April 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM

Toots Thielemans On JazzSet, With Kenny Werner (BECCA PULLIAM, April 26, 2012, NPR: Jazz Set)

Thielemans moved to the U.S. in the early 1950s, at which point he worked with Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and Shearing. Toots loves to tell the story of how he made a Chrysler Plymouth commercial with Louis Armstrong, Armstrong singing and Toots playing harmonica. Pops called Toots "bop chops." Thielemans played music in the films Breakfast at Tiffany's and Midnight Cowboy, as well as the theme to Sesame Street; then, Toots fell in love again with the music of Brazil.

Thielemans became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1957. But it is Kenny Werner who thought of interpolating "Travessia (Bridges)" by the Brazilian Milton Nascimento into "God Bless America," the climactic song of the concert.

On synth and piano, Werner is both Thielemans' accompanist and agent provocateur, as he provokes, leads, follows and dances with Toots. In his own right, Werner is a world-traveling composer, pianist and educator, a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of a much-studied book. Effortless Mastery guides the musician/reader toward a personal place from which one's music flows. Perhaps that's the very space that, for Toots Thielemans, lives between a smile and a tear.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Experts Believe Iran Conflict Is Less Likely (JAMES RISEN, 4/30/12, NY Times)

[T]he conservative government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been rocked by a series of public comments from current and former Israeli military and intelligence officials questioning the wisdom of attacking Iran.

The latest comments came from Yuval Diskin, the former chief of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, who on Friday said Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak should not be trusted to determine policy on Iran. He said the judgments of both men have been clouded by "messianic feelings." Mr. Diskin, who was chief of Shin Bet until last year, said an attack against Iran might cause it to speed up its nuclear program.

Just days before, Israel's army chief of staff suggested in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iranian nuclear threat was not quite as imminent as Mr. Netanyahu has portrayed it. In his comments, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz suggested that he agreed with the intelligence assessments of the United States that Iran has not yet decided whether to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran "is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't yet decided whether to go the extra mile," General Gantz told Haaretz. He suggested that the crisis may not come to a head this year. But he said, "Clearly, the more the Iranians progress, the worse the situation is."

Last month, Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, said he did not advocate a pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program anytime soon. In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," Mr. Dagan said the Iranian government was "a very rational one," and that Iranian officials were "considering all the implications of their actions."

Mr. Netanyahu is dealing with the criticisms at the same time as he faces, for domestic political reasons, the prospect of an election this year, rather than next.

The divide within the Israeli establishment is significant because Israel has been threatening to launch a unilateral strike against Iran's nuclear facilities if the United States is unwilling to do so. Washington has feared that if Israel were to do so, the United States could get dragged into the fight, which could result in a widening war in the region.

Iran poses no threat, so while bombing them would give the Right some visceral satisfaction, it just isn't worth the cost as far as their internal and external relations are concerned.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Brain Drain Feared as German Jobs Lure Southern Europeans (SUZANNE DALEY and NICHOLAS KULISH, 4/29/12, NY Times)

Germany's experience with integrating foreign workers, particularly the country's large Turkish minority, has proved difficult. Today, many government officials and business leaders are examining Germany's culture, eager to do what it takes to be hospitable and acknowledging that they have not always been so.

"We need to become a welcoming culture," said Guido Rebstock, head of the jobs agency in Schwäbisch Hall, repeating a phrase that has become part of the vocabulary here. "The firms have to help the workers with more than their jobs."

Mr. Rebstock said the issue was driven home recently as the town contemplated its first-grade enrollment. In the last 13 years, the entering classes have shrunk by about 30 percent. "The demographic theme has definitely arrived here," he said.

Last year, though, even while deaths once again exceeded births, the German population grew for the first time since 2002, thanks to a net immigration of 240,000 people, nearly double the 128,000 net gain in 2010. Countries like Poland and Romania sent the most, but German government statistics showed thousands more coming from the crisis-stricken southern nations.

To the unemployed masses in the south, Germany's needs are a relief. In Baden-Württemberg, the unemployment rate is just 4 percent. The country seems like "El Dorado," the legendary lost city of gold, said one Spanish engineer still searching for a job in Schwäbisch Hall. For the most part, engineers are being offered twice the salaries they could make in Spain, he said, though taxes are higher in Germany.

They generally find Germany more attractive than alternatives like South America and Australia because it is so close to home. Some say they expect to make lives here, but many say they are still hoping to return home soon.

Many of the Spaniards say the work environment in Germany takes getting used to, with Germans far more direct than Spanish people and much quieter. No one makes personal calls during business hours, for instance. But the work day is much shorter.

They were surprised that they were expected to greet co-workers each morning with formal handshakes and to call colleagues "Herr" and "Frau" (Mr. and Ms.). Impromptu hallway conversations over work issues were cut off by Germans suggesting it would be more appropriate to schedule a formal meeting.

Of course, they have that bit exactly backwards--they'd get more done in the hallway than in a formal meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Church bells ring the soundtrack of Britain: The Somerset couple who complained about the quarter-hour chimes are in the wrong place. Ringing goes straight to the heart (A N WILSON,  29 APRIL 2012, Independent)

A busybody's work is never done. Nick Yates, spokesman for North Somerset Council, last week informed the world: "Our case officer has assessed the complaint, as has a colleague, and they are satisfied that the noise is a clear statutory noise nuisance." To what can he have been referring? The yell of ladettes at 3am, as their lager-lout swains spewed in the town square at Taunton? The everlasting drone of long-distance lorries on the M5 between Bristol and Exeter? The pounding thump of heavy metal booming from open car windows as motorists snarl up in Yeovil, or the droning on, in local radio studios, of the know-it-all Lord Ashdown, giving his views on every aspect of the world situation? No, although those are all noise nuisances which afflict Somerset from time to time, Nick had found another which to his ears was more offensive.

The noise nuisance in question was the quarterly chime of All Saints' Church, Wrington. For more than 100 years, the bells have marked the quarter hours. The people of the village have absorbed the striking of the church clock into the inner music of their hearts. Anyone who has lived within the sound of such chimes knows how this happens. On the rare occasions when I spend a night in Oxford, the keeping of the hours by the clock towers in New College, and Merton, and the great booming of Tom tolling 101 times at 9pm at Christ Church are inextricably interwoven with memories and regrets and lost joys. The sound almost sends me mad, so intense are the feelings it evokes. The nation at large, when it turns on the radio, awaits the boom of Big Ben before the six o'clock news. We are a people "summoned by bells", to quote the title of John Betjeman's autobiography, and both the chiming of the hours and the complex art of bellringing are the inner music of our lives in towns and villages all over the land.

As witness, Still Ringing After all These Years (available on The Box)
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Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Do human rights really exist?: Do "human rights" really exist, when they can be so easily taken away (Will Self, 4/30/12, BBC)

[I]n its characterisation of human rights as universal and inalienable, the United Nations Declaration is surely only stating a fact that all of us intuitively know - no single one of the seven billion-odd human lives currently transpiring can be held to be of greater value than any of the others, we have all been weighed in the balance and it remains resolutely level.

True, there is one problem with this figuration - who's holding the scales?

In the Koran - which presents another ethical system, although one that concentrates rather more on duties than rights - there is the same sense of a logical-deductive system, of all subsidiary propositions deriving from a single incontestable one that forms the apex.

However, in this case the shahada - or act of witnessing - is concerned with existence of God. As commonly translated into English, it reads: "There is no god but God and Mohammed is His prophet".

In all three of the great world monotheisms, it is this establishment of the one God's authority - his fittingness to hold the scales of justice - that enables human lives to be correctly assayed in all their multifariousness. And in Islam we find the purest expression of the notion that it is in actively assenting to this dominion that humans take their place in society.

Employing the broadest of brushes, the picture we can paint of the last quarter-millennium of Western history is of a progressive move away from vesting authority in supernatural beings, to one in which the responsibility for enforcing duties - and their corresponding rights - is founded in human institutions.

Not human institutions, Anglo-American ideas and institutions grounded on the Supernatural Being. That quarter-millennium consists of nothing more than imposing our culture universally, of Ending History.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


The Great China Crackup? (DAN BLUMENTHAL, 4/29/12, Weekly Standard)

The leadership is reeling from the revelations of the Bo case, and the great wall of silence protecting the Standing Committee is breaking. Chinese leaders were secure as long as no one revealed how the game works or if they played it together. Now they are divided, and are in a trap. They can keep making payoffs for loyalty, to the security services or to the military, but the public knows how corrupt the system is, and many more people are in a position to describe the payoffs. 

Chen's move was strategically timed. His case to Chinese and Westerners will be, "look what happens when rights are not protected." Chinese leaders steal, even kill. He can try to use patriotic terms: When Bo's deputy Wang Lijun sought help, the only institution he could trust was the U.S. consulate. He was unsafe outside the hands of the Americans. This fact is a huge embarrassment for the Chinese leadership. Wang had to go to America, figuratively, to get help. The same is true with Chen. For the Chinese, it is apparent that they are having trouble sorting out their own affairs or running their own country.

These unfolding events have major implications for Sino-American relations during the week of Strategic Economic Dialogue summit. The machinery of U.S.-China policy is set on a very linear path - based on a China that will hold together, that is always rising, and that can make important decisions and stick to them. But the Chinese themselves are showing this China to be more of a reassuring fantasy than reality.

...and explain to the Chinese: that the PRC has failed on its own terms;  Tibet, Uighurstan, Hong Kong, etc. will all be free nations; and their demographics and lack of culture mean that their economic problems are insurmountable without massive reform?

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April 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


In Hopeful Sign, Health Spending Is Flattening Out (ANNIE LOWREY, 4/29/12, NY Times)

The implications of a bend in the cost curve would be enormous. Policy makers on both sides of the aisle see rising health care costs as the central threat to household budgets and the country's fiscal health. If the growth in Medicare were to come down to a rate of only 1 percentage point a year faster than the economy's growth, the projected long-term deficit would fall by more than one-third.

The growth of health costs slowed in the 1990s as health maintenance organizations became more popular. That played a role in both gains in household income -- less money on employer-provided health benefits means more money for raises -- and in budget surpluses, economists argue. [...]

Many experts -- and the Medicare and Medicaid center itself -- point to the explosion of high-deductible plans, in which consumers have lower premiums but pay more out of pocket, as one main factor. The share of employees enrolled in high-deductible plans surged to 13 percent in 2011 from 3 percent in 2006, according to Mercer Consulting.

That means thousands of consumers with an incentive to think twice about heading to the doctor. One study by the RAND Corporation found that health spending among people who shifted into a high-deductible plan dropped 14 percent -- though the study also found that enrollees cut back on some care that tended to save money in the long run, like vaccinations. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Warrior in Chief (PETER L. BERGEN, 4/29/12, NY Times)

THE president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.

Liberals helped to elect Barack Obama in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war, and probably don't celebrate all of the president's many military accomplishments. But they are sizable.

Mr. Obama decimated Al Qaeda's leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Ironically, the president used the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech as an occasion to articulate his philosophy of war. He made it very clear that his opposition to the Iraq war didn't mean that he embraced pacifism -- not at all.

"I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people," the president told the Nobel committee -- and the world. "For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man, and the limits of reason."

If those on the left were listening, they didn't seem to care. 

He's a follower, not a leader and he's just following our history.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Elizabeth Warren has no reservations on Native status (Hillary Chabot and Matt Stout, April 28, 2012, Boston Herald)

Elizabeth Warren said yesterday she is "proud" of her Native American heritage and indicated she had no problem with Harvard Law School using her roots to claim her as a diversity hire, but her campaign still could not produce documents proving her lineage.

"I am very proud of my Native American heritage, thank you," said Warren when asked if she disapproved of the school counting her as a minority woman on the faculty. "These are my family stories ... This is our lives and I am very proud of that."

The Herald reported yesterday that Harvard Law School officials listed Warren as Native American in the '90s, when the school was under fierce fire for their faculty's lack of diversity.

Warren, who will likely face off with U.S. Sen. Scott Brown this fall, said she didn't know the school has counted her as a minority faculty member until "I read it on the front page of the Herald."

Her campaign said yesterday it is still working to produce documents proving that the 62-year-old Oklahoma native, whose maiden name is Herring, is a descendent of the Delaware and Cherokee tribes.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The Islamist Road to Democracy: Muslims cannot be dragged to an embrace of secularism and the liberal values that spring from it. They have to arrive voluntarily at this understanding. (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 4/23/12, WSJ)

Given the awfulness of post-World War II Arab lands, where even the most benign regimes had sophisticated, torture-happy security services, Islamists who braved the wrath of rulers and trenchantly critiqued the moral breakdown of their societies were going to do well in a postsecular age. What is poorly understood in the West is how critical fundamentalists are to the moral and political rejuvenation of their countries. As counterintuitive as it seems, they are the key to more democratic, liberal politics in the region.

The case for a separation of mosque and state has been harder to make in the Middle East because most Muslims have not been burned by internecine strife. The West has become an unrivaled liberal paragon in part because its past savagery was so intense. Westerners now instinctively compartmentalize their faith and temper its expression because their Christian forefathers killed each other zealously over religious differences.

Islam hasn't seen the sustained barbarism that plagued European Christian and post-Christian--communist and fascist--societies. Reform-minded Muslims have usually critiqued their faith with an eye to the West, to the secrets of European power, without appreciating both the highs and lows of Occidental history.

A hundred years ago, the most consequential Muslim intellectuals were mostly progressive men who tried to work out a synthesis between the West and Islam. The Middle East's post-World War II rulers, however, merely dictated that the Muslim clergy and the faithful change their ways. Against the seductive power of nationalism, socialism and communism, which in the hands of military men ran roughshod over much of the Middle East, Islam stood as a barrier to "progress."

As the imported Western ideologies ended in tyranny, Islam became a haven, a repository of virtue and memories, both real and imagined, of better times, when rulers and the ruled abided by the same religious law. The all-purpose fundamentalist cry, "Islam is the answer," is as much a critique of what had been tried and failed as it is a tendentious reading of history.

Among Shiite Muslims, the mullahs became poles of resistance. Among Sunni Muslims, whose clerics have been closely allied to the state, devout laymen took the lead in opposition. What ought to be obvious now is that Muslims cannot be dragged dictatorially to an embrace of secularism and all the liberal values that spring from it. They have to arrive voluntarily, organically, at this understanding.

Given the awfulness of post-WWII Europe, which is dying before our eyes, isn't wishing secularism upon them a form of hostility?  Better they become protestant than secular.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


How free is the will? : Sam Harris misses his mark (Russell Blackford, 4/27/12, ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS)

Allow me to confess, at this late stage, that I think that the concept of free will has problems, perhaps many of them, although I am not at all persuaded that causal determinism is the important issue.

One problem relates to the nature of coercion. How do I draw a principled line between actions that are coerced, or otherwise brought about in circumstances that seem to overwhelm me, and those that are not?

To some extent, this looks like a moral or even political judgment, and it is very arguable that, although not simply arbitrary, these sorts of judgments are not objectively binding. In some cases, at least, there may be no determinate answer as to whether I was coerced or acted freely.

Furthermore, the folk (and perhaps philosophers) are not worried only by outright coercion but also by other circumstances, such as whether there was adequate time to think. But where do we draw the line with something like that - for example, how much time is "adequate"? Again, how should we handle such things as compulsions and phobias - are they just another part of our desire-sets, or are they more analogous to external barriers to our actions?

Another problem relates to the largely-unconsciousness nature of our decisions. No one should doubt this, and Harris is correct to emphasise it and discuss the actual phenomenology of choice. Still, taken by itself it is not necessarily very threatening.

Imagine for a moment that my unconscious mind makes decisions in accordance with the same beliefs and desires that I endorse consciously, and imagine, more generally, that my unconscious and conscious minds are closely "in character" with each other. If that is so, delegating a great deal of decision-making to unconscious processes might even be an efficient use of scarce time for conscious thought.

The issue that Harris ought to press more strongly - and I foreshadowed this earlier - is that our unconscious minds may be rather alien to our conscious egos. I suspect that Freudian theory is largely bunk, but a large body of social psychology literature can be interpreted as confirming that our psyches are more fractured, and some of our true motivations stranger to us, than we like to think.

If this is so, we may be at the mercy of alien forces after all, at least to an extent - these are not external powers, and not exactly spooky ones, but actually components of ourselves.

But even if we press such points as hard as possible, folk ideas of free will might survive. Perhaps whether we act freely becomes a matter of judgment and degree, and the question of whether we do so in various particular cases does not have an entirely compelling answer.

Nonetheless, it might remain more false than true if we tell the folk, "You do not have free will." On the other hand, philosophical ideas of moral responsibility might be in more trouble as we insist on the difficulties. Much more needs to be considered here.

Finally, I acknowledge that some intuitions may favour incompatibilism. On the other hand, it remains the case - doesn't it? - that we are not controlled by spooky powers, that our beliefs, desires and characters are not bypassed in some other way (as they would be if epiphenomenalism were true), and that these aspects of us appear to have causal power: they lead to choices, actions and consequences.

There is nothing especially arcane about these key points, and they are consistent with causal determinism as far as it goes. The worst problems for free will, I suggest, come from elsewhere.

After some two thousand years, the basics of a compatibilist approach remain attractive, and the burden of going forward seems to fall on opponents of free will, and particularly on incompatibilists such as Harris.

Harris himself needs to do more work, particularly in understanding and responding to the strengths in his opponents' arguments. Until then, we should take his pronouncements on the topic of free will with a few grains of salt. So it goes.

...ends at the point where you punch him in the nose.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Ego Depletion (David McRaney, 4/27/12, You Are Not So Smart)

The Misconception: Willpower is just a metaphor.

The Truth: Willpower is a finite resource. [...]

A great deal of your thoughts and behaviors are automatic and unconscious. Blinking and breathing, for example, need no help from the conscious part of you. Much of your behavior, like driving to work or toweling off after a shower, just happens while your conscious mind drifts off to think about Game of Thrones or how you'll approach your boss for a raise. If you touch a stove you recoil without thought. Your desire to avoid dark alleys and approach embraces occurs without your input. When moved by a song or a painting or a kitten, the emotional rush comes without volition. Much of your mental life is simply not under your conscious control, and Baumeister's research suggests once you take the helm every act of volition diminishes the next.

It is as if the mind is a terribly designed airplane. As long as the plane flies in a straight line, it burns very little fuel, but as soon as the pilot takes over in any way, to dive or bank or climb, the plane burns fuel at an alarming rate making it more difficult to steer in the future. At some point, you must return the plane to autopilot until it can refuel or else it crashes. In this analogy, taking control of the human mind includes making choices, avoiding temptation, suppressing emotions and thoughts, and acting in a way deemed appropriate by your culture. Saying no to every naughty impulse from raiding the refrigerator to skipping class requires a little bit of willpower fuel, and once you spend that fuel it becomes harder to say no the next time. All of Baumeister's research suggests self-control is a strenuous act. As your ego depletes, your automatic processes get louder, and each successive attempt to take control of your impulses is less successful than the last. Yet, ego depletion is not just the effects of fatigue. Being sleepy, drunk, or in the middle of a meth binge will certainly diminish your ability to resist pie, but what makes ego depletion so weird is that the research suggests the system affected by lack of sleep and excess of drink can get worn out just from regular use. Inhibiting and redirecting your own behavior in any way makes it more difficult to delay gratification and persevere in the face of adversity or boredom in the future.

Or, as Alfred North Whitehead said:  "It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them." 
Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Real Time (William Deresiewicz, American Scholar)

Some of the responses to What's the Matter with Kansas? pointed out that an analogous argument could be made about the Upper West Side. Well-to-do liberals vote against their economic self-interest just as surely as poor conservatives do (the only difference being that no one on the Upper West Side would go broke before they gave up their moral beliefs). Are only the wealthy entitled to ideals? Are progressive ideals the only authentic ones?

There is a massive failure here: of imagination, empathy, curiosity, humanity. Maher did acknowledge there was something noble about some of the sentiments expressed in the video, but he moved immediately back to the "Kansas" argument (as well as to making fun of poor people). He simply couldn't take the information in--couldn't recognize that there are good reasons why working-class white Southerners might be opposed to everything that someone like Bill Maher stands for, that their opinions are just as legitimate as his. Nor could he perceive, in the course of denouncing their inability to "see past their prejudices," that he is no more able to see past his own--that is, the ones he was directing, at that very moment, toward them.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Competing under False Pretenses: Fake Handicaps a Growing Problem for Disabled Sports (Lukas Eberle 4/27/12, Der Spiegel)

The public is particularly fascinated by disabled people who engage in high-performance sports. They are ambassadors of hope who set an example for everyone, because they have not only come to terms with their fate, but are also capable of incredible physical achievements despite their handicap.

Events like the upcoming Paralympics in London are always bathed in a special aura, a combination of competition and spirituality. There is more at stake than medals. In fact, disabled sports are mostly about respect.

But there is even trickery, deception and lying in disabled sports. There are plenty of dissemblers among the participants, people who, in medical inspections, deliberately paint their state of health in more dramatic terms than it is, thereby competing under false pretenses in events that are becoming increasingly popular and also provide the opportunity to make a lot of money.

One of the most spectacular cases was discovered about three weeks ago. The Dutch handbiker Monique van der Vorst had won two silver medals in the 2008 Paralympics. But after that she suddenly experienced a seemingly miraculous recovery. In the summer of 2010, she claimed that she had regained sensation in her legs after 13 years in a wheelchair. Since then, she said, she could stand up, walk and even ride a racing bike again.

Now Van der Vorst has had to admit that she was also able to stand and walk during her career as a paraplegic handbiker. Former competitors and neighbors had reported often seeing the athlete outside of her wheelchair -- taking a shower, or even dancing. Van der Vorst was a sports celebrity in the Netherlands, and now everyone is outraged. The newspapers are calling it a "scam" and a "lie."

All the athletes, trainers and officials in Rosenau are talking about the fallen disabled sports icon. Everyone is wondering how she managed to cheat her way through the classification for years.

April 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Greetings From the New Africa (RICHARD DOWDEN, 4/20/12, WSJ)

For Mr. Severino, in "Africa's Moment," what matters now is the demographics: the coming African population explosion and the mass movement of people from rural areas to towns. The population boom is partly due to a decline in infant mortality. According to the World Bank, in 1970 there were 136 deaths per thousand live births; by 2009, the number had dropped to 72.6. But the birthrate itself remains very high in many African nations. The U.S. fertility rate is estimated at 2.1, Europe's is 1.59. Sub-Saharan Africa's is estimated at 4.94. One simple fact is clear: Many Africans want to have many children.

Africa, Mr. Severino notes, had a fifth of the world's population in 1500 and then suffered four centuries of mortal disruption. It is only now catching up. But this raises a question. Historically, when populations have exploded--such as Europe's in the 19th century--the answer was emigration. But tomorrow's young Africans will have nowhere to go. The African population boom, Mr. Severino believes, will be "the most incredible demographic adventure that human history has ever known. A time neither for rejoicing nor for fear, but simply for recognizing the facts. . . . Africa's demographic advance over the next fifty years is unstoppable. The worst thing to do would be to ignore it."

"Africa's Moment" is a wake-up call. The book--which Mr. Severino wrote with Olivier Ray, one of his former colleagues at the French aid ministry--is a broad survey of contemporary Africa. Its message is simple: Look out world, here comes Africa. Early on, Mr. Severino dismisses Afro-pessimist theories that claim that the continent is immutable because of its culture or climate. He predicts that the Africa of the future will be urban. The cities will enable social freedom that will melt ethnic and cultural differences and allow people to form communities of choice.

Mr. Severino thinks that churches rather than the ethnic groups will be the particular glue that will bind people together in the future and offer them solidarity in hard times. The growth of evangelical Christianity all over Africa is an extraordinary recent phenomenon--whole communities forming around a single pastor. Funded by American fundamentalist churches, these pastors and preachers are quickly drawing members away from the traditional established churches.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Europe's Zero-Sum Dilemma (Gideon Rachman, May/June 2012, National Interest)

Even if both the EU and the single currency survive, the current crisis is likely to extract an economic and political price that makes a mockery of many of the original hopes invested in the European Union. The founding fathers of the EU--men such as Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman--built their project around a brilliant and simple proposition. The purpose of the European project when it got going in the 1950s was explicitly political. The idea was to move Europe beyond the terrible wars that had disfigured the Continent during the first half of the twentieth century. But, while the goal was political, the means were economic. The founding fathers aimed to build a new Europe by initially concentrating on small, practical steps that brought tangible economic benefits. The idea was that economic cooperation would create shared prosperity and foster the habit of cooperation. The old national rivalries would be replaced by a win-win logic built around economic integration. As Europeans got used to working together and saw the benefits, further and bolder steps could be taken toward the "ever closer union" spoken of in the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

For more than fifty years, this vision worked beautifully. Europe prospered and grew--and hugely expanded its powers. By 2007, the year before the financial crisis hit, the European Union encompassed twenty-seven members. The simple coal-and-steel community of the 1950s had been transformed into a European Union with a single market, a single currency, common borders, and a common foreign and security policy.

Then came the global financial crisis. A sharp economic downturn in Europe exposed important weaknesses within the Union. Above all, it became clear that many countries had been running up unsustainable debts. In the new economic climate, Greece, Portugal and Ireland proved unable to fund themselves through the markets and had to apply for bailouts from the rest of the European Union. The borrowing costs of Italy and Spain soared, raising the prospect that they too might have to apply for financial help. Given the size of the Italian and Spanish economies and the level of their debts, bailouts for Italy and Spain might simply be unaffordable for the rest of Europe.

The debt crisis within the European Union is a lot more than a transient economic difficulty. In fact, it directly threatens the underlying logic of the European project. In good times, building Europe was all about creating a win-win dynamic based on sharing the fruits of prosperity. But in bad economic times, this positive logic has gone into reverse. Rather than sharing the gains of prosperity, Europeans are now arguing about who should bear the losses associated with recession and the debt crisis. Win-win logic has been replaced by zero-sum logic in which one country's gain is another's loss.

After 50 years the nations are too enfeebled for their enmities to matter anymore.  The Marshall Plan rendered them helpless.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


I Was Wrong About Dick Cheney . . . : . . . and other lessons I learned from vetting vice-presidential candidates. (KARL ROVE

Choosing a running mate reveals much about the presidential candidate himself. Though still only a candidate, this is his first presidential decision.

It is one best made by asking about the skills, philosophy, outlook, work ethic and chemistry of a prospective running mate. Do they have good judgment? Can they be counted on to give their unvarnished opinion? Are they loyal? Who can best help the president govern? In other words, set aside politics. Put governing first.

This was brought home to me in 2000, when then-Gov. George W. Bush was strongly leaning toward picking Dick Cheney as his VP. He knew I was opposed and invited me to make the case against his idea. I came to our meeting armed with eight political objections. Mr. Bush heard me out but with a twist: I explained my objections with Mr. Cheney sitting, mute and expressionless, next to the governor.

The next day, Mr. Bush called to say I was right. There would be real political problems if he chose Mr. Cheney. So solve them, he said. Politics was my responsibility. His job was different: to select his best partner in the White House and a person the country would have confidence in if something terrible happened to him. The country was better served by Mr. Bush's decision than by my advice.

There's a lesson there for Mr. Romney. Choose the best person for the job. Leave the politics to the staff.

The nominee is often more likely to pick someone you can't imagine as president, so as not to feel threatened, which is why it is so often a legislator instead of an executive.  Consider Joe Biden.

April 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


'The Hunger Games' sparks interest in archery (Catherine Laughlin, 4/25/12, THE INQUIRER)

As Hollywood has hit a bull's-eye with the success of the novel-turned-blockbuster, it seems the movie's fans are eager to mirror their 16-year-old idol, sparking a newfound interest in the age-old sport.

"I've been getting about five or more calls a day asking about instructions," said B&A Archery owner Bill Arrow. (He vows that's his real last name.) "The word archery is becoming hot."

Arrow's archery range holds instructional classes and target practice for archery enthusiasts, bow hunters, and a handful of hard-core competitors. The indoor range has two floors of movable targets and 3-D archery, in which shooters aim at life-size animals, from rabbits to bears, in simulated wooded terrain.

...archery is pretty much a civics lesson

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


North Korea's New Missiles Are Fake (ERIC TALMADGE Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012, AP)

Analysts who have studied photos of a half-dozen ominous new North Korean missiles showcased recently at a lavish military parade say they were fakes, and not very convincing ones, casting further doubt on the country's claims of military prowess.

That's what help from the PRC renders.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Hamas steers a new course after break from Syria: The ongoing violence in Syria is forcing the Palestinian Hamas to strike a new path. Initial steps indicate that the group will follow a more pragmatic course in the future. ()Deutsche-Welle, 4/26/12)

The Hamas leadership has apparently reached a consensus on the group's new direction. Whereas there was still talk of a possible dispute between Haniyeh and Mashaal at the beginning of the year, the two men have apparently settled their differences in the meantime.

"I can't observe any major conflict between Haniyeh and Mashaal," Felsch said. "When Mashaal left Damascus, Haniyeh immediately supported him." This did not mean, however, that there would not be any more disputes on the group's future political course within Hamas.

Palestinian civil rights activist and politician Mustafa Barghouti agreed that there was a conflict over policy, but said that this difference of opinion was a good thing.

"The fact that they have differences internally is of course a reflection of change," Barghouti, who is secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, told DW. "In my opinion, this is a healthy sign because it shows that change is taking place." He said in the end, the majority would support the new direction of Hamas.

In fact, Hamas hardliners will probably have no other choice than going along with the new course. Though the group has become a desired partner for Sunni-led countries since its break with the Assad regime, this partnership calls for significant changes from Hamas. Felsch said that Sunni governments supported the Middle East peace process. Hamas could therefore not oppose it as vehemently as it did during the period of close ties to Syria and Iran.

"Hamas was opposed to the peace process," Felsch said. "For this reason, it wasn't able to reach an agreement with the PLO." But that is changing at present. Barghouti, who has been closely accompanying the rapprochement between the political leadership in the West Bank and in Gaza, named three points in which Hamas had "definitely" changed its position.

"First, they accept the principle and the solution based on two states, second they are accepting popular non-violent resistance, and third - and this is still to be tested - they said that they are ready to accept a democratic election system."

The change of course which Hamas has taken also brings up questions of its religious self-image. Up to now, the Sunni organization had no problems closing ranks with Shiite partners. The common antagonism towards Israel was the stronger bond. But if politics were to take an overriding role over religion, which significance would questions of faith play for Hamas in the future?

Felsch said Hamas was exploiting Islam for pragmatic reasons. Religion was a unique feature for the group as compared to the united powers in the PLO.

"It can distance itself from them through religion and by declaring that revolutionary ideas today no longer come from the left camp," Felsch said. "Rather, Hamas asserts that Islam also possesses revolutionary potential, namely Islamism as a political form of Islam."
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Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Damage Control: After alienating Hispanics, Mitt Romney needs to mend fences. Marco Rubio's immigration plan could help. (Ron Brownstein, April 26, 2012, National Journal)

It's unclear whether the lifeline that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is offering Mitt Romney is long enough to lift the presumptive Republican presidential nominee from the hole he dug with Hispanic voters during the primary race. But Romney's odds of extricating himself will almost certainly improve if he accepts, rather than rejects, Rubio's help.

Rubio's lifeline is the alternative he is formulating to the Dream Act backed by President Obama and most congressional Democrats. Their proposal would allow the children of illegal immigrants to remain legally in the U.S. and eventually to obtain citizenship if they serve in the military or attend college. Rubio's version, which he will likely introduce this summer, would instead provide to these young people nonimmigrant work visas that would allow them to remain legally in the U.S. but would not guarantee them citizenship. Significantly, though, Rubio's approach as he has described it would not preclude those children from following the same pathways to citizenship available to others holding that type of visa, such as marrying an American citizen or receiving sponsorship from an employer.

No one takes Mr. Romney's immigration rhetoric seriously.  This flip-flop is a given.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


A VELVET FIST: If you want to start a peaceful revolution, the person to call is a Serb with a passion for Tolkien. Srdja Popovic is advising rebels in 40 countries. (Emma Williams, May/June 2012, Intelligent Life)

Popovic is wearing jeans and sneakers now, at work. His day begins at 8am in a small grey cube of an office in New Belgrade. He is all energy, circling the room. He takes an emergency call from Syrian activists, speaking in Serbian. A response is needed on the Maldives. Other, more secret enquiries, follow. He reverts to English and mentions an American historian, Howard Zinn. "You know what he said?" he asks with a grin. "Education may and should be dangerous."

With the Arab spring, the nonviolent strategies in which he educates clients have leapt into the limelight. Canvas has been involved in revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and the Maldives, and works with activists from 40 more countries, ranging from Soviet throwbacks (Belarus) to Asian giants (India and China), Middle Eastern oligarchies (Iran, Yemen) and small, brutal dictatorships (Zimbabwe, Burma).

"Canvas is unique," Popovic says. "In evolutionary strategy some species accommodate to their conditions..." He looks outside at the grey Belgrade tower blocks. "Like pigeons--they're everywhere." Others go for narrow specialisation. "Canvas is like those bacteria that can live at temperatures of 60°C--highly specialised."

Unique, specialised and, until recently, reluctant to be observed. Canvas "came out of the closet", as Popovic puts it, by way of an Al Jazeera documentary during the Arab spring (on YouTube). It's sensitive work. Canvas has been accused of being a tool of Western secret services. "There's a naive narrative in which these revolutions are a product of Langley or MI6," Popovic scoffs. "As if all you need is a wad of CIA  dollars, a bunch of crazy Serbs, send them to country X and boom, you have your revolution!" He laughs. "If it was a question of money only..."  

Canvas's curriculum, designed to be taken anywhere and adapted to any situation, shows how much planning goes into revolution. "We're constantly updating, building on lessons learned." He breaks off to describe a workshop. "One night back in 2006, we were on the beach in Sri Lanka, working long sessions with Maldivian activists. Instead of using flipcharts we were writing in the sand--only to discover that the sand was populated by newly hatching turtles. We had to help them find their way to the sea or they'd have followed the streetlights instead of the moon and been killed on the road. The session turned into a Discovery Channel type of 'saving baby turtles' experience--the craziest thing that has ever happened to a workshop."

More typically, workshops run for five to seven days, with up to 20 activists in the room. "We don't really give specific advice, but prefer people to develop their own tools--helping them to shape their own indigenous ideas. Normally, they finish the workshop with their own campaign plans and 'people-power toolbox' to use once they get back to their organisations."

The trainers, all former participants in protests, deliver the curriculum, usually in English. The trainees analyse and evaluate their country's situation, after being coached in the theory of nonviolent struggle and the three principles for its success: unity, planning and nonviolent discipline. They study the role of consent and obedience, and "pillars of society" (military, police, judiciary, bureaucracy), and how to lure ordinary people away from them and towards the nonviolent movement. Next come strategy and tactics, especially "low-risk tactics", such as co-ordinated banging of metal pans at set times across a city--actions in which all can join, and which keep people in the movement even under harsh oppression.

They focus on communications (targeted and channelled appropriately). They are taught the importance of humour: decorating a barrel, say, with a dictator's face, encouraging passers-by to bash it, and leaving police with a tricky choice--do nothing and look weak, or confiscate the barrel and look foolish. They are shown how to deal with fear. Having identified the pillars of their particular nation, participants design plans to win them over. "In other words, we give them a fishing rod and teach them how to use it, but the rest is up to them." The funny thing, Popovic claims, "is that every workshop starts with at least one smart activist saying, 'Well guys, congratulations, we all know about Otpor...Maybe this worked in Serbia, but it will never work in our country.' That's how they begin, and we try to see that they finish day five with a clear idea of what may well work for civil mobilisation in their own society. And the best part is that they reach this answer themselves."

April 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


The third industrial revolution: The digitisation of manufacturing will transform the way goods are made--and change the politics of jobs too (The Economist, Apr 21st 2012)

A number of remarkable technologies are converging: clever software, novel materials, more dexterous robots, new processes (notably three-dimensional printing) and a whole range of web-based services. The factory of the past was based on cranking out zillions of identical products: Ford famously said that car-buyers could have any colour they liked, as long as it was black. But the cost of producing much smaller batches of a wider variety, with each product tailored precisely to each customer's whims, is falling. The factory of the future will focus on mass customisation--and may look more like those weavers' cottages than Ford's assembly line.

The old way of making things involved taking lots of parts and screwing or welding them together. Now a product can be designed on a computer and "printed" on a 3D printer, which creates a solid object by building up successive layers of material. The digital design can be tweaked with a few mouseclicks. The 3D printer can run unattended, and can make many things which are too complex for a traditional factory to handle. In time, these amazing machines may be able to make almost anything, anywhere--from your garage to an African village. [...]

Like all revolutions, this one will be disruptive. Digital technology has already rocked the media and retailing industries, just as cotton mills crushed hand looms and the Model T put farriers out of work. Many people will look at the factories of the future and shudder. They will not be full of grimy machines manned by men in oily overalls. Many will be squeaky clean--and almost deserted. Some carmakers already produce twice as many vehicles per employee as they did only a decade or so ago. Most jobs will not be on the factory floor but in the offices nearby, which will be full of designers, engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts, marketing staff and other professionals. 

Provided that we define boondoggling as a profession.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Memory As A Consumer Durable (Garett Jones, 4/26/12, The Atlantic)

[T]he idea of a durable is more important than any official definition: And memory, wholly intangible, is quite durable. 

People often shrink from driving to a distant, promising restaurant, flying to a new country, trying a new sport--it's a hassle, and the experience won't last that long. That's the wrong way to look at it. When you go bungee jumping, you're not buying a brief experience: You're buying a memory, one that might last even longer than a good pair of blue jeans. 

Psych research seems to bear this out: People love looking forward to vacations, they don't like the vacation that much while they're on it, and then they love the memories. Most of the joy--the utility in econospeak--happens when you're not having the experience. 

Just read a book and you get all the memories with none of the unpleasant experience of travel.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Fox News Poll: 45 percent approve of Obama, as 83 percent say country still in recession (Dana Blanton, April 25, 2012, FoxNews.com)

While 45 percent of American voters approve of the president's performance, a 51-percent majority disapproves, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday.  That's a bit of an improvement from two weeks ago when 42 percent approved and 51 percent disapproved (April 9-11).  

One reason the president's job approval suffers: 83 percent of voters think the country is still in a recession -- including 35 percent who think things could get worse.  That's little changed from a year ago, when 82 percent thought the country was still in a recession (with 38 percent saying things could get worse).  

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Pollution report: More Americans breathing easier (Les Christie, 4/25/12, CNNMoney)

In its annual State of the Air 2012 report, the organization said that between 2001 and 2010, ozone levels dropped 13%, year-round particle pollution declined 24% and short-term particle pollution 28% thanks to the Clean Air Act.

Particle pollution includes things like dust, metals, smoke, exhaust and acids, like nitrates and sulfates. Ozone, meanwhile, is created when a chemical or fossil fuel, like coal or gasoline, is partially burned and the unburned hydrocarbons, when combined with ultraviolet light, form a gas.

Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, which included the promotion of the use of natural gas and low sulfur fuel, have resulted in 23,000 fewer premature deaths in 2010, averted 1.7 million asthma attacks and prevented 4.1 million lost work days, according to The Environmental Protection Agency.

But pollution still takes a great toll on public health. More than 4 out of 10 Americans, 127 million people, live in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution, the American Lung Association said. The result: increased incidents of all sorts of health problems, especially asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease.

