September 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Contest - fix*us - You Are the Solution

As a country, we do pretty well , but we are far from perfect. We've got our share of problems, and we think that you have the answers. Fix*us is a campaign about giving you the platform to weigh in on some of the biggest issues our country is facing. You can read other users' solutions and vote on the opinions you believe in. At the end of the campaign 5 winners will be selected and LiveCitizen will award a total of $5000 to the winner's charities of choice.

Who: You, and anyone you know who is passionate about making a difference!
What: Fix*us Campaign, voicing your opinions, coming up with solutions, and benefitting charities.
When: August 13th - October 31st
Why: Because this is OUR country and we don't think that politicians should be the only ones who have a say on how to run it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Medicare fines over hospitals' readmitted patients (RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 9/29/12, Associated Press)

If you or an elderly relative have been hospitalized recently and noticed extra attention when the time came to be discharged, there's more to it than good customer service.

Starting Monday, Medicare will fine hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge due to complications. The penalties are part of a broader push under President Barack Obama's health care law to improve quality while also trying to cut costs. [...]

It adds up to a new way of doing business for hospitals, and they have scrambled to prepare for well over a year. They are working on ways to improve communication with rehabilitation centers and doctors who follow patients after they're released, as well as connecting individually with patients.

"There is a lot of activity at the hospital level to straighten out our internal processes," said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and safety at the American Hospital Association. "We are also spreading our wings a little and reaching outside the hospital, to the extent that we can, to make sure patients are getting the ongoing treatment they need."

Those of us who get our health insurance through King Arthur Flour (Norwich, VT) also just got a tidy rebate because Cigna failed to cut its bureaucratic costs, Cigna must refund $2.3 million to Vermont customers (Alan Panebaker, June 21, 2012, VT Digger)

Cigna, a major health insurer of large businesses in Vermont, is on the hook for more than $2 million that it must return to its customers in the state under a provision of the federal health care law.

According to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4,636 Vermonters will receive a rebate -- averaging out to $807 per family.

The rebate is required under a section of the federal Affordable Care Act which requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent (or 85 percent in the large group market which is generally insurance through large employers) on medical care.

If insurance companies do not meet this requirement, they have to refund the portion of the premium that exceeded the 20 or 15 percent limit on things like administrative expenses.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


High Price of Bad Medicine: One Surgeon Speaks Up (SHARON BEGLEY, 9/30/12, Reuters)

When Dr. Marty Makary was a medical student, staffers at the Boston hospital where he was training had a nickname for one of its most popular surgeons: Dr. Hodad.

"Hodad" is an acronym for "hands of death and destruction": Despite his Ivy League credentials and board certification, the surgeon had an unfortunate tendency to botch operations so badly that patients often suffered life-threatening complications. But he was also one of the surgeons most requested by patients, including celebrities, thanks to his charming bedside manner and their lack of understanding about what caused their post-op problems.
Makary, 42, aims to end the professional code of silence that allows colleagues like Dr. Hodad to thrive. Now a cancer surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Makary has just published the book Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care.

It outlines the extent to which doctors and hospitals suppress objective data about how patients fare in their hands and argues for clear, publicly accessible statistics to help people make the best choices when it comes to treatment. Hospitals and physicians, he argues, should collect "outcomes data" on everything from how many knee-replacement patients walk without a limp to how many prostatectomy patients become incontinent.

Without that, "patients are walking in blind" every time they choose a hospital, Makary said in an interview. With rare exception they have no way of knowing whether they will receive appropriate care or be one of the 100,000 patients killed or 9 million harmed every year in the United States because of medical mistakes.

One of the frightening realities of medicine is that if you can just manage to get into medical school in the first place you will get to be a doctor.  There is no failing once you're into the group.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


In Search of Muhammad : A special review and examination of Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist? (AYMENN JAWAD AL-TAMIMI, 5.25.12, American Spectator)

Without indulging in polemics or pushing a partisan political agenda, the author simply investigates the question of whether we can really trust the traditional Islamic accounts for the life of Muhammad and the supposed early days of Islam during the Arab conquests.

To be sure, serious scholarship on Islamic historiography dates back to the latter half of the 19th century -- with the works of the Belgian Jesuit Henri Lammens and the acclaimed Geschichte des Qorans by Theodor Noldeke, to name just two pioneers of the field -- and Spencer makes no pretense to originality.

Yet a traditional problem with Islamic historiography has been the intended audience: that is, the academic specialist assumed to have extensive background knowledge, rather than the general reader. Thus, Spencer's book serves a useful purpose, for it flows nicely while providing the reader with a firm grounding for delving deeper into the subject. Indeed, the author provides a handy "Further Reading List" (pp. 239-40) for anyone interested in consulting specialist works. Spencer also deserves credit for integrating his sources nicely into his writing, avoiding the practice of simply quoting verbatim large chunks from other authors.

SO WHAT ARE THE MAIN arguments against the historicity of the traditional Islamic accounts of Muhammad's life and the subsequent rise of Islam through the Arab conquests?
To begin with, contemporary non-Muslim sources of the 7th century do not corroborate the canonical story. For example, the Doctrina Jacobi (a document dating to 634-40 CE and probably written by a Christian living in Palestine; p. 20), an account of the Arab conquest of Jerusalem by Sophronius -- the patriarch who is said to have surrendered the city in 637 -- and a letter written in 647 by the patriarch of Seleucia make no reference to the Arab conquerors as Muslims, or show any awareness of a religion called Islam.

The earliest account that can reliably be taken to refer to Muhammad is a chronicle by the Armenian bishop Sebeos, dating either to the 660s or 670s but containing material that sharply diverges from the traditional Islamic accounts: thus he has Muhammad "insisting on the Jews' right to the Holy Land -- even if in the context of claiming that land for the Ishmaelites, acting in conjunction with the Jews" (p. 32).

Only by around 730 CE, nearly one hundred years after Muhammad's death in 632 CE according to the canonical story, do we see an account by John of Damascus make detailed reference to parts of the Qur'an, but even then he does not name the Qur'an or allude to the existence of a complete holy book for those he calls "Hagarians," "Ishmaelites" or "Saracens" (but not Muslims).

Instead, we have reference to Qur'anic chapter titles like "The Women" (this is the fourth Sura of the Qur'an today), implying that he was drawing on fragments of text that were later incorporated into the Qur'an.

Arabic epigraphic evidence from the 7th century similarly fails to validate the canonical account. An inscription attributed to the first Umayyad caliph -- Muawiya -- in 677 or 678 CE makes reference to belief in God but gives no indication of belief in Muhammad as his messenger or the Qur'an as revealed scripture.

On coins from this period, we do find the word "Muhammad" inscribed, but curiously the inscription comes under kingly figures bearing a cross, a symbol of Christianity that is totally antithetical to traditional Islam (pp. 43-4).

Bearing in mind that "Muhammad" can also mean "the chosen/praised one," the coins could well be conveying the idea that the ruler is praised or chosen in God's name (p. 45). 
Alternatively, they could be referring to Jesus -- at a time when the religion of the Arab conquerors was still a vague monotheism -- or a proto-Muhammad figure still very much unlike the man depicted in the traditional accounts of his life. Even the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock -- completed in 691 CE and often thought to be the first elaborations on traditional Islamic theology -- could be referring to Jesus, explaining how he ("Muhammad") is a mere messenger and not divine as orthodox Christianity held (pp. 56-7).

There was no Mohammed, but if there was he was an intolerant war-mongering pedophile!

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama (Conor Friedersdorf, 9/29/12, Atlantic)

I find Obama likable when I see him on TV. He is a caring husband and father, a thoughtful speaker, and possessed of an inspirational biography. On stage, as he smiles into the camera, using words to evoke some of the best sentiments within us, it's hard to believe certain facts about him:   
Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn't "precise" or "surgical" as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue. 

Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama's kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.  

Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security. 

In different ways, each of these transgressions run contrary to candidate Obama's 2008 campaign. 

Heck, if the UR identified as white instead of black Mr. Friedersdorf wouldn't even give the teleprompter-reading Harvard legacy the undeserved credit for biography, thought, and speech. He'd be Mitt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


The Next Panic : Europe's crisis will be followed by a more devastating one, likely beginning in Japan. (PETER BOONE and SIMON JOHNSON, October 2012, Atlantic)

About half of the Japanese government's annual budget now goes to pensions and interest payments. As the government has spent more and more to support its growing elderly population, Japanese savers have willingly financed ever-increasing public-sector debts.

Elderly people hold their savings in the form of cash and bank deposits. The banks, in turn, hold a great deal of government debt. The Bank of Japan (the country's central bank) also buys government bonds--this is how it provides liquid reserves to commercial banks and cash to households. Similarly, Japan's private pension plans--many promising a defined benefit--own a great deal of government bonds, to back their future payments. Few foreigners hold Japanese government debt--95 percent of it is in the hands of locals.

Given Japan's demographic decline, it would make sense to invest national savings abroad, in countries where populations are younger and still growing, and returns on capital are surely higher. These other nations should be able to pay back loans when they are richer and older, supplying some of the funds needed to meet Japan's pension promises and other obligations. This is the strategy that Singapore and Norway, for example, have undertaken in recent decades.

Instead, the Japanese government is using private savings to fund current spending, such as pensions and wage payments. With projected annual budget deficits between 7 and 10 percent of GDP, Japanese savers are essentially tendering their savings in return for newly issued government debt, which is not backed by hard assets. It is backed only by an aging, shrinking population of taxpayers. 

Which is why the main threat to the global economy is the reduction in US debt, at a time when billions of people are becoming increasingly dependent on it.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Who Are the Real Job Creators? (Justin Green, Sep 29, 2012, Daily Beast)

Nick Hanauer demolishes the silliest idea of this election cycle: that of the Randian-inspired, intrepid "job creator" feeling oppressed by the government. 

Great success should be celebrated, but not institutionalized. When we tax working Americans at a higher rate than billionaires, it is bad for business. When we tax the small business more than our largest corporations, it is similarly bad for business. When we give tax breaks to the wealthiest while excluding those in the middle and the bottom, we slow down our economy by slowing down the rate of idea creation, because so many are excluded from the process of solving our nation's problems.

Taxing work and business is bad for the economy.

September 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


The Conservative Case for Obamacare (J. D. KLEINKE, 9/29/12, NY Times)

The rationalization and extension of the current market is financed by the other linchpin of the law: the mandate that we all carry health insurance, an idea forged not by liberal social engineers at the Brookings Institution but by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. The individual mandate recognizes that millions of Americans who could buy health insurance choose not to, because it requires trading away today's wants for tomorrow's needs. The mandate is about personal responsibility -- a hallmark of conservative thought.

IN the partisan war sparked by the 2008 election, Republicans conveniently forgot that this was something many of them had supported for years. The only thing wrong with the mandate? Mr. Obama also thought it was a good idea.

The same goes for health insurance exchanges, another idea formulated by conservatives and supported by Republican governors and legislators across the country for years. An exchange is as pro-market a mechanism as they come: free up buyers and sellers, standardize the products, add pricing transparency, and watch what happens. Market Economics 101.

In the shouting match over the health care law, most have somehow missed another of its obvious virtues: it enshrines accountability -- yes, another conservative idea. Under today's system, most health insurers (and providers) are accountable to the wrong people, often for the wrong reasons, with the needs of patients coming last. With the transparency, mobility and choice of the exchanges, businesses and individuals can decide for themselves which insurers (and, embedded in their networks, which providers) deserve their dollars. They can see, thanks to the often derided benefits standardization of the reform act, what they are actually buying. They can shop around. And businesses are free to decide that they are better off opting out, paying into funds that subsidize individuals' coverage and letting their employees do their own shopping, with what is, in essence, their own compensation, relocated to the exchanges.

Back when the idea of letting businesses and consumers pick their own plans -- with their own money on an exchange -- first floated around Washington, advocates called them "association health plans." They, too, would have corrected for the lack of transparency, mobility and choice in local insurance markets by allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines. They were the cornerstone of what would have been the Bush administration's reform plan (had the administration not been distracted by other matters). After the rejection of "Hillarycare" in the mid-'90s, association health plans emerged as the centerpiece of pro-market, Republican thinking about health reform -- essentially what would become Romneycare, extended via federal law to cover the entire country. So much for Mr. Romney's argument that his plan in Massachusetts was an expression of states' rights. His own party had bigger plans for the rest of the country, and they looked a lot like Obamacare.

But perhaps the clearest indication of the conservative economic values underlying the act is its reception by many Democrats. The plan has few champions on the left precisely because it is not a government takeover of health care. It is not a single-payer system, nor "Medicare for all"; it does not include a "public option," a health plan offered by a federal insurer. It is a ratification of market ideas, modified to address problems unique to health insurance.

Mr. Obama's plan, which should be a darling of the right for these principles, was abandoned not for its content, but rather for politics.

For the partisan there are no principles, only politics.
Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Leo Traynor is my hero of Yom Kippur : On this day of repentance, Traynor's treatment of his stupid and cruel troll is a moving reminder of God's willingness to forgive (Giles Fraser,  26 September 2012, The Guardian)

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. The holiest of Jewish festivals, it is a time for repentance, for "teshuva". At the end of the day the judgment of God is entered in the book of life. This is the last chance to amend what is written. As the congregation stands before the open ark containing the Torah scrolls, it is a final opportunity to say sorry and to put things right. When the shofar, the ram's horn, blows at the end of the day, the book of life will close and one's sins will be recorded forever.

Repentance and forgiveness are at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Which is why Leo Traynor's recent blogpost offers such a perfect and intensely moving reflection on the practicalities of forgiveness.

It all began with Traynor being hounded off Twitter after receiving sustained and poisonous abuse... [...]

Eventually he acted for himself. He found an IT whizz who tracked down the IP address of his tormentor and then traced it back to a house address - the address of a friend of his. The troll was his friend's son.

Instead of calling in the police, Traynor arranged a meeting with the 17-year-old and his parents. He bought tea and chocolate chip cookies. And then opened a file containing the evidence. Here was the book of life. Traynor's account of what happened next is brief - the sort of profound brevity that allows the events themselves to carry the weight of significance.

"Why?" asked Traynor. The troll began to cry. "I don't know, I don't know. I'm sorry. It was like a game thing." A bloody game thing. Then Traynor gave a short speech that is the perfect embodiment of Yom Kippur.

"Look at me. I'm a middle-aged man with a limp and a wheeze and a son and a wife that I love. I'm not just a little avatar of an eye. You're better than this. You have a name of your own. Be proud of it. Don't hide it again and I wont ruin it if you play ball with your parents. Now shake hands."

The troll said sorry. "Thanks for giving me a break, dude."

That was it. For those of us who are people of faith, one could almost have heard the ram's horn giving its final blast. A stupid and cruel young man was saved not just from the police but also from the final judgment of God.

When one of our pseudonymous trolls committed suicide it just drove home the point that such behavior is a function of a disturbed mind.  We obviously lack the Lord's capacity to forgive, but we do excuse.

But the use of anonymity does generally represent a disregard for the meaning of free speech.  You're entitled to say whatever you choose to, so long as you're willing to accept responsibility for it.  If you aren't, you probably oughtn't be saying it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Church-Bred and Honky-Tonk Sanctified (STEVE DOUGHERTY, 9/29/12, WSJ)

Her return comes on the heels of a long creative drought. She had to wait for the songs to come. "I was trying to write and the writing wasn't happening," says Ms. Dement, who is 51. "You can call it whatever name you put on that condition."

An epic case of writers block perhaps. Whatever the term, the long absence pained loyal fans first wowed by Ms. Dement's 1992 debut, "Infamous Angel," an album that featured two widely covered tunes, "Let the Mystery Be" and "Our Town."

Despite the insider buzz and positive reviews for follow-up albums in 1993 ("My Life") and 1996 ("The Way I Should"), Ms. Dement remained little-known to the music listening world at large. "In Spite of Ourselves," her deliciously ribald 1999 duet with John Prine, from an album of the same name, became a coveted cult item but was seldom heard on the radio, in part because of lyrics that Ms. Dement knew would make her own Pentecostal-church-going mother blush. "I love singing it but I never sent that CD to my mom," she says. "So as far as she knew, I was never on a John Prine record." Also on Mr. Prine's album of duets: "(We're Not) The Jet Set" ("We're the old Chevrolette-set..."), which George Jones and Tammy Wynette made famous.

Ms. Dement made another stealth attack on the zeitgeist in 2010 when her version of the hymn "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" (from her 2004 collection of gospel standards, "Lifeline") provided the coda to the Coen brothers film, "True Grit;" but few realized whose voice was raising their goosebumps.

No disregard to the great Ms DeMent, but the goosebumps are more likely a function of this permanently haunting version:

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


In "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire, The U.S. Looks For Tax Leadership (Travis Brown, 9/28/12, Forbes)

Using the Internal Revenue Service's taxpayer data files from the last fifteen tax years, we can see how New Hampshire has performed relative to its peer states. Between 1995 and 2010, New Hampshire has attracted more than $3.2 billion in net adjusted gross income (net AGI) than it has lost to rival states. This means that, on average, New Hampshire tends to gain $215 million in disposable income from working taxpayers each year -- mostly from top rivals such as Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut.

It's all about user fees and charges.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Homophobia: what does it really mean? : In discussing same-sex issues, let's scrap the labels and return to facts. (Zac Alstin, 28 September 2012, MercatorNet)

According to the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC), as of 2009, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for approximately 2 percent of the US population, but 56 percent of people living with HIV. This same demographic suffered 61 percent of all new HIV infections that year.

The CDC uses the concept of MSM because actions speak louder than words: actual behaviour is a better predictor of disease risk than self-identification. But even though actions speak louder than words, words are much easier to interpret. In fact, words are too easy to interpret, and in our contemporary verbal glut we are at risk of losing touch with the meaning embodied in real actions and real objects.

Here's the problem: the CDC uses the term "MSM", and we discover to our surprise that we don't really know how to interpret such a concept. If only they'd said "gay men", we could all slide neatly into our prejudices. MSM is a fact; "homosexuality" is an idea, an interpretation, an ideology, a historical movement, and a rallying point in the culture war.

...when to be a "homophobe" means you believe that we should help men avoid behaviors that will debilitate them physically and emotionally while to be pro-gay means you should be indifferent to their suicidal pathologies. It is the phobe who loves them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


The Once-Born and the Twice-Born : The militant quest for certitude among the New Atheists has a peculiarly old-fashioned feel about it (GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, 9/28/12, WSJ)

To anyone even casually familiar with the perennial debate between religion and science, both the New Atheism of the four horsemen and the "Neo-Atheism," as it might be dubbed, of Mr. de Botton seem peculiarly old-fashioned--retro, as we now say. And it is old-fashioned enough to recall a participant in that debate more than a century ago. The Harvard philosopher William James did not identify himself as an atheist. On the contrary, it was as a believer that he defended religion--but a believer of a special sort and a religion that the orthodox, then and now, would not recognize as such. If Mr. de Botton is a Neo-Atheist, James qualifies as a Neo-Believer.

His 1896 lecture "The Will to Believe" was prompted, James said, by the "freethinking and indifference" he encountered at Harvard. He warned his audience that he would not offer either logical or theological arguments supporting the existence of God or any particular religion, ritual or dogma. His "justification of faith" derived instead entirely from the "will" or the "right" to believe, to "adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, despite the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced." James knew this would not go down well with the students and philosophers in the eminent universities. To the obvious objection that the denial of the "logical intellect" is to give up any claim to truth, he replied that it is in defense of truth that faith is justified--the truth provided not by logic or science but by experience and reflection. Moral questions, he pointed out, cannot be resolved with the certitude that comes from objective logic or science.

...and the poor Materialists have never surmounted the problem that objective truth can only be derived via Faith, not Reason.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Rethinking Sleep (DAVID K. RANDALL, 9/23/12, NY Times)

The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world's population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.

One of the first signs that the emphasis on a straight eight-hour sleep had outlived its usefulness arose in the early 1990s, thanks to a history professor at Virginia Tech named A. Roger Ekirch, who spent hours investigating the history of the night and began to notice strange references to sleep. A character in the "Canterbury Tales," for instance, decides to go back to bed after her "firste sleep." A doctor in England wrote that the time between the "first sleep" and the "second sleep" was the best time for study and reflection. And one 16th-century French physician concluded that laborers were able to conceive more children because they waited until after their "first sleep" to make love. Professor Ekirch soon learned that he wasn't the only one who was on to the historical existence of alternate sleep cycles. In a fluke of history, Thomas A. Wehr, a psychiatrist then working at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., was conducting an experiment in which subjects were deprived of artificial light. Without the illumination and distraction from light bulbs, televisions or computers, the subjects slept through the night, at least at first. But, after a while, Dr. Wehr noticed that subjects began to wake up a little after midnight, lie awake for a couple of hours, and then drift back to sleep again, in the same pattern of segmented sleep that Professor Ekirch saw referenced in historical records and early works of literature.

It seemed that, given a chance to be free of modern life, the body would naturally settle into a split sleep schedule. Subjects grew to like experiencing nighttime in a new way. Once they broke their conception of what form sleep should come in, they looked forward to the time in the middle of the night as a chance for deep thinking of all kinds, whether in the form of self-reflection, getting a jump on the next day or amorous activity. Most of us, however, do not treat middle-of-the-night awakenings as a sign of a normal, functioning brain.

Doctors who peddle sleep aid products and call for more sleep may unintentionally reinforce the idea that there is something wrong or off-kilter about interrupted sleep cycles. Sleep anxiety is a common result: we know we should be getting a good night's rest but imagine we are doing something wrong if we awaken in the middle of the night. Related worries turn many of us into insomniacs and incite many to reach for sleeping pills or sleep aids, which reinforces a cycle that the Harvard psychologist Daniel M. Wegner has called "the ironic processes of mental control."

As we lie in our beds thinking about the sleep we're not getting, we diminish the chances of enjoying a peaceful night's rest.

This, despite the fact that a number of recent studies suggest that any deep sleep -- whether in an eight-hour block or a 30-minute nap -- primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identify patterns faster and recall information more accurately. In a NASA-financed study, for example, a team of researchers led by David F. Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that letting subjects nap for as little as 24 minutes improved their cognitive performance.

...actual Sleep doctors tell you to get out of bed if you aren't sleeping and not to lie there thinking about it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


REVIEW: Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56 By Anne Applebaum : A superb study in the savagery of Soviet invasion and occupation of the Eastern bloc (OLIVER BULLOUGH, 29 SEPTEMBER 2012, The Independent)

Iron Curtain deserves as much praise as its predecessor. It is not a sequel chronologically speaking, since Gulag traced the impact of Joseph Stalin's camps to the present day. But it takes the same theme - the destruction of society and imposition of Soviet dictatorship - and expands it to Eastern Europe. Applebaum starts her story - which focuses on East Germany, Hungary and Poland - with the Red Army's arrival in Eastern Europe in 1944. The tale is, by turns, upsetting, depressing and uplifting, as we see how humans reacted to the pressures put on them by forces completely outside their control.The distinction between whether the Soviet soldiers liberated or occupied the citizens of what became the Eastern bloc is a crucial one. At first they were themselves unsure. On their arrival in Poland, they initially co-operated with the Home Army, the underground force that had battled the Germans since 1939. Poles could speak Polish in public for the first time in years. The Soviets opened the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and gave freedom to the few Jews who had survived the war.

But disillusionment set in fast. The Red Army re-opened camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald almost as soon as they closed them, to house their own undesirables. Soviet troops gang-raped almost any women they came across, not just Germans but Poles and Hungarians. Astonished by the relative wealth - even after total war - of the lands they were conquering, they stole anything they could carry. Watches became a craze and the famous picture of the Soviet flag waved from the Reichstag had to be "touched up" to remove the watches on the soldier's arm.

Over the next five years, Soviet power gradually erased any pretence of democracy in its satellites, slicing away at civil society and political parties until nothing was left but the Communists led by each country's own "little Stalin". Even the Poles quailed before the ruthlessness of Stalin's NKVD.

Some people don't even realize the term V-E Day is ironic.

My own personal fear on 9-11 was that we would, once again, only take the low hanging fruit and end the war before we'd taken down Libya, Egypt and Syria in particular.  But the WoT is turning out far more successfully than did the Civil War, WWI or WWII, for which W and the UR deserve the credit that Johnson, Grant, Wilson, Truman and Ike do not.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Self-driving cars are approaching fast -- and safely : As Google has worked on a fully self-driving car, some automakers have already employed autonomous safety features that are reducing crashes. (Jerry Hirsch, 9/29/12, Los Angeles Times)

Having a hard time parallel parking? Press a button on a touch screen and let the car park itself.

Want to stay a safe distance from the car ahead while traveling 65 mph? Switch on adaptive cruise control and let a radar-linked computer handle the accelerator, slowing and speeding your vehicle to keep pace. [...]

[A]utomakers already are pouring millions of dollars into systems that hand more control of a vehicle to a complex network of sensors and computers. Features such as collision avoidance systems that sense a potential crash and trigger the brakes or an alert that tells drivers they are wandering into adjacent lanes are making their way into more cars every year.

Industry, traffic and insurance experts believe that the advances are beginning to transform driving in a way that will reduce accidents and injuries.

"This is the future," said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Vehicles are designed to protect people when crashes happen, but it would be even better to prevent crashes from happening altogether."
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September 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM


Where is Puritan, Middle-Class America When We Need It? (Peter Lawler, 9/28/12, Liberty Law Blog)

When people relate too exclusively in terms of interests, they become, Tocqueville explains, emotionally isolated, locked up in themselves.  Tocqueville called that self-centered apathetic indifference to others INDIVIDUALISM.  Individualism not only keeps people from being the active citizens that democracy requires to resist the various forms of tyranny.  Individualism, Tocqueville observes, sometimes makes Americans much more unhappy--more sad and anxious--than they should be in the midst of their fortunate circumstances.  The excesses of sophisticated American individualism is what we see mocked, of course, on clever shows like SEINFELD--a show full of pathetic, unhappy people who'll never be relational enough to reproduce.

So Tocqueville says that, in America, the spirit of liberty depends on the spirit of religion.  He talks up not only our constitutional founding but our first Founding with the Puritans.   The Puritans were pure egalitarians who came up with many of our democratic institutions.  They were all about not only educating people for work but educating their souls.  Everyone should be able to read not only to earn a living but to read the Bible--to discover for themselves the whole truth about their origin and destiny as beings created in the image of God.  In America, we've taken pride in our public schools, but we used to know--and still do in the South--that what kids learn there needs to be completed by Sunday School.

The Puritans, by being concerned with the souls or irreducible greatness of everyone, were kind of about an aristocracy of everyone.

For the Puritan Christians, it's true, everyone had to work.  There are no aristocrats excluded from the consequences of sin.  But everyone also needs and deserves leisure.  And that's why, Tocqueville noticed, the Americans were so insistent that nobody work on Sunday.  Sunday is for reading about, hearing about (through sermons), and talking about the whole truth about who you are.  When we Americans surrendered Sunday to the busyness of commerce, we gave up, to some extent, on the deep source of civilized human enjoyment. [...]

So, from Tocqueville's view, we can thank ourselves--our love of freedom and our hard work--that we've flourished in such a magnificent way as the middle-class country.  But, thank God, we've always understood ourselves as more than middle-class beings, too.  That means that we remain about caring for one other, and we're good enough at it that we rely on government a lot less than more individualistic or indifferent people would in caring for those genuinely in need.  That category of being needy, vulnerable, and lonely includes us all to some extent or another.

And, it turns out, who you are doesn't have all that much to do with "work."
Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


The Arab Spring Still Blooms (MONCEF MARZOUKI, 9/27/12, NY Times)

The democratization of Tunisia, Egypt and other countries has allowed a number of extremist free riders into the political system. But it has also definitively refuted the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Islamists are political actors like any others: they are no more pure, more united or more immune from criticism than anyone else.

Islamist parties are now free to take part in political debates and to win seats in legislatures and governments. However, these political changes have also rendered the divisions among Islamists more apparent than ever before.

Islamists span a wide ideological and political spectrum. Yet many observers still seem to believe that extremist Salafi groups represent a majority. They are wrong. Radical Salafis who advocate violence and Shariah constitute a very small minority in Tunisia -- and even in Egypt they are vastly outnumbered by more moderate Islamists. They are a minority within a minority, and extremely unpopular among both religious and secular Tunisians. They do not speak for all Tunisians, Arabs or Muslims.

The goal of these violent extremists is not political participation; it is to create chaos. We should not forget that before attacking American symbols, these extremists had degraded Tunisian symbols, like the flag and national anthem.

Despite their small numbers, the danger they pose cannot be dismissed. Tunisia's economy depends on the millions of foreign tourists who visit each year. If Salafi extremists were to attack just two or three foreigners in Tunisia, it would destroy our tourism industry and ruin our country's peaceful reputation. As a democratic government, we support the Salafis' freedom of expression, but advocating violence is a red line. Those who cross it will be arrested.

...about how obsessively the Tunisians we met thanked America for supporting the Revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Sponging boomers : The economic legacy left by the baby-boomers is leading to a battle between the generations (The Economist, Sep 29th 2012)

More worrying is that this generation seems to be able to leverage its size into favourable policy. Governments slashed tax rates in the 1980s to revitalise lagging economies, just as boomers approached their prime earning years. The average federal tax rate for a median American household, including income and payroll taxes, dropped from more than 18% in 1981 to just over 11% in 2011. Yet sensible tax reforms left less revenue for the generous benefits boomers have continued to vote themselves, such as a prescription-drug benefit paired with inadequate premiums. Deficits exploded. Erick Eschker, an economist at Humboldt State University, reckons that each American born in 1945 can expect nearly $2.2m in lifetime net transfers from the state--more than any previous cohort.

Boomers' sponging may well outstrip that of younger generations as well. A study by the International Monetary Fund in 2011 compared the tax bills of a cohort's members over their lifetime with the value of the benefits that they are forecast to receive. The boomers are leaving a huge bill. Those aged 65 in 2010 may receive $333 billion more in benefits than they pay in taxes (see chart), an obligation 17 times larger than that likely to be left by those aged 25.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


The Adventures of the Real Tom Sawyer : Mark Twain prowled the rough-and-tumble streets of 1860s San Francisco with a hard-drinking, larger-than-life fireman (Robert Graysmith, October 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

On September 28, Sawyer and Twain went on a momentous bender. "Mark was as much sprung as I was," Sawyer recalled, "and in a short time we owned the City, cobblestones and all." They made the rounds of the Montgomery Street saloons, growing more expansive as they spent most of the night drinking brandy at the Blue Wing and the Capitol Saloon. "Toward mornin' Mark sobered up a bit and we all got to tellin' yarns," Sawyer said. The sun was up by the time the two called it a night.

"The next day I met Mark down by the old Call office," Sawyer continued. "He walks up to me and puts both hands on my shoulders. 'Tom,' he says, 'I'm going to write a book about a boy and the kind I have in mind was just about the toughest boy in the world. Tom, he was just such a boy as you must have been....How many copies will you take, Tom, half cash?'"

Sawyer did not take him seriously. He got to the firehouse on Fourth Street and tried to sleep off his hangover in a back room. Twain went home, slept and then wrote his sister. "I would commence on my book," he wrote. He had already spoken of his ambitious literary plan to write a novel to his brother Orion, cautioning him to say nothing of it. [...]

Viola Rodgers, a reporter at Twain's old paper, the Call, interviewed Tom Sawyer on October 23, 1898. She was intrigued by what Twain had written in a postscript to the book: "Most of the characters that perform in this book still live and are prosperous and happy. Some day it may seem worthwhile to take up the story of the younger ones again and see what sort of men and women they turned out to be; therefore it will be wisest not to reveal any of that part of their lives at present."

She reached the old-fashioned Mission Street saloon just to the east side of the Mint. "Over the door hangs a sign which reads 'The Gotham--Tom Sawyer. Proprietor,'" she later wrote. "To a casual observer that name means no more than if it were 'Jack Brown' or 'Tom Jones,' but to Mark Twain it meant the inspiration for his most famous work. For the jolly old fireman sitting in there in an old fashioned haircloth chair is the original Tom Sawyer....This real, live, up-to-date Tom Sawyer spends his time telling stories of former days while he occasionally mixes a brandy and soda or a cocktail." The walls were completely covered with helmets, belts, election tickets, badges, hooks, bugles, nozzles, mementos and other firefighting paraphernalia. "Next to his badges of his fire company, Tom Sawyer values his friendship with Mark Twain, and he will sit for hours telling of the pranks they used to play and of the narrow escapes they had from the police. He is fond of reminiscing and recalling the jolly nights and days he used to spend with Sam--as he always calls him."

"You want to know how I came to figure in his books, do you?" Sawyer asked. "Well, as I said, we both was fond of telling stories and spinning yarns. Sam, he was mighty fond of children's doings and whenever he'd see any little fellers a-fighting on the street, he'd always stop and watch 'em and then he'd come up to the Blue Wing and describe the whole doings and then I'd try and beat his yarn by telling him of the antics I used to play when I was a kid and say, 'I don't believe there ever was such another little devil ever lived as I was.' Sam, he would listen to these pranks of mine with great interest and he'd occasionally take 'em down in his notebook. One day he says to me: 'I am going to put you between the covers of a book some of these days, Tom.' 'Go ahead, Sam,' I said, 'but don't disgrace my name.'"

"But [Twain's] coming out here some day," Sawyer added, "and I am saving up for him. When he does come there'll be some fun, for if he gives a lecture I intend coming right in on the platform and have a few old time sallies with him."

The nonfictional character died in the autumn of 1906, three and a half years before Twain. "Tom Sawyer, Whose Name Inspired Twain, Dies at Great Age," the newspaper headline announced. The obituary said, "A man whose name is to be found in every worthy library in America died in this city on Friday....So highly did the author appreciate Sawyer that he gave the man's name to his famous boy character. In that way the man who died Friday is godfather, so to speak, of one of the most enjoyable books ever written."

