August 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


JP Music Fest reflects the local scene (John Ruch, August 31, 2012, Jamaica Plain Gazette)

Despite sharing a name with Florida's capital city, the band has no connection with the Sunshine State. Bassist Shawn Carney simply thought "Tallahassee" looked good, with its three sets of double letters. The American Indian word is often translated as "old town," which suits the band, as all its members are from small towns, Barthelmes said.

He joked that the band has vowed never to play the Florida capital until they have a sold-out stadium show or similar success. "Our dream is, one day, something magical will happen in Tallahassee for Tallahassee," he said.

Meanwhile, the band is in the midst of recording its second album, following last year's debut "Jealous Hands." Its brand of Americana has been well-received, and Barthelmes notes that it might reflect a yearning in a time when many folks, especially artists and musicians, are "forced into cities" to make life work.

"The greatest country songs are often written by city people who wish they were back in the country," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Why Comedy Is Truer to Life Than Tragedy (Terry Teachout, 8/31/12, WSJ)

With all due respect to Messrs. Brooks and Simon, though, it was Donald Francis Tovey, the noted English musicologist, who best explained why comedy has the potential to express more fully than tragedy the fundamental truths of life. In an essay about Mozart, Mr. Tovey pointed out that the language of such "tragic" masterpieces as the G Minor Symphony is derived from the rush and bustle of 18th-century opera buffa, abstracted to the point of sublimity but still fundamentally comic. Listen to that dark and desperate symphony after coming home from a performance of "The Marriage of Figaro" and you'll see at once what he meant.

How can such a thing be? Here's how Mr. Tovey explained it: "Comedy uses the language of real life; and people in real life often find the language of comedy the only dignified expression for their deepest feelings." When I first read that sentence, it felt as though someone had switched on the lights in a musty basement. Yes, "King Lear" is charged with universal feelings--but it isn't real. Not only is it set in a far-off fairyland of kings and queens, but it ends, like most of Shakespeare's tragedies, with a mile-high stack of corpses, a horrific spectacle that precious few of us have had the misfortune to behold.

Because Shakespeare was a genius, he was capable of making us sympathize with Lear and his regal travails. If, on the other hand, the hapless hero of a comedy should trip over a rake, fracture his pelvis and bring the house down, we don't have any trouble identifying with his preposterous plight. We've all been there, more or less, and when it happens to us, we typically express our dismay not in iambic pentameter but in a fusillade of four-letter words.

All comedy is conservative.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


New DNA Analysis Shows Ancient Humans Interbred with Denisovan  (Katherine Harmon, 8/30/12, Scientific American)

"Denisova is a big surprise," says John Hawks, a biological anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the new research. On its own, a simple finger bone in a cave would have been assumed to belong to a human, Neandertal or other hominin. But when researchers first sequenced a small section of DNA in 2010--a section that covered about 1.9 percent of the genome--they were able to tell that the specimen was neither. "It was the first time a new group of distinct humans was discovered" via genetic analysis rather than by anatomical description, said Svante Pääbo, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute (M.P.I.) for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, in a conference call with reporters.

Now Pääbo and his colleagues have devised a new method of genetic analysis that allowed them to reconstruct the entire Denisovan genome with nearly all of the genome sequenced approximately 30 times over akin to what we can do for modern humans. Within this genome, researchers have found clues into not only this group of mysterious hominins, but also our own evolutionary past. Denisovans appear to have been more closely related to Neandertals than to humans, but the evidence also suggests that Denisovans and humans interbred. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Cuts will cripple military and make it 'hollow force' of '70s (Owen Graham, 8/21/12, The Heritage Foundation)

Unless President Obama and Congress change current law, our armed forces will face an indiscriminate, across-the-board cut or "sequestration" of more than $500 billion on Jan. 2, 2013. There is bipartisan agreement that sequestration will cripple military readiness and return the U.S. military to the "hollow" force of the 1970s.

The hollow 1920s are the finish line.

August 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Egyptian attack on 'oppressive' Syria sparks walkout (Jon Leyne, 8/30/12, BBC)

He used his speech to tell delegates of the 120-member body: "Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, as it is a political and strategic necessity.

"We all have to announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom."

He compared the anti-government movement in Syrian to the Palestinians, saying they were both "actively seeking freedom, dignity and human justice", and said Egypt was "ready to work with all to stop the bloodshed".

The BBC's Iran correspondent, James Reynolds, says Tehran's hope for the summit was to show the West the Islamic Republic had plenty of friends elsewhere, but Mr Mursi's comments would certainly have upset the hosts.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


Ryan vs. Rand? (Peter Lawler, August 30, 2012, Big Think)

Let me call attention to the his speech's three-paragraph theoretical moment, where Ryan explains what his country is all about: 

Our different faiths come together in the same moral creed. We believe that in every life there is goodness; for every person, there is hope. Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life.

We have responsibilities, one to another - we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.

Each of these great moral ideas is essential to democratic government - to the rule of law, to life in a humane and decent society. They are the moral creed of our country, as powerful in our time, as on the day of America's founding. They are self-evident and unchanging, and sometimes, even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government.

There's a lot I want to say about each of these beautiful and deep paragraphs.  But for now:

Notice that Ryan begins with the faith that all American believers share, the foundation of their "moral creed."  Each person is unique and irreplaceable, a being endowed with irreducible personal significance as a creature of God.

So most basic is the responsibility we have to one another.  The strong (contra Rand etc.) have a responsibility to the weak and vulnerable, and any society is judged most truly by the quality of its care.  To what extent that care comes from government and to what extent from charity or altruism or families and friends or voluntary caregiving is a question.  But the question has to be asked in a way that acknowledges our responsibility as relational beings who aren't intended "to face the world alone."

Responsibilities are prior to rights.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Tony Romo: The Natural : Everything you ever wanted to know about the Dallas Cowboys quarterback you can learn from the greatest high school football game he ever played. (Peter Simek, SEP 2012, D Magazine)

But there was something else. Paul Bondar, a former Burlington star defensive end who now sells insurance to trucking companies, remembers that even when they were sitting in a friend's basement, playing video games, there was something other about that Romo kid. "It's like a force field that you can feel around him," Bondar says. "He wills the situation. You know what I mean? You can feel it."

Romo never thought of himself as a football player. In Burlington, you grew up playing sports, not any one single sport. At first, he played soccer, golf, and basketball, which was always his best sport. He tried out for the freshman football team late in the season only to become a backup safety and "seventh-string quarterback," as Romo puts it. "I was at practice, though," he adds. He spent weekends playing golf with his father at Browns Lake Golf Course, a public track just up the block from the Romo house, or driving from town to town in rural Wisconsin, looking for pickup basketball or soccer games. At night and after games, he played video games, poker, or chess--anything to stay in competition--in the basements of his friends' homes. In 2007, he appeared on the sports talk show Inside the Huddle and shared an embarrassing story about what has to be one of the few individual competitions he didn't win outright during his high school athletic career: a botched first kiss.

Romo's high school football career stutter-started. He seemed poised to become the quarterback for the junior varsity team as a sophomore. Then, during a preseason practice, the JV coach decided Romo needed to be "taken down a notch," as Bondar remembers it. The coach ran a play named "get Romo," and the defense bum-rushed him. Romo broke his finger, knocking him out for the season.

"You have a lot of different practices, and any one player can annoy a coach," Bondar says. "And I think that particular day, he did something to annoy that coach." 

And so, at the beginning of his junior year, in 1996, he was the varsity's third-string quarterback. Burlington lost their first game that year, 15-0 to Hartford, and the Demons' two quarterbacks that day combined for a whopping 12 yards passing. The following week against Elkhorn, coach Steve Gerber put in Romo, and the young quarterback threw for 308 yards, a number no passer in the county had reached since 1984. Romo had managed to do it without ever having played a single game of organized football in his life. 

On September 19, 1997, the week before the game between Burlington and Racine Case, Jay Luther, a short, stocky linebacker and Case's defensive captain, drove out with half his defense to Burlington to watch the game against Park High School. When Luther and his buddies--including running back Gillem, who also played linebacker, and cornerback Keontay Jackson--huddled on a cold night in the wooden bleachers that are set into an earthen berm overlooking Burlington's tiny Karcher Field, with its shortened track that runs through the end zone, they were watching for just one thing: Tony Romo.

Everyone had heard about Romo. The previous season, he had lit up the county, throwing for 1,863 yards, with 26 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Burlington beat up teams, racking up wins with score lines like 58-0 and 42-7. And yet, as he would in the Cowboys' playoff game against the New York Giants in 2007 and in last season's opener against the New York Jets, in the state quarterfinal game, Romo threw a late-fourth-quarter interception. Later, the team from Cudahy scored on a last-minute, five-play drive and treated Burlington to a stinging one-point loss.

Coach Gerber, whose first season coincided with Romo's junior year, said that he knew Romo was the school's best quarterback, but he didn't realize just what kind of a natural Romo actually was. 

"In high school, you normally tell the quarterback to look to one side of the field," Gerber says. "Maybe they get through their first or second read, and if you get to your third read, you're moving your ass out of there. But he wasn't that normal kid who could just read the one side of the field. You'd give him one side, and then he'd find a way to get the ball over to a receiver at the end of the third or fourth route on the progression list."

Jeremy James, who became Romo's primary target during his senior year and went on to play at UW-Oshkosh, says it wasn't until college that he began to learn the things Romo did naturally in high school. "My college coaches would tell us, 'Watch cover three, change your offense,' and that's the kind of thing that Tony could just see," James says. "I mean, I'd be making my breaks, and the ball would be right there. And it would go through my hands, because he was throwing on timing, and we weren't at that point yet."

Jackel, too, took notice. "He made a comment to me one time that I never forgot," the reporter says. "He said, 'I just see things in slow motion. I just see it. I see the game well.' And then I read somewhere that he took the number nine because that is the number that Robert Redford wore in The Natural."

That cold night in Burlington, Keontay Jackson saw what all the fuss was about. 

"We went to go scout, like, 'Let's go see what this Romo kid is about,' " Jackson says. "And every bit of it, we were like, 'He is the real deal.' "
Romo threw for 210 yards that night, completing 15 of 37 attempts, including one touchdown and a two-point conversion in a hard-fought 22-15 loss against the conference powerhouse. 

"The talent pool in the city is a little different than the county," Jackson says, "so he didn't have the weapons that we have in the city. But he would call his own plays, call his own audibles, and his leadership--we saw all of that." 

But Luther saw a weakness. 

"Yeah, he could throw the ball," Luther says. "But he didn't have a million athletes on his team. And they weren't very good at running. They didn't have big, huge linemen." 

Luther drew up a plan: line up four linemen and put two linebackers on the edge of the defensive line, right at the line of scrimmage, and rush Romo on almost every single down. 

"We figured we could stop the running game just by playing our normal defense," Luther says. "But rushing him every play, we'd get at him."

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Venus and Serena Against the World (JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN, 8/23/12, NY Times Magazine)

Although he has been the subject of excellent profile writing (notably in Sports Illustrated, by S. L. Price and L. Jon Wertheim), Richard Williams remains an eternally elusive and evasive figure. I find him powerfully and movingly American somehow. His whole personality seems to have evolved as a complex reaction-structure to an insecurity so profound that it must remain secret, especially from him. Throughout his daughters' careers, he has gone about fanning a splendor of boxing-promoter language, of lies, half-truths, boasts, misstatements, non sequiturs, buffoonery, needless exaggerations, megalomania, paranoia -- as well as here and there genuinely wise, amusing lines -- all of which, you begin to feel, are designed (subconsciously, yes, but no less shrewdly) to deflect attention away from a still, small center, the place where he dwells and operates. It's there that he is who he is, whoever he is.

He came from a part of Shreveport, Lurr-zeeana, as he pronounces it, in a neighborhood whose school was called, amazingly, Little Hope. At various times he has told reporters or anyone who listened that he was a sports star there in his youth -- and certainly it seems plausible, given his height (6-4-ish) and what we realize to have been present at least in a nascent way in the genes -- but there are no records of these exploits, if they occurred. Perhaps he dreamed them. Perhaps he assigned them to himself the way a great novelist might give them to a character, as a necessary past for the Father of the Williams Sisters. Perhaps (most likely) he needed them in order to be the girls' father, to carry the necessary authority in their eyes. Listen to me, now. I was like you. I was a great athlete, too. That may have been useful.

The source that brings us closest to him, precisely because of its complete lack of objectivity, is an extraordinary documentary made just over a decade ago, "Raising Tennis Aces: The Williams Story," by a black Englishman named Terry Jervis, who himself possesses, from what can be gauged, self-promotional instincts downright Richard Williams-like in aspect. The film is about Richard Williams, mainly, but also done in collusion with him.

Most of it takes place on the grounds of a Florida compound, near where the Williams family relocated in the mid-'90s to hide from the junior playing circuit (Richard's great stroke of genius -- when the other girls were burning themselves out playing the Young Ladies Lipton Cup or what have, his girls were hiding, practicing). In the film, Venus and Serena sit for interviews, under a patio awning, saying their half-meant teenage-athlete phrases, as Richard sits beside them, grim-faced, gripping his thighs, controlling the narrative.

Mainly he is the narrative. We watch him riding around the place on a clay-court-cleaning machine. We meet others -- the family lawyer, the family adviser -- who speak of Richard and his integrity and foresight. We meet, curiously, another man named Richard Williams, a tennis teacher back in Compton, who gave the sisters some of their first extrafamilial lessons. Williams generously acknowledges his influence. A civil rights activist appears, testifying to how hard Richard had it growing up.

We follow him back to Shreveport, where he pays a visit to his childhood home, the place he shared with his sisters and their mother, Julia Mae Williams. His shock at its dilapidation is such that he sits down and cries. He tells the story of his closest childhood friend, killed by a car that was driven by a white woman who barely stopped to see what she'd done. "She went on her way, gracefully," Richard says.

It's not that the story is at all implausible for the South in the '50s. No reason to doubt it. But there's something about Richard's manner. We see him weaving the physical objects of his immediate surroundings into the tale. He puts his hand on a tree in the front yard and says that he planted it after his friend died, because in the wake of that loss, he needed something "solid." But wouldn't the tree have been only a sapling at that time? He says the mere idea of its future growth gave him that solid feeling. But those don't sound like a boy's thoughts. Richard's drive to self-mythologize is total. All must be included, even the trees; all must contribute inevitably to what came later. The trauma of the black Southern past is recast by force of will and audacity, becoming prelude to the glory of the Williams present. "Venus was born in '80," he says, with cryptic syntax, "but she was . . . taught like a child who was being brought up in the '40s and the '50s, and that's why today if you see Venus and Serena, and we're at a tennis tournament, and you boo us, it doesn't hurt us, because we was taught for things like that many, many years ago, we came up in the '40s and the '50s."

The mention of "you boo us" isn't random. Richard was referring, without mentioning it explicitly, to the notorious incident at Indian Wells, Calif., in 2001, still a recent memory when "Raising Tennis Aces" was shot. People argue about exactly what went down that day, but the flash point was that Venus withdrew from a semifinal match against Serena. She didn't feel well enough to play. Tendinitis. It's often reported that she did this with only minutes to go before the match, but in her book ("On the Line," a better-than-average entry in the genre of the co-written sports memoir), Serena wrote that Venus had been telling the trainer for hours she didn't think she could do it. That was the protocol: you were supposed to tell the trainer first. But the trainer kept stalling, no doubt hoping she would recover and change her mind. At one point during the day, Venus approached Serena in the locker room and said: "I really don't know why they're not making some kind of announcement. I told them I couldn't play two hours ago." This game of chicken went on until, in the end, the stadium was full. A tournament official came on the loudspeakers and informed the crowd that the match had been canceled. Rumors of match-fixing began to swirl. A day before, the Russian player Elena Dementieva had joked-not-joked that Richard would decide which of his girls went on to the final.

(Just as an aside, I've never bought any of the match-fixing accusations regarding the sisters: yes, their matchups could be weird to watch, sort of hesitating, but is there any mystery to that? They've been playing together, more as practice partners than as opponents, practically since they were babies. Their style of play was about feeding each other, testing each other's strokes, not winning. That dynamic couldn't be changed overnight. Their matches grew in intensity and passion as their careers advanced, just as you would expect. Also, and perhaps most compellingly, the whole idea of Richard asking one of his daughters to lose to the other goes entirely against his style. It would have been more like him to set them against each other to strengthen them.)

Two days later, when the family returned to the court for Serena's match against the big-hitting Belgian Kim Clijsters, the crowd began to boo. Both Richard and Serena assert that they heard the word "nigger." The booing continued throughout the match, which Serena won in a display of all but inexplicable poise -- or really something more like fearsomeness, when you witness it. But the most astonishing and little-remarked moment occurred before the match even started, when Richard and Venus walked down to their seats in the players' box. The booing intensified -- it was Venus, after all, who committed the sin, and Richard whom many despised for his frequently asinine Svengali persona (and darker tendencies too -- reportedly, a couple of years before the Indian Wells fiasco, he hurt his wife, Oracene, the girls' mother and co-trainer, badly enough to break a few of her ribs; Oracene later confirmed the reports; he denied them; either way, the marriage was crumbling just as the girls were making it). He turned and faced the crowd, as if to show them his lack of fear. He said a few things back, you can't hear what. And then he raised his left fist in the air, like John Carlos at the '68 Olympics. He held it there for a few seconds. The look in his face suggests that he did it almost with a kind of irony. Still, the boldness of the gesture stuns. Tennis had never seen anything like that.

In her postmatch remarks, Serena thanked her father for giving her strength, after first thanking, as she almost invariably does, Jehovah God. "I want to thank those who supported me," she added. "And if you didn't, I love you guys anyway." But not so much, as it turned out. It has been more than a decade since that day, and the Williams sisters have never returned to Indian Wells, one of the tour's bigger tournaments.

Richard Williams often receives an undue share of attention in discussions of the Williams sisters, their game and how they got started. Partly this is appropriate: he's their coach. Partly it's because, for many years, he demanded, or at least commanded, that attention with his bizarre pronouncements and antics. But all of this has led to a persistent distortion in the telling of the Williams story, which is, after all, a story of powerful women -- not just Venus and Serena, but the household of women who surrounded and nurtured them.

In the beginning, there were three sisters, none of whose names you may have heard: Yetunde, Isha and Lyndrea. They were Oracene Price's daughters from her first marriage. Oracene became Richard's second wife when they married in 1980. So Richard lived in the house in Compton with four women -- three girls and their mother -- just as he had grown up in Shreveport with three sisters and Julia Mae. He had recreated the dynamic of his childhood home.

When he and Oracene first began to talk and dream about founding some kind of tennis dynasty -- in the oft-heard tale, it happened after Richard watched a women's match on TV and heard that the victor, Virginia Ruzici of Romania, would receive $30,000 for her efforts, just for smacking a ball, as they say -- Richard first taught Oracene to play. He himself had taken up the game not long before, and he quickly became quite good. But Oracene, too, was an athlete. In her youth she played volleyball and played basketball with her brothers ("Till they got bigger than me").

"It was like a family recreation early on," she told me. "I myself learned to play in a year. I always wanted to learn and to learn the right way, like a professional. And Richard would show everyone my backhand."

She explained that because she was pregnant with Venus when they first started hitting together, the traditional way of hitting a backhand -- turning to the side and twisting your torso -- didn't feel comfortable for her. "I would hit the backhand open," she said. At the time, the shot was rare and barely existed at all in the women's game. "I made it into a comfortable stroke. I knew I'd feel better if I was low, and then I'd just whack it."

At first they began with Oracene's three children. Yetunde, the oldest -- who was shot and killed in 2003 in Compton -- wasn't especially athletic. But Isha, many people believe, could have been the third Williams sister, if not for her back problems, and Lyndrea went on to play at the college level. But although the two girls were good, they weren't great -- perhaps they hadn't been exposed early enough.

With Venus and Serena, Oracene said, "it's almost like they were raised on the court." She remembers Serena as a toddler, off to the side while they played. Oracene noticed early that something was different about their game. "They still weren't as athletic as me," she said -- a thing you learn quickly about Oracene is that she says exactly what she means and never says anything she doesn't mean, to a degree that can be intimidating and even seem aggressive until you realize that it isn't negatively charged, she's just very unto herself -- "but I did notice one thing: they had a natural swing. That's what I looked for first." She didn't elaborate on that, but I knew what she meant -- the pop. It was the unquantifiable kinesiology of the pop. These two new daughters had it. (Richard would later claim that they were engineered for it, by an express and all but eugenical logic -- he saw Oracene's long, powerful gams and thought they would make great legs for a tennis player. Jehovah God knows if these things are true, but unlike the sturdy-tree story, it feels like something he might have thought.)

Richard and Oracene had become uncannily expert, if unavoidably eccentric, tennis coaches and analysts by the time Venus and Serena started hitting. Indeed, behind the minor miracle of there being two tennis virtuosos in this single family with no previous tennis background, there had been the previous miracle of both parents' understanding the game well enough to teach and guide the girls. "I don't honestly know how that happened," Venus told me in Cincinnati. "It's interesting. I don't know how my parents were able to learn the game so well."

The story has been told so many times, of these early years, when Compton got used to the sight of the little girls who would always be playing tennis at the public park -- or riding around in their faded yellow VW bus with the middle seat taken out to accommodate the grocery cart full of balls -- but somehow the strangeness and drama of it retain a power to fascinate. The idea of this African-American family organizing itself, as a unit, in order to lay siege to perhaps the whitest sport in the world and pulling it off somehow. "I remember even talking to my sisters and brothers," Oracene said, recalling a time before anyone had ever heard of the Williams sisters, "and telling them: 'The girls are going to be professional. We're going to need a lawyer, and we're going to need an accountant.' "

Isha, the middle daughter -- sharply funny and practical, fiercely loyal to the family -- told me: "Life was get up, 6 o'clock in the morning, go to the tennis court, before school. After school, go to tennis. But it was consistency. I hate to put it [like this], but it's like training an animal. You can't just be sometimey with it." She still can't sleep past 6.

"For the most part," she said, "Venus would be on my dad's court, Serena would be on my mom's court, and we'd jump. It was like this rotating system." All the sisters agree that Oracene's court was the toughest. Richard liked to play games and goof, but their mother was all business and was matter-of-fact in her criticisms. "Even now," Serena wrote in her book, Oracene is "one of the best at helping to break down my game." In conversation, Isha points out that it's always her mother who goes with Serena to the Australian Open, not her father. "And she's won the Australian five times."

August 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science : Fifty years ago, a book by Thomas Kuhn altered the way we look at the philosophy behind science, as well as introducing the much abused phrase 'paradigm shift' (John Naughton, 8/19/12, The Observer)

Kuhn's version of how science develops differed dramatically from the Whig version. Where the standard account saw steady, cumulative "progress", he saw discontinuities - a set of alternating "normal" and "revolutionary" phases in which communities of specialists in particular fields are plunged into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. These revolutionary phases - for example the transition from Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics - correspond to great conceptual breakthroughs and lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual. The fact that his version seems unremarkable now is, in a way, the greatest measure of his success. But in 1962 almost everything about it was controversial because of the challenge it posed to powerful, entrenched philosophical assumptions about how science did - and should - work. [...]

"The question I hoped to answer," he recalled later, "was how much mechanics Aristotle had known, how much he had left for people such as Galileo and Newton to discover. Given that formulation, I rapidly discovered that Aristotle had known almost no mechanics at all... that conclusion was standard and it might in principle have been right. But I found it bothersome because, as I was reading him, Aristotle appeared not only ignorant of mechanics, but a dreadfully bad physical scientist as well. About motion, in particular, his writings seemed to me full of egregious errors, both of logic and of observation."

What Kuhn had run up against was the central weakness of the Whig interpretation of history. By the standards of present-day physics, Aristotle looks like an idiot. And yet we know he wasn't. Kuhn's blinding insight came from the sudden realisation that if one is to understand Aristotelian science, one must know about the intellectual tradition within which Aristotle worked. One must understand, for example, that for him the term "motion" meant change in general - not just the change in position of a physical body, which is how we think of it. Or, to put it in more general terms, to understand scientific development one must understand the intellectual frameworks within which scientists work. That insight is the engine that drives Kuhn's great book.

Or, to put it even more depressingly for materialists, science does not describe reality, just reflects intellectual trends, like any of the arts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


The Last Bipartisan (BILL KELLER, August 26, 2012, NY Times)

Nowadays, Wyden is like the Amur tiger or the ivory-billed woodpecker -- if not the last of his breed, at best a very endangered species. Still, he persists in cornering colleagues who would disagree with him 95 percent of the time -- Judd Gregg, Dan Coats, Darrell Issa, Marco Rubio, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan -- and engaging them on the 5 percent where they might get something done. On tax reform, copyright protection, Internet freedom, education and especially health care, Wyden has found unlikely partners from the other side. These joint ventures rarely get adopted wholesale, but interesting elements find their way into the debate, and into the law. A fairly typical example: Wyden and Brown, the Massachusetts Tea Party favorite, designed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that lets states opt out if they can provide equivalent benefits and quality of care some other way. After much Democratic harrumphing, President Obama bought it. (Coming as he does from a relatively progressive and inventive state, Wyden is more open than many Democrats to treating the states as laboratories for new ideas, as long as the federal government enforces minimum standards.)

I once asked a Wyden aide whether the senator ever showed signs of despair at the increasingly toxic climate. "You know," the aide replied, "I've been trying to figure the guy out for about six years now and I honestly think that while the stuff that goes on here makes the rest of us tired, angry and cynical, it just makes him that much more determined to find a way to fix it. Seriously, after taking a three-year beating trying to push bipartisan health reform, he walks into my office and says, 'Great, now we're going to do bipartisan tax reform.' I admire the hell out of him for it, but sometimes I want to throw things at him."

When I reached him in Oregon the other day, Wyden was preparing to fly up to Alaska to see if he and Lisa Murkowski, a drill-baby-drill Republican senator, could work through the gridlock on energy policy.

For evidence that legislative odd-coupling can be a thankless exercise, let's return to Wyden's attempt to tackle Medicare.

Last year Wyden and Ryan held a news conference to release their plan. It would leave Medicare intact for anyone 55 and over, but give the next wave of retirees a menu of options including traditional Medicare and private insurance plans that would compete in local auctions. (The system resembles the insurance exchanges envisioned in the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare.) By introducing a measure of choice and competition Wyden hoped to prod health care providers toward more efficient practices and reap savings that could be used to ensure the long-term survival of Medicare.

The Ryan-Wyden proposal tasked the federal government to enforce basic protections for the vulnerable. It made Medicare more progressive, by requiring that the wealthy pay higher premiums. But, as Wyden says, the plan "put Medicare on a budget," allowed to grow only 1 percent faster than G.D.P. unless Congress intervened.

Many in his own party saw this as sacrilege, or at least a slippery slope. Liberals complained that the plan, by diverting some beneficiaries into private plans, would weaken Medicare's power to bargain for lower prices. Wyden's response: "Folks, 10,000 people are going to turn 65 every day for the next 20 years. Those of us who care about protecting the Medicare guarantee, we're going to have to find a way to make some tough decisions."'re part of the problem.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Ad With Former Obama Backers Deemed Most Effective (Scott Conroy, August 26, 2012, RCP)

Luntz showed the group more than a dozen negative TV ads funded by both presidential campaigns and outside groups and asked participants to rate on a scale of zero to 100 the impact of each ad, regardless of which candidate they are leaning toward.

A majority pointed to a 60-second AFP spot -- which has been running in swing states as part of a reported $27 million advertising blitz by the Koch brothers-backed group -- as the most effective ad of the current cycle.

In the ad, voters who cast their ballots for Obama four years ago speak directly to the camera about why they would not make the same decision in 2012. "He said he was going to cut the deficit in his first term; I've seen zero interest in reducing spending," one man says. "He inherited a bad situation, but he made it worse."

The ad made an especially strong impression on registered Republicans in the Luntz focus group, but registered Democrats and participants who said that they intended to vote for Obama again also gave it high marks.

Asked what they liked about it, several cited the relatively subdued tone and the effectiveness of featuring "real people" instead of actors or politicians.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Work Less to Get More Done (Scott Young, 8/28/12, LifeHacker)

Goals only work if they motivate achievable action. Zig Ziglar used to say goals should be out of reach, not out of sight. If you're not succeeding your daily goals lists at least half the time, you're not stretching yourself, you're just wasting time.

In the spirit of this, I offer two propositions:

1. We should endeavor to know, honestly, how much time we spend working and how much we actually accomplish. Doing a timelog is easier than ever now that there are services which track it for you.

2. Once we know how we actually spend our working time, we should try to incrementally improve it and not pretend that we'll be superheroes tomorrow.

If you do a timelog and discover you're only working four hours a day (which is very common) the appropriate reaction isn't to immediately convince yourself you'll start working eight hours, but to make incremental shifts. Try five or six hours and log yourself again in a couple weeks to see if you've made improvements.

Don't bother.  Your two hours of genuine productivity tomorrow will just be spent fixing hours 5 and 6 of today.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 AM


In shunning African refugees, Israel ignores Exodus' call not to 'oppress the stranger' (Maya Paley / August 27, 2012

Israel was established as a haven for survivors of genocide. But it is now confronting a problem that puts that historical legacy to the test, and the results so far are dismaying.

Immigration authorities rounded up hundreds of refugees from South Sudan over the past few months and sent them back to their home country, where they could face death due to the ongoing conflict with Sudan, in the north. The last flight of returnees were sent back without any of their belongings, including the mosquito nets and medication kits humanitarian aid organizations had given them before the flight. [...]

This is policy born out of paranoia rather than reason. The crime rates among the African asylum seekers are much lower than that of the general Israeli population. While no crime is excusable, it is unacceptable to exaggerate and make erroneous claims about an entire population of people.

The African affair - and its shameful handling by the leadership - throws light on one of the central tensions of Israeli identity. It yearns to preserve its status as a primarily Jewish state, yet also wants to live by the compassionate and ethical heritage of Jewish teachings.

G-d imposes certain burdens upon us.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


On the road in the Weinermobile : Oshkosh native delivers smiles with iconic Oscar Mayer vehicle (Jessica Opoien, Aug 12, 2012, The Northwestern)

"It's a lot of fun," Pattee said. "Driving down the interstate, we get so many looks. We have people waving, people trying to take pictures, kids with their faces pressed against the glass, some wondering what the heck a Weinermobile is. That's one of the coolest parts, just seeing how many people can be positively affected by the Weinermobile ... We like to say, going down the highway, we spread miles of smiles, because everyone we see just loves the Weinermobile."

The most important part of the job, Pattee said, is interacting with people and helping them create "I remember when" moments with the Weinermobile. This summer, they're taking photos of people in front of the Weinermobile and sending "digital postcards." Hotdoggers don't give away hot dogs, but they do hand out coupons and the iconic Weinerwhistles. According to Oscar Mayer, hotdoggers give away an average of 250,000 Weinerwhistles per year.

While the hotdoggers don't receive free hot dogs for life -- but, Pattee said, "that would be great" -- they do receive Weinermobile tracksuits and hotdogger nicknames. Pattee goes by "Deli Eliot," and his partner is "Anggie Dogg." In addition to their nicknames, hot dog-related puns are an integral part of the hotdoggers' vocabulary.

"Puns are a job requirement," Pattee said. "We love a hot dog pun, like 'We really relish our job,' or, 'I was one of the lucky dogs to cut the mustard to get the position.'"

Pattee's favorite pun? "We took the scenic kraut."

Although the Weinermobile is comfortable, roomy and cheerfuly decorated, the hotdoggers do not sleep in the vehicle, Pattee said.

"It's not a Weiniebago," he said.

August 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Evangelical Leader Sees Romney as Latest Convert (ELIZABETH FLOCK, August 28, 2012, US News)

"You really have to appreciate the religious history of America to see what a big moment it is to have a Mormon greeted like a hero at a fundamentalist, independent Baptist university," Reed said. "And to have evangelicals turning out in the largest numbers in history to vote for our ticket and not have a Protestant on it."

Reed attributed some of this shift to Romney's changed stance on abortion. When Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts, he promised abortion rights groups he would be a "good voice" for them. By 2005, however, he professed to be anti-abortion.

"They are not going to hold it against someone because they had a different view," Reed says. "The whole Evangelical theology is based on conversions, they are used to making converts. They don't take converts and kick 'em in the teeth. They hug them, they love on them."

Evangelicals, it seems, are content to treat Romney as their newest convert.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


A Rational Discussion of the Federal Budget (Thomas Sowell, August 28, 2012, Real Clear Politics)

For those of us who like to believe that human beings are rational, trying to explain what happens in politics can be a real challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Social Security's Woes Are Worse Than You Think (Ramesh Ponnuru, Aug 27, 2012, Bloomberg)

[W]e have a better sense of how to restrain the growth of Social Security than of Medicare.

One promising option is to reduce the growth of Social Security benefit levels, especially for high earners. The program could be reformed so that high earners who retire in 2040 receive the same benefit level that high earners who retire in 2020 will -- with an adjustment for inflation, but nothing more. Under the program as it stands now, those future retirees will get a bigger benefit.

Benefit levels for people in the middle of the income spectrum, meanwhile, could be set so that they more than keep up with inflation but don't rise as much as currently scheduled.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Many Bone Tests for Some, and Too Few for Others (RONI CARYN RABIN, 8/28/12, NY Times)

[R]ecent reports suggest that too many younger women are being evaluated and treated for bone loss when they should not be.

The standard in bone screening is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA, a relatively inexpensive test that measures bone mineral density and is usually covered by insurance. But the consensus among physician groups is that healthy women who are not at any particular risk for osteoporosis should not even be tested until they turn 65.

This year, the American Academy of Family Physicians cited the scans among five tests that are often performed unnecessarily and may lead to overtreatment of patients. Yet 20 percent to 60 percent of family physicians and internists have been performing DXA scans on younger women. Too much screening often leads to too much treatment, doctors say.

"If you do testing earlier on and you identify osteopenia or osteoporosis, then you're compelled to want to treat these folks," said Dr. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

For low-risk patients with modest bone loss, or osteopenia, bisphosphonates like Fosamax and Boniva may do more harm than good, Dr. Stream noted.

In May, the Food and Drug Administration warned that while the drugs can significantly reduce the risk of fracture during the first few years of use, they have little if any benefit after three to five years. At the same time, the risks for rare but serious side effects -- including unusual fractures of the femur and bone death of the jaw -- may increase.

Indeed, consumers have voted with their feet, abandoning the drugs in droves. The number of dispensed prescriptions for bisphosphonates has plummeted to an estimated 24.7 million this year from 46.8 million in 2007, according to IMS Health, a health care information and services company, even though cheaper generic formulations have become available.

Part of the problem is that once doctors develop certain practice habits, they become ingrained and are hard to change, said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and an author of "Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health."

And postmenopausal women represent "a huge market," Dr. Welch added. "That's a big part of the story."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Weird Cloud Atlas: a collection of spectacular cloud formations (the Telegraph, 8/28/12)

Tornadic supercell thunderstorm over a plain in Mycroft, Wyoming, US.  Supercell thunderstorms rotate with immense energy, causing a strong updraft and severe weather, including tornadoes, hail, heavy rain, lightning and heavy winds. Inside these severe long-lived storms the wind speed and direction changes with height. This produces a strong rotating updraft of warm air (a mesocyclone) as well as a separate downdraft of cold air. Around a third of supercells produce tornadoes and are termed tornadic.

Tornadic supercell thunderstorm over a plain in Mycroft, Wyoming, US. Supercell thunderstorms rotate with immense energy, causing a strong updraft and severe weather, including tornadoes, hail, heavy rain, lightning and heavy winds. Inside these severe long-lived storms the wind speed and direction changes with height. This produces a strong rotating updraft of warm air (a mesocyclone) as well as a separate downdraft of cold air. Around a third of supercells produce tornadoes and are termed tornadic.
Picture: Science Photo Library / Rex Features

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


The coming one-state juggernaut (Judah Skoff, AUGUST 22, 2012, Times of Israel)

[I]n a recent interview with Charlie Rose, King Abdullah II of Jordan said that unless Israel granted the Palestinians their own state soon, Israel would become an apartheid state. As a hereditary monarch, King Abdullah has limited credibility on the subject of democracy. However, on the very next night, former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon essentially agreed with the king. If Israel does not figure out a way to permanently withdraw from the Palestinian-populated areas beyond the 1967 borders, it will need to make an impossible choice: either give up on being a democracy and commit to ruling over a minority -- but projected to become a majority -- population, without political rights, or cease to be a Jewish state and give all Palestinians the right to vote in Israeli elections. It bears noting, however, that Israel has already withdrawn from the major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank. The Palestinians have their own extensive security forces, and a political establishment. In fact, even in the midst of a global economic crises, the West Bank has experienced significant economic growth in the last several years. All of these factors, in my view, make any use of the term "apartheid" inappropriate and inapplicable.

However, if the Palestinians began demanding political rights within Israel, and called for the establishment of a single bi-national state, the international pressure on Israel could be extraordinary. In reality, this demand for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state has been heard since 1948, but is now cloaked in new garb. One can easily imagine protests in European capitals, if not the United States, with demonstrators carrying signs demanding that Israel "Let Them Vote." Commentators and pundits around the world would call for a boycott, not just of Israeli settlements but of Israel itself. Many would conclude that the Israeli experiment "did not work." The fact that the Palestinians have refused three offers to create a state will not matter; nor will their already existing autonomy in Palestinian populated areas; nor will Hamas's consistent calls for Israel's destruction, which will be seen as unimportant, somehow unrelated to the quandary.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


America the Undertaxed : U.S. Fiscal Policy in Perspective (Andrea Louise Campbell, September/October 2012, Foreign Affairs)

The first striking feature of the fiscal state of the United States, when compared with those of other developed countries, is its small size. As of 2009, among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a collection of the world's most economically advanced democracies, the United States had the third-lowest ratio of taxes to GDP (see chart). But it is important to look at pre-recession data, which better reflect long-term trends. In 2006, before the financial crisis struck, OECD tax statistics showed that total taxes in the United States -- at all levels of government: federal, state, and local -- were 27.9 percent of GDP, three-quarters the percentages in Germany and the United Kingdom and about half of those in Denmark and Sweden. Among the rich democracies in 2006, only South Korea had lower taxes.

The reason for this discrepancy is not that the United States has lower personal income tax revenues than its OECD counterparts. In fact, in 2006, personal income taxes at the federal, state, and local levels in the United States came to 10.1 percent of GDP, just above the OECD average of 9.2 percent. Instead, the disparity results from the low effective rates -- or nonexistence -- of other forms of taxation. To take one example, in 2006, the U.S. corporate income tax at all levels of government collected 3.4 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 3.8 percent across the OECD. During that same year, according to the OECD, U.S. social insurance taxes brought in 6.6 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 9.2 percent among the OECD nations. Yet the biggest difference between the United States and other OECD countries is in consumption tax revenue. Most U.S. states have sales taxes, and the federal government maintains excise taxes (taxes on such goods as alcohol, cigarettes, and fuel) and customs duties (taxes on imported goods). Yet none of those taxes currently collects the same amount of revenue as a value-added tax (VAT) would (a VAT is a consumption tax that collects revenue from the value added by each business at each stage in the chain of production of a given product). OECD statistics show that VATs bring in an average of 6.7 percent of GDP among the OECD nations, accounting for the majority of the difference in total tax revenues between the United States, which does not have a VAT, and the rest of the OECD. 

U.S. tax revenue is not only low but also consistently low, having equaled roughly the same share of the economy for 60 years. Since the tremendous growth of the federal government during World War II, federal tax revenues have hovered around 18 percent of GDP. This stability has also proved to be true of state and local tax levels, which have fluctuated between eight and ten percent of GDP over the same period. Over that time, taxes in the other OECD countries have grown more than in the United States. In 1965, total tax revenues stood at about 25 percent of GDP in the United States and across the rest of the OECD. But by 2000, tax revenue represented 30 percent of GDP in the United States and 37 percent in the rest of the OECD. The enacting of VATs throughout the OECD during the 1960s and 1970s accounts for much of the difference. It also accounts for the steadiness of European tax revenues through the global financial crisis. By 2009, total tax revenues had dropped to 24 percent of GDP in the United States, but they had fallen just two points, to an average of 35 percent of GDP, in the other OECD countries.

