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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