Sawyer's saloon was destroyed that same year--by fire.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


MICHAEL KIWANUKA PERFORMS IN THE CURRENT STUDIO (Jim McGuinn, 9/28/12, Minnesota Public Radio)

Reviewer Lindsay Kimball had this to say: "He is a 24-year-old with the voice and music of someone three times his age. When you hear his debut album, Home Again, Michael Kiwanuka -- the UK native of Ugandan-born parents -- could fool you into thinking that you were listening to a long-lost Bill Withers record."

While in town for a show at Fine Line Music Cafe, Kiwanuka stopped by The Current studio to perform a few songs and chat with Program Director Jim McGuinn.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


The Short Run is Short (Eli Dourado)

My first bit of evidence is corporate profits. They are at an all time high, around two-and-a-half times higher in nominal terms than they were during the late 1990s, our last real boom.

If you think that unemployment is high because demand is low and therefore business isn't profitable, you are empirically mistaken. Business is very profitable, but it has learned to get by without as much labor.

And there's still plenty of deadwood left to clear.
Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


How Republican or Democratic Is Your Name? (SERENA DAI, 9/28/12, Atlantic)

Columnist Chris Wilson noticed that certain names popped up more for Republicans (Donald, Sharon) and certain ones went to Democrats (Angela, Willie). To figure out of this was actually a thing, Wilson looked at a Federal Election Commission database of names and political party for people who donated at least $200 to a federal campaign. The interactive above tracks donations from 452,000 Obama donators and 315,000 Romney donators. Wilson only used names that showed up at least 25 times and decided if they were individuals by looking at ZIP codes. The closer a dot is to the left, the more people with that name donate to Obama. For instance, 81 percent of people name Ellen donated to Obama, so that dot lands closer to the left. 

As you can see, women names (the pink dots) tend to support Obama while male name (blue dots) tend to go Romney.

Because being a Democrat is a chick thing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


End Of An Auto Era: Saying Goodbye To The Bench Seat (Jim Gorzelany, 9/28/12, Forbes)

Next to the wheel, it's one automotive component that dates back to the horse-drawn carriage era, and it's about to go the way of the buggy whip. The front bench seat, once a fixture among large American cars, will be headed for oblivion when the final 2013 Chevrolet Impala rolls off the assembly line in the coming months.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


George W. Bush posts better favorability ratings than Mitt Romney in new Bloomberg survey (Tom Benning, 9/27/12,

A Bloomberg News National Poll released Wednesday has Bush receiving a favorable rating from 46 percent of those surveyed and an unfavorable rating from 49 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Are Neanderthals Human? (Carl Zimmer, 09.20.12, NOVA)

It's been over 150 years since the bones first emerged from the Neander Valley--a time during which we've learned a vast amount about human evolution. Today, scientists can even scan the genomes of Neanderthals who died 50,000 years ago. And yet the debate still rages. It's a debate that extends beyond Neanderthals, forcing us to ask what it means to be a species at all.

It's just a lifestyle choice.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Warmonger or idealist: the roots of human conflict (Dan Jones, 9/25/12, New Scientist)

CONSIDER yourself lucky. You are living in the most peaceful era of our species' existence. Today, you are less likely to die at the hands of another person than at any time in human history. So argues Steven Pinker in his monumental history of human violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Drawing on a mountain of statistics, Pinker shows that deaths attributable to violent conflicts - from revenge killing and blood feuds to genocides and wars - have been declining for at least the past 6000 years. [...]

We are not the only species that engages in collective aggression. Wolves in one pack will team up to take out members of a rival group. Our closest relatives, chimpanzees, fight neighbouring troops. Indeed, primatologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University believes we share with chimps an evolved coalitional psychology that fuels collective attacks. But whereas chimp groups fight to take over territory, our aims are far more complex. "Human aggression is unique in that it can involve conflict over ideas, beliefs and symbols of cultural identity," says Michele Gelfand of the University of Maryland in College Park.

What's more, conflict seems to be an integral part of our social organisation. "We're one species, yet we bind ourselves into exclusive, conflicting groups," says anthropologist Scott Atran of the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris, France. Group hostility and aggression are horribly easy to induce, as social psychologists have long been aware. More than 40 years ago, the late Henri Tajfel showed how people put into teams according to whether they preferred the paintings of Klee or Kandinsky behaved favourably towards team-mates, while treating members of the other team harshly. Since then, numerous experiments have revealed how the flimsiest badges of cultural identity can create hostility towards outsiders - even the colour of randomly assigned shirts can do it.

Paradoxically, these antagonistic tendencies may be intimately linked with another, much more noble side of human nature: our unparalleled capacity for large-scale cooperation and altruistic self-sacrifice. Few activities draw on these traits like fighting on behalf of our group, with the high risk of injury or death that entails. Samuel Bowles, an economist at the Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico, argues that love for one's own group could easily have co-evolved with hostility towards outsiders, creating an unusual mix of kindness and violence. "It's Mother Theresa meets Rambo," he says.

Consider that America responded to the 9-11 attacks by liberating the "group" that perpetrated it in a series of different nations.  War, at least as the West wages it, often is altruism.

September 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


Vote: Should There Be a Price on Carbon? (WSJ, 9/27/12)

It's a simple idea: To reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, put a price on them. But it's dividing even those who agree that government should be pursuing policies to promote clean energy. [...]

What do you think? Register your vote and leave us your comments. We may use them in print in an upcoming special report.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


The Truth About DDT and Silent Spring (Robert Zubrin, 9/27/12, New Atlantis)

In the last days of September 1943, as the U.S. Army advanced to the rescue of Italian partisans -- some as young as nine -- battling the Germans in the streets of Naples, the enraged Nazis, in a criminal act of revenge against their erstwhile allies, deployed sappers to systematically destroy the city's aqueducts, reservoirs, and sewer system. This done, the supermen, pausing only to burn irreplaceable libraries, including hundreds of thousands of volumes and artifacts at the University of Naples -- where Thomas Aquinas once taught -- showed their youthful Neapolitan opponents their backs, and on October 1, to the delirious cheers of the Naples populace, Allied forces entered the town in triumph.
But a city of over a million people had been left without sanitation, and within weeks, as the Germans had intended, epidemics broke out. By November, thousands of Neapolitans were infected with typhus, with one in four of those contracting it dying of the lice-transmitted disease.[3] The dead were so numerous that, as in the dark time of the Black Death, bodies were put out into the street by the hundreds to be hauled away by carts. Alarmed, General Eisenhower contacted Washington and made a desperate plea for help to contain the disaster.
Fortunately, the brass had a new secret weapon ready just in time to deal with the emergency. It was called DDT,[4] a pesticide of un­prece­dented effectiveness. First synthesized by a graduate student in 1874, DDT went unnoticed until its potential application as an insecticide was discovered by chemist Paul H. Müller while working for the Swiss company Geigy during the late 1930s. Acquainted with Müller's work, Victor Froelicher, Geigy's New York representative, disclosed it to the American military's Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) in October 1942. Examining Müller's data, the OSRD's experts immediately realized its importance. On Guadalcanal, and elsewhere in the South Pacific, the Marines were losing more men to malaria than they were to the Japanese, with the entire 1st Marine Division rendered unfit for combat by the insect-borne disease. Without delay, first Geigy's Cincinnati factory and then the giant DuPont chemical company were given contracts to produce the new pesticide in quantity.[5]
By January 1, 1944, the first shipments of what would eventually amount to sixty tons of DDT reached Italy. Stations were set up in the palazzos of Naples, and as the people walked by in lines, military police officers with spray guns dusted them with DDT. Other spray teams prowled the town, dusting public buildings and shelters. The effects were little short of miraculous. Within days, the city's vast population of typhus-transmitting lice was virtually exterminated; by month's end, the epidemic was over.[6]

January 1944. The U.S. Army uses DDT to end the typhus epidemic in Naples.The retreating Germans, however, did not give up so easily on the use of insects as vectors of death. As the Allied forces advanced north from Naples toward Rome, they neared the Pontine Marshes, which for thousands of years had been rendered nearly uninhabitable by their enormous infestation of virulently malarial mosquitoes. In his most noteworthy accomplishment before the war, Mussolini had drained these marshes, making them potentially suitable for human settlement. The Germans demolished Mussolini's dikes, quickly transforming the area back into the mosquito-infested malarial hellhole it had been for millennia. This promised to be very effective. In the brief Sicilian campaign of early summer 1943, malaria had struck 22,000 Allied troops -- a greater casualty toll than that inflicted by the Axis forces themselves.[7] The malarial losses inflicted by the deadly Pontine Marshes were poised to be far worse.
But the Nazis had not reckoned on DDT. In coordination with their ground forces, the Americans deployed airborne crop dusters, as well as truck dusters and infantry DDT spray teams. Success was total. The Pontine mosquitoes were wiped out. With negligible losses to malaria, the GIs pushed on to Rome, liberating the Eternal City in the early morning of June 5.[8]
From now on, "DDT marches with the troops," declared the Allied high command.[9] The order could not have come at a better time. As British and American forces advanced in Europe, they encountered millions of victims of Nazi oppression -- civilians under occupation, slave laborers, prisoners of war, concentration camp inmates -- dying in droves from insect-borne diseases. But with the armies of liberation came squads spraying DDT, and with it life for millions otherwise doomed to destruction. The same story was repeated in the Philippines, Burma, China, and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific theater. Never before in history had a single chemical saved so many lives in such a short amount of time.
A Civilian SuccessIn recognition for his role in this public health miracle, Paul Müller was given the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1948. Presenting the award, the Nobel Committee said: "DDT has been used in large quantities in the evacuation of concentration camps, of prisoners and deportees. Without any doubt, the material has already preserved the life and health of hundreds of thousands."[10]
With the coming of peace, DDT became available to civilian public health agencies around the world. They had good reason to put it to use immediately, since over 80 percent of all infectious diseases afflicting humans are carried by insects or other small arthropods.[11] These scourges, which have killed billions of people, include bubonic plague, yellow fever, typhus, dengue, Chagas disease, African sleeping sickness, elephantiasis, trypanosomiasis, viral encephalitis, leishmaniasis, filariasis, and, most deadly of all, malaria. Insects have also caused or contributed to mass death by starvation or malnutrition, by consuming up to 40 percent of the food crop and destroying much of the livestock in many developing countries.
One of the first countries to benefit from the use of DDT for civilian purposes was the United States. In the years immediately preceding World War II, between one and six million Americans, mostly drawn from the rural South, contracted malaria annually. In 1946, the U.S. Public Health Service initiated a campaign to wipe out malaria through the application of DDT to the interior walls of homes. The results were dramatic. In the first half of 1952, there were only two confirmed cases of malaria contracted within the United States.[12]
Other countries were quick to take note of the American success, and those that could afford it swiftly put DDT into action. In Europe, malaria was virtually eradicated by the mid-1950s. South African cases of malaria quickly dropped by 80 percent; Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) reduced its malaria incidence from 2.8 million in 1946 to 17 in 1963; and India cut its malaria death rate almost to zero. In 1955, with financial backing from the United States, the U.N. World Health Organization launched a global campaign to use DDT to eradicate malaria. Implemented successfully across large areas of the developing world, this effort soon cut malaria rates in numerous countries in Latin America and Asia by 99 percent or better. Even for Africa, hope that the age-old scourge would be brought to an end appeared to be in sight.[13]
But events took another turn with the appearance of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring.

It's the ideal liberal health campaign, it was good for whites, but bad for blacks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Mitt's Stake : For almost ten years, Romney led the Mormon church in Boston, shouldering the needs of his community. Is this the same man now running for president as a champion of individualism? (Benjamin Wallace-Wells,  Sep 23, 2012, New York)

Every church re-creates itself in each generation, a kind of call-and-response between its doctrine and its congregants. In Boston during the eighties and nineties, when Mitt Romney was the church official in charge of more than a dozen congregations, Mormonism was engaging modern America--ethnic diversity, feminist claims, identity politics--and trying, however uneasily, to make some accommodation with it. Romney sent a management consultant named Paul Dredge to run the church in Lynn and a podiatrist named Doug John to minister to its young men. Romney sent them to try to train some of the refugee teenagers as leaders, capable of one day running a church steeped in the habits of the American middle class--the endless bureaucratic meetings, the emphasis on voluntarism and leadership, the youth programs based on scouting. "I think part of the interest in the church was, what is this American thing about, anyway?" Dredge remembers.

What Dredge and John encountered, in Lynn, was an almost cosmic mismatch. John realized, right away, that scouting was probably a nonstarter. "The setting they were living in wasn't exactly Boy Scout stuff," he tells me. The most charismatic kid turned out to be a gang leader. John took the boys to the Green Mountains, in Vermont, and to dances with other Mormon kids--rich cheery blonde girls from Arlington and Belmont--but "most of the time they stood around and talked to one another. I'm not sure dances were something that was normal for them." What vexed Dredge was that no matter how many basketball games or Cambodian-food festivals he staged (at one point he helped intervene in an arranged marriage so that his congregants could find a love match), he couldn't seem to convert the congregants' social interest in the church into a spiritual commitment.

Romney was not vexed at all. Lynn was at times a thankless post, but he routinely sent the most competent Mormons in the area to help. "If you get only a handful of members," he told Dredge, "that is still a good result." Romney himself came to Lynn often, and when he did, it was with a blast of fellowship--greeting the congregants by name, packing teenagers into a van for a basketball game, showing them by his presence that they mattered too. Romney once organized an International Night, structured deliberately so that the Chinese scarf dances would outclass the American square dances, and the Brazilian food would put the American carrot-and-raisin salad to shame. "His idea was, maybe they aren't going to be as good at public speaking, or at organizing, or give these profound intellectual interpretations," says one of Romney's aides in the church, "but here is something where they are actually superior, where they could shine."

The Mitt Romney who led the outreach to Lynn--the Mormon Mitt Romney--has appeared mostly absent from his presidential campaign. The emptiness has invited skepticism: Liberals find Romney's ­discomfort in talking about his religion disquieting, even sinister, as if he must be hiding something, and some conservative Evangelicals have been leery, too. Romney's co-congregants in Boston are simply perplexed. "Sometimes I wish he would explain more what being a Mormon has meant to him," Romney's friend from the church Grant Bennett tells me plaintively. In his religious life they see the feeling for others that he's never conveyed in public--they see the contours of his empathy.

And yet there is something genuinely mysterious--and not just underexposed--in Romney's faith. As a church leader, Romney seemed devoted to a Mormon ethic of sacrifice for the welfare of the group, an ­almost communitarian system of belief. As a candidate, his philosophy has been nakedly individualistic and elitist--a turn made explicit last week, when a video emerged of Romney at a Florida fund-­raiser writing off 47 percent of the country as shiftless freeloaders: "My job is not to worry about these people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Many of the Boston Mormons believe the Romney they saw in church reflected a separate, genuine strain of his character, one that was opportunistically quashed as he entered national politics. But the clues from ­Romney's tenure as a church leader suggest a more complicated relationship to his ­religion and, therefore, a different explanation--that his approach to leadership seems not so much a departure from his own ­version of Mormonism as an extension of it. More than anything else, Romney's church seems to have armed him with a particular view of success.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


To Arthur! : Guinness has created a new Irish drinking holiday that is ridiculed yet widely celebrated. (Anna Weaver, Sept. 27, 2012, Slate)
In 1799, after spending 40 years tinkering with various ales and porters at his Dublin brewery, Arthur Guinness decided to dedicate his company solely to the perfection of a single brew: a roasted barley-flavored porter with a creamy head. Two hundred thirteen years later, Guinness' signature concoction is Ireland's unofficial national tipple--and internationally, Guinness is as synonymous with the Emerald Isle as leprechauns and shamrocks. [...]

Though its effect on sales trends remains to be seen, the first few Arthur's Days seem to have worked as far as getting out the crowds (and today's celebration looks poised to be just as big). For the past three years, on a predetermined Thursday toward the end of September, hundreds of thousands of people have turned up at their local (as the Irish call their neighborhood pub) and at gradually expanding international events, to raise their glasses at exactly 5:59 p.m. and toast "To Arthur!" (On European clocks, that time is known as 17:59, a nod to the year of Guinness' lease-signing.) The Thursday slot conveniently coincides with student drinking night, and the timing of the toast captures the after-work crowd.

The success of Arthur's day is unusual. You typically don't see Nutella fans storming grocery stores on Feb. 5 for World Nutella Day or Patron addicts lining up shots at every bar on National Tequila Day in late July.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


We Are the 96 Percent (SUZANNE METTLER and JOHN SIDES, 9/24/12, NY Times)

We have unique data from a 2008 national survey by the Cornell Survey Research Institute that asked Americans whether they had ever taken advantage of any of 21 social policies provided by the federal government, from student loans to Medicare. These policies do not include government activity that benefits everyone -- national defense, the interstate highway system, food safety regulations -- but only tangible benefits that accrue to specific households.

The survey asked about people's policy usage throughout their lives, not just at a moment in time, and it included questions about social policies embedded in the tax code, which are usually overlooked.

What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans -- 96 percent -- have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.

September 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


It's time to break up the Euro (Shawn Tully, September 25, 2012, Fortune)

 Roger Bootle prides himself on being something of a modern-day Nostradamus -- with good reason. In 1999 the British economist predicted a bursting of the dotcom bubble, and in his 2003 book, Money for Nothing, he forecast a worldwide crash in housing that would prove dire for the financial system. A rigorous student of markets, Bootle, 60, is a onetime Oxford don and chief economist for HSBC (HBC) who now runs Capital Economics, a London consulting firm. Operating out of a 19th-century Victorian townhouse near Buckingham Palace, the bald, bespectacled son of a civil servant confidently advises major banks and hedge funds from New York to Beijing. But away from the office he isn't much of a risk-taker. Bootle likes to unwind at England's famous Ascot Racecourse, where he wagers no more than "five or 10 quid just so I have a horse to cheer home."

Today Bootle is betting his professional reputation on another bold contrarian call, one with long-term ramifications for the world economy and global stock markets: He strongly believes that at least a partial breakup of the eurozone is inevitable and that massive changes are coming for the euro, the currency now shared by 17 nations accounting for one-eighth of world GDP.

In July, Bootle and his team won the prestigious Wolfson Economics Prize for providing the best answer to the following question: "If member states leave the Economic and Monetary Union, what is the best way for the economic process to be managed?" In a 114-page report, "Leaving the Euro: A Practical Guide," Bootle delivered a blueprint for the steps a nation should take in exiting the common currency. He also went further, summoning a powerful argument for why an exodus of weak countries is the only solution for Europe's deep malaise.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Chile Rises (Alvaro Vargas Llosa | September 25, 2012, National Interest)

I recently spoke to President Sebastián Piñera and found him to be exuberant. The economy is roaring, his popularity is recovering (although he knows likeability will never be his forte), and his education initiatives have managed to isolate the communists and left-wing anarchists from the middle class.

Inequality continues to drop, thanks to the seven hundred thousand private-sector jobs created in the past two years, coupled with safety-net subsidies targeting the poor.

And support for the free-enterprise system remains high. According to a recent survey conducted by the Center on Public Studies (CEP), an academic foundation headquartered in Santiago, the vast majority of Chileans continue to support the country's free-market model.

As to why some people do well and others remain poor, half of the respondents attributed poverty to a lack of education. Others blamed it on laziness and lack of initiative, or to personal vices, such as alcoholism. Only 28 percent of the respondents, however, attributed poverty to flaws in the free-market model.

Indeed, Chileans seem to accept income inequality as a fact of life, more so perhaps than in the United States.

But they do so with qualification. Half the CEP respondents said they accept inequality as long as opportunity exists for families to improve their lot. Some 73 percent of the respondents said it was important to "reward individual effort" even if it results in differing levels of income, and 77 percent supported the idea that the principal responsibility for society's economic well-being should rest on "the people themselves," not on the government.

Such attitudes toward wealth are not those of a Third World country; they are the attitudes of an advanced, developed country.

The value of a fascist interlude.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


In Arab Spring, Obama Finds a Sharp Test (HELENE COOPER and ROBERT F. WORTH, 9/24/12, NY Times)

[M]r. Obama's staunch defense of democracy protesters in Egypt last year soon drew him into an upheaval that would test his judgment, his nerve and his diplomatic skill. Even as the uprisings spread to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the president's sympathy for the protesters infuriated America's allies in the conservative and oil-rich Gulf states. In mid-March, the Saudis moved decisively to crush the democracy protests in Bahrain, sending a convoy of tanks and heavy artillery across the 16-mile King Fahd Causeway between the two countries.

That blunt show of force confronted Mr. Obama with the limits of his ability, or his willingness, to midwife democratic change. Despite a global outcry over the shooting and tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in Bahrain, the president largely turned a blind eye. His realism and reluctance to be drawn into foreign quagmires has held sway ever since, notably in Syria, where many critics continue to call for a more aggressive American response to the brutality of Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Mr. Obama's journey from Cairo to the Causeway took just 44 days. In part, it reflected the different circumstances in the countries where protests broke out, despite their common origins and slogans. But his handling of the uprisings also demonstrates the gap between the two poles of his political persona: his sense of himself as a historic bridge-builder who could redeem America's image abroad, and his more cautious adherence to long-term American interests in security and cheap oil.

To some, the stark difference between the outcomes in Cairo and Bahrain illustrates something else, too: his impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy, and his corresponding failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders that can, especially in the Middle East, help the White House to influence decisions made abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


What's cooking: King Arthur demos (Star Tribune, September 26, 2012)

Six free baking demonstrations will be offered in the Twin Cities next week by King Arthur Flour folks. Each two-hour demo includes free recipes, coupons, door prizes and time to chat with the King Arthur Flour staff -- all toward alleviating "baking anxiety." Here's the schedule:

• Sept. 30 at the Marriott Southwest, 5801 Opus Pkwy. in Minnetonka: 11 a.m., perfect pies and savory scones; 3 p.m., baking with yeast and whole grains.

• Oct. 1 at the Shoreview Community Center, 4580 N. Victoria St. in Shoreview: noon, perfect pies and savory scones; 7 p.m., baking with yeast and whole grains.

• Oct. 2 at the Eagan Community Center, 1501 Central Pkwy. in Eagan: noon, perfect pies and savory scones; 7 p.m., baking with yeast and whole grains.

No registration is required for the events.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Marine Le Pen Calls for Kippah Ban : Front National Party says kippot not kosher in public (Adam Chandler|September 21, 2012, The Tablet)

In some troubling news, far-right French leader Marine Le Pen, who placed third in the French presidential elections in May, called for a ban on kippot and headscarfs in public. In an interview on Friday with Le Monde, the daughter of the infamous French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen (who wasn't nearly as adept at masking his anti-Semitism) said that she believes that religious headwear should be banned in places like stores, public transportation, and on the streets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Barnes & Noble unveils $199 Nook HD (Julianne Pepitone, September 26, 2012, CNNMoney) 

The tablet field is one of tech's hottest battlegrounds, with new players and new devices popping up every week. The latest is Barnes & Noble's new Nook HD line, which offers beefed-up hardware and a new 9-inch tablet size.

The 7-inch Nook HD starts at $199 for a 8 GB model, and the 9-inch Nook HD+ starts at $269 for 16 GB. Both tablets begin shipping in late October and are slated to hit store shelves in early November. (Nook's older 7-inch Nook Tablet recently had its price tag cut to $179. The company's black-and-white Nook e-readers sell for $99 to $139.)

September 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Founding Fathers, Founding Villains : The New Liberal Originalism (William Hogeland, Boston Review)

It's true that, as treasury secretary, Hamilton did everything he could to strengthen federal authority and build the nation on the concentrated wealth of the lending class. When opposition to his plans grew intense, he was eager to ignore constitutional protections of individual rights in the interest of a small group of government-connected insiders, the public bondholders. The view of Hamilton as a betrayer of founding values therefore plays not only among conservatives of the Leahy type but also among certain liberals.

Roger Hodge is one of them. In The Mendacity of Hope, his view of practical aspects of Hamiltonian finance is more nuanced than Leahy's, but he joins Leahy in denouncing Hamilton for spoiling the best hopes of the founding generation. "Undeniably," Hodge asserts, "Hamilton had been trying to corrupt the government by cultivating a moneyed class dependent on it."
Like Leahy, Hodge defines Hamiltonianism--the first treasury secretary's cultivation of the money class--as a corruption of our constitutional republic. Hodge's target, too, is Obama, whom he, like Leahy, presents as an avatar of Hamilton. And, like Leahy, Hodge gives us a hero to fight the villain: James Madison.

But Hodge's and Leahy's Madison is a flimsy construction, and their idea of a U.S. Constitution lacking any essential Hamiltonian contribution is not history but wish. Both authors refuse to look backward from the pivotal moment in the early 1790s when Madison startled Hamilton by suddenly opposing him. They ignore Madison's dedicated efforts in the 1780s, as Hamilton's partner, to pursue a federal authority that would not only vitiate the states' power but also suppress popular, democratic approaches to public finance. When the War of Independence was winding down, the two young lawyers worked together in the Confederation Congress to impose a tax, to be collected by federal officers, earmarked not for support of troops but for making interest payments to the small, interstate class of rich investors who had bought Congress's bonds. That tax was planned as a wedge for further taxes, collected throughout the country by a top-down, well-armed government in support of government lenders. Madison especially looked deep within the Articles of Confederation for an overarching power--an implied one--to levy the tax without amending the articles.

His effort failed. Yet in the desire to sustain a large public debt to bondholders, supported by federal taxes, American nationalism flourished. Far from opposing Hamilton's vision of America as a great economic power knit together by collectors of regressive taxes, in the early 1780s Madison criticized Hamilton only for, as Madison put it, "let out the secret" by expressing that vision so honestly.
The partnership with Hamilton went on. Madison's fans routinely cite those parts of the famous essay we call "Federalist Ten" where Madison explains how a republican government may balance the deleterious effects of factions without repressing them. Rarely do we see quoted parts of that essay expressing a fear and loathing of popular, democratic finance as deep as anything ever expressed by Hamilton; or parts that call failure to pay investors in the public debt a major flaw of the confederation, curable only by creating a national government with power to enforce its finance policies. 
Throughout the framing convention, the ratification debates, and the amendment process, Madison's persistent desire was for the most vigorous kind of national authority, for reasons he shared with Hamilton.

In the Constitutional Convention, Madison's and Hamilton's hyper-nationalism did in some ways fail. Sovereignty was divided, against Madison's wishes at the time, between the national government and the states. Yet all-important fiscal provisions gave immense power, explicitly, to the federal government and took power away, explicitly, from the states. Imagining a U.S. Constitution free of inspiration and provisions that we call Hamiltonian is imagining a constitution other than ours. And a Madison free of Hamilton is not the Madison we call the Constitution's father.
That dissonance causes trouble for authors who want to read the 1790s Madison, who became Hamilton's enemy, back into the Madison who authored the Constitution. 

Had the Founding been about weak central government we'd still be governed under the Articles of Confederation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Portrait of the Artist as a Postman : The strange and secret world of Kermit Oliver. (Jason Sheeler, OCTOBER 2012, Texas Monthly)

In July 2011, more than five thousand miles east of Waco, an assistant designer at the Hermès silk factory, in Lyon, France, unfurled a ninety-by-ninety-centimeter square of the company's famous silk twill. It was lushly illustrated with the plants and animals of Texas. "This is my favorite scarf," she said, pointing out the highlights to those of us assembled at the factory for a tour. The scarf, called Faune et Flore du Texas, was designed for the state's sesquicentennial and had all the romantic detail of a vintage encyclopedia illustration. The assistant designer ran her finger around a ring of prickly pear that encircled an enormous turkey. Her hand brushed over nests of mallards, clusters of raccoons, a rearing mustang, a wild hare, and a stoic-looking Longhorn. More than fifty native animals coexisted within a viny ivy frame that blossomed with firewheels, Texas bindweed, and a particularly lovely downward-facing sunflower.

There are few labels higher on fashion's Mount Olympus than Hermès. The 175-year-old luxury goods company is known for its handmade handbags, such as the Kelly (which is named after Grace Kelly) and the Birkin (which is named after Jane Birkin, costs between $9,000 and $150,000, and once had a legendary multiple-year waiting list). But perhaps its most coveted and collectible items--and the reason for my visit to the factory--are its $410 silk scarves. Since 1937 the company's scarf sales have exploded; it is estimated that Hermès now sells one every twenty seconds. Jackie Onassis used an Hermès scarf to hold back her hair, and Princess Grace slung her broken arm in one. Each scarf design is an original commissioned artwork, screened on 450,000 meters' worth of mulberry moth silkworm thread, and the scarf's hem is hand-stitched--a process, legend has it, that was once handled by nuns.

The artist behind Faune et Flore du Texas, said the assistant designer, first caught the attention of Hermès in the eighties. According to company lore, Jean-Louis Dumas, the CEO at the time, loved driving across the United States. On one trip, while visiting Texas, he encountered a painter whose work was so bold but simple, so impressive in its portrayal of animals, that Dumas immediately commissioned a scarf design. That scarf had since been reissued several times and always sold out. The painter's style was so popular that in the past thirty years, the company had commissioned fifteen more original designs from him. He was the only American artist ever to have designed scarves for Hermès.

Who was this man? I asked the assistant designer. He was very special, she told me. His name was Kermit Oliver, and he was a postal worker in his late sixties who lived in Waco. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


The Conservative Mind (DAVID BROOKS, 9/25/12, NY Times)

When I joined the staff of National Review as a lowly associate in 1984, the magazine, and the conservative movement itself, was a fusion of two different mentalities.

On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace.

But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn't see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

Recently the blogger Rod Dreher linked to Kirk's essay, "Ten Conservative Principles," which gives the flavor of this brand of traditional conservatism. This kind of conservative cherishes custom, believing that the individual is foolish but the species is wise. It is usually best to be guided by precedent.

This conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it's generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously. Providence moves slowly but the devil hurries.

Note that the more libertarian right is prey to the same fallacy as the Left, the bizarre faith in human perfectability.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


Design Wants to Be Free : An object is no longer something you merely consume. It's something you create. Famed industrial designer Yves Behar explains why this shift is a revolution in the making. (YVES BEHAR, 09.24.12 6:30 AM

Design wants to be free, to paraphrase Stewart Brand. And when I say "free," I'm talking about the broadest sense of the word--meaning both low-cost and liberated. We're not there yet, but that moment isn't far off. What will liberate design? Our tools, for one; they are increasingly cheap, powerful, and available to all. Design no longer signifies high priests at their drafting tables but rather you and me at our computers: 3-D printers are the new inkjets, and the age of desktop publishing is fast becoming the age of desktop manufacturing. Haven't yet printed your own toys, household staples, and replacement parts? You will soon. And even if you're not remotely interested in making stuff yourself, you're probably still quick to appreciate that there's something really cool about skyscrapers that go up in two weeks or the glass that protects your iPhone.

Tools are liberating design, but so are people. We have become participants on social platforms that allow us to collaborate and customize and create, and in the process we've become expert collaborators, customizers, and creators--whether that means sharing gorgeously distressed photos on Instagram or uploading a 3-D design for a Warhammer soldier on Thingiverse, the MakerBot community site.

The upshot: Design isn't just something we appreciate, it's something we do. Autodesk is helping by creating tools and services that it hopes will power the maker movement. And Etsy is changing the definition of "handmade" by helping its sellers manufacture their wares on a larger scale.

This ever-more-free design is speeding the adoption of new ideas, which in turn disrupt old industries. Designers, coders, and entrepreneurs are challenging notions that sustainability is expensive, that technology is hard to use, that quality is exclusive. No segment of the economy will be left untouched.

September 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Is Barack Obama a Tory? (Alex Massie, 23 August 2012, The Spectator)

There's a better label for Obama than conservative: Tory. The President is no kind of revolutionary. The change we can believe in is the change needed so things can remain much as they were. This is one reason why he has disappointed what remains of the Democratic left. From Gitmo to drone warfare; from protecting Wall street from the torch-and-pitchfork brigade to accepting the need for long-term deficit-reduction Obama has proved himself a very rum type of peacenik-socialist.

And as we all know by now, his landmark healthcare bill began life on the conservative side of the aisle. It is easy to imagine either Richard Nixon or George HW Bush signing it.

That's the point, however. The conservative movement hates wets and Obama is pretty darn wet. If you think of Obama as an American kind of Tory then the otherwise laughable Republican accusation that Obama is more interested in managing American decline (whether relative or absolute) than in providing the kind of robust leadership needed for a new American century at least begins to make some kind of conceptual sense.

This posits Obama as the leader of a failed (and elitist!) establishment that must be swept aside for America to regain the swagger and muscular confidence that is her birth-right and destiny.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


The Democrats Are Tom Friedman's Conservative Party (NOAH MILLMAN, August 22, 2012, American Conservative)
Look, I know critiquing a Friedman column is like shooting fish in a barrel, but this is what Friedman thinks a conservative party would look like. It would:

- Favor deficit reduction achieved by a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts.

- Favor immigration reform that provided a path to citizenship for those here illegally and that opened the "front door" wider for skilled immigrants to come legally.

- Favor tackling climate change by putting a price on carbon to account for negative externalities, and then let the market work its magic to reduce emissions.

- Favor improving education by toughening teacher evaluation, doing an end-run around union rules through school choice and charters, and promoting common core standards for instruction.

Every single item on that list is Obama Administration policy, from Cap-and-Trade to Race-to-the-Top.