"We've been paying for this pollution for a long time," said Janice Nolen, the national policy advocate for the ALA.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Jimmy Carter: I'd be 'comfortable' with Mitt Romney (Will Rahn, 4/25/12, The Daily Caller)

"I'd rather have a Democrat but I would be comfortable," the former president told MSNBC in a segment aired Wednesday. "I think Romney has shown in the past, in his previous years as a moderate or progressive... that he was fairly competent as a governor and also running the Olympics as you know."

Carter went on to compliment Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, as "a good solid family man and so forth." And although he said Romney has taken some "extreme right-wing positions" in order to win the GOP primary, he suggested that the former Massachusetts governor is likely something of centrist at heart.

"What he'll do in the general election, what he'll do as president I think is different," Carter said.

That's all you want in a re-election election, someone who doesn't scare the children so you don't change it from a referendum on the incumbent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Theodore Roosevelt's Life-Saving Speech (Gilbert King, 4/25/12, Past Imperfect: Smithsonian)

Pushing through the crowd, Roosevelt made it to the car alongside his campaign advisers, stood on the floorboard and turned to acknowledge his admirers with a wave of his hat when Schrank pushed forward and raised his revolver. Already seated in the car, Albert H. Martin, Roosevelt's secretary and a former football player, caught a glimpse of metal in the air and leapt from the vehicle.

"Everything seemed to happen at once," Martin recalled. "There was a flash, the sound of a shot, and I was on the ground with the man. I threw one arm around his neck and held him fast.  At the same time I caught his gun hand with my free hand and wrenched the revolver from him."

Schrank strugged for a moment, "acting like a madman," Martin noted, until the crowd set upon the would-be assassin and began to beat him, amid cries of, "Lynch him...kill him!"  Martin managed to lift Schrank to his feet and hold him before Roosevelt.

"Don't hurt the poor creature," Roosevelt said, on his feet again and not yet aware that he'd been shot.

Martin and some police rescued Schrank from the angry crowd while Roosevelt and his advisers continued on, by automobile, to the auditorium.  On the way, an escort observed a bullet hole in Roosevelt's army overcoat, and Roosevelt touched it, finding blood on his fingertips. Despite efforts to persuade him to seek medical attention, Roosevelt was adamant that he speak to the people of Wisconsin, even if he died while doing so.

He took the podium to great cheering, then spoke softly to the thousands in attendance.  "Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet--there is where the bullet went through--and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best."

Roosevelt went on to speak of the importance of the Progressive movement.  He said he did not know the man who shot him, but that he was a coward and that the untruths printed in newspapers, on behalf of his opponents, had incited "weak and vicious minds" to acts of violence.

"Now, friends, I am not speaking for myself at all, I give you my word, I do not care a rap about being shot; not a rap.... Friends, every good citizen ought to do everything in his or her power to prevent the coming of the day when we shall see in this country two recognized creeds fighting one another, when we shall see the creed of the 'Havenots' arraigned against the creed of the 'Haves.' When that day comes then such incidents as this to-night will be commonplace in our history."

The crowd alternatively roared and pleaded with him to rest. To the side, Roosevelt's advisers tried to persuade him to cut his speech short. Roosevelt would have none of it.

"My friends are a little more nervous than I am," he said. "Don't you waste any sympathy on me. I have had an A-1 time in my life and I am having it now."

Roosevelt spoke for more than an hour. Then he was rushed to the Johnston Emergency Hospital, where six surgeons prepared him on an operating table. Roosevelt insisted they were taking the wound, between the collar bone and the lower rib, too seriously. After they proved unable to locate the bullet, he was transported to a Chicago hospital, where X-rays helped surgeons see that it had lodged where it couldn't do further damage. They chose not to remove it.
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April 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


'Gaia' scientist James Lovelock: I was 'alarmist' about climate change (Ian Johnston, 4/24/12,msnbc.com)

James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his "Gaia" theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being "alarmist" about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too.

Lovelock, 92, is writing a new book in which he will say climate change is still happening, but not as quickly as he once feared.

He previously painted some of the direst visions of the effects of climate change. In 2006, in an article in the U.K.'s Independent newspaper, he wrote that "before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable."
However, the professor admitted in a telephone interview with msnbc.com that he now thinks he had been "extrapolating too far." [...]

"The problem is we don't know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books - mine included - because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn't happened," Lovelock said.

"The climate is doing its usual tricks. There's nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now," he said.

"The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time... it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising -- carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that," he added.

He pointed to Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers" as other examples of "alarmist" forecasts of the future.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


As Supreme Court Takes Up Arizona Law, Romney Struggles to Distance Himself From Anti-Immigrant Activists (Matthew Jaffe, 4/25/12, ABC News)

No wonder then that, with the GOP nomination all but secured, Romney's campaign has tried to soften the rhetoric towards Latinos - and distance the ties to Kobach. Earlier this month a Romney spokesperson told Politico that Kobach was nothing more than "a supporter," a claim that called into question Kobach's standing with the campaign - and Romney's support for his policies. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


No End in Sight (James Surowiecki, APRIL 30, 2012, The New Yorker)

The talk in Washington these days is all about budget deficits, tax rates, and the "fiscal crisis" that supposedly looms in our near future. But this chatter has eclipsed a much more pressing crisis here and now: almost thirteen million Americans are still unemployed. Though the job market has shown some signs of life in recent months, the latest figures on new jobs and on unemployment-insurance claims have been decidedly unimpressive. We are stuck with an unemployment rate three points higher than the postwar average, and the percentage of working adult Americans is as low as it's been in almost thirty years. What's most troubling is that so much of this unemployment is long-term. Forty per cent of the unemployed have been without a job for six months or more--a much higher rate than in any recession since the Second World War--and the average length of unemployment is about forty weeks, a number that has changed very little since 2010. The economic recovery has now lasted nearly three years, but for millions of Americans it hasn't yet begun

Except, of course, that employment is higher than it has been after any other recession/depression in human history.

Civilian labor force participation rate

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


High Tax Rates Won't Slow Growth: We're not close to the top of the Laffer Curve. Raising tax rates is part of a sensible deficit reduction strategy. (PETER DIAMOND AND EMMANUEL SAEZ, 4/24/12, WSJ)

The Laffer Curve is used to illustrate the concept of taxable income "elasticity,"--i.e., that taxable income will change in response to a change in the rate of taxation. Top earners can, of course, move taxable income between years to subject them to lower tax rates, for example, by changing the timing of charitable donations and realized capital gains. And some can convert earned income into capital gains, and avoid higher taxes in other ways. But existing studies do not show much change in actual work being done.

According to our analysis of current tax rates and their elasticity, the revenue-maximizing top federal marginal income tax rate would be in or near the range of 50%-70% (taking into account that individuals face additional taxes from Medicare and state and local taxes). Thus we conclude that raising the top tax rate is very likely to result in revenue increases at least until we reach the 50% rate that held during the first Reagan administration, and possibly until the 70% rate of the 1970s. To reduce tax avoidance opportunities, tax rates on capital gains and dividends should increase along with the basic rate. Closing loopholes and stepping up enforcement would further limit tax avoidance and evasion.

But will raising top tax rates significantly lower economic growth? In the postwar U.S., higher top tax rates tend to go with higher economic growth--not lower. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis, GDP annual growth per capita (to adjust for population growth) averaged 1.68% between 1980 and 2010 when top tax rates were relatively low, while growth averaged 2.23% between 1950 and 1980 when top tax rates were at or above 70%.

...but why would we want to tax income in the first place?
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Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Immigrant finds joy of life in historic masonry work (Art Carey, 4/23/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Zoltan Kovacs is a big, strapping man -- 6-foot-4, 230 pounds -- with a body fit for his work. He is a stonemason. The other day, I watched him and a couple of helpers wrestle a 400-pound slab of rock into position atop a 16-foot chimney he rebuilt on a 19th-century house in Haverford.

Kovacs, 38, came to the United States from Hungary when he was 21. As a teenager, he was a slip of a lad. He was a distance runner who competed in marathons and triathlons. With his lanky body and long limbs, he was also an excellent swimmer. He attended an Olympic training school, and in 1990 when he was 16, he placed second in the freestyle in the Hungarian nationals.

He came to America because he was fascinated by the New World. He also had relatives here -- a great-uncle and a great-grandmother who lived in Philadelphia. Because of his interest in stonework, he was impressed by the beautifully built stone houses in Germantown, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill.

He had learned the craft in the old country, in the village of Gyor on the border between Austria and Hungary, in the traditional way -- by apprenticing himself to a master, in this case, his grandfather, Charles.

He began shadowing him when he was only 5, watching him closely, handing him tools. He was amazed by his grandfather's skill with a chisel, the way he could transform an inchoate chunk of stone into an ornate cornerstone or sculpt the features of a face.

This is the kind of craft more American boys should learn instead of going to college.  
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Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


A Tight Race: Despite catering to his base, Romney enters general-election mode in pretty good shape. (Charlie Cook, April 23, 2012, National Journal)
The Republican presidential nomination is essentially settled. A wave of polls, focus groups, and other survey research is taking the temperature of the race, with certain clear themes emerging.

Even though presumptive nominee Mitt Romney has spent the last year and a half almost exclusively focused on currying favor with his party's conservative base--quite often antagonizing other voters, including independents and swing voters--this race is very close. The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls shows a lead for President Obama of 3.1 percentage points, 47.6 percent to 44.5 percent. The Huffpost Pollster estimate is 2.2 percentage points, 47 percent to 44.8 percent.

In a separate and slightly older national survey of likely voters by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for the Democratic Corps/Women's Voices and Women's Vote Action Fund, taken March 29-April 4, Obama led by a single point, 48 percent to 47 percent. Presumably, as Romney shifts his messaging toward swing voters, other polls may begin to look like this one.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band On Mountain Stage (NPR, 4/23/12)

In celebrating 35 years together, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band kicks off this set with the dark grooves of "Blackbird Special," the lead track from its first album, My Feet Can't Fail Now. But the remainder of this set is drawn from the new Twenty Dozen -- including "Jook," which wasn't heard on the radio broadcast of this show.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:28 AM

April 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Moore's Law Lives Another Day (TOM SIMONITE, 4/24/12, Technology Review)

"[Gordon] Moore is my boss, and if your boss makes a law, then you'd better follow it," says Mark Bohr, who leads Intel's efforts to make advances in microchip design practical to manufacture. Moore's Law, of course, was first proposed by Bohr's boss in 1965, when Moore pointed out that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. Remarkably, the computer industry has maintained that pace ever since, training us to expect computers to become ever faster in the process.

After Monday's launch of Intel's newest line of processors, named Ivy Bridge, Moore's prediction is still looking sound. The chips are the first to become available from any company with features as small as 22 nanometers (the finest details on today's chips are 32 nanometers), allowing transistors to be smaller and packed more densely. Ivy Bridge chips offer 37 percent more processing speed than the previous generation of chips, and can match their performance while using just half the energy.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


The Romneys' Mexican History: Mitt Romney's father was born in a small Mormon enclave where family members still live, surrounded by rugged beauty and violent drug cartels (Héctor Tobar, May 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

John Hatch, my guide to the Mormon colonies, arrived the next morning to pick me up. It was Hatch who had returned my phone call to the Mormon Temple in Colonia Juárez: He volunteers at the temple and also runs an outfit called Gavilán Tours. We were to drive three hours from Ciudad Juárez to Colonia Juárez, where Hatch and his wife, Sandra, run an informal bed-and-breakfast in their home, catering to a dwindling stream of tourists drawn to Chihuahua for its history and natural enchantments.

"I'm fourth generation in the colonies," Hatch informed me. He can trace his roots to Mormon pioneers who traveled from Utah and Arizona to Mexico in 1890. He and Sandra have six children, all raised in the Mexican colonies and all now U.S. citizens, including one deployed with the Utah National Guard in Afghanistan. Hatch himself, however, has only Mexican citizenship.

His kids, he said, would rather live in Mexico but have been forced to live in the States for work. "No one wants to claim us," he told me. "We feel enough of a tie to either country that we feel the right to criticize either one--and to get our dander up if we hear someone criticize either one."

This state of feeling in between, I would soon learn, defines nearly every aspect of Mormon life in the old colonies. The settlers' descendants, numbering several hundred in all, keep alive a culture that's always been caught between Mexico and the United States, between the past and the present, between stability and crisis.

Hatch retired ten years ago after a long career as a teacher in Colonia Juárez at a private LDS academy where generations of Mexican Mormons in the colonies have learned in English. Among other subjects, he taught U.S. history. And as we left Ciudad Juárez behind, with a final, few scattered junkyards in our wake, he began to tell me about all the history embedded in the landscape surrounding us.

"See those mountains in the distance?" he asked as we sped past a sandy plain of dunes and mesquite shrubs. "That's the Sierra Madre." During the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa's troops followed those hills, Hatch said, on their way to raid Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916.

Villa once rode and hid in those same mountains as a notorious local bandit. He became one of the revolution's boldest generals, and attacked the United States as an act of vengeance for Woodrow Wilson's support of his rival, Venustiano Carranza.

The Mexican Revolution played a critical role in the history of the Mormon colonies. Were it not for that 1910 uprising and the years of war that followed, Mitt Romney might have been born in Mexico, and might be living there today raising apples and peaches, as many of his cousins do.

An especially vicious faction of revolutionaries arrived in the colonies in 1912, appropriating the settlers' cattle and looting their stores. The revolutionaries took one of the community's leaders to a cottonwood tree outside Colonia Juárez and threatened to execute him if he didn't deliver cash.

Many English-speaking families fled, never to return, including that of George Romney, then a boy of 5. In the States, George grew up primarily in the Salt Lake City area, attended college nearby, worked for Alcoa and became chairman of American Motors. He was elected governor of Michigan and served in President Richard Nixon's cabinet. Mitt Romney's mother, Utah-born Lenore LaFount Romney, was a former actress who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in Michigan in 1970.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Philips Reduces Dependence on Rare Earths for LEDs (ESTHER TANQUINTIC-MISA, April 24, 2012, IB Times)

Royal Philips Electronics has started working on a technology that will significantly reduce its dependence on rare earth minerals for creating its light-emitting diode (LED) lighting products. [...]

Royal Philips Electronics isn't the only one working on developing such kind of technology. Automakers Honda and Toyota have earlier announced developing alternative technologies that would transform their hybrid and electric vehicles less dependent on rare earths.

In December 2011, German parts supplier Continental AG announced the invention of an electric motor operating without permanent magnets. Auto company Renault has reportedly started adopting in two of its electric vehicles the new motor invention. German wind turbine manufacturer Enercon has also begun utilizing an electrical system to generate the necessary magnetic field required by its generators.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Attention Problems May Be Sleep-Related (KATE MURPHY, April 16, 2012, NY Times)

"No one is saying A.D.H.D. does not exist, but there's a strong feeling now that we need to rule out sleep issues first," said Dr. Merrill Wise, a pediatric neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at the Methodist Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center in Memphis.

The symptoms of sleep deprivation in children resemble those of A.D.H.D. While adults experience sleep deprivation as drowsiness and sluggishness, sleepless children often become wired, moody and obstinate; they may have trouble focusing, sitting still and getting along with peers.

The latest study suggesting a link between inadequate sleep and A.D.H.D. symptoms appeared last month in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers followed 11,000 British children for six years, starting when they were 6 months old. The children whose sleep was affected by breathing problems like snoring, mouth breathing or apnea were 40 percent to 100 percent more likely than normal breathers to develop behavioral problems resembling A.D.H.D.

Children at highest risk of developing A.D.H.D.-like behaviors had sleep-disordered breathing that persisted throughout the study but was most severe at age 2 1/2.

"Lack of sleep is an insult to a child's developing body and mind that can have a huge impact," said Karen Bonuck, the study's lead author and a professor of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "It's incredible that we don't screen for sleep problems the way we screen for vision and hearing problems."

Her research builds on earlier, smaller studies showing that children with nighttime breathing problems did better with cognitive and attention-directed tasks and had fewer behavioral issues after their adenoids and tonsils were removed. The children were significantly less likely than untreated children with sleep-disordered breathing to be given an A.D.H.D. diagnosis in the ensuing months and years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Shift Happens (David Weinberger, The Chronicle Review)

Kuhn's idea was slow to gestate. It began in 1947, when, as a graduate student in physics at Harvard, he was recruited by James B. Conant, the university's president, to teach a history-of-science course to humanities majors. In preparation, Kuhn was trying to understand how Aristotle could be such a brilliant natural scientist except when it came to understanding motion. Aristotle's idea that stones fall and fire rises because they're trying to get to their natural places seems like a simpleton's animism.

Then it became clear to Kuhn all at once. Ever since Newton, we in the West have thought movement changes an object's position in neutral space but does not change the object itself. For Aristotle, a change in position was a change in a quality of the object, and qualitative change tended toward an asymmetric actualization of potential: an acorn becomes an oak, but an oak never becomes an acorn. Motion likewise expressed a tendency for things to actualize their essence by moving to their proper place. With that, "another initially strange part of Aristotelian doctrine begins to fall into place," Kuhn wrote in The Road Since Structure.

From this, Kuhn learned several important lessons that surfaced in SSR 15 years later. First, scientific ideas occur within a context that enables them to make sense. Second, context is accepted for different sorts of reasons than are the hypotheses that emerge within it. Third, the idea of a new scientific context occurs roughly the way his own illumination of Aristotle's ideas did: all at once, an entire whole snapping into view the way a duck-rabbit illustration switches instantly from one view to another. [...]

Scientific revolutions, according to SSR, don't occur when an apple happens to find the head of a genius, or when enough facts have slowly painted a new picture. Rather, in yet another of Kuhn's inversions, new paradigms emerge to explain the accumulation of anomalies: findings that do not make sense within the current paradigm. For example, if your paradigm tells you that fire consists of the release of phlogiston embedded in flammable materials, then the fact that some metals gain weight when burned is an anomaly. When a new paradigm is conceived that makes sense of the anomalies, science is in for a revolutionary shift.

In short, SSR did a gestalt flip on just about every assumption about the who, how, and what of scientific progress.

SSR immediately kicked up a stir. In a review that appeared in 1964 in Philosophical Review, Dudley Shapere recognized that it "is bound to exert a very wide influence among philosophers and historians of science alike," although he thought the concept of paradigms was overly broadly described, and he homed in on one of the issues that was to dog Kuhn: Is progress possible? Mary Hesse began her 1963 review in the journal Isis with "This is an important book," and continued by saying that it transforms "our whole image of science" and will be "shocking to the orthodox philosophy of science." Charles Gillispie's 1962 review in Science began, "This is a very bold venture, this essay ... " and concluded with generous praise for the work as an initial provocation, for Kuhn positioned SSR as a sketch to be followed by a weightier tome, which he never delivered.

In the five decades that have followed, the importance of SSR has rarely been disputed. We seem to have accepted that Kuhn's work wreaked severe damage on the foundations of traditional philosophy of science. But there has been nothing like similar unanimity about the positive ideas the book attempted to establish.

By far the most consistently attacked idea was what Kuhn referred to as incommensurability, a term taken from geometry, where it refers to the lack of a shared measurement. In SSR it means something like the inability to understand one paradigm from within another. In the book, Kuhn borders on putting incommensurability in its strongest imaginable form: A new paradigm causes scientists to "see the world of their researcher-engagement differently. In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world." Since that line does not advance his argument, Kuhn may just have been sticking his thumb further into the eye of the logical-empiricist book series that SSR was published as part of (at the behest of the best-known positivist, Rudolf Carnap, no less).

To overstate it: The scientists hated incommensurability because it seemed to imply that science makes no real progress, the philosophers hated it because it seemed to imply that there is no truth, and the positivists hated it because it seemed to imply that science is based on nonrational decisions.

...are the ones left hysterically battling to prop up a dying paradigm in its final days, like the Darwinists these days.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Quinn wants public employees to pay more, work longer (Ray Long, Monique Garcia and Alissa Groeninger, 4/21/12, Chicago Tribune)

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to fix Illinois' debt-ridden public pension system by getting government employees to work longer, pay more toward their retirement and accept less in benefits.

The attempt to wipe out the $83 billion pension shortfall drew immediate criticism from organized labor and qualified praise from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. [...]

Quinn called for employees to pay 3 percent more and to work until 67 instead of 65 or even earlier in some cases. The governor also would reduce yearly cost-of-living increases for retirees to 3 percent or half of the consumer price index, whichever is less. Pension calculations would be based on simple interest rather than compound interest, the more costly method now in place. Cost-of-living adjustments also would start at either age 67 or five years after retirement, whichever is earlier.

In addition, Quinn's plan would seek to halt some of the pension windfalls for people who aren't even in state government but get into state retirement systems. Public pensions would be limited to public sector employment. That came as a nod to pension abuses uncovered by the Tribune that showed how union leaders managed to count time in their jobs as union officials.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Earth Day's dark side: Guardians of Earth, persecutors of humankind (Robert Zubrin, April 20, 2012,  The Washington Times)

The seminal scriptures of modern-day environmentalism were Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," Paul R. Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" and the publications of the Club of Rome. While stylistically quite different, these books all served to rally the public around a core anti-human philosophy. As the Club of Rome put it, "The Earth has cancer, and the cancer is man." Such misanthropic views could only have the most horrific consequences.

Some of the worst atrocities can be laid at the feet of Mr. Ehrlich and his co-thinkers who argued - in direct contradiction to historical fact - that human well-being is inversely proportional to human numbers. As a result of their agitation, U.S. foreign aid and World Bank loans to Third World countries were made contingent upon those nations implementing population-control programs. In consequence, over the past four decades, in scores of countries spanning the globe from India to Peru, tens of millions of women have been rounded up and subjected to involuntary sterilizations or abortions, often under very unsafe conditions, with innumerable victims suffering severe health effects or dying afterward.

Mr. Ehrlich also called for the United States to create a Bureau of Population and Environment, which would have the power to issue or deny permits to Americans to have children. While rejected here, this idea was adopted in China. Thus was born China's infamous "one-child policy," which has involved not only hundreds of millions of involuntary abortions and forced sterilizations, but infanticide and the killing of "illegal children" on a mass scale.

The pesticide DDT was first employed by Allied forces to save millions of typhus-ravaged victims of Axis tyranny, and after World War II, it was employed to wipe out malaria in the American South, Southern Europe and much of South Asia and Latin America. According to the National Academy of Sciences, by 1970, those campaigns had saved more than 500 million lives.

No matter. Using Carson's "Silent Spring," which falsely argued that DDT was endangering bird populations (in fact, it was protecting them from insect-born diseases) a massive propaganda campaign was launched to ban DDT. As a result, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did so in 1971. Subsequently, the U.S. Agency for International Development adopted regulations preventing it from funding international projects that used the vital pesticide. Together with similar enactments in Europe, this effectively banned the use of DDT in many Third World countries. By some estimates, the malaria death toll in Africa alone resulting from those restrictions has exceeded 100 million people.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Cheap Fracked Gas Could Help Americans Keep on Truckin': Companies and researchers are working on infrastructure and technologies to help bring the nation's growing stock of natural gas to fuel tanks, including those of long-haul vehicles (David Biello, April 23, 2012, Scientific American)

A different kind of truck stop is coming soon to Atlanta. Greg Roche, vice president for infrastructure at Clean Energy Fuels, is presently scouting locations to build one of the California-based company's natural gas fueling stations for long-haul trucks by the end of this year. With fracking techniques freeing more and more natural gas in the U.S., the alternative fuel is suddenly much cheaper than those made from petroleum.

"A trucker can save one third of his energy spend by switching to natural gas," Roche notes, thanks to the historically low prices for the gaseous fuel occasioned by the boom in U.S. shale gas development via hydraulic fracturing. "It's also good for the environment because it's the cleanest fuel available for big-rig trucks."

April 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Obama's campaign whisperer (Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin, April 23, 2012, Politico)

Despite the recent shift, Obama's campaign is likely to pound away on three distinct Romney-cores: No Core, Conservative Core and Bain Core, leveraging Romney's years at Bain Capital to make the case that he's out of touch and deaf to the concerns of working people.

It's not like senior Obama officials haven't been hammering Romney for his increasingly conservative positions on immigration or women's reproductive rights already: Stephanie Cutter, one of the party's most experienced messaging operatives, oversees entire units of Obama's Chicago-based reelection campaign whose sole job is to do just that.

And Axelrod, for one, is still taking to Twitter to gleefully remind his 81,000 followers of Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom's now-infamous claim that the Boston-based campaign would shake the "Etch-a-Sketch" after putting away Rick Santorum.

"Etch-a-Sketch moment?" Axelrod tweeted on April 17. "After telling donors he's "doomed" unless he picks up with Latinos, Mitt puts kibosh on Kobach," a reference to POLITICO story reporting that a Romney spokeswoman had distanced the campaign from controversial immigration adviser Kris Kobach.

That was a day after a top West Winger went the other way during a briefing with national political reporters, unexpectedly rejecting the entire empty-core storyline and arguing that the real Romney was the 2012 conservative, and not the moderate, pro-choice Romney of the 1990s.

The aide's argument -- which can't be recounted here because of the strict no-quotes, no names ground rules the White House imposes on such sessions -- set off alarms among the White House press corps, political cadaver dogs paid to sniff nearly imperceptible changes in tone and language. Reporters, who can be quoted under the rules, harrumphed.

"He has a core now! You said he didn't have a core -- are you saying he has a core now?" asked an incredulous TV network correspondent.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Light bulb with 20-year life unveiled in US on Earth Day (AAP, April 23, 2012)

A PRIZE-WINNING, super-energy-saving LED bulb from Dutch electronics giant Philips said to last over 20 years went on sale Sunday to coincide with Earth Day.

The bulb that won the US Department of Energy's "Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize'' was available from retailers for $50 ($A48), down from an initial $60 price tag. The company said it was planning discounts to bring the cost down to as little as $25.

The 10-watt LED bulb (light-emitting diode) was deemed an efficient alternative to the standard 60-watt incandescent bulb, and rated to last 30,000 hours - when used four hours a day, that translates to a more than two-decade life span, according to the company.

For consumers attentive to cost, Philips said the price tag was easily offset by energy savings of $165 over its lifetime.

The new bulb, which gives off 940 lumens, a soft white light is: "83 per cent more energy efficient than the standard 60-watt incandescent,'' said Philips' North America executive Ed Crawford in announcing upcoming rebates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM



CowPots™ are simply the very best seed starting pots for your plants! You've probably seen them on television, having been featured on the Discovery Channel's popular series "Dirty Jobs", on CNN, and a variety of national and local television shows.

Created by two ingenious dairy farmers, CowPots are a revolutionary seed starting pot made with 100% renewable composted cow manure. CowPots are manure-fiber based seed starter pots, which allow for unrestricted root growth creating stronger, healthier plants. These earth-friendly "pots you plant" are an exciting high-performing alternative to plastic and peat pots.

The CowPots manufacturing process removes all weeds, pathogens and odor. All that's left is the natural fiber and goodness of manure: the perfectly plantable seed starting pot!

CowPots are available in the sizes and quantities you need. Commercial growers can purchase wholesale amounts and retailers sell twelve packs of 3" or 4" CowPots or six cell flats with three flats per package in 3" CowPots. They are also available in loose bulk 5" square and round pots.

Come explore our website and find out why CowPots are the perfect solution for all of your seed starting needs!

The good folks at CowPots sent us a case of them last spring and we used them extensively for our raised bed garden.  We started the plantings in the basement in the pots and then transferred them--pot and all--to the garden.  Just that convenience would make them worthwhile, but the plants really thrived all Summer in addition.  

The final test for me is an acorn I'm trying to coax into an oak.  I had it in a smaller pot to get it started, then transferred it to a bigger one and put it out in the yard in the Fall.  The little guy's struggling right now, but one suspects that has more to do with a NH winter than anything else.  But we do transplant a lot of trees and the bigger pots are convenient and seem to give them a head start in our not overly growth-friendly soil.  

Well worth the money and available at Amazon.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM

April 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Lakers' World Peace ejected for elbowing Harden (The Associated Press, 4/22/12)

 Lakers forward Metta World Peace has been ejected for elbowing Oklahoma City's James Harden in the head.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Charles Colson, Nixon's 'dirty tricks' man, dies at 80 (Michael Dobbs, 4/22/12, Washington Post)

Mr. Colson's reputation as a "dirty tricks artist" overshadowed his achievements as a darkly brilliant political strategist. He helped lay the groundwork for the Nixon landslide of November 1972 by appealing to disgruntled Democrats and blue-collar minority voters.

A self-described "hatchet man" for Nixon, Mr. Colson compiled the notorious "enemies list" of politicians, journalists and activists perceived as threats to the White House. And most fatefully, he helped orchestrate illegal activities to discredit former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg, who was suspected of leaking a top-secret history of the Vietnam War to the New York Times and The Washington Post.

It was the targeting of Ellsberg -- rather than Mr. Colson's peripheral involvement in the growing Watergate break-in scandal -- that eventually led to his conviction for obstruction of justice. In the midst of this crisis, Mr. Colson said he underwent a profound religious transformation in August 1973.

Acting against the advice of his lawyers, Mr. Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a step that he depicted as "a price I had to pay to complete the shedding of my old life and to be free to live the new."

Released on parole in January 1975, after seven months in a minimum-security prison, Mr. Colson became a leading voice in the evangelical movement and an advocate for prison reform.

The need for such work, he said, was drawn from what he called his frightening experience in confinement. Prison, he said, was filled with embittered prisoners who contemplated escape and revenge at every turn.

"He transferred his huge drive, intellect and maniacal energy from the service of Richard Nixon to the service of Jesus Christ," said his biographer, Jonathan Aitken, a former British government minister who endured a similar journey of political disgrace and personal redemption after a 1999 conviction for perjury.

Mr. Colson's autobiography, "Born Again," first published in 1976, sold millions of copies over the years. In 1993, he was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize, worth more than $1 million, which is given each year to the person who has done the most to advance the cause of religion.

Outwardly, Mr. Colson remained recognizably the same person before and after his conversion. Even toward the end of his life, he retained the same amused expression in his heavily wrinkled face. [....]

Mr. Colson attributed his guilty plea to his conversion to evangelical Christianity on the night of Aug. 12, 1973, by a close friend, Thomas L. Phillips, then-chairman of the defense contractor Raytheon, and the powerful influence of a book by C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity."

Mr. Colson said another turning point in his faith was a probing interview in May 1974 conducted by Mike Wallace of the CBS News program "60 Minutes." Wallace asked about the "morality" of working for a White House engaged in intimidation and smear campaigns and asked whether Mr. Colson was truly living up his Christian beliefs.

Mr. Colson later described feeling gradually "stripped and broken" of his old combative habits and decided not to fight the criminal charges any longer, despite urging by his family to beat the lawsuit and return to a "normal" life.

"Hubris became the mark of the Nixon man because hubris was the quality Nixon admired most," Mr. Colson wrote in "Born Again." He added that he "was willing at times to blink at certain ethical standards" because " 'Chuck will get it done' was the phrase I so loved to hear in the White House."

News of his rebirth was greeted with skepticism and even hilarity by many columnists, including humorist Art Buchwald, who imagined a prayer session between Mr. Colson and the grandmother he once vowed to run over in the process of helping Nixon.

"Shall we kneel together?" Mr. Colson asked.

"Not me," his grandmother replied. "I haven't been able to kneel since you screamed at me, 'Four more years,' and then put your Oldsmobile into drive."

According to Aitken, doubts about the sincerity of Mr. Colson's conversion were put to rest by his subsequent actions on behalf of prisoners around the world. The Prison Fellowship Ministries founded by Mr. Colson in the United States in 1976 grew into a worldwide movement with branches in more than 110 different countries. It is now based in the Loudoun County community of Lansdowne.

"Look at the incredible good he has done," Aitken said. "He completely changed the face of faith-based caring for prisoners and offenders, not just in America but across the world."

In addition to befriending prisoners and converting them to Christianity, Mr. Colson established a rehabilitation program that aimed to cut the recidivism rate. He publicly opposed the death penalty and called for alternatives to incarceration, particularly for nonviolent offenders, who make up a significant portion of the prison population.

Leading Republican politicians including President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona cited Mr. Colson's work with prisoners as evidence that faith-based initiatives can help to solve America's most intractable problems.

Bush invited Mr. Colson to the White House in June 2003 to present the results of a scientific study by a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Byron Johnson, that concluded that participants in Prison Fellowship programs were much less likely to return to prison than other former inmates.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Man On A Wire: Joe Manchin's Two-Step Alienates Dems And Fails To Convince Republicans (BRIAN BEUTLER, APRIL 20, 2012, TPM)

Sen. Joe Manchin's may think running for re-election as a Democrat while remaining uncommitted to President Obama will buy him cover with ... somebody. But it's not with Republicans.

"What a difference one Democratic Senator's upcoming re-election and three years of failed economic policies by the Democrats makes," emails Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement. "But no amount of election-year rhetoric from Senator Manchin will cause voters in West Virginia to forget that three years ago he unabashedly supported President Obama, while predicting great things for West Virginia under his Administration. Instead of trying to put distance between he and the President, Senator Manchin should be more focused on a simple, three word message to his constituents - 'I am sorry.'"

Sen. Lieberman declines to endorse in presidential race (Mike Lillis, 04/22/12, The Hill)

Lieberman, who became an Independent after losing the Democratic primary race in 2006, still caucuses with the Democrats, but said he won't put his weight behind either President Obama or Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee.

"This year when it comes to the presidential election, I'm just gonna do what most Americans do: go into the voting booth on election day, and in the privacy of the booth, cast my vote," Lieberman said during an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Monumental Egos : "Starchitects" like Frank Gehry do not build for people -- they build to shock. (Roger Scruton, April 2012, American Spectator)

Gehry belongs to a small and exclusive club of "starchitects," who specialize in designing buildings that stand out from their surroundings, so as to shock the passerby and become causes célèbres. They thrive on controversy, since it enables them to posture as original artists in a world of ignorant philistines. And their contempt for ordinary opinion is amplified by all attempts to prevent them from achieving their primary purpose, which is to scatter our cities with blemishes that bear their unmistakable trademark. Most of these starchitects--Daniel Libeskind, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas--have equipped themselves with a store of pretentious gobbledygook, with which to explain their genius to those who are otherwise unable to perceive it. And when people are spending public money they will be easily influenced by gobbledygook that flatters them into believing that they are spending it on some original and world-changing masterpiece.

The most important feature of a Gehry "masterpiece," like the absurdly costly Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, is that it "challenges" the surrounding order. Gehry does not build for people, but sculpts a space for his own expressive ends. You see this clearly in his Stata Center at MIT, a building that takes the old ideas of wall and window and holds them up to ridicule, to create a kind of collapsed caricature of a building, which is already springing leaks and cracking at the joints. In a striking monograph, Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber, former president of Boston University, details all the faults of the building, including its enormous cost overrun, and the expense of maintaining it.

But by far the most telling criticism is one that can be leveled at all the starchitects, who adopt the same a priori approach to construction as Gehry, and also the same self-image of themselves as revolutionary geniuses. Gehry decided that, since the Stata building was to house the high-powered researchers that MIT collects, and bring them together in a single space, he should design an interior that encouraged them to interact, to share their ideas, to amplify each other's creativity by throwing concepts like footballs from room to room. So he got rid of inner walls, made all boundaries transparent, opened everything out in spaces that are made stark and bleak by the childish supermarket colors that shout from the open corridors.

This kind of a priori thinking, by an architect who has never troubled to observe another member of his species, recalls Le Corbusier's plan for a hospital in Venice, in which there would be no windows, and all doors would open inward, since this would further the utter tranquility from which (according to the architect) convalescence springs. In fact researchers need walls, privacy, solitude if they are ever to produce the ideas that they can then bounce off their colleagues, just as invalids need light, air, and a view of the life outside, if ever they are to be motivated to get better. The Stata Center therefore fulfils no function as well as its primary one, which is to draw attention to the person who created it.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Johnny Winter On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, April 18, 2012)

Johnny Winter makes his first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of West Virginia University in Morgantown. Arguably the first artist to drag electric blues kicking and screaming into the land of hard rock, Winter remains one of the most respected guitarists alive, representing the clear link between British blues-rock and Americana.

His latest album, Roots, is a collaborative effort, featuring contributions from fellow heavyweights such as Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Vince Gill
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Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Iran And India: A Tangled Web Of Oil And Geopolitics (PALASH R. GHOSH, April 21, 2012, IB Times)

In the 21st century, the relations between these two great nations must be framed along the lines of geo-politics and oil, rather than art and culture.

Although India was greatly worried by the 1979 revolution in Iran that toppled the Shah and established an Islamic state, New Delhi and Teheran have generally enjoyed good relations. That tie became stronger with India's insatiable appetite for energy in tandem with western sanctions that have pressured Iran to find customers for its crucial oil exports.

International Business Times spoke to an expert on Mideast and South Asian affairs to discuss the tangled web of Iran-India relations.

Dilshod Achilov is a professor of political science at East Tennessee State University at Johnson City, Tenn.

IB TIMES: Due to western sanctions, Iran is desperate to sell its oil to the two big Asian customers, India and China --- and at a significant discount. Generally speaking, how have Iran and India gotten along since the 1979 Islamic Revolution?

ACHILOV: The bilateral relations between India and Iran go back for centuries. However, after the Iranian revolution, the dynamics of cooperation changed to a certain degree. Even thought the 1979 revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan complicated the relations between Tehran and New Delhi, strategic and regional cooperation between two states continued to exist, but in a more wary and cautious fashion.

The newly formed theocratic Iranian regime was not warmly received by India at first. In particular, India's main concern was a potential strong alliance that could emerge between Iran and Pakistan. However, given the strong anti-American sentiments in the post-1979 Iran, Pakistan's close relations with the U.S. was a complicating aspect (i.e., a major roadblock) for future Iran-Pakistani cooperation.

...who was worried about the Persian Shi'ites allying with the Sunni tribes of Pakistan?  It is Pakistan, in large part, that makes India, the US and Iran natural allies. That's where the war ends.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


China's Achilles heel: A comparison with America reveals a deep flaw in China's model of growth (The Economist, Apr 21st 2012)

[V]ery low fertility rates still prevail, especially in the richest parts of the country. Shanghai reported fertility of just 0.6 in 2010--probably the lowest level anywhere in the world. According to the UN's population division, the nationwide fertility rate will continue to decline, reaching 1.51 in 2015-20. In contrast, America's fertility rate is 2.08 and rising.

The difference between 1.56 and 2.08 does not sound large. But over the long term it has a huge impact on society. Between now and 2050 China's population will fall slightly, from 1.34 billion in 2010 to just under 1.3 billion in 2050. This assumes that fertility starts to recover. If it stays low, the population will dip below 1 billion by 2060. In contrast, America's population is set to rise by 30% in the next 40 years. China will hit its peak population in 2026. No one knows when America will hit its population peak.

The differences between the two countries are even more striking if you look at their average ages. In 1980 China's median (the age at which half the population is younger, half older) was 22. That is characteristic of a young developing country. It is now 34.5, more like a rich country and not very different from America's, which is 37. But China is ageing at an unprecedented pace. Because fewer children are being born as larger generations of adults are getting older, its median age will rise to 49 by 2050, nearly nine years more than America at that point. Some cities will be older still. The Shanghai Population and Family Planning Committee says that more than a third of the city's population will be over 60 by 2020.