Although tax receipts have composed approximately the same share of GDP for decades in the United States, their composition has changed. In particular, the corporate tax has plunged as a source of federal revenues, from 30 percent in the 1950s to ten percent today. As Republicans are quick to point out, the United States does have one of the highest statutory corporate tax rates in the developed world. Combining the federal and state levels, the top rate of these taxes is 39 percent, compared with an average of 36 percent across the G-7 and 31 percent across the OECD. Yet as with the individual income tax, the United States applies these statutory rates to a narrower base of taxpayers than other advanced countries do, due to various corporate tax credits and breaks, such as the accelerated depreciation of machinery and equipment and the deferral of taxes on income earned abroad. As a result, according to a report issued by the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2000 and 2005, on average, U.S. businesses paid an effective tax rate of only 13 percent, nearly three percent below the OECD average and the lowest rate among the G-7 countries.

Whereas corporate tax revenues have fallen, revenues from payroll taxes for programs such as Social Security and Medicare have grown. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center found that these taxes rose from 23 percent of federal revenue in 1970 to 40 percent in 2010. In fact, the majority of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in federal income taxes. This is the case in part because the United States imposes payroll taxes on all wages without the exemptions and deductions so common to individual and corporate income taxes and in part because the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps offset the federal income and payroll taxes of low-wage workers, reduces or eliminates income taxes for many with low earnings.

Even as payroll tax revenues have risen, the individual income tax, which in 2010 accounted for 42 percent of national revenue, has remained the main source of federal income. According to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, for decades prior to the Bush tax cuts of 2001-3, despite many alterations to tax bases and rates, the individual income tax provided a steady and large percentage of federal revenue. That is because the government tended to compensate for changes in rates by expanding or shrinking the tax base when necessary. During the 1970s, the tax code featured 25 income brackets and a top rate of 70 percent. Legislation passed during Ronald Reagan's presidency reduced the number of brackets to just two, dropped the top rate to 28 percent, ended a number of tax breaks, and pegged the brackets to inflation, ending so-called bracket creep, in which inflation forced taxpayers into higher tax brackets even though their real incomes stayed flat. President George H. W. Bush brought the top rate back up to 35 percent, and President Bill Clinton further raised it to 39.6 percent, but each administration added a number of new tax breaks, from an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to a credit for a child's tuition. The Bush tax cuts reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends and on estates and cut the top tax rate yet again, to 35 percent. 

The largest tax reductions from these changes went to high-income households. In fact, the United States currently taxes top earners at some of the lowest effective rates in the country's history. Data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) show that the top one percent of taxpayers paid an average federal income tax rate of 23 percent in 2008, about one-third less than they paid in 1980, despite the fact that their incomes are now much higher in both real and relative terms. Although the rich enjoyed by far the largest tax cuts, the middle class is also paying lower taxes. In 2011, the effective federal income tax rate for a family of four with a median income was just 5.6 percent, compared with 12 percent in 1980. And because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, about 40 percent of low-income U.S. households do not pay any federal income tax. 

Altogether, the adoption and continuation of the Bush tax cuts has slashed federal revenues by about three percent of GDP, to levels not seen since shortly after World War II. As a result, the individual income tax now constitutes a smaller share of the economy than it did 30 years ago, falling from 10.4 percent of GDP in 1981 to 8.8 percent in 2005. By permitting extensive loopholes, failing to create effective consumption taxes, and cutting individual income taxes, the United States has created a tax system that collects far less revenue relative to GDP than many of its OECD counterparts.

The remarkable thing is that if you just get revenues back to that historic 18% of GDP and cut military expenditures back down from 6% to their normal level under 2% there basically is no budget problem.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Virtually Exhausted : The limitations of the American work ethic (William Deresiewicz, American Scholar)

To every age its virtue. For the Greeks, courage; the Romans, duty; the Middle Ages, piety. Our virtue is industriousness, in the industrial age. (It is one that would have been incomprehensible to other times. The Greeks had a word for people who worked harder than anyone else: slaves.) It is the Protestant ethic, in other words, made general by the Victorians as the factories rose. That it is a virtue, not merely a value, is proved by the aura of righteousness that surrounds it. A virtue is not just a personal excellence, it is something that is felt to call down blessings upon the community, that wins the gods' approval, that possesses not just practical but metaphysical worth. We're in a panic, as a nation, that we don't work hard enough, and blame this iniquity for our "decline." God--the one who blesses America--is withdrawing his favor. Hence the sanctimoniousness with which the topic of work is approached. If you don't work as hard as people think you should, you're not just morally inferior, you're committing a kind of spiritual treason. And if you deny the value of work as a matter of principle, you're treated like a heretic.

That we're dealing here with something like a national religion is proved by one of its most cherished articles of faith. If you work hard enough, the maxim goes, you can do anything. This is one of those notions that is so stupid it has to embody a deeply held belief. If you work hard enough, you can be a poet. If you work hard enough, you can play for the Knicks. If you work hard enough, you can become a brain surgeon, a model, the president. Obviously no one believes those things. That it doesn't occur to anyone to consider them means we must be dealing with a matter of dogma.

Nor does it occur to many to question whether there's a difference between being at work and doing work.

August 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


On Foreign Policy, An Enigma (David Ignatius, August 26, 2012, Washington Post)

The case that Romney (and the Republican Party, in general) has been captured by the neocons is made by Robert Merry, editor of The National Interest, a magazine that is a voice for the "realist" camp. Merry argued in his 2005 book "Sands of Empire" that modern Republican foreign-policy thinking has had three wings: the pragmatists, represented by such figures as Brent Scowcroft and James Baker; the nationalists, embodied by hawks such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld; and the neoconservatives, whose prominent voices included Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams and Eliot Cohen.

What happened after Sept. 11, 2001, Merry explained in an interview, was that the nationalists and the neocons joined forces, creating a foreign policy that was at once idealistic and militaristic, which led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This ascendancy of what Merry calls the "militant Wilsonians" seemed to have been reversed during Bush's second term, but with Romney they seem to be back, stronger than ever. "No doctrine that counters the neocons had any sinews in the GOP, so it became a default position," contends Merry.

Of course, the problem for folks who would prefer a Realist foreign policy--one where we ignore totalitarianism, since it keeps the natives quiet--is that the overwhelming bulk of the GOP is simply Christian and takes the words of the Founding seriously. It is the sinew of the Party that the neocons latched onto.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


The huge cost of public unions : Spending we can't sustain (MICHAEL MARLOW, 8/24/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

[R]esearch I recently completed finds a solid empirical relationship between public sector unions' concentration and the size and cost of state government, suggesting that what's good for the public sector employee goose might not be good for the taxpayer gander.

Over the last three decades, union membership in the private sector has fallen precipitously, from 24.2% in 1973 to just under 7% in 2011. Over the same period, public sector union membership jumped by 14 points, from 23% to 37%.

The different directions of these trend lines have much to do with the nature of public sector employment. For instance, unlike the private sector, public sector wages that exceed an employee's productivity don't directly threaten employment -- if you need proof of this point, head down to your local DMV office.

The excess cost of overpaid public employees is deflected onto taxpayers. Many states, including my home state of California, are learning the hard way that there's a limit to this tax-and-spend cycle.

The stability of public sector employment is reflected in Bureau of Labor Statistics job tenure data, which find that median tenure for a government employee is anywhere from 37% to 97% higher than in the private sector. And recent research published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives concluded that the salary and benefits of state and local government employees is as much as 21% higher than of private sector employees doing similar work.

And the political power of public workers is undeniable: The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent $87.5 million in the 2010 election, leading all independent groups.

Tenured, well-paid and politically powerful -- all would suggest a link between union concentration and the size and cost of government. My study tested this hypothesis, and over the period of 2003 to 2010 found that a 10% increase in public union membership expands government by as much as 4.25%.

August 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM

TESTED & TRUE (profanity alert):

From O-lineman to frontman : Ex-Pats practice squad player Brian Barthelmes plays on with his band, Tallahassee (Scott Barboza, 8/17/12,

From early on, even in his high school days at Kenston High School in Bainbridge, Ohio, where he played football under his father, Lee, Barthelmes never felt like a football player. He was a standout basketball player, but in Ohio, linemen are linemen and he didn't have much say in the matter. Football was his ticket to a Division I scholarship, and he considered it foolish to turn that down.

By the time he was let go by the Patriots for the final time during training camp in August 2007, Barthelmes' mind was all but made up -- he was leaving the game for good.

All it took to crystallize the truth were some terse, poignant words delivered by Bill Belichick.

"I'd been cut other times, but that time was different," Barthelmes, 29, said of his exit meeting with Belichick and Scott Pioli. "It was more serious. The other times, it was always along the lines of 'We're cutting you because of numbers' or 'We'll have you back in a couple weeks.' This time it felt very final.

"[Belichick] told me that I needed to figure out what I really wanted to do."

That's when Brian Barthelmes became a musician.

At Virginia, Barthelmes had a peek into his future when he started plucking on banjos and learning guitar chords in his free time. Then, it was just a hobby. He went on to be a four-year letter-winner for the Cavaliers before landing a rookie free-agent contract with the Patriots.

Through a series of signings and releases by the Patriots, he was living in Plainville, Mass., in 2006. His apartment was spartan; he slept on an air mattress on the living room floor. He turned the bedroom into a soundproof room filled with his instruments and an 8-track recorder -- a private studio of sorts. Without any formal instruction, he began writing songs and recording them.

It was in this humble surrounding where Barthelmes began to settle into his skin. He had always been more court jester than jock or prom king, but he never got around to starting to live like it.

In 2007, not long after he was released for the last time, Barthelmes was introduced to Scott Thompson while out with a friend one night in Providence. He talked to Thompson, then a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, about music and mentioned that he'd been working some solo material. Thompson, a guitarist, was busy with school but invited Barthelmes to come over to play early one morning.

"I can't believe he actually did it," said Thompson before a recent Tallahassee show in Allston. "I could tell he was really serious about it from that point." [...]

In Barthelmes' time with the Patriots, back when there were two-a-days, before the current CBA limited practice time in training camp, there was a lot more downtime during camp. Players looked for ways to keep themselves occupied in between meetings, practices and workouts. Some players dutifully would use the time to bury their nose in the playbook or watch film. Or they'd turn their attention to non-football hobbies, such as playing video games or cards, or brush up on reading. Sleeping rooms filled with mattresses were also common.

Of course, Barthelmes' favorite pastime was playing the guitar. Sometime during the 2006 season, he began giving "lessons" to his teammates on the offensive line. Matt Light and Dan Koppen were among the first to be captivated by the six-string.

Eventually, players on the other side of the ball joined in, including Tedy Bruschi and the late Junior Seau. "I actually purchased a guitar from my local music store and began to learn," said Bruschi, who is also an accomplished saxophonist. "The season came and my interest faded, but Junior continued to play and he loved his guitar and ukulele."

Barthelmes has fond memories of Seau and recalled the process of teaching him how to play. Because Seau's catcher's mitt-like hands were so big and his fingers so thick, Barthelmes took the novel approach of first teaching Seau on a 12-string with its octave strings removed. It allowed Seau more room to work with on the fretboard.

"I remember this one day, I was walking by a room and Junior was laid out on a bed, he told me to come in and sit down and start playing for him," Barthelmes said. "So there I am, playing a future Hall of Famer to sleep and I'm thinking, 'This is just crazy.'"

While Barthelmes' turn to music wasn't immediate, his teammates could clearly see where his passion was.

"[He was] someone that knew where his future path led," Bruschi said. "Music was obviously it."

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


...was complicated....
Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


I Made the Robot Do It (Thomas L. Friedman, 8/25/12, NY Times)

Rethink's goal is simple: that its cheap, easy-to-use, safe robot will be to industrial robots what the personal computer was to the mainframe computer, or the iPhone was to the traditional phone. That is, it will bring robots to the small business and even home and enable people to write apps for them the way they do with PCs and iPhones -- to make your robot conduct an orchestra, clean the house or, most important, do multiple tasks for small manufacturers, who could not afford big traditional robots, thus speeding innovation and enabling more manufacturing in America.

We have a redistribution question, not an employment crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Gospel Music is "ramshackle" side project by Black Kids bassist (Heather Lovejoy, October 21, 2011, Florida Times-Union)

The name Gospel Music, Holmes said, reflects his growing up as a First Baptist Church member in an unwavering Christian household. The album's cover and name are from a religious tract he handed out to peers and the general public.

Instead of dabbling in deep thoughts or religion, though, the album's jaunty, stripped-down tunes serve as a merry-go-round for Holmes' deadpan baritone as he muses about romantic relationships. He calls it "ramshackle" music.

His spiritual beliefs started to change about 10 years ago when he found out that there are 400,000 species of beetles, he said. For some reason, that knowledge combined with travel experiences triggered a profound shift in his thinking.

"I'm more of a scientific persuasion than religious," he said. "I'm very interested in evolution."

But the band and album names are not intended to be a mockery, he said.

"[The church] is a part of who I was and who I am. I don't think you can grow up that way without it having an indelible impression," he explained.

About 80 percent of the album is autobiographical, he said. His droll and conversational lyrics are what stand out most.

Album Review: Gospel Music - How to Get to Heaven from Jacksonville, FL (PAUL DE REVERE, OCTOBER 31ST, 2011, Consequence of Sound)

Don't let the band name fool you. You've never heard gospel music this brief. Or this secular. Okay, to be completely accurate, Gospel Music's How to Get to Heaven from Jacksonville, FL isn't gospel at all. It touches on love, heartbreak, and social awkwardness. So, it's post-punk, actually. And it's not half bad. And it's super-duper cute.

If this twee trope is starting to seem familiar, that's because Gospel Music is Black Kids bassist Owen Holmes' new project. Remember "I Don't Wanna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You"? It's like that, but it's not. First, it's more lo-fi, sounding free of the weighty slab of hype dropped on that other band, circa 2007. But The Cure worship is still there (And how could it not be?).

MP3 At 3PM: Gospel Music (Magnet, November 10, 2011)

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


As the violence intensifies in Syria, there can be only one winner - the Kurds (PATRICK COCKBURN,  26 AUGUST 2012, Independent)

The arguments of the regime in Baghdad were so evidently self-serving as to largely discredit them. During the great Shia and Kurdish uprisings of 1991 in the wake of defeat in the Gulf war, Saddam was able to consolidate the Sunni core of his regime in the capital by persuading the Sunni that they faced massacre by the rebels. Likewise, in Syria today, Bashar al-Assad has sought with some success to persuade the Alawites, Christians and other minorities that they face oppression, if not slaughter, at the hands of Sunni insurgents.

When I was in Damascus earlier this summer, one insurgent sympathiser insisted to me that "this is still essentially a struggle of the people against the government". When I talked of sectarian divisions to a Christian from Hama, whose family members had cumulatively spent 60 years in prison under the Baath, he insisted with obvious sincerity that communal antagonisms in Syria "are much less significant than the outside world imagines".

His words made my heart sink a little. I hope the Christian from Hama is right, but I started as a journalist in Belfast in 1972-75 at the height of sectarian warfare in Northern Ireland. I had many good-hearted friends who would tell me with complete conviction that they did not have a sectarian bone in their body. But, as the conversation progressed, it would emerge that they had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sectarian geography of Belfast and they would no more knowingly intrude into the territory of the community to which they did not belong than they would walk off the edge of a cliff.

A degree of self-deception about the extent of their own divisions is common to most cities and countries where different communities live side by side. The blindness is normally greatest on the part of the dominant community, for obvious egocentric motives. Today Bahrain is probably the country in the world most divided by sectarian differences between Sunni and Shia. The Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty has established what amounts to an apartheid state in which its minority community monopolises power. But in Bahrain I found it impossible to discover any Sunni who would admit to this even in the most private conversation.

How far do these precedents apply to Syria after a year and a half of escalating conflict?

The Ireland comparison is precise.  Young people don't even know what the Troubles were.  The quicker the Middle East devolves into its constituent parts the better.  It's what would have happened after WWI had Wilson not sold them out.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Why traditional pension plans are disappearing (Susan Hoffman, 8/26/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Meanwhile, as younger employees were demanding cash-type benefits - such as the 401(k) - the regulatory burden of the traditional pension plan kept growing. Waves of bankruptcies led to a growing PBGC deficit, resulting in higher funding obligations and higher PBGC premiums (soon to be at least $50 per head - $50,000 per year for a modest plan of 1,000 participants). Investors' focus on post-retirement promises kept growing. And statutory limits on pension benefits for highly compensated executives were repeatedly lowered, forcing them into non-qualified plans for the bulk of their post-retirement compensation, and leaving them less interested in the future of the tax-qualified pension plans covering the lower-paid workforce.

The result of all of these demographic, financial, and regulatory pressures was unsurprising: There was no downside to freezing the pension plan and replacing it with a 401(k) plan. There was, however, plenty of upside.

The change was good for investors and for executives. It simplified personnel administration, reduced administrative costs, and made recruiting new employees easier.

Is that good? Some say yes, some say no, but it's clear to me that the executives making these decisions are not the greedy, insensitive, overpaid bad guys portrayed in the popular press. In every case, in my experience, the decisions were painful, thoughtfully considered, and deemed to be essential to the ongoing health of the enterprise and better for the majority of employees.

More companies are now moving to automatic enrollment in their 401(k) plans, and to automatic escalation of contribution amounts, which has been an effective approach to increasing employee savings. Employees no longer stay with the same employer for their entire careers, and in a mobile-workforce environment, the traditional pension plan benefits very few. The 401(k) plan, with all its faults, has the advantage of benefiting many.

Those whose benefits are reduced because their pension plans terminated in bankruptcy at least have their guaranteed benefits. Before ERISA, they would have had nothing. Those who often change jobs are able to take their 401(k) account with them, so it is there when they need cash - unlike a traditional pension plan, which would provide little for a short-term worker. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


China Confronts Mounting Piles of Unsold Goods (KEITH BRADSHER, 8/25/12, NY Times)

The severity of China's inventory overhang has been carefully masked by the blocking or adjusting of economic data by the Chinese government -- all part of an effort to prop up confidence in the economy among business managers and investors.

But the main nongovernment survey of manufacturers in China showed on Thursday that inventories of finished goods rose much faster in August than in any month since the survey began in April 2004. The previous record for rising inventories, according to the HSBC/Markit survey, had been set in June. May and July also showed increases.

"Across the manufacturing industries we look at, people were expecting more sales over the summer, and it just didn't happen," said Anne Stevenson-Yang, the research director for J Capital Research, an economic analysis firm in Hong Kong. With inventories extremely high and factories now cutting production, she added, "Things are kind of crawling to a halt."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


China Confronts Mounting Piles of Unsold Goods (KEITH BRADSHER, 8/25/12, NY Times)

The severity of China's inventory overhang has been carefully masked by the blocking or adjusting of economic data by the Chinese government -- all part of an effort to prop up confidence in the economy among business managers and investors.

But the main nongovernment survey of manufacturers in China showed on Thursday that inventories of finished goods rose much faster in August than in any month since the survey began in April 2004. The previous record for rising inventories, according to the HSBC/Markit survey, had been set in June. May and July also showed increases.

"Across the manufacturing industries we look at, people were expecting more sales over the summer, and it just didn't happen," said Anne Stevenson-Yang, the research director for J Capital Research, an economic analysis firm in Hong Kong. With inventories extremely high and factories now cutting production, she added, "Things are kind of crawling to a halt."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


The gospel in seven words (David Heim, 8/24/12, Christian Century)

In his autobiography Brother to a Dragonfly, Will Campbell recalls how his friend P. D. East had badgered him for a succinct definition of Christianity. East did not want a long or fancy explanation. "I'm not too bright," he told Campbell. "Keep it simple. In ten words or less, what's the Christian message?"

Campbell obliged his friend: "We're all bastards but God loves us anyway," he said. To which East replied, "If you want to try again, you have two words left."

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


What Neil Armstrong Really Taught the World (Daniel Stone, Aug 26, 2012, Daily Beast)

I requested interviews twice with Armstrong in what turned out to be the final years of his life. Both times I was politely told he simply wasn't interested. He never wanted to be used as a simple quote in a story about space policy or to let a magazine use his image to boost readership. Asked regularly about his feelings when taking that first step, Armstrong would routinely fall back on the same sentiment. "I was certainly aware that this was the culmination of the work of 300,000 to 400,000 people over a decade."

Ever the skilled pilot, he kept us guessing. Three months ago, Armstrong granted a lengthy sit-down to--who else?--the Certified Practicing Accountants of Australia, a professional trade group. Armstrong spent several hours explaining every detail of his fabled moon landing, which was close to ending in out-of-gas disaster. It was an interview that CNN or NBC would have killed for, and he explained that he simply wanted to tell his story in detail without exploiting it. Graphic designers helped create no-frills visuals to show the moments before Armstrong's lunar touchdown. The footage now, of course, is a relic.

In an era of instant glory and relentless promotion, it's hard to imagine someone like Armstrong existing now. Plenty of people deserve public accolades, but few if any turn them down, trading in the guarantee of fame and immense fortune for privacy and the chance to simply keep doing the work they enjoy.

August 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Romney jokes about his birth certificate (Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez, August 24, 2012, Washington Post)

Noting that he and his wife, Ann, were born in Michigan hospitals, Romney said at a rally here: "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where both of us were born and raised."

The best thing Democrats have going for them is that Mitt is just as automatronic and humorless as the UR, so why play it up when he gets off a good line? 

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


China eagerly buying up American assets (David Pierson and Don Lee, 8/24/12, Los Angeles Times)

Facing a sharp economic slowdown at home, Chinese companies are plowing money into U.S. assets at a record pace, making huge bids for American energy, aviation, entertainment and other businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


Learning to Like Mitt : Andrew Ferguson, reluctant Romneyite (Andrew Ferguson, SEP 3, 2012, Weekly Standard)

By my count the literature includes one good book, The Real Romney, by two reporters from the Boston Globe. That's the same Globe with the leftward tilt to its axis and a legendary anti-Romney animus--which lends authority to their largely favorable portrait. The flattering details of Romney's life were so numerous and unavoidable that the authors, dammit, had no choice but to include them.

Romney once famously called himself "severely" conservative. Other adverbs fit better: culturally, personally, instinctively. He seems to have missed out on The Sixties altogether, and wanted to. As a freshman at Stanford he protested the protesters, appearing in the quad carrying signs of his own: SPEAK OUT, DON'T SIT IN! In 1968 the May riots stranded him in Paris. "The disorder appalled him," the authors write. He left Stanford for BYU, where long hair, rock bands, and peace symbols were banned. As a young go-getter he liked to give friends copies of Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill--a Stephen Covey for the Coolidge era, sodden with moral uplift. (Even his anachronisms are anachronistic.) "There was nothing jaded about him," a school friend tells the authors, "nothing skeptical, nothing ironic." 

At his wedding, he declined when the photographer asked him to kiss the bride: "Not for cameras," he said. Since that day, Ann says, they haven't had an argument; friends believe her. And their kids--we've all seen their kids. The authors tick off a typical week for the young family. Sunday: "church, reflection, volunteer work, family dinners." Monday: "family night," when the family gathered for Bible stories and skits about animals. Tuesday was for family basketball games and cookouts. Friday was date night for Mitt and Ann. Saturday was for doing chores, and so on, in a pinwheel of wholesomeness that a -post-60s ironist can only gape at, disbelieving. The Romneys present a picture of an American family that popular culture has been trying to undo since--well, since An American Family, the 1973 PBS documentary that exposed the typical household as a cauldron of resentment and infidelity. 

And now, here, 40 years later, it's as though it all never happened: a happy American family, led by a baby boomer with no sense of irony! Romney is the sophisticate's nightmare.

Almost every personal detail about Romney I found endearing. But my slowly softening opinion went instantly to goo when The Real Romney unfolded an account of his endless kindnesses--unbidden, unsung, and utterly gratuitous. "It seems that everyone who has known him has a tale of his altruism," the authors write. I was struck by the story of a Mormon family called (unfortunately) Nixon. In the 1990s a car wreck rendered two of their boys quadriplegics. Drained financially from extraordinary expenses, Mr. Nixon got a call from Romney, whom he barely knew, asking if he could stop by on Christmas Eve. When the day came, all the Romneys arrived bearing presents, including a VCR and a new sound system the Romney boys set up. Later Romney told Nixon that he could take care of the children's college tuition, which in the end proved unnecessary. "I knew how busy he was," Nixon told the authors. "He was actually teaching his boys, saying, 'This is what we do. We do this as a family.' "

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


No More Bluffing (JAMES McMANUS, 8/25/12, NY Times)

POKER is America's card game, some say its national pastime. It is certainly the game most like the free-market system. It is increasingly viewed as the quintessential American mind sport. Its popularity has always had to do with the pleasures of bluffing, as well as with the fact that money is its language, its leverage, its means of keeping score. It is deeply ingrained in the fabric of our culture, our language, our economy. And soon, it now seems, it will even be legal.

Last Monday, in a case involving a Staten Island poker parlor, a federal judge in Brooklyn, Jack B. Weinstein, ruled that poker is predominantly a game of skill and not a game of chance -- the legal definition of gambling -- and that game operators should not be prosecuted under a federal law that bars running an illegal gambling business. [...]

Judge Weinstein was persuaded by a mountain of statistical evidence, much of it supplied by Randal D. Heeb, an economist and statistician who had analyzed 415 million hands of no-limit hold 'em played online and concluded that a player's skill "had a statistically significant effect on the amount of money won or lost."

The judge quoted Mr. Heeb as saying that "many people make a living playing poker and win consistently over time," whereas "it is impossible to make a living and to win consistently playing casino games such as roulette," where chance predominates. He also emphasized poker's distinguished heritage as a game that presidents, Supreme Court justices and other honorable citizens had played.

August 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM

WE ARE ALL DESIGNISTS NOW (inappropriate content):


PLAYBOY: You've described yourself as a "tooth fairy" agnostic. What is that?

DAWKINS: Rather than say he's an atheist, a friend of mine says, "I'm a tooth fairy agnostic," meaning he can't disprove God but thinks God is about as likely as the tooth fairy.

PLAYBOY: So you don't completely rule out the idea of a supreme being. Critics see that as leaving an opening.

DAWKINS: You can think so, if you think there's an opening for the tooth fairy.

PLAYBOY: It sounds like the argument made by Bertrand Russell, who said that while he could claim a teapot orbited the sun between Earth and Mars, he couldn't expect anyone to believe him just because they couldn't prove him wrong.

DAWKINS: It's the same idea. It's a little unfair to say it's like the tooth fairy. I think a particular god like Zeus or Jehovah is as unlikely as the tooth fairy, but the idea of some kind of creative intelligence is not quite so ridiculous.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Why does the return journey feel quicker? (WILLIAM REVILLE, 8/16/12, Irish Times)

When you recall the duration of a past experience you must rely on your memory of the event - "retrospective timing". The main psychological model that explains retrospective timing is the "contextual change model". You estimate the duration of the event by recalling the data stored in your memory of the event. The more data stored, the longer the estimation of the duration of the event.

However, different amounts of information can be stored in memory during identical clock-time intervals, depending on several factors, eg the intensity of the information processing in which one is engaged. The higher the intensity, the longer the duration seems to be. In a classic experiment, participants were asked to memorise either a simple [a circle] or complex figure . Although the clock-time allocated to each task was identical, participants later estimated the duration of memorising the complex shape to be significantly longer than for the simple shape.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


30 minutes of exercise shown to be as effective as 60 (AFP, August 24, 2012)

A new study out of Copenhagen suggests that 30 minutes of daily exercise is just as effective -- if not more -- than working out for a full hour.

The surprising results were published in the American Journal of Physiology and involved monitoring the weight loss efforts of 60 heavyset, but otherwise healthy, Danish men.

Half of the men were instructed to exercise for an hour a day, while the other half would sweat it out for 30 minutes.

Participants were outfitted with a heart-rate monitor and calorie counter and were told to exercise hard enough to break into a sweat.

On average, men who exercised for just half an hour actually lost more weight than their counterparts, losing on average 3.6kg in three months, compared with 2.7kg among those who exercised for 60 minutes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win (A. Barton Hinkle | August 20, 2012, Reason)

The past several weeks have made one thing crystal-clear: Our country faces unmitigated disaster if the Other Side wins.

No reasonably intelligent person can deny this. All you have to do is look at the way the Other Side has been running its campaign. Instead of focusing on the big issues that are important to the American People, it has fired a relentlessly negative barrage of distortions, misrepresentations, and flat-out lies.

Just look at the Other Side's latest commercial, which take a perfectly reasonable statement by the candidate for My Side completely out of context to make it seem as if he is saying something nefarious. This just shows you how desperate the Other Side is and how willing it is to mislead the American People.

Meanwhile, throughout the Anglosphere there is no political difference between the two sides.
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Getting rid of George W. Bush wasn't enough. The US remains a bully (OWEN JONES, 23 AUGUST 2012, Independent)

This week, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Ben Emmerson QC, demanded that the US allow independent investigation over its use of unmanned drones, or the UN would be forced to step in. These drones target militants, it is claimed, but according to a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 282 and 585 civilians have died in Pakistan as a result. In one such attack in North Waziristan in 2009, several villagers died in an attempt to rescue victims of a previous strike.

According to Pakistan's US Ambassador, Sherry Rehman, the drone war "radicalises foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region". After the latest strike this week, Pakistan's foreign ministry said the attacks were "a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity and are in contravention of international law". Its Parliament has passed a resolution condemning the drone war. It is armed aggression by the Obama administration, pure and simple.

If it was happening under the Bush presidency, the opposition would be vociferous and widespread. But while there were 52 such strikes in Pakistan in eight years of Bush, there have been over 280 in three and a half years of Obama. Numbers have soared in Yemen and Somalia, too. Two months ago, former US President Jimmy Carter described drone attacks as a "widespread abuse of human rights" which "abets our enemies and alienates our friends". He's not wrong: the Pew Research Center found just 7 per cent of Pakistanis had a positive view of Obama, the same percentage as Bush had just before he left office.

But, in the West, Obama can get away with acts that Bush would rightly be pilloried for. Indeed, he seems to think it's all a bit of a laugh: in 2010, he jokingly threatened the Jonas brothers with a Predator drone strike if they came near his daughters. How droll, Barack.

Guantanamo was iconic of Bush's brutality, and after his election Obama signed executive orders mandating its closure. The camp remains open for business, pledged to take new "high-value" detainees if captured. The same goes for Obama's pledge to shut down CIA-run "black site prisons" in Afghanistan. At least 20 secret temporary prisons remain in place, with widespread allegations of ill-treatment. US involvement in a senseless, unwinnable war in the country - ruled by a weak, corrupt government that stole the 2009 presidential election with ballot stuffing, intimidation and fraud - continues.

The UR is W lite.

August 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


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Please let us give your readers a huge grand opening discount to our new website,

Will you post the below promo image or just the promo at the end of your next post? Promo is BLOGLOVE2012, enter at checkout. It will expire 9/15/2012. Promo applies a full 50% off + standard shipping on photo to canvas prints.

Please also spread the word they can enter our grand opening $300 Best Buy giveaway on our facebook page running until Monday!

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Doing what comes naturally : Tallahassee make timeless old town music on Wolfe Moon (CHRIS CONTI  |  September 22, 2009, Providence Phoenix)

Tallahassee frontman Brian Barthelmes speaks softly and carries a big beard, a burly dude who just switched vocations from bruising offensive lineman to social worker and budding singer/songwriter, penning most of the lyrics with help from Rhodes piano/banjo man Scott Thompson.

Barthelmes attended the University of Virginia, where he learned how to "finger pick a guitar and banjo and fell madly in love with Bluegrass and old-time country music. Of course, I had to listen to some metal to get rowdy before a game, but my real pleasure came after a game with a porch, a drink, an old folk record, and my friends and family," Barthelmes recalled via email while vacationing with the in-laws last week. And one need not be NFL-obsessed (guilty as charged) to get a kick out his recollections while earning a paycheck with the Pats:

"Creating art has always been my first love. I really did not care for football whatsoever . . . In 2009 I realized that I was miserable playing football professionally as I had no time for music, art, or giving back to humanity. I laugh in retrospect at my final training camp; I should have been memorizing plays and watching film, but instead I was giving guitar lessons to Junior Seau, Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Mike Vrabel, and mandolin lessons to Tedy Bruschi. I had started an illustrated poetry book for adults, and recorded an EP in my hotel room, which I debuted in the weight room. Coach Bill [Belichick] politely told me as he cut me that I may want to pursue a different profession, so here I am."

Wolfe Moon is a gorgeously crafted merger of folk, country, and blues (the band's name derives from the Muskegon Indian translation "old town") in the spirit of Fleet Foxes and Crooked Fingers, and Iron & Wine and Townes Van Zandt are proclaimed major influences. The disc follows their self-recorded '08 EP Cellar Songs; Thompson conceded the band was "never quite satisfied with how the EP turned out. "The new album is a big step forward for us," he said. "We tracked the new record in just four days, whereas we spent about four months recording the EP piecemeal. Whenever we start to overthink something it usually gets discarded pretty quickly."

The hasty process for the 11 songs on Wolfe Moon is belied in its overall grace and beauty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


A Bold New Direction : The election's winner will face economic trouble and political deadlock. Here's a way through. (KENNETH SILBER, August 23, 2012, aDVISOR oNE)

First devised in the 1980s by the late Princeton economist David Bradford, the X tax has gotten renewed attention in policy circles lately. A recent book making a detailed case for such a system is Progressive Consumption Taxation: The X Tax Revisited, by economists Robert Carroll and Alan D. Viard (American Enterprise Institute, 2012).

An X tax is a VAT that has been revamped so as to maintain progressivity. As with any VAT, tax is due at every stage of production or distribution. However, as with a progressive income tax, household wages are taxed by brackets; also business cash flow is taxed at that scale's top rate. The burden falls squarely on consumption. Firms can deduct their business investments, and households pay no taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains. All savings, in effect, are getting the advantage of being in a Roth IRA.

As proposed by Carroll and Viard, the X tax would be a broad transformation--replacing personal and corporate income taxes, estate and gift taxes and the Unearned Income Medicare Contribution Tax. It would, however, leave in place other federal taxes, notably the payroll tax (as the authors' focus is on eliminating taxes that penalize saving).

If the new president wants to achieve a truly historic legacy, he might go one step further: replacing the payroll tax with a carbon tax.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Amazon's Political Heat Map Colors Book-Buying Preferences (Roberto Baldwin, August 21, 2012, Wired)

Amazon has introduced a heat map of the political books sold in the U.S. An overwhelming lean toward red hues suggests that conservative-themed books are outselling left leaning ones coast to coast.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Cautious Moves on Foreclosures Haunting Obama (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, August 19, 2012, NY Times)

After inheriting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, President Obama poured vast amounts of money into efforts to stabilize the financial system, rescue the auto industry and revive the economy.

But he tried to finesse the cleanup of the housing crash, rejecting unpopular proposals for a broad bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program -- and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest.

During his first two years in office, Mr. Obama and his advisers repeatedly affirmed this carefully calibrated strategy, leaving unspent hundreds of billions of dollars that Congress had allocated to buy mortgage loans, even as millions of people lost their homes and the economic recovery stalled somewhere between crisis and prosperity.

..left him terrified of helping the undeserving poor who had loans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Americans waste, throw away nearly half their food: study (Reuters, 8/21/12) 

Americans throw away nearly half their food every year, waste worth roughly $165 billion annually, according to a study released on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


Fewer circumcisions could cost the US billions, says study (AFP, August 22, 2012)

As debate rages over the ethics of infant circumcision, a study published Monday said falling rates of the once-routine procedure in the United States could cost billions of dollars in health costs.

"We find that each circumcision not performed will lead to US$313 (RM980) of increased expenditures over that lifetime," said senior investigator Aaron Tobian, of the Johns Hopkins University team that did the study. [...]

In all, the nearly 25 per cent drop in circumcisions since the 1980s could run up a tab of about US$2 billion in health care costs, the study found.

And if US circumcision rates were to drop as low as one in 10, the average across Europe, the research team estimated the associated rise in medical expenses would total US$4.4 billion over the lifetimes of a decade of babies.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Tootsie's Secret Empire : A CEO in His 90s Helms an Attractive Takeover Target. So What's Next? No One Really Knows (BEN KESLING, 8/21/12, WSJ)

The 116-year-old company, run by one of America's oldest CEOs, has become increasingly secretive over the years, severing nearly all of its connections to the outside world. Tootsie Roll shuns journalists, refuses to hold quarterly earnings calls, and issues crookedly-scanned PDFs for its earnings releases. The last securities industry analyst to maintain coverage of the company stopped last year because it was too hard to get information.

"I think the only way you can get a tour is by jumping over the fence and sneaking in," said the last analyst to attempt the task, Elliott Schlang of Cleveland firm Great Lakes Review.

The chairman and chief executive of Tootsie Roll is Melvin Gordon, a bespectacled man in his 90s who has headed the company for 50 years. He runs it with his 80-year-old wife, Ellen.

Decades of acquisitions have given Tootsie Roll a product gallery of mostly antique--though profitable--candy brands, including Charleston Chew, Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, and Blow Pops, in addition to the company's chewy, brown namesake. Mr. Gordon likes to joke with visitors about the Tootsie Roll's robust shelf-life, and he and his wife have worked hard to ensure that the company stays out of the clutches of competitors. The Gordons control the company, primarily through their majority ownership of its powerful class B stock, each share of which is worth 10 votes to common stock's one vote. [...]

Tootsie Roll's Chicago headquarters is a modern-day Willy Wonka factory. Massive puffs of steam billow out of humming machines on the roofs of the gray cinder block and red brick buildings, which sit surrounded by off-kilter "no trespassing" signs. The Gordons haven't granted an interview in years. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


Alleged Hate Crime in Israel Part of Larger Trend (Dan Ephron, Aug 22, 2012, Daily Beast)

An alleged hate crime against Palestinians in West Jerusalem this week, which left one young man unconscious and in the hospital, underscores a troubling reality: that Israeli teens are more militantly anti-Arab than their parents and increasingly more prone to rejecting democratic values. [...]

In the latest incident, at least five teens are suspected of punching and kicking a Palestinian nearly to death over the weekend at a crowded public square in Jerusalem, as dozens of other youngsters looked on. The Palestinian, 17-year-old Jamal Julani, collapsed and stopped breathing at one point, but was resuscitated and is now in stable condition.

A police spokesman said the five suspects--three boys and two girls, ages 13 to 19--were in custody and being questioned. "For my part, he can die," one of the suspects, a 15-year-old, told reporters outside of the courtroom, in reference to Julani. "He's an Arab."

The attack was unusual in its brazenness. According to the police spokesman, the teens allegedly roved Jerusalem's downtown area chanting anti-Arab slogans and looking for victims before setting on Julani and several of his friends. Other violence against Palestinians in recent years has been more clandestine, including mosque burnings and roadside ambushes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. auto loan delinquency rate hits 13-year low ( Jerry Hirsch, 8/23/12, Los Angeles Times)

The national auto loan delinquency rate -- the share of borrowers 60 or more days past due on their payments -- hit its lowest level since credit report company TransUnion began tracking the data in 1999.

August 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 PM


Tallahassee : All The Smoke That Lingers Is Tarnished Gold (Sean Moeller, Nov 28, 2011, Daytrotter)

Whether they know it or not, the four-piece, fronted by former New England Patriots lineman Brian Barthelmes, makes us think about the way certain things smell when they burn. Most of this is entirely unintentional. They meant for little of it and yet, when Barthelmes sings about things smelling like cedar trees and smoke on the brilliantly minimal song of sadness and loss, "Jealous Hands," we can't help but be thrust into this sensory overload and this imagery of those blue and gray ribbons of exhaust coming off of more than just logs and candle wicks. We imagine the smoke that begins to billow slowly from the surface of bliss, when it's winding down, when everyone involved with it starts to sense that these are the end times and there's almost nothing that could stop the smoke from coming. This might be the smell of cedar that Barthelmes was singing of, a smell that can't really be hated, for it brings to mind a smell that we find delight in. It's not like a tire fire or the smoke that comes off an overheated car engine. It's a smell that we covet, that we inhale into our bodies, relishing the way that it sticks in our nose for days, like a pleasant stain. Smoke typically comes after the burn has stopped. It comes at the end of a flame and there's but a finite period of time for the smoke to behave before it fades from view. Even with it out of sight, it stays around to remind us that all of what came before did happen.