Beyond Friedman's deadly familiar wish-list, the Obama Administration has been a quintessentially small-"c" conservative one, in that it has tried its best to preserve the status quo in just about every area. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


The Origins of Monitory Democracy (John Keane, 9/22/12, The Comnversation)

Although the political commentators of the 1940s didn't quite put things this way, they were calling in effect for the democratisation of electoral democracy. In the name of democracy, for instance, some writers flatly rejected the core axiom of electoral democracy, 'the will of the people'. The French Catholic philosopher and early champion of human rights Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) insisted that 'the people are not God, the people do not have infallible reason and virtues without flaw.' J.B. Priestley's BBC lectures (broadcast as The Postscript, on Sunday evenings through 1940 and again in 1941, and which drew peak audiences of 16 million, a figure which rivalled Churchill's popularity with listeners) repeated the point by asking: 'Who are the people?' His answer, with Hitler on his mind: 'The people are real human beings. If you prick them, they bleed. They have fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sweethearts, wives, and children. They swing between fear and hope. They have strange dreams. They hunger for happiness. They all have names and faces. They are not some cross-section of abstract stuff.'

So, if 'the People', abstractly conceived, were no longer the imaginary source of legitimate power then it followed that the problem was to find in these dark and tumultuous times more down-to-earth methods of effectively placing constraints on the dangerous power of manipulative leaders. Nobody recommended a return to Greek-style assembly democracy; that option was seen as a failure of political imagination and practically incapable of meeting the challenges of the dark and dangerous times. Far bolder and forward-looking measures were badly needed.

Some political writers (Carl J. Friedrich, Bhimrao Ambedkar) argued for the primacy of constitutional restraints on arbitrary power. Others called for the re-injection of spiritual concerns into the ethos and institutions of democracy. Reinhold Niebuhr (the teacher of Martin Luther King Jr.) provided among the weightiest cases for renewing and transforming democracy along these lines. 'The perils of uncontrolled power are perennial reminders of the virtues of a democratic society', he wrote. 'But modern democracy requires a more realistic philosophical and religious basis, not only in order to anticipate and understand the perils to which it is exposed, but also to give it a more persuasive justification.' He concluded with words that became famous: 'Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.'
In perhaps the boldest move, still other thinkers proposed ditching the reigning presumption that the 'natural' home of democracy was the sovereign territorial state, or what René Cassin, co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dubbed the Leviathan State. So they pleaded for extending democratic principles across territorial borders. 'The history of the past twenty years', Friedrich wrote, 'has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that constitutional democracy cannot function effectively on a national plane.' Thomas Mann similarly rubbished attempts to 'reduce the democratic idea to the idea of peace, and to assert that the right of a free people to determine its own destiny includes respect for the rights of foreign people and thus constitutes the best guarantee for the creation of a community of nations and for peace.' He added: 'We must reach higher and envisage the whole. We must define democracy as that form of government and of society which is inspired above every other with the feeling and consciousness of the dignity of man.'

This way of thinking helped inspire one of the most remarkable features of the Copernican shift of thinking about democracy during this period: let's call it the common-law marriage of democracy and human rights, and the subsequent world-wide growth of monitory organisations, networks and campaigns committed to the defence of human rights. The crowning achievement of the decade was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Drafted in 1947/8, it seemed to many at the time a mere sideshow of questionable importance. Its preamble spoke of 'the inherent dignity' and 'the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family'. Against tremendous odds, the declaration (John Dewey pointed out) was a call for civil societies and governments everywhere to speak and act as if human rights mattered.

The fundamental re-thinking of electoral democracy through the lens of human rights had several long-term effects, some of them unintended, more than a few surprising. Today, networked organisations like Human Rights Watch, the Aga Khan Development Network, Amnesty International and tens of thousands of other non-governmental human rights organisations monitor power. They have helped alter the political ecology of actually existing democracies. They routinely deal with a wide range of rights matters including torture, child soldiers, the abuse of women, the monitoring of elections and freedom of religious conviction. They strive to be goads to the conscience of governments and citizens, and in this respect they solve a basic problem that had dogged electoral democracy: who decides who 'the people' are?

Since the 1940s, most human rights organisations and networks have answered: every human being is entitled to exercise their right to have rights, including the right to prevent arbitrary exercises of power through independent public monitoring and free association with others, considered as equals. Their reply has fundamentally altered the meaning of democracy, shielding it from the follies and pitfalls of psephocracy.

This would all have been much easier for them if they'd been able to ground their democracies on their religious faith, as we of the Anglosphere do, and if they'd understood that republican liberty is the guard against state power.

September 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


The Great Remigration : Blacks are abandoning the northern cities that failed them. (Daniel DiSalvo)

A century ago, nine out of ten black Americans lived in the South, primarily in formerly Confederate states where segregation reigned. Then, in the 1920s, blacks began heading north, both to escape the racism of Jim Crow and to seek work as southern agriculture grew increasingly mechanized. "From World War I to the 1970s, some six million black Americans fled the American South for an uncertain existence in the urban North and West," writes journalist Isabel Wilkerson, the author of The Warmth of Other Suns. Principal destinations in the Great Migration, as the exodus came to be called, included Washington, D.C. (the first stop on the bus), Chicago, Detroit, and New York City. The Great Migration had tremendous political implications, both good and bad. It helped spur the civil rights movement, but it also trapped many blacks in urban ghettos.

More recently, however, the Great Migration has reversed itself, with blacks returning to the South.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Breaking Up the Echo (CASS R. SUNSTEIN, 9/17/12, NY Times)

[E]vidence suggests that balanced presentations -- in which competing arguments or positions are laid out side by side -- may not help. At least when people begin with firmly held convictions, such an approach is likely to increase polarization rather than reduce it.

Indeed, that's what a number of academic studies done over the last three decades have found. Such studies typically proceed in three stages. First, the experimenters assemble a group of people who have clear views on some controversial issue (such as capital punishment or sexual orientation). Second, the study subjects are provided with plausible arguments on both sides of the issue. And finally, the researchers test how attitudes have shifted as a result of exposure to balanced presentations.

You might expect that people's views would soften and that divisions between groups would get smaller. That is not what usually happens. On the contrary, people's original beliefs tend to harden and the original divisions typically get bigger. Balanced presentations can fuel unbalanced views.

What explains this? The answer is called "biased assimilation," which means that people assimilate new information in a selective fashion. When people get information that supports what they initially thought, they give it considerable weight. When they get information that undermines their initial beliefs, they tend to dismiss it.

In this light, it is understandable that when people begin with opposing initial beliefs on, say, the death penalty, balanced information can heighten their initial disagreement. Those who tend to favor capital punishment credit the information that supports their original view and dismiss the opposing information. The same happens on the other side. As a result, divisions widen.

This natural human tendency explains why it's so hard to dislodge false rumors and factual errors. Corrections can even be self-defeating, leading people to stronger commitment to their erroneous beliefs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


How Canada Saved Its Bacon : Deep cuts in government spending pulled Canada back from an epic fiscal crisis in the 1990s. (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 9/23/12, WSJ)

Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has a stern warning for the U.S. political class: Get real about the gap between federal revenues and spending, or get ready for disaster. [...]

When the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien took power in October 1993, Mr. Martin was charged with pulling his nation out of the fiscal death spiral. He did it with deep cuts in federal spending over two years that amounted to 10% of the budget, excluding interest costs.

Nothing was spared. Even federal transfers to the provinces to fund Canada's sacred national health-care system got hit. The federal government also cut and block-granted money for welfare programs to the provinces, giving them almost full control over how the money would be spent.

In the 1997 election, the Liberals increased their majority in parliament. The Chrétien government followed with tax cuts starting in 1998 and one of the largest tax cuts--both corporate and personal--in the history of the country in 2000. The Liberals won again in 2000.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


THE RISE OF TELEWORK AND WHAT IT MEANS (Jeff Khau,  09/17/2012, New Geography)

Teleworking (also known as telecommuting) has taken flight as a global trend. During July of 2002, European Union collectively decided on a shared framework agreement on telework, which regulates issues such as employment and working conditions, health and safety, training, and the collective rights of teleworkers. Following suit, the American the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 served as a rallying call for federal agencies to encourage "work-at-home" employees. In the same year officials in China, eager to reduce gross national carbon emissions, chose the province of Hubei to undergo the country's first telecommuting pilot program  

In the United States, telecommuting is   on the clear increase.  Data from the American Community Survey estimate that the working at home population grew 61% between 2005 and 2009. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The Brilliant Prudence of Dwight Eisenhower (Evan Thomas, 9 SEP 19 2012, The Atlantic)

In the summer of 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower flew to Geneva for the first summit meeting of the Cold War. Two and a half years into his presidency, Eisenhower was not sure who was running the Soviet Union. Was it Nikolai Bulganin, the chairman of the Council of Ministers? Tall and smiling, Bulganin seemed relatively benign. (With his goatee and white suit, Bulganin bore a striking resemblance to Colonel Sanders of the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain.) Eisenhower hoped the real power lay with Georgy Zhukov, the Red Army field marshal who had been Ike's comrade in arms in World War II. Having seen so much war, Zhukov hated it as much as Ike did. But when Ike sent his son John, an army major, out to do a little informal spying at "tea" (cocktails), John reported back that Zhukov seemed subdued and shaken. "Things are not as they seem," Zhukov whispered John Eisenhower.

Eisenhower found out who was really in charge four days later when he unveiled his major peace initiative, called "Open Skies," to allow the Soviet and American reconnaissance planes to freely fly over each other's territory. The idea was to reduce the threat of surprise attack, the great fear of the new nuclear age. After the speech, a short, round man came straight for the American president wagging a stubby finger and saying, Nyet, nyet, nyet. "Open Skies," said Nikita Khrushchev, the Communist Party chairman, was just a chance for the Americans to peer into Russian bedrooms.

In his diary kept at Geneva, British Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan wrote, "Khrushchev is a mystery. How can this fat, vulgar man with his pig eyes and ceaseless flow of talk really be the head -- the aspirant Tsar -- of all these million of people of this vast country?" The French foreign minister described Khrushchev, as "this little man with his fat paws." Khrushchev seemed to be equal parts bluster and insecurity. He worried to his son Sergei that he was not properly dressed for dinner at the summit and that he had arrived in Geneva in a plane that was smaller than the planes of the western leaders.

Eisenhower reserved his judgment of Khrushchev, or at least concealed it from others. He did not believe in showing his cards until he absolutely had to. At West Point, young Eisenhower had skipped cadet dances to play poker. (He later bought his fiance, Mamie, her wedding dress with his card game winnings.) He was so good at poker he had to give it up--he had won too much money from his fellow officers, and his reputation as a card shark was hurting his career. He continued to play bridge, however. He was not much fun to play with, recalled his son John, who finally quit playing with him because he found his father too humorless and demanding as a partner. Ike's famous, sunny smile was to some degree a façade. Eisenhower was "far more complex and devious than most Americans realize," recalled his vice-president, Richard Nixon, in his memoirs. (Nixon added, "in the best sense of those words.") When I interviewed John Eisenhower, a retired ambassador, brigadier general and professional historian, then in his mid-80s, the son pondered his famous father, with whom he had a loving but complicated relationship. He said Ike seemed evenly balanced between open warmth and cold-bloodedness. He thought for a moment and said, with a slight smile, "Make that 75 percent cold-blooded."

In the game of bridge, partners are not allowed to speak with each other. But they can subtly signal each other by the cards they bid. Eisenhower was accustomed to difficult partners, including Generals Bernard Law Montgomery and George Patton in his role as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. Comfortable with a hidden hand, Eisenhower was one of those great leaders who are confident enough to appear humble. He had a giant ego, as well as a huge temper he struggled to contain. But he knew when to stay quiet, to appear to acquiesce, while thinking how to gain advantage several moves ahead.

In waging the Cold War, Eisenhower had many partners -- America's allies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress, and the growing national security establishment. But his most important partner, Eisenhower understood, was his nominal enemy, Nikita Khrushchev. in large part what makes Ike's a failed presidency.  Not challenging the New Deal is the other, though the former made the latter inevitable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Libya's re-rebirth (Daily Star, September 24, 2012)

Libyan security forces head to a compound which had been taken over by an armed group in Tripoli September 23, 2012. Libya's army on Sunday ordered rogue armed groups in and around Tripoli to leave state and military premises or be ejected by force, apparently seeking to capitalize on the withdrawal of militias from Benghazi and Derna. REUTERS/Anis Mili
The Libyan government directive for all militias to either come under state control or to disband represents a courageous and crucial step forward for the country. [...]

Listening to the word on the street and using popular opinion as a catalyst for action is actually commendable, if the government genuinely means to root out those most dangerous groups in society.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Lincoln's Great Gamble (RICHARD STRINER, 9/21/12, NY Times)

The Emancipation Proclamation wasn't always part of the plan. Republicans, Lincoln included, tried push their anti-slavery program by measured degrees, since they feared a white supremacist backlash. That was what made Lincoln's decision to issue an emancipation edict, and to do it before the mid-term congressional elections of 1862, so extraordinarily risky.

In the first half of 1862, he had tried to institute a program of gradual and compensated emancipation in Delaware, Kentucky and Maryland, the slave states that had not fallen under the control of secessionists. But the border-state leaders refused to listen. So Lincoln decided in July that he would turn his attention to rebellious slave states, and there, in the name of preserving the Union, he would institute immediate and uncompensated emancipation.

In the months that followed, he worked to soften public opinion in the North -- to get the public ready for the fact that he intended to free some slaves. In August, he wrote a letter to Horace Greeley, editor of The New York Tribune. This letter would soon become famous. Lincoln claimed that his "paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

This was a clever deception in light of the fact that no breach in the Union would have happened in the first place had Lincoln and his fellow Republicans not refused to admit more slave states to the Union. Lincoln's letter to Greeley was misleading; he wrote it in an effort to appeal to patriotic Unionists and get them used to the idea that he might start freeing slaves. What he hoped was that people would view the proclamation as a patriotic necessity.

Some observers got the point; Sydney Howard Gay, a leading abolitionist, wrote to Lincoln:

Your letter to Mr. Greeley has infused new hope among us at the North who are anxiously awaiting that movement on your part that they believe will end the rebellion by removing its cause. I think the general impression is that as you are determined to save the Union tho' slavery perish, you mean presently to announce that the destruction of Slavery is the price of our salvation.

Lincoln himself confided to Representative Isaac N. Arnold that, as Arnold recounted, "the meaning of his letter to Mr. Greeley was this: he was ready to declare emancipation when he was convinced that it could be made effective, and that the people were with him."

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Romney and Obama: Separately But Equally Elitist? (Peter Lawler, September 22, 2012, Big Think)

The Republican rich guy often thinks that American is on "the road to serfdom" of burgeoning dependency.  And that the progressive logic of the welfare state is close to giving the Democrats a permanent majority in favor of big and bigger government paternalism.

The more bookish of those Republicans cite as their theorist the great Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville at one point wrote that he feared that democracy would culminate in a "soft despotism" of schoolmarmish and endlessly meddlesome administrators who would take control of all the details of ordinary people's lives. People would be allowed to surrender all control over and so all responsibility for their personal futures.  Tocqueville, in his bleakest moment, even worried that they might lapse into a kind of subhumanity.

I could bore you with my opinion that Tocqueville didn't intend those worries to be a serious prediction about the American future.

Or, I could just let you know that we now know enough to know that the road to serfdom never gets to serfdom. 

In point of fact, the progressive logic of the fiscally responsible welfare state has created an Anglosphere wide majority in favor of bigger paternalism with less government.  Successful parties are those that favor strengthening the social safety net by using capitalist mechanisms.  The required mandates are paternal, the resulting personal accounts and independent making wealth reduce government.  Mandates, after all, are just defined contributions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us : Medical errors kill enough people to fill four jumbo jets a week. A surgeon with five simple ways to make health care safer. (MARTY MAKARY, 9/21/12, WSJ)

When there is a plane crash in the U.S., even a minor one, it makes headlines. There is a thorough federal investigation, and the tragedy often yields important lessons for the aviation industry. Pilots and airlines thus learn how to do their jobs more safely.

The world of American medicine is far deadlier: Medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. But these mistakes go largely unnoticed by the world at large, and the medical community rarely learns from them. The same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers.

As doctors, we swear to do no harm. But on the job we soon absorb another unspoken rule: to overlook the mistakes of our colleagues. The problem is vast. U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week. Roughly a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be harmed by a medical error of some kind. If medical errors were a disease, they would be the sixth leading cause of death in America--just behind accidents and ahead of Alzheimer's. The human toll aside, medical errors cost the U.S. health-care system tens of billions a year. Some 20% to 30% of all medications, tests and procedures are unnecessary, according to research done by medical specialists, surveying their own fields. What other industry misses the mark this often?

It does not have to be this way. A new generation of doctors and patients is trying to achieve greater transparency in the health-care system, and new technology makes it more achievable than ever before.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Architects are the last people who should shape our cities: New, shiny buildings are all well and good, but what architects forget about is a sense of place - and the beauty of wastelands (Jonathan Meades, 9/18/12, The Guardian)

New buildings are simple: imagination and engineering. New places are not. It seems impossible to achieve by artifice the parts with no name, the pavement's warts and the avenue's lesions, the physical consequences of changed uses, the waste ground, the apparently purposeless plots.

It shouldn't be impossible. One cause of this failure is architects' lack of empathy, their failure to cast themselves as non-architects: architect Yona Friedman long ago observed that architecture entirely forgets those who use its products. Another cause of failure is their bent towards aesthetic totalitarianism - a trait Nikolaus Pevsner approved of, incidentally. There was no work he admired more than St Catherine's College, Oxford: a perfect piece of architecture. And it is indeed impressive in an understated way. But it is equally an example of nothing less than micro-level totalitarianism. Arne Jacobson designed not only the building, but every piece of furniture and every item of cutlery.

At macro-level, a so-called master planner will attend to the details of streets, avenues, drop-in centres, houses, offices, bridges. The master planner is almost certainly an architect, even though planning and architecture are contrasting disciplines. There are countless differences between a suburb and, say, a shopping mall in that suburb. We are all familiar with the hubristic pomp that often results when actors direct themselves. Appointing architects to conceive places is like appointing foxes to advise on chicken security.

The human ideal is to revel in urbanistic richness, in layers of imperfection. I got sick of Rome when I worked there: too much perfection, too constant a diet of masterpieces - the lumbering, sod-you-ness of Basil Spence's British Embassy was peculiarly attractive. The only town in the Cotswolds that attracts me is Stroud, where the tyranny of oolitic limestone is ruptured by brick and slate.

The overlooked can only survive so long as authority is lax. When authority goes looking for the overlooked, the game is up - as it is today in the Lea Valley in east London. The entirely despicable, entirely pointless 2012 Olympics - a festival of energy-squandering architectural bling worthy of a vain, third-world dictatorship, a payday for the construction industry - occupies a site far more valuable as it was. It was probably the most extensive terrain vague of any European capital city. The English word "wasteland" is pejorative, lazy and more or less states that the place has no merit - so why not cover it in expressions of vanity?

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Having a wonderful time... really wish you were here! (PJ Hamel, 9/22/12, Baking Banter)

Come with us now as we celebrate, in pictures, our grand opening party this weekend, an event that drew bakers from all over the country - ready to enjoy good food, good fun, and good friends.

If you've visited us in the past, but haven't been up to Vermont in awhile, our wonderful wood-burning stone oven is all that remains of the original King Arthur Flour store (1992), and more recently, our bakery and education center.

We intend to build a pavilion over the oven, so we can continue to bake the crusty, wood-fired breads and pizzas so many of you have enjoyed in the past.

But enough of the past - let's check out the new King Arthur campus.

If you do get to the KAF Grand Opening, please disregard the improvised handicap parking symbols, I honestly wasn't trying to make fun of anyone, I'm just an inept artist.... 


Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Sadly, one play defined Merkle's career, life (Ed Sherman, 9/23/12,

Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of the play that forever cemented Merkle's legacy in baseball. The Chicago Cubs and New York Giants were locked in a dramatic pennant race when they met on Sept. 23, 1908.

With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Merkle, who had singled, was on first base and Moose McCormick was on third. With two outs, Al Bridwell then hit an apparent single to drive in McCormick with what seemed the winning run.

It looked to be a huge victory for the Giants, and jubilant fans mobbed the field at the Polo Grounds. But in the commotion, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed Merkle never touched second base.

Evers frantically waved for the ball, and there's considerable dispute about whether he actually got the game ball. Evers then stepped on second and umpire Hank O'Day called Merkle out on a force, thus nullifying the Giants' run. Keep in mind, this was the same umpire who let a similar play stand up when a base runner didn't touch second at the conclusion of a game earlier in the month.

Despite O'Day's ruling, the game couldn't go on because of all the fans on the field, and it was declared a 1-1 tie. Merkle's nightmare then was compounded when the Cubs and Giants finished the regular season tied. The Cubs won the one-game playoff to win the pennant, propelling them to their last World Series title.

Merkle, who was only 19 at the time, was vilified. The Sporting News, the game's official bible back then, wrote of "the stupidity of Fred Merkle." Newspapers quickly labeled him "Bonehead."

Merkle went on to become a decent player during a 16-year career, finishing with a .273 average. He had 49 stolen bases in 1911, an impressive total considering he was 6-foot and 190 pounds.

Yet Merkle never seemed to get over the top. He was on the losing side of six World Series. When he was blamed for a botched popup that helped cost the Giants the 1912 World Series, the headlines blared, "Bonehead Merkle does it again."

September 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Iranian group MEK coming off US terror list: Unrelenting campaign pays off (Howard LaFranchi, 9/22/12,  Christian Science Monitor)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton informed Congress Friday that she would remove a controversial Iranian opposition group from the US list of terrorist organizations, drawing to a close a dogged de-listing campaign by the group and its high-profile advocates that stretches back to the Bush administration. [...]

Under President Bill Clinton the MEK was placed on the terrorist list for the killing of six Americans in Iran in the 1970s and for a botched attack against the Iranian mission to the United Nations in 1992. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


The Grown-Up Pleasures of 'The Hobbit' : Conflict, greed, poetry: J.R.R. Tolkien's classic book, celebrating its 75th anniversary, isn't just for kids (COREY OLSEN, 9/21/12, WSJ)

Tolkien's characters have a fascinating depth, and none more so than Bilbo himself, who presents a striking psychological study. Bilbo is caught between conflicting impulses: his love of comfort and safe, familiar surroundings and his latent desire for adventure, for the marvelous and unknown world that he has encountered only in stories. Tolkien associates these rival tendencies with the two families from which Bilbo springs: the staid Bagginses and the fabulous Tooks.

Bilbo's Tookishness first rises up within him when he hears the dwarves sing their song of gold and dragons, and he soon finds himself unexpectedly volunteering to accompany the dwarves on the journey to recover their lost treasure. But Bilbo's story is much more than just the development of an unlikely and reluctant hero. His Baggins side, which looks at times like mere parochialism and timidity, doesn't fade and disappear as he adjusts to the world of adventure. Instead, Tolkien maintains the balance between these two aspects of Bilbo's character, showing how they mature into courage and wisdom.

Bilbo's culminating act of heroism isn't a bold rescue or the slaying of a monster but his attempt to prevent a war between allies through an act of great self-sacrifice, and at the cost of being thought a traitor by his friends. It draws on the daring of his Took side and the common sense of his Baggins side, which complement and enhance each other.

Tolkien and the Gift of Mortality (Anna Mathie, November 2003, First Things)

When I started reading The Lord of the Rings as an undergraduate, I was half-embarrassed to be doing so. I might become one of those girls who left each other messages on the dorm message board in elvish runes and stayed up late discussing the geography of Middle Earth in fake English accents. Even after I had overcome my snobbery and discovered the book's magnificence, literary pretensions still kept me away from the appendices: detailed explanations of invented anthropology and linguistics--what could they be but the self-indulgent folly of an otherwise great writer? But when chance or boredom finally led me to leaf through them one day, I came upon what I still find the most exquisitely sorrowful moment in a book filled with exquisitely beautiful sorrow.

The wise and good Arwen, who has given up her elvish immortality to be the mortal Aragorn's queen, is overcome at his deathbed and pleads for him to stay with her longer. He refuses, saying that it is right for him to go with good grace and before he grows feeble. Then he tells her:

I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.

Arwen replies that she has no choice:

I must indeed abide the Doom of Men whether I will or nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Numenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Elves say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.

In this new and bitter knowledge, she goes away alone after Aragorn's death, "the light of her eyes . . . quenched . . . cold and gray as nightfall that comes without a star." She dies alone in the dead land of Lorien, where deathless Elves once lived.

For Arwen, otherwise infinitely wiser than we, death is the one unknown, a new and unexpected discovery. Aragorn knows better; he knows, as all mortals should, that comfort is impossible and even unworthy in the face of death. Yet he still holds fast to what Arwen has only known as an abstract theological tenet: that death is truly God's gift.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


One Europe, Many Tribes (Peter Coy, September 19, 2012, BloombergBusinessweek)

Italy, unified in 1870, is newer than Nevada. Spain was split down the middle by a civil war as recently as the 1930s. And reunited Germany, dating back only to 1990, is younger than two of the Jonas Brothers. Just a reminder that, for all their claims to antiquity, many of the nations of Europe have been nations for only the briefest of times. For most of history they were rivalrous territories, kingdoms, duchies, principalities, and city-states. They were bound by language and culture--and riven by tribalism.

As Europe's financial crisis drags on, the tribes have returned with a vengeance. It's not just Greece vs. Germany. Today it's Sicily vs. Lombardy, Berlin vs. Bavaria, Andalusia vs. Catalonia. 

The more quickly it devolves back into its constituent parts the better.  It's too large to govern, even setting aside its lack of nationhood.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


The radical right-wing roots of Occupy Wall Street (Maureen Tkacik, SEPTEMBER 20, 2012, Reuters)

If there's one thing that united Occupy Wall Street with the Tea Party movement from the very beginning, it's a virulent aversion to being compared to each other.

The Tea Partiers started sharpening their knives before the Occupation even began. Two weeks before last year's launch Tea Partisan blogger Bob Ellis wrote a post entitled "Socialists Plan to Rage Against Freedom on Constitution Day" - all but daring the lamestream punditry to compare the "infantile" plans of "spoiled children" to "throw tantrums" and "thumb their nose at the American way of life" to the beloved movement that "sprang up from nothing a little more than two years ago in the face of a Marxist president and Marxist congress."

In reality, of course, no political movement springs "from nothing." Indeed, both of them have roots in the same man. Fifty-five years earlier that fall, the Tea Party movement's direct ancestors met in Indianapolis to launch their first bid to rally citizens against the "dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy" occupying the White House, Dwight Eisenhower. But when their beloved anti-communist Barry Goldwater was buried in the 1964 presidential election, the Republican Party moved swiftly to officially renounce the "radical organizations" that had sullied its public image. Then the most radical of the right-wing radicals, Goldwater's beloved speechwriter Karl Hess, moved into a houseboat, renounced politics altogether and dedicated the rest of his life to peacefully protesting the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the new aristocracy he dubbed "the one percent."

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The drugs don't work: a modern medical scandal (Ben Goldacre, 9/21/12, The Guardian)

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don't like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug's life, and even then they don't give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion.

In their 40 years of practice after leaving medical school, doctors hear about what works ad hoc, from sales reps, colleagues and journals. But those colleagues can be in the pay of drug companies - often undisclosed - and the journals are, too. And so are the patient groups. And finally, academic papers, which everyone thinks of as objective, are often covertly planned and written by people who work directly for the companies, without disclosure. Sometimes whole academic journals are owned outright by one drug company. Aside from all this, for several of the most important and enduring problems in medicine, we have no idea what the best treatment is, because it's not in anyone's financial interest to conduct any trials at all.

Now, on to the details.

We need to allow doctors to prescribe placebos. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


How Lincoln Saved the 'Central Idea' of America (ALLEN C. GUELZO, 9/21/12, WSJ)

[E]ven with those shortcomings, Lincoln was still satisfied, as he said early in 1865, that the Emancipation Proclamation "is the central act of my administration, and the great event of the 19th century." Certainly there has been no presidential document before or since with quite its impact.

As Wesyelan University's Richard Slotkin points out in his new book, "The Long Road to Antietam," the proclamation wiped out $3.5 billion of "investment" in slaves, at a time when the entire wealth of the nation amounted to only $16 billion. But Lincoln saw the proclamation's largest importance in the way it pulled down America's "one retrograde institution" and made it clear that equality, law and freedom were not some charade.

"In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free," Lincoln said in his second State of the Union message. It makes Americans "honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve." And it has ever since.

September 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Exactly How Many Americans Are Dependent on the Government? (Brian Palmer, Sept. 18, 2012, Slate)

Mitt Romney told a group of campaign contributors in May that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes and "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it" from the government. Romney is basically correct on the tax claim. But what about his government-assistance estimate: Do 47 percent of Americans really receive direct government aid?

Sort of, but they're probably not the people he had in mind. About 49 percent of Americans live in households that receive some form of government benefits, according to the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University, based on data from 2010.

...we all think we're uniquely independent, no matter how much we receive, and the others are dependent.  It's the entire basis of the Tea Party.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


This Airplane Combines All The Fuel-Saving Technologies Airlines Will Use In The Future (Co.Exist, 9/18/12)

This week, Boeing showcased the ecoDemonstrator, a 737-800 airplane on loan from American Airlines that contains a mish-mash of technologies that might be in airplanes down the line, including variable area fan nozzles that allow the engine fan to be optimized for different flight conditions; adaptive trailing edge technology that changes the shape of the wings, making them more aerodynamic based on where the plane is in flight; a full-scale regenerative fuel cell that "basically takes water and makes its own fuel," according to Jeanne Yu, Director of Environmental Performance at Boeing; and an engine vibration reduction system.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World (CHRIS ANDERSON, 09.19.12, Wired)

Take the subway to an otherwise undistinguished part of Third Avenue in Brooklyn. Knock on the door. Wait for some stylishly disheveled young man to open it and let you in. You've arrived at the BotCave--the place where 125 factory workers are creating the future of manufacturing.

The BotCave is home to MakerBot, a company that for nearly four years has been bringing affordable 3-D printers to the masses. But nothing MakerBot has ever built looks like the new printer these workers are currently constructing. The Replicator 2 isn't a kit; it doesn't require a weekend of wrestling with software that makes Linux look easy. Instead, it's driven by a simple desktop application, and it will allow you to turn CAD files into physical things as easily as printing a photo. The entry-level Replicator 2, priced at $2,199, is for generating objects up to 11 by 6 inches in an ecofriendly material; the higher-end Replicator 2X, which costs $2,799, can produce only smaller items, up to 9 by 6 inches, but it has dual heads that let it print more sophisticated objects. With these two machines, MakerBot is putting down a multimillion-dollar wager that 3-D printing has hit its mainstream moment.

Unlike the jerry-built contraptions of the past, the Replicator 2s are sleek, metal, and stylish: MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis likens the design to "Darth Vader driving Knight Rider's KITT car while being airlifted by a Nighthawk spy plane." There is also the lighting. Oh, the lighting. "LEDs are part of our core values as a company," Pettis jokes. The new machine will glow in any hue--"to match the color of your couch," he says, "or like something in the movie Tron."

You've heard of 3-D printers, but you probably don't own one yet. Pettis thinks the Replicator 2 will change that.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Cracks in the armour as voices refuse to quieten (John Garnaut, 9/15/12,  The Age and Sydney Morning Herald)

Long Meiyi was 19 when she met the mining magnate who allegedly raped her at one of Beijing's most gaudy and exclusive nightclubs, the Softly Shaking Bar. She had initially received his overtures with the confidence that came from being raised in a family of senior officials in a country where political power and connections frequently trumps all else. The stepfather who raised her was vice-mayor in the industrial city of Liupanshui, in south-west China's Guizhou province, and her mother held a senior role in the city bureau of the Ministry of State Security, China's secret intelligence service. Grandparents on both sides fought for the communist revolution. But, when the girl's complaint vanished into the vortex of the city's legal-political system, the family found that the local red aristocracy had been outplayed by the provincial nouveau riche.

Long's case caused a sensation in the Chinese blogosphere because her stepfather, Tian Wancang, was responsible for Liupanshui's "stability preservation" apparatus, which has been China's greatest bureaucratic growth industry in recent years. Tian shared responsibility for running the city's police, procuratorate, courts and also the notorious ''letters and complaints'' system that ostensibly provides redress for administrative injustices while collecting intelligence on disgruntled citizens.

Tian's overriding task in managing the city's political-legal system was to preserve the veneer of a "harmonious society" over the top of China's increasingly fractious reality by preventing aggrieved individuals from petitioning for justice in the capital. But he found the stability preservation machine he helped create was more powerful than he was. A year after his daughter's alleged rape, he joined her in Beijing, with a dust mask to hide his identity, to coach her on how to outfox the system and successfully lodge a complaint.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


New and Old : Building a book collection, one treasured volume at a time (Michael Dirda, September 2012, American Scholar)

The other day a friend casually remarked that most of the books in what might be called my library--if I had a much bigger house--probably came to me as freebies. I answered that that wasn't true at all, that perhaps 10 percent had originated as review copies. In fact, just this morning, while groggily sipping my morning coffee, I scanned the nearest bookcase--built by me some 30 years ago--and realized that on its six shelves, containing perhaps 150 books, only four of them weren't purchased with my cold hard credit card.

Which ones, you wonder? The first four volumes of Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey-Stephen Maturin series. In fact, Norton sent me its reprinted uniform set, back when I reviewed The Commodore. (That novel, by the way, mentions a small sailing vessel called The Ringle, its name immortalizing Ken Ringle, a former Washington Post colleague and ardent sailor, who told O'Brian about Chesapeake Bay skipjacks.) The subsequent 15 volumes are in storage. To display them all would take too much space, so I just keep out the early ones, against the day I might want to reimmerse myself in the salty waters of the Aubrey-Maturin adventures.