This trend will have profound financial and social consequences. Most obviously, it means China will have a bulge of pensioners before it has developed the means of looking after them. Unlike the rest of the developed world, China will grow old before it gets rich. Currently, 8.2% of China's total population is over 65. The equivalent figure in America is 13%. By 2050, China's share will be 26%, higher than in America.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


'Protestant Ethic' 2.0: The New Ways Religion Is Driving Economic Outperformance (Joel Kotkin, 4/05/12, Forbes)

 In countries with a substantial historical Protestant influence such as Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands continue to outperform economic the heavily Catholic nations like Italy, Ireland and Spain, according to a recent European study. The difference, they speculate, may be in Protestant traditions of self-help, frugality and emphasis on education. None of this, of course, would have been surprising to Max Weber.

Religious people also tend to live longer and suffer less disabilities with old age, as author Murray notes. Researchers at Harvard, looking at dozens of countries over the past 40 years, demonstrated that religion reinforces the patterns of personal virtue, social trust and willingness to defer gratification long associated with business success.

But perhaps the most important difference over time may be the impact of religion on family formation, with weighty fiscal implications. In virtually every part of the world, religious people tend to have more children than those who are unaffiliated. In Europe, this often means Islamic families as opposed to increasingly post-Christian natives. Decline in religious affiliation -- not just Christian but also Buddhist and Confucian -- seems to correlate with the perilously low birthrates in both Europe and many East Asian countries.

Singapore-based pastor Andrew Ong sees a direct connection between low birthrates and weakened religious ties in advanced Asian countries. As religious ideas about the primacy of family fade, including those rooted in Confucianism, they are generally supplanted by more materialist, individualistic values. "People don't value family like they used to," he suggests. "The values are not there. The old values suggested that you grow up. The media today encourages people not to grow up and take responsibility. They don't want to stop being cool. When you have kids, you usually are less cool."

Religious people, prepared to be seen as uncool, are more likely to seek to produce more offspring. In the United States 47% of people who attend church regularly see the ideal family size as three or more children compared to barely one quarter of the less observant. Mormons have many more children than non-Mormons; observant Jews more than secular. "Faith," the demographer Phil Longman concludes, "is increasingly necessary as a motive to have children."

This pattern is reflected in the geography of childbearing. Where churches are closing down, most particularly in core urban areas such as Boston or Manhattan, as well as their metropolitan regions, singletons and childless couples are increasing. In more religiously oriented metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, the propensity to have children is 15% to nearly 30% higher (as measured by the number of children under the age of 5 per woman of child bearing age- 15-49).

In the future, many high-income societies, whether in East Asia, Europe or North America, may find that religious people's fecundity is a necessary counterforce to rapid aging and eventual depopulation of the more secular population . The increasingly perilous shape of public finance in almost all advanced countries -- largely the result of rapid aging and diminished workforces -- can be ascribed at least in part to secularization's role in falling birthrates.

There may be other positive fiscal effects of religiosity. Religious people donate on average far more to charities than their secular counterparts, including those unaffiliated with a religion. Nearly 15% of the religious volunteer every week compared to just 10% among the secular.

Social networks, much celebrated among the single, might provide people with voices, but religious organizations actually do something about meeting real human needs. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The elephant on the court: Predicting performance in basketball (DARYL MOREY, 4/20/12, The Economist)

Take, say, Josh Slater, a guard from Lipscomb University who is the same height (six feet, three inches or 1.91 metres) as Mr Lin. Mr Slater averaged 17 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals per game--a dead ringer for Mr Lin's 16 points, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals per game. Just as Mr Lin put up 30 points, nine rebounds and three assists against Connecticut, a powerhouse team, Mr Slater posted 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists versus North Carolina, another elite basketball school. Was Mr Slater, and all the other college players like him, unjustly passed over as well? Could your favourite NBA team go on a magical playoff run by inserting him in their starting lineup?

Of course not, counter advocates of the traditionalist camp. Mr Lin and Mr Slater might look the same in a spreadsheet, but they couldn't look more different on the court. All one had to do, they claim, was watch Mr Lin play--and shame on those teams like the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and my own Houston Rockets, who had him in their organisation and failed to recognise his brilliance.

Neither argument is completely wrong. Maybe Mr Slater could succeed in the NBA, and maybe Mr Lin should have been given playing time sooner. But the structure of professional basketball makes it impossible for teams to give a chance to every prospect who shows some potential.

For example, Major League Baseball (MLB) drafts some 1,500 players a year. Once selected, they must work their way up four levels of minor-league teams before joining the parent club. This gives MLB organisations the incentives of salmon, which spawn scores of young far upriver in hopes that a handful make the treacherous journey all the way back to sea. Each team can invest in hundreds of prospects and see which pan out, needing only a few winners that "hit it big" to make up for all the failures.

In contrast, NBA teams cannot hold the rights to anyone beyond the 15 players on their active roster. That makes them more like elephant mothers, who give birth to very few babies and have to gestate them for almost two years. With limited investment opportunities, teams are forced to choose only the players with the greatest likelihood of success, and then give them a long-term contract and a potential path to significant playing time. And no one could have called Mr Lin a high-probability prospect. In the end, he only got his break after he had polished his game for a year in the NBA Development League ("D-League"), basketball's minor league, and when a series of injuries on the Knicks created an opening at his position.

But they don't choose players likely to succeed, as a Josh Slater was.  They consistently choose physically talented players over skilled players.  Then they have to keep them on the team and they pay them so much money that you can't convince them they have anything to learn.  The result is the wretched iteration of the game we're subjected to these days.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


The Next Generation of Reforms in India (Fault Lines, 4/14/12)

For a large vibrant economy like India's, there is always hope. We still have tools to tackle our problems. But we must exercise those tools with vigor and a sense of urgency. I know that sense of urgency is shared within the government, but urgency has to translate to persuasion and action. We need a common minimum program across all sensible political parties to ensure that we stabilize the economy and foreign investor perceptions quickly.

The reality is that the size of India, at 1.2 billion people, is a hindrance rather than a help.  It needs to devolve into its constituent parts, none of which should have as many as 100 million citizens if they are to be successful.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM

Magic Slim And The Teardrops On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, 4/18/12)

The '60s Chicago blues sound shines in "Part Time Love," while Slim's roots are on full display in "Going to Mississippi." Magic Slim is backed here by his own trio The Teardrops: the great Jon McDonald on rhythm guitar, Brian Jones on bass and Andre Howard on drums. They're followed by Mountain Stage band pianist Bob Thompson and his take on the African-American spiritual "Wade in the Water."

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April 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


China Military Paper Warns of Armed Confrontation Over Seas (Reuters, 4/21/12)

China's top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea. [...]

"Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force," said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Killing the Dream: Why spurn young immigrants who have done no wrong? (Steve Chapman, April 21, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

They sound like a group custom-built and poll-tested to appeal to Republicans: hardworking youngsters with a powerful attachment to America, upright habits and a thirst to join the Army or enroll at State U. But the potential beneficiaries of the Dream Act are getting no love from the GOP.

That's because they are illegal immigrants -- born abroad and brought here as children by parents desperate for a better life. Why they evoke scorn is a mystery. The parents may be faulted for overlooking our laws, but not their offspring, who had no say in the matter.

Many of the kids are as American as Miranda Lambert in every respect but place of birth: They speak English, play football and softball, post photos on Facebook and know the menu at McDonald's.

Some don't even realize they're not U.S. citizens until they apply for a driver's license or a Social Security card. At that point they discover they are subject to summary deportation to a country they may not even remember.

They learn that their only future in this country is no future at all: living in the shadows, dodging the law and missing out on opportunities the native-born take for granted. It's a life sentence of exile, internal or external.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


It was satire: a review of Caligula: A Biography by Aloys Winterling, translated by Deborah Lucas Scheider, Glenn Most and Paul Psoinos (Mary Beard, London Review of Books)

King Canute has had a raw deal from history. He took his throne down to the beach in order to show his servile courtiers that not even a king could control the waves (that was in God's power alone). But, ironically, he is now most often remembered as the silly old duffer who got soaked on the seashore because he thought he could master the tides. When, for example, Ryan Giggs tried last year to use a super-injunction to stop the swell of news about his private life, he was hailed as 'the King Canute of football'.

For Aloys Winterling, the Emperor Caligula offers another case of the Canute problem. He has generally gone down in history as a mad megalomaniac: so mad that he gave his favourite horse a palace, lavish purple clothing, a retinue of servants, and even had plans to appoint it to the consulship, the highest political office below the emperor himself. In fact (so Winterling argues) his extravagant treatment of the animal was a pointed joke. Caligula was satirising the aims and ambitions of the Roman aristocracy: in their pursuit of luxury and empty honours, they appeared no less silly than the horse. [...]

His main question is: what went wrong? Whatever the murky circumstances of the succession, it appears that the reign started reasonably well, but quickly degenerated first to a stand-off between emperor and Senate, and before long to murder. Why? Winterling's answer is partly to be found in that story of Caligula's favourite horse, and in the serious point he believes the emperor was trying to make.

The focus of his book is the dissimulation and hypocrisy that lay at the heart of Roman imperial politics, and had in a sense been the foundation of the governmental system established by Augustus. In making one-man rule work successfully at Rome, after almost half a millennium of (more or less) democracy, and establishing a 'workable entente' between the old aristocracy and the new autocracy, Augustus resorted to a game of smoke and mirrors in which everyone, it seems, was play-acting. 'The senators had to act as if they still possessed a degree of power that they no longer had, while the emperor had to exercise his power in such a way as to dissemble his possession of it.' As others too have recently emphasised (in particular Shadi Bartsch in Actors in the Audience), the politics of the empire were founded on double-speak: no one said exactly what they meant, or meant exactly what they said. It is no surprise that, on his deathbed, Augustus is supposed to have quoted a line, in Greek, from a comic drama, comparing his own role to an actor's: 'If I've played my part well, clap your hands - and send me off the stage with applause.'

On Winterling's model, successful emperors after Augustus were those who managed to exploit the double-speak, and turn it to their advantage; the unsuccessful were those who fought against it. Caligula's predecessor, Tiberius, 'never grew into' the role. He 'took it all at face value', refused to master the game of 'ambiguous communication', and in the process repeatedly revealed the autocratic reality of imperial rule underneath the carefully constructed democratic veneer of the Augustan system. So, for example, according to the Augustan principles, stable relations between Senate and emperor demanded that the Senate continue to debate issues apparently freely - but always in full knowledge of the outcome desired by the emperor. Tiberius, however, insisted that the Senate decide important issues of policy without making clear to them what his own view was. He then became angry 'when they reached decisions counter to his wishes'. Ultimately, relations between the emperor and the traditional governing class broke down so badly that Tiberius spent the last decade of his reign on the island of Capri, governing Rome from a distance and through a series of more or less vicious henchmen.

Caligula also resisted imperial double-speak, but - according to Winterling - in a subtly different way. He tried to fight the ambiguity of political communication that had become the norm in the imperial regime and to counter not only its insincere flattery and apparent emptiness, but also its systematic corruption of meaning. That is the message which underlies the story about the man who had vowed his own life if Caligula recovered from his illness. The intention of this public vow, we must assume, was to draw attention to the man's deep loyalty to the emperor, and so attract a handsome reward for his devotion; it was no indication of the man's real readiness to die. 'The explicit wish - for the emperor's recovery - did not match the unstated wish: to be rewarded for their flattery.' By taking it at face value, Caligula is 'outing' the insincerity, and showing that he would 'abjure this form of communication'.

The campaign against imperial double-speak turned out to have disastrous consequences. 
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Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


New District Maps Toughen Democrats' Race for House (JENNIFER STEINHAUER, 4/20/12, NY Times)

Congressional redistricting, a decennial process that generally allows the party in legislative power in each state to draw new lines, has not created many opportunities for new seats for Republicans, as the party's leaders once expected. But it has forced multiple House Democrats, viewing their odds in new districts as slim, into retirement. Many of those districts are now either in play or solidly Republican, making the climb for Democrats all that more onerous.

On paper, Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to take back House control. In reality, the number is closer to 30 or even 35, since the party is likely not only to lose the seats of retiring Democrats in North Carolina, but also to face tougher odds in Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois and perhaps in Arizona, in the district once served by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Over all, 15 Democrats have announced their retirements from the House, compared with 10 Republicans. Seven Democrats and eight Republicans have also opted to run for other offices. Among the lot, Republicans leave far more safe seats behind than their Democratic counterparts.

Of the seats where members are not seeking re-election, just two -- one in Illinois and the other in California -- have the potential to flip from Republican to Democrat, said David Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, while at least six seats held by Democrats are at risk of falling to Republicans, thanks to new lines. Among those are the North Carolina seats being vacated by Representatives Heath Shuler and Brad Miller.

"Democrats are at a disadvantage because of these retirements," Mr. Wasserman said. "Those retirements have hamstrung their requirements of picking up the 25 seats they need."

Democrats' only hope was that the GOP would nominate a whackdoodle for president.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Cleaning Your Streets With The Power Of Hydrogen (CoExist, 4/20/12)
For the past six months, the streets of Basel, Switzerland have been cleaner than usual. Not only has a street-cleaning prototype been sweeping away debris, but the vehicle is quiet and emits no diesel or other exhaust fumes--just water and heat. The street cleaner, which has been under development since 2008, is the first to be powered by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell. Using just about 15 pounds of hydrogen, the fuel cell can recharge the vehicle's electric motor battery ten times over the course of a seven-hour shift. At the end of the day drivers can refuel it themselves at a user-friendly hydrogen-fueling station.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM

Of Monsters And Men On World Cafe (World Cafe,  April 20, 2012)

Of Monsters and Men is an Icelandic sextet specializing in catchy folk-pop. The group came together in 2009 when singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir began recruiting backups for her acoustic solo act. In 2010, Of Monsters and Men gained national fame when it won an annual Icelandic battle of the bands; since then, the buzz has only grown. Incorporating melodica, glockenspiel, accordion and brass into cheery pop, Of Monsters and Men has coasted to international recognition on the strength of the bright and upbeat single "Little Talks." A charming full-length album, My Head Is an Animal, followed.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Cancer screening feeds overdiagnosis debate (Frederik Joelving, Apr 20, 2012, Reuters)

When the blood test for prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, emerged two decades ago, it represented a simpler and cheaper alternative to the standard at the time -- ultrasound and a biopsy of the prostate done through the rectum.

Promoted by urologists and patient-advocacy groups, the test quickly took off. Doctors began finding tumors early enough to destroy them with surgery and radiation. Some men experienced treatment side effects such as impotence, incontinence and severe infections, but these seemed a tolerable price to pay for thwarting a potentially deadly disease.

In the ensuing years, the picture grew muddy. Reports mounted that many men were submitting to treatments for slow-growing cancers that would never have bothered them in the first place. Scientific evidence showed that the millions of screenings and treatments performed hadn't significantly lowered death rates from prostate cancer.

In a 2010 op-ed article in the New York Times, Richard Ablin, one of the discoverers of PSA, noted that 30 million American men were getting the test every year, racking up a $3 billion bill. "The test's popularity," Ablin wrote, "has led to a hugely expensive public health disaster."

Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a federally funded panel of independent experts that makes recommendations on preventive care, caused an uproar with a draft recommendation against prostate cancer screening.

"Looking hard for asymptomatic cancers will always result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment," says Dr. Michael LeFevre, a member of the task force. The panel does recommend routine screening beyond certain ages for breast, cervical and colo-rectal cancers and other diseases where research has shown that screening reduces deaths. [...]

About 10,500 Americans are diagnosed with esophageal adenocarcinoma each year, according to the American Cancer Society. The number for tumors of the colon and rectum -- the No. 2 killer cancer, after lung cancer -- is 143,000. White men over 50 have an elevated risk for esophageal cancer. Smoking, obesity and chronic acid reflux add to the danger. [...]

Aviv is aware that his campaign for routine screening places him outside the mainstream. "I'm taking an extreme position because of what I have seen with this disease," he says. To underline his point, he ticks off a list of high-profile victims: baseball great Harmon Killebrew, architect Charles Gwathmey, actor Ron Silver, Texas Governor Ann Richards.

In 2009, ENT and Allergy Associates recruited Aviv, then a professor at Columbia University in New York City, to found and run its voice and swallowing center.

At different times over the past decade, he was a paid consultant to three companies that make or sell TNE scopes and related equipment: Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc, Pentax -- now known as KayPentax, based in Montvale, New Jersey -- and Vision-Sciences Inc, of Orangeburg, New York. Aviv says he is no longer a paid consultant to any of the companies, though he owns several thousand shares in Vision-Sciences and uses its equipment. The company's systems cost between $30,000 and $60,000.

Vision-Sciences says that while it "may not have the marketing power of a larger corporation who might be able to take the promotion directly to the patient," it has supported research on the use of TNE and plans to offer training to teach doctors "about the merits of our TNE product offering."

Nicholas Tsaclas, who has worked in marketing for Pentax and Vision-Sciences, says input from Aviv and Dr. Jamie Koufman, another prominent New York-area ENT, was critical to the development of TNE devices. Among other things, the new cameras have given ENT doctors easier access to parts of the human anatomy -- the esophagus and stomach -- that have typically been out of reach.

In 2009, it was Tsaclas who played the "patient" on "Good Morning America" while Aviv demonstrated TNE screening and host Diane Sawyer told viewers, "It's not painful, you can do it fast, and it can save your life." Since then, Aviv has appeared on "The Dr. Oz Show" and Bloomberg TV and on radio to promote TNE screening.

Many of his critics are worried about the history between doctor and equipment maker -- not a rarity in the medical profession -- as well as the sheer number of people who would be screened if Aviv had his way.

"The unfortunate thing is ... this is something that will be a money-maker for the people who offer it," says Brawley of the American Cancer Society. In the absence of research showing that routine screening yields clear benefits, it's premature to be doing it, "especially if they are charging for the procedure," he says.

"This is marketing, that is all that is," says Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, an internist at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Hanover, New Hampshire, and author of "Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Second Wind: Air-Breathing Lithium Batteries Promise Recharge-Free Long-Range Driving (Larry Greenemeier  | April 20, 2012, Scientific American)

Researchers predict a new type of lithium battery under development could give an electric car enough juice to travel a whopping 800 kilometers before it needs to be plugged in again--about 10 times the energy that today's lithium ion batteries supply. It is a tantalizing prospect--a lighter, longer-lasting, air-breathing power source for the next generation of vehicles--if only someone could build a working model. Several roadblocks stand between these lithium-air batteries and the open road, however, primarily in finding electrodes and electrolytes that are stable enough for rechargeable battery chemistry.

IBM plans to take lithium-air batteries out of neutral by building a working prototype by the end of next year. The company announced Friday it has stepped up development efforts by adding two Japanese technology firms--chemical manufacturer Asahi Kasei Corp. and electrolyte maker Central Glass--to the IBM Battery 500 Project, a coalition IBM established in 2009 to accelerate the switch from gas to electric-powered vehicles among carmakers and their customers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM

Levon Helm and The Band: a rock parable of fame, betrayal, and redemption: Levon Helm of The Band found an unlikely path back to fame after decades of disappointment. But by the end, the homespun singer from Turkey Scratch, Ark., had come full circle. (Mark Guarino, Staff writer / April 20, 2012, CS Monitor)

The phenomenon of the "Midnight Ramble," as Helm called the Saturday evening house parties, reflected Helm's unique downhome sensibilities. At one performance I attended while on assignment for a music magazine, his house on a pitch-dark wooded back road was marked by a balloon tied to a mailbox. There, the road opened to a large field for parking. Tables set up by town locals had cupcakes, cookies, juice, pasta salad, and other food. People mingled and talked while Helm's dog, Muddy, wandered around looking for ear scratches.

When it came time for the music, Helm emerged from a back room gleaming, shaking hands with the 100 people tucked around the room on folding chairs. Despite his age - and persistent throat troubles - he snapped at the drums with fierce strength while singing with emotive depth and tender inflections.

"It's certainly a miracle for me and a dream come true. I never thought I would sing and play like I used to be able to do. I thank God. Every song is a celebration for me," he said at the time.

World Cafe Remembers Levon Helm (World Cafe 1/18/08)

Levon Helm, an Americana legend and drummer for the '60s rock group The Band, died this week. Here, we remember Helm with an archived interview and performance from WXPN. [...]

Helm launched a solo career apart from The Band, releasing several albums. In the late '90s, he turned to blues with a new group, Levon Helm & The Barn Burners. In 2007, he released his first solo record in 25 years, the Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer.

The Band On Mountain Stage (LARRY GROCE, NPR: Mountain Stage)

As I listen to his vocals in "Rag, Mama, Rag," "Blind Willie McTell" and "The Weight" from the 1996 show, it's hard to imagine anyone else trying to sing those songs. Of course, everybody does try to sing "The Weight," but we all suffer by comparison. Levon's voice is for the ages. I can hear traces of Pops Staples and fellow Arkansan Ronnie Hawkins, influences from both sides of the big river that flowed near his home. Conway Twitty, like Levon, grew up in Helena, and Johnny Cash not far away in Kingsland. Powerful voices came out of that Arkansas dirt.

April 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 PM


On Rajon Rondo, and his status in that unique Boston locker room (Holly MacKenzie, Apr 18, 2012, Yahoo)

[Keyon] Dooling is a 12-year NBA vet who has been in six NBA locker rooms and currently serves as the vice-president of the NBA Players Association. He's been around. He knows what's up.

He knows all about the public perception of Rondo. He also knows how unimportant all of that is to the 15 guys in the Celtics locker room. Dooling praised Rondo's competitiveness and burning desire to be the best, while also using the example of another Hall of Fame point guard known for his toughness and not for his affable personality.

"It's funny because there were a lot of people who didn't necessarily talk before the game. John Stockton was a guy who never talked before the game, never signed autographs or anything like that and he was known as a gentleman and a saint so the spin that Rondo has is definitely a misconception. If you ask the guys in the locker room, I'd tell you that everybody is with him. If I have to go down a dark alley, I want to go down there with him. As a matter of fact, behind him because he's a great leader." [...]

Who Rondo is, besides a freak of nature, of course, has largely been decided by speculation on our part. By piecing together encounters, post game interviews and moments of frustration boiling over, we've created our vision of Rondo, but just like his game, he's much more complex than that.
One thing that isn't up for debate is Rondo's fiery toughness. When you think he's down, done, and out for the count, he wills himself to keep pushing until the final buzzer sounds. Even if the injury that knocked him down has already gone viral, making people feel ill all over the internets by way of disgusting screen grabs and .gifs.

"When your elbow goes this way, I mean, the guy plays through everything," Dooling said, his face scrunching up just speaking of the injury Rondo sustained during the playoffs last season. "One of the biggest adjustments he made to his game this year, something we talked about, is not hitting the floor so much. He would always be on the floor, on the floor, on the floor. I'm like, 'Young fella, how long are you trying to play? You can't be trying to play long because the ground doesn't move.' He's done a great job of staying off of the ground. He's just tough as nails. He's tough as nails."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was succinct in his description of Rondo's game.

"Spectacular, amazing, great. I could say a lot of things. The most important one would be important. We need him to be that for us to be who we are. He is the one guy who can orchestrate our team."

It's clear that the Celtics locker room is a place where Rondo is free to be himself. Some of that stems from the support of 17-year veteran Garnett, another player known for his intensity and unwillingness to address reporters (and, well, anyone) before games. As Dooling is talking, Garnett is lying on the floor with headphones in and eyes closed as he is being stretched out by a trainer.

From Rondo to Ray Allen to recent stand out Avery Bradley all the way to Doc Rivers ("He's a very unique coach. He's the best coach in our league."), there's just something that feels different about the Celtics locker room. When asked, Dooling responds without hesitation.

"We have Kevin Garnett in it. That makes us more unique than any other team in the world. He is everything you could want in a locker room."

He elaborated on what sets Garnett apart from the rest of the NBA.

"He's incredible. I guarantee you if you did a poll of everybody who has played with Kevin Garnett, I guarantee you he would probably be 98% of people's favorite teammate. He is that guy. He is that guy. He's the glue. If somebody is not going well, he's the guy to pick him up. If there's a problem, He's the one to address it. If somebody needs to be taken up for, he's the one to do that, if there's a question that needs to be asked and somebody doesn't want to ask it, he does that. He is amazing."

The praise continued, as Dooling gave a glimpse into Garnett's standing within his team.

"He is ... he is amazing. I guarantee you if you went around the locker room, everybody who has been around him, ask his former teammates, he is incredible, man. He is an incredible man. He should get awards every year for the man, the mentorship he gives to young guys, the work ethic that he shows them and instills in them. The camaraderie that he gives to the team. You know what I mean? The way he embraces everybody on the staff from the video coordinator to the masseuse. Kevin Garnett should be an ambassador. He is that kind of personality. He is amazing."

With Garnett's blueprint, it's no wonder his 26 year-old phenom point guard is becoming more comfortable in his own skin.

...but he does share one quality with him: he forces everyone on his team to play as hard as he does.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Rubio's DREAM puts Mitt in a bind (MANU RAJU, 4/19/12, Politico)

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has thrust himself into the raging illegal immigration debate, proposing a plan that would create a path to legal status for children of illegal immigrants -- putting him at odds with an immoveable wing of the Republican Party on this issue. [...]

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Rubio's plan amounts to a "two-step process of amnesty."

Mr. Mehlman isn't going to vote for a gay Muslim socialist instead of Romney/Rubio.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


TARP worked, but it's not the end of financial reform (Jared Bernstein, 4/20/12, Washington Post)

The writer was chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Biden from January 2009 to May 2011. He is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) worked a lot better, and at a much lower cost, than is commonly recognized.

TARP and related interventions by the Federal Reserve helped reactivate credit markets long before they would have recovered on their own, helped to stabilize the housing market, helped save the U.S. auto industry and helped prevent recession from morphing into something worse. And they did so for far less than early estimates and prior rescues had suggested were possible. [...]

●Although the initial 2008 legislation set aside $700 billion for the program, by March 2011 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that TARP would disburse about $430 billion and get back all but about $19 billion.

A Treasury analysis published last week, using current market values, found that if the federal government were to cash out its remaining holdings, such as its stake in AIG, it would at least break even and probably turn a small profit. Market conditions could worsen, of course, but remember that official and media estimates of the cost of TARP ranged from the hundreds of billions to the trillions. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the average loss from 42 financial crises between 1970 and 2007 was 13 percent of GDP.

●Bank lending crashed along with the economy in late 2007. But banks began to ease lending standards as TARP was implemented, and accounting for the fact that underwriting is (thankfully) tighter than it was during the bubble, credit access is about back to pre-crisis levels.

●The housing market is, at best, bumping along the bottom. But here, too, the timing of home-price and sales stabilization coincided with TARP housing programs, including the rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Thanks, W.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Levon Helm didn't have a long movie resume, just an awesome one.
Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


A Small World After All? (Ethan Zuckerman, Spring 2012, Wilson Quarterly)

A central paradox of this connected age is that while it's easier than ever to share information and perspectives from different parts of the world, we may be encountering a narrower picture of the world than we did in less connected days. During the Vietnam War, television reporting from the frontlines involved transporting exposed film from Southeast Asia by air, then developing and editing it in the United States before broadcasting it days later. Now, an unfolding crisis such as the Japanese tsunami or Haitian earthquake can be reported in real time via satellite. Despite these lowered barriers, today's American television news features less than half as many international stories as were broadcast in the 1970s.

Of course, the point is that when it was not a small and interconnected world there was more news, especially international.  In the 1970s people still believed that there were viable alternative forms of politics, economics, spiritual belief, etc.  All international reporting was essentially war reporting.

Today the only stories in the world concern other peoples and nations accepting that the Anglosphere was right all along and that History ended in 1776.  Because globalization is Anglofication there just isn't much "news." any more.  All the dogs are biting and the men never bite back.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


The Right-wing agitators out to get David Cameron: The Prime Minister is besieged by Conservative critics oblivious to the man on the street. (Peter Oborne, 18 Apr 2012, The Telegraph)

 The Cameron/Clegg Government is strong. The coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives is working far better than many people expected. There have, of course, been severe problems, but both sides have kept to the promises made in the Coalition Agreement.

Last month's Budget was a shambles. Nevertheless, George Osborne's economic strategy has not collapsed, and he deserves admiration for his attempt to confront tax-dodgers head on, even though he has not got it quite right yet. And bear in mind that if Britain had pursued the spending plans set out by Alistair Darling before the election, or by Ed Balls after it, we would be having trouble financing our deficit in the markets, and long-term interest rates would be climbing towards double figures.

Meanwhile, the Coalition has pushed through very bold reforms. Andrew Lansley has been the first health secretary since Kenneth Clarke 25 years ago to take on the vested interests behind the NHS. Iain Duncan Smith and his hugely talented team are confronting the moral problem created by the post-war welfare state, and in doing so are liberating hundreds and thousands of men and women to lead responsible, fulfilled lives free of state dependency. 
Likewise, it is hard to praise too highly the work being carried out by Michael Gove. For half a century, the teaching unions have enforced a regime of mediocrity and low standards in British schools, condemning millions of children to a second-rate life. Gove is the first education secretary to have the courage to try to do something about this criminal abuse of power.

But forcing change on the heroic scale envisaged by these men is very difficult. The easy bit is pushing the legislation through Parliament. The more intractable and often heartbreaking task is changing very deep-seated cultures inside departments, local bureaucracies, schools, hospitals and housing estates. Fundamentally, the success or failure of the Coalition no longer has much to do with what is going on in Westminster or being written in newspapers. Its fate is being decided where it really matters, in Jobcentres in Sunderland and classrooms in Swindon: out there on the ground.

Nevertheless, Parliament must continue to meet, and newspapers must be written. And here there is a dangerous vacuum. This has not been filled by the Labour Party, which has a constitutional duty to oppose but is hampered by the fact that it largely agrees with the Coalition's most profound reforms.
The vacuum has been occupied by a handful of loud voices on the Right wing of the Tory party, who have created a narrative that David Cameron is incompetent and out of touch.

April 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


REVIEW: The Band, The Band (RALPH J. GLEASON, October 18, 1969, Rolling Stone)

About the only way I can go about discussing the content of the album is to use as an illustration a view of Mt. Tamalpais on the Pacific Coast shore line above San Francisco. The western part of that mountain runs right down to the sea and the more you look at it, the more you see. Week in, week out, month by month, hour by hour even, nature conducts a change which rings through the twelve months and the four seasons, and there is the change in daylight when the sun shifts and the shadows bring out silhouettes and crevices in the rocks and accentuate the gullies and the draws and at night when there's moonlight, it is a different mountain altogether.

The album is like that. It is full of sleepers, diamonds that begin to glow at different times. As with the Beatles and Dylan and the Stones and Crosby-Stills and Nash, the album seems to change shape as you continue to play it. The emphasis shifts from song to song and songs prominent in the early listening will retreat and be replaced in your consciousness by others, only in later hearings to move to the fore again. Little things pop up unexpectedly after numerous listenings and the whole thing serves as a definition of what Gide meant by the necessity of art having density.

Take "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," a Civil War song sung by Levon ("I aimed it right at him, I wrote it for him, he gets to say it all," Robbie says). It is the story of a Rebel soldier who served on the Danville and Richmond railroad which supplied Richmond during the war and which was cut several times by Gen. George Stoneman's Union Cavalry. Virgil Kane is the soldier's name and the song builds a story of the winter after Appomattox, lean and sparse like a Hemingway short story.

Nothing that I have read, from Bruce Catton to Douglas Southall Freeman, from Fletcher Pratt to Lloyd Lewis, has brought home to me the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is the Red Badge of Courage. It is a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Rick and Richard Manuel in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn't some oral tradition material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of '65 to today. It has the ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity. Yet after playing the album a dozen times, I began to feel that "Dixie" was an obvious song, the superficial standout number on the album and I acquired other favorites. But I kept coming back and coming back until now I am prepared to say that, depending on one's mood, these songs stand, each on its own, as equal sides of a twelve-faceted gem, the whole of which is geometrically greater than the sum of the parts.

Just as "Dixie" evokes history, "Up On Cripple Creek" throws images of trucks and trailers rolling down the great inland highways, putting the Danville and Richmond Railroad, as well as many others, out of business. "Up On Cripple Creek" is a modern song, its rhetoric is the rhetoric of today and even the line "When I get off of this mountain, 'y' know where I'm gonna go, straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico" (on Highway 61 from Minneapolis to New Orleans, paralleling Ole Miss?), which is, as a friend remarked, surely the oldest line in American folk history, does not date it. "Cripple Creek" is the story of a trucker and the gal he has stashed away in Lake Charles, "a drunkard's dream if I ever did see one." It is a salty, sexy, earthy (rather than funky) ballad and it is Levon who sings it with a little help from his friends Rick and Richard. (Levon's chuckle towards the end is surely the nastiest, dirtiest, evilest sexual snort in the history of the phonograph record). And again the rhythmic tension created between the interplay of the bass and drums and the line of the voice sets up a tremendously moving pulse. It vies with "Dixie" as the song that hooks you first and like the former it fades and then returns to fade and return again.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Cereal fan's book tells the story of a breakfast basic  (LISA ABRAHAM, AKRON BEACON JOURNAL)

Ask Marty Gitlin to name his favorite cereal, and rest assured the answer he provides comes from years of thorough research that began when he just 8 years old. His passion for breakfast cereal goes back nearly 50 years.

Gitlin was a child when he decided it was imperative for him to try at least one bowl of every new breakfast cereal that hit the market. Lured by Saturday morning commercials and a host of characters from Tony the Tiger to Cap'n Crunch, and with the help of a permissive mother, he was able to do just that.

"I told my mother and she was cool about it. She just did it. I was a goofy 8-year-old kid," Gitlin recalls.

Now, the 55-year-old has his mother to thank for his new book, The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch (Abrams Image, $19.95). [...]

Q. Quisp or Quake?

Quisp. Quisp is still around. Quake hasn't been around for a long time. They were actually the same cereal, just a different shape. But Quisp's character was the little alien with the propeller on his head. Quake was a miner. Quisp just completely blew Quake away. Quisp was way more popular and it shows you the power of marketing.

To paraphrase Tom Boswell: No man of quality has ever preferred Quake to Quisp.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


How Romney could win over Latinos (Tamar Jacoby, April 18, 2012, LA Times)

As a Republican who cares deeply about the future of the party and wants to see us win in November, I was thrilled this week when Mitt Romney told attendees at a closed-door fundraiser that he supports Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican alternative to the Dream Act. The next step: Romney should endorse the proposal publicly and challenge Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring it up for a vote in the Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Warren Buffett's Cancer Decoded (Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, 4/18/12, Daily Beast)

Warren Buffett announced Tuesday that he has Stage 1 prostate cancer, a disease that untreated has an extremely high 5-year survival rate. Per the report, he will begin radiation therapy to reduce the risk that the cancer will spread. [...]

It also raised the larger issue of whether his treatment fits his disease. Finding stage I prostate cancer in an 81-year-old is like finding gray hair in an 81-year-old. As Forbes reported, about 80% of 80-year-old men have some detectable amount of prostate cancer if autopsied. So Buffett the person was neither under- nor overperforming. He was doing what most 81-year-old guys do. Assuming the reports that the cancer is limited to stage I are true, the real question is why he opted for a relatively aggressive approach (radiation is no picnic) for a condition that, left untreated but observed closely, was unlikely to cause him much harm. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


India tests long-range ballistic missile (Al Jazeera,19 Apr 2012)

The launch makes India part of an elite club with intercontinental nuclear defence capabilites [AFP]
India has test launched its first long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of reaching deep into China and as far as Europe, with a scientist at the launch describing the mission as successful.
"It has met all the mission objectives," S P Dash, director of the test range, told the Reuters news agency on Thursday. "It hit the target with very good accuracy."

The launch of the Agni V, which can carry nuclear warheads and has a range of 5,000km, thrusts the country into an elite club of nations with intercontinental nuclear capabilities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


How America Spends Money: 100 Years in the Life of the Family Budget (Derek Thompson, APR 5 2012, The Atlantic)

Fortunately, we have something that's very close to an aggregate receipt for the American family going back more than a century: "100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending", a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

This is our story today: It is a story about how spending on food and clothing went from half the family budget in 1900 to less than a fifth in 2000.It is a story about how a nation that feels poor got so rich. Here's the big picture in one chart showing the share of family spending per category over the 20th century. The big story is that spending on food and clothes has fallen massively while spending on housing and services has gone up.

1900 1950 2003.png
Of course, the average home doubled in size from 1950 to 2000 and healthcare is no longer a necessity but a consumer good like entertainment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Why Trees Matter (JIM ROBBINS, 4/12/12, NY Times)

What we do know, however, suggests that what trees do is essential though often not obvious. Decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. In a campaign called Forests Are Lovers of the Sea, fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned.

Trees are nature's water filters, capable of cleaning up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes, largely through a dense community of microbes around the tree's roots that clean water in exchange for nutrients, a process known as phytoremediation. Tree leaves also filter air pollution. A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma.

In Japan, researchers have long studied what they call "forest bathing." A walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and viruses. Studies in inner cities show that anxiety, depression and even crime are lower in a landscaped environment.

Trees also release vast clouds of beneficial chemicals. On a large scale, some of these aerosols appear to help regulate the climate; others are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. We need to learn much more about the role these chemicals play in nature. One of these substances, taxane, from the Pacific yew tree, has become a powerful treatment for breast and other cancers. Aspirin's active ingredient comes from willows.

Trees are greatly underutilized as an eco-technology. "Working trees" could absorb some of the excess phosphorus and nitrogen that run off farm fields and help heal the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In Africa, millions of acres of parched land have been reclaimed through strategic tree growth.

Trees are also the planet's heat shield. They keep the concrete and asphalt of cities and suburbs 10 or more degrees cooler and protect our skin from the sun's harsh UV rays. The Texas Department of Forestry has estimated that the die-off of shade trees will cost Texans hundreds of millions of dollars more for air-conditioning. Trees, of course, sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that makes the planet warmer. A study by the Carnegie Institution for Science also found that water vapor from forests lowers ambient temperatures.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


The Population Boon (PHILIP E. AUERSWALD, May/June 2012, The American Interest)

Funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund permitted the creation of the Population Council in 1952. John D. Rockefeller III appointed Frederick Osborn to be the Council's first president. 

The work of the Population Council took its cue from the famed 1798 masterwork by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population. "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man", Malthus wrote. This slim volume has become one of the most celebrated works of political economy ever published, a distinction made a bit surprising by the fact that it was published at pretty much exactly the time when history began to prove its core thesis incorrect. Starting not long after An Essay on the Principle of Population appeared in print, global population levels and per capita income began a long and steady ascent--in tandem. Yet we have only recently begun to note the strong correlation between population growth and increased prosperity. For most of the past two centuries Malthusian fears of demographic doom have obscured the increasingly evident fact of a global demographic dividend. 

In 1893, almost a century after the publication of Malthus's book, Henry Adams (grandson of John Quincy Adams) proclaimed that "two more generations should saturate the world with population and should exhaust the mines." At about that time, a new intellectual movement took shape that combined Malthusian fears with social Darwinism. Its proponents dubbed it "eugenics." For the first half of the 20th century the eugenics movement flourished in the United Kingdom and the United States; the result was an intellectual architecture that provided justification for some of the most abhorrent acts that humans have perpetrated upon other humans--the Holocaust being primary among them. 

The Nazi embrace of eugenics largely (though not entirely) put an end to its appeal in the United Kingdom and the United States following World War II, but core concerns about the proliferation of people in poor places found new expression in the global population control programs that came into being in the 1950s and 1960s, including ones funded by the Population Council. Frederick Osborn himself had been a founding member of the American Eugenics Society, and was the author of a 1940 book titled Preface to Eugenics. Another protagonist of the postwar population control movement was General William Henry Draper, Jr.--military leader, diplomat, and venture capital pioneer--who coined the phrase "population bomb" to refer to the dim prospects for humanity (in particular, cream-skinned humanity) in the face of a globally increasing population. The phrase lived on in the title of a hugely influential 1968 book by Paul and Ann Ehrlich, as well as several subsequent publications, most recently a spring 2010 cover essay in Foreign Affairs titled "The New Population Bomb."  