Much of what Tallahassee - which is completed by guitarist Scott Thompson, bassist Shawn Carney and drummer Matt Raskopf - wants to convey to us is that of the limitations of time. They're specific about it frequently, reminding us that "time ain't no friend" to any of us. We're real dopes if we think it is. It's our friend when we've already got all the friends we could ever want and aren't looking for any more friends like that. It betrays us and leaves us beaten. When it's finished with us, it leaves behind that smoke that we will always smell living in the fibers of our clothing, as if the smoke was all that we were wearing. People leave us and we leave other people. We leave a trail of smoke that very leisurely weakens and finally dissipates forever. Sometimes it's too soon and others it's never soon enough.

Tallahassee: 'Jealous Hands' (Only a Game, October 15, 2011, NPR)
Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Healthcare's Question of the Decade (Dan Munro, 8/20/12, Forbes)

From two studies conducted over 7-10 years (one here and one in Europe) there was NO benefit at all to PSA Screening and about 20% of men got either a false alarm and biopsy or were diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer unnecessarily. Up until 2009, about 30 million men received a PSA Test each year - at a cost of about $3 billion annually (just for the test). The effects of the surgeries are often horrendous - including incontinence, erectile dysfunction and impotence.

Earlier this year, Dr. Otis Brawley published his book How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick In America. As a part of the release Dr. Brawley recounted the story of a woman named Helen who was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. As was fairly common in the early 1990′s - surgery was followed by high doses of chemotherapy - and a bone marrow transplant.  Quoting Dr. Brawley:

"The therapy Helen received was expensive and commonly given to women with breast cancer in the early 1990s. During this time, numerous women sued insurance companies who did not want to pay for the therapy and nearly a dozen states passed laws saying insurance companies had to pay for it."

"There was one really good reason why the health insurers did not want to pay for high dose chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant for breast cancer:  No study had ever been done to prove it beneficial."

"Even without evidence, some patients and their doctors had faith that it worked. The procedure was common because some doctors taught that the transplant was beneficial to patients. Truth be told, it was very beneficial to the doctors and hospitals offering it."

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


TMQ's batty AFC season preview (Gregg Easterbrook, 8/21/12, ESPN Playbook)

For decades the establishment media have said that rising greenhouse emissions are a super-mega-ultra emergency. If last week's numbers had shown a carbon emissions rise, the likely response would have been Page 1 stories crying doomsday. Instead when the problem diminished, silence.

Needless to say, one factor is that bad new sells while good news is buried. Another factor is that the U.S. carbon dioxide decline is occurring without central control, owing to market forces -- more natural gas, a clean fuel, is being used to generate electricity, while individuals and businesses are deciding of their own free choice to buy higher-efficiency vehicles that use less oil, and to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. Had the new numbers been the result of some complicated, expensive Washington regulatory scheme -- in 2009, Obama proposed mandatory regulation of greenhouse gases, but his proposal failed in Congress -- surely mainstream news outlets, and the president, would have claimed success. Because what happened was a free-market result, OMG, don't say anything!

Greenhouse gases are an all-too-real concern. The evidence of artificially triggered climate change is strong: The best independent, non-United Nations assessment of rising temperatures is here. And while U.S. carbon emissions may be moderating, global emissions continue to rise as the developing world becomes more prosperous.

But last week's news shows that if low-carbon, clean energy is cost-effective, buyers will switch to it of their own accords. OMG, don't say anything!

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Why Ryan might be right about Medicare (Robert J. Samuelson, August 19, 2012, Washington Post)

Overlooked in the furor surrounding Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal -- a plan, it should be recalled, that wouldn't start until 2023 and even then would affect only new beneficiaries -- is a just-published study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggesting that, well, Ryan might be right. The study finds that a voucher-type system might noticeably reduce costs compared to "traditional" fee-for-service Medicare. Three Harvard economists did the study, including one prominent supporter of President Obama's health-care overhaul.

The study compared the costs of traditional Medicare with Medicare Advantage, a voucher-like program that now enrolls about 25 percent of beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage has cost less for identical coverage. From 2006 to 2009, the gap averaged 11 percent between traditional Medicare and voucher plans that, under the proposal by Ryan and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would serve as a price "benchmark." [...]

Medicare Advantage reinforces another bit of real-word evidence for market-like policies. This is the Medicare drug benefit (Part D), launched in 2006 with a voucher approach. In 2012, beneficiaries could choose from at least two-dozen plans. Part D's costs have been about 30 percent below early estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, though vouchers are not the only reason (more generic drugs is another). In 2013, average monthly premiums -- the part paid by recipients -- are projected to stay at $30 for a third straight year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Don't Fear All Islamists, Fear Salafis (ROBIN WRIGHT, August 19, 2012, NY Times)

A common denominator among disparate Salafi groups is inspiration and support from Wahhabis, a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam from Saudi Arabia. Not all Saudis are Wahhabis. Not all Salafis are Wahhabis, either. But Wahhabis are basically all Salafis. And many Arabs, particularly outside the sparsely populated Gulf, suspect that Wahhabis are trying to seize the future by aiding and abetting the region's newly politicized Salafis -- as they did 30 years ago by funding the South Asian madrassas that produced Afghanistan's Taliban.

Salafis go much further in restricting political and personal life than the larger and more modern Islamist parties that have won electoral pluralities in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco since October. For most Arabs, the rallying cry is justice, both economic and political. For Salafis, it is also about a virtue that is inflexible and enforceable.

"You have two choices: heaven or hellfire," Sheikh Muhammad el-Kurdi instructed me after his election to Egypt's parliament as a member of Al Nour, a Salafi party. It favors gender segregation in schools and offices, he told me, so that men can concentrate. "It's O.K. for you to be in the room," he explained. "You are our guest, and we know why you're here. But you are one woman and we are three men -- and we all want to marry you." Marriage may have been a euphemism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


The Legend of Jean Arthur (DAVID MERMELSTEIN, 8/20/12, WSJ)

With a voice lying somewhere between squeaky and sexy and an appealing gamine figure, Jean Arthur made a distinct impression on American moviegoers in the 1930s and '40s--when she starred opposite Gary Cooper, James Stewart and Cary Grant in films directed by Frank Capra, Howard Hawks and George Stevens. Yet today Arthur lacks the renown many of her contemporaries still command. Shy, anxious and publicity-averse in private life, she left acting relatively early, forsaking the professional longevity enjoyed by peers like Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. When she died in 1991, at age 90, she hadn't made a picture in nearly 40 years. And that final performance-- as a stoic pioneer wife to Van Heflin's homesteader in Stevens's "Shane" (1953)--was atypical.

Screwball comedy was Arthur's métier. When it came to clever banter, lighthearted exasperation and improbable romance, she was nonpareil.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Aerospace Materials Used to Build 'Endless' Pipeline (ScienceDaily, Aug. 17, 2012) 

Mo Ehsani, Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering at the University of Arizona, has designed a new, lightweight underground pipe he says could transform the pipeline construction industry.

Instead of conventional concrete or steel, Ehsani's new pipe consists of a central layer of lightweight plastic honeycomb, similar to that used in the aerospace industry, sandwiched between layers of resin-saturated carbon fiber fabric.

In combination, these materials are as strong, or stronger, than conventional steel and concrete pipes, which are time-consuming and expensive to manufacture and transport.

August 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Guide for the Perplexed (DAVID BROOKS, August 20, 2012, NY Times)

A study by Jessica Perez and others at the group Third Way lays out the basic facts. In 1962, 14 cents of every federal dollar not going to interest payments were spent on entitlement programs. Today, 47 percent of every dollar is spent on entitlements. By 2030, 61 cents of every noninterest dollar will be spent on entitlements.

Entitlement spending is crowding out spending on investments in our children and on infrastructure. This spending is threatening national bankruptcy. It's increasing so quickly that there is no tax increase imaginable that could conceivably cover it. And, these days, the real entitlement problem is Medicare.

So when you think about the election this way, the crucial question is: Which candidate can slow the explosion of entitlement spending so we can devote more resources toward our future?

Looking at the candidates through this prism, you see that President Obama deserves some credit for taking on entitlement spending. He had the courage to chop roughly $700 billion out of Medicare reimbursements. He had the courage to put some Medicare eligibility reforms on the table in his negotiations with Republicans. He created that (highly circumscribed) board of technocrats who might wring some efficiencies out of the system.

Still, you wouldn't call Obama a passionate reformer. He's trimmed on the edges of entitlements. He's not done anything that might fundamentally alter their ruinous course.

When you look at Mitt Romney through this prism, you see surprising passion. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Bailout Programs Return $1.5 Billion (Daniel Gross, 8/21/12, Daily Beast)

Four years after the Lehman Brothers crisis, housing finance remains a mess. But the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP), the crisis-era measures aimed at saving the banks, stabilizing credit markets, and preventing the auto companies and the insurer AIG from plunging into liquidation, have largely succeeded. And at a very low cost to the taxpayer. By and large, the recipients of cheap government capital have returned the cash they took - and with interest.  The central component of TARP was the Capital Purchase Program, in which Treasury bought interest-yielding preferred shares in banks and received warrants in return. Here is the latest daily TAPR update. Between the CPP and extra aid given to Citigroup and Bank of America, Treasury put $245.1 billion into banks. So far, those recipients have returned $231.11 billion of that capital. Add in dividends ($15.2 billion), proceeds from the sale of warrants ($9.19 billion), and cash raised from selling Citigroup and Bank of America stock ($9.36 billion), and the taxpayers have received  a total of $264.86 billion back. That's a profit of nearly $20 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Romney slightly ahead in Wisconsin (PPP, 8/21/12)

PPP's first Wisconsin poll since Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate finds him taking a small lead over Barack Obama in the state, 48-47. That represents a 7 point shift from PPP's last look at the state in early July, which found Obama ahead 50-44.

The biggest change Ryan's selection seems to have brought about is the unification of the GOP. Romney's gone from a 78 point lead with Republicans on our last poll (87-9) to now an 88 point lead with them (93-5). There's also been a tightening with independents. Obama still has a 4 point lead with them at 47-43, but that's down from a 14 point advantage at 53-39 six weeks ago. Democrats are unchanged from the previous poll.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


O Brave New Abundance! : Review of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think (Jonathan Witt, Religion & Liberty)

What's refreshing here is the authors' emphasis on for-profit, market- driven innovators for supplying affordable alternative energy in the future.

As little as four months ago, I was inclined to view solar energy as a permanently niche market held up, at least in the United States and Europe, almost purely by petroleum haters and government subsidies. After visiting an indigenous solar energy company in Haiti in January, I came to realize what now seems obvious: In sunny regions that lack an established power grid, solar power is already quite competitive. After reading Abundance and learning about the impressive efficiency gains in solar energy technology over the past several years, I am even more optimistic about its future.

I now suspect that these developing regions are where solar power will go to mature into an energy source that will successfully go head-to-head in the developed world with oil, coal, and nuclear power, not replacing them but expanding into a much larger segment of the global energy market--provided solar entrepreneurs are able to compete unhindered from either suffocating regulation or infantilizing government funding.

At the heart of Abundance is a faith in for-profit entrepreneurs to go boldly where no government program has gone before so cheaply, cleverly, or effectively. For Diamandis, this isn't just a pretty theory. As he describes in an engrossing chapter on DIY innovation, he lived it through his now famous Ansari X Prize contest, which succeeded in fast-forwarding Western civilization to the threshold of private-enterprise space flight.

With a success like that, it isn't surprising that Diamandis is similarly upbeat about the prospects of solving a variety of developing- world resource problems through the wealth-generating power of private enterprise. Perhaps the book's infectious optimism and non-partisan tone can penetrate and cure the virus of fixed-pie economic thinking that has crippled the thinking of so many on the left.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


'Do You Trust Politicians?' (THOMAS B. EDSALL, 8/20/12, NY Times)

Here in New Hampshire - once a securely Republican state -- the presidential contest pits Democrats struggling to revive their victorious 2008 coalition against Republicans attempting to reignite the conservative insurgency that swept the state in 2010.

In 2006 and 2008, New Hampshire Democrats were exceptionally enthusiastic about voting for Democrats, according to poll data analyzed by Andrew Smith, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire.

By the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats had sunk into relative apathy while Republicans couldn't wait to vote. More than three quarters of Republicans, 77 percent, said they were "excited" about the 2010 election, and just 10 percent said they were "depressed." Only 36 percent of Democrats were "excited" while 43 percent were "depressed."

The depression lingers. The biggest hurdle facing President Obama in New Hampshire (and elsewhere) is an enervated liberal electorate that must be galvanized. [...]

A remarkable study of population changes in the state by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire revealed that in 2008, one-third of voters had not cast ballots in New Hampshire in 2000. Of the new voters, just over 200,000 were migrants from out of state and more than 100,000 were New Hampshire residents who turned 18 between 2000 and 2008.

We need more Latinos and fewer Mass refugees.
Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Myanmar Eliminates Most Forms Of Media Censorship (PALASH R. GHOSH, August 20, 2012, IB Times)

The government of Myanmar (also known as Burma) has abolished censorship of the press, in yet another reform measure taken by President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government.

"Any publication inside the country will not have to get prior permission from us before they are published," Tint Swe, the chief of the government's Press Scrutiny and Registration Department, or PSRD, told the Agence France Presse agency. "From now on, our department will just carry out registering publications for keeping them at the national archives and issuing a license to printers and publishers."

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


What Paul Ryan, and His Critics, Can Learn From Canada (Evan Soltas, Aug 19, 2012, Bloomberg)

Under its block-grant system, the federal government of Canada provides provincial and territorial governments with a single large sum every year to fund Medicare, and they administer the program according to a set of baseline requirements. Once they meet the federal baseline, however, they are free to innovate and get the most for their residents' money.

By fixing the maximum federal contribution, block grants offer Canada's provincial and territorial governments far better incentives to reduce the cost and improve the quality of the medical services they purchase. When costs rise, the provinces that run the programs are forced to pay 100 percent of the added costs at the margin, unlike in the U.S., where state governments pay an average of 43 cents at the margin for every dollar of added Medicaid expense.

Decentralized administration gives provinces the flexibility and the accountability to design their programs according to their needs and particular local challenges, rather than federal "one-size-fits-none" imposition. It also creates opportunities for innovation. By sharing notes, provinces and territories learn from one another and improve their Medicare programs.

Canada has been using block grants for 35 years. After several years of ruinously high growth in Medicare expenses during the 1970s, their federal government abandoned a 50-50 cost-sharing plan in 1977. Through the Canada Health Transfer program, which gives states some money directly and some through tax-shifting agreements, Canadian provinces and territories receive equal per capita aid, regardless of actual health care expenditure.

Growth in aid has varied over time, but starting in 2017 it will match the three-year moving average growth rate of nominal gross domestic product -- which, on rough average, runs at 5 percent annually -- with an unconditional floor of 3 percent annual growth.

By comparison, Medicaid expenditure in the U.S. has grown rather consistently at 10 percent annually for decades, and nominal per-enrollee Medicaid expenditure has risen at roughly 8 percent annually.

The result in Canada has been successful cost control -- indeed, even at the aggressive scale Ryan anticipates for Medicaid. Canada spends far less on health care than its southerly neighbor: 10.9 percent of Canada's gross domestic product, or $4,196 per capita, versus 16.2 percent of GDP, or $7,410 per capita, in the U.S. The rate of health-care cost inflation is less problematic: a net 65 percent rise from 1993 to 2005 in Canada versus a 90 percent increase in the U.S over the same period.

August 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


Testing What We Think We Know (H. GILBERT WELCH, August 19, 2012, NY Times)

The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don't know what works. But we pay for it anyway. Our annual per capita health care expenditure is now over $8,000. Many countries pay half that -- and enjoy similar, often better, outcomes. Isn't it time to learn which practices, in fact, improve our health, and which ones don't?

To find out, we need more medical research. But not just any kind of medical research. Medical research is dominated by research on the new: new tests, new treatments, new disorders and new fads. But above all, it's about new markets.

We don't need to find more things to spend money on; we need to figure out what's being done now that is not working. That's why we have to start directing more money toward evaluating standard practices -- all the tests and treatments that doctors are already providing.

There are many places to start. Mammograms are increasingly finding a microscopic abnormality called D.C.I.S., or ductal carcinoma in situ. Currently we treat it as if it were invasive breast cancer, with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Some doctors think this is necessary, others don't. The question is relevant to more than 60,000 women each year. Don't you think we should know the answer?

Or how about this one: How should we screen for colon cancer? The standard approach, fecal occult blood testing, is simple and cheap. But more and more Americans are opting for colonoscopy -- over four million per year in Medicare alone. It's neither simple nor cheap. In terms of the technology and personnel involved, it's more like going to the operating room. (I know, I've had one.) Which is better? We don't know.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


True Grit: Ross Macdonald Gets His Due : The beautifully charged language of Ross Macdonald's detective novels does more than adorn--it also helps swiftly clinch a character for the reader. (Malcolm Forbes. 8/07/12, Daily Beast)

Throughout his career, Ross Macdonald--the pen name of Kenneth Millar--was hailed as the true heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as master of the hardboiled mystery. But accolades beyond the reach of a genre writer still eluded him--until towards the end of his career, when he was finally acknowledged as not "only" a crime writer but a highly regarded American novelist. Macdonald subverted the genre by delivering the riddles and intricacies demanded of the crime novel in language that could be stark but also subtly nuanced and beautifully cadenced, while never slowing the requisite pace or diluting the excitement. In doing so he silenced those naysayers who had previously scoffed at the idea that the humble detective novel could possess any intrinsic literary worth. Praise finally came from both sides of the literary divide, with James Ellroy acknowledging his debt to Macdonald's Lew Archer books and Eudora Welty lauding him as "a more serious and complex writer than Chandler and Hammett ever were." Five of the gripping Lew Archer novels have just become part of the U.K. Penguin modern classics series. For many, this anointment is long overdue.

The Archer series ran from 1949 to 1976, and it is one of the later ones, The Underground Man from 1971, that is arguably Macdonald's best. It opens calmly with Archer waking up, feeding peanuts to dive-bombing jays at his window and feeling a warm but ominous breeze. Such a slow set-up was typical: no crash-bang corpse-on-first-page histrionics. Gradually, though, Archer finds himself "descending into trouble" when he is employed by a beguiling blonde to track down her abducted son. To stoke the tension, forest fires are raging in the hills of Santa Teresa (Macdonald's Santa Barbara) "like the bivouacs of a besieging army." The case expands to include an AWOL father, a blackmailer, a couple of gruesome murders and a catalog of dark family secrets.

Those skeletons in closets were a tried-and-tested trope of Macdonald's. A great deal of the fun in reading him is in locating the plot's false bottom and sifting the many lies for nuggets of truth. Archer is adept at disinterring ghosts from the past to return and haunt his suspects in the present. Characters are never allowed to vanish completely. The Underground Man is full of overprotective mothers who will do anything to safeguard their errant sons. When Macdonald's plots show signs of repetition (a mother also wants her son found in The Galton Case; so too does The Goodbye Look explore dysfunctional family drama and a decades-old crime) it is still a pleasure to lose ourselves in the tight, labyrinthine twists and turns. "I've never seen a fishline with more tangles," remarks one character of the case in The Drowning Pool, and The Underground Man is just as knotty, to the extent that the denouement is as cathartic as it is surprising.

REVIEW: of The Underground Man (BrothersJudd)

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


Paul Ryan targeted on women's issues (Maggie Haberman and Emily Schultheis and Lois Romano, August 19, 2012, Politico)

For all the attention on how his budget roadmap changes Medicare, Democrats see Ryan's record on issues related to women as an opportunity to yoke Romney, who has flip-flopped on abortion rights in the past decade, to positions the presumptive GOP nominee staked out during the Republican primaries.

The initial tweets from the @BarackObama account last weekend, after Ryan was selected, were 140-character frames on Ryan's record on women.

And the campaign's first purely negative ad about the new GOP running mate was not on Medicare, but on abortion rights and Planned Parenthood.

"These are really extreme positions that are far to the right of most Americans," said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "They're also quite consistent with, frankly, Mitt Romney's positions. This ticket is far to the right of most Americans.

"Pro-Choice" Americans at Record-Low 41% (Lydia Saad, May 23, 2012, Gallup)

The 41% of Americans who now identify themselves as "pro-choice" is down from 47% last July and is one percentage point below the previous record low in Gallup trends, recorded in May 2009. Fifty percent now call themselves "pro-life," one point shy of the record high, also from May 2009.

...if you removed those who view it as a way of reducing black births?

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Skilled Work, Without the Worker (JOHN MARKOFF, 8/19/12, NY Times)

At the Philips Electronics factory on the coast of China, hundreds of workers use their hands and specialized tools to assemble electric shavers. That is the old way.

At a sister factory here in the Dutch countryside, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flexibility. Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous human.

One robot arm endlessly forms three perfect bends in two connector wires and slips them into holes almost too small for the eye to see. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed in glass cages to prevent the people supervising them from being injured. And they do it all without a coffee break -- three shifts a day, 365 days a year.

All told, the factory here has several dozen workers per shift, about a tenth as many as the plant in the Chinese city of Zhuhai. [...]

The falling costs and growing sophistication of robots have touched off a renewed debate among economists and technologists over how quickly jobs will be lost. This year, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made the case for a rapid transformation. "The pace and scale of this encroachment into human skills is relatively recent and has profound economic implications," they wrote in their book, "Race Against the Machine."

In their minds, the advent of low-cost automation foretells changes on the scale of the revolution in agricultural technology over the last century, when farming employment in the United States fell from 40 percent of the work force to about 2 percent today. The analogy is not only to the industrialization of agriculture but also to the electrification of manufacturing in the past century, Mr. McAfee argues.

"At what point does the chain saw replace Paul Bunyan?" asked Mike Dennison, an executive at Flextronics, a manufacturer of consumer electronics products that is based in Silicon Valley and is increasingly automating assembly work. "There's always a price point, and we're very close to that point."

...when we develop machines to do the work we won't do ourselves.  That's right, we face a future where ever less effort provides ever greater wealth.  Commence fretting....

August 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Baldness cure could be on shelves in two years (Stephen Adams, 8/19/12, The Telegraph)

...primping is the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


Study shows marriage stops men drinking - as their wives hit the bottle instead (John Bingham, 18 Aug 2012, The Telegraph)

The researchers found that married women generally drink more heavily than single women, widows or divorcees.

By contrast, men who are happily married drink less than their bachelor friends and significantly less than divorced men.

The reason, the researchers conclude, is that while women can help keep their husbands' drinking habits under control, men are simply a bad influence on their wives.

Previous studies have shown that, overall, married people tend to drink less than non-married people, suggesting that a more settled home life can promote good health.

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


At Florida retirement community, Paul Ryan takes aim at Democrats on Medicare (Felicia Sonmez, August 18, 2012, Washington Post)

A budget wonk known for giving PowerPoint presentations at town hall meetings, Ryan took a different tack Saturday, seeking to make his case in personal terms. He told the crowd that "like a lot of Americans, when I think about Medicare, it's not just a program. It's not just a bunch of numbers. It's what my mom relies on. It's what my grandma had."

Ryan also spoke for the first time on the trail about his grandmother, who he said had advanced Alzheimer's disease and had moved in with him and his mother while Ryan was in high school.

"You learn a lot about life" when a relative falls ill, he said.

"Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then, and Medicare is there for my mom while she needs it now, and we have to keep that guarantee," he said to applause.

He also emphasized another point Republicans have made on the trail in recent weeks, citing his mother in a dig at Obama's now-infamous "you didn't build that" line.

"Mom, I am proud of you for going out and getting another degree," Ryan said. "I'm proud of you for going out and building the small business that you created, and mom, you did build that."

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


Why Ryan Matters (William Kristol, 8/19/12, Weekly Standard)

The Romney 2012 campaign no longer brings to mind its Republican predecessor, the McCain campaign of 2008. Instead, Romney-Ryan could end up more closely resembling Obama 2008.

In 2008, Obama was the young forward-looking reformer, running on a big (if gauzy) message. He was able to capitalize on opposition to the Bush administration without seeming merely oppositional. He was able to enliven his campaign by his own presence and skills. Now it's the Republicans who are running on a newly bold conservative message, presenting a hopeful choice for change rather than mere opposition to the status quo, and on a ticket enlivened by Ryan's presence and skills.

Of course, Mr. Obama, like Mr. Romney, has neither presence nor skills.  Indeed, with the possible exception of Mr. Romney's putative faith--even that belied by his own political record--the two men are indistinguishable.  Mr. Ryan is, effectively, Mr. Romney's melanin.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


OBIT: Ian Dunlop : Ian Dunlop, who has died aged 83, was a wit, charmer, chancer, fantasist and pretender to the much-claimed title of "last of the old Soho characters". (The Telegraph, 8/17/12)

His forebears were Scottish aristocrats, soldiers of the Raj and suffragettes. His own youth was spent amid the glittering haute bohème of Fifties London: the gambling set of John Bingham (later Lord Lucan); its underbelly, personified by the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman ("charming fellow, absolutely charming"); and the familiar Soho cast - Francis Bacon, John Minton, John Deakin, Daniel Farson and other frequenters of Muriel Belcher's Colony Room Club. In typical Soho style, Dunlop was to be found at one time or another claiming that he disliked or despised them all.

In conversation Dunlop's aim was to satirise and annoy the pretentious, particularly on the Left. General Pinochet was "liberal yet firm". A project of his from the Eighties was a collective of lesbian plumbers, to be called Stopcock. His interests included music; regrettably, his book Alban Berg's Debt to Offenbach never saw the light of day .

Tall and lanky, patrician in physiognomy, speech and mien (in his fifties he was dubbed "The Greying Mantis"), Dunlop saw himself as a ladies' man . Girls who had been stood up by feckless or faithless men were his speciality, and his hit ratio was high. It was explained to them that the ritual needs of his world were satisfied by the Ceremony of the Lowering of the Pants at Sunset. Even towards the end of his life the patter needed only minor adjustment: "If I give you a silver sixpence will you put your hand on my catheter?" Such lines worked only because they were backed by a powerful charm. "The real joke about Ian Dunlop," women friends would point out, "is that he isn't joking." [...]

He finally succumbed to an infection that set in after he broke an arm in a fall ("I was attacked by a gang of Jews, Freemasons and Communists"), having survived (in chronological order) bladder cancer; tuberculosis; heart disease; a broken back; emphysema; and lung cancer. During one of his many stays in the old Middlesex Hospital - in what he described as the Jeff Bernard Memorial Bed - he was presented to medical students who were told to find everything that was seriously wrong with him; none managed to tick every box. But Dunlop enjoyed the attention: "I fell in love with myself when I was 12 and I have never been unfaithful."

Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM



In the community of economists, policymakers, and policy wonks which has studied and debated this issue, there are some Democrats and progressives who favor moving to a voucher system, although they usually avoid that phrase and use the less controversial term "premium support."

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago, Joseph Rago, a member of the paper's editorial board, pointed out that it was Alain Enthoven, a Stanford economist who informally advised the Clinton Administration about health-care reform, who in 1978 first suggested switching to a voucher system, arguing that competition among rival health-care providers would help keep down costs. In the mid-nineties, this idea was endorsed by other moderate economists, including Henry Aaron, of the Brookings Institution, and Bob Reischauer, the longtime president of the Urban Institute. It was Aaron and Reischauer who coined the term "premium support."

More recently, some Democratic policymakers have put forward specific plans that involve shifting future retirees from traditional Medicare into a system based on vouchers. In November of 2010, as part of a long-term plan to balance the budget, former Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, and Alice Rivlin, who served as budget director in the Clinton Administration, suggested transforming Medicare into a voucher system starting in 2018. And in December of last year, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden--a Democrat--joined Paul Ryan in proposing a similar premium-support plan that would start in 2022. (Wyden subsequently voted against Ryan's budget for 2013, which contained the voucher idea along with some hefty cuts in Medicare funding.)

So yes, there are some progressives who have supported the basic ideas underlying Ryan's plan, even if they would criticize many of its details. to do Democrats like vouchers until Republicans use them.  But neither is actually disputing policy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Even After 4 Years, Obama Remains a Mystery (David Shribman, August 19, 2012, RCP)

George W. Bush was not an enigma. He had no hidden parts. His father was not mysterious. George H.W. Bush's life was dedicated to achievement and service. Even Bill Clinton wasn't unfathomable. Nothing in his presidency -- the brilliant highs, the shocking lows -- was a substantial, unpredictable departure from his past.

Barack Obama, though, is the most enigmatic president since Jimmy Carter, the most mysterious since Lyndon Johnson, the most unfathomable since Franklin Roosevelt. Political professionals sometimes say of public figures that what you see is what you get, more or less. But with Mr. Obama, what you see is both more and less than what you get. [...]

The gravest warning sign in Mr. Obama's background wasn't his spare record in the U.S. Senate (Johnson often ridiculed John F. Kennedy for having accomplished almost nothing in the Capitol), nor his limited experience in electoral office (Lincoln had but one term in the House). Instead, the most troubling aspect of Mr. Obama's past were the 129 abstentions in his Illinois Senate career. They suggested that Mr. Obama was more interested in getting elected than in doing the work he had been elected to perform.

Having elected such an empty suit, we have a great need to believe that there is more to him than we've gotten.  But our need does not create substance.  Mr. Obama is a classic social climber who believes in nothing but his own advancement.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Crime Solving, Wyoming-Style (NANCY DEWOLF SMITH, 5/31/12, WSJ)

"Longmire" is the best of two worlds: a modern crime drama with dry wit and sometimes heart-wrenching emotion that's also got a glorious setting under the big sky of Wyoming. Based on the novels by Craig Johnson, the series revolves around Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) and a small clutch of deputies in a sprawling northern county adjacent to a Cheyenne reservation. If it weren't for a few modern conveniences, like cellphones and trucks, it might as well be 1875, so rugged and unspoiled does the scenery look.

That includes Walt Longmire. Blessed with Mr. Taylor's deep voice and a delivery not unlike Clint Eastwood's in earlier days, Walt instantly feels like the real deal. When we first meet him in the cabin where he lives alone by a meadow near a forest in the middle of nowhere, it's clear that this is the lawman of old, who doesn't say much but gets the job done. That, and more, in a rugged vein, is all part of Walt. But he's also a middle-age widower who is deep in grief a year after his wife died.

Walt is just waking up--literally and figuratively--when the story begins, and his re-entry into the world is the show's central thread. Yet this is also a detective series, and the unraveling of each week's crime is what keeps "Longmire" going. All that and great views. 

Mr. Taylor is so good as Longmire that it seemed strange not to have seen him in other stuff.  Turns out, he's a well-regarded Aussie character actor.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


People say my book sold football to the middle classes. I disagree' : 'Fever Pitch' author Nick Hornby reflects on the ways in which he, football and society itself have changed in the 20 years since his hit memoir was first published (Nick Hornby, 8/17/12, The Telegraph)

English football has changed since Fever Pitch was published in 1992. Indeed, more has happened in the last 20 years than in the previous 70 or 80. The game has got faster and better, and the players are fitter and more accomplished. Our stadiums are mostly safe, but tickets are ruinously expensive and much harder to come by, and crowds are consequently older, and quieter. Just about everyone who has ever played in the Premier League over the last decade is a multimillionaire, by definition, but in the early Nineties, England's most gifted player, Paul Gascoigne, was playing in the richer and infinitely more glamorous Italian league. Both the lira and its lure are now gone. If you subscribe to a cable sports channel, you can see two or three games a day, games taking place all over Europe. It's easier to watch a Premier League game on TV in New York City or the Canary Islands than it is in London, and you can talk to someone in any bar in the world about Arsène Wenger's apparent stubbornness in the transfer market. My previously dour and unlovable team suddenly became a byword for aesthetic perfection, and enjoyed possibly the greatest period of its history; for a few bewildering years, between 1997 and 2006, I could watch several of the best players in the world every other Saturday.

Most of these changes can be traced back to one event, the Hillsborough disaster, and to one man, Rupert Murdoch. After Hillsborough there was a general recognition that something needed to be done - that the enormous, crumbling concrete terraces weren't safe, that an afternoon's entertainment should not carry with it the threat of injury or even death. And Murdoch saw that his TV network would become indispensable to huge swathes of the population if he bought the rights to the most popular sport in the world. He flooded the game with money, foreign stars turned up in their hundreds, and the clubs jacked up their season ticket prices to pay the newly astonishing wage bills.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


An American Classic : a review of Democracy and Leadership  by Irving Babbitt.  (CLAES G. RYN, Autumn 1981, University Bookman)

Babbitt questioned the dominant intellectual currents of his own lifetime. In Democracy and Leadership, as in other works, he criticizes what he calls the naturalistic movement in modern Western society. He distinguishes between two aspects of this movement, letting Francis Bacon exemplify its mechanistic and utilitarian side and Jean-Jacques Rousseau its sentimental side. Both ignore the need to order human life with reference to a transcendent ethical principle. The utilitarian and sentimental dispositions are frequently joined in the same individual. A common modern political type is the lover of humanity, basking in self-approbation, whose benevolence expresses itself in calls for social engineering. But, according to Babbitt, no amount of sentimental "love" or sociopolitical activism can substitute for a lack of real moral character. Stressing the tension in man between higher and lower potentialities, he views genuine love and charity as the fruits of an often difficult self-discipline in the individual soul. Social reform can sometimes aid but never replace moral self-improvement and education.

[W]ith the present trend toward "social justice," the time is rapidly approaching when everybody will be minding everybody else's business. For the conscience that is felt as a still small voice and that is the basis of real justice, we have substituted a social conscience that operates rather through a megaphone. The busybody, for the first time perhaps in the history of the world, has been taken at his own estimate of himself.

Real social harmony rests ultimately on the exercise of a higher will in man. This will is Babbitt's much-debated but poorly understood "inner check." He means by this term the transcendent good reaching into the lives of individual men and drawing them toward a common center. In specifically Christian language, the inner check corresponds to grace or love. But this higher will, Babbitt argues, does not have to be taken on faith or on the authority of tradition. It is a matter of immediate experience which can be judged by its fruits.

Societies aspiring to be civilized must instill in their citizens a sense of the enduring good to which the impulse of the moment can be ordered. A rich cultural life serves this purpose. An "inner working" of this kind must not be neglected in favor of attention to a merely utilitarian "outer working," such as the economic efficiency displayed in the marketplace. All societies, but especially those wishing to maintain a popular government, need citizens educated toward appreciation of the higher values of civilized life and leaders particularly distinguished in the same respect. To inspire and sustain the higher potentialities of human society, Babbitt gives a central place to the training of what he calls "the moral imagination." This highest form of the imagination, most fully developed in the great poets and artists, penetrates to the heart of human existence, giving man a sense of the elevation and happiness of morally ordered experience. In its attempt to grasp what abides in the midst of change, it draws upon the great examples of the past. But it does so creatively and goes beyond tradition in its application of the cultural heritage to new circumstances. Babbitt contrasts this type of imagination (in the moderate traditionalism of Edmund Burke) with the radical and primitivistic dreaming of Rousseau.

Contrary to Rousseauistic belief, a people throwing off all traditional restraint unleash in themselves, not some original goodness, but the arbitrary and destructive ego. Hobbes and Nietzsche are correct in regarding the will to power as a pervasive human drive. Under the influence of a perverted demagogic leadership, a democratic people lacking in moral discipline will soon exhibit a ruthless imperialism. In 1924 Democracy and Leadership predicted the catastrophes soon to befall mankind.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


The Crisis of Liberalism (Charles R. Kesler, August 7, 2012, Claremont Review of Books)

Finally, we come to the fiscal embarrassments confronting contemporary liberals. Again, Obamacare is wonderfully emblematic. President Obama's solution to the problem of two health care entitlement programs quickly going bankrupt--Medicare and Medicaid--is to add a third? Perhaps it is a stratagem. More likely it is simply the reflexive liberal solution to any social problem: spend more. From Karl Marx to John Rawls, if you'll excuse the juxtaposition, left-wing critics of capitalism have often paid it the supreme compliment of presuming it so productive an economic system that it has overcome permanently the problem of scarcity in human life. Capitalism has generated a "plenty." It has distributional problems, which produce intolerable social and economic instability; but eliminate or control those inconveniences and it could produce wealth enough not only to provide for every man's necessities but also to lift him into the realm of freedom. To some liberals, that premise implied that socioeconomic rights could be paid for without severe damage to the economy, and without oppressive taxation at least of the majority. Obama is the first liberal to suggest that even capitalism cannot pay for all the benefits promised by the American welfare state, particularly regarding health care. Granted, his solution is counterintuitive in the extreme, which makes one wonder if he is sincere. To the extent that liberalism is the welfare state, and the welfare state is entitlement spending, and entitlements are mostly spent effecting the right to health care, the insolvency of the health care entitlement programs is rightly regarded as a major part of the economic, and moral, crisis of liberalism. "Simply put," Yuval Levin writes, "we cannot afford to preserve our welfare state in anything like its present form." According to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2025 Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the interest on the federal debt will consume all-all-federal revenues, leaving defense and all other expenditures to be paid for by borrowing; and the debt will be approaching twice the country's annual GDP.

If something can't go on forever, Herbert Stein noted sagely, it won't. It would be possible to increase federal revenues by raising taxes, but the kind of money that's needed could only be raised by taxing the middle class (defined, let us say, as all those families making less than $250,000 a year) very heavily. Like every Democratic candidate since Walter Mondale, who made the mistake of confessing to the American people that he was going to raise their taxes, Obama swore not to do that. Even supporters of Obamacare, like Clive Crook, a commentator for the Atlantic and the Financial Times, regretted the decision.

It is right to provide guaranteed health insurance, but wrong to claim this great prize could be had, in effect, for nothing. Broadly based tax increases and fundamental reform to health care delivery will be needed to balance the books. Denying this was a mistake. What was worse--an insult to one's intelligence, really--was to argue as Obama has...that this reform was, first and foremost, a cost-reducing initiative, and a way to drive down premiums.
If the bankruptcy of the entitlement programs were handled just the right way, with world-class cynicism and opportunism, in an emergency demanding quick, painful action lest grandma descend into an irreversible diabetic coma, then liberalism might succeed in maneuvering America into a Scandinavia-style überwelfare state, fueled by massive and regressive taxes cheerfully accepted by the citizenry. But odds are we stand, instead, at the twilight of the liberal welfare state. As it sinks, a new, more conservative system will likely rise that will feature some combination of more means-testing of benefits, a switch from defined-benefit to defined-contribution programs, greater devolution of authority to the states and localities, a new budget process that will force welfare expenditures to compete with other national priorities, and the redefinition of the welfare function away from fulfilling socioeconomic "rights" and toward charitably taking care of the truly needy as best the community can afford, when private efforts have failed or proved inadequate.

Yes, the modern conservative project is to put welfare on more stable financial footing, not to end it.
Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


China's currency under pressure as growth slows (AFP, 8/19/12)

The yuan has dropped just one percent this year, but the fall has come after years of gains amid foreign pressure by China's trading partners, especially the United States, who claimed it was undervalued.

The China Securities Journal, a state newspaper, carried a front-page commentary this month saying markets have now accepted that the currency is on a weakening track, calling that a potential boon for the economy.

A weaker yuan could spur positive effects such as boosting exports, it added.

Broader trends are also pressuring the yuan as the dollar has started to strengthen this year against other Asian currencies, said Bill Belchere, chief emerging markets economist at Mirae Asset Securities in Hong Kong.

Analysts say that the decline so far in the yuan, also known as the renminbi, would be far larger if authorities were not providing a floor by selling some of China's trove of $3 trillion in foreign reserves.

"If it were freely traded today the RMB would be 10 percent below where it is," said Shanghai-based independent economist Andy Xie. "That's what the real economy is trying to get."

Xie added, however, that authorities cannot let that happen as they are dealing with a serious property slump which, if mishandled, could lead to a loss of confidence.

"If the currency drops significantly, the property market will collapse," he said. "They are trying to achieve some sort of soft landing."

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Obamacare's unpopularity blunts Obama's attacks on Romney-Ryan Medicare plans (MARC CAPUTO, 8/18/12, MIAMIHERALD.COM)

Obamacare was supposed to be President Barack Obama's legacy. But it's looking like a political millstone.

The mammoth and unpopular health insurance overhaul weighed down Democrats in 2010 when Republicans helped turn seniors to their side.

And now Democrats have unexpectedly had to play defense over Obamacare's Medicare cuts even as Mitt Romney picked Congressman Paul Ryan as a vice-presidential running mate and drew attention to unpopular Republican plans that cap future Medicare spending.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Be More Productive. Take Time Off. (JASON FRIED, August 18, 2012, )

[A]t 37signals, the software company I've run for the past 13 years, we take inspiration from the seasons and build change into our work schedule.

