bush, whose mother is from Mexico.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Civil, Jewish law agree: Equal service for all (REUVEN HAMMER, 03/04/2012, Jerusalem Post)

When the Tal Law was first proposed, the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel called upon the Knesset to "totally reject the Tal Commission Report and to immediately enact legislation which will mandate equal military service for all sectors of the Jewish population. We are shocked that the Tal Commission has recommended continuing an intolerable situation in which one section of the population sits peacefully in halls of study while others endanger their lives in defense of Israel. This stands in complete opposition to Jewish law which unequivocally requires every eligible person to come to the defense of the nation in times of danger."

Now that the Court has endorsed this position, we again call upon the Knesset not to look for ways around this issue, not to introduce legislation that will somehow permit this shameful situation to continue, but to finally act responsibly and bring about this long needed change so that we will no longer have the situation in which some brothers go to war, while others sit idly by. Rather all will share the burden, as the Torah envisioned.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


Mitt Romney Wins Washington Caucuses (ABC News, 3/04/12)

"The voters of Washington have sent a signal that they do not want a Washington insider in the White House. They want a conservative businessman who understands the private sector and knows how to get the federal government out of the way so that the economy can once again grow vigorously," Romney said in a statement released by his campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Our great moral decline (R.M., 3/02/12, The Economist)

When considering America's moral decline, my first instinct was to look at the crime rate. If Satan is at work in America, he's probably nicking wallets and assaulting old ladies. But over the past several decades the crime rate has fallen dramatically, despite what you may think. The homicide rate has been cut in half since 1991; violent crime and property crime are also way down. Even those pesky kids are committing less crime. There are some caveats to these statistics, as my colleague points out, but I think we can conclude that crime is not the cause of America's moral decline.

So let's look elsewhere. Abortion has returned as a hot-button issue, perhaps it is eating away at our moral fiber. Hmm, the abortion rate declined by 8% between 2000 and 2008. Increases in divorce and infidelity could be considered indicators of our moral decay. There's just one problem: according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is the lowest it has been since the early 1970s. This is in part due to the recession, but infidelity is down too.

Other areas that might indicate declining virtue are also going against the perceived trend. For example, charitable giving is up after a decline during the recession. The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level in 40 years. And according to Education Week, "the nation's graduation rate stands at 72 percent, the highest level of high school completion in more than two decades." So where is the evidence of this moral decline?

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Bye Bye American Pie: The Challenge of the Productivity Revolution (Robert Reich, MARCH 1, 2012)

Here's the good news. The economic pie is growing again. Growth in the 4th quarter last year hit 3 percent on an annualized rate. That's respectable - although still way too slow to get us back on track given how far we plunged.

Here's the bad news. The share of that growth going to American workers is at a record low.

That's largely because far fewer Americans are working. Although the nation is now producing more goods and services than it did before the slump began in 2007, we're doing it with six million fewer people.

To call creating more wealth with less work a problem would earn you a deserved punch in the nose from any prior generation.  We face a question about how to distribute that new wealth fairly across society.  It's an awfully nice "problem" to have.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


...for the Nothing Costs More Than it Used to files.

-Ed Driscoll

March 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Buy a house, and other forced savings (Linda Stern, Feb 22, 2012, Reuters) 

Here are a few better ways to save. They work because they take the savings out of your hot little hands before you get any chance to spend them. The theory behind these automatic savings is this: You won't miss what you won't see. And your savings will build up despite your best efforts at self sabotage.

- Buy a house. That may sound like crazy advice at a time when many advisers have newly come to embrace renting, but look at the math: If you buy a home on a 30-year fixed mortgage and make your payments every month, at the end of 30 years you own a house you can sell. If you rent instead, at the end of 30 years all you'll have is another rental contract.

The numbers are somewhat persuasive. The median home price today is $231,300, according to the National Association of Realtors. Borrow $212,000 at a 4.18 percent average interest rate (according to HSH Associates; you can probably do better), and your monthly payment will be $1034. In 10 years you'll have paid it down to $168,142; in 20 years, $101,361 and in 30 years you are done.

You can turbo charge that by getting a 15-year loan at 3.47 percent and paying $1,513 a month. In 5 years you'll owe $153,265; in 10 years, you'll owe $83,255 and in 15 years, finis.

Meanwhile, your payment will stay the same. It's hard to imagine rent staying stable for all those years. It's hard to imagine interest rates staying stable for all those years. [...]