Before I came to Washington, I could fit all my books--and all my clothes, indeed everything I then owned--into a 1966 fire-engine red Chevy Impala. But once I arrived in our nation's capital, I quickly discovered that the place bulged with secondhand books. My friend David Streitfeld, now with The New York Times, and I once visited every used bookstore in the metro area as part of a story for the Washington Post's weekend section. There were something like 60 all told. On top of this, there were gigantic annual book sales--Vassar, Brandeis, and Stone Ridge, in particular--and church sales and antiquarian book fairs and thrift shops and even people selling old books from blankets on the sidewalk. I once bought some novels by Carl Van Vechten from just such a guy--all the books he displayed were by authors whose names began with V. He told me that when Loudermilk's bookstore closed down, the fiction was auctioned off by letter and the hot letters--F and W, for instance--were out of his price range.

Before long, I was hammering together one wooden bookcase after another. Two years after I got to D.C. my Macomb House apartment was lined with books, floor to ceiling. At least everything was on a shelf, which is more than I can say today.

Last week I found the Modern Library translation of Chaucer by Burton Raffel at Books a Million for $11.  Who could not buy it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Diana Krall Sings With No Strings Attached (MARC MYERS, 9/21/12, WSJ)

Born in 1964, Ms. Krall grew up in British Columbia and today divides her time between Vancouver and New York with husband, Elvis Costello, and their children. As a preteen, Ms. Krall spent hours listening to her father's vast collection of 78-rpm records. Fascinated by the '20s and '30s, she traveled at age 16 to Williams College in Massachusetts to visit the archives of jazz-age band leader Paul Whiteman.

"It had nothing to do with Whiteman, though--I was intrigued by Bill Challis's complex arrangements for the band," she said. "When I saw the scores and harmonies he wrote and the parts for [cornetist] Bix Beiderbecke, I got chills."

In preparation for her new album, Ms. Krall selected 35 songs from her father's collection and gave sheet music to producer T Bone Burnett. "I had no idea which songs T Bone would choose until I arrived at the studio," she said. "We wanted the element of surprise and improvisation."

"We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye" and "Just Like a Butterfly (That's Caught in the Rain)" were inspired by the relaxed recordings of '20s singer Annette Hanshaw. There are nods to Bing Crosby, Gene Austin and Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards.

Breaking theme, Mr. Burnett suggested Betty James's 1961 rockabilly single "I'm a Little Mixed Up." "Playing rock 'n' roll piano on there was a challenge," Ms. Krall said. "It's not like jazz improvisation. It's all mood, guts and blood." Ms. Krall also took on Ray Charles's "Lonely Avenue" from 1956--with an arrangement that references Miles Davis's album "A Tribute to Jack Johnson." As for the title track, it was first recorded in 1928 by vaudeville clarinetist Ted Lewis--with lyrics she calls "a feminine statement, in a weird way."

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Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Suicide-Bombs Without the Suicides: Why Drones Are So Cool (Paul Rogers, 21 September 2012, ISN Blog)

Suicide-bombing allows explosives to be placed at or very close to a target, with the deliverer having considerable real-time initiative and scope for concealment. He or she can adapt to circumstances in matters of timing as well as any movement of and even the precise location of the target. Countermeasures such as blast-walls and surveillance systems can be circumvented or fooled.

At the core of the attack is almost always a volunteer who is dedicated, intelligent and knowledgeable of the objective and the vicinity. The commitment may stem from political, religious or ethnic identity - and the determination to complete the mission may be extremely high once the operation started. The huge impact of suicide-bombs has been well-known at least since 9/11, but major incidents occurred long before then.

A specific assault on Rajiv Gandhi by a member of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) guerrilla group killed India's former prime minister and fourteen other people on 21 May 1991. The assassin, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, had got close enough to garland Gandhi with flowers before activating his device.

In October 1995, the Sri Lankan army dislodged the LTTE from its core city of Jaffna in a costly and brutal campaign. A devastating response followed on 31 January 1996, when a suicide-bomber detonated a truck-bomb at the entrance to the central bank right in the heart of Colombo's business district. Many important buildings were destroyed or damaged, and almost 100 people were killed; flying debris took a huge toll of injuries, with around 1,400 affected (see "The asymmetry of economic war", 14 February 2008)

In the past ten years, most such attacks have been across the middle east and south Asia, but they almost all have those characteristics listed above. They are repeatedly effective and difficult to counter without very considerable resources.

The similarity with armed-drones is striking. Drones such as the Reaper have multiple air-to-surface missiles, can loiter for hours and are "flown" in real time by operators thousands of miles away. There is no risk to these people, no suicide factor. Drones may not have quite the precision potential of a suicide-bomber, and in the very final seconds before impact the missiles that are fired cannot be diverted or halted. They are also dependent on previous intelligence which may be faulty and, as with suicide-attacks, a target person may be accompanied by many others, including family members. Yet they are increasingly the weapons of choice (see "Drone warfare: cost and challenge", 23 June 2011).

The majority of armed-drone developments in the past decades has been American or Israeli but the degree of proliferation is quite remarkable, not leastacross Nato. Apart from extensive Israeli use, the main proponents in current conflicts have been the United States, with drones "flown" from Creech air-forcebase near Las Vegas, and the United Kingdom, with the operating base in the process of moving from Creech to RAF Waddington, south of Lincoln in eastern England, one of the main bases for the RAF's air-warfare centre (AWC).

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Chief rabbi: Better not to pray than to pray Reform (JEREMY SHARON, 09/16/2012, Jerusalem Post)

Non-Orthodox groups have reacted angrily to Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar's comments about them in an interview given to the Makor Rishon newspaper ahead of Rosh Hashana.

Asked whether it would be better for a secular Jew who happened to be away from home on Rosh Hashana to pray with a Reform congregation or by himself in a hotel, Amar said it would be preferable to pray by himself. [...]

Amar also said that non-Orthodox weddings were invalid and labeled Reform rabbis and leaders as "extremely problematic" for "marrying Jews with non-Jews together with a priest."

September 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 PM


New cloud variety on the horizon? (Doyle Rice, Sep 20, 2012, USA Today)

It may have taken a few billion years, but one type of cloud is finally getting noticed.

Meteorologists and "cloudspotters" around the world are seeking to formally recognize the first new cloud variety discovered since 1951.

Like all cloud species, it's named using the Latin classification system. It's been dubbed "undulatus asperatus" -- aka "agitated waves" -- and looks like a surreal undulating blanket that covers part or all of the sky.

Keen cloudspotters have been taking photos of the cloud for the past few years, spurred on in part by a 2006 photo by Jane Wiggins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that went viral on the Internet, says Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the Cloud Appreciation Society, a group of 30,000 weather enthusiasts based in England.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


A Comedian and a Cardinal Open Up on Spirituality (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 9/15/12, NY Times)

Mr. Colbert is the youngest of 11 children, raised by Catholic parents who both attended Catholic colleges. His father and two of his brothers died in a plane crash when Mr. Colbert was 10. He said that after the funeral, in the limousine on the way home, one of his sisters made another sister laugh so hard that she fell on the floor. At that moment, Mr. Colbert said he resolved that he wanted to be able to make someone laugh that hard.

He is raising his children as Catholics, and he teaches Sunday school at his parish in New Jersey. "The real reason I remain a Catholic is what the church gives me, which is love," he said.

Cardinal Dolan introduced Mr. Colbert's wife, Evelyn, who was sitting in the audience, and brought her up to the stage. The cardinal put his arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, and when Mr. Colbert feigned offense, the cardinal said, in a remark that brought down the house, "I can kiss your wife. You can't kiss mine."

Mr. Colbert used his time onstage with the cardinal to air his complaints about the new English translation of the Mass, which was just introduced in American parishes this year.

"Consubstantial!" Mr. Colbert exclaimed, using a particularly cumbersome word that is now recited in the Nicene Creed. "It's the creed! It's not the SAT prep."

The audience sent in questions by Twitter and e-mail, which Father Martin pitched to the two men. Among them: "I am considering the priesthood. Would it be prudent to avoid dating?"

Cardinal Dolan responded that, on the contrary, "it's good" to date, partly to discern whether the celibate life of a priest is what you want. Then he added, "By the way, let me give you the phone numbers of my nieces."

Mr. Colbert said, "It's actually a great pickup line: I'm seriously considering the priesthood. You can change my mind."

Another question was even more pointed: "So many Christian leaders spread hatred, especially of homosexuals. How can you maintain your joy?"

Cardinal Dolan responded with two meandering anecdotes -- one about having met this week with Muslim leaders, and another about encountering demonstrators outside St. Patrick's Cathedral.

But Mr. Colbert's response was quick and unequivocal. "If someone spreads hate," he said, "then they're not your religious leader."

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 PM

Finnish Patriotism, Christian Hymns And One Trumpeter's Mom (PATRICK JARENWATTANANON, 9/19/12, NPR)

"Be Still My Soul," above, is the leadoff track from the new album. Perhaps you've heard the song before? It's a fairly popular Christian hymn: "Be still my soul, for God is on your side," it begins. But it's also quite likely that if you have heard this tune before, it had different lyrics -- or even no lyrics at all.

The original melody comes from a small section of composer Jean Sibelius' piece Finlandia, written in 1899. Since it was commissioned for a Finnish pride event when Finland was seeking independence from Russia, it has assumed a place in the Finnish national imagination. In 1941, there were words added to the "hymn" section, beginning, "Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning." That hymn is now an unofficial national anthem in Finland, akin to "America, The Beautiful" in this country.

Obviously, those aren't the only words which go with this melody. "This Is My Song" is another popular rendition, and curiously, the lyrics carry a message of overarching holy governance (above any nationalistic concerns such as, say, Finnish pride): "This is my song, O God of all the nations / A song of peace for lands afar and mine." An NPR Music colleague says he used to sing this melody as "I Sought The Lord" as a kid in church. And if Wikipedia is to be believed, there are plenty of other lyrics -- sectarian and secular -- that go with the "Finlandia Hymn."

"Be Still My Soul" is just one of those versions. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


An orgy of cynicism (Hussein Ibish, September 17, 2012, Now Lebanon)

The Muslims of the world are simply going to have to get used to the fact that freedom means everybody has an equal opportunity to be offended and that they must endure this without a violent response or the suppression of free speech. Asking for strong condemnations of intolerant, outrageous expression is reasonable. Asking for censorship is not.
The real political intentions and authors of the video must be uncovered. The violence of the extremists must be suppressed and punished, and their agenda exposed. Islamophobes must be held responsible for their hatred. And demands for censorship to protect religious or political sensitivities must be rejected out of hand. The orgy of cynicism has to stop.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


The Glory of Leaves : Sometimes a masterwork hangs in a museum. Other times it hangs from the branch of a tree or rounds out a slender stem. (Rob Dunn, October 2012, National Geographic)

We have all held leaves, driven miles to see their fall colors, eaten them, raked them, sought their shade. Since they are everywhere, it's easy to take them for granted.

But even when we do, they continue in their one occupation: turning light into life. When rays of sunlight strike green leaves, wavelengths in the green spectrum bounce back toward our eyes. The rest--the reds, blues, indigos, and violets--are trapped. A leaf is filled with chambers illuminated by gathered light. In these glowing rooms photons bump around, and the leaf captures their energy, turning it into the sugar from which plants, animals, and civilizations are built.

Chloroplasts, fed by sun, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients, do the leaf's work. They evolved about 1.6 billion years ago when one cell, incapable of using the sun's energy, engulfed another cell--a cyanobacterium--that could. That cyanobacterium became the ancestor of every living chloroplast. Without their chloroplasts plants would be left like the rest of us, to eat what they find. Instead they hold out their green palms and catch light. If there is magic in the world, surely this is it: the descendants of tiny creatures in leaves, capable of ingesting the sun.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


How Americana Stays True (JIM FUSILLI, 9/19/12, WSJ)

Americana can seem kind of old. Through no fault of the AMA, the Grammys have focused on veteran artists over newcomers in its three-year-old Americana category. But at this year's 11th annual AMA Honors & Awards ceremony, among the first three performers were Booker T. Jones, who played his 1962 soul hit "Green Onions"; Tom T. Hall, who joined Peter Cooper and Lee Ann Womack for his song "I Love," which he released 30 years ago; and Guy Clark, mourning the recent death of his wife of four decades, who sang a heart-piercing version of his "My Favorite Picture of You."

In Americana, burnished talent rather than longevity is a measure of merit in the community. Messrs. Hall and Clark might be considered model standard-bearers, artists to whom the song matters most. Mr. Jones, who received a Lifetime Achievement award, represents another skill set prized in Americana: He plays what needs to be played as well as can be. Accompanied at the awards ceremony by ex-NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, Bonnie Raitt sang with characteristic beauty and authority on a gorgeous reading of "Not Cause I Wanted To," from her fine new disc, "Slipstream." Richard Thompson, a Brit by birth whose early career was inspired by American folk and country, showcased his impeccable guitar playing and distinctive songs. Ms. Raitt and Mr. Thompson also received Lifetime Achievement awards.

Events throughout the weekend illustrated that Americana is neither dull nor predictable. At the AMA gala, the Punch Brothers played their impossibly clever chamber bluegrass tune "Flippen (The Flip)." Alabama Shakes, featuring 23-year-old Brittany Howard on vocals, sang its gritty blues "Boys & Girls." The string band Carolina Chocolate Drops performed its spry tune "Country Girl," and Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, in from Australia, gave a somber reading of their Appalachian folk ballad "Rattlin' Bones." Sarah Jarosz performed her Song of the Year nominee, "Come Around," backed by a cello played percussively, before returning to Boston to attend classes at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 AM


India to jail families who coerce women into abortions (Dean Nelson, 18 Sep 2012, The Telegraph)

Entire families of women who abort a female foetus could be jailed for up to seven years under an Indian government move to ease the pressure for male children.

The initiative is an attempt to halt the growing gender imbalance in India where girls are considered a financial burden and families fear the cost of paying illegal but common dowries when they marry.

Campaigners believe upto eight million unborn girls were aborted in India in the last decade, while UN figures show that female infants are twice as likely to die in India before the age of five. The number of girls born per thousand boys has declined from 976 in 1961 to 914 in 2011, according to census statistics.

September 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM

THE HEAVY PERFORM IN THE CURRENT STUDIOS (Mary Lucia, Minnesota Public Radio, Scott Olstad, Minnesota Public Radio, September 19, 2012, The Current)

The Current has been following The Heavy since they performed on our stage at SXSW 2008. The group visited our studios for another performance in 2009.

While in town for their Wednesday night performance at the Fine Line Music Cafe, The Heavy stopped by The Current studios once again to play a few songs and chat with Mary Lucia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


George Zimmerman's DNA, not Trayvon Martin's, found on gun (Michael Muskal, September 19, 2012, LA Times)

Only DNA from George Zimmerman was found on the grip of the gun that was used in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, according to DNA test results released Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Sweden 22-U.S. 35 (WSJ, 9/18/12)'

The headline above is not an athletic game score, and in this contest you want to be on the lower end. We're talking about the corporate tax rate, which Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has announced that he intends to cut to 22% from 26.3% as part of his next budget.

The rate cut will be partially offset by closing some loopholes, but it will leave famously high-tax Sweden with one of the lowest corporate tax rates in Western Europe. With a top marginal personal income-tax rate of 57% and government spending equal to 56% of GDP, Sweden is no free-market paradise. But over the past two decades, Sweden has cut its public debt to 33% of GDP from a high of nearly 80% in the 1990s. It has also kept the budget at or near balance.

In announcing the cut last week, Mr. Reinfeldt called the corporate income tax "probably the most harmful tax of all" because it hits job creation and business investment. 

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


How Obama Trapped Himself in Chicago Teachers' Strike (Ruth Conniff, September 18, 2012, The Progressive)

But what tripped up Obama the most is that he has essentially adopted George W. Bush's free-market, live-and-let-die education policies--but is running with the support of people who desperately want him to defend public schools against increasingly aggressive rightwing attacks.

For years, Obama and other Democrats who back a competitive, high-stakes approach to education reform have been at odds with the fundamental, traditional values of their party.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


China still lead buyer of U.S. securities (Catherine Tymkiw, September 18, 2012, CNN-Money)

 Global demand for U.S. securities is still strong, with China remaining the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, according to the Treasury Department's latest report on foreign holdings.

The U.S. government's top international creditor continued to add to its holdings, albeit modestly, according to the July Treasury International Capital report, which measures the flow of funds into and out of U.S. securities, including Treasuries, agency-backed securities, corporate debt and stocks, as well as banking capital flows.

In July, Chinese investors increased their holdings by $2.6 billion to $1.15 trillion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Baltasar to Adapt Laxness' Independent People (Iceland Review, 9/18/12)

Icelandic film director Baltasar Kormákur is preparing a film adaptation of Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Halldór Laxness' Independent People. Baltasar announced yesterday that he had secured the rights to the work.

A great novel.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Why She Cries at Movies, While He Snores (Tom Jacobs, 9/17/12, Pacific Standard)

Think back to the first time you saw West Side Story. Didn't you feel for Tony and Maria, the racially mixed couple whose poignant love story ends in tragedy?

If your answer is "no," chances are you are a man.

Let us stipulate immediately that this does not prove men are unfeeling pigs. Rather, the impulse to sympathize with a fictional character seems to be triggered in different ways for males and females.

At least, that's the conclusion of a new study by psychologists Thalia Goldstein and Ellen Winner, which tracked reactions to Leonard Bernstein's musical theater masterpiece. It found men tend to sympathize with the people on stage only if they are personally moved by their plight.

For women, merely perceiving a character is in pain is sufficient to elicit feelings of compassion.

...that the major difference is that men, being moral creatures, judge the characters.

September 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 PM


Ganesha, Remover Of Obstacles (Sudhamahi Regunathan, Sep 18, 2012, Times of India)

Ganesha is elephant-faced, pot bellied and with short legs because he has no ego. And that is why the attributes which would otherwise be seen as disproportionate and strange now become endearing. We all have eight negative energies in some measure in us and we need to overcome them in order to control the ego. The ills that derive from these negative emotions manifest in a similar manner. It is divine power that makes you powerful, beautiful, desired... so do not ascribe it all to yourself, says Ganesha and that remains the most valuable lesson to success. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 PM


A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus' Wife (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 9/18/12, NY Times)

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...' "

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, "she will be able to be my disciple."

The finding was made public in Rome on Tuesday at the International Congress of Coptic Studies by Karen L. King, a historian who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation's oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

...has always been that if He did not marry He never became fully human.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Not much wiggle room in "shall."
Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


The End of Global Warming: How to Save the Earth in 2 Easy Steps (Noah Smith, 6 SEP 17 2012, The Atlantic)

Here is the good news. US carbon emissions are decreasing rapidly. We're down over 10% from our emissions peak in 2007. Furthermore, the drop isn't just a function of the Great Recession. Since 2010 our economy has been growing, but emissions have kept on falling. The reason? Natural gas. With the advent of "fracking" technology, the price of gas has plummeted far below that of coal, and as a result, essentially no new coal plants are being built. Although gas does release carbon, it only releases about half as much as coal for the same amount of electricity. This is why -- despite our failure to join the Kyoto Protocol or impose legal restrictions on CO2 -- the United States is now outpacing the rest of the developed world in reducing our contribution to global warming.

Now for the better news. A technology is in the pipeline that has the potential to eliminate CO2 emissions entirely. Solar power, long believed to be unworkably expensive, has actually been falling in cost at a steady exponential rate of 7 percent per year for the last three decades straight. Because of this "Moore's Law for solar", electricity from solar panels now costs less than twice as much as electricity from coal, and only about three times as much as electricity from gas. Furthermore, technologies now in the pipeline seem to ensure that the cost drop will continue. 

Within the decade, solar could be cheaper than coal. Within two decades, cheaper than gas. When that happens, assuming we also have electric cars, it is game over for carbon emissions.

Am I being optimistic? Not especially. Global warming might still destroy the world. But technology has given us a fighting chance and this has big implications for at least four groups of people: Environmentalists, conservatives, economists, and policymakers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Angry at Online Video (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 9/17/12, NY Times)

From one side came the gale of anger at America's decade-old war against terrorism, which in the eyes of many Muslims in the region often looks like a war against them. And from the other, the new winds blowing through the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which to many here means most of all a right to demand respect for the popular will.

"We want these countries to understand that they need to take into consideration the people, and not just the governments," said Ismail Mohamed, 42, a religious scholar who once was an imam in Germany. "We don't think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression. We think it is an offense against our rights," he said, adding, "The West has to understand the ideology of the people."

Even during the protests, some stone throwers stressed that the clash was not Muslim against Christian. Instead, they suggested that the traditionalism of people of both faiths in the region conflicted with Western individualism and secularism.

Youssef Sidhom, the editor of the Coptic Christian newspaper Watani, said he objected only to the violence of the protests.

Mr. Sidhom approvingly recalled the uproar among Egyptian Christians that greeted the 2006 film "The Da Vinci Code," which was seen as an affront to aspects of traditional Christianity and the persona of Jesus. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and other Arab countries banned both the film and the book on which it was based. And in Egypt, where insulting any of the three Abrahamic religions is a crime, the police even arrested the head of a local film company for importing 2,000 copies of the DVD, according to news reports.

"This reaction is expected," Mr. Sidhom said of last week's protests, "and if it had stayed peaceful I would have said I supported it and understood."

In a context where insults to religion are crimes and the state has tightly controlled almost all media, many in Egypt, like other Arab countries, sometimes find it hard to understand that the American government feels limited by its free speech rules from silencing even the most noxious religious bigot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Americans Underestimate Number of Protestants By More Than 50% : Survey suggests Americans overstate size of religious minorities. (Jeanie Groh, 9/14/12, RNS) 

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities such as Mormons, Muslims, and atheist/agnostics, according to a new study.

Grey Matter Research and Consulting asked 747 U.S. adults to guess what proportion of the American population belongs to each of eight major religious groups: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, atheist/agnostic, believe in God or a higher power but have no particular religious preference, and any other religious group.

The average response was that 24 percent of Americans are Catholic, 20 percent are Protestant, 19 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Jewish, 9 percent are atheist or agnostic, 7 percent are Muslim, 7 percent are Mormon and 5 percent identify with all other religious groups.

Respondents were correct on Catholics -- 24 percent of the country is Catholic. But according to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 51 percent are Protestant, 12 percent are unaffiliated, 2 percent are Jewish, 4 percent are Atheist/Agnostic, less than 1 percent are Muslim, 2 percent are Mormon and 4 percent identify with all other religious groups.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Catholics Then, Muslims Now (DOUG SAUNDERS, September 17, 2012, NY Times)

THE short, crude anti-Muslim video that sparked a wave of violent protests across the Middle East did not emerge from an obscure pocket of extremism; it is the latest in a string of anti-Muslim outbursts in the United States. In August, a mosque was burned down in Missouri and an acid bomb was thrown at an Islamic school in Illinois. The video's backers are part of a movement that has used the insecurity of the post-9/11 years to sow unfounded fears of a Muslim plot to take over the West.

Their message has spread from the obscurity of the Internet and the far right to the best seller lists, the mainstream media and Congress. For the first time in decades, it has become acceptable in some circles to declare that a specific religious minority can't be trusted.

During the Republican primaries, Muslims were accused of harboring plans for "stealth Shariah." A group of five Republican House members, led by Michele Bachmann, groundlessly accused two prominent Muslim federal officials of loyalty to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Another Republican representative, Joe Walsh of Illinois, used a campaign rally to suggest that Muslims in the Chicago suburbs were plotting to commit terrorist attacks. In New York City, the police spied on thousands of Muslims for six years without producing any evidence that could lead to an investigation.

The view that members of a religious minority are not to be trusted -- that they are predisposed to extremism, disloyalty and violence; resist assimilation; reproduce at alarming rates, and are theologically compelled to impose their backward religious laws on their adopted home -- is not new. From the 19th century on, distrust, violence and, eventually, immigration restrictions were aimed at waves of Roman Catholic immigrants.

September 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Like V-necks? You might be gay  (The New Paper, Sep 16, 2012)

To the fury and disbelief of rights activists, the Malaysian government has endorsed a list of identifiable gay and lesbian traits for schools and parents to prevent the spread of what it perceives as a phenomenon among teenagers, especially students, media reports said. [...]

Its list for men includes preferences for V-necks and sleeveless clothes.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


THE PROBLEM WITH THE LIBERAL CINEMA (Richard Brody, 9/08/12, The New Yorker)

The facts do not speak for themselves, and there's a remarkable and disheartening correlation between those who film as if they do and those who, imbuing these facts with a built-in point of view, are unwilling to stand in front of those facts and state that point of view. The underlying question is why movies made by many filmmakers whose point of view is, by and large, so sympathetic, tolerant, and liberal (and whose point of view I tend to share, by the way) are built on such a painful narrowing of experience and a surreptitious attitudinizing--why they're films of personal commitment that remain, nonetheless, impersonal. It's as if filmmakers (and, for that matter, critics, playing a surreptitious role as op-ed columnists) were protecting viewers from the potential effect of nasty or regressive or hateful thoughts; their own cultivated selves are are immune from them even if angered by them, but the poor bewildered viewer needs some protection from loose ends of imagination that could potentially lead in the wrong direction.

The Stakhanovite values of socialist realism have given way to the mild and sentimental ones of liberal realism; but the brazen hysteria of overt propaganda is a truer framework for political art--for the representation of will, faith, and power that political action depends on--than the tacitly closed circle of self-approving sympathies. The problem is not with liberalism in cinema as such (Wes Anderson's post-scriptural "Moonrise Kingdom" is, after all, a masterwork, and Nanni Moretti's ferociously anticlerical "We Have a Pope" borrows its furious ending from "The Great Dictator") but with the liberal cinema as a genre. The arena of practical politics is the place for constructive and responsible approaches to identified problems; the realm of art is the place of dangerous imagination and the vision of terrifying, or even merely uncomfortable, possibilities. And nothing undermines the actual quest for political progress like the sense that it would imply the denial or the repudiation of primal, atavistic, or impulsively unwelcome feelings.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


20% of Anorexics Are Men : Twenty percent. And rising. More and more men are starving themselves to death in a pathological pursuit of perfection. Male anorexics have much in common with women who suffer from the same debilitating illness, but there's a striking difference: For the vast majority of men, help is not on the way (NATHANIEL PENN, September 2012, GQ)

As recently as a decade ago, clinicians believed that only 5 percent of anorexics were male. Current estimates suggest it's closer to 20 percent and rising fast: More men are getting ill, and more are being diagnosed. (One well-regarded Canadian study puts the number at 30 percent.) It's unclear why, but certainly twenty years of lean, muscular male physiques in advertising, movies, sports, and of course, magazines like GQ--from Marky Mark to Brad Pitt to David Beckham--have changed the way both men and women regard the male body. And thanks to the web, those images are easy to seek out and collect. For American men, the chiseled six-pack has become the fetishized equivalent of bigger breasts. Like all fetish objects, it stands for something deeply desired: social acceptance, the love of a parent or partner, happiness.

But many afflicted men feel too stigmatized to go to a doctor--and many doctors don't recognize the early, ambiguous symptoms. "It is not what a primary-care physician will consider at first glance," says Mark Warren, founder of the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders. "Often it won't be what they consider at fourth or fifth glance."

Diagnosis is hard. Finding treatment is even harder. Many residential centers don't admit men, out of a belief that treatment should be sex-specific.

September 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


The Road to Retirement (NY Times, 9/16/12)

The crux of the problem is that as traditional pensions have disappeared from the private sector, replacement plans have proved woefully inadequate. Fewer than half of the nation's private sector workers have 401(k) plans, and more than a third of households have no retirement coverage during their work lives, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. [...]

Working longer can help to rebuild savings, and, more important, allow one to delay taking Social Security, which improves the ultimate payout. As a practical matter, however, keeping a job is no sure thing. Workers ages 55 to 64 have been less likely than younger ones to lose their jobs in recent years; their jobless rate has averaged 6.1 percent in the past year, compared with 7.3 percent for workers ages 25 to 54. But when older workers become unemployed, they are much more likely to be out of work for long periods and less likely to find new jobs, while those who do become re-employed usually take a big pay cut.

More saving is clearly needed, along with ways to protect retirement savings from devastating downturns. The question is how. In addition to strengthening and preserving Social Security, the nation needs new forms of retirement coverage, along the lines of the "Automatic Individual Retirement Accounts" that President Obama has proposed in recent budgets, which would require companies that did not offer retirement plans to automatically divert 3 percent of an employee's pay into an I.R.A., unless the employee opted out. A similar plan was recently proposed by Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa.

When even the Timesmen favor such privatized SS accounts--for what else are government mandated savings for retirement?--you know you've won.  W, once again, seems to have simply been a man ahead of his time.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Woodward's Verdict: Obama Didn't Lead (Jay Ambrose, September 16, 2012, Scripps Howard)

Obama miscalculated, and badly, in negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner on getting Republicans to allow more borrowing and avert default by convincing them something significant would be done about a wildly growing, ruinous debt. Despite Republican travails about stiff tax hikes to help fix the mess, Boehner was willing to go along with an $800 billion revenue increase achieved through reform. The grand compromise was about done when Obama asked for another $400 billion. That was it. Finis. End of the game.

How bad a negotiator do you have to be to not get it that when you have a bird in hand you forget the two in the bush? After the fact, Obama said the $400 billion was just a suggestion and fumed that Boehner stayed away from the phone for a day before he unleashed his fury on the speaker. Angrily blaming others for your own mistakes strikes me as the kind of pomposity that makes things worse.

The president was outraged again when Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, seeing the White House as a roadblock, swerved around it to negotiate their own deal. Dismissing the effort and later threatening a veto, Obama earned himself a rebuke from an aide to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This man, David Krone, found it a major lapse that the White House had no fallback plan when its initial bartering went astray.

Among others casting doubt on Obama as negotiator were Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and presidential financial adviser who said Obama just did not like the game, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, who accused the White House of having no strategy or "core principles." There's hearsay in the book that Vice President Joseph Biden, who himself seemed pretty able at reaching understandings with recalcitrant Republicans, said he would approach the negotiating "totally different" if it were up to him.

After 16 years of transformation, it is understandable that the American people hit the "Pause" button in 2008, but electing someone uniquely unqualified for, and unsuited to, the presidency had consequences.  We don't have a competent Executive, just a teleprompter and an autopen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


FOYLE IN A NEW ERA : New episodes coming to MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! on PBS in summer 2013 (PBS, September 12, 2012)

Starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks and created by celebrated novelist and 
screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, the series will see Foyle and loyal friend Sam (Weeks) in 
a new post-war era as their worlds shift into those of MI5.

With many stories based on real life cases, Foyle will focus his attention on the world of 
espionage as he gathers secret intelligence in support of Britain's security, defense and the 
Government's foreign and economic policies.

In his new role as a Senior Intelligence Officer, Foyle discovers that the British 
establishment is rife with communist sympathisers and traitors. In this delicately balanced 
period in history, 1946-47, Foyle will use all his intelligence, guile and intuition to keep 
the country safe.

Meanwhile, Sam is happily married to local MP Adam and finding her feet as a wife with 
a daunting role in local politics. Reunited with Foyle, she is also offered a surprising new 
working role.

Three x 120 minute films have been ordered from Eleventh Hour Films, the production 
company founded by producer Jill Green.

What makes Kitchen's portrayal; of Foyle great is that he uses a meek demeanor to mask a genuine moral ferocity.  It will be interesting to see if they're really willing to turn that loose on communism and fellow travelers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The Outing of a Right-Wing Rocker :The Olympics' opening night star Frank Turner becomes, overnight, a class enemy. (DANIEL J. FLYNN, 9.14.12, American Spectator)

Last week, the Guardian's Michael Hann posted excerpts from old interviews in which Turner opined that "socialism's retarded," decried the Treaty of Lisbon's European Union as "the end of about 800 years of continuous parliamentary history," and suggested that politicians should "concentrate on ways of minimising the impact on ordinary people's lives and allow them to get on with their lives and not be bothered by the state."

If you didn't catch Olde-England-troubadour Turner's so-fitting three-song set at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games, the folk-punk phenomenon is perhaps best thought of as Billy Bragg with Bruce Springsteen's talent. So once critics discovered that their darling shared Bragg's full-throated folk style but not his hard-left politics, their love notes become "Dear Frank" letters. [...]

Turner responded to the national controversy by denying affiliation with any political party or rigid ideology. The London School of Economics graduate humbly noted, "I just think the world works better when people are left alone to do what they want as much as possible."

Patriotism isn't politically correct, particularly among the citizens of the EU superstate. The title of Turner's album, "England Keep My Bones" -- consequently, not "Britain Keep My Bones" or "UK Keep My Bones" -- subtly points to his politics. So does the album, a rollicking ode to the island Turner calls home. Closing with an overtly anti-God number -- not surprising since atheism has replaced the C of E as the national religion -- that may have helped mislead his leftist fans into thinking Turner one of their political cult, the album nevertheless strangely obsesses over sin, redemption, and the life after. And, oh yeah, it's also about William the Conqueror, navigating the labyrinth of drunks on Winchester's Jewry Street, and the pastoral past.

If England didn't have a national anthem, Frank Turner would write a better one. In "Rivers," he sings: "When I die I hope to be/buried out in the English sea/So that all that then remains of me/Will lap against these shores/Until England is no more." In the energetic "One Foot Before the Other," Turner imagines another fate for his corpse, with his ashes dumped into London's reservoir to flow into his thirsty countrymen to ensure continuity, an imprint, eternal life.

Is Turner pondering his mortality or England's?