So what actually happened over the past two centuries since Malthus penned his famous treatise, or in the sixty years since Reuther and Wiener met to discuss the danger of mass technological unemployment? 

With regard to the threat of global overpopulation, the facts are as I briefly summarized them above: Growth in population is minimal until the start of the 18th century, at which point a steady increase begins. Population really starts to take off, though, after World War II. In the second half of the 20th century, global population more than doubles, from roughly 2.5 billion in 1950 to almost 6 billion in 2000. And the data show that, in material terms at least, individual well-being (as measured by global per capita income) takes off at exactly the same time as population.
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April 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Review: The Ford Focus Electric: The automaker says soon all its cars will be compatible with gas, electric, and hybrid drivetrains. (TOM SIMONITE, 4/18/12, Technology Review)

Ford is preparing for an era when choosing whether a new car is powered by gas, electricity, or both is as simple as choosing its color is.

All future models from the automaker will be designed so that they can be produced with gas, electric, or hybrid drivetrains, a strategy embodied by the Ford Focus Electric, made available for the first press test drives last week. While GM and Nissan designed their first all-electric mass production cars from scratch, Ford is essentially using a 2010 design with the gas guts switched for electric ones.

That made strolling up to a Ford Focus in San Francisco last week slightly underwhelming: from the outside, the car looks familiar (unless you're looking for the tailpipe). From the inside, though, in the driver's seat, the Focus Electric is distinctive. I found it well-suited to San Francisco traffic, a game of real-life Frogger that rewards those who can quickly zip between lanes and enter gaps that open and close in an eyeblink. The eager response of the electric motor when I put my foot down was a big help, and all the more distinctive due to the near-silence, which also allowed me to hear more of what was happening around me.

The Focus Electric's zip is something all-electric cars can offer. Electric motors can provide their full torque instantly, from any speed, while gas cars must rev up their engines before delivering extra torque to the wheels. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Undecided Lean to Insurgent (Dick Morris, 4/18/12, RCP)

[G]iven the historical fact that the final results are almost always worse for the president and almost never better, we really need to focus on the Obama vote share rather than his lead or lack of one against Romney. If Obama is, indeed, getting 44 percent of the vote, he is likely facing, at least, an 11-point loss. If he is getting 47 percent of the vote, he is looking, at least, at a 6-point defeat. (Given the fact that six of the eight incumbent presidents not only lost the undecided, but finished lower than the pre-election survey predicted, it would be more likely that Obama's margin of defeat would be greater than even these numbers suggest.)

There are other indications of a Republican landslide in the offing. Party identification has moved a net of eight points toward the GOP since the last election. In Senate races, there are currently eight Democratic-held seats where Republicans are now leading either the Democratic incumbent or the Democratic candidate for the open seat.

The predictions of a close election are all based on polling of registered voters -- not likely voters -- and fail to account for the shift in votes against the incumbent that has been the norm of the past presidential contests.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Is Fat Gain a Problem or Solution? (Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP,  April 12, 2012, Plos)

Obesity, at least when operationally defined as exceeding a specific amount of body fat and/or body mass index, is associated with certain health benefits. Examples include the now rarely needed but obvious protection against starvation in times of food scarcity, protection against osteoporosis, fractures, frailty, and premature mortality in the elderly, as well as reduced mortality rates in the face of certain severe illnesses or injuries [6]. The assumption that adiposity per se increases mortality risk is also not well supported by the scientific evidence. Many epidemiologic studies have shown that people who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as normal weight individuals, and often longer [13-15]. Additionally, life expectancy increased dramatically during the same time period in which body weight rose, and the World Health Organization projects life expectancy will continue to rise in coming decades [16].

From a physiological standpoint, fat gain is seen as a solution for maintaining homeostasis and re-establishing energy balance in the current obesogenic environment. The ability of fat cells to produce molecules involved in genuine regulatory processes has been known for decades. During weight gain, many adaptations over time can promote the re-equilibration of energy balance. These include increases in fat oxidation, sympathetic nervous system activity, insulinemia at euglycemia, leptinemia, and overall energy expenditure [6]. The problem related to fat gain as a physiological compensation to chronic unhealthy lifestyle habits is that it cannot occur with the same metabolic efficiency as exercise. Specifically, fat gain relies more on increased concentration of substrates (e.g. free fatty acids) and hormones (e.g. insulin and leptin) to re-establish energy balance by increasing total energy expenditure, which likely underlies the occurrence of the metabolic syndrome which often accompanies obesity. Thus, while increasing fat reserves may help to restore energy balance, it can also lead to increased risk of chronic disease. These observations emphasize the importance of adhering to a healthy lifestyle in order to maintain body weight stability rather than relying on the overuse of regulatory systems.

2. What are the Adverse Effects of Weight Loss?

Although counter-intuitive, many prospective observational studies suggest that weight loss increases rather than decreases the risk of premature death [17-19]. Paradoxically, most short-term weight loss intervention studies do find improvements in many health indicators. However, given that intentional weight loss is generally accompanied by a change in dietary and physical activity behaviors, it is not known whether or to what extent the improvements can be attributed to the weight loss per se. The case of liposuction can certainly provide relevant information about the effects of subcutaneous fat loss in the absence of behavior change. In their study, Klein et al. [20] evaluated the effects of large-volume abdominal liposuction on metabolic risk factors in obese women before and 10 to 12 weeks after liposuction. Although the participants lost 10.5 kg of fat, liposuction did not improve obesityassociated metabolic abnormalities, suggesting that decreasing adipose tissue mass alone (and especially reducing subcutaneous fat stores) without behavior change will not achieve the metabolic benefits of weight loss. In contrast, most health indicators can be improved through changing health behaviors, regardless of whether weight is lost or not. For instance, it is well-known that physical activity participation without weight loss has the capacity to reduce visceral adiposity and substantially improve the cardio-metabolic risk profile [21]. Similarly bariatric surgery, which dramatically changes the way that food is consumed and digested, has been shown to result in rapid improvements in glycemic control just days after surgery, long before any appreciable weight loss has taken place [22]. These observations agree with the "fat but fit" [23] and "metabolically healthy but obese" [24] concepts and stress the importance of regular physical activity and a healthy diet as key components in any health promotion and disease prevention strategy, regardless of body weight.

It's always fun to listen to folks whine about how difficult our problems are when the main political one is that we live too long and make greater demands on the welfare net than we used to, the main economic one is that fewer of us are needed in the workplace to create more wealth than we used to, and the main health one is that we have an energy surplus. Walk your 10,000 steps a day and stop worrying.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


On the Smart Grid, a Watt Saved is a Watt Earned: U.S. electricity regulator Jon Wellinghoff says a ­smart electrical grid could cut the need for new power plants. He's got an app to prove it. (JESSICA LEBER, 4/17/12, Technology Review)

What would the electrical grid look like if everyone could get paid to save energy? Jon Wellinghoff, chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. agency that regulates electricity transmission, thinks that's the future. [...]

TR: How is the smart grid changing the electric utility business?

Wellinghoff: Utilities are going to have to change or die. Traditionally, their business model has been vertically integrated; they generate, distribute, and sell energy. Now, you're seeing opportunities for utility customers--commercial building owners, the Walmarts and Safeways of the world--to fully participate in energy markets and go head to head with utilities. Ultimately, you'll have companies helping homeowners install technologies to facilitate their participation. Because of this competition, utilities will have to determine how they are going to continue to make a profit.

A number of large utilities are starting to understand that. Still, there are wide swaths of the country where we don't have these markets at all. Customers in those areas are going to have to demand them.

Does a negawatt have a tangible value?

It absolutely is tangible. We issued an order to say that a negawatt--or reducing a kilowatt of energy demand--is equal to ramping up a kilowatt of energy production. Someone who creates a negawatt should be paid for it. My mission personally has been to integrate negawatts into the wholesale energy market. If we can give the right market signals, entrepreneurs will develop ways to save energy in response to the grid's needs.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM

Bacon Jam: From "I don't get it" to " I can't live without it" (MaryJane Robbins, 4/17/12, Baking Banter: King Arthur Flour)

    • 1 1/2 pounds bacon
    • 2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
    • 3 cloves garlic
    • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup maple syrup
    • 1/4 cup boiled cider
    • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
    • 2 dried bay leaves
      • salt and pepper to taste
1) Slice the bacon into 1" slices and cook in a large skillet until well browned. Drain the fat and reserve the bacon.

2) Place the cooked bacon and all other ingredients into a 2 quart or larger crock pot. Cover and cook over high heat for 3 to 4 hours.

3) Remove the cooked jam from the crock pot, fish out the bay leaves, and carefully transfer to a food processor or blender. Pulse until the consistency is to your liking, a soft spreadable jam. You can leave the bacon in larger bits or pulse until very small, your choice.

4) If you find the jam too liquid for your taste, transfer to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated and the jam is thick and syrupy. Adjust the seasonings and serve warm.

5) Store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Warm in the microwave before serving.
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April 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Instead of Democrat budget, chairman proposes Simpson-Bowles plan (Rosalind S. Helderman, 4/17/12, Washington Post)

The Democratic Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee announced Tuesday that he will introduce a version of the deficit reduction plan devised by former senator Alan Simpson and former White House official Erskine Bowles instead of a partisan Democratic budget.

But Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told reporters that he will not ask senators to vote on the proposal, which would slash deficits by $5.4 trillion over the next decade through spending cuts and higher taxes, acknowledging that the political landscape will most likely not allow members of either party to take the tough votes the plan would require until after the election.

He said the proposal represented a "middle-ground, consensus solution to the country's fiscal imbalance."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


My Life as a Failed Country Gentleman: P.J. O'Rourke on his fields of crabgrass, trout-free trout stream, Federalist-era wiring and dashed dreams of tweedy refinement (P.J. O'ROURKE, 4/13/12,  WSJ)

My steep hill. I own a lot of land--if you measure vertically. Even as a beginning gentleman farmer I realized that this would make planting difficult. Although, in theory, harvesting would be just a matter of standing at the bottom holding a bushel basket. Not that I've ever managed to grow anything. Raccoons eat the corn, squash and tomatoes. Sleet, snow, frost or freezing rain take care of everything else. One season of agriculture in New England explains manifest destiny. America's westward expansion was mainly an excuse to kill raccoons and wear them as hats.

I am, nonetheless, a farmer. My property is a "Certified Tree Farm." And a demanding life it is. Sleet, snow, frost or freezing rain, the crop must be brought in--every 40 years, no matter what. And I can tap my trees for maple syrup except that I seem to have found the only place in New England between Bridgeport and Bangor without a single sugar maple. It turns out there's very little market for "fir syrup."

The difference between being a Certified Tree Farm and being lost in the woods is a bureaucratic mystery fully understood only by the Department of Agriculture. I think it means that I can deduct what I spend on growing trees (nothing) from what I earn selling timber (nothing). I never pictured myself in knickers and a Norfolk jacket striding over stumps.

Being certifiably a farmer did excuse the purchase of a tractor with a mower attachment for cutting hay. At least I think it's hay. I went to considerable expense to clear brush, yank rocks and plow and fertilize 20 acres. I don't believe that I then asked for the 20 acres to be seeded with dandelions and crabgrass. However, that was when I first moved up from the city, and I may have given the wrong orders.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


iPads, Consumer Devices Swamp CIOs (Clint Boulton, 4/16/12, WSJ)

Consumer IT is moving so fast that corporate IT shops are struggling to keep pace with the 12-month to 18-month cycles of consumer markets, reports Forrester Research analyst Matt Brown.

Companies tend to upgrade their tech platforms every three to five years. But the rise in popularity of Apple's iPhone and iPad tablet computer, and their associated applications, helped accelerate the consumerization of IT, skewering predictions Forrester Research made four years ago about the adoption of consumer technologies in the workplace.

Forrester analyst Matt Brown said 47% of consumers surveyed in North America maintain that the technology they use at home is better than that offered by their employers. That number ranges between 60% to 70% in Latin America and Russia, respectively Brown said. The increase in telecommuting, in which employees work from home, contributed to this trend, too.

Y2K was the best thing that ever happened to workplace productivity, but it's hard to gin up such a hoax more than once.  And business won't replace outdated systems without one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Declining as a Manufacturer, Japan Weighs Reinvention (MARTIN FACKLER, 4/16/12, NY Times)

The demise of Panel Bay is the latest sign of what many Japanese fear is the hollowing out of their heavily industrialized economy, which has been in a gradual but relentless decline since the bursting of its twin real estate and stock bubbles in the early 1990s. The decline is largely a result of growing competition from Asian rivals, an aging work force and merciless gains by the yen. But many officials and business leaders now fear that this trend has accelerated since last year's nuclear accident in Fukushima, which has raised the prospect of higher energy prices and even power failures.

"We already had a sense of crisis about the loss of manufacturing and manufacturing jobs," said Tetsuya Tanaka, a director of manufacturing promotion at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, or METI. "Now we are afraid the concerns about electricity could give manufacturers the excuse they need to move offshore."

The increased price pressures have wounded many of Japan's corporate giants. Last week, Sony -- the Apple-like innovator of the 1980s -- forecast a $6.4 billion loss amid reports it may cut 10,000 workers, a drastic step in a nation where layoffs are still seen as socially unacceptable. Even Japanese carmakers like Toyota, which last year handed back the title of world's largest auto company to General Motors after the supply disruptions from the tsunami, fear that they are becoming vulnerable to game-changing competition in electric cars or just lower-cost producers in South Korea and elsewhere.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage (MEG JAY, 4/15/12, NY Times)

Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages -- and more likely to divorce -- than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, "How did this happen?" we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it "just happened."

"We were sleeping over at each other's places all the time," she said. "We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn't work out there was a quick exit."

She was talking about what researchers call "sliding, not deciding." Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.

WHEN researchers ask cohabitors these questions, partners often have different, unspoken -- even unconscious -- agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

April 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Attacks in Kabul Show Taliban's Weakness (Max Boot, 04.16.2012, Commentary)

Just look at the casualty count: Apparently two Afghan police officers were killed in the attacks and 14 injured along with some 30 civilians. There were no reports of any serious casualties to Americans or other international forces. The attackers failed to gain possession of the Parliament building or any other target, and they were swiftly defeated by Afghan Security Forces who needed minimal assistance from coalition forces. Gen. John Allen, the senior NATO commander in Afghanistan, said: "I am enormously proud of how quickly Afghan security forces responded to today's attacks in Kabul. They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated. They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained."

Any imputation that the insurgents are on the verge of taking Kabul-or even seriously destabilizing it-is far off the mark. I visited the capital two weeks ago and found, as I have previously noted, that the streets are thronged with people: hardly the sign of a city under siege. I remember Baghdad in the dark days of 2006-2007 when entire neighborhoods were ghost towns. There is nothing like that going on in Kabul. That is not to deny the seriousness of the insurgency but simply to note that it is not a major, ongoing threat in Kabul. Otherwise, the residents of the capital would not feel safe to move around as freely as they do. There has not been a major insurgent attack in the capital in half a year. If this is the best the Haqqanis could do for a comeback, their efforts are indicative of the growing weakness of the insurgency and the growing strength of the security forces.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Romney, Obama in Tight Race as Gallup Daily Tracking Begins (Frank Newport, 4/16/12, Gallup)

Mitt Romney is supported by 47% of national registered voters and Barack Obama by 45% in the inaugural Gallup Daily tracking results from April 11-15. Both Obama and Romney are supported by 90% of their respective partisans. [...]

The crucial voting bloc of independents breaks toward Romney by 45% to 39%, giving the GOP challenger his slight overall edge.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Business travelers are doing more on fewer trips, study says (Hugo Martín, 4/16/12, Los Angeles Times)

Although many signs point to a strengthening U.S. economy, the overwhelming sentiment in the business travel world remains doing more with less.

That attitude came across in a recent study that found many business travelers are staying a few extra nights to handle more business instead of making multiple trips.

Partly as a result, the estimated total number of trips in the U.S. dropped 22.7% from 2000 to 2011, but overall spending on business travel increased 3.3%, according to a study released last week by the Global Business Travel Assn., a trade group in Virginia.

In 2000, the association estimated that Americans spent $243 billion on more than 576 million business trips. Last year, spending on business trips rose to $251 billion, but the number of trips dropped to 445 million, according to the group.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Jews Cast Wary Eye on Evangelicals: Poll Finds Suspicion of Christian Right, Even Israel Supporters (Nathan Guttman, April 16, 2012, The Forward)

Advocates for improved relations between Jews and Christian evangelicals had hoped that years of working together to support Israel would build bridges between the two otherwise distant communities. But a new poll indicates that mistrust and suspicion still run deep, at least on the Jewish side.

Only one in five Jewish Americans holds favorable views of those aligned with the Christian right, a category that includes most of Israel's evangelical supporters.

"I find this shocking and concerning," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the first major group to engage evangelical Christians in support of Israel. Eckstein and other activists working on Jewish-evangelical relations expressed a sense of betrayal, accusing Jewish liberals of being prejudiced against Christian conservatives and of clinging to pre-conceived notions and stereotypes about evangelicals' beliefs and goals.

They have nothing in common.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


The Simple Idea That Is Transforming Health Care: A focus on quality of life helps medical providers see the big picture--and makes for healthier, happier patients (LAURA LANDRO, 4/14/12, WSJ)

A very simple question is changing the delivery of medical care:

How is your health affecting your quality of life?

For decades, numbers drove the treatment of diseases like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Public-health officials focused on reducing mortality rates and hitting targets like blood-sugar levels for people with diabetes or cholesterol levels for those with heart disease.

Doctors, of course, are still monitoring such numbers. But now health-care providers are also adding a whole different, more subjective measure--how people feel about their condition and overall well-being. They're pushing for programs where nurses or trained counselors meet with people and ask personal questions like: Is your condition inhibiting your life? Is it making you less happy? Does it make it hard to cope day to day? Then the counselors offer advice about managing those problems and follow up regularly.

The logic is simple. People are more likely to manage their condition properly when they have more accessible, personal goals, like being able to do more at work or keep up with their kids, instead of focusing only on comparatively abstract targets like blood-sugar levels. And that, in turn, leads to much better health. Numerous studies show that when people have a higher sense of well-being, they have fewer hospitalizations and emergency-room visits, miss fewer days of work and use less medication. They're also more productive at work and more engaged in the community.

April 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


U.S.-Colombia Trade Pact Is Set (LAURA MECKLER, 4/15/12, WSJ)

U.S. officials said Sunday that a free-trade agreement with Colombia will go into effect on May 15, boosting the prospect of U.S. exports to this Andean nation.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Thomas Jefferson: Southerner & Literary Man (Geoffrey Norman, VermontTiger)

We know Jefferson most emphatically, of course, as the writer of these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Most of us still feel chills upon reading those words.  They are truly immortal and if Jefferson had never written anything else ... by virtue of those words alone he would deserve a special place in history.

But ... one thing that has always struck me about that passage is that Jefferson didn't claim to have suddenly arrived at "these truths."  Or to have reached them through some laborious exercise of logic or have had them delivered to him carved into stone tablets.

Instead, they were "self evident."

Obvious, in short, to anyone with eyes to see and a brain to comprehend and beyond argument.  Now, once you have established something as self-evident, the question becomes, "Okay, then, what next?"

For Jefferson and the rest of the founders the immediate answer was - concluding favorably that messy business with the English king and his soldiers, writing a Constitution, building a nation, and other monumental challenges that still inspire us to marvel that they were willing even to take them on, much less to accomplish them with such transcendent, lasting success.

But that was action.  On the thought side of things, the issue was settled.  These truths were self-evident and ... case closed.

Jefferson, in fact, later defended himself when it was suggested that the Declaration was not an original work and that he had, to put it charitably, "borrowed" from the writings and speeches of others:

This was the object of the declaration of independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All of its authority rest, then, on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sydney, &c.

So with the transcendent political question of the age now settled, Jefferson went on to other things.  Many, many things.  He was never - and this is crucial to why Jefferson is important to us, even today - was never a man totally consumed by the political.  He was the voice of what was arguably the only successful political revolution of the last three centuries but he never became that horror, the total political actor.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


Growing Out of Poverty : A World Bank report makes clear how free markets--and U.S. leadership--have led millions to better lives. (GUY SORMAN, 9 April 2012, City Journal)

The most significant events often escape media attention. How many would know from reading their daily newspaper or watching television that we live in an unprecedented economic period when the number of people living in extreme poverty is declining fast? According to a just-published World Bank report, the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 per day--or its local equivalent--has plummeted from 52 percent of the global population in 1981 to 22 percent in 2008. The World Bank doesn't provide more recent data, but other indices show that the 2008 financial crisis did not interrupt this trend. For millions of households, crossing the symbolic $1.25 threshold means leaving destitution behind and moving toward a more dignified life--no trivial achievement. Moreover, this escape from poverty happens while the global population continues to grow. Doomsday prophets who warned about a ticking "population bomb" have not been vindicated, to say the least. Global warming messiahs, beware: human ingenuity proves able to cope with the predicaments of Mother Nature.

Thirty years ago, half of the planet lived in utter misery, and many commentators argued that poverty was destiny. At best, most pundits conceded that pockets of poverty could be alleviated through international aid. Only a handful of economists begged to differ: Theodor Schultz, Milton Friedman, and Peter Bauer were the mavericks advocating free-market policies for every nation as the way out of poverty. They have been proven right. China's economy has been growing since the mid-1980s--when Deng Xiaoping, its de facto leader, abandoned central planning, opened the borders for foreign investment, and promoted entrepreneurship at home.

In 1991, after the Soviet economic model proved bankrupt, India left behind its socialist ideology, opened its borders to foreign competition, and deregulated its economy. The economies of the two most populous countries on earth have grown without interruption ever since. Remember, too, that South Korea and Taiwan understood the virtues of free markets long before China or India discovered them. Many smaller countries, across a huge range of cultures, soon followed suit. African governments, too, converted to free-market economics with significant results-- Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, among others. The International Monetary Fund, though useless as a lender, has proven beneficial in Africa by persuading local leaders to create independent central banks, which now manage reliable and stable currencies. The central banks, among other free-market institutions, have ignited economic growth in Africa, formerly ravaged by hyperinflation. The reconversion to monetary stability has also played a decisive role in rekindling Brazil's economy, which had been stalled in the 1970s by monetary follies.

Global growth, thus, is not a miracle, but the outcome of sound economic policies. This confirms what free-market economists have been writing since 1776, when Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations: economic policies based on entrepreneurship, open borders, and competition, prove successful. Socialism, promoted throughout the twentieth century as a way to bridge the gap between poor and rich countries, has failed everywhere.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Why LBJ Should be Ranked Alongside Lincoln: Robert Caro, the esteemed biographer of Lyndon Baines Johnson, talks on the Shakespearean life of the 36th president (Ron Rosenbaum, May 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

In 2009 Caro told C-Span's Brian Lamb that he had completed the stateside research on Vietnam but before writing about it, "I want to go there and really get more of a feel for it on the ground." Meaning, to actually live there for a while, as he'd lived in LBJ's hardscrabble Texas Hill Country while writing the first volume, The Path to Power.

Caro still plans to live in Vietnam, he told me when I visited him in his Manhattan office recently. He's 76 now. There has been an average of ten years between the last three volumes' appearances. You do the math.

I'm pulling for him to complete the now 30-year marathon, and the guy who met me at his Manhattan office looked fit enough for the ordeal of his work, more like a harried assistant prof at Princeton, where he studied. He was in the midst of frantically finishing off his galleys and chapter notes and told me he just realized he hadn't eaten all day (it was 4 p.m.), offered me a banana--the only food in the office--and when I declined, I was relieved to see, ate it himself. The man is driven.

Those who have thought of Caro as one of LBJ's harshest critics will be surprised at the often unmediated awe he expresses in this new book: "In the lifetime of Lyndon Johnson," he writes of LBJ's first weeks as president, "this period stands out as different from the rest, as one of that life's finest moments, as a moment not only masterful, but in its way, heroic."

But how to reconcile this heroism with the deadly lurch into Vietnam? I have my suspicions as to what he's going to do, and you might too when you get to the final page of this book where he writes, after paying tribute to this heroic period, about the return to the dark side, "If he had held in check those forces [of his dark side] within him, had conquered himself, for a while, he wasn't going to be able to do it for long."

"Do you mean," I asked him, "that the very mastery of power which he'd used for civil rights gave him the hubris to feel he could conquer anything, even Vietnam?"

"I'll have to take a pass on that," Caro said. He won't reveal anything until he writes it.

"But do you have the last sentence written?" I asked. He's said in the past he always writes the last sentence of a book before starting it. This would be the last sentence of the entire work, now projected to be five volumes.

To that he answers "yes." He won't, of course, say what it is.

Will that last sentence reveal a coherence in the portrait that he will have painted of LBJ's profoundly divided soul, a division that makes him such a great and mystifying character? Worthy of Melville. Or Conrad. Or will the white whale slip away into the heart of darkness that is Vietnam?

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Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Rogue nations on the ropes (National Post Editorial Board,  Apr 13, 2012)

For years, North Korea has been pursuing nuclear weapons, and the missiles to deliver them, as a means to shore up domestic legitimacy and intimidate other powers. The approach has succeeded to the extent it has helped North Korea extort Western food aid, thereby preventing total regime collapse. In the fullness of time, this week's events may be remembered as the beginning of the end of this extortionate strategy.

The Korean peninsula is not the only place where rogue power has suffered a setback. In Syria, the government of Bashar Assad has cleared away the most threatening pockets of rebel fighters. But in the process, he has turned himself into a regional pariah: In recent days, Syria has fired ordinance across both the Lebanese and Turkish borders, further alienating formerly sympathetic (or at least neutral) elements in both nations. Hamas, which once was headquartered in Damascus, has effectively taken sides with Syria's rebels. Even Hezbollah, a Shiite group that has worked closely with Syrian interests for many years, is under pressure to distance itself from Mr. Assad.

The Assad dynasty may totter on for months or even years. But it will survive in a climate of disgrace and bloodshed, having butchered thousands of Syrian citizens. All of the slogans emitted by Syria about the allegedly murderous perfidy of the hated Zionists now have redounded back against Mr. Assad's own government. As a regional actor, he is paralyzed -- and has dragged Hezbollah down with him. For the first time in historical memory, the attention of international human-rights groups in the Levant does not primarily involve Jews or Israelis in any way.

Iran's continuing effort to prop up Mr. Assad has guaranteed that Tehran, too, will be smeared with Syrian blood. Even before the Syrian uprising began last year, many Arabs feared Iranian hegemony. Now, that fear has turned into loathing. A few years ago, it was easy to predict that the "Arab street" would rise up in frenzied protest if the United States bombed Iran's nukes. These days, we suspect, a good many Arabs would openly welcome such an attack.

Just a few years ago, none of this was foreseeable.

Yeah, communist dictatorship and Arab dictatorships seemed to be working so well just a few years ago....
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Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Electric cars, hybrids see record sales (Dee-Ann Durbin, April 14, 2012, AP)

Consumers bought a record 52,000 gas-electric hybrids and all-electric cars in March, up from 34,000 during the same month last year.

The two categories combined made up 3.64 percent of total U.S. sales, their highest monthly market share ever, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. The previous high was 3.56 percent in July 2009, when the Cash for Clunkers program encouraged people to trade in old gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Why Obama's World Bank Pick Is Proving So Controversial (Lant Pritchett April 11, 2012, New Republic)

[T]hroughout this time there has been another side to the development world: one that is less interested in national development and more interested in humane development. (I say "humane" development to distinguish from "human development," which is an integral component of national development.) These are the people, often supported by philanthropy, who step into the breach where national development has failed. These idealists and the organizations they run have helped to mitigate famines, pandemics, poverty, violence, and lawlessness in some of the poorest areas in the world.

Nearly everyone understands that humane development, while terrific and noble and important work, is not the same as national development. Famine relief is a holding action not an agricultural strategy. Refugee camps during periods of violence are needed, but they do not constitute a housing strategy. Earthquake re-building is not an infrastructure strategy. This is not to denigrate those efforts, which draw on the dedication of some of the most heroic people on the planet. But these people recognize that their humane work is palliative and the need for it shrinks when national development happens.

Which brings us back to the leadership of the World Bank. As a medical doctor who has devoted himself to mitigating the consequences of poverty in places like Haiti and Rwanda and the slums and highlands of Peru, Jim Young Kim is from the world of humane development. But the World Bank is fundamentally an organization devoted to national development, especially the economic component of that process. As a result, his appointment appears to be an intrusion by the world of humane development into one of the core institutions of national development. By contrast, the nominee backed by many African countries, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been finance minister of Nigeria and a managing director of the World Bank. In other words, she is from the world of national development, rather than the world of humane development. What has shocked the development world is that President Obama did not seem to know the difference.

...we just assume Tim Geithner was trying to do his alma mater a favor by getting rid of the guy.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


George Washington named Britain's greatest ever foe (Jasper Copping, 14 Apr 2012, The Telegraph)

The American was voted the winner in a contest run by the National Army Museum to identify the country's most outstanding military opponent.

We're just lucky Lee was commander-in-chief instead of Longstreet.
Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Le Grand Meaulnes revisited: Julian Barnes feared that in rereading Alain-Fournier's great novel, in his 60s, its youthful enchantment might be lost. Instead, he was captivated once more (Julian Barnes, 13 April 2012, Guardian)

There is no doubting the classic status of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. A poll of French readers a dozen years ago placed it sixth of all 20th-century books, just behind Proust and Camus. Most French people read it at school; yet very few of them (according to my own private poll) ever reread it. This may stem from an understandable reluctance to revisit set texts; but more, perhaps, from a fear that the novel's magic might not work a second time around - as if, in adulthood, we know too much to fall under the its spell again. Yet this would be a mistake. What John Fowles called "the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature" can only ever be partly grasped by adolescents, because they don't yet know exactly what it is they are going to lose by growing up.

The British generally come to the book later than the French. I first read it even later than most - towards the end of my 30s. For a long time I'd been put off by the title (as I had with The Catcher in the Rye), by a paperback cover featuring a cute chunk of French chateau peeping out from idyllic woodland, and by the blurb, which would announce the story of a boy finding a mysteriously beautiful house then losing it, and finding a mysteriously beautiful girl then losing her. I imagined a sentimental tale of rural life, and wrongly assumed I was too old for all that stuff. More likely, I was still too young for it.

It's unforgettable.
Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


According to Page and Jacobs, Americans are conservative egalitarians who accept higher taxes and more government spending so as to give people equal opportunities (ANDREW GELMAN, APRIL 14, 2012, Monkey Cage)

As the saying goes, everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. Or, to put in political terms, people want lower taxes and more government services--with the gap filled, presumably, with a mixture of borrowed funds and savings realized by cutting government waste. In their new book "Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality," Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs put together survey data and make a convincing case that this cynical story is not a fair summary of public opinion in the United States. Actually, most Americans--Democrats and Republicans alike--support government intervention in health care, education, and jobs, and are willing to pay more in taxes for these benefits.

Page and Jacobs recognize that Americans are confused on some of these issues, for example not realizing that sales taxes cost lower-income people more, as a percentage of their earnings, while the personal income tax hits higher-income groups more, on average. The result is widespread confusion about what are the most effective ways to pay for government spending. People are also confused about how to cut the budget. To choose a well-known example that is not in the book at hand, Americans overwhelmingly support reducing the share of the federal budget that goes to foreign aid, but they also vastly overestimate the current share of the budget that goes to this purpose (average estimate of 15%, compared to an actual value of 0.3%).

Confusions on specific tax and budget items aside, Page and Jacobs are persuasive that majority public opinion is consistent with tax increases targeted to specific government programs aimed at bringing a basic standard of living and economic opportunity to all Americans. They discuss how survey respondents generally feel that such an expansion of the role of government is consistent with generally expressed free-market attitudes, a philosophy which they call "conservative egalitarianism."

It's simply easier for us to accept the idea of helping folks up front--with defined contribution programs--in ways that level our start in life, than the idea of leveling unequal outcomes later.

April 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Tips for how patients can evaluate health research (Connie Midey, Apr. 13, 2012, The Republic)

"It's about having a healthy skepticism," she says. [physician Lisa Schwartz, professor at Dartmouth Medical School and author with Steven Woloshin and H. Gilbert Welch of "Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics"] suggests starting with: "What is this study trying to say, and do I believe it? Is it about people like me, or is it an early result, perhaps from animal research?"

If research concludes that a certain intervention -- a drug or food or treatment -- reduces risk, she would ask, "My risk of what exactly? Is it something I really care about? Does it affect whether I live or die? Or is it just about a blood test or X-ray result?"

The National Institutes of Health lists seven questions to ask about medical findings. Schwartz would add: How big is the expected benefit? What are the side effects? Do the research subjects have the same level of disease you have? If not a randomized, controlled trial, was it an observational study?

The first type is "the gold standard," Schwartz says. "People are randomly assigned to the thing being tested, such as to the new drug or to the old drug. Then when we see differences at the end of the study, we can feel confident that they are because of the intervention we did."

Observational studies have a place, too, sometimes out of necessity. Researchers can't assign subjects to do something harmful, such as smoke cigarettes.

But with a study that follows people over time, "it's hard to separate out one contributing factor from all their lifestyle habits," Schwartz says.

Seven questions to ask when you learn about a new medical finding...

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


U.S. likely to make a profit on bailouts, Treasury says (Jim Puzzanghera, 4/14/12, Los Angeles Times)

Over the next 10 years, the taxpayer-funded bailouts could produce as much as $163 billion in profits, in a best-case scenario, from repayments, stock sales, dividends and interest paid by banking and insurance firms, auto companies and mortgage finance companies.

That's a stark turnaround from predictions of hundreds of billions in losses in the immediate aftermath of the unprecedented aid, starting at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

The only danger of TARP was always that it was going to work so well that it would justify future government intervention.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


For Obama, Going Positive May Be More Difficult This Time (RICHARD W. STEVENSON, 4/14/12, NY Times)

[T]he edgier and more negative tone coming from the president's re-election is highlighting another issue. Successful campaigns tell positive stories even while they are in knife fights, and even as it steps up an effort to define Mr. Romney on its terms, the White House is working to make a positive case for Mr. Obama, one built around themes of fairness and security.

Judging by the difficulties he has had selling his policies and himself for the last three years, going positive in an effective way could prove to be more challenging for Mr. Obama than going negative.

...when he is no one and has nothing to say?  His formerly blank slate has been written on by four years of governance and folks don't much like what they read there.  He has no choice but negativity and there he faces the same problem that Maverick had last time around, he's running against too amorphous a figure for the negative stuff to stick.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM

Heritage Blues Orchestra: Spirits Rising (MARC SILVER, April 12, 2012, NPR)

"Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" is a vigorous mash-up of big-city blues, church spirit and modern jazz. A chugging guitar and honking harmonica set a march-like pace at the get-go, and vocalist Junior Mack begins a lyrical sermon in his warm-hearted tenor: You might slip, slide, stumble, fall by the roadside, "but don't you let nobody drag your spirit down." Four horns -- tenor sax, two trumpets and trombone -- add unexpected harmonies, rising and slithering like a conjurer's snake, negotiating a maze of bluesy flatted thirds and sevenths. For good measure, Mack shows off his B.B. King-like guitar chops in a solo.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


U.N. condemns North Korean rocket launch (William Wan and Colum Lynch, 4/123/12, Washington Post)

...how are we supposed to justify our bloated military spending if you show everyone there is no threat to defend against?

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Why Stephen Harper's biggest battles will be with Conservatives (Chantal Hébert, 4/13/12, National Post)

If she seizes the Alberta throne from the Tories, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith will be a force within the conservative movement that Harper will have to reckon with.

The territory she has staked out -- to the right of her province's ruling Progressive Conservatives -- is the natural habitat of a sizeable section of Harper's party base.

A Wildrose Alliance victory on those terms would come at a particularly sensitive time for the federal Conservatives; a moment when their longtime supporters are questioning whether the conquest of federal power has turned out to be a zero-sum game on the policy front.

Over much of Harper's six-year tenure as prime minister, his minority status has acted as a buffer between his successive Conservative governments and an impatient activist base. That buffer was removed in last year's federal election.

Since then, some of the harshest criticism of Harper's agenda -- including the first full-fledged majority budget his government brought down a few weeks ago -- has come in the form of friendly fire.

Governing in a democratic society is incompatible with ideology.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Gas Prices Too High? Have You Considered Sewage?: Hydrogen cars aren't taking off because hydrogen is hard to make and put in cars. But there is a lot of the gas in our waste treatment plants, and one in California will now let you fill up. Have they opened the door to a hydrogen economy? (Ben Schiller, Fast Company)

Jack Brouwer, associate director at the National Fuel Cell Research Center, at UC Irvine, claims the project is a world first, and could be just the start of many installations to be built around the world in the next few years. Eventually, communities could become hydrogen-independent, he says.

"I don't see people in their own backyards using their own waste to produce their own fuel. But communities that are large enough, that have a large enough flow of waste, could have a chance to do this with their waste streams," he says.

Brouwer says that, in the short term, sewage could produce 100% of the required volume of hydrogen to run fuel-cell cars. In the longer term, when there is greater demand, he estimates it could meet 10 to 15%.

Cars with fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity to turn a motor, and potentially offer zero emissions, depending on the original fuel source. As well as sewage gas, it is also possible to produce hydrogen from wind and solar energy. But, Brouwer says sewage is preferable because it offers higher efficiency.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Gotye On World Cafe (World Cafe,  April 13, 2012)

Making Mirrors was a breakout release for Gotye, but it's not his first time around the block. Born in Belgium but raised in Australia, the bilingual multi-instrumentalist began playing drums, piano and other instruments as a child. He started a band in his teens, started another in college and released three albums during that time. Given Gotye's bold, quirky and vivid songwriting, he's looking to stick around for a while, too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


The Big Book : Robert Caro has spent thirty-eight years writing the biography of one man. The fourth volume of that work, like its three predecessors a giant achievement and certain best seller, is about to be published. But Caro is not done. The world and all that's in it has changed, and still Caro is not done. Time has eaten everything around him, and still he is not done. But until he is done, one part of the world that we will never see again will not die.  (Chris Jones, May 2012, Esquire)

This room is almost a temple to timelessness. Caro has worked with the same set of tools since 1966, when he began his first book, The Power Broker, his definitive 1,162-page biography of Robert Moses, the controversial New York planner and builder. For so many writers, for most of them, The Power Broker, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, would represent their crowning achievement; for Caro, it was just the beginning. Back then, he and his wife, Ina, lived in a pretty little house in Roslyn, Long Island -- he was a reporter at Newsday -- and one of the great crumbling neighboring estates had a fire sale. Caro went. He bought a chess set, and he bought a lamp. The lamp was bronze and heavy and sculpted, a chariot rider pulled along by two rearing horses. "It cost seventy-five dollars," Caro remembers. The chess set is hidden away under a couch in their apartment on Central Park West. The lamp is here on his desk, spilling light onto his galleys. Except for a brief period when he couldn't afford an office, when Caro worked instead in the Allen Room at the New York Public Library, he has written every word of every one of his books in the same warm lamplight, millions of words under the watch of that chariot rider and his two horses.

"Nobody believes this, but I write very fast," he says.