- Use high deductible health insurance and a health care savings account. The high deductible insurance plan lowers the monthly premium. You can link the plan with a specially designated health care savings account and make tax-deductible contributions of up to $3,100 per person ($6,250 for family coverage) a year. There's also a catch up contribution of $1,000 for people over 55.

Here's the beauty of this plan. Withdraw the savings to pay for health care costs and you never have to pay taxes on them. But there's no requirement that you withdraw them in the year you make those expenses. So, make the full contribution and let it sit in your health savings account until you retire. Use other funds for your health care costs until then.

You'll probably have plenty of health care costs after you retire, and can use this account. Even if you don't, you can withdraw money in retirement to repay yourself health care costs you laid out during the earlier years when you were participating in the plan and stashing the money. It's even better than a tax-deferred retirement account, because there's never any tax on that money, if used for healthcare.(Learn more at HSA Bank, one bank that offers these accounts and allows you to invest them long term;
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Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Hugo Chávez pictured with Fidel Castro after cancer surgery (,  3 March 2012)

Venezuela has published photographs of Hugo Chávez sitting with Fidel Castro and walking in a hospital as the Venezuelan president recovers from cancer surgery in Cuba.

March 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Romney appeal in affluent suburbs could change map (Michael Barone, 3/01/12, Washington Examiner)

Romney has shown in Michigan as elsewhere a capacity to win votes in affluent areas--which is exactly where (at least in the North) Republicans have been weak in presidential general elections over the last 20 years. Look at it this way: in 1988 George H. W. Bush carried the five-county metro Detroit area 50%-49%--a tiny margin, but one which enabled him, with a 56%-43% Outstate margin that was underwhelming in historic perspective, to carry Michigan. Similarly, the elder Bush, with big margins from affluent suburbanites, carried metro Boston, metro New York, metro Philadelphia, metro Cleveland and metro Chicago, which enabled him to win the electoral votes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

In contrast, George W. Bush was able to carry only one of these states, Ohio, and was out of contention in 2004 as well as 2000 in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. To focus on Michigan, the younger Bush carried Outstate Michigan 51%-46% in 2000 and 53%-46% in 2004, running just 5% and 3% in this region behind his father's 1988 showing. That trend extrapolated statewide would have left him just missing carrying Michigan in 2000 and carrying it in 2004. But in 2000 George W. Bush lost the five-county metro Detroit area by 58%-40% and he lost it by an almost identical 58%-41% in 2004. Both times he lost the target state of Michigan.

A better showing in metro Detroit--even coming short of carrying the metro area, as the elder Bush did in 1988, and even short of improving on the younger Bush's showings Outstate--would enable a nominated Mitt Romney to carry Michigan in 2012. And for similar reasons the electoral votes of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, might not be out of reach (New York, Massachusetts and Barack Obama's Illinois would still, I think, be unavailable, but Ohio would be more available than in 2000 and 2004, when Bush carried it). I think the ingredients for this may be present. one will ever take him seriously as a wahoo.  He's George H. W. Bush.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Reading Jane Austen as a moral philosopher (Philosopher's Beard, 2/21/12)

Austen celebrates and promotes a solidly middle-class propriety, and this together with her use of narrative (and being a woman?), may explain Austen's neglect by academic moral philosophers. Success for Austen's women depends on developing a moral character whose central virtues are bourgeois: prudence (planning one's actions with respect to protecting and furthering one's interests), amiability (civility to family, friends, and strangers, according to their due), propriety (understanding and acting on a sense of what virtue requires), and dignity (considering oneself as an independent autonomous person deserving of respect). Austen is particularly unusual (feminist?) among virtue ethicists past and present in according amiability so much importance, even though it is so obviously central to most people's lives working, if not living, in close confinement with others with whom one must and should get along. Austen presents these virtues as not merely a necessary accommodation to difficult circumstances, but as superior to the invidious vanity and pride of the rich and titled, which she often mocks. So Elizabeth Bennet rejects Darcy's haughty condescension out of hand; the happy ending must wait until Darcy comes to see beyond her lowly connections and unaristocratic manners and fully recognise her true (bourgeois) virtue (PP). That is a moral happy ending even more than it is a romantic one.