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


How Buzz Aldrin's communion on the moon was hushed up (Matthew Cresswell, 9/13/12,

Before Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out of the lunar module on July 20, 1969, Aldrin unstowed a small plastic container of wine and some bread. He had brought them to the moon from Webster Presbyterian church near Houston, where he was an elder. Aldrin had received permission from the Presbyterian church's general assembly to administer it to himself. In his book Magnificent Desolation he shares the message he then radioed to Nasa: "I would like to request a few moments of silence ... and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."

He then ate and drank the elements. The surreal ceremony is described in an article by Aldrin in a 1970 copy of Guideposts magazine: "I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements."

He also read a section of the gospel of John. During it all, Armstrong, reportedly a deist, is said to have watched respectfully but without making any comment.

The story of the secret communion service only emerged after the mission. Aldrin had originally planned to share the event with the world over the radio. However, at the time Nasa was still reeling from a lawsuit filed by the firebrand atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, resulting in the ceremony never being broadcast. The founder of American Atheists and self-titled "most hated woman in America" had taken on Nasa, as well as many other public organisation. Most famously, she successfully fought mandatory school prayer and bible recitation in US public schools.

After the Apollo 8 crew had read out the Genesis creation account in orbit, O'Hair wanted a ban on Nasa astronauts practising religion on earth, in space or "around and about the moon" while on duty.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


The case for outsourcing jobs (Steve Hargreaves, September 14, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Cheaper prices for consumer goods are often the first thing cited by defenders of outsourcing. Indeed, many items such as clothing, toys and electronics are getting cheaper, even without adjusting for inflation.

But the efficiencies extend beyond the cash register.

Companies can use the cost savings to staff up in other parts of their business, said Steven Leslie, a financial services analyst at the Economist Intelligence Group.

For example, if Apple can knock, say, $100 off the cost of producing the iPhone by making it in China as opposed to the United States, the company is then apt to spend that $100 in hiring people in other parts of its businesses -- such as sales, marketing or design.

A forthcoming paper in the American Economic Review looked at 57 American industries from 2000 to 2007. The study found that even though some people lost jobs due to outsourcing, the greater efficiencies the industries realized allowed them to hire even more people in the United States than were laid off.

Which is how globalization and technology helped fund three decades of white collar boondoggling.
Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM

Gorecki's 'Miserere,' An A Cappella Oasis Of Calm (TOM HUIZENGA, 9/11/12, NPR)

Like the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," Górecki's Miserere is simple in its construction but not simpleminded. The entire text consists of just five words -- "Domine Deus noster, Miserere nobis" (Lord our God, have mercy on us). He builds the piece slowly, in layers, beginning with low tones in the basses and eventually rising to the sopranos. The repeated phrase "Domine Deus" washes over in peaceful waves -- its meditative mood about as far as you can get from a ferocious police beating.
The Miserere is bookended by the short Lobgesang in German and a set of Five Marian Songs (Pieśni Maryjne) in Polish.

Górecki wrote his Lobgesang (Song of Praise) in 2000 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the birth of Johann Gutenberg, inventor of movable-type printing. Punctuated by boisterous cries of "lobet" (praise), the chorale's mighty sound eventually gives way to some terrifically soft, low and sustained notes, over which Górecki magically introduces chromatic pings from a solitary glockenspiel.

In the Marian songs, it's Górecki's simple approach that touches the heart. Inspired by Polish folk and church music, he sets these sweetly melodic songs in uncomplicated harmonies with subtle splashes of dissonance. "Most Holy Mother," the second and longest of the songs, shows off the ensemble's lustrous blend, handsomely recorded in Walt Disney Concert Hall's warm but precise acoustic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Here Comes the Data Economy : New companies are creating services using government data on health care, education, and more. (Alexander B. Howard, Sept. 10, 2012, Slate)

[O]pen data and application programming interfaces, more commonly known as APIs, increasingly look like fundamental infrastructure for digital government in the 21st century.
There's good reason to think that open data could have an overall effect on the economy akin to open source and small business. Gartner, the IT research analysis firm, recently highlighted how open data creates value in the public and private sector.

You may not realize it, but services you use on a daily basis have been built upon data released by the government. Weather data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has an annual estimated economic value of $10 billion, according to U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. NOAA data sets are used by, Weather Underground, and the Weather Channel--and the nation's farmers consult these forecasts to manage both their crops and the risks of loss. VanRoekel and Park estimate the annual economic value of the data from the U.S. global positioning system at some $90 billion. From companies like TomTom or Garmin to dashboard GPS systems to smartphones and associated location-based applications, GPS data sets are baked into an expanding number of services and products.

Now, as Park seeks to scale open data across the federal government, we're on the verge of the next generation of services driven by open data, which will involve everything from energy to health care to consumer finance to transit sectors. The challenge is that the cities and federal agencies that hold vast amounts of data may not always understand the value of the information they hold or how to create or sustain businesses using it. That's where open innovation in the public sector and the dynamism of entrepreneurs will play an important role in making the people's data more useful to the people.

BrightScope is a notable example of what dogged persistence can create. The California startup made a profitable business using government data to help the American people understand the fees associated with their 401(k)s. Last May, BrightScope went further, launching financial adviser pages based on open government data from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the largest independent securities regulator in the United States. Previously, financial adviser profiles could only be found through exact queries at an obscure URL on the regulators' websites. Now, information that citizens care about--the records of financial advisers in their geographic region--is available where they're looking for it: in search engine results.

Just as labor and regulatory data fuels BrightScope's business, there's an expanding number of startups that are tapping into other data released so-called "smart disclosure" initiatives. Smart disclosure is when a private company or government agency provides a person with periodic access to his or her own data in open formats that enable them to easily put the information to use. Startups like and Hello Wallet are already using a combination of private sector and public sector data to enhance consumer finance decisions. The success of such consumer finance startups suggests an important lesson: The most successful apps and services will combine government, industry, and user-generated data.

The key open data story to watch in the federal government, however, centers on health care. McKinsey and Associates estimates the annual economic value of big, open liquid health data at about $350 billion annually. The explosion of mHealth apps are just the beginning of the disruption in health care from open health data. The effort to revolutionize the health care industry by making health data as useful as weather data is still in its infancy--but the early results are promising. iTriage, which was acquired by Aetna, is enabling people to make better mobile health care decisions where and when they need to do so. It uses a combination of government and private sector data to evaluable symptoms or conditions and point users to nearby medical care. Another startup, Castlight, is analyzing health care data to empower patients, acting like for those who want more transparency about costs. In May, Castlight completed a $100 million round of financing. how a democratic government can justify keeping any data closed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


How not to manage a boom : Neither presidential candidate has the vision now required in energy policy (Lexington, Aug 11th 2012, The Economist)

[P]olicy has been crucial to the revival of America's energy industry. But the sorts of policies that matter most are so basic that they would never seem weighty or visionary enough to grace a political platform. First and foremost, the boom depends on a free, liquid, competitive market in gas, underpinned by an extensive and well-regulated pipeline network. A relatively mild system of royalties and taxes makes drilling lucrative, and a relatively permissive bureaucracy allows it to happen. Thanks to its particular mix of policy and culture, America has the engineers to dream up and perfect the necessary technology and the investors to fund their work. These are rarer qualities than one might imagine; at any rate, no other country has seen its shale gas exploited so vigorously, though many have equally promising geology. [...]

The lesson of the shale gas boom, after all, is not that government should forswear any part in shaping the energy mix, but rather that innovation and entrepreneurship can yield dramatic results in a short time if the right incentives are in place. That should provide great encouragement to those, like Mr Obama, who worry about climate change--as long as they are willing to embrace market forces.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


A Philosopher Defends Religion : Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga (Thomas Nagel, 9/27/12, NY Review of Books)

One of the things atheists tend to believe is that modern science is on their side, whereas theism is in conflict with science: that, for example, belief in miracles is inconsistent with the scientific conception of natural law; faith as a basis of belief is inconsistent with the scientific conception of knowledge; belief that God created man in his own image is inconsistent with scientific explanations provided by the theory of evolution. In his absorbing new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga, a distinguished analytic philosopher known for his contributions to metaphysics and theory of knowledge as well as to the philosophy of religion, turns this alleged opposition on its head. His overall claim is that "there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism." By naturalism he means the view that the world describable by the natural sciences is all that exists, and that there is no such person as God, or anything like God.

Plantinga's religion is the real thing, not just an intellectual deism that gives God nothing to do in the world. He himself is an evangelical Protestant, but he conducts his argument with respect to a version of Christianity that is the "rough intersection of the great Christian creeds"--ranging from the Apostle's Creed to the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles--according to which God is a person who not only created and maintains the universe and its laws, but also intervenes specially in the world, with the miracles related in the Bible and in other ways. It is of great interest to be presented with a lucid and sophisticated account of how someone who holds these beliefs understands them to harmonize with and indeed to provide crucial support for the methods and results of the natural sciences.

Plantinga discusses many topics in the course of the book, but his most important claims are epistemological. He holds, first, that the theistic conception of the relation between God, the natural world, and ourselves makes it reasonable for us to regard our perceptual and rational faculties as reliable. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the scientific theories they allow us to create do describe reality. He holds, second, that the naturalistic conception of the world, and of ourselves as products of unguided Darwinian evolution, makes it unreasonable for us to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and therefore unreasonable to believe any theories they may lead us to form, including the theory of evolution. In other words, belief in naturalism combined with belief in evolution is self-defeating. However, Plantinga thinks we can reasonably believe that we are the products of evolution provided that we also believe, contrary to naturalism, that the process was in some way guided by God.

If Thomas Nagel, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and David Hume can't demonstrate that Reason is self-sufficient, but can get on with their lives on the basis of Faith, mightn't we all?

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


So you want to be an artist ... (Simon Kuper, 9/07/12, Financial Times)

The fantasy of yourself as an artist works best as a fantasy. It provides a pleasing back-story to tell yourself and others. On paper you might be an accountant, but your authentic self is Emily Brontë. That's fine until you try to live the fantasy. I knew a girl who as a child wrote lovely poems. Writing was her vocation. In adulthood, she didn't just talk about writing a novel, she actually wrote one. It even got published. And the critics panned it. She won't ever publish another. Her fantasy is shattered. That fear, almost as much as Connolly's famous "pram in the hall", is what stops most hacks from leaping.

Staying put saves them lots of unhappiness. The hack's life is fairly easy. Your work just has to be good enough. You don't have to put your soul into it and aim for perfection. You know how to do the job, you hand it in and they pay you. I know a film director who made commercials. Occasionally, he talked to film executives about making a movie, but he said he'd only do it if they gave him total creative control. Of course, they never did. So he kept making commercials, got rich, grew old and never found out whether he could make a good movie. He even posed as an artist who refused to sell out to Hollywood. It's a good life. Art is harder.

In any case, it may turn out one day that you weren't a hack at all. Arthur Conan Doyle thought his Sherlock Holmes stories were dreadful hackery. Yearning to devote himself to "better things", he even killed Holmes off at the Reichenbach Falls. Now we know that Holmes was his greatest creation. The stories weren't hack work at all, just as Georges Simenon and Alfred Hitchcock weren't hacks.

In short, if you are a hack thinking you were made for higher things, you are probably wrong. Don't give up the day job. Perhaps your authentic self is the accountant.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


The trouble with atheists: a defence of faith : Francis Spufford has heard all the arguments against Christianity. He understands the objections of Dawkins and Hitchens and he realises it's a guess as to whether there's a God or not. But here he offers a defence of his faith (Francis Spufford, 8/31/12,

No: the really painful message our daughter will receive is that we're embarrassing. For most people who aren't New Atheists, or old atheists, and have no passion invested in the subject, either negative or positive, believers aren't weird because we're wicked. We're weird because we're inexplicable; because, when there's no necessity for it that anyone sensible can see, we've committed ourselves to a set of awkward and absurd attitudes that obtrude, that stick out against the background of modern life, and not in some important or respectworthy or principled way, either. Believers are people who try to insert Jee-zus into conversations at parties; who put themselves down, with writhings of unease, for perfectly normal human behaviour; who are constantly trying to create a solemn hush that invites a fart, a hiccup, a bit of subversion. Believers are people who, on the rare occasions when you have to listen to them, like at a funeral or a wedding, seize the opportunity to pour the liquidised content of a primary-school nativity play into your earhole, apparently not noticing that childhood is over. And as well as being childish, and abject, and solemn, and awkward, we voluntarily associate ourselves with an old-fashioned, mildewed orthodoxy, an Authority with all its authority gone. Nothing is so sad - sad from the style point of view - as the mainstream taste of the day before yesterday.

What goes on inside believers is mysterious. So far as it can be guessed at it appears to be a kind of anxious pretending, a kind of continual, nervous resistance to reality. We don't seem to get it that the magic in Harry Potter, the rings and swords and elves in fantasy novels, the power-ups in video games, the ghouls and ghosts of Halloween, are all, like, just for fun. We try to take them seriously; or rather, we take our own particular subsection of them seriously. We commit the bizarre category error of claiming that our goblins, ghouls, Flying Spaghetti Monsters are really there, off the page and away from the CGI rendering programs. Star Trek fans and vampire wanabes have nothing on us. We actually get down and worship. We get down on our actual knees, bowing and scraping in front of the empty space where we insist our Spaghetti Monster can be found. No wonder that we work so hard to fend off common sense. Our fingers must be in our ears all the time - la la la, I can't hear you - just to keep out the sound of the real world.

The funny thing is that, to me, it's belief that involves the most uncompromising attention to the nature of things of which you are capable. Belief demands that you dispense with illusion after illusion, while contemporary common sense requires continual, fluffy pretending - pretending that might as well be systematic, it's so thoroughly incentivised by our culture. Take the well-known slogan on the atheist bus in London. I know, I know, that's an utterance by the hardcore hobbyists of unbelief, but in this particular case they're pretty much stating the ordinary wisdom of everyday disbelief. The atheist bus says: "There's probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life." All right: which word here is the questionable one, the aggressive one, the one that parts company with recognisable human experience so fast it doesn't even have time to wave goodbye? It isn't "probably". New Atheists aren't claiming anything outrageous when they say that there probably isn't a God. In fact they aren't claiming anything substantial at all, because, really, how would they know? It's as much of a guess for them as it is for me. No, the word that offends against realism here is "enjoy". I'm sorry - enjoy your life? I'm not making some kind of neo-puritan objection to enjoyment. Enjoyment is lovely. Enjoyment is great. The more enjoyment the better. But enjoyment is one emotion. To say that life is to be enjoyed (just enjoyed) is like saying that mountains should only have summits, or that all colours should be purple, or that all plays should be by Shakespeare. This really is a bizarre category error.

But not necessarily an innocent one. Not necessarily a piece of fluffy pretending that does no harm. The implication of the bus slogan is that enjoyment would be your natural state if you weren't being "worried" by us believers and our hellfire preaching. Take away the malignant threat of God-talk, and you would revert to continuous pleasure, under cloudless skies. What's so wrong with this, apart from it being total bollocks? Well, in the first place, that it buys a bill of goods, sight unseen, from modern marketing. Given that human life isn't and can't be made up of enjoyment, it is in effect accepting a picture of human life in which those pieces of living where easy enjoyment is more likely become the only pieces that are visible. If you based your knowledge of the human species exclusively on adverts, you'd think that the normal condition of humanity was to be a good-looking single person between 20 and 35, with excellent muscle-definition and/or an excellent figure, and a large disposable income. And you'd think the same thing if you got your information exclusively from the atheist bus, with the minor difference, in this case, that the man from the Gold Blend couple has a tiny wrinkle of concern on his handsome forehead, caused by the troublesome thought of God's possible existence: a wrinkle about to be removed by one magic application of Reason™.

These plastic beings don't need anything that they can't get by going shopping. But suppose, as the atheist bus goes by, you are povertystricken, or desperate for a job, or a drug addict, or social services have just taken away your child. The bus tells you that there's probably no God so you should stop worrying and enjoy your life, and now the slogan is not just bitterly inappropriate in mood. What it means, if it's true, is that anyone who isn't enjoying themselves is entirely on their own. What the bus says is: there's no help coming. Now don't get me wrong. I don't think there's any help coming, in one large and important sense of the term. I don't believe anything is going to happen that will materially alter the position these people find themselves in. But let's be clear about the emotional logic of the bus's message. It amounts to a denial of hope or consolation on any but the most chirpy, squeaky, bubble-gummy reading of the human situation. St Augustine called this kind of thing "cruel optimism" 1,500 years ago, and it's still cruel.

September 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM

WE ARE ALL DESIGNISTS NOW (profanity alert):


Two years ago, Rich Terrile appeared on Through the Wormhole, the Science Channel's show about the mysteries of life and the universe. He was invited onto the program to discuss the theory that the human experience can be boiled down to something like an incredibly advanced, metaphysical version of The Sims.

It's an idea that every college student with a gravity bong and The Matrix on DVD has thought of before, but Rich is a well-regarded scientist, the director of the Center for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and is currently writing an as-yet-untitled book about the subject, so we're going to go ahead and take him seriously.

The essence of Rich's theory is that a "programmer" from the future designed our reality to simulate the course of what the programmer considers to be ancient history--for whatever reason, maybe because he's bored.

According to Moore's Law, which states that computing power doubles roughly every two years, all of this will be theoretically possible in the future. Sooner or later, we'll get to a place where simulating a few billion people--and making them believe they are sentient beings with the ability to control their own destinies--will be as easy as sending a stranger a picture of your genitals on your phone.

This hypothesis--versions of which have been kicked around for centuries--is becoming the trippy notion of the moment for philosophers, with people like Nick Bostrom, the director of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute, seriously considering the premise.

Eat the red pill, dude.
Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Meet 'The Most Interesting Man In The World' (NPR, 9/15/12)

Fernando Lamas, actor and father of Lorenzo Lamas, was his sailing buddy and became his inspiration for the character.

"His voice was so distinctive and special, and I emulated him," Goldsmith says. "He was the best raconteur I've ever known. It was wonderful to be around him and to listen to him, and he made everybody smile."

To become the most interesting man in the world, you just have to audition. Goldsmith says his agent, whom he later married, told him he needed to do an improvisation to get the role. The requirement: He had to end with the line "And that's how I arm-wrestled Fidel Castro." So Goldsmith -- who could be Ernest Hemingway's distant cousin -- went for it.

"It was a cattle call. Most of [the actors] looked like that charming man from the coffee commercial, Juan Valdez," Goldsmith says. "I just went into a stream of consciousness, I became outlandish, and the further out I went, the more they seemed to like it, and I was the lucky guy that got it."

Goldsmith now lives with his wife in Vermont. Perhaps it's not the most interesting place in the world, but when you're the most interesting man in the world, you need a refuge, and Goldsmith says the Green Mountain State is exactly that. But, the cerveza symbol says being hugely recognizable isn't all that bad.

"I was sitting in a little Mexican restaurant with my wife ... and a gentleman came over with his young son in tow and said, 'The other day I asked my son what he wanted to do when he grew up.' " Goldsmith says. "And he said 'I want to be the most interesting man in the world.' He was 7."

On a bus in New York City, an elderly man stopped him and said, "When I come back, sonny, I wanna be you."

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Neocons Slither Back (MAUREEN DOWD, 9/15/12, NY Times)

Nice Jew/snake association.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


If Achilles Used Facebook... (PADRAIG MAC CARRON and RALPH KENNA, 9/09/12, NY Times)

WHEN we pick up a mythological text like "The Iliad" or "Beowulf," we like to imagine that the societies they describe existed. Even if the stories are fiction, we believe that they tell us something about ancient Greece or the Anglo-Saxons, and that some of the characters and events were based on reality.

Archaeological evidence suggests that at least some of the societies and events in such stories did exist. But is there other evidence, lurking perhaps within the ancient texts themselves?

To investigate that question, we turned to a decidedly modern tool: social-network analysis. In a study published in Europhysics Letters, we use a mathematical approach to examine the social networks in three narratives: "The Iliad," "Beowulf" and the Irish epic "Tain Bo Cuailnge." If the social networks depicted appeared realistic, we surmised, perhaps they would reflect some degree of historical reality.

Social networks have been widely studied in recent years; researchers have looked at the interconnectedness of groups like actors, musicians and co-authors of scientific texts. These networks share similar properties: they are highly connected, small worlds. They are assortative, which means that people tend to associate with people like themselves. And their degree distributions are usually scale-free -- a small number of people tend to have lots of friends.

How do these networks compare to the ones in mythological narratives?

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Newly declassified memos show US hushed up 1940 Soviet mass murder : It was the Soviets, not the Nazis, who killed 22,000 Poles with shots to the back of the head in or near the Katyn forest. Documents confirm suspicion Roosevelt kept silent so as not to anger Stalin (RANDY HERSCHAFT and VANESSA GERA, September 14, 2012, AP)

Documents released Monday and seen in advance by The Associated Press lend weight to the belief that suppression within the highest levels of the US government helped cover up Soviet guilt in the killing of some 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners in the Katyn forest and other locations in 1940.

The evidence is among about 1,000 pages of newly declassified documents that the United States National Archives released and is putting online. Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who helped lead a recent push for the release of the documents, called the effort's success Monday a "momentous occasion" in an attempt to "make history whole."

The most dramatic revelation so far is the evidence of the secret codes sent by the two American POWs -- something historians were unaware of and which adds to evidence that the Roosevelt administration knew of the Soviet atrocity relatively early on

Historians who saw the material days before the official release describe it as important and shared some highlights with the AP. The most dramatic revelation so far is the evidence of the secret codes sent by the two American POWs -- something historians were unaware of and which adds to evidence that the Roosevelt administration knew of the Soviet atrocity relatively early on.

The declassified documents also show the United States maintaining that it couldn't conclusively determine guilt until a Russian admission in 1990 -- a statement that looks improbable given the huge body of evidence of Soviet guilt that had already emerged decades earlier. Historians say the new material helps to flesh out the story of what the US knew and when.

The Soviet secret police killed the 22,000 Poles with shots to the back of the head. Their aim was to eliminate a military and intellectual elite that would have put up stiff resistance to Soviet control. The men were among Poland's most accomplished -- officers and reserve officers who in their civilian lives worked as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or as other professionals. Their loss has proven an enduring wound to the Polish nation.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


The law that explains the folly of bank regulation (John Kay, 12 September 2012, Financial Times)

At the recent Jackson Hole conference, Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England again reminded the world's financial policy makers of a central truth about the 2008 crisis. The principal measure of bank resilience prescribed for and by regulators around the world - the capital ratios calculated according to principles laid down by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision - had no value whatever in predicting the probability that a bank would fail. But a simple measure of the bank's leverage ratio, which anyone with a calculator could compute, did. [...]

 The likely explanation of his discovery that more complex rules are worse is to be found in Goodhart's law. This proposition was first set out in the 1970s by the economist Charles Goodhart, in the context of the implementation of monetary policy.

Prof Goodhart suggested that any measure adopted as a target loses the information content that appeared to make it relevant. People change their behaviour to meet the target. These responses change the relationship between the target - the measure of money supply, or the value at risk - and the objective that policy makers seek to influence: the availability of credit, or the risk exposure of a bank. The target becomes a bad measure of success in reaching the objective as soon as it is adopted as a target. That is why the risk-weighted measure of Basel, which was a regulatory target, proved to be less reliable than the leverage ratio, which was not. [...]

The additional complexity of risk weighting stimulated regulatory arbitrage - the creation of instruments that transfer assets from one risk category to another while preserving their essential economic characteristics. The categorisation encouraged banks to reverse-engineer products to meet the demands of rating agency models. The resulting complexity diminished the system's resilience.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


We're Winning the War on Poverty : New research shows that poverty is falling if you measure it correctly--government programs deserve most of the credit. (Matthew Yglesias, Sept. 14, 2012, Slate)

The official poverty line was created in 1963 by food and nutrition economist Mollie Orshansky and hasn't been updated since.

Her method, though arguably appropriate at the time, is incredibly crude by modern standards. Her idea was to calculate the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet for a given-size family. Then she used the early-'60s rule of thumb that food was about one-third the typical family's budget. So calculate the income needed to prevent malnutrition, triple it, and there's your poverty line. 
Needless to say, this has only a hazy relationship with modern living standards. Worse, because at the time there were few government programs designed to help the poor, it refers to income before taxes and cash transfer payments. The formula also neglects to include the value of in-kind public services such as food stamps and Medicaid, and smaller programs like housing vouchers.

The problems with the poverty-line methodology are well known, but they are often thought to impact merely the level of poverty, rather than the change over time. Meyer and Sullivan challenge this assumption. They argue for starters that the standard inflation measure suffers from "outlet bias." It fails, in other words, to adequately account for the rise of cheaper big box stores--exactly the kind of development most likely to benefit the poor. Merely making this inflation adjustment paints a brighter picture of living standards at the low end.

Of course, the same deflation in the cost of essentials--in particular--is why talk of the failing middle class is so asinine.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Obama and Romney Might Not Fight So Much on Foreign Policy If They Disagreed More (ELSPETH REEVE, SEP 14, 2012, Atlantic)

After several days of fierce campaign fighting, blustery press releases and snippy surrogates on cable, the major differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney on foreign policy are ones of personality, not policy -- and even the personality differences are probably overstated.  As President, Obama has largely kept in place the counterterrorism programs put in place by the Bush administration after 9/11. Romney has hired Bush administration alums like Dan Senor and John Bolton for his foreign policy team. While there have been some times in which Republicans have criticized Obama for not being aggressive enough in Libya, and then too agressive, Romney eventually agreed that the world was better off without Muammar Qaddafi. And on the big fight between the campaigns this week, they mostly agree. Romney condemned Obama for sympathizing with the attackers on the American embassies in Cairo and Benghazi because the Cairo embassy posted a condemnation of an anti-Islam film. Obama doesn't disagree with Romney that the statement was dumb. "The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government," an administration official said. But that said, Romney doesn't completely disagree with the sentiment that both he and the President think shouldn't have been released. He told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos:

I think it's dispiriting sometimes to see some of the awful things people say.  And the idea of using something that some people consider sacred and then parading that out a negative way is simply inappropriate and wrong. And I wish people wouldn't do it. Of course, we have a First Amendment. And under the First Amendment, people are allowed to do what they feel they want to do. They have the right to do that, but it's not right to do things that are of the nature of what was done by, apparently this film.

That's not all that different from what the embassy said:

"Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Conflict and 'boom-bust' explain humans' rapid evolution (Paul Rincon, 9/14/12, BBC News)

"However you slice it, evolution within this [human family] has been very rapid indeed," Prof Tatersall, from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, told the conference.

"I think it's fair to say that our species Homo sapiens and its antecedents have come much farther, much faster than any other mammalian group that has been documented in this very tight time-frame." [...]

Such fast change is not seen among apes, and while Prof Tatersall acknowledges the importance of the move our ancestors made from a tree-dwelling, to a ground-dwelling existence - something which has not affected our primate cousins - he says it is not enough to explain what is observed.

"Clearly the definitive abandonment of dependence on trees... has to count as one of the most radical shifts in adaptive zone ever made by any vertebrate since the very first tetrapod heaved itself out of water and on to terra firma," he said.

"Under natural conditions, it is very hard to see how the initial invasion of a new ecozone by hominids could have so consistently driven rapid change over the long period of time that we're talking about."

Human culture was probably the special, consistently present ingredient that drove the continuing fast pace of change in our lineage after we left the forests, said Prof Tatersall, but not in the way that some other researchers have proposed.

Not only are we "special," but we drove our own evolution and it was not "natural."  

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Tom Wolfe: America's all-seeing eye : He has dazzled, and he has disappointed. Will his new novel put him back on top of the literary pedestal? (JOHN WALSH, 15 SEPTEMBER 2012, Independent)

All his books open with crowd scenes: a riot at a political meeting, a street festival, a university party. He has a fetish for size: the bigger the canvas, the better; the richer the protagonist, the greater the target. Hugeness and its relation to the American soul drives A Man in Full. It concerns Charlie Croker, a property mogul in Atlanta, Georgia, who basks in phenomenal wealth, runs a 29,000-acre quail plantation and lies awake at 3am worrying about his half-billion-dollar debt. The book offers 700 pages of extremes: big acres, big shoulders, big hi-fi speakers, big breasts, big factories, big weights, even big snakes.

"Everything in this book began with my discovery of the plantations," Wolfe told me in 1999. "Before that, I thought the final extreme of conspicuous consumption was owning your own jet. But when I started hanging out with plantation owners, and learning about their extreme wealth, I knew it had to be the core of the book. And I discovered that you don't become a plantation baron by having money. You have to be 'man enough' for the job." Croker is contrasted in the novel by an idealistic blue-collar worker called Conrad who is laid off from Croker's meat plant, falls through the legal system but ends up in jail. A good man - but is he or Charlie the "man in full"?

There's something Dickensian about Wolfe's moral cruxes of the book, and among his first experiments with writing were brief character studies along the lines of Sketches by Boz. He also admires Zola and Balzac, and their multi-volume anatomisings of French society from top to bottom. He does the same. "Wolfe may live in a fancy block-long apartment on the Upper East Side, but he clearly does not stay indoors," remarked New York magazine. "He walks his white suit into the dark corners of American social, sexual, and criminal life and returns with an intuitive, empirical, and arresting grasp of his fellow citizens."

Not everyone has been so impressed. Some of Wolfe's fellow authors wrote off his approach as merely well-researched journalism. John Updike called A Man in Full "entertainment not literature", Norman Mailer reviewed it with condescension. Wolfe retaliated with asperity, calling the two literary titans "washed-up windbags". He defended the novelist's right to deal in the everyday. "It's important for the novelist to bring alive what Hegel called the zeitgeist," he told me. "He thought every era had its own moral tone, that presses down on everyone living at the time."

There, in a nutshell is why modern art is so awful--the intelligentsia believe it's wrong for art to entertain and instruct.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


A Piece Of Technology That Makes Listening To Jazz Better (PATRICK JARENWATTANANON, 9/14/12, NPR)

Maybe you remember when you first realized that the rabbit hole of jazz was far, far deeper than you'd possibly imagined. That the same tenor saxophone player on Kind of Blue also made Blue Train and Giant Steps and A Love Supreme and Interstellar Space and dozens of other albums and who knows how many guest appearances, and that that was just what people recorded of John Coltrane. And that all those records involved scores of other contributors, who in turn played with scores of other people over scores of years. And that this hopelessly convoluted network reflected just a small slice of jazz history to begin with.

What allowed you to dive in was a guide to the data -- maybe a book, or a radio broadcaster, or someone you knew who knew something. A voice who could translate the wilderness to human terms, and made it appealing to jump into.

The new Spotify app from Blue Note Records, released yesterday, isn't the perfect guide. But as a music discovery tool, it's a huge leap in the right direction, and it's certainly the first digital music technology I've seen which begins to make sense of the dense jumble in which jazz fans happily abandon themselves.

Think of the app as a juiced-up, visually appealing, annotated index to nearly all of the Blue Note Records catalog, which is playable on-demand via Spotify's free (or subscription-based) streaming service. 
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September 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 PM


More Evidence That GM Is Not Going Bankrupt (Joann Muller, 9/14/12, Forbes)

General Motors got some good news Friday: its first investment grade credit rating since going bankrupt in 2009.

DBRS, Canada's largest credit rating agency, upgraded GM to BBB (low) from BB (high), citing its robust financial profile due to a strong balance sheet, with low debt, and solid earnings performance over the past two and a half years. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


The Katyn Massacre Cover-Up (Jacob Heilbrunn, September 12, 2012, National Interest)

Winston Churchill had said he he would "sup with the devil" if it would help bring about victory. So he--and Franklin Roosevelt--did. They allied themselves with Stalin, even pretended, at least publicly, that he was a fine man and the Soviet Union an even finer place. Now, with the release of numerous documents from the National Archives about Stalin's murder of over twenty thousand Polish officers and intellectuals in the Katyn forest in 1940, we know in even more detail just how far they were prepared to go to extol and defend the Soviet Union.

Stalin's aim was to break the spirit of the Polish nation, to destroy its governing class. The Nazis discovered the graves in the spring of 1943 and tried to blame the massacre on the Soviets. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels hoped the announcement would cause dissension among the wartime allies. But Churchill and Roosevelt were having none of it. England had gone to war over Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939. Churchill and Roosevelt didn't want to disrupt relations with Stalin, who was always accusing them of trying to cut a separate peace with Berlin. What Katyn indicates, I think, is that the West had effectively given up on Poland's freedom far before the Yalta conference.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Clinton and Bush, challengers to party orthodoxy (Michael Gerson, September 13, 2012, Washington Post)

The drought of innovative rhetoric at the conventions led me to reread two campaign speeches that now seem ancient. The first is Bill Clinton's "New Covenant" address, delivered at Georgetown University on Oct. 23, 1991. The second is George W. Bush's "Duty of Hope" speech, given in Indianapolis on July 22, 1999. (As a speechwriter, I helped produce the latter.)

There are differences between these appeals. Clinton's remarks have an edge of economic populism, including criticisms of the "gilded age of greed and selfishness" in the 1980s. Bush's are less partisan and more religious.

Both approaches, however, are similar in ways that distinguish them from most current political rhetoric. To begin with, these candidates were attempting to appeal to the political middle by challenging their own parties. Clinton pressed for reform of welfare, which should be "a second chance, not a way of life." He criticized racial quotas, saying, "I'm not for a guarantee for anybody. I'm for responsibility at every turn." And while urging corporate responsibility, he also defended corporate profits.

Bush was even more explicit in his criticism of generic Republicanism. "The American government is not the enemy of the American people," he argued. "At times it is wasteful and grasping. But we must correct it, not disdain it. . . . It must act in the common good, and that good is not common until it is shared by those in need." Bush went on to detail several initiatives designed to encourage drug treatment efforts, after-school programs and mentoring children of prisoners.