For example, from May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don't work the same amount of time, we work less.

Most staff workers take Fridays off, but some choose a different day. Nearly all of us enjoy three-day weekends. Work ends Thursday, the weekend starts Friday, and work starts back up on Monday.

The benefits of a six-month schedule with three-day weekends are obvious. But there's one surprising effect of the changed schedule: better work gets done in four days than in five.

...he wouldn't have them working 8 hour days, six hours of which are wasted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM




Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages. Workers pay half and their employers pay the other half. The tax is applied to the first $110,100 of a worker's wages, a level that increases each year with inflation. For 2011 and 2012, the tax rate for employees was reduced to 4.2 percent, but is scheduled to return to 6.2 percent in January.


--Apply the Social Security tax to all wages, including those above $110,100. Workers making $200,000 in wages would get a tax increase of $5,574, an amount their employers would have to match. Their future benefits would increase, too. This option would eliminate 72 percent of the shortfall. Two years ago, it would have wiped out 99 percent.

--Increase the payroll tax by 0.1 percentage point a year, until it reaches 14.4 percent in 20 years. At that point, workers making $50,000 a year would get a tax increase of $500 and employers would have to match it. This option would eliminate 53 percent of the shortfall. Two years ago, it would have wiped out 73 percent.


Retirement age

Workers qualify for full retirement benefits at age 66, a threshold that gradually rises to 67 for people born in 1960 or later. Workers are eligible for early retirement at 62, though monthly benefits are reduced by about 25 percent. The reductions shrink the longer you wait to apply.


--Gradually raise the full retirement age to 68 in 2033. This option would eliminate 15 percent of the shortfall. Two years ago, it would have eliminated a little more than 20 percent.

--Gradually raise the full retirement age to 69 in 2039 and 70 in 2063. This option would eliminate 37 percent of the shortfall. Two years ago, it would have eliminated about half.


Cost-of-living adjustments

Each year, if consumer prices increase, Social Security benefits go up as well. By law, the increases are pegged to an inflation index. This year, benefits went up by 3.6 percent, the first increase since 2009.

Option: Adopt a new inflation index called the Chained CPI, which assumes that people change their buying habits when prices increase to reduce the impact on their pocketbooks. The new index would reduce the annual COLA by 0.3 percentage point, on average. This option would eliminate 19 percent of the shortfall. Two years ago, it would have eliminated 26 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM

Raising the Ri***n Generation (BRONWEN HRUSKA, August 18, 2012, NY Times)

I REMEMBER the moment my son's teacher told us, "Just a little medication could really turn things around for Will." We stared at her as if she were speaking Greek.

"Are you talking about Ri****n?" my husband asked.

Will was in third grade, and his school wanted him to settle down in order to focus on math worksheets and geography lessons and social studies. The children were expected to line up quietly and "transition" between classes without goofing around. This posed a challenge -- hence the medication.

"We've seen it work wonders," his teacher said. "Will's teachers are reprimanding him. If his behavior improves, his teachers will start to praise him. He'll feel better about himself and about school as a whole."

August 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Obama Lags on Judicial Picks, Limiting His Mark on Courts (CHARLIE SAVAGE, August 17, 2012, NY Times)

President Obama is set to end his term with dozens fewer lower-court appointments than both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush achieved in their first four years, and probably with less of a lasting ideological imprint on the judiciary than many liberals had hoped for and conservatives had feared. [...]

While Mr. Bush quickly nominated a slate of appeals court judges early in his first year -- including several outspoken conservatives -- Mr. Obama moved more slowly and sought relatively moderate jurists who he hoped would not provoke culture wars that distracted attention from his ambitious legislative agenda.

"The White House in that first year did not want to nominate candidates who would generate rancorous disputes over social issues that would further polarize the Senate," said Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama's first White House counsel. "We were looking for mainstream, noncontroversial candidates to nominate."

Perhaps only Gerald Ford's stunted presidency will have left less of an imprint on the country than the UR's did.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Conservative Elite in Capital Pay Heed to Ryan as Thinker (ANNIE LOWREY, 8/17/12, NY Times)

[S]ince first coming to Washington in the early 1990s, Mr. Ryan has been closely tied to an intellectual world more concerned with the political agenda of low taxes, light regulations and small government than philosophical ruminations on work and freedom.

And since his emergence as the key Congressional Republican on the budget issue, Mr. Ryan has become a particular favorite of -- and powerful influence on -- the intellectuals, economists, writers and policy makers who are at the heart of Washington's conservative establishment.

Mr. Ryan "is the good think-tanker-as-politician," said Stuart Butler, the director of the Center for Policy Innovation at the Heritage Foundation, a right-of-center research institution. "When I'm having a discussion with Ryan, I'm talking to someone who knows the material as well as, if not better than, I do."

Mr. Kristol, who has been one of Mr. Ryan's loudest boosters in Washington, said, "He's a guy who, unlike 98 percent of members of Congress, can sit in a conference room or around the dinner table with 6 or 10 people from think tanks and magazines and more than hold his own in a discussion."

Aides and confidants of Mr. Ryan describe him as an earnestly interested, tactically minded policy thinker, with a deep knowledge of budget numbers and close ties with the right's influential policy heavies.

In his 20 years in Washington, Mr. Ryan has pursued ties with two groups of thinkers in particular: policy scholars at research groups like the American Enterprise Institute and commentators like Mr. Kristol and George F. Will of The Washington Post. The reputation for wonkiness is merited, people close to Mr. Ryan said. He goes home with a stack of white papers. He calls economists when he has questions about their budget projections or ideas.

He also athletically argues for his policy ideas among the city's policy elite in the white-tablecloth lunches, Capitol Hill meetings, private dinners and retreats where consensus gets formed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


What we think about the 50 states -- in 1 map (Chris Cillizza, August 16, 2012, Washington Post)

Today we happened upon an awesome map put together by Renee DiResta at her No Upside blog.  What DiResta did is simple but revealing. In Google she typed in "Why is [fill in the blank state] so..." and let Google's autocomplete function, which tracks the most common words typed after "so", do the rest. She mapped the top four auto-completes for each state.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


The Case of the Stolen Blanks : The real story behind the cheating scandal at the National Scrabble Championship. (Stefan Fatsis, Aug. 17, 2012, Slate)

Scrabble transitioned from living-room novelty--nearly 4 million sets were sold in 1954--to competitive passion in the 1960s, when it landed alongside chess, backgammon, and bridge in smoke-filled games parlors in New York City. Scrabble hustles evolved quickly. In those days, the tiles were placed face down in the box top during play. Regulars could spot the blanks, which were lighter than other tiles "because they spent half their time on one face or the other," says my Scrabble friend Lester Schonbrun, who frequented the clubs. When the tiles were placed in bags during games, unscrupulous players could feel around for the blanks because they had no grooves, a tactic known as "brailling."

Plastic tiles--in a rainbow of colors!--have made brailling obsolete. The North American Scrabble Players Association has a 53-page rulebook governing club and tournament play that anticipates almost every conceivable situation ("Players who are physically abusive will be immediately ejected and disqualified") and possible method for cheating. There are many. There's "banking points," or announcing an incorrect score for a play and then "correcting" it later in the game. There's choosing new tiles quickly before an opponent can inspect and potentially "hold" and then "challenge" a play. That's known as "fast-bagging." 

In the National School Scrabble Championship a few years ago, a team of two players took advantage of their younger, inexperienced opponents by playing one made-up word after another to rack up as many points as possible and improve their chances of winning the event. (In Scrabble, placement is decided based first on win-loss record and then on difference between points scored and points allowed, which is known as spread.) Technically, that wasn't cheating--the other team could've challenged the words off the board, if they'd been sophisticated enough to know they were being had. Still, this phony-palooza led to the imposition of point-caps in school events.

And then there's what the boy did in Orlando, and others have done before him: palm the good tiles.

There are different techniques for pocketing tiles. One player with an expert-level rating kept the tile bag above his head as proscribed by rule. But he also kept a baseball cap pulled low, craned his neck and eyes up toward the bag, and scanned the tiles in his hand at the bag's opening before placing them on his rack (or returning them to the bag). Describing the scene, one opponent called it "a protracted conversation between his eyes, his hand, and the contents of the bag." The player was suspended in 2008 and became eligible to play in tournaments again in June.

What tiles are players trying to hoard? Not just the blanks. The aforementioned cheater was lifting desirable letters, too--A, E, I, N, R, S, and T being the most useful because they are the most commonly used in English and therefore combine with other letters to form thousands of highly probable words studied by Scrabble players. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Rethinking the Middle East (Jim Hoagland, 8/17/12,

Syria's civil war is the decisive event in the remaking of the Middle East that began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor 21 months ago. The battle for Damascus has become the fulcrum of a now fully visible Sunni-Shiite struggle over the creation and control of an Islamic political order throughout the region.

The Pax Americana that has prevailed in the region since 1973 -- the last time a major Arab-Israeli war erupted -- is rapidly eroding. American power, friendship or enmity will no longer be decisive for Egyptians, Syrians or even Saudis in the ways they have been for nearly four decades.

Except that the remaking (or, at least, this phase) began when W decided that the Shi'ite majority of Iraq should enjoy self-governance and the chain of events since has consisted of pretty much every country in the Middle East trying to become more like us as well. The Arab Spring consists of nothing but undemocratic government (which had been supported by American military power) being ground down by the much greater power of Anglo-American ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Working 9 to 12 : 'How Much Is Enough?' by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky (RICHARD A. POSNER, August 17, 2012, NY Times Book Review)

In recent years, England has become much more like the United States, but I well remember as recently as the 1980s how shabby England was, how terrible the plumbing, how shoddy the housing materials, how treacherously uneven the floors and sidewalks, how inadequate the heating and poor the food -- and how tolerant the English were of discomfort. I recall breakfast at Hertford College, Oxford, in an imposing hall with a large broken window -- apparently broken for some time -- and the dons huddled sheeplike in overcoats; and in a freezing, squalid bar in the basement of the college a don in an overcoat expressing relief at being home after a year teaching in Virginia, which he had found terrifying because of America's high crime rate, though he had not been touched by it. I remember being a guest of Brasenose College -- Oxford's wealthiest -- and being envied because I had been invited to stay in the master's guest quarters, only to find that stepping into the guest quarters was like stepping into a Surrealist painting, because the floor sloped in one direction and the two narrow beds in two other directions. I recall the English (now American) economist Ronald Coase telling me that until he visited the United States he did not know it was possible to be warm.

The Skidelskys are correct that because goods and services can be produced with much less labor than in 1930, we could live now as we did then while working many fewer hours. We want to live better than that. And what would we do with our newfound leisure? Most people would quickly get bored without the resources for varied and exciting leisure activities like foreign travel, movies and television, casinos, restaurants, watching sporting events, engaging in challenging athletic activities, playing video games, eating out, dieting, having cosmetic surgery, and improving health and longevity. But with everyone working just 20 hours a week (on the way down to 15 in 2030), few of these opportunities would materialize, because people who worked so little would be unable to afford them.

The quandry we face though is quite different than a choice between wealth or work, it is what to do when wealth is increasingly independent of work.  

August 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Lead plaintiff in Pennsylvania voter ID case gets her photo ID (Jessica Parks, 8/16/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The day after a judge upheld Pennsylvania's new voter identification law, the lead plaintiff in the suit seeking to block the law went to a PennDot office and was issued the photo ID card she needs to vote.

Nothing has changed since Viviette Applewhite, 93, testified in July. The law stands. She still doesn't have a driver's license or Social Security card. The name on her birth certificate is still different from the name on her other documents - all of which, under the law, should have barred her from getting her photo ID.

But at precisely 1:16 p.m. Thursday, she got it anyway. [...]

[A]n Inquirer reporter who accompanied Applewhite to the PennDot center on Cheltenham Avenue in the city's West Oak Lane section saw no sign that the clerk recognized her or realized she was a major figure in the battle over the law.

Applewhite - who rode two SEPTA buses to get to the center - showed the clerk a Medicare card from the 1990s, its edges frayed from years of being pulled out of her pocketbook. It listed her Social Security number, but only the last seven digits were visible. A state Department of Public Welfare document showed her name, signature, and Social Security number - but all in her own handwriting. Other documents showed her street address in the city's Germantown section. She had no documents verifying that the Viviette Virene Brooks listed on her birth certificate was the same person as the Viviette Applewhite applying for an ID.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy (Tom Vanderbilt, Aug. 14, 2012, Slate)

 "Pallets move the world," says Mark White, an emeritus professor at Virginia Tech and director of the William H. Sardo Jr. Pallet & Container Research Laboratory and the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. And, as the above stories illustrate, the world moves pallets, often in mysterious ways. 

Pallets, of course, are merely one cog in the global machine for moving things. But while shipping containers, for instance, have had their due, in Marc Levinson's surprisingly illustrative book The Box ("the container made shipping cheap, and by doing so changed the shape of the world economy"), pallets rest outside of our imagination, regarded as scrap wood sitting outside grocery stores or holding massive jars of olives at Costco. As one German article, translated via Google, put it: "How exciting can such a pile of boards be?"

And yet pallets are arguably as integral to globalization as containers. For an invisible object, they are everywhere: There are said to be billions circulating through global supply chain (2 billion in the United States alone). Some 80 percent of all U.S. commerce is carried on pallets. So widespread is their use that they account for, according to one estimate, more than 46 percent of total U.S. hardwood lumber production.

Companies like Ikea have literally designed products around pallets: Its "Bang" mug, notes Colin White in his book Strategic Management, has had three redesigns, each done not for aesthetics but to ensure that more mugs would fit on a pallet (not to mention in a customer's cupboard). After the changes, it was possible to fit 2,204 mugs on a pallet, rather than the original 864, which created a 60 percent reduction in shipping costs. There is a whole science of "pallet cube optimization," a kind of Tetris for packaging; and an associated engineering, filled with analyses of "pallet overhang" (stacking cartons so they hang over the edge of the pallet, resulting in losses of carton strength) and efforts to reduce "pallet gaps" (too much spacing between deckboards). The "pallet loading problem,"--or the question of how to fit the most boxes onto a single pallet--is a common operations research thought exercise.

Pallet history is both humble and dramatic.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


A Mechanical Road Crew for Filling Potholes Quickly and Cheaply (Katharine Gammon, 08.16.2012, Popular Science)

The new Python 5000 pothole-filling machine, from Python Manufacturing, mends holes in just 30 to 60 seconds. A single operator drives the machine to the repair site, parks, and then uses a joystick to deploy the machine's four-foot tool-equipped arm. First, an air jet blasts debris and water out of the hole. Next, it's sprayed with tack oil, which helps the finished patch stick to the surrounding road. Finally, the operator uses the truck's tool arm to fill the hole with an asphalt mix, rake it, and pack it down with a roller. The roller applies the same amount of force as a standard road-paving machine, so the patches the Python makes often last until it's time to repave the entire road. The company estimates that over five years, owners of the $290,000 Python could save $125.61 per ton of pothole repair--or about 40 percent over the standard method.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Mr. Biden's Social Security promise falls flat (Washington Post, August 15, 2012)

On the same trip to southern Virginia, Mr. Biden wandered into the Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart. According to the White House pool report, when a diner there said, "I'm glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security," Mr. Biden responded: "Hey, by the way, let's talk about Social Security. Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you."

Why is this so depressing? Because, as Mr. Biden knows, Social Security is going broke. If "no changes" are made, then by 2033 the program will not be able to pay benefits as promised.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Obama's Re-election Prospects Under 'Bread and Peace' Voting in the 2012 US Presidential Election  (Douglas A Hibbs, 7/27/12, Forthcoming in abridged form in the October 2012 issue of PS: Political Science and Politics)

Calculations in the table 3 show that according to the Bread and Peace model per capita 

real income growth rates must average out at nearly 6 percent after 2012:q2 for Obama to 

have a decent chance of re-election. If the US economy experiences an unanticipated 

reversal of fortune with growth surging to rates not uncommon in the initial robust phase 

of recoveries from deep contractions, Obama could squeak out a win, as implied by the last 

column of table 3. However the pace of recovery from the 2008 Great Recession remains 

sluggish, and the famous 2009 book This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly 

by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff documents how recoveries from contractions 

originating with the bursting of speculative financial bubbles are not V-shaped as in 

garden-variety recessions, but instead are typically prolonged U-shaped affairs lasting 5 to 

6 years. The univariate statistical properties of postwar per capita real disposable personal 

incomes indicate that the chances of weighted-average growth on the order of 6% over the 

one and one-third quarters remaining until Election Day 2012 are no better than 1/10. 

   The protocol of the PS Election Forecast Symposium obliges me to make a specific 

prediction of the 2012 aggregate voting result. My reading of the tea leaves (statistical 

forecasts of income and output growth from formal econometric models have proven to be 

useless) leads me to posit that quarterly, annualized per capita real income growth rates 

will fall in the interval [1,2%] during the remainder of President Obama's term. That  

supposition, along with my assumption that fatalities in Afghanistan will not escalate 

dramatically, yields a projected Obama two-party vote share centered at 47.5%, as 

indicated by boldface entries in table 3.19 Figure 3, which combines the Bread and Peace 

factors to one dimension, illustrates the same prediction in perspective of actual and fitted 

values of incumbent vote shares at all postwar presidential elections 1952-2008. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


How Paul Ryan's Medicare Plan Is Coming Back to Haunt Obama : Last year, Democrats went ballistic on the Republican's reform plan. Now Team Romney's put resolving the politically lethal issue squarely back on the president's lap. (Mark McKinnon Aug 17, 2012, Daily Beast)

Ryan's original plan also cut Medicare spending at a similar level, but through consumer choice, competition, and market forces, not punitive cost controls. And he planned to return those dollars to the Medicare trust fund. Sensing the shifting winds, Romney has stepped up the messaging battle, promising to restore the president's cuts. Critics charge this will speed the program's insolvency, but those arguments are moot if costs are lowered with the fixed-benefit, premium-support system he has proposed. Of course, the devil is in the details, and more are needed.

But at some point, folks will stop listening to all those confusing details about baselines and budgets, and all of the charges and countercharges. The decision will come down to a matter of trust. Who has earned it? Who has shown leadership? Sadly, all of this could have been avoided had President Obama simply led and acted on the 2010 Simpson-Bowles plan.

How Obama Created the Greatest Threat to His Presidency (Ezra Klein Aug 15, 2012, Bloomberg)

The Obama team never could have predicted that its efforts would help vault Ryan into the nomination for vice president. But Ryan is a remarkably talented politician -- so good, in fact, that he managed to convince Romney and the Republican Party that the argument the Obama administration pursued so aggressively is actually an argument that Republicans will win.

The result, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, is that the Obama administration knew the fight they wanted, and now they're going to get it good and hard. [...]

[I]f Obama loses, Republicans will have won the presidency with a mandate to enact a deeply conservative agenda. Left to his own devices, Romney might have been a relatively pragmatic and cautious president. Instead, the Obama administration's three-year effort to enshrine the Ryan budget at the heart of the Republican Party would prove to have been a crucial push toward enacting that budget into law.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


At One B-School, Ice Hockey Is an Obsession : About half of the MBA students at Dartmouth choose to lace up skates around midnight on school nights. (MENACHEM WECKER, August 17, 2012, US News)

Nearly half of the 550 full-time students, as well as some of their partners, at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business in New Hampshire lace their skates up for one of the school's three leagues.

Tripods, named for a skater's two legs and stick, are the beginner men's and women's intramural teams, while an intermediate B team and advanced A team play other schools. "It's the fabric of the school," says Jeremy Sporn of the hockey games, which tend to occur at 11 p.m. or midnight on school nights--the only opportunities for students can get ice time.

Not only do games go into the wee hours of the morning, but students flock to the local bar, Murphy's on the Green, after the final whistle, says Sporn, a 2008 Tuck MBA and a senior associate at Oliver Wyman, a New York consulting firm that is part of the Fortune 500 company Marsh & McLennan.

Ice hockey teams are common on East Coast business school campuses, but the sport seems to be a particular obsession at Tuck. At the Cheesesteak Chalice, an ice hockey tournament hosted at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania that Sporn participated in, Tuck brought more teams than the much larger b-schools, he remembers. And Mike Lutzky, a 2006 Tuck MBA and principal at Oveo Solutions, a Washington, D.C.-based management consultancy, says hockey is contagious at Tuck.

"It's not New York, Chicago, Philly, or Boston, where people have networks outside school. This is rural new England. It's 40 below [zero] with wind chill on winter mornings," Lutzky says. "People don't leave for the weekends. Your network is your classmates, and hockey is a strong part of the culture."
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Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Stage Officially Set for Competitive Senate Contests in Wisconsin, Florida, Connecticut (JESSICA TAYLOR, AUGUST 15, 2012, Rothenberg Report)

Most Republicans in the state regarded Thompson as the strongest challenger to Baldwin anyway, and some privately had concerns that either Hovde or Neumann couldn't match up. And while the former governor once had crossover appeal to independents and Democrats, the 70 year-old Thompson now faces a much polarized electorate than in the nineties. The NRSC has reserved $5 million of ad time in Wisconsin, while the DSCC has not yet made a reservation. Republicans believe they can paint Baldwin as too out of touch with the state and were enthused by Gov. Scott Walker's successful rebuff of the June recall, but this race remains very close and should be an evenly matched race.

In Connecticut, Rep. Chris Murphy secured the Democratic nomination with his 68 percent to 32 percent victory over Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. Murphy will face 2010 Senate nominee Linda McMahon in the general election after the former wrestling executive easily defeated former Rep. Chris Shays, 73 percent to 27 percent, in the GOP primary.

Democrats can't take the fall race for granted but Republicans have a steep challenge against Murphy. McMahon will need to run up a large margin in the 5th Congressional District, the most Republican of the districts in Connecticut, but that will be difficult since Murphy has represented that area since he was elected to Congress in 2006. We continue to rate the race as Democrat Favored.

In Florida, Rep. Connie Mack cruised to the GOP nomination with 59 percent of the vote over former Rep. Dave Weldon (20 percent) and veteran Mike McCalister (14 percent). Sen. Bill Nelson also turned back nominal primary opposition, but he'll have much more to worry from with Mack in November.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


The Mediscare Boomerang (WSJ, 8/16/12)

In a normal political year, the liberal Mediscare tom-toms might have scared Republicans from this issue, and Mr. Ryan probably would have remained an admired if sidelined Congressman. But Mr. Obama decided via the Affordable Care Act to remake the entire health-care system including Medicare, and thus he also changed the politics.

The destructive policy and unpopularity of ObamaCare have made Paul Ryan's reform politically possible, meaning that voters may be open to hearing the real choice they face between command and control or private competition and more patient choice. Throw in the lousy economy and the Obama spending and debt binges, and the GOP this year has a chance to win a health-care debate if it goes on offense and contrasts its solutions to Mr. Obama's.

That's the real reason liberals and the press corps claim to be so upset by the Romney Medicare ad. By governing so far to the left, Mr. Obama may have neutralized Mediscare and made voters more receptive to center-right solutions. Medicare is already changing because it must. The difference this year is that Republicans have a plan to save it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


CO2 emissions in US drop to 20-year low (KEVIN BEGOS, 8/16/12, AP) 

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


There Is No California : Palo Alto and Fresno share a state government, but that's about it. (Victor Davis Hanson, 8/16/12, National Review)

"California" is a misnomer. There is no such state. Instead there are two radically different cultures and landscapes with little in common, the two equally dysfunctional in quite different ways. Apart they are unworldly; together, a disaster.

A postmodern narrow coastal corridor runs from San Diego to Berkeley; there the weather is ideal, the gentrified affluent make good money, and values are green and left-wing. This Shangri-La is juxtaposed to a vast impoverished interior, from the southern desert to the northern Central Valley, where life is becoming premodern.

With almost 40 million people it is at the outer margin of state size for economically successful democratic polities anyway.  It should be split up.
Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Stepped-up computer monitoring of federal workers worries privacy advocate (Lisa Rein, August 16, 2012, Washington Post)

Government workers have long known their bosses can look over their shoulder to monitor their computer activity. But now, prompted by the WikiLeaks scandal and concerns over unauthorized disclosures, the government is secretly capturing a far richer, more granular picture of their communications, in real time.

Federal workers' personal computers are also increasingly seen as fair game, experts said.

Nonintelligence agencies spent $5.6 billion in fiscal 2011 to safeguard their classified information with hardware, software, personnel and other methods, up from $4.7 billion in fiscal 2010, according to the Information Security Oversight Office. Although only a portion of the money -- the amount is not specified -- was spent on monitoring for insider threats, industry experts say virtually every arm of the government conducts some form of sophisticated electronic monitoring.

...but you do have the right to seek other employment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Plan's Costs Far Outweigh Its Benefits (Chye-Ching Huang, AUGUST 16, 2012, NY Times)

When considering whether to eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, we must ask: do the benefits outweigh the costs?

The costs are clear. Tax rates on capital gains and dividends that are lower than those on ordinary income encourage tax lawyers and accountants to create schemes to transform, on paper, "ordinary income" into capital gains and dividends. Time, talent and resources that could be used productively are instead poured into tax avoidance, creating a drain on the economy.

Why should we tax ordinary income either?

Six Policies Economists Love (And Politicians Hate) (THEO FRANCIS, 7/19/12, NPR)

Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that's good. Don't tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.

Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you're taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.

August 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


MORE: Despite Alarm by U.S., Europe Lets Hezbollah Operate Openly (NICHOLAS KULISH, 8/15/12, NY Times)
The European Union's unwillingness to place the group on its list of terrorist organizations is also complicating the West's efforts to deal with the Bulgarian bus bombing and the Syrian conflict. The week after the attack in Bulgaria, Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, traveled to Brussels for a regular meeting with European officials, where he called for the European Union to include Hezbollah on the list. But his pleas fell on deaf ears.

"There is no consensus among the E.U. member states for putting Hezbollah in the terrorist-related list of the organizations," Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the foreign minister of Cyprus, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, said at the time. "Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the E.U. would consider listing the organization."

The stark difference in views reflects the many roles that Hezbollah has played since it emerged in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982. Hezbollah's militant wing was responsible for a string of kidnappings and for sophisticated bombings at home and has been accused of bombings abroad. But the group also became a source of social services that the shattered Lebanese government was incapable of providing, and has evolved since then into a political force with two cabinet ministers and a dozen seats in Parliament.

"They are quite professional in this, and this is something some Western donors are admitting that has a positive impression on some Western politicians," said Stephan Rosiny, a research fellow at the Institute of Middle East Studies at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg.

That in turn provides a rationale for the group's charitable networks among Lebanese immigrants in Europe. "They may collect money for their institutions, but they aren't operating publicly," Mr. Rosiny said. "As long as they aren't involved in politics and aren't operating openly, they are tolerated."

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Medicare Myths, Debunked (PAUL WALDMAN AUGUST 16, 2012, The American Prospect)

You could easily just spend less on Medicare-give every senior a voucher for a couple of thousand dollars and be done with it. But that would do nothing to solve the larger health care problem, and would entail a spectacular cost in human suffering as millions of seniors go without health care in the way they did before 1965. That's why liberals want to use Medicare, the biggest player (and payer) within the health care system, to bring about system-wide changes that will bring down costs for everyone.

That then leads to the most significant practical difference in the approaches taken by Obama and Romney. Through the Affordable Care Act, Obama uses a variety of means-dozens of them, actually-to attempt to bring down costs within the existing program. But he does it while retaining Medicare's guarantee of coverage. Romney, on the other hand, explicitly refuses to entertain changes within Medicare itself. He doesn't propose changing the way Medicare pays for care, or suggest any pilot programs or any incentives to lower costs. Instead, he hopes that that competition with private insurers is all that's necessary to bring those costs down. If that doesn't work, his plan will shift more and more of the expense onto the seniors themselves. One approach says we can shape this program to make it work as well as possible and use it to leverage the kind of changes we'd all like to see in the broader health care market. The other says if we just get government out of the way, the market will produce optimal results on its own. can get as much soda as he wants and his mommy will pay for it; the other has to pay for his own soda.  In which system do we suppose the soda costs are higher?

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Shadow Inventory: It's Not as Scary as It Looks (Nick Timiraos, 8/15/12, WSJ)

There are several reasons why the shadow inventory isn't as scary as it sounds: It's concentrated in a handful of markets--it isn't inherently a national phenomenon. It is being offset by improved demand, particularly from investors. And the housing vacancy rate is low, a product of very little new home construction over the past few years that could counterbalance continued high inventories of foreclosed homes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


The Liberal Who Worked With Paul Ryan : Will Sen. Ron Wyden's Cross-the-Aisle Plan Haunt Democrats? (Nathan Guttman, August 16, 2012,, The Forward)

In their willingness to partner across party lines on Medicare, Ryan, who is Catholic, and Wyden also challenged the consensus positions of their respective faith communities, both of which oppose cutting health care plans for the elderly.

"Although many of us had very positive interactions with Senator Wyden, his position on this issue was out of sync with the community and with the majority of community organizations," said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc, a liberal Jewish advocacy organization.

Polling data support the notion that American Jews are not open to cutting government investment in Medicare. A 2005 wide-ranging survey found Jews to be the religious group most supportive of increasing government spending on health care. In more recent polls, Jews placed their concern over health care as one of the top factors in deciding who should get their vote.

According to the plan presented by Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, instead of having the government pay for seniors' health care costs through Medicare, they will be provided with vouchers to use for purchasing medical insurance from either Medicare or private insurers. But the vouchers are not designed to keep up with annual health insurance premium increases over time. And the costs that exceed the allowance would come out of the seniors' pockets. The rationale behind Ryan's plan was to introduce competitiveness into the program in the hope that it would decrease costs and rein in the growing expense of health plans.
Jewish organizations have spoken out against Ryan's proposals, which would affect many seniors in the community. The federation system of Jewish social service agencies that serve many of those seniors also relies heavily on funding from Medicare and Medicaid to do so.

Last April, the Jewish Federations of North America, a community umbrella organization, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs wrote a letter to members of Congress, urging them to oppose reforms such as those offered by Ryan. "Major entitlement programs," the letter stated, "protect the health and economic security of our most vulnerable citizens."
Wyden declined to make himself available to the Forward for comment on how his Jewish values have interacted with his thinking on Medicare.

As for Ryan, he, too, took a stance opposed to the consensus position of his faith -- though, the church being the church, that consensus is officially articulated by its religious leadership. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reacting to Ryan's remark that his budget proposals were shaped by his Catholic beliefs, sent a letter to Congress, arguing that the plans fails to meet "moral criteria" because of the cuts it proposes to programs serving the poor and vulnerable.

Ryan's views on abortions and religious rights are in full accord with those of the Catholic Church, but on economic issues the church leadership in the United States has traditionally supported a robust social safety net.

For Wyden, joining forces with Ryan to compose the Medicare reform proposals later known as the Ryan-Wyden plan was an opportunity to offer a practical solution for an entitlement program whose costs are growing out of control. "Wyden-Ryan doesn't privatize Medicare because Medicare beneficiaries already have the option of enrolling in private health insurance plans," Wyden argued in an article published in March. "Wyden-Ryan makes those private plans more robust and accountable by forcing them to -- for the first time -- compete directly with traditional Medicare."

Wyden has focused much of the work he does on Capitol Hill on tackling health care issues and working for seniors, a passion he's been carrying since his early years in public service. He strongly supported President Obama's Affordable Care Act and, despite his Medicare reform work with Ryan, he ended up voting against Ryan's broad budget plan, of which the Medicare reform was a part.

In public comments he has made on the issue, Wyden explained that he still thought the ideas raised in his joint proposal with Ryan on Medicare would help save that program.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Egypt's New Top General Has U.S. Ties : After President Morsi's Shake-Up, Military Is Run by Soldier Familiar to Washington; Generals' Retreat Seen as Tactical (MATT BRADLEY in Cairo and ADAM ENTOUS, 8/15/12, WSJ)

While the Obama administration wasn't caught off-guard by the choice of Mr. Sissi, it was taken aback by the timing, officials said. U.S. officials had expected Mr. Morsi to shake up the military's ranks, but they believe he opted to use a security crisis last week in the Sinai--in which militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers at a border post with Israel--as political cover to recast the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the body Field Marshal Tantawi once led.

U.S. officials said that as a former head of Egyptian military intelligence, Gen. Sissi has close ties to the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Mr. Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, dined with Gen. Sissi during a visit to Cairo in October, a sign to the visiting Americans that Gen. Tantawi wanted to put Gen. Sissi forward as a future leader. Gen. Sissi has also had extensive contact with the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson.

"This is someone who we've worked with for a long time, who has shown himself to be eager to work with the United States, who sees the value of peace with [Egypt's] neighbors," a senior Obama administration official said of Gen. Sissi. "What I think this is, frankly, is Morsi looking for a generational change in military leadership."

Mr. Sissi's appointment may also represent an ideal compromise between the secular-minded military old guard and Mr. Morsi's Brotherhood. People with knowledge of the Egyptian military said Gen. Sissi has a broad reputation within military circles as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer, a rare trait in a military culture inured against Islamism.

"Sissi is known inside the military for being a Muslim Brother in the closet," said Zeinab Abul Magd, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an expert on Egypt's military.

August 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin lifts GOP hopes for US Senate takeover (Mark Guarino, August 15, 2012, CS Monitor)

Thompson had flirted with a 2008 presidential bid, but decided against it. His claim to fame outside Wisconsin is as the governor who authored welfare-to-work legislation that later became the blueprint for welfare reform during the Clinton presidency. Thompson later became secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush and, in recent years, has been an influential Washington lobbyist.

Thompson has a reputation as a moderate who strikes compromises with Democrats, says Arnold Shober, a government professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

"He represents a George W. Bush version of what Republicans should be: that government is a good thing, that we don't need to get rid of it; tax relief is good, but let's also make government do good stuff. He compromised," Mr. Shober says.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Paul Ryan: Realist or Neocon? (Jacob Heilbrunn, August 15, 2012, National Interest)

The issue of Paul Ryan's foreign policy views is starting to attract some attention among the pundit class. Andrew Sullivan asked yesterday, "Is Paul Ryan A Neocon?" It's a fair question. [...]

How much of this justifies deeming Ryan a "neocon" may be questioned. But there is another, more compelling reason--apart from these Kremlinological tidbits--to surmise that Ryan is sympathetic to neocon views. It is this: the surprising thing would be if Ryan rejected neocon theology. The doctrine is dominant in the GOP. 

No, theology is dominant in the GOP.  Neocon doctrine is a pale substitute so that the secular can at least ape some of the language of the party. Believing in God means that Mr. Ryan has no need for such.

Likewise, his faith prevents him from being a libertarian, Atlas Spurned (JENNIFER BURNS, 8/14/12, NY Times)

[W]hen his embrace of Rand drew fire from Catholic leaders, Mr. Ryan reversed course with a speed that would make his running mate, Mitt Romney, proud. "Don't give me Ayn Rand," he told National Review earlier this year. "Give me Thomas Aquinas." He claimed that his austere budget was motivated by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which holds that issues should be handled at the most local level possible, rather than Rand's anti-government views.

This retreat to religion would have infuriated Rand, who believed it was impossible to separate government policies from their moral and philosophical underpinnings. Policies motivated by Christian values, which she called "the best kindergarten of communism possible," were inherently corrupt.

Free-market capitalism, she said, needed a new, secular morality of selfishness, one she promoted in her novels, nonfiction and newsletters. Conservative contemporaries would have none of it: William F. Buckley Jr. criticized her "desiccated philosophy" and Whittaker Chambers dubbed her "Big Sister."

Mr. Ryan's rise is a telling index of how far conservatism has evolved from its founding principles. The creators of the movement embraced the free market, but shied from Rand's promotion of capitalism as a moral system. They emphasized the practical benefits of capitalism, not its ethics. Their fidelity to Christianity grew into a staunch social conservatism that Rand fought against in vain.



Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
Posted by orrinj at 10:45 AM


Revised gov't protocol gives PM unprecedented powers : Ministers approve dramatic amendments to government protocol which enable Netanyahu to root out opposition to fateful decisions, delay implementation of approved decisions (Attila Somfalvi, 08.12.12,  Israel News

The government on Sunday approved amendments to its protocol which expand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's powers in an unprecedented manner in the backdrop of the Iran strike debate. Under the new protocol, the prime minister will have the power to delay motions passed by ministerial committees and the option to decide government voting orders.

They're just getting a jump on their undemocratic future.
Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Are tyrants good for art? : Culture thrives on conflict and antagonism, not social harmony - a point made rather memorably by a certain Harry Lime (John Gray, 8/15/12, BBC)

There was another turn in the story when, in 1949, George Orwell, by then in a sanatorium and dying of tuberculosis, was asked to supply the Foreign Office with a list of communist fellow travellers whose loyalty couldn't be counted on in the event of war with the Soviet Union. Orwell duly came up with a list, which included the name of Smolka, who was described as giving "the strong impression of being some kind of Russian agent".

Orwell has been much criticised for co-operating with the British authorities in this way, but it's worth remembering that during his time fighting with the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, he'd seen the ruthlessness with which those who served the Soviet Union treated its enemies.

It's hard to imagine the writer feeling any qualms in giving the authorities the list. After all, he was right about Smolka, who was revealed to have been a Soviet agent only after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Jinja Safari's inspiration out of Africa (Kate Kingsmill, 8/09/12, Sydney Morning Herald)
Whether you call it Afro-beat or African-inspired dream-folk-pop, Jinja Safari have a distinct African bent to their sound. So when lead vocalist Marcus Azon visited Uganda for the first time last year, it was a musical pilgrimage of sorts. The Sydney-based band of five take their name from the Ugandan town that Azon's grandmother is from, and in late 2011 Azon visited her on a trip that became a formative experience for several reasons. ''It was my first time to a developing nation at all so it was very shocking,'' Azon says. ''And it was a whole big mecca, going to Jinja, the source of the Nile, and to see my grandma. The band has totally changed my life, and she's a big inspiration musically and lyrically for the group.'' With the band on the verge of releasing their debut album - last year's release Locked by Land, which while being a 15-track long player, was technically a compilation of the band's first two EPs - the trip was perfectly timed. They took a recorder and came home with a whole lot of samples from Uganda and India that they plan to feature ''as much as possible'' in the new music, bringing more authenticity to the band's already distinctive Afro-pop sound. ''It's still five white guys from the inner city playing Afro beats,'' Azon says. ''It's not going to be like Paul Simon's Graceland or Rhythm of the Saints.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


China blames West for UN discord on Syrian war (AP, 8/15/12)

China has accused some Western countries of seeking regime change in Syria and blamed their increasing support for rebel forces in the civil war there as hurting the solidarity of the UN Security Council.

...if consensus were possible with an evil regime like China's, which we also need to change.  Assad's present is their future.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Rebels Reject Jihad : Are Reports of al-Qaida in Syria Exaggerated? (Kurt Pelda, Christoph Reuter and Holger Stark, 8/15/12, Der Spiegel)

Intelligence reports claim that members of the al-Qaida terrorist network are streaming into Syria to join the rebel ranks. But the rebels deny the allegations and say that jihadists are not welcome. In any case, it is the Assad regime that has long had ties to al-Qaida.

Some rebel checkpoints in Syria are currently flying the black flag of al-Qaida. One of the flags is attached to a stick stuck into a tire weighed down with rocks in front of a checkpoint manned by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo, the country's largest city. The Islamic creed, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God," is written in Arabic on the flag.

Even though it is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, the clean-shaven men at the checkpoint offer the foreign reporter something to drink. Some do not abide by the fasting requirement.
When asked whether they know they are flying the al-Qaida flag, one of the fighters responds: "Of course we know, but is it al-Qaida's invention? It's also the flag of the Prophet, and we fly it because we are Muslims and we are waging a holy war." [...]

[A]ssessments are based on a small number of sources that are sometimes murky. According to the Washington Post, the CIA didn't have a single agent in Syria by the end of July but, rather, "only a handful stationed at key border posts." In contrast to the situation in Libya a year ago, the Americans must now rely on information from the intelligence agencies of Turkey and Jordan.

...because they'd spotted baseball fields.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Who needs a license? Self-driving cars coming our way (Reuters, August 15, 2012)

While most industry officials don't envision a fully self-driving, or autonomous, vehicle before 2025, features such as adaptive cruise control or traffic jam assist that automatically slow or apply the brakes for a car in certain situations are already being introduced. And much like anti-lock brakes became the norm after initial resistance, these new technologies will prepare drivers for a future where they are needed less.