Like any good virtue ethicist, Austen proceeds by giving illustrative examples. This is why her characters are moral rather than psychological constructs. Austen's purpose is not to explore their inner lives, but to expose particular moral pathologies to the attention of the reader. Don't act like this: Don't cut off your relatives without a penny after promising your father you would look after them and justify it with self-serving casuistic rationalisations (John Dashwood in SS). Don't be like this: Morally incontinent like Mrs Bennet; or struck through with a single huge flaw like Mr Bennet's selfish wish to live a private life while being the head of a family (PP). Excesses of virtue can be as pathological as vices - as in Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, whose excessive amiability almost prevents her true love from even noticing her (until events intervene).

Then there are the illustrations of what virtuous conduct looks like. Here one sees why the plot is so firmly in the author's hands,  not the characters'. Austen is primarily concerned with setting up particular scenes - moral trials - in which we can see how virtuous characters behave in testing circumstances. These moral lessons to the reader are the parts she gave the most exacting attention to; where her words are perfectly chosen and sparkling with intelligence and deep moral insight. These are the parts that she actually cared about; the rest - the rituals of the romantic comedy genre and 'social realism' - is just background. 

We see Austen's characters navigating the unpleasant attentions and comments of boors, fools, and cads with decorum and dignity: "Indeed, brother, your anxiety for our welfare and prosperity carries you too far", Elinor chastises John Dashwood, ever so politely (SS). In every novel we see Austen's central characters working through moral problems of all kinds, weighing up and considering what propriety requires by talking it through to themselves or trusted friends. We see them learning from their mistakes, as Elizabeth and Darcy both learn from their early mistakes about his character (PP). We even see them engaging in explicit, almost technical, moral philosophy analysis, such as debating to what extent Frank Churchill should be considered morally responsible for his failure to visit Highbury (Emma), to the evident boredom of the less morally developed characters stuck in the same room as them.

Austen carries out her mission of moral education with flair and brilliance, while charitably respecting the interests and capacities of her readers (which is why she is so much more readable than most moral theorists who, like Kant, seem often to write as if understanding is the reader's problem). Yet there is one further striking feature that sets Austen's novels apart: her moral gaze. The omniscient author of her books sees right through people to their moral character and exposes and dissects their follies, flaws, and self-deceptions. I cannot read one of her novels without thinking - with a shiver - about what that penetrating moral gaze would reveal if directed at myself. 

This is virtue ethics at a different level - about moral vision, not just moral content. Austen shows us how to look at ourselves and analyse and identify our own moral character, to meet Socrates' challenge to "Know thyself".

Emma is one of the great political novels.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


The End of Labour? (Colin Kidd, 3/08/12, London Review of Books)

The prospect before the Labour Party has changed very dramatically since the start of the year. Instead of a hard but manageable slog to overtake the Conservatives as Britain's largest party at the next general election, Labour politicians now contemplate a dismal scene of long-term exclusion from government: from the government, that is, of the rump UK, minus Scotland. The reason is that David Cameron, attempting to outflank the SNP during a midwinter silly season offensive, has managed to provoke Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, into a daring dash for independence. [...]

Clearly Labour is not in a strong position to lead the unionist case in the Scottish referendum, but no other anti-nationalist party enjoys the same breadth of support or has leaders with positive name recognition in Scotland. It seems likely that Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor, will play a prominent part in the anti-independence campaign. But much more worrying for the party is its future in England. The referendum isn't likely to solve Labour's English Question: how can the party connect in a positive way with Englishness? Devolution has let daylight in on the dark arts of cross-border subsidy - Ross's nightmare - and ignited the passions of a hitherto passionless English nationalism. Devolution allowed the Scots to make their own democratic decisions about how to spend their block grant from Westminster. Now the scale and indeed the existence of the block grant itself are open to question.

Scotophobia, which last featured as a significant political force in the agitations of the 1760s against the Scottish prime minister Lord Bute, has resurfaced as a respectable element in the populist conservatism of Middle England. The likeliest beneficiaries of the new English nationalism are Ukip and the Tories. Indeed, dislike of the devolution settlement seems often to complement the Euroscepticism of the Tory right. Just as Little Englanders forget the benefits they derive from the EU but feel entitled to whine about the payments the UK makes to Brussels, so they are oblivious of the mountain of tax receipts received over several decades from North Sea oil or the lavish, but partially concealed, subsidies that find their way to London and the capital's hinterland. Labour has a further problem. If, as seems possible, the UK might be heading for a Czecho-Slovak style divorce, with the core of the union showing the door to its poorer periphery, then Labour might have a long-term English problem were it to appear too obviously the pro-Scottish party of union.