These efforts to revise the image of the parties said something not just about the candidates but about the parties themselves. Following 12 years in the presidential wilderness, Democrats were hungry enough to allow Clinton some ideological flexibility. After eight years of Clinton, Republicans were in a similar forgiving mood. In politics, desperation can be a creative force -- and could rise in either party following a loss in this election.

Clinton and Bush rooted their appeals in a similar political philosophy -- the explicit rejection of both extreme individualism and statism.

And the same dance is going on between parties of left and right in every English-speaking country.
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Dr. Thomas Szasz, Psychiatrist Who Led Movement Against His Field, Dies at 92 (BENEDICT CAREY, September 11, 2012, NY Times)

Dr. Szasz (pronounced sahz) published his critique at a particularly vulnerable moment for psychiatry. With Freudian theorizing just beginning to fall out of favor, the field was trying to become more medically oriented and empirically based. Fresh from Freudian training himself, Dr. Szasz saw psychiatry's medical foundation as shaky at best, and his book hammered away, placing the discipline "in the company of alchemy and astrology." [...]

To those skeptical of modern psychiatry, however, Dr. Szasz was a foundational figure.

"We did not agree on everything, like his view that there is no such thing as mental illness," said Vera Hassner Sharav, president and founder of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, a patient advocacy group, and a longtime critic of the field. "But his message that people get designated as ill, labeled and then shafted out of society and preyed on by an industry dominated by drugs -- that's where he was very valuable."

After making his name, Dr. Szasz only turned up the heat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


False Promises on Ovarian Cancer (NY Times, September 11, 2012)

New evidence that women are more likely to be harmed than helped by screening tests for ovarian cancer is disturbing. The tests do nothing to prevent healthy women from dying from the usually fatal disease. Yet they often lead doctors to perform needless surgeries that cause serious complications in many patients.

The judgment from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, issued on Monday, updates its longstanding verdict that healthy women with an average risk of ovarian cancer should not be screened for the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


As Low Rates Depress Savers, Governments Reap Benefits (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9/10/12, NY Times)

A consumer complaint is ricocheting around the world: low interest rates are eating away at savings.

Bill Taren, a retiree near Orlando, Fla., discovered in August that his credit union would pay only 0.4 percent annual interest on his saving account, even though inflation averaged 2.8 percent over the last year. So he and his wife decided to just stuff their money in the mattress, he says, because at least there "we can see the cash when we want."

Jeanne and André Bussière, in Annecy, France, have a stable pension and a bank account that pays 2 percent interest -- "almost nothing," they say -- even though the consumer price index rose an average of 2.5 percent over the last year.

Jiang Rong, an information technology professional in Xiamen, China, decided to dive back into the speculative real estate market rather than watch his savings wither at the bank. In China, too, the cost of living is outrunning savings, as local restaurants nearly double their prices.

The fact that interest yields are so low in so many parts of the world is no coincidence.

It's just a function of globalization and technology.
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Ending renewable energy's villainy (Vice-Admiral Dennis V. McGinn SEPTEMBER 12, 2012, Reuters)

It's long past time to move beyond the accusatory politics of misrepresented facts and return to the bipartisan collaborative spirit that has driven clean energy's success in this country. With less bad politics and more good policy, the sector can rapidly expand and make America a world leader in clean, renewable energy technology.

The fact is that the U.S. renewable energy industry is far stronger today than it was when the bipartisan Energy Policy Act passed in 2005; since then private investment has leveraged government support and both have played an important role in the industry's success. Overall last year, U.S. solar installations doubled. Since 2007, 35 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in the U.S. came from wind power. And last year, America produced 14 billion gallons of biofuels - double the amount of oil we import from Venezuela.

The U.S. now leads global clean energy investment, and clean technology is the leading venture capital category. Recent weeks have seen the announcement of hundreds of millions of dollars in new private investments in these technologies. For example, on July 25 investment bank Credit Suisse announced $300 million in new funding for rooftop solar installers SunRun and SolarCity. That is in addition to more than $120 billion in commitments to renewable energy by Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and other major financial institutions.

The U.S. military has also become a major supporter of energy efficiency and solar, wind, biofuels and other clean technologies for the tremendous value they provide in combat effectiveness, cost savings and energy security. There are plans to install 160,000 solar systems on military residence rooftops across 33 states. Military investments have led the nation and helped reduce the cost of advanced biofuels by more than 80 percent.

And the Army is planning to invest $7 billion over the coming years to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Most importantly, these investments will save lives and make America a more secure nation.

And herein lies the contradiction: Our nation's biggest investors and armed forces clearly support the renewable energy technologies. Why, then, are so many politicians so far behind? Why are our nation's biggest investors and our armed forces sticking with renewable energy technologies when some in Congress have abandoned them?

September 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Should You or Shouldn't You? New Evidence in the Great Mammogram Debate (Kayt Sukel, 9/11/12, Pacific Standard)

A new study conducted on approximately 1,800 women in the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom, however, suggests that the extra radiation from annual mammograms and other diagnostic testing may actually raise the risk of developing the disease in those with a particular genetic risk.

The study, led by Flora van Leeuwen, head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, examined women who tested positive for a BRCA1/2, a gene variant linked to a five-fold increase in the risk for breast cancer. They found a strong correlation between exposure to diagnostic radiation before the age of 30 with an increased risk of developing the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


The Sky Is the Limit for Wind Power : The amount of power to be reaped from tapping low- and high-altitude winds dwarfs global demand (David Biello, September 2012, Scientific American)

Wind turbines on land and offshore could readily provide more than four times the power that the world as a whole currently uses. Throw in kites or robot aircraft generating electricity from sky-high winds and the world could physically extract roughly 100 times more power than presently employed--and the climatic consequences remain minimal.

Two new computer-model analyses suggest there are few limits to the wind's potential. Although "there are physical limits to the amount of power that can be harvested from winds, these limits are well above total global energy demand," explains climate-modeler Kate Marvel of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who led the analysis published September 9 in Nature Climate Change.

Demand that will shrink as demographics implode.
Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


What If 9/11 Had Never Happened? (Niall Ferguson Sep 4, 2011, Newsweek)

[L]et's play a game like the one my friends at the Muzzy Lane software company are currently designing, which has the working title "New World Disorder." The game simulates the complex interaction of economics, politics, and international relations, allowing us to replay the past.

Let's start in January 2001 and thwart the 9/11 attacks by having Condi Rice and Paul Wolfowitz heed Richard Clarke's warnings about Al Qaeda. The game starts off well. Al -Qaeda is preemptively decapitated, its leaders rounded up in a series of covert operations and left to the tender mercies of their home governments. President Bush gets to focus on tax cuts, his first love.

...Saddam was never going to survive W's presidency, for exactly the same reason that taxes were going to be cut.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


IT AIN'T NECESSARILY SO : How much do evolutionary stories reveal about the mind? (ANTHONY GOTTLIEB, SEPTEMBER 17, 2012, The New Yorker)

When Rudyard Kipling first published his fables about how the camel got his hump and the rhinoceros his wrinkly folds of skin, he explained that they would lull his daughter to sleep only if they were always told "just so," with no new variations. The "Just So Stories" have become a byword for seductively simple myths, though one of Kipling's turns out to be half true.

The Leopard and the Ethiopian were hungry, the story goes, because the Giraffe and the Zebra had moved to a dense forest and were impossible to catch. So the Ethiopian changed his skin to a blackish brown, which allowed him to creep up on them. He also used his inky fingers to make spots on the Leopard's coat, so that his friend could hunt stealthily, too--which now seems to be about right, minus the Ethiopian. A recent article in a biology journal approvingly quotes Kipling on the places "full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows" where cats have patterned coats. The study matched the coloring of thirty-five species to their habitats and habits, which, together with other clues, is hard evidence that cats' flank patterns mostly evolved through natural selection as camouflage. There are some puzzles--cheetahs have spots, though they prefer open hunting grounds--but that's to be expected, since the footsteps of evolution can be as hard to retrace as those of a speckly leopard in the forest.

The idea of natural selection itself began as a just-so story, more than two millennia before Darwin. Darwin belatedly learned this when, a few years after the publication of "On the Origin of Species," in 1859, a town clerk in Surrey sent him some lines of Aristotle, reporting an apparently crazy tale from Empedocles. According to Empedocles, most of the parts of animals had originally been thrown together at random: "Here sprang up many faces without necks, arms wandered without shoulders . . . and eyes strayed alone, in need of foreheads." Yet whenever a set of parts turned out to be useful the creatures that were lucky enough to have them "survived, being organised spontaneously in a fitting way, whereas those which grew otherwise perished." In later editions of "Origin," Darwin added a footnote about the tale, remarking, "We here see the principle of natural selection shadowed forth."

Today's biologists tend to be cautious about labelling any trait an evolutionary adaptation--that is, one that spread through a population because it provided a reproductive advantage. It's a concept that is easily abused, and often "invoked to resolve problems that do not exist," the late George Williams, an influential evolutionary biologist, warned. When it comes to studying ourselves, though, such admonitions are hard to heed. So strong is the temptation to explain our minds by evolutionary "Just So Stories," Stephen Jay Gould argued in 1978, that a lack of hard evidence for them is frequently overlooked (his may well have been the first pejorative use of Kipling's term). Gould, a Harvard paleontologist and a popular-science writer, who died in 2002, was taking aim mainly at the rising ambitions of sociobiology. He had no argument with its work on bees, wasps, and ants, he said. But linking the behavior of humans to their evolutionary past was fraught with perils, not least because of the difficulty of disentangling culture and biology. Gould saw no prospect that sociobiology would achieve its grandest aim: a "reduction" of the human sciences to Darwinian theory.

This was no straw man. The previous year, Robert Trivers, a founder of the discipline, told Time that, "sooner or later, political science, law, economics, psychology, psychiatry, and anthropology will all be branches of sociobiology." The sociobiologists believed that the concept of natural selection was a key that would unlock all the sciences of man, by revealing the evolutionary origins of behavior.

The dream has not died.

Of course, all the arguments against evolutionary psychology apply to all of Darwinism,.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


'China's art world does not exist' (Ai Weiwei, 9/10/12,

Widespread state control over art and culture has left no room for freedom of expression in the country. For more than 60 years, anyone with a dissenting opinion has been suppressed. Chinese art is merely a product: it avoids any meaningful engagement. There is no larger context. Its only purpose is to charm viewers with its ambiguity.

The Chinese art world does not exist. In a society that restricts individual freedoms and violates human rights, anything that calls itself creative or independent is a pretence. It is impossible for a totalitarian society to create anything with passion and imagination.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Taxes Show One Way to Save Fuel (EDUARDO PORTER, 9/12/12, NY Times)

Consider how a gas tax would work. Because it would make gas more expensive at the pump, we would drive less. When time came to replace the old family S.U.V., we would be more likely to consider a more fuel-efficient option. As more Americans sought gas-sipping hybrids, carmakers would develop more efficient vehicles.

This is not theory. We've seen it happen. In 2008, when the price of gas shot abruptly past $4 a gallon, Americans cut back sharply on their driving. Total miles driven on American highways declined for the first time since 1980 and gas use fell more than 4 percent. General Motors ditched the Hummer, and gas-guzzling pickups were briefly dislodged from the perch they had occupied since 1992 as the nation's most popular light vehicle.

Driving levels started creeping back up as soon as gas prices started receding, but a gas tax would be permanent and would lead to even bigger changes in habits. And the cost is lower than it seems. Economists point out that the energy savings would not change if the government returned all the revenue raised by a gas tax to Americans -- perhaps through rebates for low-income people who spend a bigger share of their money on gas.

The weakness with the fuel-economy rules is that they don't affect people's behavior the way higher gas prices do. They apply only to new vehicles -- not the ones on the road now -- so it takes quite a long time to alter our overall gas use. And they carry perverse incentives: because new vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas, they give us a reason to drive more, leading to more congestion, accidents, pollution and gas consumption.

The incentives to carmakers can also be weird. The original standards for fuel economy in the 1970s exempted light trucks, which were a small share of the market. That decision was critical to the explosive growth of the S.U.V. In 1973, light trucks amounted to 3 percent of new vehicle sales. Today they account for half.

Who knows what distortions the new rules will bring? The standards vary according to the footprint of the car -- the length between the axles multiplied by the width. So maybe cars will be boxier in the future.

Automakers will make the most efficient cars they can that customers will buy. A gas tax that goads drivers to choose gas-sippers takes advantage of this fact. A mileage standard does not.

September 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Mow Yard. Drop Off Kids. Take a Drive on Mars. (BROOKS BARNES, September 8, 2012, NY Times)

Matt Heverly, 36, started a recent workday as any young father might: up at 5:30, gulping coffee, fixing a bottle for the baby. He threw on jeans and a T-shirt and drove his two sons to day care. He stopped to get the brakes on his Toyota checked and swung by the bank.

Then he went to the office ... to drive a $2.5 billion robot on Mars.

Mr. Heverly leads a team of 16 drivers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory here. Together, they are responsible for steering a six-wheeled, plutonium-powered rover called Curiosity across the Red Planet's Gale Crater. Equipped with futuristic tools like a laser that can vaporize rock, the 2,000-pound robot arrived on Mars on Aug. 6, and Mr. Heverly took the wheel -- or computer keyboard, actually -- on Aug. 22. [...]

People inside Building 264 here, part of the Space Flight Operations Facility, have long had a sense of humor about themselves -- at one rocket launching, a group of scientists wore Spock ears. "It's just that before social media, nobody was really watching," Mr. Ferdowsi said. "I'm still kind of amazed at the attention. I don't think there's anything all that interesting about me."

In many ways, this is like any other office: gray industrial carpeting, fluorescent lighting, cramped cubicles that are mostly undecorated, unless you count empty cans of Red Bull. A small pantry has packages of dried fruit snacks. There is the occasional potluck dinner and an office softball team; at a recent game, everyone wore fake mohawks to tease Mr. Ferdowsi.

On the elevator, people say things like "Can you press seven? I'm going to Jupiter." They are not kidding. The seventh floor is home to Juno, a mission to the solar system's largest planet. (Mars is on six and four.)

There is also a quiet cockiness. "We definitely win the coolest job contest at cocktail parties," said John Wright, 56, a Curiosity driver who had reported to work in a baseball cap, a T-shirt and shorts.

"What do you do? Oh, you're an investment banker? Isn't that special," Mr. Wright continued. "I drive on Mars."

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


So low, so fast: E-book prices drop following settlement (Husna Haq / September 11, 2012, CS Monitor)

Just four days after a federal judge approved a settlement in the e-books price fixing case, HarperCollins is already selling its titles at discounted prices with a number of online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and BooksonBoard.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


Stealing the Hymnal : The Democrats might have real differences over foreign policy with their Republican challengers, but you wouldn't know it from listening to them. (MICHAEL A. COHEN , SEPTEMBER 11, 2012, Foreign Policy)

The Democrats' new confidence on national security is reminiscent of the manner in which they reduced their political liabilities on a host of domestic issues during the 1990s. They did it by co-opting GOP positions -- rather than moving further to the left and creating a clear distinction between the positions of the two parties they moved more to the right and obscured them. Democrats showed they could be just as "fiscally responsible" on the deficit, just as aggressive on curbing government spending, just as tough on crime and, by some measures, just as punitive on welfare.

Truth be told, Democrats have taken a similar approach on national security. 

September 11, 2012

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:20 PM


...are available here though many are unlikely to work anymore.

You can always pop then in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine though.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Non-alcoholic wine is good for your heart, study finds (AFP, September 11, 2012)

While there is research aplenty touting the health benefits of a glass of red wine, a new study suggests that non-alcoholic wine may have even more heart-healthy effects. [...]

The benefits of red wine are found in its powerful antioxidants called polyphenols, not the alcohol. The alcohol may actually dampen red wine's blood pressure-reducing effect, suggest the researchers. They also speculate that non-alcoholic wine may increase nitric oxide in the bloodstream, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels.

"The non-alcoholic part of the wine -- namely polyphenols -- exert a protective effect on the cardiovascular system," stated researcher Ramon Estruch, MD, PhD. "Polyphenols also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may be useful to prevent other diseases such as diabetes."

Other foods high in polyphenols include coffee, tea, chocolate and brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, raspberries, kale, and broccoli.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


US Treasury Sells Chunk Of AIG Stock At $12.4B Profit (Reuters, 9/10/12) 

The U.S. government cut its stake in American International Group Inc to 19 percent on Monday, making a profit of $12.4 billion on the insurer's crisis-era bailout and bringing the unpopular rescue closer to its end.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Barcelona braces for million-strong march for Catalan independence (Stephen Burgen, 9/11/12,

Polls show support for Catalan independence is running at 51%, twice as high as in 2008 when the financial crisis began. Photograph: Gustau Nacarino/Reuters
Up to a million people are expected to converge on Barcelona to join a rally demanding independence for Catalonia in Spain's north-east.
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September 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Burning Ice: The Next Energy Boom? : Oil companies and governments around the world are examining how to uncage huge amounts of methane gas locked up in undersea ice. (Bruce Dorminey, 5/19/12, Pacific Standard)

Set a lighter to an icy block of methane hydrate, a naturally frozen combo of methane gas and water, and flames spew forth at random.

However unlikely this fluke of nature may appear -- burning ice -- it could hold the keys to a vast wealth of untapped, clean-burning methane gas thought to exist deep beneath the outer margins of most continental shelves.

Its contribution may be peripheral to the immediate needs of Western Europe and North America, currently drowning in cheap natural gas, but it present a potential lifeline to resource-poor nations like Japan, which already imports more than 90 percent of its fossil fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Copper Surplus Presents Puzzle (CAROLYN CUI, 9/10/12, WSJ)

Standard Chartered analyst Judy Zhu was startled when she made her regular round of China's copper warehouses.

The stacks of copper slabs inside the warehouses in Shanghai last month had grown by 20% since July, she estimated. Some piles had reached the ceiling. So much copper had been sent into storage that the metal was being lined up outside some buildings. The earth beneath some huge piles was beginning to crack under their weight.

"There's much more metal than we had expected," Ms. Zhu said in an interview. Typically, copper stocks fall over the summer due to a seasonal peak of demand from air-conditioner makers and power-grid builders. 

Not all that puzzling.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


Oregon town angers China with controversial mural (Teresa Carson, September 10, 2012, Reuters)

A vivid mural in an Oregon town that depicts a Tibetan monk's immolation and promotes independence for Taiwan has created a dust-up with China, whose consular officials have asked the city to take "effective measures" to stop such advocacy.

The mayor of the town of Corvallis, where a Taiwanese-American businessman installed the downtown mural to express his political views, responded by telling consular officials free speech laws barred the town from taking any action.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


We've Always Been Deadbeats : Debt is not a new American way (Scott Reynolds Nelson, 9/10/12, The Chronicle Review

Since the days when I watched those repossessions, I have learned more about depressions, particularly in the United States. I now know that America has seen numerous periods of financial decline and panic where consumer debt was the most important failed asset.

Panics are not just about the financial health of borrowers. Panics have always been about debt and doubt. America's first panic in 1792 had everything to do with foreign lenders' doubts about Americans' ability to subdue Indians who blocked westward expansion. Recovery came when European investors judged New England smugglers to be safer borrowers than French revolutionary assemblies or Saint Domingue slaveholders and put their money back into American banks.

The pattern would continue throughout the 19th century. An economic boom after 1815 was conceived in a British scheme to sell woolen coats to Americans on credit. The panic came in 1819 when trade negotiations between America and Britain failed, smashing the market that borrowers used to pay back lenders. In the 1830s, British banks with too much cash bet on a speculative bubble in American cotton plantations; British and American banks went bust when the Bank of England doubted slave owners' ability to pay. The panic of 1857 resulted from English doubts about whether American railroads had clear title to Western lands and whether cash-strapped farmers on railroad property would pay off their mortgages.

And while cheap exports from American farmers contributed to the international panic of 1873, the crash started in Vienna and sloshed onto American shores when the Bank of England raised interest rates. The panic of 1893 was largely a byproduct of a sudden drop in sugar-tax revenues from Cuba, and it climaxed when Europeans doubted if American borrowers would repay their debts in gold. Finally, in 1928, Americans' doubts about dollar loans to consumers in Germany and Latin America seized up international bond markets and laid the groundwork for the crash of 1929 and the depression that followed.

In each case, lenders had created complex financial instruments to protect themselves from defaulters like the ones I watched from the car. And in each case, the very complexity of the chain of institutions linking borrowers and lenders made it impossible for those lenders to distinguish good loans from bad.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Paul Ryan on Chicago Teachers' Strike: 'We Stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel' (Shushannah Walshe, 9/10/12, ABC News)

Paul Ryan crossed party lines and voiced support for one of President Obama's biggest backers today, saying, "We stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel" in his fight with Chicago's teachers, which led the union to call the city's first teachers' strike in 25 years.

"If you turned on the TV this morning or sometime today, you probably saw something about the Chicago teacher's union strike," Ryan said at fundraiser at the Governor Hotel here. "I've known Rahm Emanuel for years. He's a former colleague of mine. Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues, but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teacher's union strike is unnecessary and wrong. We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Dispatches from the Democratic National Convention : An Interview with John Heilemann, Columnist, National Political Correspondent,  Co-Author of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (Kelly Candaele, September 6th, 2012, LA Review of Books)

KC: You say that Obama doesn't like needing people. Other than a normal feeling that many people have of not liking to ask for things, what is that about?

JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something -- not to mention the Presidency --in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don't like people. And two, they don't like politics.

KC: Obama doesn't like people?

JH: I don't think he doesn't like people. I know he doesn't like people. He's not an extrovert; he's an introvert. I've known the guy since 1988. He's not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He's not a backslapper and he's not an arm-twister. He's a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities. He's incredibly intelligent, but he's not a guy who's ever had a Bill Clinton-like network around him. He's not the guy up late at night working the speed dial calling mayors, calling governors, calling CEOs. People say about Obama that it's a mistake that he hasn't reached out more to Republicans on Capitol Hill. I say that may be a mistake, but he also hasn't reached out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. If you walk around [the convention] and button-hole any Democratic Senator you find on the street and ask them how many times they have received a call [from the President] to talk about politics, to talk about legislative strategy, I guarantee you won't find a lot of people who have gotten one phone call in the last two and a half years. And many of them have never been called.

I'm not a psychologist, so I don't know what the root of that is. People have theories about it. But I know in practice he is a guy who likes to operate with a very tight circle around him, trusts very few people easily or entirely. He ran his campaign that way in 2008, he runs his White House that way, and he's running his campaign that way in 2012. President Obama just doesn't talk to too many people.

If it looks like an abyss, talks like an abyss....
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Sir Terry Pratchett: "I thought my Alzheimer's would be a lot worse than this by now" (Elizabeth Grice, 10 Sep 2012, The Telegraph)

So persistent and alarming have been the advance warnings of Sir Terry Pratchett's impending mental decline that the oddest thing about meeting him is his apparent normality. It is five years since the comic fantasy fiction author announced his "embuggeration" , a very Pratchetty way of describing a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. By now, you fear, he will be slowing up, imagination fogged, creative powers shrivelled as a walnut.

Instead of that, the little man in black is a delightful affront to medical science, looking wizardly well in his black fedora with a jaunty feather in the trim. His handshake is firm, his eyes piercingly bright. He talks for 90 minutes with great fluency - although it does occur to me after a while that his habit of answering questions with an anecdote, or another question, may be a way of playing for time.

A new book is out, one of three he is working on this year. Since the diagnosis, he has made two television documentaries, continued his international book promotion tours and become an industrious ambassador for assisted dying. Is this one miraculous burst of defiance before the dying of the light, or did they somehow get it wrong?

"I have to tell you that I thought I'd be a lot worse than this by now," he says. "And so did my specialist. At the moment, it's the fact that I'm well into my sixties [he is 64] that's the problem. All the minor things that flesh is heir to. This knee is giving me a bit of gyp. That sort of thing. And I'm well into the time of life when a man knows he has a prostate. By the time you've reached your sixties you do know that one day you will die and knowing that is at least the beginning of wisdom."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


The Chicago teachers strike in an era of accountability (The Monitor's Editorial Board, September 10, 2012)

Among other things, the striking teachers oppose plans to hold them accountable for what their students learn in the classroom. Given that the centerpiece of the Obama administration's education reform strategy is teacher evaluation, the strike marks a major pushback against a national movement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


China's Presumptive New Leader Is Mysteriously Absent (IAN JOHNSON, September 10, 2012, NY Times)

 The strange disappearance from public view of China's presumptive new leader is turning a year that was supposed to showcase the Communist Party's stability into something of an annus horribilis.

Over the past week, the new leader, Xi Jinping, has missed at least three scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last Wednesday and the prime minister of Denmark on Monday. Speculation that his health, either physical or political, has prevented him from making public appearances is rife on the Chinese Internet, but there has been no official explanation for his absence.

While some people with ties to the party elite say they suspect that Mr. Xi's ailments are not serious, his unexplained absences are especially conspicuous on the eve of what is supposed to be China's once-in-a-decade transfer of power. It also adds to a litany of woes that have disrupted the Communist Party's hopes that a seamless political transition would send a signal of strength to the Chinese people and the world at large.

The PRC'S future is not stability.
Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Sun Peeks Through in Solar : Overseas Suppliers Trounce U.S. Panel Makers but Installations Are Soaring (RYAN TRACY And CASSANDRA SWEET, 9/09/12, WSJ)

The U.S. is on pace to install as much solar power this year as it did in this century's entire first decade: at least 2,500 megawatts, the equivalent of more than two nuclear-power plants. The U.S. added about 742 megawatts of solar capacity in the second quarter, or enough to power about 150,000 homes, the Solar Energy Industries Association said in a report scheduled for release Monday.

The price gap with traditional power sources is shrinking fast. When President Jimmy Carter installed a solar-powered water-heating system at the White House in the late 1970s, solar panels cost about $15 per watt of electricity generated, or about $50 in current dollars, according to GTM Research, a consulting firm that co-wrote the new report. Now they average about 84 cents a watt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Canadian the only illegal alien caught in U.S. fake-voter dragnet (PAUL KORING, 9/10/12,  The Globe and Mail)

For months, Florida Republicans have been trying to clamp down on illegal aliens improperly included on on voting lists.

It's part of a massive - and politically controversial - Republican effort to impose tough voter-identification measures. Democrats regard them as thinly disguised efforts to disproportionately disenfranchise the poor, African-Americans and Hispanics. Other Republican-controlled states are conducting similar culls.

But after months of searching, only one alien falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen has been caught, charged and convicted in Florida. It turns out he is a Canadian, a man who registered and voted in at least two presidential elections while masquerading as a citizen so he could also buy and "bear arms," that other right cherished by many Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


A Referendum on Europe : It's Time to Ask the People What They Think (Dirk Kurbjuweit, 9/10/12, Der Spiegel)

German democracy is suffering under Europe, while Europe is suffering under the national interests of the member states and the lack of a sensible political structure. That is the current state of democracy and Europe, the foundations of postwar Germany. What direction should we take now? Does democracy take priority over Europe? Or does Europe take priority over democracy?

There is a way to avoid this conflict. The Germans can reconcile their democracy with European integration. To do that, they would need to be asked.

Fundamentally, it is a good thing that we have a representative democracy where people go to the polls and politicians make decisions between elections. They have the expertise and the time to consider how society should best be organized. But sometimes we have to decide on the really big issues -- and then it is time to ask the people. The current crisis involves a really big question: Is the population prepared to transfer sovereignty to Europe so that effective euro policies are possible?

This doesn't mean that we have to rewrite the German constitution. It doesn't mean that we have to create a United States of Europe. For the time being, it's enough just to clarify the issue. From a legal perspective, it's not very easy, but it's possible. Where there's a will, there's a way.

The debate that would be held in the run-up to such a referendum would already be valuable in itself. Although the focus is fiscal policy, Germany would have to engage in a broader debate over what kind of Europe it wants and what its own role should be. The politicians would first have to make up their minds and then, assuming they make the right decision, campaign for greater integration. But this time they would use modern arguments in favor of Europe, such as a large shared culture, a greater say in global politics and favorable conditions for German exports.

If the politicians manage to convince the majority of the population, the German government would have a mandate to campaign in Europe for greater integration in terms of fiscal policy, in exchange for relinquishing sovereignty. It would then have a strong legitimization, a strong mandate for pro-integration policies. That would be the better scenario.
The worse scenario, of course, would also be possible -- but it wouldn't spell the end of Europe. The EU has already survived a French referendum that rejected the proposed European constitution. The German government could continue to work to help debt-stricken countries. This would be done in accordance with German budgetary law, which would not be weakened.

No matter what happens, democracy is the winner in such a referendum. The cause of European integration could win, but it could also suffer a setback. But this way the proper checks and balances are in place. After all, when push comes to shove, democracy ultimately has to come first.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


Treasury to Reduce A.I.G. Stake Below 50% (MICHAEL J. DE LA MERCED, 9/09/12, NY Times)

The Treasury Department said on Sunday that it was planning its biggest sale of shares in the American International Group to date, making the federal government a minority shareholder in the bailed-out insurer for the first time since it took control of the company four years ago.

With the sale of at least $18 billion worth of shares in A.I.G., a number that could grow to $20.7 billion if investors prove enthusiastic, the Treasury Department could reduce its holdings to as little as 15 percent from 53 percent. [...]

[T]he rescue plan was initially denounced by some critics as likely to cost the government billions, while also leading to a breakup of the company.

Four years later, the company has turned around. It has reported several consecutive quarterly profits, while seeing its stock rise more than 10 percent since the government began selling its holdings in May of last year.

The company's shares closed on Friday at $33.99, above the government's break-even price of about $28.73.

September 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Controversial plan to split up Afghanistan (BRIAN BRADY, JONATHAN OWEN,  SUNDAY 09 SEPTEMBER 2012, The Independent)

Afghanistan could be carved into eight separate "kingdoms" - with some of them potentially ruled by the Taliban - according to a controversial plan under discussion in London and Washington.

Code-named "Plan C", the radical blueprint for the future of Afghanistan sets out reforms that would relegate President Hamid Karzai to a figurehead role.

Devised by the Conservative MP and Foreign Office aide Tobias Ellwood, it warns that the country faces a "bleak" future when it is left to fend for itself. Mr Ellwood claims that a "regionalised" state under a powerful new prime minister would tackle the weak government, tribal disputes and corruption which many fear could plunge Afghanistan into chaos when the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) withdraws at the end of 2014.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Tutu: Bush, Blair should face trial at the Hague (DAVID STRINGER, 9/02/12, Associated Press)

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu called Sunday for Tony Blair and George Bush to face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for their role in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq

Tutu, the retired Anglican Church's archbishop of South Africa, wrote in an op-ed piece for The Observer newspaper that the ex-leaders of Britain and the United States should be made to "answer for their actions."

The Iraq war "has destabilized and polarized the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history," wrote Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984.

"Those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague," he added.

Why shouldn't Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu be tried alongside them for destabilizing South Africa?  The only possible answer, of course, is that he believes black South Africans deserved self-governance but Iraqi Shi'a and Kurds don't. Advocating for the stability of totalitarian dictatorships is simply evil.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Dying child touched life of Lions' Stephen Tulloch (Dave Birkett, 9/07/12, Detroit Free Press)

He was on crutches, barely ambulatory and just back from Pensacola, Fla., where Dr. James Andrews had performed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. So when Stephen Tulloch saw his publicist, Sherrie Handrinos, at his door one Wednesday in May, his first instinct was to shoo her away.

Handrinos picked up Tulloch from the airport a day earlier, and on the way home they talked about the upcoming charity softball tournament he was hosting with Lions teammate Nate Burleson.

The city of Dearborn, where the tournament was being held, had reached out and wondered: Would it be possible for a boy suffering from a rare form of brain cancer, 9-year-old Ryan Kennedy, to throw out the first pitch at the game?

Of course, Tulloch said. But then Handrinos talked to Kennedy's mother, and it became clear Kennedy wouldn't make it 3 1/2 weeks to the game.

So Handrinos rushed to tell Tulloch how urgent the situation was, and Tulloch agreed. He hobbled to his car and made the hour-long drive to Independence Township, one leg elevated the entire way.

When he got to Kennedy's quad-level home, Tulloch hopped up three flights of stairs, plopped down on the bed next to him and spent the next 2 hours playing video games, talking life, football and cancer with Kennedy and his family.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Romney says he likes parts of 'Obamacare'  (AP, 9/09/12)

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who promised early in his campaign to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, says he would keep several important parts of the overhaul.

"Of course there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place," he said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage."

Obama 'happy to work' with GOP to strike budget deal, to a point (Sean Sullivan, September 9, 2012, Washington Post)

"I'm, you know, more than happy to work with the Republicans," Obama told CBS News's Scott Pelley in an interview set to air on Sunday. "And what I've said is in reducing our deficits, we can make sure that we cut two-and-a-half dollars for every dollar of increased revenue."

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Chicago Teachers May Strike, Teach Political Lesson (BECKY VEVEA, 9/09/12, NPR)

Twenty five thousand Chicago teachers are planning to walk off the job Monday if they don't have a contract by midnight Sunday. As the Democrats look to unions to help them get out the vote, a strike by Chicago teachers might just put a crimp in those plans. [...]

In the contract battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union, the two sides are furiously campaigning for public opinion as the city braces for the first teacher strike since 1987.

Emanuel is pushing for big changes: a longer school day and year, a new system for evaluating teachers and a whole new way to pay teachers. At the Democratic National Convention last week, he defended many of his reforms.

"For the first time in a decade, [students are] getting a very rigorous academic standard," he said. "For the first time, we're getting five new high schools all dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math. Six thousand more kids are going to magnet schools. We're making major changes."