"The whole concept of a car being able to drive itself is pretty profound," said Larry Burns, GM's former research and development chief and an adviser for Google's self-driving car project. "This is the most transformational play to hit the auto industry in 125 years."

The progress has been in the making for decades as GM's Firebird II, introduced in 1956, included a system to work with an electrical wire embedded in the highway to guide the car. Three years later, the rocket-like Cyclone boasted an autopilot system that steered the car and radar in front nose cones that warned of a collision and automatically applied the brakes.

However, the pace of invention has quickened, with such automakers as GM, Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG developing technologies to help drivers avoid accidents. Some even envision a future where today's cars are more amusement.

"In the same way we all used to travel on horses and now horses are entertainment, you could imagine automobiles driven by people becoming more entertainment," said Chris Urmson, the Google program's technical head.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


CPI: No inflation in July (Annalyn Censky, August 15, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Consumer prices held steady last month, as falling energy prices largely canceled out slight increases in food, clothing and shelter. [...]

The central bank aims to keep core inflation around 2% a year. That measure, which strips out food and energy prices, is currently up 2.1%

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Honda's Fit EV gives battery cars a much-needed jolt (Alex Taylor III, 8/14/12, FortuneMagazine)

The Fit takes most of the mystery out of EVs, gives drivers a clear understanding of the car's potential as well as its limitations, and is more fun to drive than anything I've been in recently -- gasoline or electric.

The key is transparency. Honda has cleared away extraneous data from the instrument panel and prominently displayed the single piece of data most essential to EV drivers: range.

Moreover, the range decreases in a measured, methodical way that -- at least in my experience -- isn't subject to any stomach-churning drops. There's nothing like being ten miles from home after being abruptly informed that your EV range has sunk to nine miles.

All the factors that can affect driving range are clearly posted. The Fit EV has three levels of energy usage: Econ, Normal, and Sport. Select any of the three, and the change in range registers immediately. Turn on an energy-sucking accessory like air conditioning or heater, and another gauge passes on the bad news.

The Fit EV even has enough oomph to make it an eminently practical daily driver. Running in Econ mode, my fully recharged car registered a range of 116 miles. Shifting to normal driving and it dropped to 100 miles -- still ample for most uses. Sport mode exacted an additional mileage penalty of 10%, but it did increase the fun factor. Honda says the acceleration in sport mode is equivalent to a gasoline car like the Volkswagen Jetta with an engine displacement of 2.0 liters or more.

Quick and responsive, the gasoline-powered Fit has always been fun to drive, and the instant torque generated by the battery-powered motor makes it even more so. By, in effect, downshifting from Eco to Normal to Sport, you get an immediate and gratifying jump forward. Although the lithium-ion batteries add more than 600 pounds of weight, you hardly know they are there.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution (Ted Davis, 8/15/12, BioLogos)

The dictionaries I checked don't define the term, "theistic evolution," so I offer my own definition: the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans. Some might find this a vague definition, since (for example) it doesn't include the adjective "Darwinian" before "evolution," but that would eliminate most of the people prior to World War Two who would otherwise fit the definition. On the other hand, if we left out a specific reference to human evolution, then the category would be even larger, since a number of important Christian writers have accepted evolution among the "lower animals," while explicitly rejecting it for human beings. We could argue endlessly about such things, and not pointlessly; my point here is simply to be clear about terminology.

...Natural and Theistic evolution are indistinguishable.  We choose between the two based on faith alone.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Pussy Riot's stunning victory over Putin's bureaucrats : Russia's crackdown on punk group Pussy Riot has handed Vladimir Putin's opponents a victory and begun a new phase in Russian politics (John Lough, 8/14/12, The Telegraph)

A guilty verdict is an almost foregone conclusion since acquittals by Russian courts are virtually unheard of. In 92 per cent of the 178 cases overseen by Judge Syrova, the defendants have been found guilty. The question, therefore, is whether the women will receive a suspended sentence or a jail term. The prosecutor is calling for them to be jailed for three years.

However, what is more interesting than the outcome is how the Russian system set out to punish three young punk anarchists, and ended up playing into their hands by making their case a Dreyfus affair at home and a cause célèbre abroad.

This is a result far beyond the wildest dreams of a hitherto marginal group of activists

The Putin system has made a PR catastrophe out of a situation that could have been easily contained with an administrative fine for a public order offence.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


The U.S. Natural-Gas Boom Will Transform the World : North America's massive resources are going to shift market power away from OPEC and Russia and to consuming nations. (JOHN DEUTCH, 8/14/12, WSJ)

Two summers ago, natural gas cost $4.50 per thousand cubic feet, which was less than half what it had cost two summers earlier. Today the price is under $2.50, as unconventional natural gas production has increased to 20% of domestic supply from 5% in 2008, with 40% anticipated by 2020.

Meanwhile, North Dakota's Bakken/Three Rivers field produces 600,000 barrels a day of unconventional oil--up from 250,000 barrels in 2010 and less than half that in 2008--making that state the second-largest U.S. oil producer. With such changes happening so fast, it's timely to consider their implications.

A United States hopelessly dependent on imported oil and natural gas is a thing of the past. Most energy experts now project that North America will have the capacity to be a net exporter of oil and natural gas by the end of this decade. whether the global economy can afford for us to be a net exporting nation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Most People Who Take Blood Pressure Medication Possibly Shouldn't (Jeanne Lenzer, Aug. 14, 2012, Slate)

A new study is turning decades of medical dogma on its head. A panel of independent experts reports this week that drugs used to treat mild cases of high blood pressure have not been shown to reduce heart attacks, strokes, or overall deaths.

Most of the 68 million patients in the United States with high blood pressure have mild, or Stage 1, hypertension, defined as a systolic (top number) value of 140-159 or a diastolic (bottom number) value of 90-99. The new review suggests that many patients with hypertension are overtreated--they are subjected to the possible harms of drug treatment without any benefit.  

The study was conducted by the widely respected Cochrane Collaboration, which provides independent analyses of medical data. The "independent" part is important: The panelists who conducted the analysis don't take money from drug companies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


What kind of conservative is Ted Cruz? (Dana Milbank, Tuesday, August 14, 2012, Washington Post)

During the 2000 presidential campaign, I went to Austin to profile the whippersnappers on George W. Bush's team. Bush headquarters was full of young talent, but one man surprised me with his blatant audition to be featured in my article.

This eager staffer told me about how at Princeton he was the nation's top debater, about his Supreme Court clerkship and his time on the Harvard Law Review, and about his well-placed connections. When I mentioned this self-promotional effort to a senior Bush adviser, I received a knowing eye-roll in response, and I decided to focus my profile on somebody else.

August 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Ryan's controversial Social Security plan he doesn't discuss (Tami Luhby, August 14, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Representative Paul Ryan has long wanted to let Americans invest part of their Social Security taxes in private investment accounts.

After legislation he co-sponsored in 2005 went nowhere, Ryan included a detailed plan to privatize Social Security in his budget proposal in 2010. Under that plan, he would allow workers to funnel an average of roughly 40% of their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts.

Mitt Romney, who chose the Wisconsin lawmaker as his running mate on Saturday, has also voiced support for private accounts. He has said he likes the idea of allowing people to put some of their funds in accounts with higher returns than Social Security.

"Personal accounts will be a big plus," Romney said at a town hall meeting in 2007.

The thinking is that people would gain control over a portion of their retirement savings and be able to build bigger nest eggs by investing in stocks. Another plus: They could pass the accounts along to heirs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Wells Fargo in $6.5 million SEC settlement over risk disclosure (James O'Toole, August 14, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Wells Fargo will pay $6.5 million to settle charges that it failed to disclose the risks of complex investments it sold to municipalities, non-profits and other customers, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday.

In 2007, the SEC said, Wells Fargo recommended that its institutional clients, typically interested in more conservative investments, buy into complex investments tied to high-risk mortgage-backed securities. Wells Fargo staff made these recommendations without understanding "the true nature, risks, and volatility behind these products," and typically without sharing those risks with customers, the SEC said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Baroness Trumpington: 'At my age I don't give a damn what I say' : From cracking U-boat codes to flicking a V-sign in the Lords, the formidable 89-year-old Baroness Trumpington has done it her way (Elizabeth Grice, 14 Aug 2012, The Telegraph)

At nearly 6ft tall, dressed in a pale grey suit and black patent shoes and trailing a cloud of Paloma Picasso perfume, she is almost too magnificent for domestic life, gracious though her style of domesticity is. People like to caricature her as stentorian, and it's true that her voice leaves no corner of the House of Lords chamber unscoured, but in her quieter moments I have never heard anyone speak with such a lovely intonation.

Where most people have family photographs, she has a storyboard of modern British history: a warmly signed photo of John Major, a picture of her with Ted Heath, a framed letter from Gordon Brown, thanking her for "the vital service" she performed for the country at Bletchley Park during the war. In another photo, resplendent in Royal Mail red, she is next-but-one to the Queen at a state banquet. What was Her Majesty like to talk to? "Cosy."

Then there is the black-and-white image of her inspecting raspberry canes with Lloyd George, when she was a land girl on his Sussex farm in 1940. "I hated being a land girl," she says. "There were only old men there. The young ones had joined up. And it was all apples. No animals, which I love. I lived in Miss Stevenson's bungalow [Lloyd George's mistress and later wife]. I liked her very much."

The land girl episode was mercifully brief, releasing Baroness Trumpington -- or Jean Campbell-Harris, as she was then -- for more exciting duties at the cipher intelligence centre at Bletchley Park. She is free now to talk about how she helped to crack the German U-boat code, but decades of imposed silence have calcified into habit. "You can -- but you can't," she says. "None of us can because we have kept quiet for so long. The shifts were the worst thing: nine to six, four to midnight, midnight to nine. You could never get a sleep pattern. I was tired all the time."

That didn't stop her hitch-hiking to London on 48-hour leaves and dancing all night.

Just as it seems as if the subject of Bletchley has run out of steam, she remembers a "very unsuitable" incident from those days. She and her small group specialising in the analysis of German naval signals were punished for singing the Horst-Wessel-Lied, the Nazi Party's anthem. "You had nothing to do but work so you got up to mischief," she explains. "I know the whole thing."

Suddenly, she breaks into song: "Die Fahne hoch! Die Reiten fest geschlossen! Very naughty, but we were very young."

Anyone who has kept up with the long life and energetic times of the Conservative life peer will know that naughtiness has not been confined to her youth. Only a few months ago, she was captured on camera giving a two-finger sign to Lord King of Bridgwater when he unwisely (and incorrectly, as it happens) referred to her as looking "pretty old" during a Remembrance Day debate.

Twitter fans made her a celebrity overnight. At first she tried to pretend that her fingers had flown up involuntarily, or that she was primping her hair, but she knew it was no good. "It was entirely between him and me -- I thought. I wasn't conscious of there being television [cameras there]. I did that [she repeats the gesture with faux innocence] to his face. His family say he is famous now."

And her gesture has enriched the English idiom. Richard Ingrams, editor of The Oldie magazine, wrote of an obstructive female Morris dancer recently: "I couldn't resist giving her a Baroness Trumpington." Age and a certain bullying charm have licensed her to behave badly when she wants to get her own way in the Lords.

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Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


The Forgotten History of Ryan's Medicare Reform : How the House budget chairman developed his premium-support concept, which was originally supported by Democrats. It's the only plan that won't send grandma over a cliff. (JOSEPH RAGO, 8/14/12, WSJ)

Premium support was first proposed by Stanford economist Alain Enthoven in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1978. He observed that the pervasive methods of direct economic regulation of health care did not contain costs and suggested that "managed competition" would do a better job.

'The point," Mr. Enthoven wrote, "is that government has certain limitations that are deeply rooted, if not inherent. Government is good at some things, such as taking money from taxpayers and paying it to social-security beneficiaries, and maintaining competition in many industries; it performs badly at other things." Premium support's "cumulative effect is intended to alter the system radically, but gradually and voluntarily, in the long run."

Mr. Enthoven's reform models were the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, created in 1959, and Calpers, the California health-insurance program for public employees. He used premium support when he designed the Stanford faculty health plan.

Mr. Enthoven's ideas won some support in the Carter administration. Deregulation czar Alfred Kahn publicly endorsed them. Missouri Democrat Dick Gephardt, of all people, pushed them in Congress.

In the 1990s, premium support's chief advocates were Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution and Bob Reischauer of the Urban Institute. Neither shop is known as a hatchery for conservative ideology. (Mr. Aaron has since recanted.) President Clinton's 17-member Medicare commission, chaired by Louisiana Democrat John Breaux, endorsed the reform in 1999.

But Mr. Ryan did what a million blue-ribbon panels never could: In late 2010 and 2011, he led an internal struggle to educate and convince the risk-averse Republican caucus to get behind his plan. Newt Gingrich's notorious remark about "right-wing social engineering" gives a flavor of the objections. The main doubters were the careerist old guard.

When Mr. Ryan's ideas had no chance of enactment, liberals praised his sincerity. President Obama lauded "a serious proposal" worthy of "healthy debate" in 2009. When the House GOP dared to include it in their budget, liberals responded with varying degrees of hysteria. Mr. Obama recently savaged premium support as "social Darwinism," and that was the subtle part.

The main objection is that the premium supports wouldn't keep pace with the rising health costs that Medicare now promotes, forcing seniors to pay for the overflow out of pocket. But that assumes doctors and hospitals won't change their behavior when the incentives change.

If they have to pay out of pocket the costs won't rise.
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Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Zimemrman's Lawyer Says He Doesn't Need 'Stand-Your-Ground' to Win (ADAM MARTIN , 8/14/12, Atlantic)

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, told The Associated Press' Kyle Hightower that the facts didn't support a stand-your-ground argument, which is a Florida statute that gives people the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without backing down. Another 23 states have similar statutes. As a refresher, let's look at the language of that law, via the state's online statutes:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

That describes Trayvon Robinson, not the armed man who pursued and accosted him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The $99 box that wants to crush the Xbox : The designers of the Ouya game console set out to raise $900,000 on Kickstarter. Instead they brought in over $8 million -- and became the most talked about device maker in tech. (Peter Suciu, 8/14/12, Fortune)

 It could be the ultimate high score. Hardware start-up Ouya began a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year hoping to raise $950,000. In the end, it generated enough excitement to bring in more than $8.5 million.

The Los Angeles, California-based startup with the funny sounding, vowel-laden name aims to upend the traditional console gaming market by selling a low-cost gaming system. Based on Google's (GOOG) Android operating system, the system will feature a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB internal flash storage, HDMI and Wifi connections as well as a wireless controller. Ouya won't be in the business of selling discs -- unlike Microsoft (MSFT), Nintendo (NTDOY) and Sony (SNE). Instead, the company will adopt the app store model that has made Apple's (AAPL) products into a gaming phenomenon.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Trading Places : 'The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City' : a review of THE GREAT INVERSION AND THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN CITY By Alan Ehrenhalt  (FRED SIEGEL, August 10, 2012, NY Times Book Review)

The title of his book refers to both the growth of downtown living in once forbidding neighborhoods and, contrary to expectations, the movement of immigrants into the suburbs. Cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, he argues, are "gradually coming to resemble" European cities like Vienna or Paris in the 19th century, when the well-to-do lived in the center city and the working classes lived in the suburban rings around the downtown.

And according to Ehrenhalt, today it's not even necessary to move downtown to achieve a sense of urbanity. He's right, although he doesn't cite the specifics. New shopping areas like the Glen in suburban Chicago have been built to suggest the feel of an old city center. Similarly, older suburban downtowns in Highland Park, Ill.; Downingtown, Pa.; and Westfield, N.J., have built on their architecture to create thriving districts with chic restaurants, cafes and boutiques. "Much of suburbia," he argues, "will seek to reinvent itself in a newly urbanized mode." [...]

Ehrenhalt has a hard time explaining what the successes of the new urbanism add up to, though he refers to the writings of Joel Kotkin, whom he describes as "perhaps the most prominent of the downtown debunkers." Kotkin has claimed, on the basis of census data, that the downtown revival Ehrenhalt applauds is merely a niche phenomenon. It is confined, Kotkin says, largely to singles, childless couples, wealthy empty nesters and recently graduated students transitioning to a delayed adulthood.

This argument shadows Ehrenhalt throughout his book. 

If you want to see the future of the American city look at Disneyworld.  You take the monorail in for the day but take your family home at night.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Paul Ryan's voting record: Big-spending conservatism (ANDREW RESTUCCIA and SEUNG MIN KIM, 8/13/12, Politico)

Paul Ryan rose to the top of the political ranks on his reputation as a conservative budget hawk. But his voting record shows him to be far from a pure fiscal conservative.

Ryan voted for the $700 billion bank bailout, the biggest Medicare expansion in U.S. history, a massive highway bill that included the "Bridge to Nowhere" and other big-ticket priorities when George W. Bush was president -- going to bat for a high-spending GOP agenda that the tea party base now looks on with regret.

If the tea party were the base, Mitt Romney wouldn't be the nominee.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Troubles Abroad Keep Cash Flowing to U.S. (SUDEEP REDDY, 8/13/12, WSJ)

The U.S., despite losing its coveted triple-A debt rating from Standard & Poor's last August, remains a magnet for money fleeing the globe's trouble spots. As Europe's debt crisis rages, turmoil in Greece, Spain or Italy sends investors rushing into the safe arms of the U.S. government.

Markets continue--for now--to worry far more about global economic weakness than rising U.S. obligations, pushing yields lower on Treasury debt. The nation can borrow for a decade for around 1.6%, a near-record low, as investors gladly hand over their money expecting almost no return, after factoring in inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Why Is There No Liberal Ayn Rand? : American conservatives have a canon. Why don't American liberals? (Beverly Gage|Posted Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, Slate)

Ask Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan how he became a conservative and he'll probably answer by citing a book. It might be Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Or perhaps he'll come up with Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom, or even Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. All of these books are staples of the modern conservative canon, works with the reputed power to radicalize even the most tepid Republican. Over the last half-century, they have been vital to the conservative movement's success--and to liberalism's demise.

We tend to think of the conservative influence in purely political terms: electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, picking away at Social Security, reducing taxes for the wealthy. But one of the movement's most lasting successes has been in developing a common intellectual heritage. Any self-respecting young conservative knows the names you're supposed to spout: Hayek, Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Albert Jay Nock. There are some older thinkers too--Edmund Burke, for instance--but for the most part the favored thinkers come out of the movement's mid-20th century origins in opposition to Soviet communism and the New Deal.

Liberals, by contrast, have been moving in the other direction over the last half-century, abandoning the idea that ideas can be powerful political tools.  

...liberalism is female.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Key test set for sustained hypersonic flight (W.J. Hennigan, 8/13/12, Los Angeles Times)

Since test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, engineers and scientists have dreamed of ever-faster aircraft. Now, they face one of their toughest challenges yet: sustaining hypersonic flight -- going five times the speed of sound or more -- for more than a few minutes.

In a nondescript hangar at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, a team of aerospace engineers has been putting the finishing touches on a lightning-quick experimental aircraft designed to fly above the Pacific Ocean at 3,600 mph. A passenger aircraft traveling at that speed could fly from Los Angeles to New York in 46 minutes.

On Tuesday a key test is set for the unmanned experimental aircraft X-51A WaveRider. It will take the aircraft -- attached to a B-52 bomber's wing -- from Edwards to about 50,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean near Point Mugu. From there, its high-speed journey at Mach 6 is expected to last only 300 seconds, but that's twice as long as it's ever gone at that speed.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Syria's Coming Sectarian Crack-Up : Assad's forces will retreat to the north, and an Iranian-backed Alawite canton will be born. (MICHAEL DORAN, 8/13/12, WSJ)

Syria is like Humpty Dumpty. Made up of four or five diverse regions glued together after World War I, the country is an accident of great-power politics. Like neighboring Lebanon, it has now dissolved into its constituent parts. The Free Syrian Army isn't a unified force but rather a network of militias, each with its own regional power base and external patron. [...]

The sectarian nucleus of the state has always been a defining characteristic of the Assad regime. But the Alawite order is collapsing today, and it will never be reconstituted. Syria is now a regional battleground, with Tehran and Moscow backing Assad while Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan back the rebels.

When Assad loses Aleppo and Damascus--and this loss is almost a certainty--his Russian and Iranian patrons won't abandon him. They have no other horse to ride in Syria. Instead they will assist in establishing a sectarian militia, an Alawite analogue to Hezbollah. In fact, such a militia is already rising up naturally, as Sunni defections transform the Syrian military into an overtly Alawite force.

If the rebels finally succeed in dislodging the regime from the main cities, it will retreat to the north, and the autonomous Alawite canton that Bashar al-Assad's grandfather envisioned will finally be born. "Alawistan," as the Mideast scholar Tony Badran called it, will join Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon as another sectarian island in the Iranian archipelago of influence.

What interest can Iran have in a weak heretic state?
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August 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Why I'm leaving the country I loved. (Mark Kitto, 8/08/12, Prospect)

Modern day mainland Chinese society is focused on one object: money and the acquisition thereof. The politically correct term in China is "economic benefit." The country and its people, on average, are far wealthier than they were 25 years ago. Traditional family culture, thanks to 60 years of self-serving socialism followed by another 30 of the "one child policy," has become a "me" culture. Except where there is economic benefit to be had, communities do not act together, and when they do it is only to ensure equal financial compensation for the pollution, or the government-sponsored illegal land grab, or the poisoned children. Social status, so important in Chinese culture and more so thanks to those 60 years of communism, is defined by the display of wealth. Cars, apartments, personal jewellery, clothing, pets: all must be new and shiny, and carry a famous foreign brand name. In the small rural village where we live I am not asked about my health or that of my family, I am asked how much money our small business is making, how much our car cost, our dog.

The trouble with money of course, and showing off how much you have, is that you upset the people who have very little. Hence the Party's campaign to promote a "harmonious society," its vast spending on urban and rural beautification projects, and reliance on the sale of "land rights" more than personal taxes.

Once you've purchased the necessary baubles, you'll want to invest the rest somewhere safe, preferably with a decent return--all the more important because one day you will have to pay your own medical bills and pension, besides overseas school and college fees. But there is nowhere to put it except into property or under the mattress. The stock markets are rigged, the banks operate in a way that is non-commercial, and the yuan is still strictly non-convertible. While the privileged, powerful and well-connected transfer their wealth overseas via legally questionable channels, the remainder can only buy yet more apartments or thicker mattresses. The result is the biggest property bubble in history, which when it pops will sound like a thousand firework accidents.

In brief, Chinese property prices have rocketed; owning a home has become unaffordable for the young urban workers; and vast residential developments continue to be built across the country whose units are primarily sold as investments, not homes. If you own a property you are more than likely to own at least three. Many of our friends do. If you don't own a property, you are stuck.

When the bubble pops, or in the remote chance that it deflates gradually, the wealth the Party gave the people will deflate too. The promise will have been broken. And there'll still be the medical bills, pensions and school fees. The people will want their money back, or a say in their future, which amounts to a political voice. If they are denied, they will cease to be harmonious.

Meanwhile, what of the ethnic minorities and the factory workers, the people on whom it is more convenient for the government to dispense overwhelming force rather than largesse? If an outburst of ethnic or labour discontent coincides with the collapse of the property market, and you throw in a scandal like the melamine tainted milk of 2008, or a fatal train crash that shows up massive, high level corruption, as in Wenzhou in 2011, and suddenly the harmonious society is likely to become a chorus of discontent.

How will the Party deal with that? How will it lead?

Unfortunately it has forgotten. The government is so scared of the people it prefers not to lead them.

In rural China, village level decisions that require higher authorisation are passed up the chain of command, sometimes all the way to Beijing, and returned with the note attached: "You decide." The Party only steps to the fore where its power or personal wealth is under direct threat. The country is ruled from behind closed doors, a building without an address or a telephone number. The people in that building do not allow the leaders they appoint to actually lead. Witness Grandpa Wen, the nickname for the current, soon to be outgoing, prime minister. He is either a puppet and a clever bluff, or a man who genuinely wants to do the right thing. His proposals for reform (aired in a 2010 interview on CNN, censored within China) are good, but he will never be able to enact them, and he knows it.

To rise to the top you must be grey, with no strong views or ideas. Leadership contenders might think, and here I hypothesise, that once they are in position they can show their "true colours." Too late they realise that will never be possible. As a publisher I used to deal with officials who listened to the people in one of the wings of that building. They always spoke as if there was a monster in the next room, one that cannot be named. It was "them" or "our leaders." Once or twice they called it the "China Publishing Group." No such thing exists. I searched hard for it. It is a chimera.

In that building are the people who, according to pundits, will be in charge of what they call the Chinese Century. "China is the next superpower," we're told. "Accept it. Deal with it." How do you deal with a faceless leader, who when called upon to adjudicate in an international dispute sends the message: "You decide"?

It is often argued that China led the world once before, so we have nothing to fear. As the Chinese like to say, they only want to "regain their rightful position." While there is no dispute that China was once the major world superpower, there are two fundamental problems with the idea that it should therefore regain that "rightful position."

A key reason China achieved primacy was its size. As it is today, China was, and always will be, big. (China loves "big." "Big" is good. If a Chinese person ever asks you what you think of China, just say "It's big," and they will be delighted.) If you are the biggest, and physical size matters as it did in the days before microchips, you tend to dominate. Once in charge the Chinese sat back and accepted tribute from their suzerain and vassal states, such as Tibet. If trouble was brewing beyond its borders that might threaten the security or interests of China itself, the troublemakers were set against each other or paid off.

The second reason the rightful position idea is misguided is that the world in which China was the superpower did not include the Americas, an enlightened Europe or a modern Africa. The world does not want to live in a Chinese century, just as much of it doesn't like living in an American one. China, politically, culturally and as a society, is inward looking. It does not welcome intruders--unless they happen to be militarily superior and invade from the north, as did two imperial dynasties, the Yuan (1271-1368) and the Qing (1644-1911), who became more Chinese than the Chinese themselves. Moreover, the fates of the Mongols, who became the Yuan, and Manchu, who became the Qing, provide the ultimate deterrent: "Invade us and be consumed from the inside," rather like the movie Alien. All non-Chinese are, to the Chinese, aliens, in a mildly derogatory sense. The polite word is "Outsider." The Chinese are on "The Inside." Like anyone who does not like what is going on outside--the weather, a loud argument, a natural disaster--the Chinese can shut the door on it. Maybe they'll stick up a note: "Knock when you've decided how to deal with it."

Leadership requires empathy, an ability to put yourself in your subordinate's shoes. It also requires decisiveness and a willingness to accept responsibility. Believing themselves to be unique, the Chinese find it almost impossible to empathise. Controlled by people with conflicting interests, China's government struggles to be decisive in domestic issues, let alone foreign ones. Witness the postponement of the leadership handover thanks to the Bo Xilai scandal. And the system is designed to make avoidance of responsibility a prerequisite before any major decision is taken. (I know that sounds crazy. It is meant to. It is true.)

A leader must also offer something more than supremacy. The current "world leader" offers the world the chance to be American and democratic, usually if they want to be, sometimes by force. The British empire offered freedom from slavery and a legal system, amongst other things. The Romans took grain from Egypt and redistributed it across Europe.

A China that leads the world will not offer the chance to be Chinese, because it is impossible to become Chinese. Nor is the Chinese Communist Party entirely averse to condoning slavery. It has encouraged its own people to work like slaves to produce goods for western companies, to earn the foreign currency that has fed its economic boom. (How ironic that the Party manifesto promised to kick the slave-driving foreigners out of China.) And the Party wouldn't know a legal system if you swung the scales of justice under its metaphorical nose. (I was once a plaintiff in the Beijing High Court. I was told, off the record, that I had won my case. While my lawyer was on his way to collect the decision the judge received a telephone call. The decision was reversed.) As for resources extracted from Africa, they go to China.

There is one final reason why the world does not want to be led by China in the 21st century. The Communist Party of China has, from its very inception, encouraged strong anti-foreign sentiment. Fevered nationalism is one of its cornerstones. The Party's propaganda arm created the term "one hundred years of humiliation" to define the period from the Opium Wars to the Liberation, when foreign powers did indeed abuse and coerce a weak imperial Qing government. The second world war is called the War of Resistance Against Japan. To speak ill of China in public, to award a Nobel prize to a Chinese intellectual, or for a public figure to have tea with the Dalai Lama, is to "interfere in China's internal affairs" and "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." The Chinese are told on a regular basis to feel aggrieved at what foreigners have done to them, and the Party vows to exact vengeance on their behalf.

The alternative scenario to a world dominated by an aggrieved China is hardly less bleak and illustrates how China already dominates the world and its economy. That is the increasing likelihood that there will be upheaval in China within the next few years, sparked by that property crash. When it happens it will be sudden, like all such events. Sun Yat Sen's 1911 revolution began when someone set off a bomb by accident. Some commentators say it will lead to revolution, or a collapse of the state. There are good grounds. Everything the Party does to fix things in the short term only makes matters worse in the long term by setting off property prices again. Take the recent cut in interest rates, which was done to boost domestic consumption, which won't boost itself until the Party sorts out the healthcare system, which it hasn't the money for because it has been invested in American debt, which it can't sell without hurting the dollar, which would raise the value of the yuan and harm exports, which will shut factories and put people out of work and threaten social stability.

I hope the upheaval, when it comes, is peaceful, that the Party does not try to distract people by launching an attack on Taiwan or the Philippines. Whatever form it takes, it will bring to an end China's record-breaking run of economic growth that has supposedly driven the world's economy and today is seen as our only hope of salvation from recession.

Fear of violent revolution or domestic upheaval, with a significant proportion of that violence sure to be directed at foreigners, is not the main reason I am leaving China, though I shan't deny it is one of them.

Apart from what I hope is a justifiable human desire to be part of a community and no longer be treated as an outsider, to run my own business in a regulated environment and not live in fear of it being taken away from me, and not to concern myself unduly that the air my family breathes and the food we eat is doing us physical harm, there is one overriding reason I must leave China. I want to give my children a decent education.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


You could be sick ...    ... but probably not  (Chicago Tribune, August 13, 2012)

"Worried well" is the term for people who spend too much time visiting the doctor and obsessing about their health even though there's nothing physically wrong with them.

Who can blame them? Doctors issue ever-evolving and often confusing advice on when, and if, screenings for various illnesses -- most recently prostate cancer -- are necessary. Even the annual physical exam is under fire because it often leads to tests that are useless or even harmful because they can prompt unnecessary follow-up procedures.

Yet public health officials extol more screenings and tests as a way to avoid illness.

Result: Untold billions of dollars are wasted every year by Americans for unnecessary scans, biopsies and tests. Not to mention all that anxiety waiting for the doctor's call with your test results.

Why are so many Americans well but worried? Because they're "encouraged to think like hypochondriacs" says Catherine Belling, a Northwestern University medical school professor who wrote a just-released book, "A Condition of Doubt: The Meanings of Hypochondria."

Belling blames "a public health culture of early detection and disease awareness that encourages us to think that we may well be sick even if we feel completely fine and have no symptoms."

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Paul Ryan's V.P. Nomination Kills Off Moderate Republicanism For Good (Geoffrey Kabaservice, August 12, 2012, The New Republic)

Ryan's scheme to turn Medicare into a capped voucher program would shift much of the burden of medical spending onto individuals but would do nothing to address the fact that the United States pays more for healthcare than any other developed country but gets worse outcomes.

Adam Smith wept.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Those Pesky Derivatives Strike Again (Michael Bobelian, 8/12/12, Forbes)

Derivatives stood at the center of AIG's downfall.  JPMorgan Chase is in the process of losing billions of dollars stemming from trades involving these financial products.  And they have been the target of numerous government investigations and multimillion dollar settlements involving Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Wachovia (which later merged with Wells Fargo) in recent years.

Now, it's Morgan Stanley's turn.  Only this time, it isn't being accused of selling dubious and enigmatic investments to naive investors.  Instead, federal regulators have claimed that the bank served as a counterparty with KeySpan (a utility) and the electricity provider's leading competitor as part of an effort to artificially prop up electricity prices in the New York metropolitan area.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Paul Ryan and the triumph of theory (E.J. Dionne Jr., August 12, 2012, Washington Post)

If Paul Ryan were a liberal, conservatives would describe him as a creature of Washington who has spent virtually all of his professional life as a congressional aide, a staffer at an ideological think tank and, finally, as a member of Congress. In the right's shorthand: He never met a payroll.

If they were in a sunny mood, these conservatives would readily concede that Ryan is a nice guy who's fun to talk to. But they'd also insist that he is an impractical ideologue. He holds an almost entirely theoretical view of the world defined by big ideas that never touch the ground and devotes little energy to considering how his proposed budgets might affect the lives of people he's never met.

In making Ryan his running mate, Mitt Romney guaranteed that this election will be about big principles, but he also underscored a little-noted transformation in American politics: Liberals and conservatives have switched sides on the matter of which camp constitutes the party of theory and which is the party of practice. Americans usually reject the party of theory, which is what conservatism has now become.

...but Mr. Ryan's positions are neither merely theoretical nor even mildly radical any longer, they're the mainstream practice of the Anglosphere and other Third Way countries since at least the Chicago Boys innovations of the Pinochet regime.  This initial example was quickly followed by the governments of Margaret Thatcher, Bob Hawke, and Labour in New Zealand. Eventually Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Stephen Harper, John Howard, John Key, Frederik Reinfeldt and others followed suit.  As these names suggest, not only do voters not reject the "party of theory," but throughout the English Speaking world in particular, identification with Third Way "theory" is the surest predictor of electoral success.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Housing bubble? What housing bubble? : Meet Paul Willen, a Boston Fed economist preaching a bad-news gospel: We won't see the crash coming next time, either. (Leon Neyfakh, AUGUST 03, 2012, Boston Globe)

[Paul Willen, a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston], moves through the world in a state of dismay and occasional fury at the fact that absolutely no one--not the media, not the public, and not his fellow economists--seems to understand the truth about what happened. Since 2008, Willen, a mortgage specialist, has pored over troves of data and emerged with a powerful, counterintuitive conclusion: that the real reason everything ended so badly wasn't adjustable rate loans, or government housing policy, or esoteric financial instruments. Rather, it was a single underlying assumption that almost everyone in the market, from bankers to home buyers, shared: that American house prices would continue to go up indefinitely.

Willen has spent the past four years trying to persuade people of what he sees in the data: that everyone in the drama acted perfectly rationally. Under the assumption that the real estate market would continue its steady rise, it made sense for families to buy homes they couldn't afford, and it made sense for bankers to buy up subprime mortgages. This belief --Willen thinks of it as a mass delusion--fueled an immense bubble that could not be reliably identified for what it was. [...]

Since 2008, Willen has been pressing his theory about the crisis in a series of academic papers and lectures. But while his job at the Fed gives him access to policy makers in the central bank, he has found himself firmly in the role of outsider in his own field. Critics say he underplays the extent to which the crisis was made more grave because of reckless decisions by lenders and bankers, and some suggest it's a cop-out--a way to spin the problem so that no one, especially the Fed, has to take any blame for what went wrong.

But if this theory excuses economic policy makers in the short term, in the bigger picture it attacks the very foundations of what they claim to do. Ultimately, Willen's argument can be seen as an indictment not of the players in the crisis, but of the field of economics, which he believes is fundamentally incapable of delivering the kind of insights and wisdom that some of its practitioners, as well as members of the public, believe it can.

"People think the bubble was driven by reckless underwriting," Willen said in an interview at the Boston Fed recently. "But the truth is the bubble was this thing that emerged kind of organically, and we don't really understand where it came from."

...which was killing immigration reform.  Removing tens of millions of prospective buyers was disastrous in itself, but it also exposed all the fraudulent activity that financial institutions had engaged in, hiding the real risk inherent in subprime mortgages.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Liberal Wyden's partnership with Ryan becomes a GOP talking point (Jason Horowitz, August 12, 20122, Washington Post)

Senator Ron Wyden, a lifelong liberal Democrat from Oregon, has emerged as a key Republican talking point in the 2012 presidential election.

In his proud pursuit of creative, if politically implausible, policy initiatives, Wyden has in the past teamed up with the likes of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the newly anointed Republican vice presidential candidate. Their collaboration on a Medicare reform proposal helped cement Wyden's reputation as a "King of Policy Wonks," as he is sometimes dismissively referred to within his caucus. And it also has given Republicans some cover on the campaign trail.

August 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


In Upheaval for Egypt, Morsi Forces Out Military Chiefs (KAREEM FAHIM, August 12, 2012, NY Times)

President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt forced the retirement on Sunday of his powerful defense minister, the army chief of staff and several senior generals, in a stunning purge that seemed for the moment to reclaim for civilian leaders much of the political power the Egyptian military had seized since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year.

Mr. Morsi also nullified a constitutional declaration, issued by the military before he was elected, that eviscerated the powers of the presidency and arrogated to the military the right to enact laws. [...]

The changes were part of the continuing fallout from the killings of 16 Egyptian soldiers one week ago in the Sinai Peninsula, which deeply embarrassed the military and exposed shocking intelligence failures. In the aftermath of the attack, Mr. Morsi moved swiftly to assert his newfound authority, firing his intelligence chief and the governor of Northern Sinai Governorate, and replacing several other top security officials.

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


"OUR CHURCHILLIAN MOMENT" (Paul Ryan, The Claremont Institute, Claremont, CA, Remarks as Prepared for Delivery , November 12, 2011)

Today, we face a new threat - a gathering storm, whose primary manifestation is the shadow of our ever-growing national debt.

This shadow hangs over businesses and workers, who face a struggling economy and the rising probability of greater turmoil ahead given our dire fiscal situation.

This shadow hangs over seniors, who wonder whether Washington is making empty promises to them about their retirement security.

And it hangs over parents, who wonder if they will be the first generation in American history to leave their children with fewer opportunities and a less prosperous nation than the one they inherited.

We hear rumblings of this storm coming from Europe - we hear the chanting of angry protesters, the shattering of glass, and the shouts of lawmakers as fistfights break out in European parliaments.

And the rumblings are getting louder here every day, because instead of learning from Europe's mistakes, we are repeating them.

Europe is learning the hard way what happens when you suddenly run out of road to kick the can down. And now its citizens are paying the consequences of decades of empty promises.

Churchill himself put it this way: "There are two ways in which a gigantic debt may be spread over new decades and future generations."

The right way, he said, would be "to make the utmost provision for amortization which prudence allows."

The wrong way, he said, would be "to aggravate the burden of debt by fresh borrowing, to live from hand to mouth and from year to year, and to exclaim with Louis the Fourteenth, 'After me, the deluge.'"

I don't need to tell you which path we're on. It's not too late to do this the right way - to get back on the right path. But there are two components to getting this right.

The first is to follow Churchill's advice: Prudently restrain government spending, while avoiding the kind of tax hikes that would stifle economic growth.

The second is to follow Churchill's actions: To lead by telling people the truth; to realize that we are not the first to face these kinds of challenges; and to meet our challenges as our forefathers met theirs, with determination and faith in the righteousness of our cause.

Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


5 keys to understanding Paul Ryan (Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan, August 12, 2012, Politico)

The continual theme of Ryan's legislative career has been a willingness to accept risks that would make more conventional politicians blanch. His budget proposals have widely been considered politically rash for the Republican Party -- pollsters, aides and commentators have told him that both publicly and privately.

When Republicans were in the minority, his attitude seemed to be that his party leadership be damned. He was determined to forth his proposals regardless of how few people signed on with him. GOP leaders sometimes responded in kind, distancing themselves from Ryan. He cheerfully shrugged his shoulders and kept moving.

But Ryan is not a full-time maverick, a reality that has been made clear since Republicans took back the House in the 2010 midterm elections. When House GOP leaders Boehner and Eric Cantor tell members they need to stand firm to party-line votes, Ryan is right there. And when leaders have tried to squeeze budget deals through the House -- even deals with which Ryan could find plenty of nits to pick -- he's kept his reservations to himself.

It is a combination of ideological advocacy and step-in-line loyalty that Romney, who is himself just getting to know Ryan, apparently found quite attractive.

Rather than get bogged down in the details of his own budget, he needs to answer every attack with one line: "I've told you exactly where I'd make cuts, where do your automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts come from?"  

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


Jewish groups vet VP pick Ryan through fiscal lens (RON KAMPEAS, August 12, 2012, Times of Israel)

The National Jewish Democratic Council said Ryan does "not reflect Jewish community values."