Before he writes, however, he sits at his desk, and he looks out his window at the glass building across the street, and he thinks about what each of his books is to become. In those quiet moments, he remembers the words of one of his professors from when Caro was a young man at Princeton, studying literature. The professor was the critic and poet R. P. Blackmur, and Caro, who always wrote his assignments in a hurry, under the pressure of deadline, and who usually received good grades for his rushed work, thought he had fooled him. Blackmur was not fooled: "You're not going to achieve what you want to achieve, Mr. Caro, unless you stop thinking with your fingers," the poet said.

So Caro knits together his fingers until he knows what his book is about. Once he is certain, he will write one or two paragraphs -- he aims for one, but he usually writes two, a consistent Caro math -- that capture his ambitions. Those two paragraphs will be his guide for as long as he's working on the book. Whenever he feels lost, whenever he finds himself buried in his research or dropping the thread -- over the course of ten years, a man can become a different man entirely -- he can read those two paragraphs back to himself and find anchor again.
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April 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Fenway Park, the loveliest green patch on Earth (Father Raymond J. de Souza  Apr 12, 2012, National Post)

 It would be hard to argue with the local view that Boston is North America's premier sports town. They win a lot of championships. The Bruins' Stanley Cup victory last spring came after 39 years, to be sure. But while Toronto fans can relate to a long championship drought, Bostonians can't. Between the Bruins' 1972 and 2011 Stanley Cup victories, the Celtics appeared in nine NBA championships, winning six; the Patriots won three Super Bowls (and appeared in two more); and the Red Sox won two World Series.

The Bruins begin their Stanley Cup defence here on Thursday against the Washington Capitals. They now play in the TD Garden, the successor to the venerable Boston Garden, which was demolished in 1997. My Boston friends were surprised to learn that TD stood for Toronto Dominion, and responded to my furnishing that information with the remark that the "T" in TD was as close as Toronto was going to get to the Stanley Cup. Tough, but fair.

Even without all the championships, Boston would be a great sports city for Fenway Park alone. Friday, the Red Sox face Tampa Bay in the opener of what is Fenway Park's centennial season. That's correct -- 100 years. In an age when arenas and ballparks built in the 1980s are considered outdated and slated for the wrecking ball, the sports gods smile upon Boston for keeping Fenway Park alive and thriving. [...]

As legions of rapacious team owners have demonstrated, any fool can tear something down while extorting taxpayers to build something new. Innovation that respects tradition requires both greater ingenuity and more noble character. Fans have rewarded the Red Sox for their fidelity to Fenway. Friday's home opener will be the 713th consecutive sellout, a major league record. Boston also leads the league in hot dogs sold, by the way: 1.5 million Fenway Franks per year, despite it being one of the smaller parks in baseball.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Remembering The Titanic's Intrepid Bandleader (NPR, April 13, 2012

More than 1,500 people died that night. One of them was Wallace Hartley, the son of a church choirmaster in England; he'd left work as a bank teller for a career in music. Hartley conducted and played violin, and he worked some 80 maritime voyages before joining the Titanic as bandmaster.

In the book Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner, historian John Maxtone-Graham describes the 33-year-old Hartley as so dapper and hip to new music that he used the name "Hotley" in his wireless messages.

"Whenever he went to New York, he didn't go to the oyster houses or taverns that his fellow crewmen went to," Maxtone-Graham says. "He went to Tin Pan Alley looking for sheet music because he was hipped on getting the latest possible music to play for his passengers."

Hartley and his musicians became the stuff of legend as the Titanic was sinking, because they kept playing.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


NASA Envisions "Clean Energy" From Algae Grown in Waste Water (NASA, 04.22.09)
NASA scientists have proposed an ingenious and remarkably resourceful process to produce "clean energy" biofuels, that cleans waste water, removes carbon dioxide from the air, retains important nutrients, and does not compete with agriculture for land or freshwater. 

When astronauts go into space, they must bring everything they need to survive. Living quarters on a spaceship require careful planning and management of limited resources, which is what inspired the project called "Sustainable Energy for Spaceship Earth." It is a process that produces "clean energy" biofuels very efficiently and very resourcefully. 

"The reason why algae are so interesting is because some of them produce lots of oil," said Jonathan Trent, the lead research scientist on the Spaceship Earth project at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "In fact, most of the oil we are now getting out of the ground comes from algae that lived millions of years ago. Algae are still the best source of oil we know." 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


MONEY POL: Does Mitt Romney really love you? (Louis Menand, MARCH 19, 2012, The New Yorker)

Once, when winters were cold and the world seemed large, creatures roamed the earth who were permissive on social issues and at ease with big government, yet remained ever faithful to the gods of business and finance. Their principles were abstract but broad-minded: tolerance, free trade, and a belief in something called the American Way. Their personal tastes were conventional. They were surprisingly allergic to indecorum, and disinclined to question the status quo. But they were not small-town or provincial; they were Wall Streeters, not Main Streeters. Their vista was international. They were private-sector types who answered the call to public service. They were liberal Republicans. Nelson Rockefeller was such a creature. So were Prescott Bush, William Scranton, Charles Percy, John Lindsay, Mark Hatfield, Elliot Richardson, and George Romney.

Then, one year, a powerful meteor struck the planet, and, virtually overnight, the entire species was wiped out. The meteor's name was Ronald Reagan. Political paleontologists, looking back at the fossil record, can detect signs pointing to the organism's imminent extinction that predate the Reagan era. Richard Nixon, for example, showed that a pro-business, big-government Republican, by appealing to suburban anti-Communism and white working-class resentment, could take a populist road to the White House. Men like Rockefeller and Romney despised Nixon; but they could never beat him. Liberal Republicans did not like to get into the political mud.

Everything in Michael Kranish and Scott Helman's biography "The Real Romney" (HarperCollins) confirms the view that until 2005 Mitt Romney was a liberal Republican cryogenically preserved from the pre-Reagan era. He was a liberal on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights; a champion of government programs, such as universal health care; an anti-protectionist, "open door" internationalist; a private-sector multimillionaire who was also a personal square, completely uninterested in life-style "experimentation"; a reflexively patriotic, flag-pin-in-the-lapel sort of fellow; a wealthy man possessed of the slightly daft notion that although he had been born to privilege, every American has the opportunity (and the wish) to live as he does; a patrician with a deep sense of noblesse oblige.

...that Mr. Menand just described Ronald Reagan.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Newark Mayor Cory Booker taken to hospital after rescuing woman from house fire (Star-Ledger, 4/12/12)

 Newark Mayor Cory Booker was taken to a hospital tonight for treatment of smoke inhalation he suffered trying to rescue his next-door neighbors from their burning house.

"I just grabbed her and whipped her out of the bed," Booker said in recounting the fire. Booker told The Star-Ledger he also suffered second-degree burns on his hand.

The fire started in a two-story building on Hawthorne Avenue in the Upper Clinton Hill neighborhood, shortly before the mayor arrived home after a television interview with News 12 New Jersey.
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April 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


North Korean Rocket Launch Fails: US Officials (ALYSSA NEWCOMB, April 12, 2012, ABC)

An anticipated missile launch by North Korea failed today when the country fired a long-range test rocket in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and an agreement with the United States.

The 90-ton rocket launched at 6:39 p.m. EST, but U.S. officials said that 81 seconds into the launch, there was a substantially larger than expected flare and by ten minutes after launch, the rocket was no longer on several radar screens, including those of the National Military Command Center tracking system.

The missile is believed to have crashed into the sea. Early reports from South Korean officials indicate that debris from the rocket fell near the Philippines, ten minutes after launch.

They are a threat only to themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Philippines and China in a Standoff at Sea (FLOYD WHALEY, 4/12/12, NY Times)

Philippine and Chinese officials on Wednesday called for a diplomatic solution to a naval standoff in the South China Sea, while insisting that they would defend their territorial claims in the region.

"If the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure our sovereignty," Albert F. del Rosario, the Philippine foreign secretary, said at a news conference as a Philippine frigate and two Chinese ships positioned themselves near disputed islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a statement reaffirming its claim to sovereignty over the islands and said that the Philippine Navy was harassing its fishing vessels in the area.

The standoff comes at a time of increasing assertiveness by China in its claims to the South China Sea waters around the Philippines. The dispute intensified after the Philippines announced in February that it would invite foreign energy companies to explore for oil and gas in the waters west of Palawan Province, and adjacent to the Spratly Islands.

The Philippines, an ally of the United States, has become a particular target of China's anger in the South China Sea disputes.

They're an ally, just sink the Chicom boat.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Robert Caro's Big Dig (CHARLES McGRATH, April 12, 2012, NY Times Magazine)

Robert Caro probably knows more about power, political power especially, than anyone who has never had some. He has never run for any sort of office himself and would probably have lost if he had. He's a shy, soft-spoken man with old-fashioned manners and an old-fashioned New York accent (he says "toime" instead of "time" and "foine" instead of fine), so self-conscious that talking about himself makes him squint a little. The idea of power, or of powerful people, seems to repel him as much as it fascinates. And yet Caro has spent virtually his whole adult life studying power and what can be done with it, first in the case of Robert Moses, the great developer and urban planner, and then in the case of Lyndon Johnson, whose biography he has been writing for close to 40 years. Caro can tell you exactly how Moses heedlessly rammed the Cross Bronx Expressway through a middle-class neighborhood, displacing thousands of families, and exactly how Johnson stole the Texas Senate election of 1948, winning by 87 spurious votes. These stories still fill him with outrage but also with something like wonder, the two emotions that sustain him in what amounts to a solitary, Dickensian occupation with long hours and few holidays.

Caro is the last of the 19th-century biographers, the kind who believe that the life of a great or powerful man deserves not just a slim volume, or even a fat one, but a whole shelf full. He dresses every day in a jacket and tie and reports to a 22nd-floor office in a nondescript building near Columbus Circle, where his neighbors are lawyers or investment firms. His office looks as if it belongs to the kind of C.P.A. who still uses ledgers and a hand-cranked adding machine. There are an old wooden desk, wooden file cabinets and a maroon leather couch that never gets sat on. Here Caro writes the old-fashioned way: in longhand, on large legal pads.

Caro began "The Years of Lyndon Johnson," his multivolume biography of the 36th president, in 1976, not long after finishing "The Power Broker," his immense, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, and figured he could do Johnson's life in three volumes, which would take him six years or so. Next month, a fourth installment, "The Passage of Power," will appear 10 years after the last, "Master of the Senate," which came out 12 years after its predecessor, "Means of Ascent," which in turn was published 8 years after the first book, "The Path to Power." These are not ordinary-size volumes, either. "Means of Ascent," at 500 pages or so, is the comparative shrimp of the bunch. "The Path to Power" is almost 900 pages long; "Master of the Senate" is close to 1,200, or nearly as long as the previous two combined. If you try to read or reread them all in just a couple weeks, as I foolishly did not long ago, you find yourself reluctant to put them down but also worried that your eyeballs may fall out.

The new book, an excerpt of which recently ran in The New Yorker, is 736 pages long and covers only about six years. It begins in 1958, with Johnson, so famously decisive and a man of action, dithering as he decides whether or not to run in the 1960 presidential election. The book then describes his loss to Kennedy on the first ballot at the Democratic convention and takes him through the miserable, humiliating years of his vice presidency before devoting almost half its length to the 47 days between Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 (Caro's account, told from Johnson's point of view, is the most riveting ever) and the State of the Union address the following January -- a period during which Johnson seizes the reins of power and, in breathtakingly short order, sets in motion much of the Great Society legislation.

In other words, Caro's pace has slowed so that he is now spending more time writing the years of Lyndon Johnson than Johnson spent living them, and he isn't close to being done yet. 

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Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Zimmerman 'Profiled' Martin: Prosecutor's Affidavit (Eric Linton, April 12, 2012 , IB Times)

It says that Zimmerman was in his vehicle when he saw Martin "and assumed Martin was a criminal. Zimmerman felt Martin did not belong in the gated community and called the police. Zimmerman spoke to the dispatcher and asked for an officer to respond because Zimmerman perceived that Martin was acting suspicious. The police dispatcher informed Zimmerman that an officer was on the way and to wait for the officer. [...]

As the incident was unfolding, Martin was on the phone with a friend, the affidavit says. "The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn't know why. Martin attempted to run home but was followed by Zimmerman who didn't want the person he falsely assumed was going to commit a crime to get away before the police arrived. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and followed Martin.

"When the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him. Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin, who was trying to return to his home.

"Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Will Khamenei Compromise? (Reza Marashi, Ali Reza Eshraghi | April 11, 2012, National Interest)

Over the past two decades, efforts by all three Iranian presidents to mend relations with the United States have failed. Former president Rafsanjani recently reiterated that during his presidency in 1990s, he pushed to repair relations with America but Khamenei was against it: "Perhaps if we treated the U.S. like Europe . . . we would have had fewer problems." A displeased Khamenei responded by reiterating his thesis about the United States: "Whenever we take a step back and are more laid back in our behavior, they become more brazen."

This seeming hostility notwithstanding, it is a mistake to conclude that Khamenei is against any opening in relations. On this point, what's past is prologue. During his presidency in the 1980s, Khamenei was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. In the 1990s, he did not oppose Rafsanjani's $1 billion oil-contract offer to American company Conoco. In 2001, he allowed Tehran to provide Washington with intelligence during the invasion of Afghanistan. In 2003, he approved a proposal to the U.S. Department of State outlining the contours of a U.S.-Iran agreement on issues of mutual interest.

In 2007, Khamenei backed three rounds of talks over Iraq between Iranian and American officials. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated Barack Obama on his election victory in 2008 without being admonished by the supreme leader. Most recently, Khamenei allowed Iranian authorities negotiate directly with American officials over Iran's nuclear program. Years of unsuccessful negotiations with Europe have convinced him that a reliable agreement cannot be reached without U.S. participation and acquiescence.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Sweden's secret recipe (FRASER NELSON, 14 APRIL 2012, The Spectator)

When Europe's finance ministers meet for a group photo, it's easy to spot the rebel -- Anders Borg has a ponytail and earring. What actually marks him out, though, is how he responded to the crash. While most countries in Europe borrowed massively, Borg did not. Since becoming Sweden's finance minister, his mission has been to pare back government. His 'stimulus' was a permanent tax cut. To critics, this was fiscal lunacy -- the so-called 'punk tax cutting' agenda. Borg, on the other hand, thought lunacy meant repeating the economics of the 1970s and expecting a different result.

Three years on, it's pretty clear who was right. 'Look at Spain, Portugal or the UK, whose governments were arguing for large temporary stimulus,' he says. 'Well, we can see that very little of the stimulus went to the economy. But they are stuck with the debt.' Tax-cutting Sweden, by contrast, had the fastest growth in Europe last year, when it also celebrated the abolition of its deficit. The recovery started just in time for the 2010 Swedish election, in which the Conservatives were re-elected for the first time in history.

All this has taken Borg from curiosity to celebrity. The Financial Times recently declared him the most effective finance minister in Europe. When we meet in his Stockholm office on a Friday afternoon (he and his aide seem to be the only two left in the building) he says he is just carrying on 20 years of reform. 'Sweden was a textbook case of European economic sclerosis. Very high taxes and huge regulatory burden.' An economic crisis in the early 1990s forced Sweden on the road to balanced budgets, and Borg was determined the 2007 crash would not stop him cutting the size of government.

'Everybody was told "stimulus, stimulus, stimulus",' he says -- referring to the EU, IMF and the alphabet soup of agencies urging a global, debt-fuelled spending splurge. Borg, an economist, couldn't work out how this would help. 'It was surprising that Europe, given what we experienced in the 1970s and 80s with structural unemployment, believed that short-term Keynesianism could solve the problem.' Non-economists, he says, 'might have a tendency to fall for those kinds of messages'.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Who Gets to Be French? (KARL E. MEYER, 4/11/12, NY Times)

THE French language is justly renowned for its clarity and precision. Yet on a seemingly simple matter its speakers stumble into a fog -- who or what can be defined as French? The question arose afresh in the wake of the Toulouse killings. No one doubted that the perpetrator was 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, a native son of Algerian descent. But was Mr. Merah French?

Impossible, declared four members of Parliament belonging to President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right party. In a joint statement, they insisted that Mr. Merah "had nothing French about him but his identity papers."

Nonsense, retorted the left-wing journal Libération: "Merah is certainly a monster, but he was a French monster." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


How to build an artificial star on Earth (Celeste Biever, 4/10/12, New Scientist)

THE sun beats down through a cloudless sky as we weave between concrete blocks, each about as tall a person. Hundreds of the blocks are arranged in lines that fan out from a central point, like a child's drawing of the sun, cast at the bottom of a huge limestone pit in southern France. It is as if I'm standing in a shrine to our closest star, and in a way I am. If all goes well, the space above my head will one day rage with humanity's first self-sustaining fusion reaction, an artificial sun ten times hotter than the one that gives our planet life.

The blocks - each fitted with an elastomeric top to absorb vibrations - are seismic plinths, designed to shield the building that will rise above from damage in the event of an earthquake. Together they form the bowels of ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, an ambitious and unusual collaboration between seven of the world's biggest powers: China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. Their goal is to build the first energy-producing fusion reactor - harnessing the process that powers the sun and most other stars. At extremely high temperatures, hydrogen nuclei will fuse to form helium, spitting out more energy than the process consumes, something that has never yet been achieved by a human-made device.

With many advantages over its more toxic cousin, fission, it has long been clear that nuclear fusion could be a wonder energy source. Only now - following major budget cuts in the 1990s and years of bitter political wrangling to determine its location - are the formidable structures and devices that will make ITER a reality starting to take shape. "This is one of the most complicated things you could possibly imagine building," says Richard Pitts, leader of ITER's plasma-wall interactions group. "It is a truly massive scientific endeavour."

The 60-metre-high building that will one day stand above me will be the centrepiece of a 39-building compound, and will house the burning, doughnut-shaped hydrogen-helium mixture at ITER's heart. At a fiercely hot 150 million °C, deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen with one extra neutron, and tritium, with two, will form a state of matter known as a plasma, in which their nuclei fuse to form helium. When they achieve "plasma burn", they will spit out power in the form of a highly energetic neutron that will be used to heat the walls of the reactor, and in future reactors, would be used to drive a turbine.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


RIP Thomas Kinkade. And how is he different from Damien Hirst? (RUSSELL SMITH, 4/11/12,  Globe and Mail)

Kinkade's intentions, on the other hand, were never ironic or critical: He found that people really loved chocolate boxes, and chocolate boxes he painted. His success was baffling to even the most broad-minded of art lovers. Even as an illustrator, he wasn't really very good: I have seen more real-looking hobbit cottages in many a children's book. His light pastel palette, really heavy on the pink, is truly weird: Everything he painted ended up tinged with pink, even the Indy 500 racetrack. The colours are so sweet, most of what he paints looks not like candy boxes but like actual candy, as if every tree and steeple is made of sugar.

There is also a strange fixation on property in Kinkade's work: He made thousands of images of houses, castles and mansions, their windows all glowing a radioactive orange, and there are no people visible in or near them. [...]

I'm surprised no one is comparing him to Damien Hirst, the most profitable British "high" artist. They have been reviled for almost identical reasons by the press. Hirst, whose current retrospective at London's Tate Modern has garnered largely scornful reviews from the art intelligentsia, has been criticized for his determined profit-seeking, for inflated prices, for using assistants to produce his work, even for a general lack of originality (many artists and illustrators have accused him of copying their work). But Hirst is seen as a conceptualist - his art is these brilliant money-making ideas themselves.

Why don't we see Kinkade in a similar light? What Kinkade was selling was also ideas: a mythical America, a pink-dawned, Christian cartoonscape of flowers, waterfalls and Disneyland. The dreamscape is a concept. Kinkade's hand didn't touch the prints that fans collected. Kinkade himself declared in one interview, "I am really the most controversial artist in the world." No wonder he made almost as much as the star of the Saatchi collection and the Tate Modern - Kinkade was a conceptual artist.

Since at least Don Quijote, attempts at irony have almost always turned on the artist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Two Faiths: The Witness of Whittaker Chambers (Richard M. Reinsch, Religion & Liberty)

Calvin Coolidge remarked that, "Great men are the ambassadors of Providence sent to reveal to their fellow men their unknown selves. To them is granted the power to call forth the best there is in those who come under their influence." To Coolidge's treatment of greatness, we might add the transcendent voices of certain writers who encapsulate in almost lyrical form the creative ideas, passions, and tensions within themselves, as measured by the period's conflicts they were providentially hurled against. These voices speak to the heart of man from the center of the writer's soul.

One such writer was Whittaker Chambers, whose autobiography Witness, published in 1952, details his life as an agent in the Fourth Section of Soviet Military Intelligence from 1932 to 1938, where he coordinated espionage activities with high-ranking United States government officials. Witness also movingly explains Chambers' departure from Communism and his conversion to Christianity. From his conversion, Chambers grasped that revolutionary ideology lied about the nature of man and the source of his being. The sources of Chambers' ascent and the witness he made are worth recalling in our own period of late-modern anomie.

One morning in 1938, shortly before leaving the Communist Party, while feeding his young daughter, Chambers concluded that the shape of her ear could not be explained by Marxist materialism. Something this beautiful and unique, Chambers observed, implied design, which implied the existence of God. Understanding the divine gift of his daughter Ellen, also strangely related to the horrific irruption within Chambers of the "screams" from Communism's suffering victims. He writes "[O]ne day the Communist really hears those screams. [The screams] ... do not merely reach his mind. They pierce beyond. They pierce to his soul." A soul in agony, in this case, a person under persecution by Communist authorities, has attempted to communicate with another soul through memory and across time. The crucial significance of both episodes rests in Chambers embracing the presence of his soul, thus denying the false materialism of Communism and the darkness it had covered him in. As Chambers observed, "A Communist breaks because he must choose at last between irreconcilable opposites--God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom or Communism."

Chambers' conversion inspired him to atone for his past betrayal of his country.

April 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Resilient Romney Bests His Last GOP Challenger (Carl M. Cannon, April 11, 2012, RCP)

Another way to look at Romney is that he proved to have one key prerequisite to running a competitive general election campaign: He can take a punch. When he got decked, which happened repeatedly, sometimes by his own corner, Mitt Romney picked himself off the canvas and began launching haymakers on whatever rival was standing in his way -- and there were several of them.

These two images of Romney are not mutually exclusive, and one thing is objectively true: No Republican candidate ever captured the nomination after having trailed so many rivals at one time or another in straw votes, fundraising, public opinion polls, and buzz. They came at him in waves, as though they were running a relay race and Romney was running a marathon by himself. In the ended, he bested the entire tag team of Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich & Santorum.

Rick Santorum was the last, and the toughest, rival, but he spit the bit on Tuesday -- apparently to avoid a drubbing in his home state of Pennsylvania two weeks hence. Polls showed the race to be close, but moving Romney's way, even before an expected blitz of negative ads by the Romney machine that were set to begin saturating the Keystone airwaves this week.

"He would have been crushed," veteran Republican political consultant Edward J. Rollins told RCP Tuesday. "The Romney folks were going to bomb him back to the Stone Age! He didn't have any resources to fight back, and losing your home state would be humiliating."

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Gas Glut Rejiggers Industry (RUSSELL GOLD, REBECCA SMITH and DANIEL GILBERT, 4/11/12, WSJ)

Plummeting natural-gas prices are pushing U.S. industries into virgin terrain, even beginning to dislodge cheap Western coal from its once-untouchable perch as the nation's favorite fuel for power production.

On Tuesday, natural-gas futures settled at $2.03 per million British thermal units--just a hint above $2, the lowest price since January 2002.

The shock wave for industry could intensify this summer because the U.S. is running out of room to store the glut of natural gas, which could drive gas prices down to sustained lows not seen in decades.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Kinkade's garish pictures of bubbling brooks, flowering arbors, and quaint village life get at an important chunk of the American psyche that most museum art doesn't. He captures, with chilling accuracy, a strangely American combination of blinkered nostalgia, blind complacency, and a ferocious resistance to change. And then he packages and sells that vision within a no-holds-barred consumerist culture that you wouldn't think compatible with pictures of commerce-free townships twinkling by snowlight. There's not a single Pop artist-not even Warhol-who got at this truly popular side of our culture, and its contradictions, the way Kinkade did.

My praise isn't facetious or knowing. Kinkade channeled a certain American vision and found the perfect way to convey it. His saccharine style, which escapes any hint of irony or self-reflection, is perfectly matched to some unreflective and irony-free zones in our culture. Art doesn't always have to comment on the thing it shows. Sometimes just holding up a mirror can be more than enough. Sometimes a mirror is a better tool for seeing than a fancy lens.

I believe Kinkade is not the fantasist he seems. His art gives a realist's view of how many Americans think and emote. His peaceable farmsteads may never have existed, but the ideals they appeal to are very much with us.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


We all crave it, but can you stand the silence? The longest anyone can bear Earth's quietest place is 45 minutes (TED THORNHILL 3 April 2012, Daily Mail)

They say silence is golden - but there's a room in the U.S that's so quiet it becomes unbearable after a short time.

The longest that anyone has survived in the 'anechoic chamber' at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis is just 45 minutes.

It's 99.99 per cent sound absorbent and holds the Guinness World Record for the world's quietest place, but stay there too long and you may start hallucinating. [...]

The company's founder and president, Steven Orfield, told MailOnline: 'We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark - one reporter stayed in there for 45 minutes.
'When it's quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You'll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly.

'In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.'

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Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


What Export-Oriented America Means (TYLER COWEN, May-June 2012, American Interest)

At least three forces are likely to combine to make the United States an export powerhouse.

First, artificial intelligence and computing power are the future, or even the present, for much of manufacturing. It's not just the robots; look at the hundreds of computers and software-driven devices embedded in a new car. Factory floors these days are nearly empty of people because software-driven machines are doing most of the work. The factory has been reinvented as a quiet place. There is now a joke that "a modern textile mill employs only a man and a dog--the man to feed the dog, and the dog to keep the man away from the machines."2

The next steps in the artificial intelligence revolution, as manifested most publicly through systems like Deep Blue, Watson and Siri, will revolutionize production in one sector after another. Computing power solves more problems each year, including manufacturing problems.

It's not just that Silicon Valley and the Pentagon and our universities give the United States a big edge with smart machines. The subtler point is this: The more the world relies on smart machines, the more domestic wage rates become irrelevant for export prowess. That will help the wealthier countries, most of all America. [...]

The second force behind export growth will be the recent discoveries of very large shale oil and natural gas deposits in the United States. Come 2030, the United States may well be the new Saudi Arabia of energy markets. We have new fossil fuel discoveries to draw upon, enough to fuel this country for decades, and there is plenty of foreign demand for those resources. 

The shale gas revolution started at the beginning of the last decade, as the technology of "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing) became easier. Fracking uses compressed water, sand and some chemicals to liberate natural gas from underground repositories. Fracking suddenly accounts for 20 percent of domestic natural gas production--a very rapid increase--and the number is slated to rise further over the next few decades, possibly to account for half of all U.S. natural gas output. This is a technology pioneered and mastered by the United States, and it is the United States that has the greatest capacity to transport the product, market it and deliver to the final customers, including those overseas. The United States also has the greatest capacity eventually to monitor and control for the environmental concerns fracking raises. Even if not all the recently discovered fields pan out or meet expectations (as already seems to be the case with the Marcellus field in the Northeastern United States), the door is open for further discoveries and improvements in extraction technologies. Related new technologies will also boost domestic production of oil. [...]

That brings us to the third reason why America is likely to return as a dominant export power: demand from the rapidly developing countries, and not just or even mainly demand for fossil fuel. As the developing world becomes wealthier, demand for American exports will grow. (Mexico, which is already geared to a U.S.-dominated global economy, is likely to be another big winner, but that is a story for another day.)

In the early stages of growth in developing nations, importers buy timber, copper, nickel and resources linked to construction and infrastructure development. Those have not been U.S. export specialties, and so a lot of the gains from these countries' growth so far have gone to Canada, Australia and Chile. Usually American outputs are geared toward wealthier consumers and higher-quality outputs, which is what you would expect from the world's wealthiest and most technologically advanced home market. To put it simply, the closer other nations come to our economic level, the more they will want to buy our stuff. Indeed most of those nations are growing rapidly, so we can expect their attentions to shift toward American exporters. The leading categories of American exports today--civilian aircraft, semiconductors, cars, pharmaceuticals, machinery and equipment, automobile accessories, and entertainment--are going to be in the sweet spot of growing demand in what we now call the developing world. 

Indeed, of the wealthy nations, the United States probably will do the best at capturing those growing markets. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


The austerity question: 'How' is as important as 'how much' (Alberto Alesina   Francesco Giavazzi, 3 April 2012, Vox)

Two recent IMF publications (IMF, 2010, Chapter 3, and Devries et al 2011) agree that spending-based adjustments are indeed those that work - but not because of their composition, rather because almost 'by chance' spending-based adjustments are accompanied by reductions in long-term interest rates, or a stabilisation of the exchange rate, the stock market, or all of the above.

This line of argument is flawed on purely logical grounds. Financial prices - interest rates, the exchange rate, the stock market - are not exogenous. They respond to fiscal policy announcements. For instance, if investors perceive, correctly, that only spending-based adjustments will lead to a permanent consolidation of the budget, this will increase 'confidence' and result in lower interest rates and higher stock prices.

A more convincing piece of evidence comes from a comparison of the effects of different 'types' of fiscal adjustment on confidence and on output. Tax-based stabilisations not only eventually fail, in the sense that they are unable to stop the growth of the debt-to-GDP ratio. When these fiscal packages are announced entrepreneurs' confidence falls sharply, and this is reflected in a fall in output. On the other hand, spending-based stabilisations (especially if accompanied by appropriate contemporaneous polices) do not negatively affect economic confidence contemporaneously. Moreover they are often accompanied by an increase in output within a year.

It stands to reasons that European countries where tax revenues are close to 50% of GDP do not have the room to increase revenues even more.

A paper by Harald Uhlig and Mathias Trabandt (2012) nicely shows how close many European countries are to the top of realistically measured Laffer curves. Thus any additional tax hikes would lead to relative low increases in tax revenues and could be very recessionary, through the usual supply- and demand-side channels.

Given all of the above we should stop focusing fiscal policy discussions on the size of austerity programmes. A relatively small tax-based adjustment could be more recessionary than a larger one based upon spending cuts. Likewise, a small spending-based adjustment could be more effective at stabilising debt-to-GDP ratios than a larger tax-based adjustment.

April 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Truckers are delivering better fuel efficiency (Ronald D. White, 4/10/12, Los Angeles Times)

Since getting hammered by expensive diesel in 2008, Johring and many other transport specialists have altered their businesses to reduce diesel use. Coca-Cola Co. is using electric and hybrid vehicles and training drivers to reduce idling time. FedEx Corp. has adopted sophisticated software to improve truck loading and route planning with an eye toward fuel efficiency.

Even the look of the rigs has changed. To improve aerodynamics on the road, a cutting-edge cab these days sports deflectors on the roof and sides as well as extenders to close the gap with the trailer behind. The trailer might feature side skirts or angled trays underneath so that the air flows easily past and doesn't drag on the vehicle, reducing the mileage a driver can get per gallon of fuel.

"Years ago, we preferred a classic style, rigs with tall front hoods," said Corey England, executive vice president of his family's trucking operation, C.R. England Global Transportation Inc., which operates as many as 320 rigs in California at any given time.

"Running those will lose you half a mile on every gallon," England said. "It just doesn't pencil out to do that."

We are only efficient at gun point.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Ozzie Guillen and Modern McCarthyism (Matthew Rothschild, April 10, 2012, Progressive)

Here in America, we pride ourselves on our freedoms--you know, the freedom of speech, the freedom to express our political beliefs.

But how free actually are we?

How seriously do we respect these freedoms?

There's a lot of lip service paid to them, but when someone expresses an unpopular political belief, the price can be high. [...]

Showing no appreciation for our First Freedom, the Marlins summarily suspended Guillen without pay for five games. 

Okay, the fact that it is not the government that is punishing Mr. Guillen for his vile expressions is a tad too obvious here.  The broader point is that it cheapens the notion that speech is important to insist that one should suffer no consequences for what one says.  Mr. Guillen's admiration for Castro and Chavez is either important to him or it isn't.  If it matters then he ought not mind giving up a paycheck to express it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Santorum Suspends Presidential Campaign (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and JIM RUTENBERG, 4/10/12, NY Times)

Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign on Tuesday, bowing to the inevitability of Mitt Romney's nomination and ending his improbable, come-from-behind quest to become the party's conservative standard-bearer in the fall.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


For Big Companies, Life Is Good (SCOTT THURM, 4/09/12, WSJ)

Deep cost cutting during the downturn and caution during the recovery put the companies on firmer financial footing, helping them to outperform the rest of the economy and gather a greater share of the nation's income. The rebound is reflected in the stock market, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at a four-year high.

"U.S. companies became leaner, meaner and hungrier," said Sung Won Sohn, a former chief economist at Wells Fargo WFC -0.92% & Co.,

The performance hasn't translated into significant gains in U.S. employment. 

The performance lies in not boosting US employment.  Adding back the jobs everyone is demanding would only make them less efficient and productive. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


The Myth of America's Decline: Washington now has added China, India, Brazil and Turkey to its speed-dial, along with Europe and Japan. But it will remain the chairman of a larger board. (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 4/09/12, WSJ)

It is this trilateral system--rather than American power per se--that is in decline today. Western Europe and Japan were seen as rising powers in the 1970s, and the assumption was that the trilateral partnership would become more powerful and effective as time passed. Something else happened instead.

Demographically and economically, both Japan and Europe stagnated. The free-trade regime and global investment system promoted growth in the rest of Asia more than in Japan. Europe, turning inward to absorb the former Warsaw Pact nations, made the fateful blunder of embracing the euro rather than a more aggressive program of reform in labor markets, subsidies and the like.

The result today is that the trilateral partnership can no longer serve as the only or perhaps even the chief set of relationships through which the U.S. can foster a liberal world system. Turkey, increasingly turning away from Europe, is on the road to becoming a more effective force in the Middle East than is the EU. China and India are competing to replace the Europeans as the most important non-U.S. economic actor in Africa. In Latin America, Europe's place as the second most important economic and political partner (after the U.S.) is also increasingly taken by China.

The U.S. will still be a leading player, but in a septagonal, not a trilateral, world. In addition to Europe and Japan, China, India, Brazil and Turkey are now on Washington's speed dial. (Russia isn't sure whether it wants to join or sulk; negotiations continue.)

New partnerships make for rough sledding. Over the years, the trilateral countries gradually learned how to work with each other--and how to accommodate one another's needs. These days, the Septarchs have to work out a common approach.

It won't be easy, and success won't be total. But even in the emerging world order, the U.S. is likely to have much more success in advancing its global agenda than many think. Washington is hardly unique in wanting a liberal world system of open trade, freedom of the seas, enforceable rules of contract and protection for foreign investment. What began as a largely American vision for the post-World War II world will continue to attract support and move forward into the 21st century--and Washington will remain the chairman of a larger board.

Despite all the talk of American decline, the countries that face the most painful changes are the old trilateral partners.

One suspects the older powers will have an easier time just dying off than the younger ones will have accepting that there is nothing distinctive nor valuable about themselves and that their future lies in just aping Anglo-America more thoroughly.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Algae Might Replace Imported Fuel in Iceland (Iceland Review, 4/10/12)

Biodiesel could be produced from algae in such quantities that it could replace imported fuel and Iceland even has the potential to export biodiesel, according to Ásbjörn Torfason, managing director of Vistvæn orka ehf.

Ásbjörn states that energy-saving light emitting diode technology and access to geothermal energy makes circumstances to produce biodiesel from large algae or seaweed unique, Fréttablaðið reports.

He reasons that judging by the amount of fuel imported in 2011, two million tons of biomass would have to be produced to replace it. "But it is absolutely reasonable; in an experiment in Norway, they harvested 40-50 tons of dry weight from every hectare."

April 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Cochlear Implants Redefine What It Means To Be Deaf (NPR, 4/08/12, All Things Considered )

Experts say that while they know that 1 in 1,000 children are born genetically deaf every year, it's almost impossible to track the rate of deafness over time. Hearing impairment is a spectrum -- and it changes.

So have its causes. Diseases like rubella, scarlet fever and measles that caused hearing loss have been all but eradicated with vaccines. But more premature babies with hearing loss are surviving. There also appear to be more children with autism, which has been linked to hearing difficulties.

What is certain is that more than half of the children who once were deaf -- for whatever reason -- can now hear. Niparko has performed hundreds of the surgeries, and calls the cochlear implant a remarkable technology.

"It can take in sound waves much like a hearing aid would," Niparko says, "but instead of simply amplifying those sound waves ... [it] can take that energy and translate it into an electrical code."

That code is then sent along a series of contacts placed next to the hearing nerve, and along with small packets of electricity, that hearing nerve is activated, thus re-creating the act of hearing, he says.

The implant works for the vast majority of deaf people, Niparko says, but unfortunately there is a socioeconomic divide that prevents the availability of the device for all deaf cases.

"The device itself is about $32,000 [and] the hospital costs and surgery adds about another $10,000 to $12,000 on that," he says.

With the invention and improvement of the cochlear implant technology, Niparko says all children born deaf and without other disabilities have the chance to be fully integrated into a hearing society.

So in the future, could deafness be a choice? To that, Niparko says, "We're already there."

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


As tide of illegal immigrants goes home, will US economy suffer? (Lourdes Medrano, April 8, 2012, CS Monitor)

The shrinking labor pool already is having an impact in agricultural fields scattered throughout the US, some say. For example, a University of Georgia report projects that, when 2011 figures are tallied, the state economy will show a $391 million loss due to farm labor shortages. Georgia is one of several states that - following Arizona's footsteps - recently passed laws aimed at illegal immigration. Farmers across the country are experiencing near-term crop losses and scaling back operations, confirms Libby Whitley, president of Mid-Atlantic Solutions in Lovingston, Va. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Grounding the Life of the Mind: a review of Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America by Daniel J. Flynn. (MATTHEW A. RAREY, University Bookman)

Describing a blue-collar intellectual as "a thinker who hails from a working-class background, and whose intellectual work targets, in part or whole, a mass audience," Flynn profiles exemplars of the species in chapters as engaging as their titles: Will and Ariel Durant, husband-and-wife distillers of Western civilization into mighty tomes that made the best-seller lists for decades ("Apostate Historians: How an Excommunicated 'Cradle Robber' and His Anarchist Bride Made History"); Mortimer Adler, the manic philosopher who put the best of what has been written and said into the hands of ordinary men ("The People's Professor: How a High School Dropout Launched the Great Books Movement"); perhaps the twentieth-century's most influential economist for good, Milton Friedman, for whom "people were not the masses . . . but individuals with a multitude of interests unmanageable by remote" ("Free-Market Evangelist: How a New Dealer-Turned-Libertarian Taught the Everyman Economics"); Eric Hoffer, the "Stevedore Socrates" of San Francisco who remains as refreshingly counter-cultural today as he was in his Sixties and Seventies heyday ("The Longshoreman Philosopher: How an Unschooled Hobo Became a Favorite of Presidents and Prime Time"); and the only exemplar still alive, Ray Bradbury, that tireless fiction writer whose truth-telling tales of dystopia and fantasy intelligent readers never find tiresome ("Poet of the Pulps: How a Down-and-Out Outcast Wrote His Way into the In-Crowd").