Chicago can save a ton of money and impose all the rules it wants by just firing them when they walk out.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Inside story of Obama's struggle to keep Congress from controlling outcome of debt ceiling crisis (Bob Woodward, 9/09/12, Washington Post)

Boehner said he believed that he and the others -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- had a plan. He told Obama: We think we can work this out. Give us a little more time. We'll come back to you. We are not going to negotiate this with you.

Obama objected, saying that he couldn't be left out of the process. "I've got to sign this bill," he reminded the leaders as they sat in the Cabinet Room off the Oval Office.

"Mr. President," Boehner challenged, "as I read the Constitution, the Congress writes the laws. You get to decide if you want to sign them."

Reid, the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill, spoke up. The congressional leaders want to speak privately, he said. Give us some time.

This was it. Congress was taking over. The leaders were asking the president to leave the meeting he had called in the White House.

Fine, Obama said. Talk. Knock yourselves out. There is no pride of authorship here, just do it -- if you can.

How did it feel, I asked the president in an interview on July 11, 2012, to be voted off the island in his own house? [...]

Around 10 p.m., Obama called Boehner, who was at dinner with friends.

I am not going to sign a bill that requires me to deal with the debt ceiling a second time before the election, the president told him. He was furious.

"Listen," Boehner said he told Obama, "I understand it. All right? But you're not going to have a choice. We've got an agreement."

The speaker recalled, "He was moaning and groaning and whining and demanding . . . threatening. . . . He was pretty desperate." 

It's our House, not his.
Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


The Magic Is Gone (ROSS DOUTHAT, 9/09/12, NY Times)

THE Obama era in American politics began almost exactly eight years ago in Boston, when a youthful Senate candidate's soaring speech to the Democratic National Convention stole the show from the actual Democratic nominee.

It ended, to all intents and purposes, last Thursday night in Charlotte, when a weary-seeming incumbent delivered perhaps the fourth-best major address at his own convention -- a plodding, hectoring speech that tacitly acknowledged that this White House is out of ideas, out of options and no longer the master of its fate.

The end of an era does not necessarily mean the end of a presidency. Barack Obama is still beloved by his supporters and regarded sympathetically by many swing voters. His Republican rival is a flawed candidate running an overcautious campaign. The memories of the Bush presidency's failures are still fresh enough to make even a stumbling Democratic administration seem as if it might be the lesser of two evils.

But a re-elected Obama will be a permanently diminished Obama, with no magic left in his public persona and no mandate save to stay the current economic course. He may win the necessary electoral votes in November, but come February he will already essentially be a lame duck.

...that he'd just sign the budget plan Boehner and McConnell hand him.
Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM

Grilled poundcake (Leah Eskin, 9/09/12, Chicago Tribune)

1 prepared poundcake, sliced into 1-inch thick slices
4 ripe peaches, peeled and halved
4 ripe apricots, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Build or spark a medium-hot fire. Brush fruit halves with butter. Grill over direct heat until nicely tattooed but not falling apart, about 30 seconds per side.

Slice fruit into wedges. Tumble into a bowl along with any juices. Add rum and brown sugar; toss gently.

Grill cake slices until just toasty, about 15 seconds per side.

Set cake slices on cake plates or in shallow bowls. Heap on fruit and juices. Enjoy.

September 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


A marriage of data and caregivers gives Dr. Atul Gawande hope for health care : How transparency, real-time feedback, and lessons from the police can improve health outcomes. (Alex Howard, August 31, 2012, O'Reilly Radar)

If people gain access to better information about the consequences of various choices, will that lead to improved outcomes and quality of life?

Gawande: That's where the art comes in. There are problems because you lack information, but when you have information like "you shouldn't drink three cans of Coke a day -- you're going to put on weight," then having that information is not sufficient for most people.

Understanding what is sufficient to be able to either change the care or change the behaviors that we're concerned about is the crux of what we're trying to figure out and discover.

When the information is presented in a really interesting way, people have gradually discovered -- for example, having a little ball on your dashboard that tells you when you're accelerating too fast and burning off extra fuel -- how that begins to change the actual behavior of the person in the car.

No amount of presenting the information that you ought to be driving in a more environmentally friendly way ends up changing anything. It turns out that change requires the psychological nuance of presenting the information in a way that provokes the desire to actually do it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


OBAMA GOES VAGUE (Ryan Lizza, 9/08/12, The New Yorker)

[O]ne might have expected the President to follow such a stark statement with specifics on how he will approach the big decisions on that list of issues that he ticked off. Instead, the policy portion of the speech was oddly parochial and sounded like it had baked a little too long in the oven of the Obama campaign's polling shop. On energy policy, Obama promised to "support more than six hundred thousand new jobs in natural gas alone." On education, he said that he would "recruit a hundred thousand math and science teachers within ten years." And on dealing with the looming fiscal crisis, he made a vague promise to "reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission."

It's a worthy laundry list of promises, but if there is a unifying idea behind this basket of aspirations, I missed it. I hear all the time, but don't really know for sure, that the mythical undecided voters that both campaigns chase are not particularly ideological--if they were, they would have already decided between the candidates--and that they clamor for these sorts of statements that include specific and quantifiable goals.

But the list leaves a lot to wonder about.

For the UR, his presidency is exclusively about personal advancement.  There is not a single policy he wishes to advance, nevermind a vision.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Are Chinese Banks Hiding "The Mother of All Debt Bombs"? (Minxin Pei, 9/07/12, The Diplomat)

Financial collapses may have different immediate triggers, but they all originate from the same cause: an explosion of credit.  This iron law of financial calamity should make us very worried about the consequences of easy credit in China in recent years.  From the beginning of 2009 to the end of June this year, Chinese banks have issued roughly 35 trillion yuan ($5.4 trillion) in new loans, equal to 73 percent of China's GDP in 2011. About two-thirds of these loans were made in 2009 and 2010, as part of Beijing's stimulus package.  Unlike deficit-financed stimulus packages in the West, China's colossal stimulus package of 2009 was funded mainly by bank credit (at least 60 percent, to be exact), not government borrowing.

The greatest threat to global economic growth is how quickly the US budget deficit will transition to balance as the WoT ends.
Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


President keeps the pressure on Damascus : The anti-Assad line expressed by Mursi in Tehran last week is reiterated at the Arab League in unequivocal terms (Dina Ezzat9/08/12, Al-Ahram Weekly)

"Syria, Syria, Syria: You have to do something; it is all up to you and we are here to support you," said President Mohamed Mursi Wednesday morning.

Mursi's statement was made before the opening session of the Arab League Foreign Ministers Council, at the Cairo headquarters of the pan-Arab organisation.

The statement was received with applause from Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi and most participating Arab delegations.

Mursi's speech was the first by an Egyptian head of state at the Arab League since ousted President Hosni Mubarak attended the inauguration of a meeting on Iraqi reconciliation seven years ago. Unlike the mild statements Mubarak made then, Mursi's presence and language were uncompromising -- especially on Syria.

"I am telling the ruling regime in Syria that your rule shall not last for long. The Syrian people have said their word, and it is the Syrian people that will have the upper hand," Mursi said.

"I would advise you to refrain from listening to those who are telling you that your rule can persist. I urge you to take the right decision now and not later when it will be too late. You need to part with arrogance and to bow to reality. The Syrian people no longer wants you," he added, addressing -- though he was not present -- Bashar Al-Assad directly.

The president lamented the endless bloodshed suffered by the Syrian people every day, and said that Arab failure to act in support of the Syrian people makes the whole Arab nation responsible for their ordeal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Obama the demigod comes down to Earth (Dana Milbank, September 7, 2012, Washington Post)

After a couple of nights at the Time Warner Cable Arena, the convention was to have closed with President Obama's acceptance speech at the Bank of America Stadium, where convention officials were planning to squeeze nearly 6,000 seats onto the field to expand the stadium's capacity beyond its usual 74,000.

But the speedway event was canceled -- ostensibly because of logistical problems but more likely because convention fundraising was running low. Then the Democrats canceled the stadium event in favor of the smaller arena -- ostensibly because of "severe thunderstorm" concerns but more likely because they couldn't be sure enough people would come to fill the stadium.

In fact, the forecast hadn't called for severe weather, and conditions were fine Thursday night. The change caused thousands to be turned away, and the crush of crowds at the arena led authorities at one point to lock down the building for a second straight night - leaving some delegates on the street while lobbyists enjoyed the proceedings inside.

It was quite a comedown from that heady night in Denver four years ago when Obama accepted the nomination in front of about 80,000 at Invesco Field. The candidate, on a stage set resembling a Greek temple, spoke about remaking the nation and the world.

The demigod turned out to be entirely human, and his results were disappointing. On Thursday night, as Obama admitted to "failings," Democrats who dreamed of the biggest and the best in 2008 were learning to accept good enough.

That's their message and they wonder why there's an enthusiasm gap?

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM



"The broad message here is flat, flat, flat," said economist Heidi Shierholz with the labor-affiliated Economic Policy Center.

A disappointing report for one month might be dismissed in normal times as an aberration, she said, "but a stagnant report when the unemployment rate is over 8 percent represents a continuation of the crisis," meaning that getting back to pre-recession employment levels will take many more months, even years.

The bleak news played right into the hands of Republicans, who claim that Obama's policies inhibit job production and have made the economic picture worse. "Did you see the jobs report this morning by the way?" Republican rival Mitt Romney asked reporters in Sioux City, Iowa. "Almost 400,000 people dropped out of the work force altogether. It's is simply unimaginable." [...]

Friday's jobs report complicates the electoral math for Obama and increases the political pressure on his campaign in battleground states with unemployment rates even higher than the national average. Nevada, for instance, has a 12 percent jobless rate, North Carolina has 9.6 percent, Michigan 9 percent, Florida 8.8 percent and Colorado 8.3 percent. Those state figures are all for July, the most recent month available.

September 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 PM


Amazon Stirs Up a Price War (GREG BENSINGER, 9/07/12, WSJ) Inc. kindled a price war in the tablet-computer market, unveiling a new slate of the devices that pack in more features at lower prices than Apple Inc.'s dominant iPad. . [...]

Mr. Bezos rubbed in the price contrast by debuting a $49.99 annual data package for the Kindle Fire that includes 250 megabytes per month. A similar data plan for the iPad starts at $14.99 a month, or about $180 a year.

That means consumers with a new 4G Kindle Fire will snag "more than $400 in year-one savings" versus an iPad, said Mr. Bezos.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Obama fails in Charlotte, revealingly (Michael Gerson, September 7, 2012, Washington Post)

Obama made almost no mention of the continuing jobs crisis. He offered nothing new or creative on a fiscal and debt crisis that undermines economic confidence. Much of Obama's agenda -- lowering tuition costs, recruiting math and science teachers, "long-lasting batteries" -- sounded like a seventh-year State of the Union address, a collection of policy leavings and leftovers. One of Obama's more ardent defenders called this a "return to normalcy after a long period of emergency." And so Obama has gone in four years from being compared to Abraham Lincoln to carrying forward the legacy of Warren Harding.

The president's convention speech was defiantly complacent. He assumes that Americans already recognize and trust his good judgment -- why argue for the obvious? And aren't his opponents just unreasonable extremists anyway? All Americans need now is a little hope, a little faith. But hope and faith in what?

Perhaps the most revealing moment of Obama's speech came toward the end. "The times have changed, and so have I," he said. "I'm no longer just a candidate. I'm the president." His policies may be humble, but his ultimate appeal is not. Obamaism has never primarily been a plan; it is a man.

In 2012, however, the times have changed. The man has a record he must somehow explain.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


HOW CULTURE DROVE HUMAN EVOLUTION : A Conversation with Joseph Henrich [Edge, 9.4.12] 

The main questions I've been asking myself over the last couple years are broadly about how culture drove human evolution. Think back to when humans first got the capacity for cumulative cultural evolution--and by this I mean the ability for ideas to accumulate over generations, to get an increasingly complex tool starting from something simple. One generation adds a few things to it, the next generation adds a few more things, and the next generation, until it's so complex that no one in the first generation could have invented it. This was a really important line in human evolution, and we've begun to pursue this idea called the cultural brain hypothesis--this is the idea that the real driver in the expansion of human brains was this growing cumulative body of cultural information, so that what our brains increasingly got good at was the ability to acquire information, store, process and retransmit this non genetic body of information.

I think, therefore I evolve.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 PM


Sorry, Obama's Convention Speech Was a Depressing Mess  (Timothy Noah, September 7, 2012, New Republic)

Watching President Obama give his nomination speech last night, it occurred to me for the first time that he might actually lose. [...]

[I]t wasn't pleasant hearing Obama talk, in his nomination speech, about how hard it's going to be:

I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one. And by the way--those of us who carry on his party's legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.

We're dangerously close to Jimmy Carter territory here. First, there's the boast ("You elected me to tell you the truth") disguised as an expression of humility ("I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy"). Later, I actually winced when Obama humblebragged, "And while I'm very proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'" Just because our greatest president was a bit depressive, that doesn't mean we want the present one to lacerate himself over his failures, and we certainly don't want to hear him tell us about it. The mention of FDR only served to remind us of how different, temperamentally, Obama is from the Democratic party's "happy warrior" tradition. Worst of all, though, was Obama's statement that "not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington." It combined an opportunistic (and probably insincere) echo of Bill Clintons irritating pronouncement in 1996 that "the era of big government is over" (which wasn't even true) with a hint of Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech assertion that the country's crisis of confidence was too big a problem for a president to solve on his own. Even when it's true that the fault lies in our selves, not in our stars, who wants to hear it from the country's biggest star?

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


We spend $750 billion on unnecessary health care. Two charts explain why. (Sarah Kliff, September 7, 2012, Washington Post)

America spent $2.6 trillion on health care last year; about one in every six dollars went into the health-care system. A third of that spending -- a full $750 billion -- did nothing to make anyone healthier.

That's the big takeaway from an Institute of Medicine report out Thursday, which looks at our big health-care spending problem.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


...that in an election between two ciphers the most important speeches were not by the candidates, but by Clint Eastwood, who provided the lasting image of the UR as emptiness, and by Bill Clinton, who reminded us of all that the UR is not.
Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Behind the Enthusiasm Gap, a War-Weary Obama? (Garance Franke-Ruta, 9/06/12, The Atlantic)

Barack Obama will never be that man again. Whoever he was in 2008, and 2004, Barack Obama will never have his easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm. "I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention," Obama told the thickly-packed crowd at the Time Warner Arena. "The times have changed -- and so have I."

That is the truth at the core of his oddly flat convention speech, and at the center of his technically skilled but strangely bloodless reelection campaign. Whoever Obama was when he was elected president has been seared away by two active wars, the more free-ranging fight against al-Qaeda, the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, and the endless grinding fights with Washington Republicans -- and even, I am sure, activists in his own party.

[H]e didn't sound hopeful. He sounded worn out, maybe a little sad, keenly aware of all that was undone, singed by the clamorous voices of an America in need and the devastating toll of two wars on troops whose injuries he, as commander-in-chief, can too clearly see. Rather than the bearer of hopes, he sounded like a man looking for reasons to hope.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


The Gun and the Cross. The religion of America in John Ford, Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood (SELINA O'GRADY, 7 September 2012, Open Democracy)

Mormonism  sacralised America - that is why Harold Bloom, the famously high-brow Eng Lit professor, considers its visionary founder, Joseph Smith, to equal in imaginative power to Melville or Whitman. The broader sacred mission, however, was embodied in the cowboy. He is the pioneering independent spirit who brings justice, law and order, just as Aeneas did in the Roman Empire's great founding myth the Aeneid.  

Mormon and cowboy myths are married in the film Wagonmaster by John Ford (who is mystifyingly revered by the French Nouvelle Vague and their successors). The film is about the Mormon leader Elder Wiggs,  who leads a small group of followers through the Wild West to set up his own version of 'a city upon a hill' in Utah. 'God has reserved for us a promised land' he tells a horse trader on the wagon trail. As the film ends, that tinny triumphalist music of Westerns blares out, and Ford's large expressionist shots of couples smiling and embracing as they ride their wagons into the new settlement are intercut with shots of the folk dancing. A new community, a vision realized. It is genuinely moving.  I caught a friend of mine - the quintessence of anti-patriotism - smiling   as he watched. 

This is a vision of one's nation as we might all like to have it - a community bound together by courage, the love of freedom, the love of each other based on the love of family. America is the elected nation, its people have a destiny, they are the chosen people. 

For all our queasiness at the Romney speech and distaste for jingoism, we in Britain have regret and disquiet over the sense that our society is disintegrating.  Our tax-avoiding rich and our disaffected underclass alike seem to have opted out of the idea that they are contributors in the joint enterprise of creating a good society. 

So what then is wrong with the John Ford ending or the conclusion to Mitt Romney's speech in which he sounded like a new Isaiah as he expounded his  ecstatic vision of a golden America of the past which will be recreated by him in  the future?  

The problem is the violence on which that vision is based. 

Before John Ford's glorious finale there is this less palatable scene: a band of outlaws shoot and kill one of the Mormon pioneers. In return one of the Mormon wagoners shoots virtually  the entire band. When the leader of the Mormons berates him for having acted contrarily to his own dictum that he never draws his gun on a man, the wagoner replies "I don't draw on men, only on snakes', and then he hurls the gun into the desert. 

This is not just  the neocon way of doing things, but the inevitable behaviour of an empire.  Force first, dehumanise your opponent (remember, they are snakes), then throw away the gun, and establish law and order. Force - massacres if necessary - is justifiable because of the end result, the supposed establishment of law and order. Violence is thus dressed up in the language of moral righteousness.

...that establishing law and order is worth the violence it requires are those who live where law and order has already been established violently.  Meanwhile, what kind of person is friends with an anti-patriot in any Anglospheric state?

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


Syria's dismemberment: fulfilling the French Mandate's vision? (DAWN CHATTY , 4 September 2012, Open Democracy)

At the end of World War I, the spoils of the Middle East went to the victorious Allies, England and France. Two secret agreements concluded several years before were to determine the shape of what was to become of the southern provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire. The 1915/6 McMahon-Hussein Correspondence between the British High Commissioner in Egypt and the Sharif of Mecca promised the Arabs a state of their own in Arabia if they rose up and fought with the British to defeat the Ottomans.  A second agreement a few months later was signed by the French, British and Russians - the 1916 Sykes-Picot Accord. It provided for the carving up of the region into a French zone over Greater Syria (Bilad-al-Sham) and a British zone over Palestine, Mesopotamia and a Kurdish zone. It also gave Jerusalem to Russia on account of its special relationship with orthodox Christianity. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 put paid to Russian claims, but the rest of the Sykes-Picot Accords all came to be integrated into the Paris Peace Conference of 1920. It was a catastrophic outcome from the view point of the Arabs. Syria's dismemberment was just part of the story.

One might wonder how it was that a British General would conquer Damascus for the Allies, but then would end up handing it over to the French. It was the line in the sand from Acre in Palestine to Kirkuk in Mesopotamia that Sir Mark Sykes drew across a map as part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement which would determine that everything south of the line was British and everything north of it would be French. General Edmund Allenby would lead the victorious campaign in Palestine, taking Jerusalem for the Allies in December 1917 and then marching into Damascus on 1 October 1918 to be greeted by T.E. Laurence and a few days later Emir Faysal and his Arab nationalists forces. The Syrian National Congress would declare Emir Faysal King of Greater Syria. But General Allenby would have the difficult task of informing Faysal that, contrary to the McMahon Hussein Correspondence of 1915/6, Greater Syria would not be recognised as an Arab Kingdom, but would instead become a mandate of the French state. The Allies created the League of Nations which then endorsed the handing over of the mandate of Greater Syria to the French in 1920. The French then rather unceremoniously deposed King Faysal of Syria a few months on.

Wilson made the Arabs, Asians and Africans pay an intolerable cost for his League.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 AM


Japan Shrinks : Many nations have aging populations, but none can quite match Japan. Its experience holds lessons for other countries as well as insights into the distinctiveness of Japanese society. (Nicholas Eberstadt, Spring 2012, Wilson Quarterly)

What will all of these unfolding demographic and familial changes mean for the Japan of 2040? A few of the most likely implications can be briefly itemized:

A looming old-age burden: Despite salutary trends in "healthy aging," Japan's extraordinary demographics can only mean that a rapidly growing share of the country's population will be frail in the years ahead--and that public pension allowances, health and medical services, and long-term care will be ever more pressing priorities for Japanese society. Not the least of the problems may concern Alzheimer's disease. A study commissioned by Alzheimer's Disease International suggests that, on current track, the prevalence of dementia in the Japanese population could rise to five percent by 2050--one person in 20. The caregiving implications of such an outcome are staggering--and given the coming erosion of the Japanese family, a steadily decreasing proportion of senior citizens will have children to turn to for support. Under such circumstances, an increase in long-term institutionalization among the elderly seems inescapable.

A new kind of childhood: In the recent past, children in Japan were plentiful, while elders (who could expect a measure of veneration) were scarce. But by most projections there will be three senior citizens in 2040 for every child under 15--an almost exact inversion of the ratio that existed as recently as 1975.

It is easy to imagine a Japan in which children--the country's link with its future--will become increasingly prized. It is also possible to envision a future in which Japanese boys and girls develop a pronounced sense of entitlement, much as China's rising generation of "little emperor" only-children have today, and regard their obligations and duties to their elders as increasingly onerous and optional. The hopes and expectations falling on this dwindling cadre of youth would be truly enormous--and for some fraction of the rising generation could amount to an unbearable pressure.

Japan is already witness to a worrisome rise in the number of what social scientists call NEET youth (not in education, employment, or training)--women and, more commonly, men who are, in effect, opting out of existing Japanese social arrangements. The pathological extreme of this phenomenon is the hikikomori--young adults who shut themselves off almost entirely by retreating into a friendless life of video games, the Internet, and manga (comics) in their parents' home. Hard data on the hikikomori are scarce, but Japanese experts guess that there are hundreds of thousands of them. Suffice it to say that childhood and young adulthood in the Japan of the future will be different--and in some ways, perhaps more difficult than ever before.

A struggle to maintain economic growth:In the aftermath of two "lost decades" of meager growth, a world economic crisis, and a devastating tsunami, the Japanese economy faces a future in which simply sustaining growth will be an increasing challenge. The working-age population is set to shrink by 30 percent over the next three decades, and even if older Japanese take up some of the slack, the country's work force will almost surely be much smaller than it is today. Extreme population aging, for its part, stands to place mounting downward pressure on the nation's savings rate--and thus, other things being equal, on investment.

Ballooning debt obligations will compound the demographic pressures on economic performance. Thanks in part to its approach to financing programs for the aged, Japan already has the highest ratio of gross public debt to gross domestic product (well over 200 percent) of the developed nations. Projections by researchers at the Bank for International Settlements imply that this ratio could rise to a mind-boggling 600 percent by 2040. (Greece's public debt, by contrast, amounted to about 130 percent of its GDP at the start of its current default drama.) While Japan might well be able to service such a mountain of debt without risk of sovereign default (assuming the country's low-interest-rate environment continues to hold), it is hard to see how a recipe for rapid or even moderate economic growth could be cooked up with these ingredients.

Even so, from a purely arithmetic standpoint, a country with a shrinking population--and even a shrinking GDP--could theoretically enjoy steady improvements in personal income and living standards. Japan does possess a number of options for enhancing economic growth. Significantly, it has built a generally strong educational system, and efforts to increase attainment (including implementation of a genuine lifelong approach to education and training) could tangibly increase labor productivity. Japan is also a world leader in research, development, and "knowledge production." Strengthening these capacities and applying technological advances and breakthroughs throughout the national economy could stimulate growth. And as the healthiest people on the planet, the Japanese have untapped possibilities for augmenting their future labor force by extending working life. Finally, far-reaching structural reform of the economy--long hobbled by a dysfunctional financial and banking sector and other ills--could significantly brighten the prospects for long-term growth. Seizing these opportunities, however, will require widespread determination to chart a sharp change of economic course on the part of Japan's political leadership and an aging electorate that may be increasingly risk-averse.

A less crowded, "greener" Japan: Japan's impending depopulation may have its upsides. With the emptying of the countryside, for example, the nation will have more living space and arable land per person than it does today. Given the country's ongoing improvements in energy efficiency and environmental technologies, depopulation could coincide with an improvement in natural amenities and (by at least some criteria) quality of life. Further, thanks to environment-friendly technological advances and, however unintended, slow economic growth, Japan may emerge as a world leader in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Diminishing international influence: Demographic trends have created powerful pressures for a smaller Japanese role in world affairs in coming decades. The country's share of world economic output--and its international economic influence--should be expected to decline, perhaps considerably. Prospective trends in military-age manpower tell a similar story. Thirty years ago, Japan was the world's seventh most populous country. Thirty years hence it likely will be down to number 15, surpassed by Egypt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others.
It is true that Japan's biggest neighbors, China and Russia, have demographic clouds on their horizons as well. And Japan's potential for self-defense is far greater than its current capacities (many of them shaped by self-imposed restrictions) suggest. Even if it becomes more assertive of its national interests, however, this maritime power, like others before it, may continue to rely heavily on international alliances to protect its national security. Japan may need international friends and allies in the years ahead even more than it does now. Japanese policymakers will be well advised to think about what their aging, depopulating nation can offer such prospective partners.

A potentially pivotal role for migration: Migration is something of a wild card in the country's future. In light of Japan's long-standing sensitivity to the "otherness" of gaijin (non-Japanese), immigration to Japan has been strikingly limited, assimilation of newcomers even more so. (To put the situation in perspective: In 2009 Japan naturalized barely a third as many new citizens as Switzerland, a country with a population only six percent the size of Japan's and a reputation of its own for standoffishness.) All the same, Japan is an increasingly cosmopolitan country, and the Japanese are enthusiastic tourists and international travelers. It is not impossible that attitudes toward the importation of foreign labor could change in the face of demographic pressures.
No less intriguing, however, is the proposition that Japan might turn out to be a major supplier of emigrants to the rest of the world. Given the cost and care outlook for their aging population, the Japanese might, for example, establish health care "colonies" in places such as India or the Philippines, spots where large populations of elderly Japanese could enjoy a good quality of life or receive necessary treatment and support at a fraction of what they would cost at home. Younger Japanese, for their part, might find it increasingly attractive to venture overseas in search of opportunity if the alternative were perceived to be a limited future in a shrinking, dying Japan. More than one million Japanese were already estimated to reside abroad as of 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Africa's best time is ahead (Berhan Ahmed, 7 September 2012, Online Opinion) 

For the first time in history, African countries have enjoyed a period of strong and sustained growth. The booming African economy has transformed the prospects for ordinary Africans across the continent. According to The Economist, six of the fastest growing economies in the world - Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda - are in Africa. Investment in Africa gives greater returns than in any other developing region of the world. The growth in Africa as a whole from 2000-2010 was a little behind Asia, but India and China account for most of that growth. During the next five years, economic growth in Africa is expected to outpace Asia, and it is expected to lead the world in economic growth for the next twenty years. Africa is not only riding a resources boom, but is also successfully building capacity in manufacturing, especially textiles and clothing, light industry, and some areas of export in agricultural products. The agricultural sector has also grown at a moderate rate and this growth has contributed significantly to a reduction in poverty for many African countries. Over the past ten years, overseas investment in Africa has grown from $9 billion to $67 billion. Australian companies have $20 billion invested in Africa, mostly in the mining sector, which is a substantial share of that total.

The popular perception of Africa has not caught up with that change. Many still see Africa as a giant cripple; a continent of cruel dictators and unstable governments; a continent over which the Four Horsemen of famine, plague, war and death range with unhindered rapacity. [...]

There is no doubt that this present African growth is being driven by China. This is a trickle-down effect that has been going on now for fifty years and is an example of how one economy can lead an entire continent. After the Second World War, high labour prices in the USA combined with technological innovation in Japan made the latter an economic powerhouse. Who could now believe that the term 'Made in Japan' was not so long ago a term for poor-quality, shoddy merchandise? When labour prices had risen in Japan, manufacturing flowed first to Korea, then after the instability of the Mao years to China, and more recently to Thailand. Now China is looking towards Africa. We, whose economy has been driven by China and Japan for sixty years, are now also looking the same way.

September 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 PM


Recovery will require Depression-repairing level of effort, Obama tells national convention (Associated Press, September 6, 2012)

With unemployment at 8.3 percent, Obama said the task of recovering from the economic disaster of 2008 is exceeded in American history only by the challenge Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced when he took office in the Great Depression in 1933.

...that our current 64% employment participation rate, while off slightly from the boondoggle peak at 67% in the late '90s, is at the level it reached in the later half of Reagan's first term, at which point it was a historic high.  In 1940, after the New Deal had been in full swing for almost a decade, the rate was 52%  Even excusing the President's assertion as typical political rhetoric it is economic lunacy.
Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Is American atheism heading for a schism? : A new movement, Atheism+, has prompted non-believers to spit venom at one another rather than at true believers (Peter McGrath, 9/02/12,

It took 700 years from Constantine renaming Byzantium in his own honour to papal legates circulating letters of anathema that split the Roman and Orthodox churches. Atheism, in its public, online life, has started exchanging internet anathemas - perhaps we should call them inathemas - in little more than a decade.

People are being told to wipe the spittle off their chins, take their heads out of their asses. The Life of Brian's lines about the various fronts for the liberation of Judea are being oft-recycled. 140 character brickbats are being thrown on Twitter under #atheismplus.

PZ Myers, soft-spoken in person but trenchant in print, said of A+ critics:

"It really isn't a movement about exclusion, but about recognising the impact of the real nature of the universe on human affairs. And if you don't agree with any of that - and this is the only 'divisive' part - then you're an [***]. I suggest you form your own label, '[***] Atheists", and own it, proudly. I promise not to resent it or cry about joining it. I just had a thought: maybe the anti-Atheist+ people are sad because they don't have a cool logo. So I made one for the [***] Atheists: A*"

Fellow Freethought blogger Richard Carrier goes further. When one commentator suggests "atheism does not have the luxury of kicking people out of its movement", Carrier gives him a rare old quilting in most splendid prose:

"Yes, it does. Atheism+ is our movement. We will not consider you a part of it, we will not work with you, we will not befriend you. We will heretofore denounce you as the irrational or immoral scum you are (if such you are). If you reject these values, then you are no longer one of us. And we will now say so, publicly and repeatedly. You are hereby disowned."

How like Pope Leo's letter to the patriarch of Constaninople in 1053 accusing him of "many and intolerable presumptions, in which if - as heaven forbid - he persist, he will in no way retain our peaceful regard". Even at this most serious moment for the future of Christianity, the pope managed to resist the urge to call the patriarch immoral scum, an [***] and a [***].

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Verdict is in: Obama levels more personal attacks (John F. Harris and Alexander Burns, September 6, 2012, Politico)

With a few exceptions, Romney has maintained that Obama is a bad president who has turned to desperate tactics to try to save himself. But Romney has not made the case that Obama is a bad person, nor made a sustained critique of his morality a central feature of his campaign.

Obama, who first sprang to national attention with an appeal to civility, has made these kind of attacks central to his strategy. The argument, by implication from Obama and directly from his surrogates, is not merely that Romney is the wrong choice for president but that there is something fundamentally wrong with him.

What's the guy supposed to do?  He has achieved next to nothing; there's no difference between him and his opponent politically; and he has no personal substance.  So too did GHWB think that his own contempt would suffice to beat Bill Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Evolution could explain the placebo effect (Colin Barras, 9/06/12, New Scientist)

ON THE face of it, the placebo effect makes no sense. Someone suffering from a low-level infection will recover just as nicely whether they take an active drug or a simple sugar pill. This suggests people are able to heal themselves unaided - so why wait for a sugar pill to prompt recovery?

New evidence from a computer model offers a possible evolutionary explanation, and suggests that the immune system has an on-off switch controlled by the mind.

It's always comic genius when they write a computer program to render the desired effect and miss the implication.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Biden's Speech Likely to Spotlight Strengths, or Foibles (PETER BAKER, 9/05/12, NY Times)

On Thursday evening, at least, it is reasonably certain Mr. Biden's script has been well scrubbed and he will stick to it, as he did four years ago when he talked about his roots and the perils of Republican rule. Bumped out of his own night in the spotlight by former President Bill Clinton, Mr. Biden will introduce Mr. Obama before all of the broadcast networks tune in (NBC will show it; CBS and ABC will not).

...but we're supposed to trust him with the vice-presidency?  Among the many sad things we'll recall Mr. Obama for, one of the saddest is that he surrounded himself with such lightweights in his Administration, in apparent fear of being over-shadowed.  Of course, it's not helpful that his predecessor had the strongest cabinet since Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Obama Hits Hustings on His Own (LAURA MECKLER, 8/31/12, WSJ)

In 2004, President George W. Bush directed his re-election campaign to do all it could to help other Republicans on the ballot. "I don't want a lonely victory," he told aides.

In 2012, President Barack Obama is taking a more solitary route.

The Obama campaign is primarily focused on winning the 270 electoral votes needed to gain a second term. The president does almost no fundraising for Senate or House candidates and hasn't transferred money to other party election committees. His numerous campaign offices rarely coordinate with local candidates or display signs for anyone but Mr. Obama.

At rallies, Mr. Obama seldom urges supporters to volunteer--or even vote--for other Democrats running for office. Sometimes, he mentions other politicians in the room without noting that they are seeking re-election. He rarely shares the stage with other candidates.

W had things he wanted to do in office.  The UR just wants the office.
Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Catholic Church condemns 'price-tag' attack on monastery, urges Israel to change 'culture of contempt' (Nir Hasson, Sep.04, 2012, Ha'aretz)

The Catholic Church condemned the so-called "price-tag" attack against a Christian monastery on Tuesday, with high-ranking church offices denouncing the "teaching of contempt" against Christians prevalent in Israeli society. [...]