There has been no UK since 1776.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


A detective struggles with two realities (David Hiltbrand, 3/01/12, Philadelphia INQUIRER)

Following a car crash, police detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs, the malevolent Lucius Malfoy of the Harry Potter universe) spends his days in alternating realities.

In one, his wife (Laura Allen) survived the accident and is grieving the loss of their teenaged son.

The next day, Britten will awaken to a world in which he is left to raise his son (Dylan Minnette, whom you may remember as Jack's son on Lost) because his wife died in the crash.

Britten takes to wearing colored rubber bracelets to keep his days, and thus his family circumstances, straight. If this guy ever starts catnapping, his life could get really complicated.

The scenarios in each reality are markedly different. He has different murders to solve, different investigative partners (Steve Harris and Wilmer Valderrama), even different psychiatrists (BD Wong and Cherry Jones).

The shrinks each try to convince him that they are real and that the other world is merely an elaborate coping mechanism his subconscious is projecting onto his dreaming state.

Soon, like some kind of Jungian chess match, the details from one crime begin to bleed over into the other (no pun intended). Suddenly, it seems like the levelheaded detective is working the most harebrained hunches.

At one point, his puzzled boss asks, "Why are you pulling all these mug shots of short people anyway?" Well, this crazy homeless guy who doesn't exist in this particular space-time continuum told me . . . aw, forget it.

Awake is wonderfully acted, especially by Isaacs, who gives a riveting performance. The look of the show is unusually rich and vivid.

The question is, will the concept hold up over the long haul?

Why should we watch the show until we know that it they did manage to hold it up to a satisfying conclusion?  But, if the network won't commit to completing a self-contained story arc, the show needs viewers or it won't have a long haul.

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March 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Obama Calls for End To Oil and Gas Subsidies (Mary Bruce, 3/01/12, ABC News)

Facing attacks from the campaign trail over the soaring price of gas, President Obama today called for Congress to eliminate $4 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies, calling them "outrageous" and "inexcusable."

Now how about calling for and end to all subsidies?

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Chevy Volt Sales up in February (BRETT LOGIURATO, March 1, 2012, IB Times)

Sales of General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Volt rallied back in February from early year lows, as the company sold more than 1,000 of its hybrid electric plug-in vehicle last month. [...]

Analysts said it wasn't too surprising, given that the Volt became available for sale nationwide in February. And it went hand in hand with a strong overall vehicle market. Vehicle sales in the U.S. will total around 1.1 million in February, according to two forecasts, up 6 percent from last year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Are the Peasants Revolting? Occupy Wall Street's Foreign Policy (P. J. O'Rourke, January/February 2012, World Affairs Journal)

It's wrong to think of the Occupy movement--or the vassals or the villeins or the sturdy plowmen--as inchoate. Their guiding ideas are clear enough. Foremost is zero sum, the belief that there's a fixed amount of material goods. What the one percent has was taken from me.

In the rustic world from which we all so lately came, this was an item of true faith. Pasturage and arable land were the source of wealth, and their ownership was indeed zero sum. But chemical fertilizers, mechanized farm equipment, irrigation pumps, hybridized seeds, and cheap transport of crops to markets made even clod-hopping infinitely expandable. The Industrial Revolution turned the notion of fixed amounts into a heresy for anyone able to think better than a Marxist. Supposedly ninety-nine percent of people can't.

Then there is the assumption that the rich and powerful run the world, an assumption that the rich and powerful share. Perhaps they do run the world, though evidence--from Richard II to Jon Corzine--indicates they aren't very good at it.

"We are speaking out against the corporate interests that have taken over our political and economic systems," says the "Welcome to OccupyDC" flyer I picked up in McPherson Square at a moment when the political system in Washington was utterly deadlocked. And if the men who control corporate interests really had the law in the palms of their hands, their inevitable divorces from their embittered first wives wouldn't be nearly as expensive.

Implicit in a mass uprising dedicated to pointing out the unfairness of everything is a vision of what fairness is. There's no use pointing out that fairness doesn't exist. Anyone who's raised kids remembers the stage small children go through when they begin to acquire a sense of self and others and an awareness of the uneven distribution of possessions and prerogatives between the two. The results are fierce declarations of "mine!" and equally fierce insistences on sharing. It's a stage none of us truly outgrows.