These "blue-collar intellectuals," Flynn notes, "spoke to educated laymen without talking down to them. In the process, they uplifted the masses and rescued ideas from the academic ghetto. Such sins are not easily forgotten." Indeed, this rigorously researched but smoothly written book, which occasionally flares up with the author's passion for his subjects, details the whippings these laborers endured from the overseers of America's intellectual plantations. [...]

Occasionally Flynn can be unkind to some figures who, despite deserving comeuppances for beating his blue-collar heroes, do deserve a hearing. For example, he dismissively quotes the historian Paul Fussell's derision of the Great Books as the preserve of "the middles, the great audience for how-to books." This judgment came down in Class, Fussell's largely truthful--disconcertingly truthful--revelation of America's invisible class structure. Class is a classic in its own right. Its scathing observations of American manners and mores, delineated according to class, have been borne out time and again through subsequent experience.

But this is just one of several minor quibbles with an otherwise important contribution to the life of the mind, compressed into relatively few pages. Flynn's description of Hoffer's approach to book writing--the Longshoreman Philosopher's crisp, accessible style "as well suited to the era of '60s automation as it does to the world of blogs, Twitter, and six-second sound bites"--could apply to the author's own: "For Hoffer [as for Flynn], big books obscured what the author didn't know while slim ones offered no hiding place." Like those blue-collar intellectuals he celebrates--though never whitewashes, their failures and shortcomings duly noted--this little book packs a big punch.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


The Computing Trend that Will Change Everything (JONATHAN KOOMEY, 4/09/12, Technology Review)

The performance of computers has shown remarkable and steady growth, doubling every year and a half since the 1970s. What most folks don't know, however, is that the electrical efficiency of computing (the number of computations that can be completed per kilowatt-hour of electricity used) has also doubled every year and a half since the dawn of the computer age.

Laptops and mobile phones owe their existence to this trend, which has led to rapid reductions in the power consumed by battery-powered computing devices. The most important future effect is that the power needed to perform a task requiring a fixed number of computations will continue to fall by half every 1.5 years (or a factor of 100 every decade). As a result, even smaller and less power-intensive computing devices will proliferate, paving the way for new mobile computing and communications applications that vastly increase our ability to collect and use data in real time.

As one of many examples of what is becoming possible using ultra-low-power computing, consider the wireless no-battery sensors created by Joshua R. Smith of the University of Washington. These sensors harvest energy from stray television and radio signals and transmit data from a weather station to an indoor display every five seconds. They use so little power (50 microwatts, on average) that they don't need any other power source.

Harvesting background energy flows, including ambient light, motion, or heat, opens up the possibility of mobile sensors operating indefinitely with no external power source, and that means an explosion of available data. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Obama's lack of passion in supporting freedom (Fred Hiatt, 4/09/12, Washington Post)

Not surprisingly, Obama was eager to separate himself from his predecessor's "Freedom Agenda," which had been oversold and yoked to an unpopular war in Iraq. Obama talked more about "dignity" than "democracy" and warned that self-government couldn't be imposed.

But he also portrayed himself as faithful to a tradition of American support for democracy. In a 2007 Foreign Affairs article setting out his worldview, Obama wrote, "Citizens everywhere should be able to choose their leaders in climates free of fear."

He has, at times, acted on that tenet. He's met with dissenters such as the Dalai Lama, responded deftly to democratic advances in Burma, praised freedom from a platform in Shanghai.

Overall, though, he has shown little passion for the cause.

It's largely a function of only caring about himself.  Not only does he not have an interest in liberating others but recognizes that doing so tends to drag down presidencies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Atrocities Should Be Eliminated (Anthony M. Daniels, APRIL 8, 2012, NY Times)

Buildings should be preserved for one of two reasons: they were the site of events of great historic importance, or they are of aesthetic merit. Buildings in the Brutalist style -- which uses raw concrete or other materials to make art galleries look like fallout shelters -- are certainly aesthetically outstanding: unfortunately, in an entirely negative sense. A single such building can ruin an entire townscape, and it is often difficult to believe that such ruination was not the intention of the architect.

There is, I suppose, a third possible reason to preserve a building: to ensure that at least one example of its genre should survive. Thus it would be worth preserving one of Le Corbusier's concrete monstrosities just to remind everyone of his astonishing and arrogant incompetence. "My friendly concrete," he once wrote -- and meant it. Does one laugh or cry? Anyone who reads his books will be at once convinced that he was an architectural fascist (and I use the word advisedly).

Preserve one and pull the rest down.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Immigration And Prosperity: Why Tech Needs Open Borders (Flip Filipowski, 4/09/12. Forbes)

Our nation that for better or worse was built on the blood, sweat and tears of waves of immigrants has turned it's back on it's own salvation. Hidden within is the issue that our nation is embroiled in a cultural war pitting the secular against the devout in almost as dogmatic polarity as the Sunni's and Shia. It is the forces of dogmatic bigotry against those that want to risk the traditional definitions of what constitutes the constituencies of the United States.

At one end of the immigration debate is the perception of cheap labor infiltrating the Southern border of the United States. There is concern that jobs will be stolen from U.S. citizens by illegal immigrants willing to work for less. The threat of diluting the devout coalition by Catholic Latinos is just below the surface. The purpose here is not to debate that end of the spectrum. Lost in the emotions is the fact that a good dose of cheap labor sure would be convenient in the scheme of global competition. Practical consideration at a moral price.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the technological and economic viability of the United States. Our prosperity is built on the renegade, risk-taking entrepreneurial concoction of truly American innovation and invention - in addition to the fact that a disproportionate number of companies are created by immigrants. In Silicon Valley alone, immigrant-founded startups make up a remarkable 52 percent of companies. Wave upon wave of immigrants bought into the American dream that anything was possible in the United Sates and anyone who put in the effort could succeed here. We were to own that one magical thought in perpetuity but instead we have exported it to the world not in a gesture of generosity but in the incompetence bred in fear of immigration. Perhaps even in the moronic fear of adding Democrats to the voting roles as these immigrants assimilate into our society. The real fear should be directed at the complacency that seems to permeate subsequent generations that believe entitlement comes with citizenship via birthright.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Dan Jones admires a radical study of Islam's origins, Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. (Dan Jones, 05 Apr 2012, The Telegraph)

Islam, Holland argues, was not born fully formed with the Prophet as he received God's revelation in a cave in 610, or when he fled Mecca for Medina around 622. In fact, the religion took nearly two centuries to assume its present form: a strict monotheism supremely loyal to the memory and teachings of its founder, Mohammed, governed by the words of its sacred text, the Koran, and overseen by an alliance of zealous princes and powerful priests.

During those two centuries, Islam and the caliphs took on board almost everything that had been integral to the success of the other emerging faiths and empires of the age: Persian Zoroastrianism, the Christianity of the eastern Romans and Judaism, which lacked a territorial empire but endured by the potency of its teaching throughout Palestine, Arabia and beyond.

From these old models, the Arab conquerors who rode out of the desert to seize North Africa, most of the Iberian Peninsula, the Holy Land, the fertile crescent and virtually everything between the Aral and Arabian seas, gleaned the means by which they, too, could rule the world.

Theologically, this meant the potency of submission to a single God; the doctrinal power of a single, perfect messenger to whom God had revealed himself; the relentless persecution of deviant or cultish forms of religious belief; and, most importantly of all, the enduring reach of a sacred text.

Practically, it suggested other methods to control a wide and variegated people: a legal code in which believers held privileged status; the exultation of warriors who fought in the name of the Almighty; spectacular buildings raised to the glory of God; and the conscious mythologising of great cities as the central hubs of both political power and pilgrimage. (Jerusalem and Constantinople pre-empted Mecca, Medina and Baghdad.) 

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April 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Visa program might help fund Rays stadium (MICHAEL SASSO, 4/08/12, The Tampa Tribune)

If the Tampa Bay Rays ever get a new stadium, it might come with an assist from an unlikely source -- wealthy Chinese immigrants.

Chamber of commerce leaders from Tampa and St. Petersburg who have been studying how to pay for a new Rays stadium landed on an obscure federal immigration program called EB-5 that might help with the half-billion-dollar tab.

Under the program, foreigners willing to invest at least $500,000 each to create jobs in the United States can qualify for a green card for themselves and their families. Essentially, affluent foreigners can buy their way into a life in America -- and the majority are coming from China.

If enough would-be immigrants cobble their money together, it theoretically could fund at least part of a stadium.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., for example, the EB-5 program is providing up to $228 million for a massive new retail, housing and basketball arena complex for the New Jersey Nets, according to a recent Bloomberg News report.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Newt touts 'Chilean model' for Social Security (BYRON TAU, 4/8/1, Politico)

Newt Gingrich Sunday said that he'd like to see the United States adopt a 'Chilean model' for Social Security -- a pension system that is reliant on a government mandated purchase of a private investment account. [...]

The idea of personal savings accounts was first raised in a September GOP debate by then-presidential candidate Herman Cain. Conservatives are in the midst of a battle against President Barack Obama's health care law, citing the individual mandate as a violation of personal liberty. But the Chilean pension model relies on a similar regulatory scheme, forcing workers to contribute at least 10 percent of their pre-tax wages into a private investment account.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


WHERE IS THE MORAL DIMENSION? (John Derbyshire, May 12, 2006, National Review)

I don't know what it means to be "against immigration." Again, since I actually did immigrate, I suppose I can't be "against immigration," can I? I do think that an immigration pause of the 1924-1965 type would be a really good idea for the U.S.A. about now, though.

Goodness only knows what "racist" means this week, so that's a tough one to address. I must say, though, I can't for the life of me see anything wrong, or even unpleasant, in wishing the country to have a certain ethnic mix, and not some other ethnic mix. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


The Case for Community: Wonders of America (Jenna Weissman Joselit, 3/08/12, Forward)

[O]ne image of a Seder -- a grainy photograph -- stops me dead in my tracks every time: that of the American Expeditionary Forces in Paris in 1919. Now a part of the holdings of the National Archives, it was recently featured to great effect in an exhibition at the archives called "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?," which explored the relationship between the government and American food practices.

The photograph captures what appear to be hundreds upon hundreds of Jewish servicemen in full military regalia seated at tables so long they extend beyond the picture plane. Amid the sea of faces, some wear the rimless spectacles then à la mode, others sport mustaches. Everyone has his head covered but here, too, variety prevails -- a reflection of military hierarchy. Some soldiers wear a soft cap; others a peaked cap with a shiny, hard brim, and still others a broad-brimmed felt hat that is close kin to a Stetson.

This vast army of men is leavened, and lightened, by the presence of a few women. You have to look hard to find them, but they're here and there, sprinkled throughout.

The photographer, making use of a large format or "banquet" camera, captures the Seder at midpoint or, as the lofty language of one haggadah from that period would have it, "post-prandial." Half-empty bottles of wine line the tables; knives rest casually across the surface of white plates, their work done; shards of matzo accumulate. Up above, chandeliers glisten, giving off a warm glow, while heavy draperies shut out the cruel and ugly outside world.

Everyone at this Seder looks directly at the camera. 

April 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Republican Committee Makes Big Turnaround on Fund-Raising (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, April 5, 2012, NY Times)

Once teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and irrelevance, the Republican National Committee has raised more than $110 million over the past 15 months and retired more than half its debt, accumulating large cash reserves that could give Mitt Romney a critical boost later this spring as he intensifies his campaign against President Obama. [...]

Party officials said the Republican committee would report more than $30 million in cash on hand in filings due with the Federal Election Commission this month, including a $22 million "presidential trust" that would be available to Mr. Romney should he become the party's nominee.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The Errors of Their Ways: Some 24,000 Canadians will die this year from medical mistakes. Even the most temperate doctors call this an epidemic. Why these mishaps persist despite, and even because of, medicine's growing sophistication (RACHEL GIESE, APRIL 2012, The Walrus)

THE AMERICAN medical industry has long known about the problem of adverse events, largely due to the rise in malpractice claims in the 1980s. When Hicks began his medical training, the received wisdom surrounding medical error was heavily influenced by malpractice litigation: someone had screwed up, and they would have to pay for it. Error was viewed as resulting from ignorance or negligence -- doctors or nurses gone rogue. Even the long-standing tradition of morbidity and mortality rounds (M&Ms, open discussions between physicians about their mistakes) contributes to this perspective. M&Ms often focus on content or skill -- on what a doctor didn't know, or didn't know how to do.

To determine whether litigation was improving or hindering care, the Harvard Medical Practice Study in 1991 quantified the scope and nature of medical mistakes. Its findings, chief among them significant rates of death and disability caused by medical mishaps, were startling. But the results didn't achieve traction outside the medical field until 2000, when the National Research Council published To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, based on a report by the US Institute of Medicine. Among its most shocking statistics: "Preventable adverse events are a leading cause of death in the United States...at least 44,000 and perhaps as many as 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors."

Shortly afterward, the British Medical Journal devoted an issue to the subject. "In the time it will take you to read this editorial, eight patients will be injured, and one will die, from preventable medical errors," the opening article announced. "When one considers that a typical airline handles customers' baggage at a far lower error rate than we handle the administration of drugs to patients, it is also an embarrassment."

It's so embarrassing, and the threat of litigation so unnerving, that physicians have long been reluctant to discuss mistakes. The BMJ editorial goes on to note that "we tend to view most errors as human errors and attribute them to laziness, inattention, or incompetence." Like Hicks, many doctors were taught that individual diligence alone should prevent medical errors, and that admitting their existence could lead to lawsuits, humiliation, or job loss. In Canada, Ross Baker -- now a professor of health policy at the University of Toronto and director of graduate studies at the university's Centre for Patient Safety -- followed these discussions with anticipation. He and his colleagues across the country involved in the then nascent health care safety movement hoped the alarming data would incite action here in Canada. Instead, To Err Is Human was viewed as proof that the American system was fundamentally flawed. So in 2004, Baker and Peter Norton, now a professor emeritus in family medicine at the University of Calgary, published a paper, The Canadian Adverse Events Study. "There was no conspiracy to hide this information," Baker says. "No one had looked carefully at the data before." The researchers erred on the conservative side in their estimate of preventable medical errors (by their count, up to 23,750 patients had died as a result of these mistakes in 2000), opting not to include incidents if they suspected any doubt or ambiguity about whether such occurrences constituted mistakes, which suggested that the problem is actually larger. (No formal follow-up has been done since.)

Paradoxically, the problem has been exacerbated as the field of medicine has grown more complex. In the 1960s, as scientific and technical wisdom developed, physicians began to specialize, which vastly improved medicine -- the more narrow the focus, the greater the expertise and skill -- but it meant that an individual patient's care was now shared among multiple practitioners. In the case of a child who suffers a head trauma, for example, her treatment may be handled by dozens of professionals: paramedics, emergency doctors and nurses, a neurologist, a neurosurgeon, an anesthesiologist, surgical and ICU nurses, pharmacists, pediatricians, residents and medical students, occupational therapists, and so on. As the patient is handed from one to the next, myriad opportunities arise for her medical history to be lost, for conflicting drugs and treatments to be prescribed, for lab results to be delayed, for symptoms to be overlooked, and for confusion in the transmission of vital information.

James Reason, a British psychologist specializing in human error, has dubbed this "the Swiss cheese model," in which small, individual weaknesses line up like holes in slices of cheese to create a full system failure. And in a modern hospital environment -- a busy, stressful setting with many competing priorities, where decisions are made under duress, with frequent shortages of nurses, beds, and operating rooms -- a patient's care slipping through the holes at some point is almost inevitable.

Failings in teamwork and communication compound these flaws, which according to patient safety research lie at the core of preventable adverse events. Baker likens the health care field to "a series of tribes who work together but don't really understand one another." To put it less diplomatically: egos, territorialism, and traditional hierarchies can create toxic environments in hospitals, where senior physicians disregard input from nurses and junior staff, who in turn become resentful and defensive.

The patient safety movement Baker helped initiate in the early 2000s profoundly changed the conversation about medical error. It was no longer a matter of assigning blame, but of improving bad systems. In Canada, the Halifax Series, an annual symposium about quality in health care, was launched in 2001; and a few years later, the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, an advocacy and research body, opened its offices in Edmonton and Ottawa. Hospitals across the country recruited safety experts to advise them, and to encourage physicians and other practitioners to talk more openly about adverse events.

The focus on flawed systems made addressing the problem an easier sell, especially as it became evident that the rampant problems in health care were errors of omission, not commission. While the old malpractice model routed out villains, the systems approach tackled the day-to-day snafus that frustrated everyone: long waits in the emergency department, under-stocked supply rooms, vague lines of communication, and so on.

To Kaveh Shojania, co-author of the 2004 book Internal Bleeding: The Truth Behind America's Terrifying Epidemic of Medical Mistakes, shocking statistics about medical error are useful mainly as headline grabbers, drawing attention to more quotidian concerns about quality improvement. Shojania, an internist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and director of the Centre for Patient Safety at U of T, says the root of the problem is the ad hoc way medicine was established over its long history. He compares it to a series of cottage industries that developed with no larger organizing vision. The medical industry has grown so vast and complicated that tackling inefficient systems is akin to untying a Gordian knot.

In his cluttered office on the sprawling Sunnybrook campus, Shojania, an Eeyore-ish fellow in a rumpled suit, navigates through stacks of files, books, and papers to show me an image on his computer. It's a drawing of a Rube Goldberg pencil sharpener, a ridiculously convoluted device that involves a kite, an iron, an opossum, a rope, a woodpecker, and moths. That's the current medical system, he tells me by way of analogy. "This isn't an issue of incompetent people making stupid mistakes," he says. "It's many average, decent people working in poorly designed systems. Most medical mistakes were accidents waiting to happen."

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Thomas Kinkade: 'Painter Of Light' Dies At 54 (ANKITA MEHTA, April 7, 2012, IB Times)

"There is no greater testament to Thom's mission that art be accessible for everyone to enjoy than the millions of Kinkade images that grace the walls of homes across America and around the world. Through a myriad of genres, Thom's ability to present his subject in an idyllic setting inspires the viewer to imagine the world full of beauty, intrigue, and adventure," according to Kinkade's website.

"My mission as an artist is to capture those special moments in life adorned with beauty and light. I work to create images that project a serene simplicity that can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. That's what I meant by sharing the light," Kinkade said.

"I'm a warrior for light. With whatever talent and resources I have, I'm trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel," Kinkade told the San Jose Mercury News in 2002, a reference to the medieval practice of using light to symbolize the divine.

His paintings, which are hanging in an estimated 10 million homes in America, were said to fetch some $100 million a year in sales.

A biography on Kinkade's website said the artist rejected "the intellectual isolation of the artist and instead, made each of his works an intimate statement that resonates in the personal lives of his viewers."

All great American artists are republican.  Mr. Kinkade was also a Republican.  Both are unforgivable to the Intellectuals.

American Scenes: a review of Thomas Hart Benton: A Life by Justin Wolff  (James Panero | April 4, 2012, American Conservative)

For over half a century, art history has tried to wrestle Benton to the ground. He was "the favorite target of leftist critics and proponents of abstract art." A goading antagonist, he often asked to be taken down. He went after the "coteries of high-brows, of critics, college art professors and museum boys." After fleeing New York for Kansas City in 1935, he ranted that Midwestern artists

lisp the same tiresome, meaningless aesthetic jargon. In their society are to be found the same fairies, the same Marxist fellow travelers, the same 'educated' ladies purring linguistic affectations. The same damned bores that you find in the penthouses and studios of Greenwich Village hang onto the skirts of art in the Middle West.

"His poor judgment, profanity, and belligerent baiting of any artist walking a different stylistic or ideological path scandalized New Yorkers, New Englanders, and Missourians equally," writes Wolff. "Over the years he opposed abstract art, curators, homosexuals, intellectuals, Harvard, New York City, Kansas City, women, and old friends like [Alfred] Stieglitz and [Louis] Mumford, to name a few." For a biographer who himself once dismissed Benton as a "conservative crank," Wolff has now written a keen critical recuperation, if not a defibrillation, of this unique American artist.

"We were all in revolt against the unhappy effects which the Armory show of 1913 has had on American painting," Benton once said of the seminal exhibition that first brought European modernism to New York. Benton represented the American reaction to this influence, an anti-avant-garde, but he came of age at the center of the vanguard of new art. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Academie Julien in Paris before settling into the progressive art circles of New York in the 1920s. Stanton MacDonald-Wright, the abstract painter, became a close friend. For 15 years he experimented with cubism, pointillism, and synchromism--or rather "wallowed in every cockeyed ism that came along," as he later admitted.

Benton the artist once said that Senator Benton--his famous namesake, known as "Old Bullion," who championed Western expansion--gave him "a kind of compulsion for greatness." In 1924, he visited his home state of Missouri to attend to his ailing father, Maecenas, who had tried to persuade him to pursue law. Following the trip he determined to seek out his own American path in art. Benton soon got over his "French hangover," according to the writer Tom Craven, and shed the "worn-out rags and fripperies of French culture" to "find himself as an American."

Thomas Kinkade Dies: Scholars Look at His Impact (Tom Jacobs, 4/07/12, Miller-McCune)

Interpretation can't stray too far from the homespun canon; Kinkade provides too many signposts, Rager says. "There is a direct tie between different symbols and their meaning in his work. An eagle means freedom. Clouds are thoughts of lost loved ones. The light, which is ubiquitous in his work, is supposed to be the light of God. This is very carefully spelled out in a lot of the literature" his dealers distribute. (Kinkade's representatives did not respond to a request for an interview.)

"Evoking spirituality without necessarily being programmatic is very appealing to people," adds Boylan. "Christians who look at Kinkade might see specifically Christian iconography. ... But a lot of non-Christians look at his images and see a generalized spirituality." "Generalized," of course, is a dirty word to many art critics and scholars, who argue that vagueness (like sentimentality) is anathema to real art. [...]

Which differentiates his work from that of Norman Rockwell, an artist he deeply admires and one who has received highbrow respect. "I feel [Kinkade] would hope for a similar kind of critical reassessment," says Rager, who doubts it will happen.

While the company that creates his prints and products has faced financial and legal difficulties in recent years, darkness doesn't appear in his paintings, ever. "That's the essential divide between people who respond to his work and people who don't," Boylan says. "It all comes down to: What part of yourself do you want to see reflected when you look at a work of art?"

Or, what vision of the world? "Kinkade's work participates in this vision that there was a world that was Edenic and perfect, and if we could only get back to that, things would be perfect again," Rager says. The world Kinkade -- who refers to himself as born-again -- portrays "is not in any way real. It's a pastiche of concepts from that Edenic past."

Boylan doesn't find that approach reflexively off-putting. "We can't have it both ways. We can't be in a country in which we say, 'Artists have to fight in the marketplace,' and then when an artist fights in the marketplace and finds success, dismiss them by saying, 'They're not my romantic ideal of a starving artist.'"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


You don't need to believe in God to learn from religion: The common messages of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are too valuable to be ignored (Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian)
So the same ideas recur: freedom, redemption, justice. Jews dream of reaching the promised land, Christians hanker for the kingdom of heaven, Muslims yearn for paradise. Does this mean these three great faiths should all get along - that they should discover the vast common ground between them, throw down their swords and rush to embrace each other? Of course not. Only the naive believe that shared origins make for peaceful relations. The rest know that there is no war as bitter as a civil war, no argument more enduring than a family row and no dispute more inflammable than one between neighbours. Islam, Christianity and Judaism fight because of, not despite, their shared lineage, forefathers and neighbourhood.

No, the shared ideals of the children of Abraham are not likely to prompt a sudden, hugging reunion between the three traditions. But the fact that they have so much in common should at least arouse the curiosity of those who stand outside these three faiths and, indeed, outside faith itself. For this much collective and enduring wisdom is surely too valuable to be ignored: if so many people over so many centuries are speaking of the same ideas, they can't all be wrong.

Some secular Britons simply can't open their ears to this kind of talk. The very fact that it comes from a religious source, or sources, is enough to render it irrelevant or worse. Since faith is founded on superstitious nonsense - fairies at the bottom of the garden - nothing it says can be of any value. But this is an odd prejudice. We don't believe in magic any more, but that doesn't stop us marvelling at The Tempest. We don't believe in witches or ghosts, either, but we can still see the human wisdom in Macbeth and Hamlet.

Even the most secular should retune to hear what these traditions are saying to us now. Of course there is bellicose bigotry contained in sacred texts; selective quotation could make any holy work look like a racist's, or terrorist's, handbook. And of course there are hypocrisies: countless examples where religions' practitioners do not live up to their own teachings. But there is great sanity there, too. Environmentalist Jews have reinterpreted Passover as a time for stocktaking: besides bread, what else can I do without? What do I really need to eat, buy or own? Green Christians have done the same with Lent, while progressive Muslims can point to the legal requirement known as Zakat, which demands believers give away 2.5% of their wealth in order to purify the rest.

There is a yearning, particularly in the west, for a life beyond the material: people want their lives to be about something more than just jobs, houses and cars. The phenomenon may even have a political dimension. Labour minister Douglas Alexander, who has written on the need for politics to connect more deeply, says voters are not fired up by the mere provision of services aimed at their material needs: "What gets them out of bed in the morning are non-material values: how they raise their kids, whether they live in a genuine community."

People, in other words, are hungry for sustenance of the spirit.

The primary insights of the Abrahamic faiths are even more fundamental than those above. The first is that Man is made in God's image. The second that Man is Fallen. Combined, the two tell us that though we can't attain godhood, we are unique in all Creation and can (must) strive to transcend our flawed nature. Materialism, when it denies these truths, destroys our aspirations and turns our focus in upon ourselves, where we're unlikely to like what we find. Treating ourselves and each other like mere material we end up creating a society that we recognize as despicable, even if we've forgotten why we find it so.

Robert Kraynak put this particularly well:
Modern culture has cut out the highest part of the human soul, the part that longs for eternity and for spiritual transcendence of the here and now, the part that seeks the presence of the Incarnate God in worship and daily life and even hopes for a dim reflection of the city of God in social and political institutions. Instead of focusing on eternal life, we have become absorbed in one-dimensional materialism, trivialized life and death, and learned to avoid thinking or talking about life after death.
[Originally posted: May 11, 2003]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


The Passover Story, Illuminated (GABRIELLE BIRKNER, April 18, 2008, NY Sun)

At the ritual Passover meal, or seder, many Jewish families will be reading an abbreviated story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt from wine-stained, center-stapled Haggadahs. A more select group will be reading the same slavery-to-freedom story from a leather-bound volume that features 48 brilliant-hued reproductions from an illuminated manuscript by Arthur Szyk -- the Lodz-born art ist who became one of America's most influential political cartoonists during World War II.

Irvin Ungar, a rabbi turned antiquarian, is publishing 300 numbered reproductions of the Szyk Haggadah, available in two editions, priced at $8,500 and $15,000, respectively. This rerelease comes more than seven decades after the Haggadah was rejected by Eastern European publishers, apparently for its incorporation of Nazi caricatures: In Szyk's original, snakes had swastikas painted on their backs, and the "wicked son" of the Passover story wore Hitler's iconic mustache. "For Szyk, the story of Passover was taking place in his own day; it was something unfolding before his eyes," Mr. Ungar said. "He saw Hitler as Pharaoh, and the Nazis as the new Egyptians who had come to enslave, and ultimately annihilate, the Jewish people."

The London press that agreed to publish his book in 1940 did so on the condition that Szyk paint over much of the Nazi imagery. [...]

A lecturer at University of California, Los Angeles who is writing a book about political art in America, Paul Von Blum, said the Szyk Haggadah provides a more activistic message than do other seder-table texts -- and that is a good thing. "You can make tremendously contemporary applications of the story of escaping from tyranny and slavery, and that should apply to all oppressed people," he said, noting that Szyk was also an advocate for the civil rights of black Americans. "The Haggadah service should be political."

A few years ago, as we read, the Mother-In-Law commented: "This sounds like a speech by George Bush!?"

Anti-Nazi Haggadah is the legacy of an activist artist (rafael medoff, 4/07/06, Jewish Weekly News))
The classic Szyk haggadah becomes a modern masterpiece of the digital age: The Art of the Seder (Tom Tugend, 4/18/08, Jewish Journal)

[originally posted: 4/20/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


A Nation Like Ours: Why Americans stand with Israel (David Gelernter, 5/02, Jewish World Review)
[I]f no Jew had ever set foot in America, the United States and Israel would tend to understand each other nonetheless--because they are two of a kind.

Both are pick-up nations created out of ideas, with populations drawn from all over the globe; they are self-made nations in a world where most nations had
nationhood handed to them on a silver platter. A Frenchman or Japanese is so far removed from nation-building that he no longer has any moral stake in it; the energy and struggle that created France or Japan are none of his business. He washes his hands of them. Americans and Israelis still remember that nations do not create themselves.

Proto-Americans arrived here and proto-Israelis over there uninvited, from Europe, and set about making homes for themselves in the large empty spaces between indigenous settlements. They were small minorities at first, far from home and (in many cases) in strikingly unworldly frames of mind. Europeans can't conceive of creating a nation in such a manner.

The indigenous Indians and Palestinians confronted America and Israel with roughly similar moral problems from the start. But American and Israeli settlers had to leave Europe; they felt the pressure at their backs. And once they arrived in their new lands, everywhere they looked they saw empty space, and so they naively assumed that there would be room for everybody. In the years immediately after the First World War, Martin Gilbert writes, "less than 10 percent of the land area of Palestine was under cultivation. The rest, whether stony or fertile, was uncultivated. No Arab cultivator need be dispossessed for the Zionists to make substantial land purchases. The potential of the land, on which fewer than a million people were living on both sides of the Jordan, was regarded as enormous."

WHY DOES THE United States belong to Americans? Because we built it. We conceived the idea and put it into practice bit by bit. Why does Israel belong to Israelis? True, Jews have lived there in unbroken succession since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in the year 70. True, Jews were hounded out of their homes in Europe and the Arab Middle East, had nowhere else to go, and demanded the right to live. But ultimately, the land of Israel belongs to Israelis for the same reason America belongs to Americans: Because Israelis conceived and built it--and what you create is yours.

Excellent essay by Mr. Gelernter, whose memoir of being blown up by the Unabomber we highly recommend. I'd merely point out that much of what he says applied to Afrikaaner South Africa too, but demographics eventually caught up to them. Israel's long term prospects are similarly grim. [originally posted: 5/13/02]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 AM


The Reason of Revelation; a review of Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity Essays and Lectures in Modern Jewish Thought by Leo Strauss, Edited by Kenneth Hart Green (Peter Berkowitz, May 25, 1998, Weekly Standard)

As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.

According to Strauss, in Germany in the 1920s, liberalism secured a privacy that protected the autonomy of the individual. But that privacy provided at the same time shelter to the determination on the part of the non-Jewish German majority to view Jews as an inferior people and consign them to second- class status. In response, "a small minority of the German Jews, but a considerable minority of the German Jewish youth studying at the universities" were impelled to turn to Zionism. One of that considerable minority was Strauss.

Strauss declines to report the details of his personal involvement in the Zionist movement. Rather, he analyzes the instability in the strictly political Zionism to which he was drawn as a young man, and he shows how, when its premises are clarified and its aspirations are fully thought through, Zionism reveals the need for a return to Jewish faith. Political Zionism, the Zionism of Herzl, proposed a political solution to what it perceived to be a fundamentally political problem: The failure of the liberal state to secure equality for Jews. Political Zionism's solution was to create a modern nation state -- liberal, democratic, and secular -- for the Jewish people.

Strauss was unstinting in his admiration for political Zionism, both because of its devotion to restoring Jewish self-sufficiency and because of its decisive role in the creation of the state of Israel, which in Strauss's eyes "procured a blessing for all Jews everywhere regardless of whether they admit it or not." But political Zionism, in his judgment, was insufficient because it neglected the moral and spiritual life of the Jews it was seeking to save.

Strauss agreed with the cultural Zionists -- those inspired by Ahad Ha'am -- that the Jewish people could not be defined primarily in political terms on the basis of a common history of exclusion and degradation. Neither could they be rescued by a purely political solution. But when the cultural Zionists contended that the Jewish people were constituted by a common heritage or community of mind, Strauss considered their analysis true but incomplete -- and misleading insofar as it implied that a recovery of Jewish culture, of Jewish art and dance and literature, could solve the Jewish problem.

Cultural Zionism suffered from a failure to reflect on the meaning of its central insight. To understand the heritage of the Jewish people solely in terms of culture is to misunderstand it, because "the foundation, the authoritative layer, of the Jewish heritage presents itself, not as a product of the human mind, but as a divine gift, as divine revelation." The clarification of its core insight transforms cultural Zionism into religious Zionism, a Zionism that takes his bearings from the Torah and Talmud.

But is a return to Jewish faith and devotion to fulfilling God's law even possible for modern, enlightened, and liberal people? Strauss reminds his readers that, according to Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, the leading Jewish thinkers in Weimar Germany, a return to Jewish faith was both necessary and possible.

It was made necessary by the realization that liberalism alone could not, even at his best, satisfy man's religious hunger. And it was possible despite the presumption, routinely embraced by intellectuals now as well as then, that modern science and scholarship had once and for all refuted religious faith. Buber and Rosenzweig contended that the trouble with all alleged scientific refutations of faith was not that they inappropriately appealed to empirical evidence but that they were not empirical enough -- blind to religious experience.

The atheist challenge was on its own terms based neither on a direct, unmediated perception of the essential character of the world nor on a comprehensive philosophical system that answered all questions and solved all mysteries. Rather, even more than the theism it rejected, atheism could not honestly deny that it too was an interpretation and hence uncertain and questionable.

The question becomes how to choose between an uncertain and questionable religious interpretation of the human condition and an uncertain and questionable atheistic interpretation. Strauss turned to Nietzsche, the greatest skeptic of his age, and came away with a surprising answer. Nietzsche, on Strauss's reading, "made clear that the denial of the biblical God demands the denial of biblical morality, however secularized, which, so far from being self-evident or rational, has no other support than the biblical God; mercy, compassion, egalitarianism, brotherly love, or altruism must give way to cruelty and its kin." But the logic that Nietzsche saw -- that the renunciation of the biblical God demands a renunciation of biblical morality -- is obligatory only if there is a demand placed upon us to confront our condition with intellectual probity. And that demand, Strauss points out, comes to us -- as Nietzsche himself proclaims -- only from the morality taught in the Bible. Strauss's startling suggestion, in other words, is that Nietzsche cannot escape the biblical God because he cannot escape biblical morality -- even his critique of the Bible deriving from the Bible.

Strauss's study of Spinoza was the first step in his reconsideration of biblical religion, because Spinoza had taken religion most seriously and rejected it most emphatically. But after extended engagement with the arguments, Strauss concludes that Spinoza's critique of religion, was, even at its most forceful, inconclusive. It did not prove but rather presupposed the impossibility of miracles. And Spinoza's ethics did not demonstrate the truth of his new account of man and the moral life, but rather proceeded from hypotheses about human nature that were left unconfirmed by the system and so remained open to doubt.

In subsequent books, Strauss determined that the critique of religion developed by Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke was no more conclusive than that of Spinoza. In short, Strauss concluded, modern rationalism is incapable of deciding between belief and unbelief.

The presupposition that Reason is possible is unsupported by reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 AM


The Passover Song (NATHAN ENGLANDER, 4/08/09, NY Times)

Beyond the famed medieval manuscripts -- the illuminated Sarajevo Haggadah, and the German Bird's Head Haggadah -- there are versions geared toward seders of every stripe. There are feminist editions, a vegetarian take for "the Liberated Lamb," "The Anonymous Haggadah" for 12-steppers, one for the United States Armed Forces, the Santa Cruz liturgy, which is both "gender-neutral and God-name-Free," and a Facebook Haggadah that ends by threatening a twitter version for next year (Google it yourself).

The Haggadah advises us to venture-off and learn but when it comes to choosing a liturgy, I don't venture far. I came to discover that there's no one more fiercely traditional than a fallen Jew, and found myself recoiling in horror when an ancient Hebrew word-puzzle was absent from the text I'm using as a guide (don't worry, I put it back).

In the middle of all the figuring and arguing, the pondering of biblical prose, I often find myself remembering, a sweet side effect I didn't expect. I remember the ritual search for hametz the night before the holiday: a little boy standing in a darkened basement at my father's side, a lighted candle aloft, a feather in hand, ready to sweep up any crumbs missed along the way.

I remember the seasons when Easter and Passover crossed; walking to our suburban Long Island synagogue in a yarmulke and tiny suit, and waving up at the Easter Bunny perched atop one of the town's fire trucks, the volunteer-fireman Bunny waving back on his rounds. I remember us laughing, my sister and father and I, the firemen too.

It was not lost, the sweetness of it: Passover suit or bunny suit, the firemen in their uniforms and me in mine, an acknowledgment of the different rituals and ceremonies that make up a town.

And the rituals in our home were many.

[originally posted: 4/08/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 AM


A Passover ritual for all enslaved peoples (Rabbi Joseph Polak, April 19, 2011, Boston Globe)

[T]here I stood in the equatorial sun, sheltered by a huge mango tree, addressing 160 freed slaves seated on the ground, who, at first, just glared at me in suspicious silence. They spoke only Dinka. Men and women chose to sit separately; many dressed beautifully, others in deplorable tatters, drinking a little wine with me, eating a piece of matzo and a boiled egg. Slowly I prevailed on them to sing with me as a form of celebration familiar to both our peoples; slowly it became clear that we were eating together for the same reason.

I am here, I told them through translators, because my people too were liberated from slavery; like you, we were remembered by God, and there is no greater experience in life than being remembered.

I also told them that more recently my people had again been enslaved; this time we worked 12 to 14 hour days, for Daimler and BMW, for I.G. Farber and Siemens -- for no pay, no medicine, no sleep, with a slice of bread per person per day. Millions of us died of typhoid, of malnutrition, and exhaustion; unlike the first time, no one came for us.

Fortunately, the former slaves I met had been delivered to freedom. Say a blessing, I pleaded with them, acknowledge the greatness of this day. If all God had done had been to remember your plight, dayenu, that would have been enough. If all that had happened after that is that you were brought back to your people, dayenu, that would have been enough. But you were also brought back to a land that in July will be fully yours for the first time in history; dayenu -- that surely is also enough.

Someone arose and asked four questions meant to provoke them into the key task of the seder -- the telling of the story. Five former slaves told their tales of horror and humiliation. The youngest was a 17-year-old blind boy called Kir, who had managed to lose a cow from his herd. The master hung him by the feet, lit a fire underneath him, and rubbed his eyes with hot peppers.

This suffering may finally be ending. After 23 years of war, the Bush administration brokered a peace settlement in 2005. In a referendum in January, the south voted successfully for partition, and is expected to declare its independence in July.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


The Search: We Leave Egypt Tonight (Paul Greenberg, March 26, 2002, TownHall.com)
It is not history that gives Passover its warrant. Quite the opposite: What makes tonight so full of promise and burden, like freedom itself, is that it breaks through history. It disrupts the everydayness. Why is this night different from all other nights? Not because we are set free, but because we may realize we are set free.

Nor is it the celebration of freedom that fills this night with awe but what follows: the plunge into the Wilderness. That is, the search. And tonight it begins anew.

Larry Johnson, former head of Counterterrorism at the State Department, was on NPR the other day talking about how Islamic terrorists groups in the Middle East are apparently cooperating with white separatists in America and Marxist terror groups in Europe. What could create this improbable shadow axis of evil? : simple, hatred of Jews. He said he was in Argentina recently and had separate middle-class Argentines tell him that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion reveal the Jewish plan for world domination.