David Harris, the NJDC president, said in a statement that "Ryan's signature budget plan drew the profound concern and even ire of many in the American Jewish community because of its plans to end Medicare as we know it, slash vital social safety net programs, and increase the burden on seniors, the middle class, and the poor."

And here we thought Ron Wyden was Jewish...

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Romney's Stunning, Terrible Choice of Ryan for VP (Michael Tomasky Aug 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

So he'll get some good press, and he'll generate great enthusiasm among conservative intellectuals. But the introduction of him to the American people will inevitably involve some other things, too. It will involve explanations from the media that he is the GOP's archconservative theoretician. It will involve explaining who Ayn Rand is. It will involve going into detail on his budget, and in particular his plans for Medicare.

...Democrats will now pivot to budget minutiae and objectivism?  Well, that is what comes of having no record to run on.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Dave Camp: Is Tax Reform Politically Possible? : He may be the last optimist in Washington, but the House Ways and Means chairman says the need for faster economic growth and some cultivated bipartisanship can fix the tax code. (STEPHEN MOORE, 8/11/12, WSJ)

The model Mr. Camp has in mind happened 26 years ago, the last time Congress had the fortitude to look under the hood of the tax code and clean the engine. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was negotiated by the Reagan administration, Democratic Rep. Dan Rostenkowski and Republican Sen. Bob Packwood. It was one of the true bipartisan triumphs of modern times, passing with 97 Senate votes, including those of current Senate Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Charles Schumer.

The 1986 tax reform eliminated most special-interest deductions and loopholes, lowering the top income-tax rate to 28% from 50%. Harvard economist Dale Jorgenson says the gains to economic growth from the lower rates and the simplified code increased GDP by more than $1 trillion, and that a similar reform now could increase national wealth over the long term by $7 trillion in net present value.

But in the 1990s and 2000s Congress began tinkering again, a lot of the junk removed from the code "has been put right back in," and tax rates started rising. Mr. Camp's calculates that "we've made 5,000 changes to the tax code just in the last 10 years." He says the whole system is so complicated that even the corporate lobbyists who form long lines outside his office seeking tax favors "are now telling me, 'Please fix the code. Give us less paperwork and a 25% rate and we'll gladly give up our loopholes.'"

Although he likes the flat tax that Steve Forbes popularized 16 years ago, his draft plan calls for two rates--10% for most Americans and 25% on six-figure earners and above. To ensure that tax reform gets a fair hearing, he says Republicans plan to create a "fast-track" authority so that the compromise doesn't get bogged down in committees and is assured an up or down vote on the House floor.

"We're not competitive on taxes anymore, especially in terms of international tax," he says. "We've got the highest corporate rate in the world, and we're the only country left with a world-wide system of taxation. We need to be on the cutting edge of tax and economic policy in the world so that we're the center of innovation, effort, growth, jobs."

...why would you tax income if you want people to make money?

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Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Sleep Your Way to the Top: How Sleep Equals Success : A growing number of research studies suggest that sleep may be the secret to performing at your highest level, writes David K. Randall. Everyone from the military to athletes are starting to get serious about  (David K. Randall, 8/11/12, Daily Beast)

After struggling for almost a minute in a November debate to come up with the third federal agency he'd eliminate should he win the Oval Office, Texas Gov. Rick Perry finally admitted he couldn't remember.

While his campaign quickly tried to limit the damage, there had been earlier signs that Gov. Perry was in trouble that had little to do with his campaign war chest, his policies, or his personal charisma. Instead, they had everything to do with his pillow.

"We had a tired puppy," one of Perry's Republican allies told The New York Times after the governor had performed poorly in a string of earlier debates. Aides tried to rework his schedule in order for Governor Perry to get more hours of slumber, but it apparently wasn't enough before that November night.

For most of us, it's easy to see the stumble as nothing more than a memorable gaffe. Yet Governor Perry's moment of forgetfulness should also serve as the sum of all fears for anyone who sees sleep as something that can be put off or overlooked without painful consequences. When a person lies down to sleep at night, the brain undergoes a process that is crucial to learning, memory, and performance in ways that scientists are only now beginning to understand. Though the exact mechanisms of the brain remain unclear, studies have suggested that time spent dozing has helped research subjects solve puzzles faster, pick up new skills with better results, and think more quickly on their feet.

Why does sleep help turn us into more competent versions of ourselves? Part of the answer is the simple fact that chronic sleep deprivation, which for most of us means routinely getting six or less hours of sleep each night, essentially makes us feel and act like we're drunk.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Ryan's Charge Up Entitlement Hill : The GOP's fiscal leader explains why House Republicans will vote to reform Medicare and why the public is ready to listen. (PAUL GIGOT,  February 19, 2011, WSJ)

Senate Democrats like Chuck Schumer issue almost daily press releases attacking Mr. Ryan, Paul Krugman is obsessed and demeaning, and even President Obama can't stop mentioning him. Only this week, the president justified his own failure to tackle entitlements in his dud of a 2012 budget by saying that "the chairman of the House Republican budgeteers didn't sign on" to the final report of Mr. Obama's deficit commission.

What are they all so afraid of?

"Did he really say that?" asks Mr. Ryan about the president, sitting in his House office this week after another day of the hearings he now runs as chairman of the House Budget Committee. "I'm actually flattered." Perhaps they're worried, he says, "because we put out more than just bromides and platitudes. We put out specifics."

He certainly has done that, most famously with his "Road Map" that is the full monty of conservative tax and entitlement reform. Mr. Ryan knows it won't pass, not even in the current GOP House, but he drew it up in 2009 to start a debate and show that a future of limited government was still possible. He adds that he opposed the Obama deficit commission report because it failed to do anything serious about health-care entitlements, and he proposed an alternative that the commission rejected. Mr. Obama has never proposed his alternative.

Has the president ever called him to talk? "Never once," he says, notwithstanding Mr. Obama's many public statements that he wants "aggressive" conversations with Republicans, especially Mr. Ryan. "He keeps saying that," says the Wisconsin native, but "they don't talk to us. It just doesn't really happen. I don't know what else to say."

So goes the reality of today's Washington, especially after Mr. Obama dropped his budget this week that does almost nothing about everything. To call it a punt is unfair to the game of football. That abdication makes Mr. Ryan, by dint of his expertise and his influence with other Republicans, the most important fiscal voice in Washington. As supply-siders used to say--and Mr. Ryan came of political age as a protege of Jack Kemp--Mr. Ryan is now the man on the margin. He says he's determined not to waste the opportunity, notwithstanding the huge political risks.

All this time spent wondering how Mr. Romney decided on Paul Ryan, when all you have to do is look at the polling:

Next, how important a priority should each of the following issues be for the next president -- extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not that important. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]? July 2012 results

MORE: Democracy Corps' House Battleground: Is Medi-Scare Working? (Topline Translator, 8/07/12)

[I]n its analysis, Democracy Corps declares, "Ryan budget barely gets popular support" (pg. 35). What they choose to ignore is that the question they are referencing shows support for the Ryan budget at 52 37% -- a +15% margin.


POLLSTER: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Democracy Corps

DATE: Conducted 7/21-26/2012; Released 8/1/2012

SAMPLE: Sampled 1,000 Likely 2012 Voters in 54 Republican-held Battleground Districts; MoE ± 3.1%


@ToplineReport Democracy Corps' House Battleground: Is Medi-Scare Working? #tcot

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Two Prisms for Looking at China's Problems (TYLER COWEN, August 11, 2012, NY Times)

The Austrian perspective introduces some scarier considerations. China has been investing 40 percent to 50 percent of its national income. But it is hard to invest so much money wisely, particularly in an environment of economic favoritism. And this rate of investment is artificially high to begin with.

Beijing is often accused of manipulating the value of its currency, the renminbi, to subsidize its manufacturing. The government also funnels domestic savings into the national banking system and grants subsidies to politically favored businesses, and it seems obsessed with building infrastructure. All of this tips the economy in very particular directions.

The Austrian approach raises the possibility that there is no way for China to make good on enough of its oversubsidized investments. At first, they create lots of jobs and revenue, but as the business cycle proceeds, new marginal investments become less valuable and more prone to allocation by corruption. The giddy booms of earlier times wear off, and suddenly not every decision seems wise. The combination can lead to an economic crackup -- not because aggregate demand is too low, but because the economy has been producing the wrong mix of goods and services.

TO keep its investments in business, the Chinese government will almost certainly continue to use political means, like propping up ailing companies with credit from state-owned banks. But whether or not those companies survive, the investments themselves have been wasteful, and that will eventually damage the economy. In the Austrian perspective, the government has less ability to set things right than in Keynesian theories.

Furthermore, it is becoming harder to stimulate the Chinese economy effectively. The flow of funds out of China has accelerated recently, and the trend may continue as the government liberalizes capital markets and as Chinese businesses become more international and learn how to game the system. Again, reflecting a core theme of Austrian economics, market forces are overturning or refusing to validate the state-preferred pattern of investments.

Not only are such maladaptations disastrous in themselves, but the demographic implosion that accompanied the PRC's dead ends can't be fixed by Keynes nor the Austrians.
Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


LESSONS FROM SWEDEN IN ASSEMBLING A RECOVERY (David Smith, 8/12/12, Sunday Times of London)

Though Sweden's latest GDP figures were a surprise, and have resulted in a hurried upward revision of 2012 growth forecasts, they were no flash in the pan.

After slumping 5% in 2009, Sweden's economy surged 5.8% in 2010 and 4% last year. Britain shrunk a little less in 2009, 4%, but grew only 1.8% in 2010 and 0.8% last year. Leaving aside the vagaries of the data, the maths suggest any growth this year will be difficult. Sweden's economy is well above pre-crisis levels of GDP, while Britain's is more than 4% below it.

What is Sweden's secret? It helps to have had a banking crisis in the past. The Swedish crisis of the early 1990s was used as a template in the wider crisis of 2008-9.

Bust banks were nationalised and assets sold off. Taxpayer funds were injected at considerable cost. The banks were later privatized and, on some measures, at no overall cost to government of the rescue.

The episode did not make Sweden immune to the crisis in 2008-9, as the GDP figures show. But, unlike in Britain, there has been no prolonged banking hangover.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Romney shakes the race with pick of Ryan (Dan Balz, August 11, 2012, Washington Post)

Ryan's addition to the ticket shows that Romney is prepared to run a more robust campaign with a sharper message built around tax and spending cuts, deficit reduction and entitlement reform. That is exactly what a growing chorus of Republicans, nervous about the direction of the Romney campaign, has been urging.

A Romney-Ryan ticket will help to clarify the choices for voters in November. Rarely have the two parties presented such a stark contrast in visions as now appears to be the case. Those competing visions could produce, after a summer of often small-minded tactics, the kind of big debate about the country's future that both Obama and Romney have said this campaign should be about.

Except that, as Mr. Obama's acceptance of Simpson-Bowles and willingness to enact a grand compromise with John Boehner demonstrate, there is no contrast in vision, only some quibbling over details. Indeed, Mr. Obama has already signed into law $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts via sequestration, including cuts to Medicare.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


A Romney win just got scarier  (ANDREW LEONARD, 8/12/12, Salon)

You know who the real winners are? Wonks! Back in 2008, wonks had a field day comparing the merits of Obama's (no mandate) and Hillary Clinton's (yes mandate) healthcare plans. But ever since Romney secured the Republican nomination, it's been a wonk nightmare. There's no there there in his policy proposals, no numbers to crunch, no planks in his platform. But now we've got the Ryan plan to crank on. We've got details! Sure, they might be details that poll horribly when explained to the average voter, but they invite serious engagement nonetheless. Get used to it -- because we're all going to be getting up to speed on the cost-benefit analysis of Medicare vouchers lickety-split.

And just as all the wonks knew that health care reform would require mandates, so too do they know that the future of the Welfare State is vouchers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Fellow Dems beware: Ryan offers solutions : Like them or not, he's proposed specific answers to major problems (Rick Jasculca, August 12, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

With all of the bizarre twists and turns of the campaign, it sometimes is difficult to remember that the state of the U.S. economy remains the number one issue for voters. Likewise, the staggering budget deficit continues to be a significant and substantive piece of the economic puzzle.

Only two actual deficit reduction plans have been put on the table -- the bipartisan and much acclaimed Simpson-Bowles Commission plan and the Paul Ryan budget plan.

While I like much if not all of Simpson-Bowles, I have serious concerns about many key elements of the Ryan budget. That said, nobody's plan is going to get adopted whole hog, even if you could find more than a handful of folks actually willing to tackle the challenge.

In Ryan, Romney has selected a smart, thoughtful, capable, handsome and articulate guy -- also a great family man -- who has actually done something on this issue we all call vital to our national interest.

Just because I and other Democrats think the Ryan plan is flawed (I'm always concerned with solutions based strictly on numbers rather than also factoring in human consequences, intended or not), the reality is that Romney now has a running mate who actually proposed a specific and comprehensive solution to one of our most sweeping national problems. And he's an attractive candidate.

No one ever read the Contract with America, but its existence made the GOP seem a serious alternative.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


We'll miss Bashar Assad when he's gone (Marvin Zonis, August 12, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

This miserable autocrat who kills his own people and bombs his own cities and has done so since March 2011 will fall. When? Who knows? Not today. Not tomorrow. But his fall will come. Then we will wish Bashar Assad were back.

We will wish he were back because the institutions of Syria, largely built by Hafez Assad, Bashar's father, will collapse along with the Assad regime.

Syria will become an anarchist's paradise. With no central state, the militias now fighting the regime will fight each other, seeking to control territory, expand their bases and control the center.

The most likely winners will be the Islamists.

August 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Mr. Ryan's Cramped Vision (NY Times, August 11, 2012)

Mitt Romney's safe and squishy campaign just took on a much harder edge. A candidate of no details -- I'll cut the budget but no need to explain just how -- has named a vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, whose vision is filled with endless columns of minus signs. Voters will now be able to see with painful clarity just what the Republican Party has in store for them.

...given an electorate that believes the federal government spends too much money, wastes most of what it spends and that the middle class receives next to none of it, Democrats have to convince them that GOP cuts will reach into their own pocketbooks.    

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Ryan and the Spirit of 2010 (Peter Lawler, August 11, 2012, Big Think)

[R]omney needed to rekindle the Spirit of 2010 and show he's not merely a businessman, but a statesman.  His concern needs to be clearly the future of the country and the lives of all its citizens. He needs to be more than a can-do manger; he needs to be an encouraging and confident leader.

Well, Ryan is the man when it comes to that Spirit.  The Tea Party battle cries are echoed in Ryan's speeches all about rights not being a gift of government, but given to us by nature and God.  The future of our country is threatened because we've wandered away from that Founding insight.  The result is unsustainable debt, rooted in degrading dependency.  We need to stop trusting in Big Government, and start trusting in ourselves.

Ryan has never been a businessman.  Political ideas have been his whole working life.  His faith is in the "opportunity society" championed so eloquently (if rather ineffectively) by his always-optimistic mentor Jack Kemp.

So the mainstream media is already attacking Romney for his hypocrisy:  He's says business experience is SO important, and he constantly reminds us the president doesn't have any.  But Ryan hasn't met a payroll either!  

Romney's obvious response is that the VP won't be governing.  I will be.  My experience will allow me to moderate Ryan's bold--often at least too much, too soon--ideas with an experienced appreciation of what will actually work.  Sure, Romney can say, I need Ryan's thoughtful advice, but I'm the guy who'll be in charge.

We can even see that, by taking Ryan out of Congress, Romney is actually enhancing his prospects for effective presidential leadership.  His proposed changes won't be as dramatic as what Ryan has recommended, and so Congressman Ryan could easily become his powerful rival and certainly a thorn in his side (or pain in his ass).  But VP Ryan will be a part of his team--a subordinate part!

Neither of those points--that Rep. Ryan's executive inexperience is a big negative in a VP and that removing him from the House may harm the prospects for a smooth legislative process--is really answerable on its own terms.  

Of course, Mr. Romney need not address either.  His emphasis can just be that rather than a candidate who believes in nothing, he's one who shares the Kemp/Bush/Ryan vision of an ownership society, indeed, shares it so deeply that he wanted Mr. Ryan on the ticket, irrespective of other factors.  

Meanwhile, despite the conventional wisdom that Mr. Ryan's intellectual pedigree opens him to winning attacks by the Democrats, the fact is that the candidates most closely tied to reforming the Welfare State--Reagan, Clinton, and W--have never lost a presidential election.  As regards the two Republicans, it would seem that Democratic hysteria simply served to convince voters that they were serious about reform. Mr. Romney must be hoping the same effect will rub off on him, giving him a patina of consequence he currently lacks. 

Will Paul Ryan's Ideas Overshadow Mitt Romney's? (Terry Moran, 8/11/12, ABC News)

[H]as there ever been a vice-presidential pick whose ideas/ideology so overshadowed the presidential nominee's? Has any presidential nominee ever essentially run on his vice-president's ideas?

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Preserving the Medicare Guarantee: Why I've Been Working with Paul Ryan (Sen. Ron Wyden, 03/19/2012, Huffington Post)

There have been a lot of mischaracterizations. So, let's be clear about what the Wyden-Ryan plans really says.

Wyden-Ryan doesn't eliminate the traditional Medicare plan, instead it guarantees that seniors who want to enroll in Medicare's traditional fee for service plan will always have that option.

Wyden-Ryan doesn't privatize Medicare because Medicare beneficiaries already have the option of enrolling in private health insurance plans. Wyden-Ryan makes those private plans more robust and accountable by forcing them to -- for the first time -- compete directly with traditional Medicare.

Wyden-Ryan protects the purchasing power of traditional Medicare and private sector innovation to make both types of Medicare stronger and more senior-friendly. All participating private plans will be required to offer benefits that are at least as comprehensive as traditional Medicare and any plan that is found taking advantage of seniors or providing inadequate care will be kicked out of the system. Cherry picking healthier seniors will be made unprofitable by a robust risk-adjustment mechanism and policed by the Medicare administrators.

Wyden-Ryan would also uphold the Medicare Guarantee by ensuring that seniors will always be able to afford their health benefits. Unlike a voucher program that would give seniors a fixed amount of money to purchase health plans, Wyden-Ryan would adjust premium support payments each year to reflect the actual cost of health insurance premiums. In addition, low income seniors, including dual-eligibles will receive additional benefits to cover out of pocket costs - ensuring that seniors have the same choices regardless of income. Yes, if private plans are able to devise a way to provide the same health benefits as traditional Medicare for less money, a senior might have to pay extra if he or she still wants to enroll in the government option. But if you could get the exact same benefits for less money, why would you want to pay more?

Beyond that, Wyden-Ryan creates a catastrophic benefit that does not exist in traditional Medicare, ensuring that no senior is bankrupted by a major illness.

Finally, Wyden-Ryan isn't a piece of legislation. It does not include legislative language or specifications detailing exactly how the system would work. If Wyden-Ryan or something like Wyden-Ryan gets to the legislative stage, those specifications will be important to get right as the devil is always in the details. Right now, however, Wyden-Ryan is simply a policy paper intended to start a conversation about how Democrats and Republicans might work together to uphold the Medicare Guarantee.

Yes, just as some in my party criticize Wyden-Ryan without knowing what the plan really does, some Republicans will undoubtedly declare their support for Wyden-Ryan without knowing what that means or believing in its principles. Mitt Romney, for example, claims to have helped write Wyden-Ryan even though I have never spoken to him about Medicare reform and have yet to hear him declare that there should always be a role for traditional government-run Medicare.

Those who say they support Wyden-Ryan simply for political cover are neither helping seniors nor being bipartisan. Rather, using Wyden-Ryan for political purposes harms seniors by making a bipartisan agreement to uphold the Medicare Guarantee that much harder. Anyone who does this deserves to be called out on it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Paul Ryan, Romney's Running Mate: Health Account Backer (ALLISON BELL, AUGUST 11, 2012, LifeHealthPro)

LifeHealthPro, its predecessor websites and the print publications that feed into it have mentioned Ryan more than 50 times over the years.

LifeHealthPro first mentioned Ryan when we covered his support for a proposal to add a semiprivate account program to Social Security. The accounts would have been owned by individual workers and invested in Treasury securities.

LifeHealthPro later talked about Ryan's participation efforts to support the health savings account (HSA) program.

In recent years, Ryan has worked with Alice Rivlin, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, to develop a Medicare reform proposal that might rely in part on a new Medicare medical savings account program and enrollee efforts to buy Medicare coverage through a multi-carrier exchange program that would involve stiffer competition than the current Medicare Advantage program does.

Ryan has said that the current approach to running Medicare is unsustainable.

"Yes, we are giving (Democrats) a political weapon to go against us (in the next election)," Ryan said in 2011, during an appearance on Fox News. "But they will have to lie and demagogue to make it a weapon. Shame on them. We can't keep kicking the can down the road."

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Superpower Denied? Why China's 'Rise' May Have Already Peaked (Minxin Pei, 8/09/12, The Diplomat)

The most serious long-term obstacle to Chinese growth is its state capitalist system.  In the last decade, Beijing has largely reversed pro-market reforms and embarked on a decidedly statist developmental path.  Consequently, state-owned enterprises have gained enormous clout in the economy and enjoy monopolistic privileges.  The financial system favors such firms at the expense of private entrepreneurs.  Household income, at 43 percent of GDP, is too low to support a higher level of consumption, a critical factor in rebalancing the Chinese economy and providing a source of future growth.  Without systemic reforms, according to an influential World Bank study, growth in the coming two decades will fall well below 7 percent per annum.   But reforming state capitalism is almost impossible politically because that will undermine the very foundations of the Communist Party's rule.

On the political front, the coming decade will likely be one of rising opposition against the party's political monopoly. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Border Skirmishes: The immigration debate pits voters against political elites. (W. JAMES ANTLE III, June 20, 2005, American Conservative)

While cities, states, and concerned citizens' groups grapple with the federal government's manifest failure to control the border, the administration and its allies on Capitol Hill continue to tout thinly veiled amnesty proposals.

The latest example is a bill introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)--bearing a restrictionist-sounding title, the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act--that would grant temporary-worker status to illegal aliens already in the country and import at least 400,000 new foreign workers a year. Congressmen Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz), and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced a similar version in the House. Bush has so far avoided committing to a specific piece of immigration legislation, but McCain has expressed hope that the president will endorse this one. The bill was drafted with the White House's immigration policy goals in mind.

Like most such measures, it combines liberalization with promises of improved border security and interior enforcement. Illegal aliens would be able to apply for permits to work in the United States for up to six years, subject to a background check and English-proficiency test. Guest workers who can be matched with U.S. employers seeking to fill those ubiquitous jobs Americans won't do are eligible for four-year work permits. The enforcement provisions include an employee-verification system to make it easier to avoid hiring undocumented workers and a process for developing a new national border-security strategy.

Sponsors make much of the fact that the legislation would require illegal aliens to pay a $1,000 fine to receive a temporary work permit and another $1,000 when they (and their families) apply for a green card. "This bill is not amnesty," Sen. Kennedy has insisted. "This bill does not provide a free pass to anyone."

But it does indisputably give illegal workers the ability to regularize their status and avoid the consequences of flouting immigration laws. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies recently wrote that the only difference between this bill and past amnesties is that it is a "prospective amnesty" rather than a "retroactive amnesty." Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, echoed this sentiment more bluntly: "There is a little more lipstick on this pig than there was before, but it's most certainly the same old pig."

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Lebanese Shiite clerics back Syrian revolution (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/11/12)

Two prominent Lebanese Shiite clerics, Mohammad Hassan al-Amin and Hani Fahs, issued a joint-statement on Thursday endorsing the Syrian revolution and calling on Lebanon's Shiite community to support the popular uprising against the al-Assad regime.

The statement called on Lebanon's Shiite community to "support the Arab uprisings...particularly the Syrian [revolution], which will triumph God willing."

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Turkey treating Iraqi Kurdistan 'as independent'  (AFP, 8/11/12)

 Turkey has been dealing with Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region as though it were an independent state, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement released on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Early Meat-Eating Human Ancestors Thrived While Vegetarian Hominin Died Out (Katherine Harmon, August 8, 2012, Scientific American)

A team of researchers led by Vincent Balter, of École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, decided to probe into some of these debates. They used lasers to analyze the enamel from fossilized teeth belonging to Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus and early Homo specimens, which were all from southern Africa. By assessing ratios of calcium, barium and strontium as well as the number of strontium isotopes, the team was able to deduce both diet and the size of the area that these individuals ranged over. The findings were published online August 8 in Nature (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

The ancestral Australopithecus consumed a wide range of foods, including, meat, leaves and fruits. This varied diet might have been flexible to shift with food availability in different seasons, ensuring that they almost always had something to eat. Paranthropus, according to the elemental analysis, was largely a plant eater, which matches up with previous studies of tooth morphology and wear patterns. It also helps to explain the massive jaw structure they possessed, which could have come in handy for tough food stuffs and earned one specimen the nickname "nutcracker man." Early Homo, on the other hand, went in for a meat-heavy diet--possibly enabled by the use of tools for hunting and butchering.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Romney Picks Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (JEFF ZELENY, August 11, 2012, NY Times)

In choosing Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney was looking for a running mate to help shake up the race in the final three months. Mr. Ryan is seen as a rising star in the Republican Party and a favorite among conservative activists who view him as deeply committed to their fiscal principles.

But Mr. Ryan, a member of Congress since 1999, is also a lightning rod for Democrats who view him as the epitome of the Republican vision of deep cuts in social spending and entitlement programs. Unlike Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan has spent nearly his entire career in Washington either in or around the federal government.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he pushed his colleagues to boldly stake out an uncompromising position on the nation's fiscal burdens.

The Ryan alternative to the Obama administration's budget -- once seen by many Republicans as too politically fraught, with its blunt talk of overhauling Medicare and Social Security -- has become the core of the party's fiscal plan. He was a central pillar in winning a Congressional majority in 2010 and persuaded his party to embrace a "Roadmap for America's Future," and promoted himself as one of the party's leaders who called themselves the Young Guns.

Now, Mr. Ryan's budget becomes the centerpiece of the debate in the presidential campaign, with Democrats eager to pounce on a program, which is politically risky. Even for Republicans, the dangers were underscored by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich last year, who called the plan "right-wing social engineering," but was quickly scolded by conservatives.

Picking Mr. Ryan would indicate that Mr. Romney wants to double-down on his basic message, making his case for a conservative overhaul of the nation's economy.

The GOP also won the 2000 and 2004 presidentials and the 2002 midterm running on the Third Way reforms that Mr. Ryan advocates.  Likewise, he's nearly as Open Borders as W. The biggest downsides, and they are considerable, are that taking him out of the House makes it harder to pass reformist legislation and were something, God forbid, to happen to President Romney, he's as unprepared for the executive job as the UR was.  As W's choice of a running mate who added nothing to the ticket but had basically already been a president reflected his personal/political strength, so too does Mr. Romney's choice of someone who remakes the race ideologically but should not hold the higher office reflect his personal/political weakness.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


The Legendary Paul Ryan : Mitt who? (Jonathan Chait,  Apr 29, 2012, New York)

To find a parallel to the way Ryan has so thoroughly seized control of the Republican agenda and identity, you have to go back at least to Gingrich in his nineties heyday, or possibly to Reagan. Yet Gingrich and Reagan rose to the national scene while cultivating an image as radicals--it was their battle scars, inflicted by the mainstream political Establishment, that lent them the credibility to speak for the conservative base. Ryan, by contrast, has achieved something much stranger: He has ascended to his present position aloft a chorus of acclaim from the corners of the Establishment that once greeted Gingrich and Reagan with loathing. He is the only politician revered as much by the mainstream media as by the tea party. By some measure, he's the most popular guy in Washington.

The Paul Ryan that has been introduced to America is a figure of cinematic rectitude--a Jimmy Stewart character, but brainier. "Through a combination of hard work, good timing, and possibly suicidal guts," wrote Time last December, "the Wisconsin Republican managed to harness his party to a dramatic plan for dealing with America's rapidly rising public debt." He is America's neighborhood accountant, a man devoted to the task of restoring our fiscal health, whatever slings and arrows may come his way. Last year, a consortium of nonpartisan anti-deficit groups created a "Fiscy Award" (for "promoting fiscal responsibility and government accountability") and bestowed one upon Ryan--a laying of hands sanctifying his good standing by the good-government, let's-all-stop-fighting-and-fix-this crowd.

ABC News actually compared Ryan with Kevin Kline's character from the 1993 movie Dave--an endearingly naïve Everyman who accidentally finds himself president and does battle with cynical forces to scrub the federal budget of waste. After showing a clip from the film, reporter Jonathan Karl cut to footage of himself in Ryan's office attempting to re-create the scene. Karl opens a budget tome to a random page and looks on in awe as Ryan explains the dense prose and the savings to be had.

And so here we find a political dilemma for the Democrats. They have decided to make Ryan's agenda the central issue of the election. There are strong reasons for doing so, namely that most of the policies Ryan champions are disliked by a majority of Americans. But elevating Ryan to right-wing bogeyman--a remake of nineties-era Speaker Gingrich, the man who might personify Republican overreach--has proved difficult. When Obama denounced Ryan's plan last year, he provoked not just fury from the right but anguished wails from the bipartisan center. Earlier this month, he tried again, assailing the plan as "social Darwinism." The backlash was even more severe.

There's a haunting resemblance here to Dole/Kemp.  Happily, the UR is no Bubba.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Clinton visits Turkey to discuss how to bring down Syrian regime  (AP and ILAN BEN ZION August 11, 2012, Times of Israel)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opened talks in Turkey on Saturday with Turkish officials as well as Syrian opposition figures on how to undermine the Syrian regime and lay the groundwork for a democratic transition.

Clinton met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as President Abdullah Gul. Turkey is a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has welcomed Syrian activists working to overthrow him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


What Makes a Great Olympian? Sometimes It's Genetics (Jon Entine,  Aug 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

The director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Institute, Bengt Saltin, has concluded that an athlete's "environment" accounts for no more than 25 percent of athletic ability. The rest comes down to the roll of the genetic dice--with each population group having distinct advantages. In other words, running success is "in the genes."

Here are the facts. Genetically linked, highly heritable characteristics such as skeletal structure, the distribution of muscle fiber types (for example, sprinters have more natural fast-twitch fibers, while distance runners are naturally endowed with more of the slow-twitch variety), reflex capabilities, metabolic efficiency, and lung capacity are not evenly distributed among populations.

It's controversial stuff. Michael Johnson, the 400m world-record holder, recently postulated that black sprinters benefit from the outsize presence of ACTN3. The "speed gene" as it's been dubbed, makes fast-twitch muscles twitch fast. Lacking the ACTN3 protein does not seem to have any harmful health effects but does affect running ability. Scientists conclude that it is almost impossible for someone who lacks the ACTN3 protein to become an elite sprinter. The so-called sprint gene is more common in those of West African descent than in Europeans, according to a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Is this running's "smoking gun" gene? No. Sports ability, like IQ, is the product of many genes with environmental triggers influencing the "expression" of our base DNA. But its isolation does underscore that when it comes to performance, genes matter.

As UCLA's Jared Diamond has noted, "Even today, few scientists dare to study racial origins, lest they be branded racists just for being interested in the subject."

But we have no choice but to face this third rail of race. Over the past decade, human genome research has moved from a study of human similarities to a focus on patterned, population-based differences. Such research offers clues to solving the mystery of disease, the Holy Grail of genetics. So why do we readily accept that evolution has turned out Jews with a genetic predisposition to Tay-Sachs, Southeast Asians with a higher proclivity for beta-thalassemia, and blacks who are susceptible to colorectal cancer and sickle-cell disease, yet find it racist to suggest that Usain Bolt can thank his West African ancestry for the most critical part of his success?

The notion that different groups evolved differently is rather unexceptionable for most of us, but the Darwinist finds himself hoist on his belief that these differences must render different species.  Thus, it is easier--more politically correct--to ignore the differences than to follow their own theories where they lead--and led last century.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Mistaken Identities : a review of America's British Culture  by Russell Kirk.  (JOHN O'SULLIVAN, University Bookman)

 The simple message of his latest book is that America has its own national identity, but that it is one built firmly on British cultural foundations. He offers what he calls a "summary account" of the four main foundations: the English language and its literature; the rule of law based upon British common law; a system of representative government that in most respects imitated Britain's domestic political institutions; and an ethical heritage of mores and customs that reflected the surprisingly rich variety of British churches and religious sects in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although these foundations are at present being sapped by the multiculturalists, they are still capable of being restored to their original condition.

The volume is a slim one--but not too slim for Dr. Kirk to take us on some pleasant intellectual detours as he argues his case. He reminds us that, although we take for granted that Anglo-American law is friendlier to individual liberty than the European Roman Law tradition, its survival after 1776 was far from a foregone conclusion. Jefferson, who thought they did these things better in France, was among those suspicious of common law as a colonial relic. It was fortunate that he had been succeeded by the commonsensical Madison when Jeremy Bentham, a thoroughgoing rationalist on the French model, offered to draw up an entire system of American law de novo.

One of the blinder contretemps of our current politics involves the Right's insistence on American exceptionalism, which is more than balanced in its silliness by the Left's love of multiculturalism.  The reality is that the similarities within the Anglosphere and among the countries that have consciously aligned themselves with us are overwhelming, the differences pretty minor. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Joseph Mitchell and the Free Life (DERMOT QUINN, Summer 2012, University Bookman)

He cut his teeth in the hard winter of the Depression when, as he said, "nothing brightened up a front page so much as a story about human suffering." "The man on the street is so gloomy now," one of his editors used to say, "that a story about somebody else's bad luck cheers him up." There was, of course, no shortage of such stories. In this decade, the sights and sounds and smells of New York entered his blood and his ink, never leaving. Writing to a deadline and a word limit taught him his craft--never bury the lede, answer the obvious questions, get to the point, try to see what others miss, make the piece edgy and quirky and slightly offbeat. The stranger the story, the more likely it was to make print.

His apprenticeship complete, Mitchell joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1938, remaining there until his death in 1996. His greatest work was written for that magazine. He saw, in New York, an array of eccentrics, oddballs, misfits, lonely, gifted, strange, surly, lovable people that could not be found so concentratedly in any other city in the world. His profiles of them appeared from time to time, and their titles say all that need be said of his affection and admiration for them: "King of the Gypsies," "Lady Olga," "The Deaf-Mutes Club," "Santa Claus Smith," "The Don't Swear Man," "Hit on the Head with a Cow," "Professor Sea Gull," "I Blame it all on Mamma." The pieces were collected in four books--McSorley's Wonderful Saloon in 1943; Old Mr. Flood in 1948; The Bottom of the Harbor in 1960; and Joe Gould's Secret in 1965. All four books were themselves collected together in one compendium volume, Up at the Old Hotel published by Pantheon Books in 1992. If you do not own or have not read this book, buy it and read it today. Don't start reading it at night unless you have nothing to do the next day. If you have nothing to do the next day, you may be more like one of its characters than you realize.

How, then, to explain Mitchell's extraordinary power, his continuing appeal to our time? Let me suggest four ways. There are, of course, others.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Review: A fascinating education in 'The Jazz Standards' : Ted Gioia's monumental guide is an extended improv on the genre, looking not so much at the musicians as at the songs --252 classic pieces. (David L. Ulin, 7/22/12, Los Angeles Times)

"I recall the lament of a friend," Gioia writes, "who was enlisted to back up a poll-winning horn player at a jazz festival -- only to discover that he wouldn't be told what songs would be played until the musicians were already on stage in front of 6,000 people. Such instances are not unusual in the jazz world, a quirk of a subculture that prizes both spontaneity and macho bravado. Another buddy, a quite talented pianist, encountered an even more uncooperative bandleader -- a famous saxophonist who wouldn't identify the names of the songs even after the musicians were on the bandstand. The leader would simply play a short introduction on the tenor, then stamp off the beat with his foot ... and my friend was expected to figure out the song and key from those meager clues."

What makes "The Jazz Standards" so engaging is just this sort of anecdotal texture, Gioia's ability to write as an inhabitant of both the tradition and the songs. He takes us through music that's well known ("Beale Street Blues," "My Funny Valentine," "Mood Indigo," "Embraceable You") and not so well known ("Nardis," "Billie's Bounce," "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)"), but either way, his connection is a starting point.

"When I was a very young child," he recalls, discussing the song "I'll Remember April," "I saw the Abbott and Costello movie 'Ride 'Em Cowboy' on several occasions on television, but I have no recollection of 'I'll Remember April,' which was introduced in this unlikely film by Dick Foran. But a decade later, I encountered 'I'll Remember April' again -- this time in a version by pianist Erroll Garner from his landmark album 'Concert by the Sea.'" From there, he riffs briefly about Garner ("I am convinced that a young musician could build a killing style using his tricks and techniques as a foundation") before highlighting a dozen or so covers by artists including Getz, Keith Jarrett and Frank Sinatra, who recorded it in 1961.

Here we see Gioia's method in microcosm: to move from the general to the specific, and in so doing, to trace the saga of the song. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The Arab Spring and Monarchies: Could Morocco Lead the Way? (Aymane Saidi, 8 August 2012, ISN Blog)

Egyptians wanted the fall of Mubarak; Tunisians the fall of Ben Ali and his family-dominated regime; and Yemenis wanted an end to Saleh's 33 years in power. Moroccans, on the other hand, have demanded reforms of the system.

Responding to the repression and oppression they have lived under since 1961, and inspired by the millions of people in the region who were brave enough to speak up, Moroccans took to the streets last year in protest. Along with the rest of the Arab population, people were angered by the overwhelming social inequality, corruption, unemployment, lack of basic freedoms, and most importantly, the makhzen - a Moroccan term used to describe the elitist group of individuals close to the establishment and monarchy who run the country. These shared frustrations sparked collaboration, ultimately tearing down the barrier of fear.

The mass protest movement was led by a youth group called the February 20th Movement for Change, named after the date planned for the first nation-wide protest. Armed with nothing but the will to change the face and fate of their country, desperate citizens tired of the status quo took to the streets in all major cities every Sunday and quickly grew to numbers in the thousands.

On March 9th 2011, King Mohammed VI responded to these protests by announcing the formation of a commission tasked with drafting a new constitution to be put to a referendum. According to the king, the new constitution would "consolidate the rule of law ... promote all types of human rights ... strengthen the principle of separation of powers ..." It would also choose the prime minister from the party who wins the majority of legislative elections - a right previously belonging exclusively to the king. Though some were in favor of the king's reform plan, his speech did not completely satisfy popular demands.

Political analysts as well as critics of the monarchy, such as Ahmed Benchemsi, currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University, reacted to the speech by saying: "Yes, Mohammed VI's March 9 speech was indeed historic. But no, it is not because it announced a major constitutional reform." In other words, the king's speech was historic in context but not in content. Leaders of the February 20th Movement similarly deemed the king's attempt to meet the needs of the protesters insufficient. They pointed out that the commission drafting the new constitution was chosen by the king himself, making it unrepresentative of the people it should be protecting. However, despite criticism, on July 1st Moroccans - both at home and abroad - voted on the newly drafted constitution. It passed with an overwhelming majority of 98% in favor of the change. Then, in response to the continuing protests and the calls for a new government, the prime minister at the time, Abbas al-Fassi, called for early legislative elections to take place immediately after the referendum.

After the government's resignation, legislative elections took place on November 25, 2011. Political groups such as the Independence Party (Istiqlal) or the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), as well as individuals close to the regime who have been sharing the power for the past few decades, were natural losers in this wave of reform. In peoples' eyes, they symbolized the need for change. This left two polar opposite parties: the moderate-appearing Islamist Justice and Development Party touting the Turkish model, and known by its French acronym PJD, and the newly-formed (and close to the king) Authenticity and Modernity Party, known by its French acronym PAM.

As in most nations in post-Arab Spring elections, the previously-oppressed Islamist parties were seen as agents of change and ultimately the PJD won 27% of the votes, while the PAM came in fourth with only 12%. For the first time in Moroccan history, the king was forced by the people to choose a prime minister from the winning party - the PJD - as stated in the new constitution, setting Morocco apart from the rest of the monarchies. This was a source of optimism not only for Morocco, but for Arab countries emerging from post-revolutionary period and transitioning towards a democratic state.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab monarchies are grappling with the paths to reform as they are in the process of identifying what these reforms will be, as opposed to Morocco, which is already implementing a reform process.

