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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