Two items from the OccupyWallStreet website:

Supposedly, all the stuff that was taken by the police from the square will be available for people to pick up at noon EST today. WE NEED PEOPLE TO GO TO MIDTOWN MANHATTAN AND HELP THE OCCUPIERS GET THEIR STUFF BACK TODAY!

To occupy is to embody the spirit of liberation that we wish to manifest in our society . . . Liberated space is breaking free of isolation, breaking down the walls that literally and figuratively separate us from one another.

But the most important part of Occupy's political and economic thinking is not doing any. A November 19th blog posting from OccupyOakland shows about as much brain disconnect as can be packed into two sentences:

Occupy Oakland calls for the blockade and disruption of the economic apparatus of the 1% with a coordinated shutdown of ports on the entire West Coast on December 12th. The 1% has disrupted the lives of longshoremen and port truckers and the workers who create their wealth . . .

And an October 30th New York Times article about the cold weather travails of the Occupy movement displays the occupiers' magnificent cluelessness about political reality. After a Denver snowstorm "which organizers said sent five protesters to the hospital," Occupy Denver went on the Internet and "urged followers and supporters . . . to call the governor and mayor to express outrage for allowing conditions to persist that protesters said were dangerous."

Not to bring Richard II into this yet again, but after the mobs of Wat Tyler's Rebellion had sacked London, Richard granted all their demands. He drew up and signed elaborate charters abolishing serfdom, lowering land rents, granting general amnesty, etc. When the rebels still failed to disperse, the young king (only fourteen but already wise in the ways of spin control) took a few retainers and rode into the middle of Wat Tyler's encampment. Tyler was killed in a scuffle with Richard's guard, and the rebels moved to attack Richard. He said, "Sirs, will you kill your king? I am your king, I your captain and your leader. Follow me into the fields." They did.

The rebels, of course, were rounded up and arrested by Richard's army, and the charters were thrown away.

It isn't that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are dunces, it's rather that they have an intellectual conundrum. How an economy of perfect fairness would work is unknowable. And what kind of political authority would be needed to effect such fairness is unthinkable. So the protesters are exercising what economists call "rational ignorance"--when the cost of educating yourself about something exceeds the benefit of the learning you acquire. Fully educating yourself about all the ramifications of a completely fair economic system would probably cost you your sanity. It happened to Noam Chomsky. And learning about the nature of the political power necessary for such a project could be done only at the cost of finding out things you don't want to know, such as how Pol Pot ran Cambodia.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Over There: The Occupiers, Seen from Europe (James Kirchick, January/February 2012, World Affairs Journal)

Viewing the Occupy Wall Street movement from post-Communist Europe, I can't stop thinking of October 1917.

This date, when the Bolsheviks seized power from the Russian Provisional Government and set in place a Communist dictatorship that would last for more than seven decades, was brought to mind by the recent comments of the great Polish dissident and newspaper editor Adam Michnik. Speaking on a panel at Forum 2000, the annual conference put on here by his friend, the former Czech president Vaclav Havel, Michnik heard a familiar message in the rhetoric of the protesters in New York. The topic at hand was "Europe's Future: Constitutional or Populist Democracy?" Fortunately, revolution (whether from the left or the right) is unthinkable in the United States, the world's oldest constitutional democracy. But it is not so unthinkable in Europe, destroyed by a world war just seventy years ago, where Spain and Portugal only emerged from fascist rule in the 1970s, and where one half of the continent freed itself from Communist domination not long after that.

It was in the context of rising European populism that Michnik obliquely criticized the Occupy Wall Street movement, then spreading across the United States and around the world from the original demonstrations in downtown Manhattan. A man with solidly social democratic credentials, Michnik would find himself comfortable on the left wing of the American Democratic Party and is certainly sympathetic to demands for a greater redistribution of wealth. But he is too smart and too familiar with Europe's dark history to fall so easily for the insidious, if deliberately vague, calls for "social justice" and even "people's democracy" that have been voiced by the Occupy Wall Street protesters and their echo chamber here in Europe. Michnik prefers "regular, normal, sinful democracy." For all its faults, such boring democracy is at least a system "where, if someone calls you at six a.m., you know it's the milkman at the door."