It seems that for the first time since WWII, we now have a revival of virulent, exterminationist anti-Semitism and this time it's a global phenomenon. Meanwhile, people who should know better now turn their eyes toward the Middle East and wonder if all our lives wouldn't be easier if only Israel would give in, even if it means signing its own death warrant. This is, therefore, a particularly dangerous moment for Judaism and for those who care to see it, and the Jewish people, survive.

As we head into the Passover holiday it seems like an especially opportune moment to reflect on the debt that we all owe to Judaism. Happily, there's a book that does a great job of exploring the unique contributions of Judaism to Western Civilization : The Gifts of the Jews : How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (1998) (Thomas Cahill) (Grade: A-). Among the points he makes is one similar to that which Mr. Greenberg makes, that it was Jews who broke us free from the cyclical view of history, the fatalism that held that life ever repeated itself, and thereby set us off on the journey of discovery and progress that has brought us to this point in history. Both Mr. Greenberg's column and Mr. Cahill's book are highly recommended.

[originally posted: March 26, 2002]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport (George Washington, August, 1790)

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that
they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

David discusses his thoughts about Jerusalem below, the Seder including the phrase: "Next year in Jerusalem". The influential philosopher Leo Strauss stressed the idea that Western Civilization is a product of the tension between Jerusalem and Athens. As Jeffrey Hart puts it:
As used in this way those two nouns refer simultaneously to two cities and to two goals of the human mind. Athens and Jerusalem are at once actual and symbolic. In their symbolic meaning, "Athens" represents a philosophic-scientific approach to actuality, with the goal being cognition, while "Jerusalem" represents a scriptural tradition of disciplined insight and the aspiration to holiness. Together they propose the question: Is all of actuality more like a mathematical equation or is it more like a complicated and surprising poem, reflecting, as Robert Penn Warren once put it, the world's tangled and hieroglyphic beauty. Over many centuries Western civilization has answered this question not either-or but both-and, both Athens and Jerusalem. The interaction between Athens and Jerusalem has been a dynamic one, characterized by tension, attempted synthesis, and outright conflict. It has been this dynamic relation that is distinctive in Western civilization, and has created its restlessness as well as energized its greatest achievements, both material and spiritual, both Athens and Jerusalem.
Oddly enough, while there are none who would do away with Athens, there are those who think that we do not need Jerusalem, who believe reason sufficient unto itself. But what will it behoove us to comprehend actuality if we do not also aspire to holiness, to goodness?
[Originally posted: April 16, 2003]

April 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Why National Review Must Fire John Derbyshire (Josh Barro, 4/06/12, Forbes)

[Rich] Lowry is running into the problem I discussed last week: he's probably getting called a bigot because of the company he keeps. Providing a great example, this week National Review writer John Derbyshire published a kind of unbelievably racist piece for Taki's Magazine, describing "the talk" he gives to his children.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin's shooting, many black parents have discussed the advice they give to their male children about not getting themselves shot in a misunderstanding with a white authority figure. Derbyshire's talk, on the other hand, is about how to avoid being harmed by a black person. He gives such advice as "If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date," and "If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible."

Derbyshire also recommends befriending some "intelligent and well-socialized blacks" (IWSBs, for short) so that you can deflect charges of racism by noting that some of your best friends are black. Alas, he adds "the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets: boasted of by upper-class whites and wealthy organizations, coveted by the less prosperous."

So, while Lowry is advising blacks not to worry so much about the systematic profiling of blacks as criminals due to their race, his colleague Derbyshire is writing a piece specifically urging white people to engage in such profiling, among various other racist nonsense.

And this is the problem for Lowry and other conservatives who want to be taken seriously by broad audiences when they write about racial issues. Lowry wrote a column containing advice for black Americans. Why should black Americans take him seriously while he's employing Derbyshire? If Lowry wants NR to be credible on race, he should start by firing John Derbyshire.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Jack Outside the Box (JOSH EELLS, 4/08/12, NY Times Magazine)

"I'm trying to get somewhere," White, who is 36, said, reclining in his tin-ceilinged office. He's an imposing presence, over six feet tall, with intense dark eyes and a concerningly pale complexion. On his desk sat a cowbell, a pocketknife, a George Orwell reader and an antique ice-cream scoop. There was also a stack of business cards that read: "John A. White III, D.D.S. -- Accidentist and Occidental Archaeologist." "The label is a McGuffin. It's just a tool to propel us into the next zone. There aren't that many things left that haven't already been done, especially with music. I'm interested in ideas that can shake us all up."

White walked back to a room called the Vault, which is maintained at a constant 64 degrees. He pressed his thumb to a biometric scanner. The lock clicked, and he swung the door open to reveal floor-to-ceiling shelves containing the master recordings of nearly every song he's ever been involved with. Unusually for a musician, White has maintained control of his own masters, granting him extraordinary artistic freedom as well as truckloads of money. "It's good to finally have them in a nice sealed environment," White said. I asked where they'd been before, and he laughed. "In a closet in my house. Ready to be set on fire."

White said the building used to be a candy factory, but I had my doubts. He's notoriously bendy with the truth -- most famously his claim that his White Stripes bandmate, Meg White, was his sister, when in fact she was his wife. Considering the White Stripes named themselves for peppermint candies, the whole thing seemed a little neat. "That's what they told me," he insisted, not quite convincingly. I asked if I needed to worry about him embellishing details like that, and he cackled in delight. "Yes," he said. "Yes."

A few days later, White was sitting behind the wheel of his 500-horsepower black Mercedes. Howlin' Wolf was on the stereo. He wore black sunglasses and a tight black T-shirt, and he drove fast, steering with one hand while ashing an Al Capone cigarillo with the other. "I quit smoking cigarettes like six years ago," he explained, rolling through a stop sign. "These are just baby cigars. I don't inhale."

He pulled into the parking lot of United Record Pressing, the largest vinyl-record plant in the country. United has been pressing records since 1949. The first White Stripes single was made here in 1998, and now Third Man was its third-biggest customer. The label excels at vinyl novelties: glow-in-the-dark Halloween 45s; peach-scented albums; a "triple-decker" record featuring a 7-inch single sealed inside a 12-inch LP. (You needed a Swiss Army knife to get it out.) Third Man's slogan is "Your Turntable's Not Dead."

White walked the factory floor, pausing now and then. There were massive gray bins full of rainbow-colored vinyl pellets ("like the flooring you'd see in your aquarium"), large extruders to melt and shape the raw vinyl into pucks, steel presses that employed 6,000 pounds of steam pressure to flatten the pucks into records. "It's a really beautiful process," White said. At the labeling station, an employee handed him a pressing of an old Robert Johnson LP that was being rereleased, and he weighed it in his hand. "That's killer," he said. "It's not as heavy as mine, though. I've got the real one."

White calls LPs "the pinnacle of musical expression." "I was talking to Robert Altman before he died," he said, "and I asked him about an interview where he said that he would never switch to videotape, that he would always stay in film. He said: 'I know what that is. It has a negative. It has a positive. With videotape or digital, I have no idea what's going on.' That's how I feel about vinyl. The left wall is the left channel, the right wall is the right channel, and you're just dragging that rock through the groove. Watching it spin, you get a real mechanical sense of music being reproduced. I think there's a romance to that."

White famously doesn't own a cellphone, but he isn't the Luddite he's often made out to be. He has an iPod; he knows how to Skype. His friend Conan O'Brien says he'll occasionally e-mail to say he laughed at a tweet. Yet there is a bit of curmudgeon to him. "This generation is so dead," he said at one point. "You ask a kid, 'What are you doing this Saturday?' and they'll be playing video games or watching cable, instead of building model cars or airplanes or doing something creative. Kids today never say, 'Man, I'm really into remote-controlled steamboats.' They never say that."

White once wrote a song called "This Protector," about rescuing traditions from the march of progress. In a way, that's what Third Man is -- 21st-century monks of Kells, defending the catacombs against the digital horde.

Back in the car, White played a song he recently produced for Tom Jones. "Seventy-one years old, and he just came in and murdered it," White said. Then he told a story about the time he was in Transylvania, filming the movie "Cold Mountain" (he played a minstrel). Every morning on his way to the set, the driver would be listening to Tom Jones. Later he went to a local record store, and there were something like 60 Tom Jones records. No one could explain what the deal was, so White asked Jones about it. It turned out that everyone in Transylvania thought Tom Jones was a Gypsy. He insisted that he wasn't, but they still didn't believe him.

"What an incredible story," White marveled, no doubt jealous of a narrative that brought together slippery notions of identity, misleading your audience, dubious Romanians. "They really thought he was a Gypsy, and he was hiding it. He didn't think that was the answer, but it seemed to me like it was the answer. Even if it wasn't," he said, "I'd make it that."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Not Enough Inflation (PAUL KRUGMAN, 4/06/12, NY Times)

For at least three years, right-wing economists, pundits and politicians have been warning that runaway inflation is just around the corner, and they keep being wrong. Do you remember the tirades about "debasing the dollar" around this time last year? Do you remember the scorn heaped on Mr. Bernanke last spring when he argued that the bulge in inflation taking place at the time was just a temporary blip caused by gasoline prices and would soon recede? Well, he was right. At this point, inflation is once again running a bit below the Fed's self-declared target of 2 percent.

Now, the Fed has, by law, a dual mandate: It's supposed to be concerned with full employment as well as price stability. And while we more or less have price stability by the Fed's definition, we're nowhere near full employment.

Actually, we're still too far above the historic norm for full employment.  What we are below is the inflated labor force participation rate (see below) that we temporarily accepted as white men hired women and minorities for social rather than economic reasons over the last 40 years.   

As those men retire, their successors are making the economy more efficient by choosing among such employees--often at the expense of the white males--rather than simply hiring excess labor.  These efficiencies both drive the labor participation rate back down to where it has always been and drive down prices.  Thus, those on the Left who obsess over employment are just as wrong as those on the Right who obsess over inflation.  

What Mr. Krugman is basically arguing for is that we add back those makework jobs, which would indeed make things more expensive.  You'd think a Nobel laureate economist would celebrate improved productivity/efficiency and reduced costs of living instead.  

The big economic question is not how to add more jobs--we'll have fewer jobs going forward--but how to distribute the increased wealth that our work produces.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM



He stood at the edge of heaven.

Joe Kittinger's helium balloon had carried him to more than 19 miles above the earth. Now, he prepared to jump. He was about to do what no human had ever done before - free-fall to earth at the speed of sound. It was part of an extreme American experiment on ejecting at high altitude.
Kittinger knew only too well that the experiment carried extraordinary risks. He had undertaken his first free-fall jump nine months earlier, at the end of 1959, and it had almost killed him. He began spinning wildly out of control - more than 120 revolutions a minute - and quickly lost consciousness. His life was saved only when his parachute opened automatically at 10,000 feet.

Now, he was going to repeat the experiment, only this time from a far greater height. His specially constructed helium capsule would lift him to an altitude of 31,000 metres - 19-and-a-half miles above planet earth. Then he would step out into the void and fall to earth. No one knew if he would survive the experience. 

It was an experiment of extremes.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Israel Wary of Changes in the Arab World (Juliane von Mittelstaedt, 4/06/12, Der Spiegel)

Israel has been reacting in recent months the way it so often does when threatened: by walling itself in. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank disappeared behind security walls some time ago. There are high fences along the country's other borders, as well as land mines, but now it wants to improve border security even further by building a high-tech system like the one on the border with Egypt.

The Jewish state has tried to integrate itself into the Middle East for decades. Now it is trying to cut the cord between itself and the surrounding region, blocking out the changes in its neighborhood.

A year after the beginning of the Arab rebellions, it has become a story of mistrust, fear and apathy. Politicians like President Shimon Peres had long dreamed of a "new Middle East," a zone of democracy and freedom. But now that a new Middle East is in fact taking shape, the majority of Israelis and their government are not welcoming it. Although they want democratic neighbors, they are afraid of the democratization process, especially its uncertainties, as well as the instability and loss of control. No one knows yet what the new Middle East will look like, but the government has already decided that it is better to curl up into a ball than explore its options.

Israel supported the repressive regimes precisely because it preferred "stability" from to democracy for its neighbors. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Last hope for the left: The liberal, secular world view may hold sway over western elites, but it is struggling to answer the conservative challenge (DAVID GOODHART, 19th March 2012, Prospect)

Most traditional societies are "sociocentric," meaning they place the needs of groups and institutions first. Today most rich societies are "individualistic," making society a servant of the individual. Yet even in these countries significant traces of our more sociocentric and "groupist" past are to be found in peoples' instincts and moral intuitions. This has been the message of countless works of popular science since the renewed interest in Darwin (including from the late conservative social scientist James Q Wilson). Humans are not "blank slates" and only partially respond to a WEIRD worldview, we are still also group-based primates and our moral psychology has been shaped by deep evolutionary forces.

And the problem for liberals is that conservatives understand this better than they do. As one conservative friend put it, "it has taken modern science to remind liberals what our grandparents knew." Ed Miliband's difficulty is not so much that he is weird but that he is WEIRD. Yet help is at hand in the shape of a truly seminal book--out of that remarkable Amerian popular-science-meets-political-speculation stable--called The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

Like Steven Pinker, Haidt is a liberal who wants his political tribe to understand humans better. His main insight is simple but powerful: liberals understand only two main moral dimensions, whereas conservatives understand all five. (Over the course of the book he decides to add a sixth, liberty/oppression, but for simplicity's sake I am sticking to his original five.)

Liberals care about harm and suffering (appealing to our capacities for sympathy and nurturing) and fairness and injustice. All human cultures care about these two things but they also care about three other things: loyalty to the in-group, authority and the sacred.

As Haidt puts it: "It's as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning." This does not mean that liberals are necessarily wrong but it does mean that they have more trouble understanding conservatives than vice versa.

The sacred is especially difficult for liberals to understand. This isn't necessarily about religion but about the idea that humans have a nobler, more spiritual side and that life has a higher purpose than pleasure or profit. If your only moral concepts are suffering and injustice then it is hard to understand reservations about everything from swearing in public to gay marriage--after all, who is harmed?

Haidt and his colleagues have not just plucked these moral senses from the air. He explains the evolutionary roots of the different senses from a close reading of the literature but has also then tested them in internet surveys and face to face interviews in many different places around the world.

Morality "binds and blinds," which is why it has made it possible for human beings, alone in the animal kingdom, to produce large co-operative groups, tribes and nations beyond the glue of kinship. Haidt's central metaphor is that we are 90 per cent chimp and 10 per cent bee--we are driven by the "selfish gene" but, under special circumstances, we also have the ability to become like cells in a larger body, or like bees in a hive, working for the good of the group. These experiences are often among the most cherished of our lives.

One of my most politically liberal friends read this book and declared his world view to be transformed. Not that he was no longer a liberal but now "he couldn't be so rude about the other side, because I understand where they're coming from." This will be music to Haidt's ears as the book was written partly as an antidote to the more polarised American politics of the past 20 years, marked by the arrival of Bill Clinton and the liberal baby boomers onto the political stage.

The American culture wars began earlier, back in the 1960s, with young liberals angry at the suffering in Vietnam and the injustice still experienced by African-Americans. But when some of them adopted a style that was anti-American, anti-authority and anti-puritanical, conservatives saw their most sacred values desecrated and they counter-attacked.

Some conflicts are unavoidable and Haidt is not suggesting that liberals should stop being liberal--rather, that they will be more successful if instead of telling conservatives that their moral intuitions are wrong, they seek to shift them in a liberal direction by accommodating, as far as possible, their anxieties.

For example, if you want to improve integration and racial justice in a mixed area, you do not just preach the importance of tolerance but you promote a common in-group identity. As Haidt puts it: "You can make people care less about race by drowning race differences in a sea of similarities, shared goals and mutual interdependencies."

...they recognize that the most successful human grouping ever is Christianity and that it is the basis upon which to sell policies. It is what unites all of the Third Way leaders from Thatcher to Howard to Harper to Key to W.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Who is Waging Cyberwar Against the Jihadi Networks? (LISA ABEND, Apr. 05, 2012, TIME)

"The enemies of Allah who boast of their freedoms have not spared any effort to eradicate our blessed media." After two weeks of silence, the jihadist forum Shamukh al Islam came back online yesterday with a gloat: an apparent cyberattack against Shamukh and four similar sites had failed to shut it down permanently. But terrorism analysts see the event in a different light. As they investigate the mystery of who caused the outage and why, most can't help but see in the blackout one more piece of evidence that al-Qaeda is in disarray.

Websites like Shamukh al Islam perform a critical function in jihadist circles. Loaded with videos that depict alleged Western atrocities against Muslims, they recruit supporters, while their chatrooms and forums allow jihadists around the globe to communicate with one another and to exchange information, including instructions on bomb construction and chemical warfare.

So when Shamukh al Islam, perhaps the most prominent of jihadist forums, suddenly fell silent on March 22 or 23, terrorism analysts took notice. That interest only grew over the next few days as four other sites went down and, with one exception, stayed that way. "For four of these sites to be offline for two weeks is unprecedented," says Aaron Zelin, a researcher at Brandeis University. "We've seen other cyberattacks on these sites before, but they've never managed to keep them down for that long."

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Israel Blames U.S. for Media Reports About Iran Strategy (Eli Lake, Apr 6, 2012, Daily Beast)

Top officials in Israel are charging that national-security leaks coming from the U.S. government are undermining Israel's military options against Iran. "The problem is the Iranians are certainly paying close attention to these reports," a senior Israeli official told The Daily Beast. "We are concerned about the leaks and we hope they are not intentional."

The latest such leak appeared March 28 on Foreign Policy magazine's website, claiming that Israel had been granted secret access to airbases in Azerbaijan near Iran's northern border. The piece was sourced to senior U.S. diplomats and military-intelligence officers.

Even though Bibi is just blustering, the Administration needs to back him down from his own rhetoric.
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April 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Jindal education overhaul gets final passage (MELINDA DESLATTE, 4/05/12, AP) 

Gov. Bobby Jindal won his bid to overhaul the shape of public education in Louisiana, when the House gave final legislative passage Thursday to the governor's centerpiece proposals.

The bills will make it tougher for teachers to reach the job protection called tenure, establish a statewide voucher program for private school tuition, make it easier to create charter schools, expand online schools and restructure public financing of education.

"We want to make sure that every child has the opportunity to get a great education," Jindal said. "These bills coming to my desk are a great step forward for Louisiana's children."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Chart of the day: Low and stable inflation (ALEX HERN, 04 APRIL 2012, New Statesman)

The chart above shows the Cleveland Fed's summation of market expectations of inflation rates [...]. If it makes one thing clear, it is that at no point in the next thirty years does the market expect the long run inflation rate to even hit 2 per cent, let alone rise above it. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


The 13 Best Baseball Books: From 'The Art of Fielding' to 'Moneyball': 'Loveliest of trees, the cherry now,' and spring means baseball is back. From The Natural to Moneyball, find out where to extract the soul of the diamond, and tell us what we left out. (Jimmy So, 4/05/12, Daily Beast)

The Summer Games by Roger Angell

From spring to fall and from decade to decade, baseball changed in the mezzo years between 1962 and 1972--the hot summer when leagues were expanding, franchises were moving, owners were getting richer, players were getting bigger, and television was altering the game. The New Yorker writer's pitch-perfect essays from the 1960s gave birth to modern baseball writing, the way that A.J. Liebling was the heavyweight of boxing literature. Read Angell, and you can practically feel the summer breeze blowing through the outfield bleachers. The smell of spring is in the air. [...]

Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris

The four-part story of Henry Wiggen begins with The Southpaw, which was published a year after The Natural. It, too, has the tendency to knock big hitters out cold, since Harris likes the vernacular so much it can look as if he's throwing nothing but fastballs that blow by you. But true to its title, Bang the Drum Slowly stays the flash of the high heat and centers on the poignant life of Bruce Pearson, Wiggen's catcher and roommate, who's dying slowly of cancer. [...]

Waugh, the accountant protagonist of the metanovelist Coover's strange fiction, might have gotten along with Gould. Each night after work, he becomes the god of something like a fantasy baseball league, tossing dice to dictate the plays of players like "bowlegged old Maggie Everts" or "Hatrack Hines." The conceit might sound pretentious, but it works, and the fun this book offers must be read to be believed.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Is public option the last one? (Robert I. Field, 4/04/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

In her questioning, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that there is a model for federal social insurance that mandates participation by all Americans and is unquestionably constitutional: Social Security. It covers everyone, whether we want to be covered or not, and it requires that we pay a special tax to fund it. In other words, despite the controversy over whether the federal government can force you to obtain private insurance, there is no doubt that it can force you to accept government-run insurance.

What about Medicaid? In a telling exchange, Justice Elena Kagan asked Paul Clement, attorney for the 26 states challenging the health-care law, whether a ruling that the expansion of Medicaid is coercive would invalidate the entire program. Clement's noncommittal response was "not necessarily."

However, once again, there is a federal insurance program that would clearly pass constitutional muster. That is Medicare, which covers the elderly and is run entirely by the federal government. Medicare gives no role to the states and therefore does not coerce them into anything. If the opponents of health-care reform prevail, Congress would be able to expand public health-care coverage only if the federal government does it alone.

A large majority of the citizenry prefers a single-payer plan.  The Right would just be giving it to them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


The First Fuel Is Efficiency: A startup weaves meter readings and weather data into insights about buildings. (MICHAEL FITZGERALD, 4/04/12, Technology Review)

Patrick Goddard doesn't like energy audits. For him, as director of facilities for the town of Lexington, Massachusetts, an audit means a day spent walking around one of 22 buildings owned by the town, peering at insulation on windows and finding the keys to the HVAC room.

Worse, auditors "don't understand how the buildings operate," Goddard complains. "They see it at one point in time and do an analysis on what they see." Usually, their report comes back weeks later recommending more equipment, new windows, or more insulation.

So when a Lexington resident named Swapnil Shah approached Goddard at a meeting of the town energy committee and asked if the town was interested in a "virtual" audit, Goddard said yes.

He gave Shah a year's worth of data from the electricity meter of a town building. A few hours later, Shah sent Goddard a report showing that the building seemed to be using nearly as much energy after hours as during the day, suggesting it wasn't getting shut down properly. Eventually, Shah examined seven of Lexington's buildings and discovered problems that an auditor might have missed--for example, that the library's heating system was powering up at 4 a.m., hours before staff arrived in the mornings.

It was "absolutely better" than an on-the-ground audit, says Goddard, who expects simple efficiency fixes to save him $90,000, or about 3 percent of his annual operating budget.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Woos Washington (Vivian Salama, Apr 5, 2012, Daily Beast)

In a milestone for the Islamist Egyptian group, delegates from its affiliated Freedom and Justice Party are meeting with lawmakers in Washington, talking up "Sharia principles, not Sharia rulings" and the upcoming presidential election.

There was once a time when U.S. officials shunned Arab Islamist parties, frowned on their election victories, and denied them U.S. visas. But times are changing.

Delegates from Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party, a group affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, are in Washington for their first official visit since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year. Only days after announcing their party's candidate in the first presidential election since the revolution, the visiting delegates have met with members of Congress and White House officials and held public discussions at Georgetown University and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Black boxes in cars cut crashes by 20 per cent for young drivers (The Telegraph, 4/05/12)

Many insurance companies have brought in 'black box' telematics systems which keep track of speed and driving behaviour.

Now Co-op Insurance has analysed the driving habits of 10,000 young drivers who have been fitted with the new technology and found that they were 20 per cent less likely to have a crash than those with standard insurance.

Telematics customers also had less serious accidents, with a typical claim 30 per cent less than ordinary customers.

April 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Santorum slips into irrelevance as Romney vs. Obama kicks into gear (David Chalian, April 4, 2012, Yahoo!)

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum verbally circled April 24 (the Pennsylvania primary, 71 delegates at stake) and May 29 (the Texas primary, 155 delegates at stake) on his nomination calendar Tuesday night in his speech to supporters. But those goals fail to reflect the reality that he has now slid into irrelevancy in the race. [...]

 A Quinnipiac University poll out this week showed Santorum's lead in his home state has dwindled down to six points as he heads into a three week stretch without any debates or intervening primary nights to inject new momentum into his bid.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Is the Term 'Government-Centered Society' Too Polemical? (Reihan Salam, April 4, 2012, National Review)

But Romney is actually advancing a more ambitious idea, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the thesis of Alberto Alesina and George-Marios Angeletos's essay on "Fairness and Redistribution." The abstract is below:

Different beliefs about how fair social competition is and what determines income inequality, influence the redistributive policy chosen democratically in a society. But the composition of income in the first place depends on equilibrium tax policies. If a society believes that individual effort determines income, and that all have a right to enjoy the fruits of their effort, it will chose low redistribution and low taxes. In equilibrium effort will be high, the role of luck limited, market outcomes will be quite fair, and social beliefs will be self-fulfilled. If instead a society believes that luck, birth, connections and/or corruption determine wealth, it will tax a lot, thus distorting allocations and making these beliefs self-sustained as well. We show how this interaction between social beliefs and welfare policies may lead to multiple equilibria or multiple steady states. We argue that this model can contribute to explain US vis a vis continental European perceptions about income inequality and choices of redistributive policies. 

Essentially, Alesina and Angeletos are contrasting a government-centered society and a market-centered society. They're suggesting that a society can shift from one to the other as taxes increase, as the state takes a larger role in aiding politically favored firms, etc. Some will argue that the stylized portrait offered by Alesina and Angeletos is oversimplified. But it does seem like a good way to think about the political evolution of market democracies. Is there some point at which a shift to a government-centered society because irreversible? How long does it take for the new worldview to become entrenched?

Something like the Alesina-Angeletos thesis might explain the generational divide in U.S. politics. Older people tend to favor low redistribution and low taxes, yet many of them are the beneficiaries of large transfers, both direct (in the form of Medicare and Social Security) and indirect (in the form of housing wealth that flowed from tax expenditures, exclusionary zoning, etc.), that have effectively disadvantaged younger voters, who will be forced to pay higher lifetime net tax rates than their parents and grandparents. It thus seems important to make younger people understand this complex interaction between social beliefs and welfare policies. Instead of embracing more redistribution to counter the (arguably) unfair redistribution of the past, perhaps they should favor reforming redistribution policies so that they are more genuinely equitable and less tilted against the young, rolling back licensing restrictions and other measures that undermine open labor market competition, etc. But first someone has to make the case that layering more redistribution on top of the old system without reforming it might make matters worse -- that is, it might get us mired in an ugly equilibrium. 

...as jobs--the traditional means of redistributing wealth--become less important.  And the GOP can argue that by distributing more to the young--guaranteed contribution--we can distribute less to the old--guaranteed benefit.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


The cry of the anti-abortion feminist  (Lila Rose, April 2, 2012, Politico)

[T}here is a growing group of passionate young women who are transforming what it means to be a woman. Allow me to introduce them to you. We are women who reject both the anti-male feminism of the 1960s and the "girls gone wild" mentality that's pervasive today.

We are women for whom the idea of artificial birth control as "preventive care" is deeply insulting.

We are women who view the intentional killing of children not as a constitutional right, a matter of privacy or a necessary evil but, rather, as profoundly anti-woman and the antithesis of love.

We are women whose lives contradict the idea of an inevitable clash between religious liberty and women's health. We are women who believe that something precious is lost when fertility is intentionally excluded from marriage, a sacred bond and a total giving of each spouse to the other.

We are women who believe that sex and pregnancy aren't just health issues; they are also inextricably linked with family, morals, faith and values. And we are women who love everything about being a woman, including being mothers. We have noticed that the rise in the availability and use of cheap birth control coincided with increases in the rates of sex addiction, divorce, unmarried childbearing and abortion.

We have also noticed that while contraceptives and legal abortion promised to eliminate the exploitative attitude of men toward women, they have had the opposite effect.

It was never about giving women control over their own bodies, it was about taking control over the bodies of others.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Well, we can finally add another band to the list of astonishingly talented acts to emerge from the volcanoes and fjords of Iceland, six person folk pop act Of Monsters and Men, whose debut album My Head Is An Animal marks the band as a force to be reckoned with. 

Of Monsters and Men rose to prominence after winning the 2010 Musiktilraunir, which is Iceland's national battle of the bands-esque competition. Before long, this led to a major label signing, Universal, before they had even released their first real album. The band is that good, and if you were worried that a major label debut from a mostly anonymous band stateside would lead to a sloppy and amateurish premiere, you can rest those worries aside. My Head Is an Animal joins Cults' self-titled debut as an album that will instantly shoot Of Monsters and Men to the top of everyone's watercooler music conversation. With a sound that can only be described as Arcade Fire's more folk-oriented younger brother, Of Monsters and Men craft their own musical soundscapes to create an album experience that is as familiar as it is unknown. 

As soon as the acoustic guitars of "Dirty Paws" segue into its more uptempo and semi-electric counterpart full of communal sing-alongs, you know you're in for something different. With often dueling male and female vocals, a regular interplay between acoustic and rustic instrumentation alongside expansive sonic flourishes, and the distinct, almost otherworldly voice of male singer Ragnar Porhallsson, My Head Is An Animal's ability to transport you to a fantasy realm is only partially dependent on its often esoteric and whimsical lyrics. The album feels like the soundtrack for a descent into the imaginative worlds of authors like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, with a sound that transports you to a world beyond the one you currently inhabit. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


The folly at the heart of the US healthcare debate (Bruce Bartlett, 4/04/12, Financial Times)

What neither party has made any effort to grapple with is the extraordinarily high cost of health, public and private. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US spends more of its gross domestic product on health than any other country by a large margin. Americans spent 17.4 per cent of gross domestic product on health in 2009 - almost half of it came from government - versus 12 per cent of GDP or less in other major economies. Britain spends 9.8 per cent of GDP on health, almost all of it through the public sector. The total government outlay is almost exactly the same in the US and the UK at 8.2 per cent of GDP. This suggests that for no more than the US government spends on health now, Americans could have universal coverage and a healthcare system no worse than the British.

However, the option of a completely government-run health system was never seriously considered in the US when the Affordable Care Act was debated in 2009. Americans are too convinced that everything government does is less efficient and costs more than if the private sector does it. The fact that this is obviously wrong in the case of healthcare has never penetrated the public consciousness.

Except that W, Paul Ryan and others in the GOP have worked to expand the use of HSAs which will reduce costs once they are mandated.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Social Issues Drive Jews To Back Obama: Israel Counts Little as President Opens Up Big Lead in New Poll (Nathan Guttman, April 04, 2012, Forward)

Jewish voters also check all other boxes when it comes to defining liberal political positions. They strongly support abortion rights (93%), same-sex marriage (81%) and environmental regulation (69%)

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Sarah Palin on Today vs Katie Couric on GMA: Are They Objectified? (Norma Kamali, 4/04/12, Daily Beast)

Sarah Palin may not totally represent my beliefs, but she represents a case study of empowerment and objectification to the nth degree. Someone in your office may bring objectification to themselves by simply wearing a low-cut dress. She then may suffer the consequence of being known as the "easy" one with absolutely no proof exhibited. Sarah Palin may say things that are as provocative as the low-cut dress, but she, too, has to live with the consequence of her intellect and good judgment being questioned and criticized.

In many ways, Katie Couric is no different from Sarah Palin. They share in common the line we ride between being objectified and empowered. We may all think Katie is as empowered a woman as you can get, but I'm sure she experiences objectification and empowerment slipping back and forth in her day, well after the outrageous criticism of her performance on nightly news. Katie was the person no one could dislike and a part of everyone's morning when the Today show ruled the morning time slots. The move to nighttime was not only an emotional breakup for a lot of people, but also a challenge to test her abilities to tell the news with credibility in a serious demeanor, without her friendly smile.

I thought in no time everyone would be as comfortable with her in the evening, and it would be over, but it seemed that the ratings kept dropping as time progressed. Then, the glasses appeared and her hair kept changing. Her clothes evolved, and there was no smile. Here was an example of what could be one of the most empowered women on television being horribly objectified. Public objectification is usually relegated to scandalous celebrities, but Katie and Sarah both have this unique experience to be part of a club of women who were at the height of empowerment and, then, the height of objectification.

It is ironic that it was the Katie Couric interview of Sarah Palin that created the shift for Katie to be seen in a light of empowerment--and when Palin began to be seen as an object during her Vice Presidential run. Looking back on it now, both were objectified and used as pawns, one against the other, all in the name of ratings. But they both allowed it. Is it any different than when we create an atmosphere for us to be judged and scrutinized when we wear a low-cut dress?
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Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Medical group takes up the fight against unnecessary tests (Tom Avril, 4/03/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The patient suffers from headaches and wants to undergo the dull roar of an MRI machine to make sure everything is all right. Good idea?

Probably not.

How about the drip-drip of chemo for the cancer patient who is near death? A CT scan for someone who has fainted but shows no neurological symptoms? Or an annual electrocardiogram for a person with low risk of heart disease?

No, no and no.

These are among dozens of recommendations that nine medical societies are announcing Wednesday, in an effort led by the ABIM Foundation, an affiliate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, based in Philadelphia.

With governments and insurers bemoaning the soaring costs of health care, the medical profession is increasingly offering its own solutions. The new campaign, dubbed Choosing Wisely, is not the first such effort but is among the most comprehensive.

Now comes the tricky part: getting patients and doctors to go along with it.

Various estimates have pegged spending on unnecessary tests at $200 billion to $250 billion each year in the United States, a phenomenon blamed on such factors as overcautious doctors who seek to avoid malpractice claims and patients who don't realize how much their treatments cost.

Organizers of Choosing Wisely say the goal is not cutting costs, strictly speaking, but achieving the best value and the best care. If an expensive test is necessary, then full steam ahead. Conversely, some tests are cheap but still should not be done because they can subject the patient to needless anxiety and risky follow-up procedures that turn out to be unnecessary, the groups say.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Romney sweeps three more primaries (Stephanie Condon, 4/03/12, CBS News) 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney scored a high-profile victory Tuesday night in the politically-charged state of Wisconsin.

Romney is also the winner in the Maryland and District of Columbia primaries. At this point in the race, the former Massachusetts governor has secured more than half the delegates needed to win the GOP nomination outright and the increased momentum that could help him eclipse his main GOP rival, Rick Santorum. [...]

CBS News exit polling out of Wisconsin shows Romney winning across voting blocs: He is winning among college graduates and those without a college degree, as well as among those making more than $50,000 and less than $50,000. He also has the most votes from both men and women. Romney is tied with Santorum among those who describe themselves as "very conservative" and wins among conservatives overall.

Romney is winning among voters who say they support the Tea Party movement, though Santorum has the most support so far from Wisconsin voters who say they oppose the movement. 
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April 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Race, Tragedy and Outrage Collide After a Shot in Florida (DAN BARRY, SERGE F. KOVALESKI, CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and LIZETTE ALVAREZ, 4/01/12, NY Times)

That assertion of justice for all -- in Sanford and throughout the United States -- has been challenged, though, by a progression of events that began so innocently, so ordinarily: A teenage boy in a gray hooded sweatshirt leaves a 7-Eleven's neon brightness with his purchase of some candy and an iced tea, and heads back into the wet Sunday evening of Feb. 26, back to a residential complex with a forbidding gate and a comforting name.

Trayvon Martin was more than welcome there; he was expected.

With his hood up as the rain came down, Trayvon made his way to one gated community among many, the Retreat at Twin Lakes. Past a dozen storefronts, four of them vacant. Past signs and billboards shouting "Now Leasing!" and "Rent Specials!" His was a tour of a post-bust stretch of Sanford.

For more than two years now, Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, a truck driver from Miami, had been dating Brandy Green, a juvenile detention officer in Orlando. She lived at the Retreat with her 14-year-old son, Chad, and it was not uncommon for the Martins to drive up from Miami for overnight visits.

Over six feet tall and lanky, Trayvon was interested in girls, computer games, sports and the beat of the rap and hip-hop emanating from the ear buds of his smartphone. Sleeping in Miami Dolphins bedsheets, he was all teenage boy, and more.

He called himself "Slimm" on Twitter, and used a handle, @no_limit_nigga, that echoed a song by the rappers Kane & Abel. On Facebook, he expressed interest in  airplanes and "South Park"; Bob Marley and LeBron James. On MySpace, he posted snapshots of his young life: admiring an airplane; fishing with his father; displaying a cake decorated with the words "Happy Birthday Tray."

Easygoing, with a default mood set at "chillin'," as one schoolmate, Suzannah Charles, put it. The kind of kid who made tiny cakes in an Easy-Bake Oven with his 7-year-old cousin; who spoon-fed a close uncle, Ronald Fulton, who is quadriplegic, when his nurse was unavailable; who was an integral part of a close-knit family -- raised properly, family members say, by Mr. Martin and his ex-wife, Sybrina Fulton, who works for Miami-Dade County's housing agency.

Ms. Green described him as the kind of kid who did not bring attitude into a house, and who knew how to behave respectfully in the homes of others. "He was smooth, quiet," she said. "He took care of his appearance. He had swag."

But Trayvon was a teenager, not an angel. In his last year at his high school in north Miami-Dade County, he had received three suspensions -- for tardiness, for graffiti and, most recently, for having a baggie with a trace of marijuana in his backpack.

This last suspension, for 10 days, was enough for Trayvon's father, who stayed on top of him about his whereabouts and middling grades; after all, he wanted to go to college, just like his quiet older brother, Jahvaris Fulton, 21, a student at Florida International University.

Mr. Martin said that he had taken Trayvon with him to Sanford to keep him from hanging around Miami, doing nothing, and to talk some sense into him.

These recent problems, all nonviolent, hardly reflected the essence of Trayvon Martin, his family and friends say. He was kindhearted, even-tempered and very thoughtful. That night, for example, while his father and Ms. Green were out having dinner in Orlando, Trayvon asked Chad, Ms. Green's son, if he wanted anything from the store.

Skittles, the younger boy said.

A Wary Community

The teenager with candy entered the Retreat at Twin Lakes, either passing the front gate or taking a not-so-secret shortcut. Here was an orderly cluster of 260 or so sandy-colored, two-story town houses that illustrate an all-too-familiar American tale.

According to David Johnson, the Seminole County property appraiser, the Retreat was being built just as Florida's housing bubble was about to burst. When the first units came onto the tax rolls in 2007, he said, they were selling in the vicinity of $250,000, he said. Now, "I think those units are selling for about half."

The Retreat has had a "significant number" of foreclosures, Mr. Johnson said, which have prompted investors to buy the properties at a discount and then rent them out. "A lot of activity in and out of there," he said. "Maybe you don't know the neighbor, because the one who was there before, maybe they got foreclosed on."

Adding to the uncertainty and flux was the sense among some residents that this secured community was no longer so secure. There had been burglaries; at least seven in 2011, according to police reports. Strangers had started showing up, said Frank Taaffe, 55, a marketing specialist, originally from the Bronx, who works out of his home in the Retreat. He made it clear that he was not talking about just any strangers.

"There were Trayvon-like dudes with their pants down," Mr. Taaffe said.

Last August, the homeowners association decided to create a neighborhood watch, and a Sanford police official came to the Retreat to explain the guidelines: volunteers do not possess police powers; they should not be armed; and they should be the eyes and ears for the police -- but not vigilantes.

The group chose as its neighborhood watch coordinator the very man who had invited the official to speak: a man with thinning dark hair and an average build named George Zimmerman. The next month, the newsletter for the homeowners association included a cartoon of a man peering through a magnifying glass, à la Sherlock Holmes, next to a call for help: "We have recently experienced an increased incidence of crime within the community, including three break-ins in the past month, which is why having residents committed to being members of the Neighborhood Watch and reporting suspicious activities is so important. We must send a message that we will not tolerate this in our community!"