One can't help but envy their opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The Top 10 Most Difficult Books  (Emily Colette Wilkinson & Garth Risk Hallberg, Aug 03, 2012, Publishers Weekly)

Back in 2009, The Millions started its "Difficult Books" series--devoted to identifying the hardest and most frustrating books ever written, as well as what made them so hard and frustrating. The two curators, Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg, have selected the most difficult of the most difficult, telling us about the 10 literary Mt. Everests waiting out there for you to climb, should you be so bold. If you can somehow read all 10, you probably ascend to the being immediately above Homo sapiens. 

...that texts that fail to communicate and have nothing to say are sub-human rather than transhuman?    Why not just read the pages that monkeys produce while they aren't typing Hamlet if you're looking for obscurity?

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Locked-in syndrome: rare survivor Richard Marsh recounts his ordeal (Amelia Hill, 8/07/12,

Two days after regaining consciousness from a massive stroke, Richard Marsh watched helplessly from his hospital bed as doctors asked his wife, Lili, whether they should turn off his life support machine.

Marsh, a former police officer and teacher, had strong views on that suggestion. The 60-year-old didn't want to die. He wanted the ventilator to stay on. He was determined to walk out of the intensive care unit and he wanted everyone to know it.

But Marsh couldn't tell anyone that. The medics believed he was in a persistent vegetative state, devoid of mental consciousness or physical feeling.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Marsh was aware, alert and fully able to feel every touch to his body.

"I had full cognitive and physical awareness," he said. "But an almost complete paralysis of nearly all the voluntary muscles in my body."

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The dozens as American art form: No, your mama! : You can't understand hip-hop without understanding the insult-battle tradition, says Elijah Wald (Francie Latour, AUGUST 05, 2012, Boston Globe)

In 1939, a Yale psychologist named John Dollard traveled to the Jim Crow South to study the personality development of black children. Over and over again, he found something he hadn't been looking for. On street corners and in schoolyards, in big cities and small towns, among the young and old alike, he found black folks facing off in games of street banter that followed specific rules: two players, fueled by the reaction of a gathered crowd, insulting each other in rhyme. The more ingenious the insult, the better.

What Dollard had stumbled on--and breathlessly described in a psychoanalytic journal--was a tradition that influenced Langston Hughes in the 1920s, made Richard Pryor a legend in the 1970s, and continues to fuel rap beefs today: the dozens.

"The Dozens is a pattern of interactive insult which is used among some American Negroes," Dollard reported, in the first known article written about the street-rhyme combat typically touched off by two little words: yo' mama. "The jests fly--about infidelity, though each seems a faithful husband--about impotence, though both are apparently adequately married and have children--about homosexual tendencies, although neither exhibits such to public perception." Not to mention mothers, sisters, and girlfriends being stupid, raunchy, or just plain old ugly.

In "The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama," writer, musician, and blues scholar Elijah Wald traces the comic and profane arc of the dozens clear through African-American culture--through rural works songs and the competitive jamming of jazz masters, through Mississippi barrelhouse songs and the iconic literature of the Harlem Renaissance. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Beware the Nocebo Effect (PAUL ENCK and WINFRIED HÄUSER, August 10, 2012, NY Times)

In a curious study, a team of Italian gastroenterologists asked people with and without diagnosed lactose intolerance to take lactose for an experiment on its effects on bowel symptoms. But in reality the participants received glucose, which does not harm the gut. Nonetheless, 44 percent of people with known lactose intolerance and 26 percent of those without lactose intolerance complained of gastrointestinal symptoms.

In one remarkable case, a participant in an antidepressant drug trial was given placebo tablets -- and then swallowed 26 of them in a suicide attempt. Even though the tablets were harmless, the participant's blood pressure dropped perilously low.

The nocebo effect can be observed even when people take real, non-placebo drugs. When medical professionals inform patients of possible side effects, the risk of experiencing those side effects can increase. In one trial, the drug finasteride was administered to men to relieve symptoms of prostate enlargement. Half of the patients were told that the drug could cause erectile dysfunction, while the other half were not informed of this possible side effect. In the informed group, 44 percent of the participants reported that they experienced erectile dysfunction; in the uninformed group, that figure was only 15 percent.

In a similar experiment, a group of German psychologists took patients with chronic lower back pain and divided them into two groups for a leg flexion test. One group was told that the test could lead to a slight increase in pain, while the other group was told that the test had no effect on pain level. The first group reported stronger pain and performed fewer leg flexions than the second group did.

August 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 PM


Romney Prepares to Pick Ryan (STEPHEN F. HAYES AND WILLIAM KRISTOL, 8/10/12, Weekly Standard)

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned that the Romney campaign has begun to prepare a vigorous effort in support of Paul Ryan if he is selected as Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick--something now likely to happen soon. For example, GOP officials tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is among a group of Republicans who has been asked to be ready, in terms of his schedule and other practical preparations, to make the case publicly for a Romney-Ryan ticket as early as Saturday. 

...but he can make the reformist argument that Mitt doesn't.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


How the Treasury is Turning a Profit on TARP : The Treasury is deploying new tactics to make money off TARP's massive bank bailout. Alex Klein reports on how you stand to profit from two lucrative weeks of financial payback. (Alex Klein, 8/10/12, Daily Beast)

July 27, the day that auction closed, rendered a windfall. Shares of Pacific City Financial, Premier Financial Bancorp, CBS Bancorp, Diamond Bancorp, Commonwealth Bancshares, First Western Financial, Market Street Bancshares, Park Bancorporation, Marquette National, Trinity Capital, First Community Financial Partners, and Fidelity went for a total of about $205.7 million (including repurchases), while making the Treasury an extra $31.47 million in warrants.

And some smaller firms have been able to pay back the CPP funds the old-fashioned way. On July 25, Fremont Bancorporation bought back $35 million in shares, plus $1.75 million in subordinated granted to the government instead of warrants. On August 1, VIST Financial Corp of Wyomissing, PA, paid back $25 million, with the government making an additional $1.2 million on its warrants.

The Treasury has even been making billions back from notorious Wall Street bad boy AIG.
In addition to profits through the CPP, money has been flowing in from TARP's public-private investment program (PPIP). In the PPIP, the government made loans to--and made investments in--private-sector investment vehicles that went out and bought up shady mortgages and toxic securities. The theory? As the assets purchased recovered their value and threw off interest payments, the government would get its money back. That capital has been trickling back into government coffers as well.

And on July 31, Blackrock PPIF LP--a fund backed by the world's largest asset manager--paid back $175 million that it had borrowed from the government through the PPIP program. RLJ Western paid back $618.75 million on the same day, and AllianceBernstein kicked in another $450 million on July 27.

The Treasury has even been making billions back from notorious Wall Street bad boy AIG. For example, on Aug. 3 and Aug. 6, the government sold AIG about 164 million of its own shares for a cool $5.75 billion.

All told, this rash of repayments and stock sales has brought in nearly $7.3 billion to federal coffers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


Immigrants and 'Comparative Advantage' : They help vitalize the American economy and maintain our traditions of hard work and patriotism. (BEN J. WATTENBERG, 8/09/12, WSJ)

Modern nations that have expanding domestic markets are more likely to be economically healthy. For the most part, European nations do not have that advantage, and it hurts them.

When birth and fertility rates are low, over the decades population shrinks, sometimes rapidly in places such as in Italy, Germany, Spain and Greece. In Japan and South Korea, birth and fertility rates are also perilously low. The result: All of their socialized pension plans and programs to provide health care for the aged are dreadfully underfunded. The only serious remedies are higher deficits, reduced benefits or higher taxes--none of them pleasant.

In the U.S., on the other hand, total fertility rates are higher and population continues to grow. While the numbers are down somewhat due to the recession, immigration remains relatively high--an estimated 1.1 million, legal and illegal, in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. This immigration will lead the country on a path of healthy long-term population growth from (roughly) 300 million people in 2000, up to 400 million in 2050 and to half a billion in 2100. This is good news for the growth of the domestic market.

Moreover, America's immigrant population (median age of roughly 29) is younger than that of the native-born (about a decade older). That means they will have many more years of working life, paying into and helping support our old-age pension and health-care systems for years before they take out a dime.

Survey after survey shows that Americans are the most patriotic people on the planet, and that immigrants to the U.S. are among the most patriotic of all Americans

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 AM


Ignore the prophets of doom - this is a golden age for the world : Despite what politicians say, most people are richer and freer than they have ever been (Fraser Nelson, 09 Aug 2012, The Telegraph)

The so-called Gini index, the standard measure of global inequality, fell steadily during the boom years and has continued to decline during the crash. And little wonder, at a time when the Indian economy is literally growing faster in a week than Britain does in a year. The economic aid that Britain gives to India is now the same size as India's own international aid budget.
India has hideous problems, as does the rest of the world. But each year, even during the crash, the UN Human Development Index has hit new records. We are living in an era where the world's problems are being outweighed by its breakthroughs.

As countries grow richer, they grow healthier. Life expectancy keeps setting new records, for both the rich and the poor world, as developments in medicine advance rapidly. Malaria deaths peaked in 2004 and even Aids deaths peaked five years ago. Anthony Fauci, America's leading authority on the disease, said last month that there could be an "Aids-free generation" in the reasonable future. "We have no excuse, scientifically, to say we cannot do it," he told an Aids conference in Washington. Such a statement would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. Aids remains the world's most lethal contagious disease, responsible for almost two million deaths each year. But medicine is catching up with it. We can now dare to believe that Aids will go the way of smallpox.

A healthier world means a rising population. This, in turn, leads to neo-Malthusians worrying about how the planet won't have enough resources for all of us - but history proves them wrong. The great British economist, William Stanley Jevons, warned in 1865 that the economy was on the brink of collapse because the coal would run out. Oil was used instead, and everything changed. In the last five years a new energy source, shale gas, has halved American electricity prices. The thousands of British wind turbines may be rendered redundant by shale deposits discovered in Lancashire, which could yet turn Blackpool into the Dallas of England.

And might the consumption of all this newly mined fossil fuel doom us anyway, via global warming? The truth is that the world's fossil-fuel consumption is falling, mainly due to more efficient cars and factories. Nor is warming synonymous with doom. Scour the raw data of the Government's climate change "risk assessment" (as I did) and you find that a warmer Britain will mean, on average, 11,000 fewer deaths each year by 2050 because fewer pensioners will die from the cold. But do not expect to find this point made in any official report. The Environment Department is there not to give impartial advice, but to scare us.
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August 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Fossil discovery rewrites the story of human evolution (STEVE CONNOR, 09 AUGUST 2012, The Independent)

The history of human evolution is more complex than previously supposed, according to fossils showing that several species of early man once lived cheek by jowl in the same region of East Africa. [...]

The latest finds, published in the journal Nature, confirm that 1470 is a different species. The new fossilised face is almost identical to 1470, although smaller, and crucially has a set of back teeth that show it was a distinct species with a specialised, plant-eating diet, said Fred Spoor of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Stirring up sweet memories (Bill Daley, 8/08/12, Chicago Tribune)

Vanilla pudding can bring out the kid in you, especially as it conjures up memories of those huge institutional cans cranked open in summer camp dining halls or the tiny cups your mom would tuck into your school lunchbox.

Part of the appeal of vanilla pudding lies in its simplicity. It personifies the nostalgic flavors of childhood. Yet, vanilla pudding can be a key ingredient in more complicated desserts designed to please adults, treats like tarts and trifles and homemade ice pops.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Bacon-Wrapped Pork Loin (The Denver Post, 8/08/12)

Wrap bacon strips around the pork loin, making sure the meat is completely covered. Tie every 1 inch with butcher's twine and grill over charcoal or wood grill until internal temp reaches 130 degrees. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


A survival skill in shrinking Japan: Learn English (Chico Harlan, 8/06/12, Washington Post)

Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani decided two years ago that the employees at his company, Rakuten Inc., should work almost entirely in English.

The idea, he said, was a daring and drastic attempt to counter Japan's shrinking place in the world. "Japanese people think it's so difficult to speak English," Mikitani said. "But we need to break the shell."

With the move, which took effect at the beginning of last month, Mikitani turned his e-commerce company -- an Amazon competitor -- into a test case for corporate Japan's survival strategy.

As Japan's population declines, all but guaranteeing ever-decreasing domestic business, companies here are grappling with how they should interact with the world and whether they can do it successfully.

The country has both a dread of English and an understandable attachment to its own ornate business customs. Those idiosyncrasies made Japan a bewildering but envied powerhouse during its economic boom. They now make Japan a poor match, experts say, for global business.

August 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


Our friend, Glenn Dryfoos, has given us permission to share a piece he wrote about the great sax man.

It's been said that a man should not be forced to live up to his art. Benny Carter is one of the rare instances when we wonder whether the great art that a man has created can live up to him. 
- Wynton Marsalis
I. Introduction
In the fall of 1979 I heard Benny Carter play live for the first time.  He was in his early 70's then, and in my teen-age ignorance, I imagined that he must have moved into the "living legend" phase of his career, like the more-famous Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and other icons (or relics?) of the Swing Era.  I previously had heard both Hampton (fronting a big band) and Goodman (leading a small group), and each - Hampton with shouts and smiles, Goodman with cool detachment - worked their way through the tunes that their adoring and nostalgic fans had turned out to hear.  But, measured against the heights they achieved in the 1930's and '40's, their playing in the 1970's, although satisfying, did not match the virtuosity and artistry of their youth. 
Before the concert I knew little about Benny except that he was, with Johnny Hodges, one of the two great alto sax players of pre-bop jazz.   So I really wasn't prepared for the music that October night.  Benny took the stage with "special guest" Dizzy Gillespie and a terrific rhythm section and proceeded to demonstrate that he was not a museum piece, but instead, a swinging, vital and modern jazz voice.
Although his alto style was rooted in swing, his playing was absolutely unique.  Each improvised solo had the structure and logic of a composed piece.  Ideas built on riffs developed smoothly, one into the next, with the perfect placement of empty spaces, which let his statements breathe and grow.  His tone was warm, but with a dry edge to it; less florid than Hodges's, less biting than Charlie Parker's.  Unlike other swing-era players, he used little vibrato, and his attack mixed the sharp staccato of early jazz and a smooth legato that was suggestive of West Coast Cool.  Most distinctive, however, was his sense of time and phrasing, an instantly identifiable flow of eighth notes and triplets that one moment seemed to be rushing ahead of the beat and the next seemed to be falling behind it.  His music swung...not with the driving swagger of Coleman Hawkins or clockwork precision of the Count Basie band...but in a way that was subtle and engaging.     
And it wasn't only his alto playing that impressed.  At Dizzy's urging, Benny showed off his supple and lyrical trumpet style.  Moreover, his bearing and the way he interacted with those around him marked him as a special person.  It was evident that the staid university president who welcomed Benny to the stage that night - a man more at home in the company of Noble Laureates or in the Faculty Dining Room than with a bunch of jazz musicians - held him in great esteem.  And the other musicians, especially Gillespie, treated him with noticeable affection and respect.  Benny seemed like a favorite uncle; but not the old uncle whose glasses you hid and who you imitated behind his back...this was an uncle you loved and could share a good joke with, but also a man who would tell you to sit up straight and to keep your mouth closed when you chewed your food.  Dizzy summed it up best when he told the audience, "When I grow up I want to be just like Benny Carter!"
As great as his playing was that night, it was actuarially inconceivable that Benny would continue traveling around the world playing at the highest level for another twenty years.  Yet he not only outlived contemporaries and colleagues such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster by three decades or more, but between his 75th and 90th years he made some of his greatest recordings, all the while remaining an important composer and arranger, an active teacher and an ambassador for jazz.
II. History
In the last 20 years or so of his career, previews or reviews of Benny Carter concerts almost always focused on his amazing longevity in a business where the romantic prototype was the tragic, short-lived and tortured genius (think Beiderbecke, Parker, Coltrane) and where even those perceived as having had long, productive careers had, in fact, died relatively young (Hawkins, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis all lived only into their early or mid-60's).  These articles would present some of the salient facts from the long timeline of Benny's career, but could never quite do justice to the breadth and depth of his accomplishments.  To prove this point, here is a partial list: In the late 1920's, Benny, along with men like Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Don Redman, began writing arrangements for jazz bands that moved the music from the collective improvisation of early jazz to the instrumentation and the balance between ensemble playing and soloists that sparked the Swing Era and pertains to this day.  He was, along with Hodges, one of the first two jazz masters of the alto sax, and those two, with Parker, remain the standard for the instrument.  Benny was a first-rate trumpet player and clarinetist, and had he played just one of those instruments, and not the alto, would have been considered an all-time great.  Although none of his own big bands in the 30's and 40's attained financial success, his arrangements provided hits for the bands of Goodman, Miller, Shaw and others.  For over 70 years dozens of his compositions and arrangements been favorites of other musicians and have been performed by instrumentalists such as Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz and Phil Woods and by vocalists such as Sarah Vaughn, Abbey Lincoln, Joe Williams and Tony Bennett.  He was a great discoverer of talent; Benny recommended that Chick Webb hire Ella Fitzgerald after hearing her at an amateur night at the Apollo Theater, and his bands gave early starts to the careers of Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson and Max Roach, among others.  In the 1940's he became the first African-American composer/arranger for the Hollywood studios, and he enjoyed a long and successful run writing for movies and television.  And Benny was Civil Rights leader, playing a key role in the integration of the previously all-white and all-black musicians' unions in Los Angeles in the 1950's and successfully challenging restrictive housing covenants when he wished to purchase a home in a white neighborhood.  And that's only the FIRST half of his life.  A few more items that highlight his continuing productivity: after being acknowledged as a saxophone virtuoso for almost 60 years, he recorded perhaps his greatest solo on Lover Man in 1985 and about 10 years after that won a Grammy for his solo on Prelude to a Kiss; he is, to the best of my knowledge, the only musician to record on every technology from wax cylinder to digital tape; and, thanks to time spent in Europe in the mid-1930's, he was renowned on two continents at a time that Ruth and Gehrig were playing for the Yankees, and still world-famous and at the top of his craft when New York was winning championships with Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams.  (For more detail on Benny's life, see the two-volume Benny Carter - A Life in American Music by Morroe Berger, Ed Berger and James Patrick {Scarecrow Press}.   Gary Giddins also has a fine piece on Benny in his collection of essays, Weatherbird {Oxford}.)
Of course, by the time the jazz writer got through his list, there weren't many column inches left to describe Benny's current playing, so in the process, both history and the present were short-changed.
III. The Benny Carter Conundrum
From Armstrong, Ellington and Hawkins in the 1930's to Quincy Jones and Wynton Marsalis at the turn of the next century, musicians uniformly praised and revered Benny - in his obituary, Giddins wrote that no jazz musician ever was more widely-admired by his peers - they called him "King," and they lined up to join him in concerts or to play his compositions and arrangements.
Yet, despite his incredible accomplishments, when compared to artists like Duke Ellington, Stan Getz or Dave Brubeck, many serious jazz fans know little about Carter and his music, and he is almost anonymous to casual fans and to the world at large.  This, then, raises the question: Given that he was considered one of the greats in every era that jazz has existed, how has Benny and his body of work remained relatively unknown when measured against the fame and acclaim accorded to so many others?
There is no single answer, but rather, many contributing factors.  One is that Benny never had a hit record.  Although men like Ellington, Getz and Brubeck were hardly one-hit wonders and enjoyed long, productive careers, is there any doubt that their fame was greatly magnified by the success of their biggest popular hits (Take the "A" Train, Girl from Ipanema and Take Five, respectively)?  Artie Shaw was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, jazz clarinetists, but might be known today only to die-hard jazz fans if not for his recording of Begin the Beguine.  Even Louis Armstrong owes his renown today as much if not more to pop hits like Hello Dolly and It's a Wonderful World as to his true masterpieces like West End Blues and Struttin' With Some Barbeque.
Another issue is Benny's versatility.  Since no one else was so good at so many things, we just don't know how to appropriately weigh this when comparing him to musicians who were "only" (or, at least primarily) instrumentalists or composers or arrangers or bandleaders.  So, perhaps we have simply judged Benny's skills individually, with no "extra credit" for being able to do it all.  But one cannot help but be astounded that the same man who had almost 70 years of remarkable alto performances to his credit also gave us the fabulous trumpet solo on "More Than You Know," played two memorable clarinet choruses on "Dee Blues" and wrote scores of beautiful tunes and arrangements.
Carter's longevity is a third factor.  To use a baseball analogy, it is clear that 60 home runs or 25 wins in a season is an amazing performance, but the skill, perseverance and durability it takes to get to 500 home runs or 300 wins may be harder to recognize and appreciate.  And when combined with his versatility, what we really have is the musical equivalent of a ballplayer who hit 500 homeruns, won 300 games as a pitcher and then added a few pennants as a manager.
A final, and perhaps key, contributor was Benny's own nature.  He was a modest man; and "modest" does not mean insecure or lacking in confidence.  Benny was certainly confident in his skills as a musician...for one thing, how could any sax player stand toe-to-toe with the great Hawkins over the course of 35 years if he had any doubts at all about his own ability?  But Benny was modest in that his actions, demeanor and style never called attention to himself or his music.  From the early 1930's on, Carter was described in the press as "sophisticated," "urbane," "refined," and in retrospect, those words not only describe the polite, well-spoken man that he was, but also a person who seemed devoid of self-promotion (in either the good or bad sense of the term).  Whether at club dates or recording sessions after the advent of the LP, Benny generally limited his solos to one, two or maybe three choruses; he never assumed people would want to listen to him continue playing after he himself thought he had nothing more to say.  And, when put into the gladiatorial world of Jazz at the Philharmonic - where long, honking, screaming solos that whipped the crowds into a frenzy were expected - Benny never seemed comfortable.  His modesty extended to his song-writing as well.  Simply put, he must have been a terrible song plugger.  It's incredible to look through his discography and see the dozens of his tunes that were recorded only once or, at most, twice.  He was content to write something for a session, record it, and move on.  A less modest man would have pushed his songs (so many of them are wonderful) on the world.  Benny described his compositions as "his children," but although he was justifiably proud of his kids, he never bragged about them.
A quote Benny gave Gary Giddins probably sums things up best: Benny said that he was once asked about his contribution to music and had responded, "I don't know.  If I've made a contribution I'd be happy to know that, but I'll let somebody else say it.  I don't know.  And I'm not being modest, I really don't know.  Contribution to what - my livelihood?" 

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Paulo Coelho: James Joyce's Ulysses is 'harmful' to literature (Alison Flood, 8/06/12,

Writers go wrong, according to Coelho, when they focus on form, not content. "Today writers want to impress other writers," he told the paper. "One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce's Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit."

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Israel's Fading Democracy (AVRAHAM BURG, August 4, 2012, NY Times)

BUT something went wrong in the operating system of Jewish democracy. We never gave much thought to the Palestinian Israeli citizens within the Jewish-democratic equation. We also never tried to separate the synagogue and the state. If anything, we did the opposite. Moreover, we never predicted the evil effects of brutally controlling another people against their will. Today, all the things that we neglected have returned and are chasing us like evil spirits.

The winds of isolation and narrowness are blowing through Israel. Rude and arrogant power brokers, some of whom hold senior positions in government, exclude non-Jews from Israeli public spaces. Graffiti in the streets demonstrates their hidden dreams: a pure Israel with "no Arabs" and "no gentiles." They do not notice what their exclusionary ideas are doing to Israel, to Judaism and to Jews in the diaspora. In the absence of a binding constitution, Israel has no real protection for its minorities or for their freedom of worship and expression.

If this trend continues, all vestiges of democracy will one day disappear, and Israel will become just another Middle Eastern theocracy. It will not be possible to define Israel as a democracy when a Jewish minority rules over a Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea -- controlling millions of people without political rights or basic legal standing.

This Israel would be much more Jewish in the narrowest sense of the word, but such a nondemocratic Israel, hostile to its neighbors and isolated from the free world, wouldn't be able to survive for long.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Meet Ólafur Stefánsson: The Coolest Guy at the Olympics (JOE POSNANSKI   AUGUST 7, 2012)

At some point during the game, I noticed a very tall player from Iceland. I had no idea who he was, and he was not particularly involved in the game. I guess I noticed him BECAUSE he was not particularly involved. Every time Iceland went on the attack, there was a Great Britain defender whose sole job was to cover him. The rest of the British team seemed to be playing some sort of zone defense, but for this guy there was always a defender, sticking to him. The tall guy could be 50 feet away from the action, but the defender never left his side.

That seemed unusual. It was like a pentagon-and-one defense. But what was even more unusual was that the tall guy did not seem to mind. He looked quite a lot older than the rest of the players, and the constant defense seemed to amuse him. He did not spend any real effort trying to beat the defender or run around him or, well, anything. Instead, he would pass the ball and just stand back. He seemed perfectly content to stay to the side and let his five teammates play.

Every now and again, he would step into the action. Twice he was chosen to take his team's penalty shot -- a shot from seven meters away that was apparently designed to make goalkeepers look even more ridiculous than usual -- and twice he scored on that. But other than that, he seemed oddly at peace standing off to the side by himself. Anyway, that's how it seemed to me.

I only saw one moment of real brilliance from him. At one point in the second half, after Iceland had turned the game into a route, he had the ball on his own side of half court. He saw an open teammate downcourt and started to pass to him and then noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that the British goalkeeper, White, was running over to defend the pass. So, this tall man from Iceland simply faked the pass and then unleashed an 80-foot shot into the open net.

Who the heck was this guy?

His name is Ólafur Stefánsson. He is 39 years old. He is probably the greatest team handball player in Iceland's history, and perhaps one of the greatest in the history of the sport. He is a legend in his country. He captained that Iceland team that won silver in Beijing in 2008.

A little context: Iceland has never won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, and that silver is the only one the nation has won since 1956. The entire Iceland handball team of 2008 -- with Stefánsson at the lead -- was knighted.

"I am at the end," he said in a shockingly soft voice in the moments after the rout of Great Britain was complete. "I wanted to help these men who still have road in front of them."

"Respect is what defines you," he said. "Integrity. ... Ah, I am giving you abstract words."

"You want to play well for long enough that you leave with a medal around your neck," he said. "That is great. But in the end, it is not about medals. ... It is the journey that stirs us."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Home Prices Climb as Supply Dwindles (NICK TIMIRAOS, 8/08/12, WSJ)

Prices are rising because "there's not enough supply, given higher levels of demand," said Ivy Zelman, chief executive of Zelman & Associates, a research firm. Last week, Ms. Zelman revised her 2012 price forecast to a 5% gain. At the beginning of the year, she predicted a 1% decline. "With every passing month, distressed homes are being absorbed at better and better prices," she wrote recently.

Inventories are low for a handful of reasons. Investors who are scooping up homes have been converting them into rentals rather than flipping them, keeping the properties off the market. Banks have slowed their foreclosure processes in the past two years after they were found to be rushing through incomplete paperwork to repossess homes.

New-home construction has been at depressed levels for years, as builders have had to fend off competition from bank-owned foreclosures. That lack of new construction "has set the foundation for a snapback in pricing," said Michael Sklarz, president of Collateral Analytics, a Honolulu-based research firm.

And that's before immigration reform.

August 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Dream, Baby, Dream! (ROGER COHEN, August 6, 2012, NY Times)

So now we know: Mitt Romney believes the 13 North American colonies caused needless bloodshed by rejecting British authority, declaring independence in 1776 and waging war rather than encouraging King George III to see the error of his imperial ways, go touchy-feely with the upstarts across the Atlantic and grant freedom to the United States of America.

The revolution could have been a consensual, bloodless glide to liberty if only Washington, Jefferson and their cohorts had taken the time to convince the British monarch that empires were yesterday's news and their "freedom agenda" the way to go.

Which is, of course, exactly how the rest of the Empire devolved into constituent states once the Brits learned the needless lesson.  There was no Canadian nor Australian Revolution.

August 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM

Robert Hughes, Eloquent and Combative Art Critic, Dies at 74 (RANDY KENNEDY, 8/06/12, NY Times)

With a Hemingwayesque build and the distinctively rounded vowels of his native Australia, Mr. Hughes became as familiar a presence on television as he was in print, in columns over three decades for Time magazine, where he served as chief art critic and often as a traditionalist scourge during an era when art movements fractured into unrecognizability. "The Shock of the New," his eight-part documentary about the development of modernism from the Impressionists through Warhol, was seen by more than 25 million viewers when it ran originally on BBC, and the book that Mr. Hughes spun off from it was described as a "stunning critical performance" by Louis Menand of The New Yorker. [...]

In the memoir, Mr. Hughes was as expressive about his brush with death as he always was about the art he loved. "At one point I saw Death," he wrote. "He was sitting at a desk, like a banker. He made no gesture, but he opened his mouth and I looked right down his throat, which distended to become a tunnel: the bocca d'inferno of old Christian art."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Chemotherapy can backfire and boost cancer growth: study (AFP, 8/06/12)

Cancer-busting chemotherapy can cause damage to healthy cells which triggers them to secrete a protein that sustains tumour growth and resistance to further treatment, a study said Sunday.

Researchers in the United States made the "completely unexpected" finding while seeking to explain why cancer cells are so resilient inside the human body when they are easy to kill in the lab.

They tested the effects of a type of chemotherapy on tissue collected from men with prostate cancer, and found "evidence of DNA damage" in healthy cells after treatment, the scientists wrote in Nature Medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


BIG MED : Restaurant chains have managed to combine quality control, cost control, and innovation. Can health care? (Atul Gawande, AUGUST 13, 2012, The New Yorker)

Dave Luz is the regional manager for the eight Cheesecake Factories in the Boston area. He oversees operations that bring in eighty million dollars in yearly revenue, about as much as a medium-sized hospital. Luz (rhymes with "fuzz") is forty-seven, and had started out in his twenties waiting tables at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Los Angeles. He was writing screenplays, but couldn't make a living at it. When he and his wife hit thirty and had their second child, they came back east to Boston to be closer to family. He decided to stick with the Cheesecake Factory. Luz rose steadily, and made a nice living. "I wanted to have some business skills," he said--he started a film-production company on the side--"and there was no other place I knew where you could go in, know nothing, and learn top to bottom how to run a business."

To show me how a Cheesecake Factory works, he took me into the kitchen of his busiest restaurant, at Prudential Center, a shopping and convention hub. The kitchen design is the same in every restaurant, he explained. It's laid out like a manufacturing facility, in which raw materials in the back of the plant come together as a finished product that rolls out the front. Along the back wall are the walk-in refrigerators and prep stations, where half a dozen people stood chopping and stirring and mixing. The next zone is where the cooking gets done--two parallel lines of countertop, forty-some feet long and just three shoe-lengths apart, with fifteen people pivoting in place between the stovetops and grills on the hot side and the neatly laid-out bins of fixings (sauces, garnishes, seasonings, and the like) on the cold side. The prep staff stock the pullout drawers beneath the counters with slabs of marinated meat and fish, serving-size baggies of pasta and crabmeat, steaming bowls of brown rice and mashed potatoes. Basically, the prep crew handles the parts, and the cooks do the assembly.

Computer monitors positioned head-high every few feet flashed the orders for a given station. Luz showed me the touch-screen tabs for the recipe for each order and a photo showing the proper presentation. The recipe has the ingredients on the left part of the screen and the steps on the right. A timer counts down to a target time for completion. The background turns from green to yellow as the order nears the target time and to red when it has exceeded it.

I watched Mauricio Gaviria at the broiler station as the lunch crowd began coming in. Mauricio was twenty-nine years old and had worked there eight years. He'd got his start doing simple prep--chopping vegetables--and worked his way up to fry cook, the pasta station, and now the sauté and broiler stations. He bounced in place waiting for the pace to pick up. An order for a "hibachi" steak popped up. He tapped the screen to open the order: medium-rare, no special requests. A ten-minute timer began. He tonged a fat hanger steak soaking in teriyaki sauce onto the broiler and started a nest of sliced onions cooking beside it. While the meat was grilling, other orders arrived: a Kobe burger, a blue-cheese B.L.T. burger, three "old-fashioned" burgers, five veggie burgers, a "farmhouse" burger, and two Thai chicken wraps. Tap, tap, tap. He got each of them grilling.

I brought up the hibachi-steak recipe on the screen. There were instructions to season the steak, sauté the onions, grill some mushrooms, slice the meat, place it on the bed of onions, pile the mushrooms on top, garnish with parsley and sesame seeds, heap a stack of asparagus tempura next to it, shape a tower of mashed potatoes alongside, drop a pat of wasabi butter on top, and serve.

Two things struck me. First, the instructions were precise about the ingredients and the objectives (the steak slices were to be a quarter of an inch thick, the presentation just so), but not about how to get there. The cook has to decide how much to salt and baste, how to sequence the onions and mushrooms and meat so they're done at the same time, how to swivel from grill to countertop and back, sprinkling a pinch of salt here, flipping a burger there, sending word to the fry cook for the asparagus tempura, all the while keeping an eye on the steak. In producing complicated food, there might be recipes, but there was also a substantial amount of what's called "tacit knowledge"--knowledge that has not been reduced to instructions.

Second, Mauricio never looked at the instructions anyway. By the time I'd finished reading the steak recipe, he was done with the dish and had plated half a dozen others. "Do you use this recipe screen?" I asked.

"No. I have the recipes right here," he said, pointing to his baseball-capped head.

He put the steak dish under warming lights, and tapped the screen to signal the servers for pickup. But before the dish was taken away, the kitchen manager stopped to look, and the system started to become clearer. He pulled a clean fork out and poked at the steak. Then he called to Mauricio and the two other cooks manning the grill station.

"Gentlemen," he said, "this steak is perfect." It was juicy and pink in the center, he said. "The grill marks are excellent." The sesame seeds and garnish were ample without being excessive. "But the tower is too tight." I could see what he meant. The mashed potatoes looked a bit like something a kid at the beach might have molded with a bucket. You don't want the food to look manufactured, he explained. Mauricio fluffed up the potatoes with a fork.

I watched the kitchen manager for a while. At every Cheesecake Factory restaurant, a kitchen manager is stationed at the counter where the food comes off the line, and he rates the food on a scale of one to ten. A nine is near-perfect. An eight requires one or two corrections before going out to a guest. A seven needs three. A six is unacceptable and has to be redone. This inspection process seemed a tricky task. No one likes to be second-guessed. The kitchen manager prodded gently, being careful to praise as often as he corrected. ("Beautiful. Beautiful!" "The pattern of this pesto glaze is just right.") But he didn't hesitate to correct.

"We're getting sloppy with the plating," he told the pasta station. He was unhappy with how the fry cooks were slicing the avocado spring rolls. "Gentlemen, a half-inch border on this next time." He tried to be a coach more than a policeman. "Is this three-quarters of an ounce of Parm-Romano?"

And that seemed to be the spirit in which the line cooks took him and the other managers. The managers had all risen through the ranks. This earned them a certain amount of respect. They in turn seemed respectful of the cooks' skills and experience. Still, the oversight is tight, and this seemed crucial to the success of the enterprise.

The managers monitored the pace, too--scanning the screens for a station stacking up red flags, indicating orders past the target time, and deciding whether to give the cooks at the station a nudge or an extra pair of hands. They watched for waste--wasted food, wasted time, wasted effort. The formula was Business 101: Use the right amount of goods and labor to deliver what customers want and no more. Anything more is waste, and waste is lost profit.

I spoke to David Gordon, the company's chief operating officer. He told me that the Cheesecake Factory has worked out a staff-to-customer ratio that keeps everyone busy but not so busy that there's no slack in the system in the event of a sudden surge of customers. More difficult is the problem of wasted food. Although the company buys in bulk from regional suppliers, groceries are the biggest expense after labor, and the most unpredictable. Everything--the chicken, the beef, the lettuce, the eggs, and all the rest--has a shelf life. If a restaurant were to stock too much, it could end up throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of food. If a restaurant stocks too little, it will have to tell customers that their favorite dish is not available, and they may never come back. Groceries, Gordon said, can kill a restaurant.

The company's target last year was at least 97.5-per-cent efficiency: the managers aimed at throwing away no more than 2.5 per cent of the groceries they bought, without running out. This seemed to me an absurd target. Achieving it would require knowing in advance almost exactly how many customers would be coming in and what they were going to want, then insuring that the cooks didn't spill or toss or waste anything. Yet this is precisely what the organization has learned to do. The chain-restaurant industry has produced a field of computer analytics known as "guest forecasting."

"We have forecasting models based on historical data--the trend of the past six weeks and also the trend of the previous year," Gordon told me. "The predictability of the business has become astounding." The company has even learned how to make adjustments for the weather or for scheduled events like playoff games that keep people at home.

A computer program known as Net Chef showed Luz that for this one restaurant food costs accounted for 28.73 per cent of expenses the previous week. It also showed exactly how many chicken breasts were ordered that week ($1,614 worth), the volume sold, the volume on hand, and how much of last week's order had been wasted (three dollars' worth). Chain production requires control, and they'd figured out how to achieve it on a mass scale.

As a doctor, I found such control alien--possibly from a hostile planet. We don't have patient forecasting in my office, push-button waste monitoring, or such stringent, hour-by-hour oversight of the work we do, and we don't want to. I asked Luz if he had ever thought about the contrast when he went to see a doctor. We were standing amid the bustle of the kitchen, and the look on his face shifted before he answered.

"I have," he said. His mother was seventy-eight. She had early Alzheimer's disease, and required a caretaker at home. Getting her adequate medical care was, he said, a constant battle.

Recently, she'd had a fall, apparently after fainting, and was taken to a local emergency room. The doctors ordered a series of tests and scans, and kept her overnight. They never figured out what the problem was. Luz understood that sometimes explanations prove elusive. But the clinicians didn't seem to be following any coördinated plan of action. The emergency doctor told the family one plan, the admitting internist described another, and the consulting specialist a third. Thousands of dollars had been spent on tests, but nobody ever told Luz the results.

A nurse came at ten the next morning and said that his mother was being discharged. But his mother's nurse was on break, and the discharge paperwork with her instructions and prescriptions hadn't been done. So they waited. Then the next person they needed was at lunch. It was as if the clinicians were the customers, and the patients' job was to serve them. "We didn't get to go until 6 P.M., with a tired, disabled lady and a long drive home." Even then she still had to be changed out of her hospital gown and dressed. Luz pressed the call button to ask for help. No answer. He went out to the ward desk.

The aide was on break, the secretary said. "Don't you dress her yourself at home?" He explained that he didn't, and made a fuss.

An aide was sent. She was short with him and rough in changing his mother's clothes. "She was manhandling her," Luz said. "I felt like, 'Stop. I'm not one to complain. I respect what you do enormously. But if there were a video camera in here, you'd be on the evening news.' I sent her out. I had to do everything myself. I'm stuffing my mom's boob in her bra. It was unbelievable."

His mother was given instructions to check with her doctor for the results of cultures taken during her stay, for a possible urinary-tract infection. But when Luz tried to follow up, he couldn't get through to her doctor for days. "Doctors are busy," he said. "I get it. But come on." An office assistant finally told him that the results wouldn't be ready for another week and that she was to see a neurologist. No explanations. No chance to ask questions.

The neurologist, after giving her a two-minute exam, suggested tests that had already been done and wrote a prescription that he admitted was of doubtful benefit. Luz's family seemed to encounter this kind of disorganization, imprecision, and waste wherever his mother went for help.

"It is unbelievable to me that they would not manage this better," Luz said. I asked him what he would do if he were the manager of a neurology unit or a cardiology clinic. "I don't know anything about medicine," he said. But when I pressed he thought for a moment, and said, "This is pretty obvious. I'm sure you already do it. But I'd study what the best people are doing, figure out how to standardize it, and then bring it to everyone to execute."

This is not at all the normal way of doing things in medicine. ("You're scaring me," he said, when I told him.) But it's exactly what the new health-care chains are now hoping to do on a mass scale. They want to create Cheesecake Factories for health care. The question is whether the medical counterparts to Mauricio at the broiler station--the clinicians in the operating rooms, in the medical offices, in the intensive-care units--will go along with the plan. Fixing a nice piece of steak is hardly of the same complexity as diagnosing the cause of an elderly patient's loss of consciousness. Doctors and patients have not had a positive experience with outsiders second-guessing decisions. How will they feel about managers trying to tell them what the "best practices" are?