Having been joined on October 15th by solidarity protests in hundreds of cities across the world, Occupy Wall Street is trying to invoke the legacy of 1968 rather than 1917, and they might as well. For it was 1968, as Michnik said, that witnessed actualization of the ideas espoused by Herbert Marcuse, the German philosopher, "who explained to students that fascism is in the United States." That year, while students in France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the US were protesting what Marcuse alleged to be the West's "repressive tolerance," Michnik was sitting in a jail cell for his dissident activities in Communist Poland. It was then that he "learned to be careful" when hearing people in free countries voice existential doubts, no matter how benign-sounding, about electoral democracy.

The self-appointed heir to Marcuse, Michnik said, is the Slovenian Marxist academic Slavoj Zizek, one of the first in a series of radical left-wing figures to address protesters in New York. In a subsequent mini-essay, posted on the website of the London Review of Books under the title "Democracy is the enemy," Zizek opined that "democratic mechanisms are part of a bourgeois-state apparatus that is designed to ensure the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction." Therefore, nothing less than the American system of liberal democracy itself must be overturned, Zizek wrote, and it is this end to which Occupy Wall Street must strive, presumably using violence if necessary. "Badiou was right to say that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything of the kind, but democracy: it is the 'democratic illusion', the acceptance of democratic mechanisms as the only legitimate means of change, which prevents a genuine transformation in capitalist relations," he opined.

Zizek, this "new guru of the new Europeans," as Michnik characterized him, "is trying to pressure us to give space to the new dictatorship of the proletariat." We must guard ourselves against such calls, for "we've seen this before." Americans and Western Europeans may take their liberal democratic capitalism for granted, but it took generations for it to reach its current, advanced stage, and it still has many detractors. The world financial crisis and the seeming inevitability of Chinese global hegemony pose new threats. Democracy faced no greater challenges than the twin totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century, fascism and then communism. Having withstood these monumental adversaries, supporters of democracy have rested on their laurels, leaving the liberal democratic order vulnerable. A Slovenian poseur preaching Marxist drivel to crowds in Manhattan may not seem threatening, but then, neither did many people pay attention to the bearded German Jew scribbling away in the British Museum's reading room, nor, at least initially, did they pay much heed to the Austrian paper-hanger ranting about perfidious socialists in Munich beer halls. As bad as things may seem in the West right now, Michnik counseled the audience against falling for the promises of snake oil salesmen. It is "better to have imperfect democracy than perfect dictatorship," he concluded.

...the perfect must always be the enemy of the good.  Happily, our Messianism makes us hostile to the very notion that humans can create perfection.  Heck, God screwed it up Hisownself.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Teisen Nionod (Welsh Onion Cake) (Neil Cooks Grigson, 9/02/08)

Start off by slicing 2 pounds of peeled potatoes with a food processor or mandolin. Put the slices in a bowl of cold water to rinse the starchiness away and dry them on a clean tea-towel. Next, slice a pound of onions into thin rings, do this by hand though as they cook quicker than potatoes and don't need to be super-thin. Grease and line a baking dish with foil (if you want to turn out the 'cake' at the end), and start layering the potato followed by the onions. Season and add small pats of butter between each layer, repeat as many times as possible, but make sure you finish with a layer of potato; all-in-all aim to use 3 to 4 ounces of butter. Then, melt a final ounce of butter and pour it over. This is the basic dish, but I added a small ([5 oz]) pot of cream and six tablespoons of water to it so that it was a sort of potato Dauphiniose. Cover with another layer of foil and bake for 1 ½ hours at [350], removing the foil in the last half hour, so the potatoes crisp up. Turn out onto a large serving dish if you like, and serve with bread.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Obama is out-Bushing Bush, and no one minds: That Obama has received so little flak over police spying on Muslims suggests Democrats can get away with far more than Republicans. (Nathalie Rothschild , 2/29/12, spiked)

Since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area programme (HIDTA). It's unclear exactly how much of that money was spent on surveillance of Muslims because the programme has little oversight. But the AP discovered that the White House money has paid for cars that plainclothes NYPD officers used to conduct surveillance of Muslim neighbourhoods in New York and New Jersey, and for computers that stored information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events. It also helps pay rent for the NYPD's intelligence unit.