To get involved, the newsletter said, "Call George Zimmerman."

From Virginia to Florida

Now, on this dark, wet night, the neighborhood watch coordinator for the Retreat at Twin Lakes -- armed with a licensed, slim 9-millimeter handgun that he kept in a holster tucked in his waistband -- was in his truck when he noticed a hooded figure walking through the complex.

He may have been about to go on an errand to Target, as he later told his family, but his commitment to vigilance kicked in. This, it seems, was part of who George Zimmerman was.

He, too, was from someplace else -- the second of three children raised in a red-brick home in a cul-de-sac in Manassas, Va. His father, Robert, was a magistrate judge and a veteran of the Vietnam War, and Robert's father worked in Army intelligence. His mother, Gladys, a Peruvian immigrant, worked as a deputy court clerk. They ran a disciplined household that emphasized service, responsibility and the Roman Catholic faith.

"Some kids would have said, 'That's like a prison,' " recalled George W. Hall, a retired pastor who lived across the street. "But they were so polite. They always looked after you before themselves."

George was an altar boy looked upon so favorably by the priests that he became a receptionist in the rectory. He also joined a youth education program called the Young Marines, wearing a uniform, marching in step and learning about good citizenship.

"He was very caring toward everyone," his father said. "Toward anyone who needed anything."

But George could be a character. In middle school, a black boy named Anthony Woodson stumbled over a chair while walking into a classroom, prompting a student he did not know to joke, "Do you know how to walk, or did you trip over your lip?"

From that jarring remark, a friendship was born. Mr. Woodson said that he knew that the student, George Zimmerman, meant nothing racist, mostly because of the friends sitting with him. "Two other black kids, an Asian kid and a Hispanic," recalled Mr. Woodson, 30, now a pastry chef in Virginia. His new, bilingual friend seemed comfortable in a multicultural world.

After graduating from high school in 2001, Mr. Zimmerman moved to Florida, into a home that his parents had just bought for their retirement in Lake Mary, near Sanford. He began working as an insurance agent with an uncle, but he became a mortgage broker when the real estate market started booming. According to his father, he was making at least $10,000 a month by his early 20s.

When his parents retired to Florida around 2006, Mr. Zimmerman moved into an apartment in Lake Mary with a friend. Then the housing market went bust and, according to his father, George's employer went out of business. After that, he held several jobs, including at CarMax and Target. He also talked about becoming a police officer.

He seemed to be a young man in search of a path, one who could also show flashes of violence, according to court records detailing Mr. Zimmerman's difficult summer of 2005. That July, he was arrested after pushing a state alcohol agent during a raid to root out under-age drinking at a popular college bar; the felony charge was reduced and then dropped altogether when he agreed to enter a pretrial diversion program.

About a month later, Mr. Zimmerman and a woman who identified herself as his ex-fiancée traded petitions for injunction, both claiming that the other had resorted to violence: she said he "smacked" her; he said she hit him with a baseball bat. Both injunctions were issued and they expired a year later.

Still, Mr. Zimmerman seemed to have a protective streak -- a sense of right and wrong -- that others admired. For example, Stephanie, a neighbor of the elder Zimmermans in Lake Mary and a family friend, recalled how George Zimmerman struck up a friendship with one of her sons, Douglas, who is autistic, swimming with him, taking him for car rides and letting him play with Mr. Zimmerman's dog, Princess.

"He just felt comfortable with George," she said. "For Dougie, everything was 'George, George, George.' "

Stephanie also recalled a party in early December to celebrate Mr. Zimmerman's graduation from Seminole State College (though he still needed a few more credits to receive his associate's degree). He shared his hope to be a judge someday with a small gathering that included two black teenagers whom, she was later told by Mrs. Zimmerman, George was mentoring.

It seemed in character. A 16-year-old boy named Austin, who for a long time has mowed the lawn at the Zimmerman home in Lake Mary, described George Zimmerman as a role model for younger boys, often providing advice while throwing a football around or shooting hoops.

George would stick up for a chubby boy in the neighborhood who was being bullied, recalled Austin (who, like Stephanie, asked that his last name not be used). "And if George saw bullies walking by his house, he would pull out his hose and spray them down and tell them they were wasting their time and to go and do something else."

Mr. Zimmerman was also security-minded, Austin said. "He would knock on people's doors at night and say that it was late and that 'You better close your garage door.' "

But not everyone saw Mr. Zimmerman as their protector.

A 17-year-old African-American, Teontae Amie, who lives at the Retreat, recalled that Mr. Zimmerman once wrongly accused his friend of stealing a bike. "When you see him, you think automatically that he might try something," said Teontae, who added that he kept his distance from the neighborhood watch coordinator.

George Zimmerman seems to have taken a private vow to protect and defend -- but, for some reason, he has not realized his stated desire to become a police officer. (In 2009, though, he was accepted into Seminole County's Community Law Enforcement Academy, in which students take tours of the courthouse and jail, go on ride-alongs with Sheriff's Department employees and visit a firing range.)

"I don't think it was safety that he was concerned with as much as people's rights and people's welfare," his father said. "And where he was living has a lot of problems with people coming in and burglarizing. I think he became alarmed, and he helped organize the neighborhood watch."

Police records over the last several years suggest a man who was quite familiar with 911 dispatchers; who seemed, somehow, to be always in the middle of things. In October 2003, for example, on perhaps his greatest day in civic vigilance, Mr. Zimmerman chased after and assisted in the capture of a man who had stolen two 13-inch TV/DVD players from an Albertsons.

Mostly, though, his calls were less exciting, more anticipatory. Dangerous potholes. Stray dogs. Speeding vehicles. Open garage doors. Suspicious characters. On Feb. 2, he reported seeing a black man in a black leather jacket and printed pajamas in the Retreat; nothing came of it.

This is what George Zimmerman did.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Are Dollar Stores Really A Bargain? (Investopedia, 4/03/12, Forbes)

Here are a few of the best buys to be found at dollar stores:

Disposable Items
Paper plates, napkins, party decorations and greeting cards can be found at significant savings. Dollar stores have an abundance of these items in many themes and they are $1 or less. If you're buying items for a child's birthday party, graduation party or any other "get-together" where you need paper products, the dollar store is going to have your best value.

Seasonal Items
These are another great deal. If you need holiday cards, decorations or ornaments, particularly for a school or office party, shop here. They have a good assortment of traditional holiday items for most major holidays. Don't, however, expect them to hold up over one or two seasons, and don't expect to find anything unique. The seasonal items for sale here will be very traditional (think pumpkins, Santa and the Easter Bunny).

Surprisingly the dollar store is an inexpensive store to purchase a pregnancy test. At larger retailers these tests can run $7 to $12. At the dollar store they are $1 and they have the same testing kit as the ones sold at drugstores. 

Kitchen Ware
One of the best bargains that you truly do get great value for at the dollar stores are kitchen items. Rubber spatulas, serving tongs, glassware and most kitchen gadgets can be purchased here for 50 to 90% less than at Walmart or Target. Whether you are buying supplies for a dorm, your first apartment or replacing those that are worn out, the dollar store is the place to get them at a great price and at a decent quality.

Children's books are a great buy at dollar stores. You can buy an assortment of easy readers, coloring books and activity books for 50 cents to $1 each. Sometimes they will even bundle them so you can get several for $1. They also occasionally have young adult books and novels, though the selection isn't always great.

Other Items
Other bargains are paintbrushes and paint trays, masking tape, duct tape and surprisingly, garden seeds. Unless it's a special paintbrush, many of us throw them away after one use. It's far better to throw away a paint brush that cost $1 than a $5.99 paintbrush from a large retailer.

Make that all the books.  

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


US Auto Sales Up In March On Low Interest Rates (MIKE OBEL, April 3, 2012 , IB Times)

General Motors Co., the top U.S. car maker, said its March sales rose nearly 12 percent, Ford Motor Co.'s sales climbed 5 percent and Chrysler LLC's sales soared 34 percent.

GM sold 231,052 cars and trucks, up from 206,621 a year earlier. The strong sales of fuel-efficient models represents a big shift for the Detroit automaker, once known for focusing mostly on big, gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney (DAVID JAVERBAUM, 3/31/12, NY Times)

The basic concepts behind this model are:

Complementarity. In much the same way that light is both a particle and a wave, Mitt Romney is both a moderate and a conservative, depending on the situation (Fig. 1). It is not that he is one or the other; it is not that he is one and then the other. He is both at the same time.

Probability. Mitt Romney's political viewpoints can be expressed only in terms of likelihood, not certainty. While some views are obviously far less likely than others, no view can be thought of as absolutely impossible. Thus, for instance, there is at any given moment a nonzero chance that Mitt Romney supports child slavery.

Uncertainty. Frustrating as it may be, the rules of quantum campaigning dictate that no human being can ever simultaneously know both what Mitt Romney's current position is and where that position will be at some future date. This is known as the "principle uncertainty principle."

Entanglement. It doesn't matter whether it's a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an issue, you unavoidably affect how he feels about it. More precisely, Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Why Are American Jews So Liberal?: Enduring Political Message of the Passover Seder (Jay Michaelson, April 03, 2012, Forward)

Why are Jews so liberal?

Every few years, the question gets asked, often with the unspoken follow-up "... and what can we do to change that?" This year, Republican super PACs are drooling with anticipation. If you think the attacks on Mitt Romney by Sheldon Adelson -- I mean Gingrich -- I mean a Super-PAC that theoretically doesn't co-ordinate with Gingrich -- were mean, just wait until the general election. Israel! The war on religion! The Ground Zero mosque! Anything to wake up the Jews and get them to vote Republican.

Religiosity is the single best predictor of party affiliation and Jews aren't religious.  If you want them to vote like Republicans you'd have to convert them to, at least, Judaism, if not Christianity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


The Loneliest Superpower: How did China end up with only rogue states as its real friends? (MINXIN PEI | MARCH 20, 2012, Foreign Policy)

Real strategic alliance or friendship is not a commodity that can be bought and bartered casually. It is based on shared security interests, fortified with similar ideological values and enduring trust. China excels in "transactional diplomacy" -- romping around the world with its fat checkbook, supporting (usually poor, isolated, and decrepit) regimes like Angola and Sudan in return for favorable terms on natural resources or voting against Western-sponsored resolutions criticizing China's human rights record. And the world's second-largest economy will remain bereft of dependable strategic allies because of three interrelated factors: geography, ideology, and policy. 

For one thing, China is situated in one of the toughest geopolitical neighborhoods in the world. It shares borders with Japan, India, and Russia; three major powers which have all engaged in military conflicts with China in the 20th century. It still has unresolved territorial disputes with Japan and India, and the Russians fear a horde of Chinese moving in and overwhelming the depopulated Russian far east. As natural geopolitical rivals, these countries do not make easy allies. To the southeast is Vietnam, a defiant middle power which has not only fought many wars with China in the past, but is apparently gearing up for another contest over disputed waters in the South China Sea. And just across the Yellow Sea is South Korea, historically a protectorate of the Chinese empire, but now firmly an ally of the United States

That leaves countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Nepal, weak states that are net strategic liabilities: expensive to maintain but that yield minimal benefits in return. In the last decade, China wooed more important Southeast Asian nations into its orbit with a charm offensive of free trade and diplomatic engagement. While the campaign produced a short-lived honeymoon between China and the region, it quickly fizzled as China's growing assertiveness on territorial disputes in the South China Sea caused Southeast Asian nations to realize that their best security bet remained the United States. At the last East Asian Summit in Bali in November 2011, most of the ASEAN countries spoke up in support of Washington's position on the South China Sea.  

China may be North Korea's patron, but the two countries dislike each other intensely. Beijing's fear of a reunified Korea motivates it to keep pumping massive aid into Pyongyang. Despite having China as its gas station and ATM, Pyongyang feels no gratitude towards Beijing, and rarely deigns to align its security interests with those of China: Consider North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, which has dramatically worsened China's security environment. Worse still, Pyongyang repeatedly engaged in direct negotiations with Washington behind Beijing's back during the China-sponsored Six-Party Talks, illustrating that it was always ready to sell its "friend" and neighbor out to the highest bidder. Yet China has little choice but to smile and play nice, as its ties with a reunified Korea would be worse: If the democratic South absorbs the North, the new country would almost certainly continue and possibly strengthen its security relations with the United States, instead of growing closer to China.

Of all its neighbors, only Pakistan has produced genuine security payoffs for China. 

...was drive America and India into each others arms.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Romney Goes on Offensive on Immigration in Wisconsin (Matthew Jaffe, 4/02/12, ABC News)

Mitt Romney today flatly accused President Obama of reneging on his campaign promise to enact sweeping immigration reform, despite enjoying a Democrat-controlled Congress for his first two years in office.

"This has always been a priority for the president he chooses to do nothing about," Romney said. "Let the immigrant community not forget that while he uses this as a political weapon, he has not taken responsibility for fixing the problems we have." [...]

"That is something that I will not just talk about in this campaign. This will be a priority of mine if I become president to make sure we finally reform our immigration laws step by step, secure the border, improve our legal immigration system, so we can keep people here and welcome people here who will make America a stronger nation," he said.

April 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Deluding ourselves on medical 'cures' (Esther J. Cepeda, April 2, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

"To promote gastric bypass surgery as a quick fix for diabetes is unconscionable," said Dr. Jane L. Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, in reaction to the news about two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine that spurred headlines implying that the risky surgery could cure diabetes. "The outsized media attention to these limited studies gives false hope to diabetics and could be dangerous to health."

The rush to celebrate a cure du jour to medicine's most intractable problems is a result of people's deep desire for science to come up with some "solution" that will enable them to engage in pleasurable, sometimes destructive behaviors, without fear of unhappy consequences.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


In Manhattan Pizza War, Price of Slice Keeps Dropping (N. R. KLEINFIELD, 3/30/12, NY Times)

In the amped-up war of commerce and 75-cent pizza on the Avenue of the Americas in Midtown, a perilous moment is approaching. Circumstances suggest that ravenous New Yorkers might soon witness 50-cent pizza, 25-cent pizza or, yes, free pizza.

It is that caustic. Neither side is willing to yield an inch -- or a cent. Escalation seems imminent.

As so often happens in twisty New York stories involving wallets and food choices, who is being picked on and who is attacking vary in the telling. Convenient facts get omitted from the narrative.

It's best to start at $1.50 a slice.

That is what pizza was selling for about a year ago at a family business that is a combination vegetarian Indian restaurant, candy store and pizza parlor on Avenue of the Americas (also known as Sixth Avenue), between 37th and 38th Streets. It is called Bombay Fast Food/6 Ave. Pizza.

Then a Joey Pepperoni's Pizza opened near the corner of 39th and Avenue of the Americas, offering pizza for $1, a price that has in recent years been favored by a number of New York pizza establishments.

So Bombay/6 Ave. Pizza shrank its price to $1 too.

All was good until last October, when a third player entered the drama.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Mitt Romney's 'veepstakes' begin (Philip Rucker, March 30, 2012, Washington Post)

"I think the mistakes made in 2008 will have a big effect, as they should in 2012," said strategist Steve Schmidt, who oversaw McCain's selection of Palin. "The 2008 process was evaluated almost entirely through a political prism."

This time, one Romney adviser said, "politics will matter less than you'd imagine."

"Knowing Mitt as I do, I think he's going to be very much of the school that we need a vice president who can become president," said the adviser, who like others interviewed demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the vice presidential search process.

The "veepstakes," as they are known, is a favorite parlor game of operatives and journalists. But forgotten in all the chatter is that Romney is likely to make the decision alone, in consultation with only a few close confidantes. Making this choice is considered the first presidential decision a nominee makes.

Now, as Republicans continue coalescing around Romney -- Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) endorsed him this week -- some are wondering whether his new backers might be appear on the ticket.

Of course, W ignored politics and chose someone who could run the country at the cost of losing the election.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Aung San Suu Kyi hails 'new era' for Burma after landslide victory: Thousands celebrate historic byelection victory as the National League for Democracy claims 43 out of 44 seats (Esmer Golluoglu, 4/02/12, guardian.co.uk)

As Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to win her first public office, voters speak of the need for a fair election in Burma Link to this video
Aung San Suu Kyi has hailed "the beginning of a new era" in Burma's politics after her party claimed a spectacular 43 out of 44 parliamentary seats in Sunday's historic byelection.

Speaking to thousands of red-clad supporters outside the headquarters of her opposition party, the National League for Democracy' (NLD), the Nobel laureate called the election "a triumph of the people" and said: "We hope this will be the beginning of a new era." [...]

"What is important is not how many seats we may have won, but that ... the people participated in the democratic process," she said to great applause, before adding: "We invite all parties who wish to bring peace and prosperity to our country [to work together]."

...the further Anglo-America extends its mantle in reality.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Democracy and its discontents (DARON ACEMOGLU AND JAMES ROBINSON, Why Nations Fail)

We live in a much more democratic world than our great-grandparents. But democracy has always had its trenchant critics, often people of high educational attainment and income arguing that important social and political decisions cannot be left to the uneducated, manipulable masses, who could not be trusted to make decisions for the social good let alone for their own good. Ortega y Gasset, though a liberal and supporter of republican ideals, raised the alarm bells at the beginning of the 20th century, warning of the dangers of mass participation in politics in his The Revolt of the Masses. The American intellectual, Walter Lippmann, articulated this idea by writing in Public Opinion:

the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.

These voices have become even louder recently by those who contrast the speed with which authoritarian China has been able to deal with the global recession to the raucous wrangling in the US. So has democracy run its course?

We don't think so. In fact, inclusive political institutions must be truly democratic, giving voice to every segment of society, regardless of education and income. Though democracies are sometimes captured by elites or special interests and often disorderly, non-democratic systems are much more likely to be captured and serve as the foundation of extractive political and economic institutions.

Of course, the decisions that democratic systems take will sometimes be misguided. But then again, so will the decisions taken by any other political system, any group, or any individual. Democratic politics will also lead to decisions and procedures that elites of all types dislike. Yet this is often not because the electorate's ignorance or shortsightedness, but because their interests diverge from those of elites, and also because the educated elite doesn't like giving up its monopoly on preaching what society should do.

One of the best things about including the unwashed masses in decision making is that they have to accept their fair share of blame for the messes we make. Well, other than the Tea Partiers and Occupiers, who imagine themselves unFallen.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Penny Anti (John Fund, April 2, 2012, National Review)

Pennies are more of a burden than a help to us. This year, the U.S. Mint will churn out 4.3 billion of them, more than twice the annual output of all other coins combined. Because the penny costs more than a cent to produce, the Treasury loses more than $100 million per year on the coin's production. Production is up in part because of hoarding, and in part because more and more people are throwing them in jars or drawers and never taking them out again. Few people now bother to pick up a penny when they see it on the street. It's simply not worth the effort.

A growing number of experts are concluding the penny is too picayune to bother with. "The purpose of the monetary system is to facilitate exchange, but the penny no longer serves that purpose," Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw, a former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, has argued. "When people start leaving a monetary unit at the cash register for the next customer, the unit is too small to be useful."

When the half-cent was abolished in 1857, it was worth more than eight cents in today's currency. People afterward had no problem living and conducting business, even though the new smallest unit of currency -- the penny -- was worth more than today's dime. No major problems with transactions were reported, even at a time that predated the many cashless means of electronic transaction we enjoy today, which, even after penny abolition, can preserve prices to the exact cent if people so choose.

Make Technology--and the World--Frictionless: Make buying, voting and losing weight easier by blasting away unnecessary steps (David Pogue, March 21, 2012, Scientific American)

A few months back I was at the main Apple Store in New York City. I wanted to buy a case for my son's iPod touch--but it was December 23. The crowds were so thick, I envied sardines.

Fortunately, I knew something that most of these people didn't: I could grab an item off the shelf, scan it with my iPhone and walk right out. Thanks to the free Apple Store app, I didn't have to wait in line or even find an employee. The purchase was instantly billed to my Apple account. I was in and out of there in two minutes.

Apple, in other words, has reached new heights in reducing friction--which benefits it as much as its customers.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


A country in denial: By ignoring their country's economic problems, France's politicians are making it far harder to tackle them (The Economist, Mar 31st 2012)

VISIT the euro zone and you will be invigorated by gusts of reform. The "Save Italy" plan has done enough for Mario Monti, the prime minister, to declare, however prematurely, that the euro crisis is nearly over. In Spain Mariano Rajoy's government has tackled the job market and is about to unveil a tight budget (see article). For all their troubles, Greeks know that the free-spending and tax-dodging are over. But one country has yet to face up to its changed circumstances.

France is entering the final three weeks of its presidential campaign. The ranking of the first round, on April 22nd, remains highly uncertain, but the polls back François Hollande, the Socialist challenger, to win a second-round victory. Indeed, in elections since the euro crisis broke, almost all governments in the euro zone have been tossed out by voters. But Nicolas Sarkozy, the Gaullist president, has been clawing back ground. The recent terrorist atrocity in Toulouse has put new emphasis on security and Islamism, issues that tend to favour the right--or, in the shape of Marine Le Pen, the far right.

Yet what is most striking about the French election is how little anybody is saying about the country's dire economic straits (see article). The candidates dish out at least as many promises to spend more as to spend less. Nobody has a serious agenda for reducing France's eye-watering taxes. Mr Sarkozy, who in 2007 promised reform with talk of a rupture, now offers voters protectionism, attacks on French tax exiles, threats to quit Europe's passport-free Schengen zone and (at least before Toulouse) talk of the evils of immigration and halal meat. Mr Hollande promises to expand the state, creating 60,000 teaching posts, partially roll back Mr Sarkozy's rise in the pension age from 60 to 62, and squeeze the rich (whom he once cheerfully said he did not like), with a 75% top income-tax rate.

April 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Lighting Up the Cosmos (DIANE ACKERMAN, 5/31/81, NY Times Book Review)

Throughout his career, Chinaglia has had a way of overloading the circuits of already jumpy soccer fans. In Italy, where he played with the prestigious Lazio team of Rome, he became one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the game. He was a sparkling forward with a percussive right foot, a cat burglar's agility and an uncanny instinct for where the ball and players were at any moment; he also had a reputation for going berserk when he scored.

When Chinaglia led the club out of a slump and into the Italian championship of 1973-74, he was devoured by paparazzi. Chinaglia entered the bloodstream of every Italian's life. ''I can't explain what it was like,'' he has said. ''There are 52 million people in Italy, and 48 million could recognize me on the street. When they needed news, they quoted me on the front page of the papers.''

In 1976, during the expansionist days of the youthful North American Soccer League (N.A.S.L.), Chinaglia joined the Cosmos at the age of 29, still in his prime. In those days, the Cosmos were trying to build an audience for soccer by ransacking the world for topflight players who they hoped would appeal to New York's large and varied ethnic populations. Pele, the extraordinary Brazilian, was the team's main drawing card; then Chinaglia arrived, and the dazzling Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany and Carlos Alberto of Brazil - legends all.

In no time, Chinaglia was making news again, both with his explosive play and his impenitent candor. Insuring himself the wrath of soccer fans the world over, he declared that Pele, one of the most beloved figures in all sports, was ''not playing on all cylinders.'' From that comment on, nothing Chinaglia said or did was considered neutral. There were reports of inappropriate hand gestures during a game, a ruckus in the bleachers with the ground crew at Giants Stadium. He was depicted as a sophisticated tough who precipitated trouble just as inevitably as glass condenses water. Comfortable in both the boardroom and the locker room, Chinaglia had a cozy relationship with the executives of Warner Communications, owners of the Cosmos, that became a source of deep suspicion among players and fans alike; like an unofficial player-manager, Chinaglia has long been thought to have a hand in who got hired, who got fired, who stayed and who played. [...]

In Italy, Chinaglia had a history, an aura; but in this country, he has had to invent himself with each game, a challenge that seems both to alarm and renew him. He is the by far the league's leading scorer, ending last season with 126 goals, and he got the fastest start in the league this season, averaging one and a half goals in the team's first 10 games. And fans still flock to Giants Stadium for the chance to publicly adore and revile him. Giorgio Chinaglia (kee-NAL-ya) is not built like most soccer players, who need bellows for lungs and legs so thoroughly developed that each muscle stands out like a clove of garlic. At 6 feet 1 inch, he is tall for a game in which height is not necessarily an advantage. He has hulking shoulders; large, pan-shaped muscles across each thigh; a bobbin-small waist, and, thanks to a childhood deformity of the upper spine, a deep-set neck that nests his head low in his shoulders. Chinaglia looks wrought-up when he is merely standing still, and, when the ball comes near him, his rage to score becomes palpable.

Chinaglia is not an acrobat, like Pele. What they have in common is sheer striking power. Pele, the greatest scorer in the game's history, with 1,282 lifetime goals, could become a human catapult, as agile upside down as rightside up, nerving shots from 40 yards out. In his prime, he would chase the length and breadth of the field, hunting the ball. More than any other soccer player, he was the omnicompetent virtuoso, both feeder and striker, subordinate and master in one.

If Pele was the javelin, Chinaglia is its point. His forte is surprise. In Italy, they devised the word chinagliata to mean ''uniquely unpredictable.'' Chinaglia spends most of most games hanging around the goal like a streetcorner hood, irritable, threatening, ready to erupt. Then he'll shock everyone by running the full length of the field to work as a back, but such outbursts are rare.

Pele, being many players in one, was so busy on the field that he had no time to parade what ego he possessed; Chinaglia, by hovering near the goal, has time to be aware of himself as an object of attention. Pele merged his brilliance with the competence of his teammates; Chinaglia is almost aloof, never merging into the flux of play.

''Total soccer,'' which started in Europe about eight years ago and has been picked up here, encourages players with assigned positions to ad-lib and redefine them as the game demands. This new freedom does not affect Chinaglia much. Traditionally, the center forward's role has been to loiter receptively as close to the goal as he can get, waiting for speedier and defter forwards to feed him the ball. In this, Chinaglia is classical and unyielding, always waiting for the ball to be delivered to him, preferably to his right foot. If the ball comes, he will work miracles with it, but he won't search for it or hustle downfield with a starlet's longing. From his point of view, he is as special- ized a creature as a place kicker in football. His job is to score goals, not to chase wayward balls; his lot is to be ''served'' the ball by others.

Over the years, this attitude has chafed some of Chinaglia's admirers, teammates and associates, not to mention his critics and opponents, who have accused him of being lumbering, immobile, lazy, self-serving, uninventive, possessive, imperious, close-minded and uncoachable. Werner Roth, the Cosmos captain in the late 1970's, suggests that ''the team would benefit if Giorgio changed his style a little and came out of the middle once in a while. Very often they put two or three players on him, and if he stays in the middle it closes off all possibilities, since the main artery of attack is through the middle. If he would sometimes allow others to go in, it would be better for the team.'' [...]

With much hoopla, Chinaglia became a citizen three years ago, and for a spell his pride was such that he kept his citizenship papers next to the Chivas Regal in his locker. ''When I go home over the George Washington Bridge,'' he says with visible emotion, ''I feel as if I've lived here all my life. The rest is like a film. Like when we play in Los Angeles. We return to the airport here, and I feel as if I can breathe again, I'm home.''
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Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


NY, Lazio legend Chinaglia passes away (Fox, APR 1, 2012)

New York Cosmos legend Giorgio Chinaglia has passed away due to complications from a heart attack in Florida.

Chinaglia, the NASL's all-time leading scorer with 243 goals, was 65.

Chinaglia was a star with Lazio in 1976 when he decamped for New York. Considered the greatest player in Lazio's history, his move to the States was controversial and he was arguably the first player to join the NASL while still in the prime of his career.

...and how thirty years ago we used to complain that all he did was score, but if you watch guys play now you just wish any of them could put the ball in the back of the net.  The selfishness that made him a great striker ultimately destroyed the Cosmos, but in later life, as a radio talk show host, he was generous with and deferential to fans.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Kansas lotto player hit by lightning after buying Mega Millions tickets  (PHILIP CAULFIELD, 4/01/12 NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Officials of the Mega Millions lottery, which had the largest prize in U.S. history, said that the odds of winning lottery were about 176 million to one. Americans have a much higher chance of being struck by lightning, at 775,000 to one over the course of a year, depending on the part of the country and the season, according to the National Weather Service.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Opposition claims historic sweep in Myanmar elections: The symbolic importance of a landslide opposition victory in Myanmar could prompt a backlash against reformist President Thein Sein by hardliners in the military. (CS Monitor, April 1, 2012)

Jubilant supporters of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi sang and danced outside the headquarters of her opposition National League for Democracy here on Sunday night, as the party claimed a stunning near clean sweep of the parliamentary by-elections held earlier in the day.

"I am very happy for democracy and for the future of our country," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win, as thousands of supporters, many clad in red T-shirts emblazoned with their party's golden peacock emblem, danced and clapped in the street outside to the sounds of party songs blaring from loudspeakers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


The Book That Drove Them Crazy: Allan Bloom's 'Closing of the American Mind' 25 years later. ( ANDREW FERGUSON, 4/09/12, Weekly Standard)

If I had reread The Closing of the American Mind 10 years ago, when my own children were themselves under 10, I confess I would have thought Bloom's portrait of educational decline was overwrought. And then they grew up and went off to college.

Here Bloom describes a freshman arriving on campus. "He finds a democracy of the disciplines," he wrote. "This democracy is really an anarchy, because there are no recognized rules for citizenship and no legitimate titles to rule. In short, there is no vision, nor is there a set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is." In the end the freshman will likely opt for a major that will get him hired when he graduates, while "pick[ing] up in elective courses a little of whatever is thought to make one cultured."

This observation from 25 years ago matches what a freshman encounters at a moderately selective university today, and with small adjustments, even at many smaller colleges that claim to specialize in the liberal arts. The "core curriculum" or "general education requirements" are largely a sham: A math class may be offered, a science class may be offered, but seldom are both required, and often the content of each has only a glancing relation to the study of math or science. Philosophy and history fare still worse. Last year, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni surveyed the catalogues of more than one thousand colleges and universities. Fewer than 20 percent of the schools required courses in American government, only a third required a literature survey class, and 15 percent required anything more than a beginner's level class in a foreign language. The results have been predictable. The authors of Academically Adrift, the most devastating book on higher education since Bloom, found that nearly half of undergraduates show no measurable improvement in knowledge or "critical thinking" after two years of college.

Perhaps the most famous image in Bloom's book​--​certainly the least appetizing​--​is a cartoonish word picture of an MTV-watching, Walkman-wearing 13-year-old boy, the flower of American civilization, the human culmination of centuries of learning and sacrifice, nonetheless brought low by a degraded popular culture: "a pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents," and so on and so on, whose "life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbation fantasy," and who will soon, therefore, be well-fit to begin study at a major university.

I thought of that boy of 13 when I finished rereading The Closing of the American Mind not long ago. He is now 38. His parents, I hope, survived his childhood; about the onanism I refuse to speculate. He will likely have children of his own by now. And I hope by the time his own daughter is ready for college, he and all the youngsters he was meant to symbolize will have forgiven the author of this scandalous but all too plausible caricature. And when he disgorges tens of thousands of dollars to send his daughter to a school that has itself become a caricature of higher education, I am consoled to think that he will be able to consult Allan Bloom as to how such a thing could come to pass, thanks to a new edition of his maddening, haunting, towering book.

Our friend, Ari Mendelson, wrote a funny novel about college last year, Bias Incident.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The Curious Case of Sidd Finch: He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga -- and his future in baseball (George Plimpton, April 1, 1985, Sports Illustrated):

"I never dreamed a baseball could be thrown that fast. The wrist must have a lot to do with it, and all that leverage. You can hardly see the blur of it as it goes by. As for hitting the thing, frankly, I just don't think it's humanly possible. You could send a blind man up there, and maybe he'd do better hitting at the sound of the thing."

Christensen's opinion was echoed by both Cochrane and Dykstra, who followed him into the enclosure. When each had done his stint, he emerged startled and awestruck.

Especially Dykstra. Offering a comparison for SI, he reported that out of curiosity he had once turned up the dials that control the motors of the pitching machine to maximum velocity, thus producing a pitch that went approximately 106 miles per hour. "What I looked at in there," he said, motioning toward the enclosure, "was whistling by another third as fast, I swear."

The phenomenon the three young batters faced, and about whom only Reynolds, Stottlemyre and a few members of the Mets' front office know, is a 28-year-old, somewhat eccentric mystic named Hayden (Sidd) Finch. He may well change the course of baseball history. On St. Patrick's Day, to make sure they were not all victims of a crazy hallucination, the Mets brought in a radar gun to measure the speed of Finch's fastball. The model used was a JUGS Supergun II. It looks like a black space gun with a big snout, weighs about five pounds and is usually pointed at the pitcher from behind the catcher. A glass plate in the back of the gun shows the pitch's velocity -- accurate, so the manufacturer claims, to within plus or minus 1 mph. The figure at the top of the gauge is 200 mph. The fastest projectile ever measured by the JUGS (which is named after the oldtimer's descriptive -- the "jug-handled" curveball) was a Roscoe Tanner serve that registered 153 mph. The highest number that the JUGS had ever turned for a baseball was 103 mph, which it did, curiously, twice on one day, July 11, at the 1978 All-Star game when both Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan threw the ball at that speed. On March 17, the gun was handled by Stottlemyre. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds's mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared on the glass plate. Stottlemyre remembers whistling in amazement, and then he heard Reynolds say, "Don't tell me, Mel, I don't want to know. . . "

The Met front office is reluctant to talk about Finch. The fact is, they know very little about him. He has had no baseball career. Most of his life has been spent abroad, except for a short period at Harvard University.

The registrar's office at Harvard will release no information about Finch except that in the spring of 1976 he withdrew from the college in midterm. The alumni records in Harvard's Holyoke Center indicate slightly more. Finch spent his early childhood in an orphanage in Leicester, England and was adopted by a foster parent, the eminent archaeologist Francis Whyte-Finch, who was killed in an airplane crash while on an expedition in the Dhaulaglri mountain area of Nepal. At the time of the tragedy, Finch was in his last year at the Stowe School in Buckingham, England, from which he had been accepted into Harvard. Apparently, though, the boy decided to spend a year in the general area of the plane crash in the Himalayas (the plane was never actually found) before he returned to the West and entered Harvard in 1975, dropping for unknown reasons the "Whyte" from his name. Hayden Finch's picture is not in the freshman yearbook. Nor, of course, did he play baseball at Harvard, having departed before the start of the spring season.

His assigned roommate was Henry W. Peterson, class of 1979, now a stockbroker in New York with Dean Witter, who saw very little of Finch. "He was almost never there," Peterson told SI. "I'd wake up morning after morning and look across at his bed, which had a woven native carpet of some sort on it -- I have an idea he told me it was made of yak fur -- and never had the sense it had been slept in. Maybe he slept on the floor. Actually, my assumption was that he had a girl in Somerville or something, and stayed out there. He had almost no belongings. A knapsack. A bowl he kept in the corner on the floor. A couple of wool shirts, always very clean, and maybe a pair or so of blue jeans. One pair of hiking boots. I always had the feeling that he was very bright. He had a French horn in an old case. I don't know much about French-horn music but he played beautifully. Sometimes he'd play it in the bath. He knew any number of languages. He was so adept at them that he'd be talking in English, which he spoke in this distinctive singsong way, quite Oriental, and he'd use a phrase like "pied-a-terre" and without knowing it he'd sail along in French for a while until he'd drop in a German word like "angst" and he'd shift to that language. For any kind of sustained conversation you had to hope he wasn't going to use a foreign buzz word -- especially out of the Eastern languages he knew, like Sanskrit -- because that was the end of it as far as I was concerned."

When Peterson was asked why he felt Finch had left Harvard, he shrugged his shoulders. "I came back one afternoon, and everything was gone -- the little rug, the horn, the staff. . . Did I tell you that he had this long kind of shepherd's crook standing in the corner? Actually, there was so little stuff to begin with that it was hard to tell he wasn't there anymore. He left a curious note on the floor. It turned out to be a Zen koan, which is one of those puzzles which cannot be solved by the intellect. It's the famous one about the live goose in the bottle. How do you get the goose out of the bottle without hurting it or breaking the glass? The answer is, 'There, it's out!' I heard from him once, from Egypt. He sent pictures. He was on his way to Tibet to study."

Finch's entry into the world of baseball occurred last July in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where the Mets' AAA farm club, the Tidewater Tides, was in town playing the Guides. After the first game of the series, Bob Schaefer, the Tides' manager, was strolling back to the hotel. He has very distinct memories of his first meeting with Finch: "I was walking by a park when suddenly this guy -- nice-looking kid, clean-shaven, blue jeans, big boots -- appears alongside. At first, I think maybe he wants an autograph or to chat about the game, but no, he scrabbles around in a kind of knapsack, gets out a scuffed-up baseball and a small, black leather fielder's mitt that looks like it came out of the back of some Little League kid's closet. This guy says to me, 'I have learned the art of the pitch. . .' Some odd phrase like that, delivered in a singsong voice, like a chant, kind of what you hear in a Chinese restaurant if there are some Chinese in there.

"I am about to hurry on to the hotel when this kid points out a soda bottle on top of a fence post about the same distance home plate is from the pitcher's rubber. He rears way back, comes around and pops the ball at it. Out there on that fence post the soda bottle explodes. It disintegrates like a rifle bullet hit it -- just little specks of vaporized glass in a puff. Beyond the post I could see the ball bouncing across the grass of the park until it stopped about as far away as I can hit a three-wood on a good day.

"I said, very calm, 'Son, would you mind showing me that again?'

"And he did. He disappeared across the park to find the ball -- it had gone so far, he was after it for what seemed 15 minutes. In the meantime I found a tin can from a trash container and set it up for him. He did it again -- just kicked that can off the fence like it was hit with a baseball bat. It wasn't the accuracy of the pitch so much that got to me but the speed. It was like the tin can got belted as soon as the ball left the guy's fingertips. Instantaneous. I thought to myself, 'My god, that kid's thrown the ball about 150 mph. Nolan Ryan's fastball is a change-up compared to what this kid just threw.'

An Old Baseball April Fools' Hoax (ALAN SCHWARZ, 4/01/05, NY Times)

It still happens on the Wrigley Field concession lines. It happens as he walks down Michigan Avenue. It even happened, in all places, while sipping a lager in an Oxford pub.

"Sidd Finch! You're Sidd Finch! Hey Sidd, can I get your autograph?"

After 20 years, for Joe Berton, the line remains a little blurred. Ninety-nine percent of his waking moments are spent as Joe Berton, mild-mannered junior high school art teacher in Oak Park, Ill. But that other 1 percent, he is still Sidd Finch, baseball's greatest pitching prospect.

It was 20 years ago this week that Sports Illustrated ran one of its most celebrated articles, "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch" - in which George Plimpton crafted a 14-page exposé on a bizarre, out-of-nowhere Mets phenom who fired baseballs at a stupefying 168 miles an hour. "Crafted," of course, is what Plimpton truly did - the story was pure fiction. It instantly became its generation's "War of the Worlds," leaving thousands of frenzied fans either delighted at the April Fools' prank or furious at being duped.

The story was fiction for all but one person - Joe Berton, a gangly, 6-foot-4 Chicagoan who modeled for all the pictures, and to this day is recognized by dreamy fans as the actual Sidd Finch.

"I was at one of the Cubs' playoff games in 2003, I'm lining up for a beer, and this guy goes: 'You're Sidd Finch! I can't believe it!' " recalled Berton, 51. "He asked me to sign his program. I find that almost everybody loves to recount their moment with the story - where they were when they read it and what it meant to them. It's like they really wanted Sidd to be real."