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Syria's prime minister confirms defection to 'join revolution of freedom' (Ian Black, 8/06/12,

Riyad Hijab, Syria's prime minister, has confirmed he has defected to join "the revolution of freedom and dignity" to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad - a propaganda coup for the opposition as the country's crisis escalates.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM

John Ellis Double-Wide, Live In Concert: Newport Jazz 2012 (NPR, August 4, 2012)

[H]is band shows that while you can take the boy out of New Orleans, you can't take New Orleans out of his musical vision.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM

Pedrito Martinez Group, Live In Concert: Newport Jazz 2012 (NPR, August 4, 2012)

Behind the congas and microphone, he leads a quartet which goes way beyond what you'd think of Afro-Cuban music or jazz.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


A man walks into a bank (Patrick Combs, 8/03/12, Financial Times)

It was a cheque, made out in my name, for $95,093.35 and it came in a junk-mail letter from a get-rich-quick company. It was worthless, meant only as a financial tease, a lip-licking come-on. "This is how much money you could soon be making." What it was never meant for was deposit. But that's exactly what made the thought of depositing it so irresistibly funny. What could possibly be funnier than depositing a perfectly ridiculous, obviously false, fake cheque? (Did I mention it had "non-negotiable" clearly written on it?) So, as a joke, I deposited the fake cheque into my bank's ATM. I felt like a million bucks doing so. I'd never had so much fun at my bank. Come to think of it, I'd never had any fun at my bank until the moment I endorsed the back of this "cheque" with a smiley face and slipped the Monopoly-like money into the mouth of the hungry ATM. For the first time ever, I walked away from my bank laughing.

What I expected to happen next was a short phone call from my bank. Or a letter informing me of what I already knew, that the cheque I deposited was not real. Admittedly, I also hoped for a compliment on my refined sense of humour. A "Mr Combs, what you deposited was not real but very funny, especially considering your real bank account balance history" (an account always bouncing into overdraft).

But the call or the letter never came and I forgot about my joke. Then, five days later, I returned to withdraw some cash from the ATM, and noticed a much higher than usual bank balance. $95,093.35 higher! The bank had credited my account with the fake, false, stupid cheque!
We all know it should have ended there. Fake cheque. Bank mistake. Give it back. But easier said than done. Especially considering the series of events that happened next.
The first friend I phoned informed me that it was no mistake at all. Just standard bank policy, crediting my account with the dollar amount but putting a hold on all the funds until the cheque bounced. I couldn't touch the money and my bank balance would be embarrassing again in three days.

But seven long days later the lottery-like amount was still there and I visited the bank where an employee told me that the funds were now all available for cash withdrawal. All $95,093.35 was mine for the taking. All I had to do was ask. Windfall money begs us to take it and run. But I restrained myself. And gave the bank another two excruciatingly long weeks to do their job, catch up with their mistake, and bounce the cheque. But at the end of three hellish weeks, during which I hourly resisted the urge to take the money and run to Mexico, where it would be worth twice as much, I was told by my branch manager, "You're safe to start spending the money, Mr Combs. A cheque cannot bounce after 10 days. You're protected by the law."

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Romney Is Right on Culture and the Wealth of Nations : A 2002 United Nations report written by Arab intellectuals acknowledges the problems the Republican candidate pointed out. (RICHARD LANDES, 8/05/12, WSJ)

Americans tend to assume that everyone shares their cultural attitudes--that everyone strives to get to "yes," to positive-sum, win-win, voluntary relations; that everyone holds productive work in high respect and prizes the principles of fairness embodied in the meritocratic principle of "equality before the law"; that everyone encourages criticism, treasures intellectual capital, promotes risk-taking, prizes transparency and fosters innovation. With institutions built on such values--with a culture dedicated to making, not taking, money--a society can make use of whatever primary products a land offers.

But there are cultures whose favored mode is not voluntary but coerced and zero-sum relations, where the principle of "rule or be ruled" dominates political and economic life. The elites in such cultures hold hard work in contempt, and they distrust intellectual openness and uncontrolled innovation as subversive. They emphasize rote learning and unquestioning respect for those in authority. Protection rackets rather than law enforcement assure the public order and bleed the economy. Public criticism brings sharp retaliation. Powerful actors acquire wealth by taking, rather than making.

Few cultures on the planet better illustrate the latter traits than the Arab world, a fact outlined in painful detail by a 2002 United Nations report written by Arab intellectuals. As "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations" points out, Arab culture intensifies these problems with its attitude of hyper-jealousy and misogyny toward women, which turns out entitled sons and cloistered daughters.

Even the huge influx of petrodollars did not change the basic contours of Arab economies: Rather than fueling economic development that benefited all, it bloated corrupt and opaque elites. Oil-rich countries like Libya and Iraq have social structures akin to those of oil-bereft Egypt and Syria. Change may occur, but it is hindered by an authoritarian culture that fears it. Such societies impoverish the masses, while elites thrive on their debasement.

Strikingly, Palestinian culture compares favorably with that of other Arabs. Palestinians have higher education, a strong work ethic and successful entrepreneurs. Much of that comes from their close association with the Zionists, who (unlike Western imperialists) settled the land without conquest, by dint of making everyone more prosperous.

August 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


The Case for Lying to Yourself : Some Self-Deception Can Boost Power and Influence; Starts as Young as Age 3 (SUE SHELLENBARGER, 7/30/12, WSJ)

Researchers disagree over what exactly happens in the brain during self-deception. Social psychologists say people deceive themselves in an unconscious effort to boost self-esteem or feel better. Evolutionary psychologists, who say different parts of the brain can harbor conflicting beliefs at the same time, say self-deception is a way of fooling others to our own advantage.

In some people, the tendency seems to be an inborn personality trait. Others may develop a habit of self-deception as a way of coping with problems and challenges.

Behavioral scientists in recent years have begun using new techniques in the laboratory to predict when and why people are likely to deceive themselves. For example, they may give subjects opportunities to inflate their own attractiveness, skill or intelligence. Then, they manipulate such variables as subjects' mood, promises of rewards or opportunities to cheat. They measure how the prevalence of self-deception changes.

In an unpublished study earlier this year, young women were asked to stand in front of a sheet of brown paper and sketch outlines of their bodies. Some were then asked to read a story about dating to put them in a romantic mood. The others were asked to read about buildings and architecture, says Carrie Keating, a psychology professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., who led the research.

When the women were asked later to outline their bodies again, those who had read about dating sketched themselves as slimmer, with narrower waists, compared with their earlier drawings, reflecting an effort to "block out any negative information about their bodies" and succeed at the dating game, Dr. Keating says. The women who read about buildings didn't much change their sketches.

As early as age 3, children have what researchers call a "positivity bias"--a tendency to see themselves as smart regardless of their abilities, and to exaggerate positive traits in others, says a 2010 study in the journal Child Development Perspectives. By adolescence, one-fourth of college-bound students rate themselves in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others, research shows.

In a separate study, female students who take leadership positions on campus score higher on measures of self-deception, based on recent research by Dr. Keating. Women who aspire to leadership may have to "conveniently forget about some negatives," such as the fact that "women who behave in a dominant fashion may be perceived as more masculine," Dr. Keating says.

Many people have a way of "fooling their inner eye" to believe they are more successful or attractive than they really are, Dr. Trivers says. When people are asked to choose the most accurate photo of themselves from an array of images that are either accurate, or altered to make them look up to 50% more or less attractive, most choose the photo that looks 20% better than reality, research shows.

Many people deceive themselves to avoid making difficult changes. 

Anything to avoid responsibility.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


The Origins of Crisis : Corruption and Nepotism Haunt Southern Europe (Hans-Jürgen Schlamp, 7/31/12, Der Spiegel)

Today, some 144,000 Sicilians get their salary from the state, and one in eight of them is the head of something or other. Many administrative offices are full of people who have no idea what they're supposed to be doing.

When it comes to creating jobs, Sicily's politicians have shown impressive creativity. Some 27,000 people, for example protect the island's meager woodland, far more than the Canadian province of British Columbia employs to tend to its endless forests.

Sicily has in theory been entitled to some €20 billion in EU grants since 2000, but only a fraction of that money has been drawn. The region hasn't undertaken many projects that would be eligible for EU funding, and most of the money it did get was squandered. Motorway bridges without access roads and dams without water testify to the scandal. The mafia has made a killing.

When Sicily tried to finance bars and Christmas nativity scenes with EU funds, Brussels stopped the payout of €600 million. Now the island is at a loss for what to do. Alarmed at the €21 billion in debts Sicily has accumulated, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti wants to dispatch a controller and has demanded that the president of Sicily, Raffaele Lombardo, step down. The Sicilian government has retorted that Rome should pay up and stay out of it, or face a "civil war."

Commenting on the debacle, Rome daily La Repubblica said Sicily was turning into "Italy's Greece." And indeed, Greek -- or Sicilian -- practices can be found in all those southern European countries struggling under the debt crisis. They include using public jobs as election campaign munition, lucrative government contracts for friends and party supporters and political cronyism with deals made for mutual benefit. The true problem of the south isn't the economic and financial crisis -- it's corruption, waste and nepotism.

Countries like Germany and the Netherlands, of course, likewise have examples of incompetent administration, a sluggish justice system and politicians interested solely in preserving their own power. But such problems tend not to be symptomatic. They can disrupt the smooth running of the country and cost a lot of money, but they don't destroy the foundation of the state.

It's a different story in many regions of southern Europe. Employees, tradespeople and small businesses often have to spend more time defending themselves against mindless bureaucratic dictates than they do on running their businesses. Even IKEA, a global player, had to spend six years negotiating with municipal, provincial and regional authorities before it received permission to open a furniture store near the Tuscan city of Pisa.

The extent of corruption and waste seen in parts of the south would be considered intolerable north of the Alps.

August 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM

Gary Clark Jr., Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012 (NPR, August 2, 2012)

Don't be stunned if he blossoms into a next-generation blues icon in the next few years; he's already well on his way.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


With draft constitution, Somalia draws closer to democracy (Mike Pflanz, August 1, 2012, CS Monitor)

Somalia took a step toward true democratic government today, when its leaders adopted the country's first new constitution in more than half a century. 

A gathering of 645 nominated community representatives, politicians, and elders approved the new law with a 96 percent majority, paving the way for more inclusive administration and greater human rights. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM

Charles Bradley, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012 (NPR, July 29, 2012 )

As much as Bradley exudes funky, live-wire energy -- his years impersonating James Brown weren't wasted -- what really fuels his music is perspective: Real-deal experience, and an understanding of hardship, infuses every note he sings.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


How Milton Friedman Saved Chile : Milton Friedman gave Chileans the intellectual wherewithal first to survive the quake, and now to build their lives anew. (BRET STEPHENS, 3/01/10, WSJ)

It's not by chance that Chileans were living in houses of brick--and Haitians in houses of straw--when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down. In 1973, the year the proto-Chavista government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile was an economic shambles. Inflation topped out at an annual rate of 1000%, foreign-currency reserves were totally depleted, and per capita GDP was roughly that of Peru and well below Argentina's.

What Chile did have was intellectual capital, thanks to an exchange program between its Catholic University and the economics department of the University of Chicago, then Friedman's academic home. Even before the 1973 coup, several of Chile's "Chicago Boys" had drafted a set of policy proposals which amounted to an off-the-shelf recipe for economic liberalization: sharp reductions to government spending and the money supply; privatization of state-owned companies; the elimination of obstacles to free enterprise and foreign investment, and so on.

In left-wing mythology--notably Naomi Klein's tedious 2007 screed "The Shock Doctrine"--the Chicago Boys weren't just strange bedfellows to Pinochet's dictatorship. They were complicit in its crimes. "If the pure Chicago economic theory can be carried out in Chile only at the price of repression, should its authors feel some responsibility?" wrote New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis in October 1975. In fact, Pinochet had been mostly indifferent to the Chicago Boys' advice until the continuing economic crisis forced him to look for some policy alternatives. In March 1975, he had a 45-minute meeting with Friedman and asked him to write a letter proposing some remedies. Friedman responded a month later with an eight-point proposal that largely mirrored the themes of the Chicago Boys.

For his trouble, Friedman would spend the rest of his life being defamed as an accomplice to evil: at his Nobel Prize ceremony the following year, he was met by protests and hecklers. Friedman himself couldn't decide whether to be amused or annoyed by the obloquies; he later wryly noted that he had given communist dictatorships the same advice he gave Pinochet, without raising leftist hackles.

As for Chile, Pinochet appointed a succession of Chicago Boys to senior economic posts. By 1990, the year he ceded power, per capita GDP had risen by 40% (in 2005 dollars) even as Peru and Argentina stagnated. Pinochet's democratic successors--all of them nominally left-of-center--only deepened the liberalization drive. Result: Chileans have become South America's richest people.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Why President Obama needs to make history in 2012. Again. (Chris Cillizza, 08/03/2012, Washington Post)

[T]he July jobs report affirmed the now-certain reality that the unemployment rate won't drop below eight percent between today and November. And no sitting president since World War II has been re-elected with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.

The numbers are daunting for Obama. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for 42 straight months-- its longest period ever.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Cass Sunstein's Resignation Encourages Advocates For Health And Safety (David Froomkin, 08/03/2012, Huffington Post)

Sunstein, who headed the White House's little-known but hugely powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, also got a warm send-off from his immediate boss. White House Office of Management and Budget director Jeffrey Zients credited him with helping design "numerous rules that are, among other things, saving lives on the highways by making vehicles safer and reducing distracted driving; dramatically increasing the fuel economy of the nation's cars and trucks; protecting public health by reducing air pollution; making our food supply safer; and protecting against discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation."

But that is a modest record in the context of the wholesale deregulation during the Bush/Cheney era and the unprecedented regulatory failures of the recent past: financial crisis; the BP oil spill; the Upper Big Branch mine explosion; a bevy of food- and toy-related health scares and the imminent dangers of climate change.

Critics said he did more damage than good. "That's small progress in comparison to the rules he killed," said Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland and president of the pro-regulation Center for Progressive Reform.

Steinzor credits Sunstein for killing or stalling critically important regulations proposed by Obama's cabinet agencies, including those intended to improve air quality, limit exposure to silica, and protect minors from dangerous agricultural work.

Steinzor also criticized some of the rules Sunstein ushered in, such as one that allows many poultry plants to speed up processing lines by eliminating federal inspectors.

"The track record is very bad," Steinzor said.

For the Left.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Mentally Retarded and on Death Row (NY Times,  August 3, 2012)

Marvin Wilson, with an I.Q. of 61, is scheduled to be put to death in Texas on Tuesday. His execution would directly contradict the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that "the mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution" because of "their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment and control of their impulses." The court should accept Mr. Wilson's case for review and end Texas's illegal defiance of its explicit holding that the death penalty for the mentally retarded is unconstitutional.

...that raises the more difficult question of whether we should re-institutionalize such folks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


How about quantitative easing for the people? /(Anatole Kaletsky AUGUST 1, 2012

The one economic benefit of QE has been to help governments finance the huge deficits caused by recession without having to raise taxes, slash public spending or face Greek-style bankruptcy. In this sense, QE has certainly prevented the U.S. and Britain from suffering worse outcomes, but it has failed to stimulate employment or economic growth. This is exactly what Japan has experienced for 20 years - and as in Japan, additional rounds of QE now will merely act as an anesthetic, perpetuating stagnation but discouraging more effective stimulus measures.

One such radical measure is too controversial for any policymaker to mention publicly, although some have discussed it in private: Instead of giving newly created money to bond traders, central banks could distribute it directly to the public. Technically such cash handouts could be described as tax rebates or citizens' dividends, and they would contribute to government deficits in national accounting. But these accounting deficits would not increase national debt burdens, since they would be financed by issuing new money, at zero cost to government or to future generations, instead of selling interest-bearing government bonds.

Giving away free money may sound too good to be true or wildly irresponsible, but it is exactly what the Fed and the BoE have been doing for bond traders and bankers since 2009. Directing QE to the general public would not only be much fairer but also more effective.

Suppose the new money created since 2009, instead of propping up bond prices, had simply been added to the bank accounts of all U.S. and British households. In the U.S., $2 trillion of QE could have financed a cash windfall of $6,500 for every man, woman and child, or $26,000 for a family of four. Britain's QE of £375 billion is worth £6,000 per head or £24,000 per family. Even if only half the new money created were distributed in this way, these sums would be easily large enough to transform economic conditions, whether the people receiving these windfalls decided to spend them on extra consumption or save them and reduce debts.

Distributing money to the general public was the one response to intractable recessions and liquidity traps that united Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes. 

Just use debit cards with six month expiration dates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


It's over - there will be no Israeli attack on Iran (Larry Derfner, 8/01/12, 972)

[I]srael is not going to attack Iran. Not before the November 6 presidential election, not afterward if Obama wins, and maybe not afterward even if Romney wins, which is unlikely.

It's not that Netanyahu doesn't want to bomb Iran - he does, and he makes that clearer every day. What's happened is that there's been such a torrent of opposition in the Israeli media this week from the security establishment, starting with IDF chief Benny Gantz, and backed by the Obama Administration and Pentagon, that there's no way Bibi can get his cabinet to vote for a war, and without the cabinet's backing, he can't do it. The ministers will not support Bibi in an extremely risky war opposed by the heads of the IDF, IDF Intelligence, the Air Force, the Mossad, the Shin Bet and the United States of America.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


There is an Honest Republican (Michael Tomasky, Aug 3, 2012, Daily Beast)

Mitt Romney may be terrified of getting specific. But not Coburn. I had been unaware, until his aides emailed me, that the senator had produced this rather voluminous 63-page study of tax giveaways that, he believes, might all be candidates for elimination. Whether you agree or don't, it's a fascinating document if, as you read through it, you imagine all those conversations (many in "quiet rooms," no doubt!) between lobbyists and lawmakers, all those checks written, all those scotch and sodas and steaks and mulligans and four-foot gimmees that must have gone into the making of this mess.

Some of them are plain silly. The fishing tackle boxes industry gets a break that manufacturers of other types of fishing equipment do not. I counted four different kinds of ethanol credits.

But others don't seem silly at all to me. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Are Americans Still Puritan? (MATTHEW HUTSON, August 3, 2012, NY Times)

Consider a series of experiments conducted by researchers led by the psychologist Eric Luis Uhlmann and published last year in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In one study, they investigated whether the work habits of today's Americans reflected the so-called Protestant work ethic. Martin Luther and John Calvin argued that work was a calling from God. They also believed in predestination and viewed success as a sign of salvation. This led to belief in success as a path to salvation: hard work and good deeds would bring rewards, in life and after.

In the study, American and Canadian college students were asked to solve word puzzles involving anagrams. But first, some were subtly exposed to (or "primed" with) salvation-related words like "heaven" and "redeem," while others were exposed to neutral words. The researchers found that the Americans -- but not the Canadians -- solved more anagrams with salvation on the mind. They worked harder.

Professor Uhlmann and his colleagues also conducted an experiment to see if Americans shared the prudishness of the Puritans. They found that American students judged promiscuous women more harshly than British students did.

In a third experiment, the researchers asked Asian-Americans to rate their support for a school principal who had canceled a prom because of sexually charged dancing and also to rate their support for a school that had banned revealing clothing. But first, the researchers primed the participants with thoughts of either their Asian or their American heritage, as well as with thoughts of work or another topic. They found that the participants showed increased approval of the prudish school officials when primed with thoughts of work -- if they had also been primed with their American heritage, but not when primed with their Asian heritage. These results suggest a tight Puritanical intermingling of work, sex and morality in the American mind.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Meet The Woman Who Can Convince Even Republicans To Use Solar Power : Sunrun's Lynn Jurich helped create a new industry--selling solar instead of as an expensive home improvement. The results have been nothing short of mind-blowing, and the people who are buying in are not who you would think. (Whitney Patorek, 8/02/12, Co.Exist)

[I]n 2007, Jurich left behind her career in finance and venture capital to join fellow Stanford grad Ed Fenster and launch Sunrun, now the nation's leading home solar company. "The utility industry and how energy is delivered had not changed in a hundred years," says Jurich. "The key innovation we brought to the market was delivering solar as a service." In a nutshell, Sunrun pays for the panels and the installation, and sells the resulting electricity back to homeowners at a rate that's locked in for 20 years. "Imagine if you'd installed a gas tank in your backyard 20 years ago, when gas was $1 a gallon, and you could buy gas for $1 a gallon for 20 years?" Jurich says. Another analogy: It's like Forever Stamps, but for your electric bill.

Starting a residential rooftop solar company (a.k.a. "distributed solar") took the Sunrun team into uncharted waters, and Jurich will admit the learning curve was steep. "The good news is there was nobody who really knew much, which made it a little less intimidating," she laughs. Eventually, they learned the technology was perfect for their business model: Unlike wind, for example, solar is peak-producing and requires little storage, and the declining price in panel hardware made the idea of leasing equipment to consumers cost-effective. Raising capital also came naturally, as the pair of finance vets turned to the venture capital world for their operating budget; they then asked giant banks to finance the project sums, like hardware and installation. Of course, with the latter, they faced what Jurich calls a "chicken or the egg" problem: "We had to get a lot of things up and running simultaneously," she says. "You have to aggregate enough customers to make banks interested, but it's hard to aggregate the customers with no reputation. You're literally asking customers to trust that you're going to provide energy for 20 years. So the biggest issue was, 'Okay, we know this works long-term, but how do we make these initial few deals prove it?'" [...]

Even more unexpected: The majority of Sunrun's subscribers self-identify as Republican. "I had a suspicion that that was the case, but I love it," Jurich says. "Renewable energy is bipartisan. It appeals to anybody who is responsible about their home. All people believe in America, jobs, creating energy here, not being dependent on foreign energy sources. And then we save people money."

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM

James McMurtry At World Cafe Live (NPR, August 3, 2012)

McMurtry showcases his keenly observant storytelling and stellar guitar picking in this concert for WXPN in Philadelphia. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


The Arabs in transition : Finally the Arabs are responding to global winds of change. Not all, but all will in time (Ayman El-Amir, 8/02/12, Al Ahram)

The paradigm of forced takeover of power away from the ballot box has changed, though. Clandestine military coups of the 1950s and 1960s have now been replaced by the power of mass protest, armed or unarmed. For the past 40 years, Arab autocrats learned that the armed forces were the key to forced change of the regime. Therefore, they isolated them, pampered them or appointed their close family members or trusted loyalists to positions of control. Now, the paradigm has significantly shifted in favour of the people. When the Egyptian military command, for example, intervened in the clashes between protesters and security forces on 28 January 2011, it did so not according to its pre-assigned role as Mubarak's last line of defence, but to protect protesters and the masses of the people, as well as state institutions. In Syria, Al-Assad's army commanders are defecting in droves to the side of the Syrian protesters.

Ruling party propagandists and government-controlled media failed to persuade the impoverished masses of the people that they were living "the most splendid era of democracy" they have ever seen, in the words of Safwat El-Sherif, one of the closest confidantes of former president Mubarak, who is now on trial. Now the power of the people on the street has taken over revolutionary change, as was the case in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain. For Gulf States with small populations, high-tech security mechanisms are more than adequate to control protests. Protesters still do not have the critical mass to mount a full-fledged revolution. During the mass protest at the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain, the joke went around Cairo that Bahrainis wanted to launch a million-man demonstration, but the total population was only 750,000. Could they borrow the rest from Egypt?

Revolutionary change in the Gulf Arab States does not have to be violent -- a people against ruler confrontation. The problem is that rulers believe their people are wallowing in petro-gas and oil wealth, and the benefits deriving from them, like no other people in the world. However, as the Bible says, man does not live on bread alone. Fundamental reforms giving the people a wider role in shaping their future and the way they are ruled are largely lacking. Activists are demanding fundamental freedoms and human rights.

The concept of constitutional monarchy was neither created overnight nor without suffering. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, nominally owns Great Britain, but the people, with an elected parliament and representative government, manage national wealth and all institutions that have developed over many years. However, the Queen cannot lease Scotland, sell the River Thames or enter into business deals for her own benefit. She, as a monarch, does receive benefits approved by the House of Commons. Would this be a far-fetched idea for the Gulf Arab states? There are, of course, sovereign funds from plush oil and gas earnings that are kept for "future generations", but is it not a one-man rule that controls everything? There are associated huge business interests, of course. But to what extent can these be guaranteed in the future, even if they are deposited in foreign banks, funds or invested in foreign businesses? And at what cost in conflict and bloodshed?

The world is changing and the Arab region is, at long last, responding to these changes and to the principles that motivate the change. Nothing is sacrosanct anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM

OBIT: Sir John Keegan: Sir John Keegan, who has died aged 78, achieved an international reputation as a military historian, then discovered a talent for writing rapid analyses of international crises as the defence editor of The (Daily Telegraph, 02 Aug 2012)

The hip grew worse again, and he found himself taken back to hospital, encased in a plaster corset. This time he was not among children, but cheerful cockney veterans in a men's ward of St Thomas's, near Westminster Bridge. The Anglican chaplain taught him Greek; a polio victim coached him in French; and, thanks to a well-stocked library, Johnnie, as he was known there, was able to read much history and almost the entire works of Thomas Hardy.

On emerging from hospital two years later, his hip immobilised with a bone graft, Keegan won a place to read History at Oxford. But on going up to Balliol he developed TB again, and was away for another year while being treated with new drugs. He then returned, walking with a stick, to find himself among a highly talented intake, which included the future Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham, Northern Ireland Secretaries Patrick Mayhew and Peter Brooke, historian Keith Thomas, the Benedictine monk Daniel Rees, and the Prince of Wales's Australian schoolmaster Michael Collins Persse.

Keegan was tutored in the Middle Ages by Richard Southern and in the 17th century by the Marxist Christopher Hill. Although there was no chance of a military career, he observed the confidence of those who had done National Service and decided to take "Military History and the Theory of War" as a special subject.

After a long tour of the battlefields of the American Civil War with his future brother-in-law Maurice Keen, the medieval historian, he returned home to find work writing political reports for the American embassy in London for two years, then obtained a post as a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. It was Keegan's first proper job.

The academy had some similarities with an Oxford college, including beautiful grounds and buildings as well as good company. But while Oxford encouraged debate, Keegan found himself, as a civilian, lecturing on Military History to motivate young men who were part of a chain of command, trained to accept orders.

The rebellious streak that lurked within him meant that he did not always find this easy; nevertheless, he discovered how liberal and open-minded the Army could be (as long as its core values were not undermined). It tolerated the Keegan family donkey, Emilia, which kept breaking into the student officers' quiet room. But while writing half a dozen 40,000-word potboilers for "Ballantyne's Illustrated History of the Violent Century", he was constantly aware that neither he nor his charges had any personal experience of war.

As a result, his first major book, The Face of Battle (1976), asked: what is it like to be in a battle? Instead of adopting a commander's perspective, seeing every conflict as an impersonal flow of causation, currents and tendencies in the way favoured by contemporary historians, Keegan concentrated on the experience of the common soldier.

After elegantly discussing why history is usually written by victors and the limitations of survivors' accounts, he examined three battles: Agincourt in 1415, Waterloo in 1815 and the Somme in 1916. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, including priests' eyewitness accounts of the first, a post-conflict questionnaire sent out by an officer after the second, and the flood of letters, diaries, poetry and official reports written during the last, he described what in the past had all too often been skated over: the deep fears, the lust for killing, the willingness to risk one's life for a comrade -- characteristics common to the soldiers of all three battles. He evoked the sights, sounds and smells of war, vividly bringing home the experience for both veterans and civilian readers.

The book was an immediate success, and has never been out of print. It marked out Keegan as the most sparkling writer among the talented lecturers of the Sandhurst war studies department.

Here he is on Booknotes.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Five myths about the middle class (Lane Kenworthy, Friday, August 3, 2012, Washington Post)

1. Today's middle-class Americans are worse off than their parents.

The standard of living for Americans in the broad middle of the income ladder -- households with incomes higher than the bottom 20 percent and lower than the top 20 percent -- hasn't stagnated or worsened in the past generation. It has improved.

Analyzing data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a long-running survey of U.S. households, the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project found that as of 2000-08, 86 percent of Americans who grew up in a middle-class household had a higher income (adjusted for inflation) than their parents. This share has surely decreased in the years since, but probably not by much: Median household income fell by just $1,500 between 2008 and 2010.

Moreover, income changes alone don't capture the enhanced quality of life that stems from greater access to information and entertainment through personal computers, smartphones, the Internet and cable TV; advances in medical care such as MRIs and new surgical techniques; and more choices for all kinds of goods and services.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Decoding the Science of Sleep : In today's always-on economy, we're tired like never before. Caffeine and sleeping pills only do so much. How did we get this far away from our most basic, ancient habits? And how can we get back on track? (DAVID K. RANDALL, 8/03/12, WSJ)

So why is sleep, which seems so simple, becoming so problematic? Much of the problem can be traced to the revolutionary device that's probably hanging above your head right now: the light bulb. Before this electrically illuminated age, our ancestors slept in two distinct chunks each night. The so-called first sleep took place not long after the sun went down and lasted until a little after midnight. A person would then wake up for an hour or so before heading back to the so-called second sleep.

It was a fact of life that was once as common as breakfast--and one which might have remained forgotten had it not been for the research of a Virginia Tech history professor named A. Roger Ekirch, who spent nearly 20 years in the 1980s and '90s investigating the history of the night. As Prof. Ekirch leafed through documents ranging from property records to primers on how to spot a ghost, he kept noticing strange references to sleep. In "The Canterbury Tales," for instance, one of the characters in "The Squire's Tale" wakes up in the early morning following her "first sleep" and then goes back to bed. A 15th-century medical book, meanwhile, advised readers to spend their "first sleep" on the right side and after that to lie on their left. A cleric in England wrote that the time between the first and second sleep was the best time for serious study.

The time between the two bouts of sleep was a natural and expected part of the night, and depending on your needs, was spent praying, reading, contemplating your dreams or having sex. The last one was perhaps the most popular. A noted 16th-century French physician named Laurent Joubert concluded that plowmen, artisans and others who worked with their hands were able to conceive more children because they waited until after their first sleep, when their energy was replenished, to make love.

Studies show that this type of sleep is so ingrained in our nature that it will reappear if given a chance.

August 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


With Most Of Europe Still On Its Back, Sweden Tries Policies That Actually Work (Matt Kibbe, 8/01/12, Forbes)

While the rest of Europe and the United States have gone on massive spending sprees fueled by government borrowing and tax hikes, Sweden took a different approach. In the Spring 2012 Economic and Budget Policy Guidelines, the Swedish Government and its Finance Minister, Anders Borg, have laid out a plan that is focused on lowering taxes. Their rationale? "When indviduals and families get to keep more their income, their independence and their opportunities to shape their own lives also increase."

Borg also wants to lower the corporate tax rate as a way of meeting the government's goal of "full employment". The government has already cut property taxes and other luxury taxes on the rich to lure investors and entrepreneurs back to Sweden. The government has also slashed spending across the board, including on the welfare programs that used to be Sweden's claim to fame. They've also installed caps on annual government expenditures: real and enforceable limits that the Swedes believe are pivotal to economic stability. They explain in their Policy Guidelines that "the expenditure ceiling is the Government's most important tool for meeting the surplus." Imagine that, a government that stays within its limits. So why didn't Sweden hop on the stimulus bandwagon like the U.S. and much of Europe?

Anders Borg explains, "Look at Spain, Portugal or the UK, whose governments were arguing for large temporary stimulus... Well, we can see that very little of the stimulus went to the economy. But they are stuck with the debt." We have now seen that attempts at austerity within the Eurozone have met a similar fate: none of it was serious. As spending increases have been squandered, spending cuts have been a charade, failing to target the big government programs at the core of the debt crisis. So Anders Borg and the Swedish Government have undertaken an economic and budget plan that slashes taxes and (actually) caps government spending. If you told Paul Krugman and the rest of the Keynesians back at the onset of the financial crisis that Sweden's finance minister was planning such action, they would have surely laughed in your face and cynically predicted doom and gloom for the Scandinavian nation. However, in reality, a place Keynesians seem to be unfamiliar with, it's become clear that what Sweden is doing is working. And it's working better than even Minister Borg expected.

August 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Did Your Brain Make You Do It? (JOHN MONTEROSSO and BARRY SCHWARTZ, July 27, 2012, NY Times)

In our experiment, we asked participants to consider various situations involving an individual who behaved in ways that caused harm, including committing acts of violence. We included information about the protagonist that might help make sense of the action in question: in some cases, that information was about a history of psychologically horrific events that the individual had experienced (e.g., suffering abuse as a child), and in some cases it was about biological characteristics or anomalies in the individual's brain (e.g., an imbalance in neurotransmitters). In the different situations, we also varied how strong the connection was between those factors and the behavior (e.g., whether most people who are abused as a child act violently, or only a few).

The pattern of results was striking. A brain characteristic that was even weakly associated with violence led people to exonerate the protagonist more than a psychological factor that was strongly associated with violent acts. Moreover, the participants in our study were much more likely, given a protagonist with a brain characteristic, to view the behavior as "automatic" rather than "motivated," and to view the behavior as unrelated to the protagonist's character. The participants described the protagonists with brain characteristics in ways that suggested that the "true" person was not at the helm of himself. The behavior was caused, not intended.

In contrast, while psychologically damaging experiences like childhood abuse often elicited sympathy for the protagonist and sometimes even prompted considerable mitigation of blame, the participants still saw the protagonist's behavior as intentional. The protagonist himself was twisted by his history of trauma; it wasn't just his brain. Most participants felt that in such cases, personal character remained relevant in determining how the protagonist went on to act.

We labeled this pattern of responses "naïve dualism." This is the belief that acts are brought about either by intentions or by the physical laws that govern our brains and that those two types of causes -- psychological and biological -- are categorically distinct. People are responsible for actions resulting from one but not the other. (In citing neuroscience, the Supreme Court may have been guilty of naïve dualism: did it really need brain evidence to conclude that adolescents are immature?)

Naïve dualism is misguided. "Was the cause psychological or biological?" is the wrong question when assigning responsibility for an action. All psychological states are also biological ones.

A better question is "how strong was the relation between the cause (whatever it happened to be) and the effect?" If, hypothetically, only 1 percent of people with a brain malfunction (or a history of being abused) commit violence, ordinary considerations about blame would still seem relevant. But if 99 percent of them do, you might start to wonder how responsible they really are.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Russia, China & Israel against Islamism? (Daniel Pipes, July 3, 2012)

The Middle East's most consequential divide is no longer the Arab/Israeli one but the Islamist/non-Islamist one, with Iran in one corner, Israel in the other, and other states somewhere between. It's far from a linear alignment, with plenty of incongruities; the revolutionary Islamists in Tehran and the evolutionary ones in Ankara, for example, increasingly are at odds, while the Tehran-Damascus axis flourishes as never before.

The Russian and Chinese actions point to these alliances shaping the foreign policies of outside powers too. Whereas the European Union and the U.S. government are increasingly sympathetic to Islamism, in part as a way to tame their own Muslim populations, Moscow and Beijing have a history of open conflict with their Muslim populations and therefore adopt policies more hostile to Islamism in the Middle East.

Even if we weren't allied with the Islamists for ideological reasons, the fact that they're going to destabilize China and Russia would make us de facto allies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Obama authorizes secret U.S. support for Syrian rebels (Mark Hosenball, Aug 1, 2012, Reuters) 

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Defense cuts won't hurt that much (Lawrence J. Korb, 8/02/12, CNNMoney)

If automatic reductions in defense spending go into effect, the fiscal year 2013 base (or non-war) budget will be reduced by $55 billion to $500 billion and remain at that level in real terms for the next decade. This will result in a total reduction of $500 billion over a decade from projected levels of defense spending.

But it also means the Pentagon will still be spending more in 2013 after sequestration than it did in 2006, at the height of the Iraq war, and more than we spent on average at the end of the Cold War and during the first Gulf war.

Moreover, the United States will still account for 40% of the world's military expenditures -- 70% if you combine that with what our allies spend.

These cuts come after 13 straight years of defense increases, which brought defense spending to levels not seen since World War II.

Are those hyperventilating about sequestration really claiming that we wouldn't be able to provide for national security?

August 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Islam, Democracy and the Long View of History : The U.S. had no trouble living with the Arab autocrats. It did so, as George W. Bush once put it in a memorable speech, for six long decades. (FOUAD AJAMI, 7/31/12, WSJ)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Cairo Tuesday to meet Egypt's new Islamist president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, and the country's top general, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. After the meeting, the secretary told reporters, "It's clear that Egypt, following the revolution, is committed to putting into place a democratic government."

Such patience and reassurance is wise in the wake of an Arab Spring that brought forth democratic elections for the first time in generations. It should be remembered that the U.S. had no trouble living with the Arab autocrats. It did so, as George W. Bush once put it in a memorable speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003, for six long decades--all in the name of stability. The terrible band of jihadists who struck America on 9/11 shattered that compact with the autocrats.

We are now called upon to figure out the terms of a new accommodation, and suddenly many of us are without historical patience. The Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco have stepped forth. They didn't make that Arab Awakening of 2011 but had become its beneficiaries. Their leaders had not been on the Rolodex of Goldman Sachs, they were not clients of Washington lobbying firms. They had no favors to dispense. Suddenly history broke their way.

That would be History.
Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


In Mammogram Debate, Politics Trounces Science (Handel Reynolds, Jul 31, 2012, Bloomberg)

 In a moment of unprecedented candor for an official of the normally message- disciplined American Cancer Society, Otis Brawley, its chief medical officer, made a startling admission. In a New York Times interview, he said, "I'm admitting that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated." He went on to say that even though mammography can save lives, "if a woman says, 'I don't want it,' I would not think badly of her, but I'd like her to get it."

Brawley was responding to an article that had just been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which researchers argued that 20 years of widespread breast and prostate cancer screening had failed to deliver the promised health benefits. In both cases, screening had led to a huge increase in the incidence of early-stage disease, with only a very slight decrease in late-stage disease. This is significant because the basic rationale for screening has always been that identifying and treating more early-stage cancers will lower the number of late-stage cancers. That this has not happened suggests that screening detects many nonaggressive cancers that would not have progressed if left undetected. The practical result of large-scale screening, in other words, was overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


More Treatment, More Mistakes (SANJAY GUPTA, July 31, 2012, NY Times)

It is a given that American doctors perform a staggering number of tests and procedures, far more than in other industrialized nations, and far more than we used to. Since 1996, the percentage of doctor visits leading to at least five drugs' being prescribed has nearly tripled, and the number of M.R.I. scans quadrupled.

Certainly many procedures, tests and prescriptions are based on legitimate need. But many are not. In a recent anonymous survey, orthopedic surgeons said 24 percent of the tests they ordered were medically unnecessary. This kind of treatment is a form of defensive medicine, meant less to protect the patient than to protect the doctor or hospital against potential lawsuits.

Herein lies a stunning irony. Defensive medicine is rooted in the goal of avoiding mistakes. But each additional procedure or test, no matter how cautiously performed, injects a fresh possibility of error. CT and M.R.I. scans can lead to false positives and unnecessary operations, which carry the risk of complications like infections and bleeding. The more medications patients are prescribed, the more likely they are to accidentally overdose or suffer an allergic reaction. Even routine operations like gallbladder removals require anesthesia, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

So what do we do to be safer? Many smart people have tackled this question. Peter Pronovost at Johns Hopkins developed a checklist shown to bring hospital-acquired infections down to close to zero. There are rules against disturbing nurses while they dispense medications and software that warns doctors when patients' prescriptions will interact badly. There are policies designed to empower nurses to confront doctors if they see something wrong, even if a senior doctor is at fault.

What may be even more important is remembering the limits of our power. More -- more procedures, more testing, more treatment -- is not always better. In 1979, Stephen Bergman, under the pen name Dr. Samuel Shem, published rules for hospitals in his caustically humorous novel, "The House of God." Rule No. 13 reads: "The delivery of medical care is to do as much nothing as possible." First, do no harm.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


Electronic Arts to Make Key Game Free (SHARA TIBKEN, 7/31/12, WSJ)

Electronic Arts Inc. said it will make a key videogame free for players following struggles to gain traction with a subscription model.

The company announced the pricing switch on "Star Wars: The Old Republic"

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 AM


UK experts to help Iraq destroy chemical residues (BUSHRA JUHI, 7/30/12,  Associated Press)

Britain will help the Iraqi government dispose of what's left of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons, still stored in two bunkers in north of Baghdad, the British embassy in Baghdad announced Monday.

The British Defense Ministry will start training Iraqi technical and medical workers this year, an embassy statement said. The teams will work to safely destroy remnants of munitions and chemical warfare agents left over from Saddam's regime. He was overthrown in 2003 following an American-led invasion.

Saddam stored the chemical weapons near population centers so that he could access them quickly, despite the danger to his civilian population.