This is, effectively, a spying programme used to monitor American Muslims as they shop, work, socialise, pray and study. Police have photographed and mapped mosques and recorded license plates of worshippers. They have compiled lists of Muslims who took new, Americanised names, eavesdropped on conversations inside businesses owned or frequented by Muslims, infiltrated Muslim student groups and monitored websites of universities across north-east US. In the name of counterterrorism, Muslim American citizens have been catalogued, their private conversations and everyday activities recorded and stored in databases.

City officials like mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD chief Raymond W Kelly were unrepentant. Asked by the Daily News if he would apologise to anybody, Kelly said: 'Not happening.' Instead, he stressed that the NYPD will 'continue to do whatever we need to do, within the law, to protect the people of New York City. New York is where they've come before, and where we believe they want to come again, to hit us again and kill us.'

This kind of gung-ho talk is most closely associated with the Bush era, when the draconian suppression of liberties in the US and beyond was carried out in the name of combating terror. By contrast, when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, there was widespread expectation that he would usher in a new, more tolerant era, and that he would restore the rule of law and the liberties sacrificed by his 'cowboy' predecessor. People on the liberal-left believed Obama's promises of turning the politics of fear, polarisation and demonisation into the stuff of unflattering history books.

...was always that he was an ideal judas goat, who would lead the Left to sell out all its opposition to W.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Teller Reveals His Secrets: The smaller, quieter half of the magician duo Penn & Teller writes about how magicians manipulate the human mind (Teller, March 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

Magic's about understanding--and then manipulating--how viewers digest the sensory information.

I think you'll see what I mean if I teach you a few principles magicians employ when they want to alter your perceptions.

1. Exploit pattern recognition. I magically produce four silver dollars, one at a time, with the back of my hand toward you. Then I allow you to see the palm of my hand empty before a fifth coin appears. As Homo sapiens, you grasp the pattern, and take away the impression that I produced all five coins from a hand whose palm was empty.

2. Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth. You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest. My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman. To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don't hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls. Then we built a secret compartment out of foam-core (one of the few materials cockroaches can't cling to) and worked out a devious routine for sneaking the compartment into the hat. More trouble than the trick was worth? To you, probably. But not to magicians.

3. It's hard to think critically if you're laughing. We often follow a secret move immediately with a joke. A viewer has only so much attention to give, and if he's laughing, his mind is too busy with the joke to backtrack rationally. [...]

6. Nothing fools you better than the lie you tell yourself. David P. Abbott was an Omaha magician who invented the basis of my ball trick back in 1907. He used to make a golden ball float around his parlor. After the show, Abbott would absent-mindedly leave the ball on a bookshelf while he went to the kitchen for refreshments. Guests would sneak over, heft the ball and find it was much heavier than a thread could support. So they were mystified. But the ball the audience had seen floating weighed only five ounces. The one on the bookshelf was a heavy duplicate, left out to entice the curious. When a magician lets you notice something on your own, his lie becomes impenetrable.

7. If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely. This is one of the darkest of all psychological secrets.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say (Stephen Adams, 29 Feb 2012, The Telegraph)

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are "morally irrelevant" and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not "actual persons" and do not have a "moral right to life". The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.

The journal's editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article's authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were "fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society".

They're right to a significant degree--there is no difference between killing babies--but fail to reckon with the follow-on issue: how is killing medical ethicists any different than killing other human beings?

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Reinventing Canada: Stephen Harper's Conservative Revolution (Jordan Michael Smith, March/April 2012, World Affairs Journal)

The thin-haired, middle-aged man delivered a speech to the United Nations that undoubtedly left many in the international body fuming. He criticized Libya, Iran, and North Korea by name: "Just as fascism and communism were the great struggles of previous generations," he said, "terrorism is the great struggle of ours." He cited Winston Churchill and defended Israel. And he criticized the UN on its own turf. "The greatest enemies of the United Nations are those who quietly undermine its principles and, even worse, by those who sit idly, watching its slow decline."

George W. Bush in 2002? Nope. John Bolton in 2006? Wrong. This anti-UN lecture was delivered in September 2011 by the foreign minister of Canada. Yes, Canada.

Since 2006, when Conservative Stephen Harper became Canada's prime minister, America's typically quiet and modest neighbor to the north has been much more assertive in pursuing its foreign policy. It has been forceful in advocating what it sees as both its interests and its values. And it has done so in language unlike that of any other Canadian government that has preceded it. It seems that Canada has become, well, un-Canadian.

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