Monks residing at the monastery noticed the burning door on Tuesday morning, and called police after extinguishing the flames. Graffiti sprayed on the monastery walls included the words "Migron," and "Jesus is a monkey."

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Amazon's New Kindles Include Tablets, Insanely Cheap Prices (Dan Nosowitz, 09.06.2012, Popular Science)

 There's now a backlit Kindle, just like the Nook Simple Touch With Glowlight. Like the Nook Etc With Etc, the backlit Kindle has an appended name--Paperwhite. This kind of backlighting is great--it glows softly for nighttime or low-light use but it's still a good old electrophoretic (E-Ink) screen, so when it's daylight, it's easy on the eyes. That'll cost $119 for the Wi-Fi-only model and $179 for the 3G. The screen itself has been upgraded; it's sharper and turns pages faster. The cheapie Kindle, which we love (and we were namechecked loving it! Thanks, Bezos), is even cheaper at $69, and has the new screen (though no backlight).

Then there's the Kindle Fire. Last year's Kindle Fire was updated with some better hardware and a lower price, at $159. There's a new 7-inch model called the Kindle Fire HD, with a better screen, better processor, double the storage (it's now 16GB), all that stuff, at $199. And there's a big boy, an 8.9-inch tablet also known as the Kindle Fire HD, I think. It's squarely aimed at the iPad--Amazon is touting the quality of the screen, the responsiveness of the apps, all that stuff. There are even some cool ideas, like X-Ray, which lets you tap on the screen while in the middle of all kinds of apps to get more information. Click on an actor's face while watching a movie and it'll take you to their IMDb page, for example. Pretty sweet! The Wi-Fi-only, 16GB model will cost $299.

The 8.9-incher also has a 4G model, which'll cost $50 a year for 250MB per month. That's not a lot of data, but it's also really not a lot of money. It'll also have a bunch of cloud storage and a $10 app store credit. That one'll run $499, and given that it has 32GB of storage and 4G, it's waaaay cheaper than the equivalent iPad.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Bob Woodward Book: Debt Deal Collapse Led to 'Pure Fury' From President Obama (RICK KLEIN, Sept. 05 2012, ABC News)

[A]t a critical juncture, with an agreement tantalizingly close, Obama pressed Boehner for additional taxes as part of a final deal -- a miscalculation, in retrospect, given how far the House speaker felt he'd already gone.

The president called three times to speak with Boehner about his latest offer, according to Woodward. But the speaker didn't return the president's phone call for most of an agonizing day, in what Woodward calls a "monumental communications lapse" between two of the most powerful men in the country.

When Boehner finally did call back, he jettisoned the entire deal. Obama lost his famous cool, according to Woodward, with a "flash of pure fury" coming from the president; one staffer in the room said Obama gripped the phone so tightly he thought he would break it.

"He was spewing coals," Boehner told Woodward, in what is described as a borderline "presidential tirade."

"He was pissed.... He wasn't going to get a damn dime more out of me. He knew how far out on a limb I was. But he was hot. It was clear to me that coming to an agreement with him was not going to happen, and that I had to go to Plan B."

...who'd never passed any legislation.  On the other hand, it suggests how close the sides are on the grand bargain that either nominee will sign next year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Our Pool password is: ericjulia

First game is tomorrow (Wed) night.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM

King Arthur Flour Celebrates Grand Opening Of New Bakery, Store & School In Norwich 

The celebration begins with an open house September 20 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. featuring complimentary pizza and beverages, plus short guided tours of the new facility. Throughout the weekend guests can enjoy baking demonstrations, kids' activities, free samples, raffles, and celebrity chef appearances, including a demonstration from Joy Wilson (blogger and cookbook author Joy the Baker) on Saturday at 1 p.m. King Arthur Flour long-time employee-owner, writer, and baker PJ Hamel and former owner and cookbook author Brinna Sands will also be on hand demonstrating a recipe and signing cookbooks on Saturday. Families can experience the joy of baking together on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with hands-on dough-shaping and cookie and cake decorating activities. In addition, the first 200 customers to come in after 8 a.m. Friday through Sunday will each receive a free loaf of bread. Details are available at

King Arthur Flour broke ground on its $10 million expansion in June 2011 and completed construction on its new baking destination on schedule in July 2012. The company continued all bakery, retail, and educational operations throughout the year-long project.

King Arthur Flour is America's oldest flour company and premier baking resource, offering ingredients, mixes, tools, recipes, educational opportunities, and inspiration to bakers worldwide. The employee-owned company is headquartered in Norwich, Vermont. Learn more at
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Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Obama's Scant Democratic Bench (Josh Kraushaar, September 4, 2012, National Journal)

The problem, as Davis explained to me, was that most of the Democrats' minority representation comes from House members who hail from overwhelmingly liberal, majority-minority districts. Most of these members of Congress don't have the broad political coalition to appeal to a wider swath of voters. Of the 13 nonwhite House Democrats speaking at the convention, only three have even an outside shot at future statewide office: Reps. Xavier Becerra and Judy Chu of California, and Donna Edwards of Maryland.

At the municipal level, Democrats have some up-and-comers, but all face uncertain paths to higher office--a recognition that it's a steep path from city hall to serving on a national ticket. 

The Democrats' keynote speaker on Tuesday night, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, is touted as a rising Hispanic star. But the uncomfortable political truth is that Castro, if he seeks higher office in Texas, could be stymied in a state that is dominated by Republicans and that doesn't feature a single Democrat holding a statewide office. 

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is also a rising star in the party, but he burned bridges with the Obama campaign after taking it to task for its attack on Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. If he were to run for governor, he would face a tough race against Republican incumbent Chris Christie in 2013. He may wait until 2014 to run for the seat currently held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Hometown Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, another impressive up-and-comer, passed up a golden opportunity to run for governor of North Carolina after Bev Perdue decided not to seek reelection this year. There aren't many openings coming up for him: Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is running for reelection in 2014, and the next gubernatorial and Senate race openings aren't until 2016.

For all the hype about the historic nature of President Obama's presidency, he has brought along with him precious few Democrats who present the same post-racial appeal he showcased in 2008. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


The Siege of Academe : For years, Silicon Valley has failed to breach the walls of higher education with disruptive technology. But the tide of battle is changing. A report from the front lines. (Kevin Carey, September/October 2012, Washington Monthly)

Last August, Marc Andreessen, the man whose Netscape Web browser ignited the original dot-com boom and who is now one of Silicon Valley's most influential venture capitalists, wrote a much-discussed op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. His argument was that "software is eating the world." At a time of low start-up costs and broadly distributed Internet access that allows for massive economies of scale, software has reached a tipping point that will allow it to disrupt industry after industry, in a dynamic epitomized by the recent collapse of Borders under the giant foot of Amazon. And the next industries up for wholesale transformation by software, Andreessen wrote, are health care and education. That, at least, is where he's aiming his venture money. And where Andreessen goes, others follow. According to the National Venture Capital Association, investment in education technology companies increased from less than $100 million in 2007 to nearly $400 million last year. For the huge generator of innovation, technology, and wealth that is Silicon Valley, higher education is a particularly fat target right now.

This hype has happened before, of course. Back in the 1990s, when Andreessen made his first millions, many people confidently predicted that the Internet would render brick-and-mortar universities obsolete. It hasn't happened yet, in part because colleges are a lot more complicated than retail bookstores. Higher education is a publicly subsidized, heavily regulated, culturally entrenched sector that has stubbornly resisted digital rationalization. But the defenders of the ivy-covered walls have never been more nervous about the Internet threat. In June, a panicked board of directors at the University of Virginia fired (and, after widespread outcry, rehired) their president, in part because they worried she was too slow to move Thomas Jefferson's university into the digital world.

The ongoing carnage in the newspaper industry provides an object lesson of what can happen when a long-established, information-focused industry's business model is challenged by low-price competitors online. The disruptive power of information technology may be our best hope for curing the chronic college cost disease that is driving a growing number of students into ruinous debt or out of higher education altogether. It may also be an existential threat to institutions that have long played a crucial role in American life.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


The night the Democrats lost control of the Israel message (HAVIV RETTIG GUR, September 6, 2012, Times of Israel)

One indication of the scale of the concern was the surprise and anger among Democratic leaders themselves as they heard about the platform changes, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New York Senator Chuck Schumer appearing bewildered and saying they knew nothing about them, and Congressmen Eliot Engel and Howard Berman issuing statements expressing anger and opposition to the new text.

According to CBS News, corroborated by National Jewish Democratic Council head David Harris, President Barack Obama, too, was surprised and upset by the changes, and immediately ordered a voice vote reinstating language into the platform that affirmed Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (Never mind that the Obama White House formally refuses to name Israel's capital when asked.)

But the damage was not yet done.

In calling for the voice vote from delegates to reinstate the term "God" -- in an excised phrase from 2008 that "gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential" -- and the sentence about Jerusalem as Israel's capital into the platform on Wednesday, Democratic leaders were taken aback by vociferous shouting of "boos" and "noes" in the half-empty Time Warner Arena in Charlotte.

The vote had to be taken three times before convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa could declare the changes passed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Dems Show Progressive Means Status Quo (Jonathan S. Tobin, 09.04.2012, Commentary)

Heading into this week's Democratic National Convention, the party knows the country isn't really better off than it was four years ago. They also know that President Obama can't count on a repeat of the wave of messianic expectations that swept him into office in 2008. But they seem united on one proposition: the Republicans and their ideas for changing Washington must be stopped. Though most of those who gather in Charlotte dub themselves "progressives," that word, which once evoked the liberal call to transform America into a more egalitarian society, now means something very different. In 2012, to be a progressive means above all to be steadfast in favor of maintaining the status quo on a wide range of issues. It is a credo of not of progress but merely in defense of the power of the state that generations of Democratic politicians have built.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


The President's Fountain of Youth Is Drying Up  (KARL ROVE, 9/05/12, WSJ)

Then there are voters ages 18 to 29, among Mr. Obama's most important supporters in 2008. The roughly 23.7 million "millennials" who voted in 2008 were 18% of the electorate, up 2.9 million voters over the previous presidential race. They gave Mr. Obama 66% to Sen. John McCain's 32%, according to exit polls. This margin of roughly eight million votes was a major chunk of Mr. Obama's overall edge of 9.6 million.

But youthful enthusiasm for Mr. Obama has waned. In October 2008, 78% of voters 18-29 told Gallup they would definitely vote that year. Now it's 58%.

There's also evidence that fewer younger people are registered. A November 2011 study from Tufts University found that 43% of the decline in Nevada's voter rolls since 2008 came from voters ages 18-24. Similarly, while North Carolina's rolls rose by 93,709 over that period, more than 48,000 younger voters were dropped from the rolls, 80% of them Democrats.

Mr. Obama's lead over Mr. Romney in the latest JZ Analytics poll among voters ages 18-29 is 49% to 41%. If young voters turn out this fall in the same numbers as in 2008 and give Mr. Obama this eight-point margin, it will take 2.8 million votes from Mr. Obama's total and add more than 3.3 million to Mr. Romney's tally.

September 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


A new America, where opinion seems to matter more than race or identity (HAVIV RETTIG GUR, September 4, 2012, Times of Israel)

In choosing their own unconventional ticket, the Republicans were in lock-step with the overwhelming trend in American politics. In a country with a long, dark past of racism and identity politics, diversity is now so ordinary, so expected, that it goes almost unnoticed even in the most conservative circles.

Thus, we are witnessing an American presidential election in which an African American incumbent is facing a Mormon challenger. Both have Catholic vice-presidential picks. And the only Protestant on either presidential ticket is the African American.

Even among the Republican base, opinion seems to matter more than race or identity, evidenced by the fact that Herman Cain, the African American former head of a large chain of pizza restaurants, led in the polls for several weeks. At the convention, Condoleezza Rice's speech, which touched on Jim Crow segregation laws and other parts of America's dark past of racism, was one of the best received by the crowd of thousands of state party delegates, perhaps second only to VP pick Paul Ryan.

The invocation was even delivered by an Orthodox rabbi, Yeshiva University's Rabbi Meir Soloveichik.

This diversity extends beyond presidential politics, to the House and Senate and state politics throughout the country. With the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, even the US Supreme Court, the country's most staid and stable institution, is without a Protestant for the first time in history. Instead, it has three Jews and six Catholics from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

In this contentious election year, you may not hear this from Americans. But for outside observers one thing is clear. Irrespective of who wins in November, the conservative Mormon or the liberal African American, it's a new America, one so comfortable with its diversity that it is barely conscious of it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Why Democrats Flubbed 'Better Off' Question : 'Angry-bird voters', missing talking points and a mixed economic picture contributed to the fumble shadowing the start of the convention. (Jill Lawrence, September 4, 2012, National Journal)

Democrats start their convention on Tuesday in Charlotte dogged by the unforced errors of not one but three top Obama advisers and allies who muffed a fundamental question that's been utterly predictable ever since Ronald Reagan asked it during his campaign against President Carter more than 30 years ago. [...]

[T]he display on TV had to be less than reassuring for Democrats, particularly since two of those who struggled with the question--senior White House adviser David Plouffe and chief campaign strategist David Axelrod--would theoretically be the coaches preparing top-tier surrogates such Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who answered "No" on Sunday when asked if the country is doing better than it was four years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Can There Be Too Much Breast-Cancer Treatment? (Melinda Beck, 9/04/12, WSJ)

Clinicians say leaving breast cancer untreated is a gamble they can't take. "I don't know anyone who offers women the option of doing nothing," says Eric Winer, director of the breast cancer program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "On the one hand, we are aware of the overtreatment, all of us. On the other hand, there are still 40,000 women every year who die of breast cancer."

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


The Hill Poll: Voters say second term for Obama undeserved, country is worse off (Sheldon Alberts, 09/04/12, The Hill)

Fifty-two percent of likely voters say the nation is in "worse condition" now than in September 2008, while 54 percent say Obama does not deserve reelection based solely on his job performance.

Only 31 percent of voters believe the nation is in "better condition," while 15 percent say it is "about the same," the poll found. Just 40 percent of voters said Obama deserves reelection. [...]

Fifty percent of voters said they were "very unsatisfied" with Obama's stewardship of the economy. Another 8 percent said they were somewhat unsatisfied.

More voters in The Hill's poll think Romney will win the fall election than think Obama will win -- despite state-by-state polls that suggest the president would have an edge in a number of swing states if the election were held today.

The poll found 46 percent of voters believe Romney will win the Nov. 6 election, compared to 43 percent who said they expect Obama to win.

The Hill's poll was conducted Sept. 2 among 1,000 likely voters by Pulse Opinion Research. It has a 3 percentage point margin of error.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Where to See the Best Fall Foliage (Marisa Lascala, 9/04/12, Conde Nast Traveler)

The longest season: New Hampshire's Lakes Region

When to go: Late September through late October

Why go: The secret to finding a lingering foliage season is steering clear of the weather that knocks leaves from their branches. "I would choose those locations away from the wind of the coast and at higher elevations," says Jerry Monkman, co-author of The Colors of Fall Road Trip Guide. This New Hampshire region--which encompasses Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake, Lake Ossipee, Mirror Lake, Newfound Lake and Lake Winnisquam--is protected from the harsh winds of the coast and doesn't rise more than 600 feet above sea level, giving you the best chance for a long leaf season.

Where to get the best view: Obviously, from the middle of a lake (pick one). Bring a kayak and tone your paddling arms. "You can see red maples along the waterways showing their bright colors on the trees, and then reflected down into the water as well," says Tai Freligh, communications manager for New Hampshire's Division of Travel and Tourism Development.

Insider tip: If boating and hiking feels like too much exertion for a good view, tour the lakes region from a fall foliage train. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad (603-279-5253,, $11 to $15) runs through October 21, and a two-hour round-trip ticket entitles you to a lakeside tour along tracks that were once a part of the Boston & Maine Railroad. Daytime rides come with the option of adding on a "hobo picnic lunch" ($10).

September 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Soup? Art? The Quandary Thickens. (Tom Jacobs, 8/30/12, Pacific Standard)

Talk about coming full circle. Beginning Sunday, most Target stores will be selling special-edition cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup featuring colorful labels that evoke the work of Andy Warhol. [...]

So what does it say that a mass-market company (which, according to its in-house historian, had a surprisingly cordial relationship with Warhol) is bringing visual flair to the canned-food aisle? Has the difference between the Tate Modern and the Target Midtown been completely obliterated? that the original Campbell Soup can is an iconic work of art, while the Warhols are just garish imitations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Chicago's Michael Clarke Duncan, an Oscar nominee for 'The Green Mile,' dies at 54 (BILL ZWECKER,  September 3, 2012, Chicago Sun-Times)

He often loved recalling a favorite youthful stunt. In 1979, Mr. Duncan was part of Steve Dahl's famous "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park. He was among the first 100 people to run on to the field and he slid into third base. Unfortunately, during the ensuing melee, his prized silver belt buckle was stolen. "Security came after me, so we had to run," he laughingly told the Sun-Times in 2006. "It was death to disco that night. I am part of history."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Seeking the Endemic Birds of Jamaica and St. Lucia : 1 man, 2 Caribbean islands, 7 days, 33 elusive birds. Can he spot them all? (JONATHAN FRANZEN, SEPTEMBER 2012, Conde Nast Traveler)

My goal for the trip was straightforward: to see every endemic bird species on two islands, one Greater Antillean and one Lesser, in the seven days I had at my disposal. Species endemic (i.e., exclusive) to an island are of special interest to bird-watchers who keep lists of the birds they've seen. Endemics that we miss on a particular island are species that we're likely never to see, because there are so many other places to go bird-watching before we return to that island and because, in the Caribbean, many endemics are in trouble and will become only harder to find in the future. If I'd had two weeks, I could reasonably have expected to see every one of Jamaica's twenty-nine and St. Lucia's four endemics. But to get the job done in a week I would need some good luck.

Although I'm generally not superstitious, I felt as if I'd made a substantial withdrawal from the karma bank by locating my suitcase at JFK, and I do adhere to the superstition that my luck as a bird-watcher is improved by giving generous tips to cab drivers and hotel staff. Unfortunately, after I'd been conveyed from the Kingston airport up into the Blue Mountains, I was too slow on the draw to tip the driver; missing this chance to replenish my karma account did not bode well.

I was staying in a guest cottage at a coffee farm called Lime Tree, managed by Suzie Burbury and her husband, Charlie. After a long ride up a terrible road, Suzie gave me quiche and red sorrel iced tea and then sent me out to look for birds.

Even if you're not a regular bird-watcher, you can take some cheap binoculars and spend a night or two away from Jamaica's coast and easily see many of the country's most spectacular endemics, including the national bird, the Streamertail, a hummingbird whose males have tail streamers longer than the rest of their bodies.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


All the Ayatollah's Men (Ray Takeyh | August 22, 2012, National Interest)

Many Western observers of Iran don't understand that its foreign policy has been fashioned largely to sustain an ideological identity. Thus, we can't understand Iran's foreign relations and its evident hostility by just assessing its international environment or the changing Mideast power balance. These things matter. But Iran's revolutionary elite also seeks to buttress the regime's ideological identity by embracing a confrontational posture.

The question then becomes why the Iranian leadership continues to maintain this ideological template so long after its revolutionary emergence. After all, other revolutionary regimes, after initially using foreign policy for ideological purposes, later moved away from that approach. Why has China become more pragmatic but not Iran? The answer is that the Islamic Republic is different from its revolutionary counterparts in that the ideology of its state is its religion. It may be a politicized and radicalized variation of Shia Islam, but religion is the official dogma. Thus, a dedicated core of supporters inevitably remained loyal to this religious ideology long after Khomeini himself disappeared from the scene. Revolutionary regimes usually change when their ardent supporters grow disillusioned and abandon the faith. It is, after all, much easier to be an ex-Marxist than an ex-Shiite. In one instance, renouncing one's faith is political defection; in the other, apostasy. Although the Islamic Republic has become widely unpopular, for a small but fervent segment of the population it is still an important experiment in realizing God's will on earth.

To understand this, it helps to review some pertinent Iranian history, beginning with the thought and actions of Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini offered a unique challenge to the concept of the nation-state and the prevailing norms of the international system. The essence of his message was that the vitality of his Islamist vision at home was contingent on its relentless export. Moreover, because God's vision was not to be confined to a single nation, Iran's foreign policy would be an extension of its domestic revolutionary turmoil. For the grand ayatollah, the global order was divided between two competing entities--states whose priorities were defined by Western conventions; and Iran, whose ostensible purpose was to redeem a divine mandate. Of course, no country can persist on ideology alone. Iran had to operate its economy, deal with regional exigencies and meet the demands of its growing population. But its international relations would be characterized by revolutionary impulses continually struggling against the pull of pragmatism.

Khomeini's internationalism had to have an antagonist, a foil against which to define itself. And a caricatured concept of the West became the central pillar of his Islamist imagination.

As Reagan went to the USSR, so should his successors go to Iran.  We are all that props the radicals up.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Physician-assisted suicide poisons the mission of medicine (J. DONALD BOUDREAU, 8/28/12, The Globe and Mail)

Our angst is not limited to cases of assisted-suicide. It is rather that engaging in it alters the mission of medicine. It strikes at the very core of our beings as healers. It would leave an indelible imprint on dialogues with all patients. Our worry is anchored in the deep recognition of the vulnerability of sick persons and the power differential that exists in the doctor-patient relationship.

Doctors can become angry with patients. Patients can desire to please their doctors. Such feelings, and many others, can profoundly affect decision-making in directions contrary to patients' best interests.

The risk is too great. The medical profession is able to make mistakes and to act from dishonourable motives; its members are far from infallible. To apprehend these facts one need look no further than the German Medical Association's May, 2012 apology for the complicity of (many) doctors under the Third Reich in abrogating their obligations as healers. [...]

The Hippocratic Oath includes a stern injunction: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect." This constraint has guided medical doctors for more than 2,400 years. For example, it provides the inspiration and motivation for the steadfast refusal of the vast majority of physicians from participating in capital punishment. We do not administer the lethal injections that kill convicted criminals. Neither should we accept to administer it under scenarios envisaged by Judge Smith.

Physician-inflicted death is unnecessary and potentially harmful and I do not want to teach medical students how to end their patients' lives. If society concludes that it is advisable, it must not foist it lock, stock and barrel onto the medical profession. Physicians must not become the agents of implementation. Euthanasia and assisted-suicide must not become "medical" acts.

September 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Lebanon's Hezbollah denies possessing chemical weapons (AFP, 9/03/12) 

The leader of the powerful Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, on Monday denied that his group possessed chemical weapons.

"We don't have chemical weapons and we cannot use them for reasons linked to the Sharia and for humanitarian reasons," Nasrallah said in an interview with Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen channel, which champions Hezbollah's cause.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


The Empty Chair Syndrome (Ron Jager, 9/03/12, INN)

During the Passover Seder, we fill a cup for Elijah the Prophet and place the cup before an empty chair leaving the door open for him, in the hope that he arrive and lead us to salvation.

During the Succot holiday, we invite different Biblical icons into our Succot. Their lack of physical attendance serves as motivation to analyze our lives in the hopes of living more righteously the rest of the year.

Clint Eastwood, by invoking the concept of an "empty chair" in a political framework, reminded us all of the need to seriously examine and reflect on the past four tough years weighted down by political battles largely lost; relationships frayed; allies abandoned and promises broken.

Americans will have to consider whether or not Obama is competent enough to lead America and the free world for another four years. Obama, with a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, regards himself as a success over the past four years. Romney regards himself as a man who has a job to do.

The best line at the Republican National convention was spoken by Mitt Romney; "President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My to help you and your family." In one bold swoop we were able to differentiate between Obama's cocky, irrelevant and unabated narcissism and Romney's instinctive modesty and ability to genuinely connect to Main St, USA.

Any time you see a political analyst picking apart the substance of what Mr. Eastwood said, rather than considering just the image, they missed the point.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Evidence Lacking for Health Benefits of Organics (Tom Jacobs, 9/3/12, Pacific Standard)

"The evidence does not suggest marked health benefits from consuming organic vs. conventional foods," a research team led by two Stanford University scholars writes in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Specifically, they report that studies conducted to date do not contain "strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods."

The researchers do conclude that "consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria." But, they add, even those benefits come with an asterisk.

A research team led by two Stanford-affiliated MDs, Dena Bravata and Crystal Smith-Spangler, analyzed 237 studies examining the benefits of organic foods. Such foods are usually grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, or the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.

Only a handful of the studies examined the effects of organic or conventional diets on groups of people. The vast majority--223--compared the levels of either nutrients or contaminants in organic and conventionally grown varieties of various foods.

"Of the nutrients evaluated, only one comparison--the phosphorous content of produce--demonstrated the superiority of organic foods," the researchers write. They did not find this particularly impressive, given that "near-total starvation is needed to produce dietary phosphorous deficiency."

On the other hand, studies do show that an organic diet gives you a pronounced holier-than-thou aura.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


The Competitor in Chief (JODI KANTOR, 9/03/12, NY Times)

As Election Day approaches, President Obama is sharing a few important things about himself. He has mentioned more than once in recent weeks that he cooks "a really mean chili." He has impressive musical pitch, he told an Iowa audience. He is "a surprisingly good pool player," he informed an interviewer -- not to mention (though he does) a doodler of unusual skill.

All in all, he joked at a recent New York fund-raiser with several famous basketball players in attendance, "it is very rare that I come to an event where I'm like the fifth or sixth most interesting person." [...]

Even by the standards of the political world, Mr. Obama's obsession with virtuosity and proving himself the best are remarkable, those close to him say. [...]

But even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities.

...the only conceivable reason that his academic records are still secret is because he's a mediocrity.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


We can't grow ourselves out of debt, no matter what the Federal Reserve does : Let's replace our fixation on growth with a steady-state economy focusing on lower consumption, leisure and ecological health (Charles Eisenstein, 9/03/12,

Unemployment could translate into greater leisure for all. Lower consumption could translate into reclaiming life from money, reskilling, reconnecting, sharing.

Central banks could play a role in this transition. For example, what if quantitative easing were combined with debt forgiveness? The banks get bailout after bailout - what about the rest of us? The Fed could purchase student loans, mortgages or consumer debt and, by fiat, reduce interest rates on those loans to zero, or even reduce principal. That would liberate millions from the debt chase, while freeing up purchasing power for those who are truly underconsuming.

...the Fed should.  But tax policy should drive the return to consumers into savings, rather than consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


America's Edge : Take some favorable demographics, add a generous shot of American ingenuity, and stir in a very large quantity of natural gas, and you have the beginning of a bright new American future. (Martin Walker, Suymmer 2012, Wilson Quarterly)

At the end of the 1960s, with cities burning in race riots, campuses in an uproar, and a miserably unwinnable war grinding through the poisoned jungles of Indochina, an American fear of losing the titanic struggle with communism was perhaps understandable. Only the farsighted saw the importance of the contrast between American elections and the ruthless swagger of the Red Army's tanks crushing the Prague Spring of 1968. At the end of the 1970s, with American diplomats held hostage in Tehran, a Soviet puppet ruling Afghanistan, and glib talk of Soviet troops soon washing their feet in the Indian Ocean, Americans waiting in line for gasoline hardly felt like winners. Yet at the end of the 1980s, what a surprise! The Cold War was over and the good guys had won.

Naturally, there were many explanations for this, from President Ronald Reagan's resolve to Mikhail Gorbachev's decency; from American industrial prowess to Soviet inefficiency. The most cogent reason was that the United States back in the late 1940s had crafted a bipartisan grand strategy for the Cold War that proved to be both durable and successful. It forged a tripartite economic alliance of Europe, North America, and Japan, backed up by various regional treaty organizations such as NATO, and counted on scientists, inventors, business leaders, and a prosperous and educated work force to deliver both guns and butter for itself and its allies. State spending on defense and science would keep unemployment at bay while Social Security would ensure that the siren songs of communism had little to offer the increasingly comfortable workers of the West. And while the West waited for its wealth and technologies to attain overwhelming superiority, its troops, missiles, and nuclear deterrent would contain Soviet and Chinese hopes of expansion.

It worked. The Soviet Union collapsed, and the Chinese leadership drew the appropriate lessons. (The Chinese view was that by starting with glasnost and political reform, and ducking the challenge of economic reform, Gorbachev had gotten the dynamics of change the wrong way round.) But by the end of 1991, the Democrat who would win the next year's New Hampshire primary (Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts) had a catchy new campaign slogan: "The Cold War is over--and Japan won." With the country in a mild recession and mega-rich Japanese investors buying up landmarks such as Manhattan's Rockefeller Center and California's Pebble Beach golf course, Tsongas's theme touched a national chord. But the Japanese economy has barely grown since, while America's gross domestic product has almost doubled.

There are, of course, serious reasons for concern about the state of the American economy, society, and body politic today. But remember, the United States is like the weather in Ireland; if you don't like it, just wait a few minutes and it's sure to shift. This is a country that has been defined by its openness to change and innovation, and the search for the latest and the new has transformed the country's productivity and potential. This openness, in effect, was America's secret weapon that won both World War II and the Cold War. We tend to forget that the Soviet Union fulfilled Nikita Khrushchev's pledge in 1961 to outproduce the United States in steel, coal, cement, and fertilizer within 20 years. But by 1981 the United States was pioneering a new kind of economy, based on plastics, silicon, and transistors, while the Soviet Union lumbered on building its mighty edifice of obsolescence.

This is the essence of America that the doom mongers tend to forget. 

...would we worry that we must be in decline because we produce ever more wealth with ever less work and have no foreign rivals, neither culturally nor militarily.  Let's call it the angst of winning.

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Patrick snarls at Romney: 'He's an opportunist' (Joe Battenfeld, September 3, 2012,

Gov. Deval Patrick kicked off his high-profile convention tour with a sharp punch at GOP nominee Mitt Romney, calling him a politically expedient flip-flopper without any core beliefs.

"He's not a moderate or a conservative, he's an opportunist," Patrick told Virginia delegates at a breakfast here.

Indeed, that's his main selling point to Independents and disaffected Democrats, women in particular.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


MARATHON MAN: A Michigan dentist's improbable transformation. (MARK SINGER, AUGUST 6, 2012, The New Yorker)

On July 24, 2010, Strode received an unexpected inquiry from Jennifer Straughan, the Missoula race director, who asked him to look at a photograph of a runner wearing bib No. 759. It was Litton. "There is some question as to whether he was seen along the course," Straughan wrote. "He finished in a time similar to you so theoretically you would have noticed him."

While Strode had been immersed in what he'd assumed was his own private Kip Litton obsession, the official timer at Missoula had been contacted by his counterpart at the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, in Deadwood, South Dakota, where Litton had turned up the previous month. Photographs taken in Deadwood showed him crossing the starting line fifth from last and finishing in 2:55:50, putting him first in his age group and in third place over all. The fourth-place finisher protested: he'd been running third at the halfway mark and said that no one had passed him after that, an assertion bolstered by the fact that most of the remaining course was a trail only six feet wide. Litton had registered a half-marathon split, and the Deadwood timer was skeptical of the protest against him--"I was trying to prove Litton was legit," he told me--but he changed his mind after determining that Litton had, improbably, run the second half eleven minutes faster than the first. In addition, he found photographs of Litton only at the start and the end of the course. Deadwood disqualified Litton, and Straughan followed suit in Missoula.

Strode, who in a later Web post described his mind-set as "sucked in, fascinated and pissed off," broadened his investigation. He sent an e-mail to Richard Rodriguez, who on the Web site of the West Wyoming Marathon was identified as its race director; Litton had a listed winning time there of 2:56:12.

"I'm writing to ask about the winner of your marathon a few weeks ago, Kip Litton," Strode wrote. "He was recently disqualified from the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon for cheating (not running the whole course). . . . I don't know the guy--I just hate cheating in running. I wonder whether he may have had a legitimate performance at your race or whether he may also have cheated in Wyoming."

Two days later, Strode received a response: "Wow, that's quite a scenario! It would have been very unlikely for the same thing to have happened at our race, as there were only 30 participants and the lead 2 runners ran almost the entire race together. I have not received any complaints. I will keep my ears open though. If there is an update, send it my way. Take care, Richard."

Strode began to wonder if his suspicions were misplaced, but he kept investigating. At the Providence Marathon, in Rhode Island, where Litton had finished first in his age group, photographs showed him wearing shoes and shorts at the end of the course that were different from those he was wearing at the beginning. (A costume change at Deadwood had involved shoes, a hat, and a T-shirt.) In the Delaware Marathon, Litton had finished first in his age group. After being prompted by Strode, the race's director, Wayne Kursh, found that, among the finishers, Litton alone had failed to register split times. On an out-and-back portion of the course, Kursh had taken photographs of the top runners at the turnaround point--but Litton was not among them. He also failed to find images of Litton elsewhere on the course.

Kursh had a blog, and on August 6, 2010, he posted a blind item about Litton titled "Another Rosie Ruiz?"--a reference to the scammer who was briefly heralded as the winner of the women's division of the 1980 Boston Marathon, before it was determined that she'd jumped onto the course less than a mile from the finish. Kursh wrote in a follow-up that he had been exchanging concerns with other race directors, adding, "I smell a rat."

In an e-mail exchange initiated by Kursh, Litton claimed that photographs of him would be hard to find, because his shirt had covered his racing bib. He added, "Wasn't there a timing mat at the turnaround?" Kursh ultimately decided to disqualify him, explaining, "From your comment here it is pretty obvious that you have NO idea where the timing mats were on route. They definitely were not at this turn-around point."

On occasions when Litton responded to such pointed challenges, he never did so in a hostile or nakedly defensive manner. After a disqualification, he simply deleted the result and the recap from his Web site, as if he had never registered for the race. His default demeanor was equable mystification.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Beyond a joke: the truth about why we laugh : Plato and Aristotle saw it as a tool to topple the mighty. It often accompanies gruesome acts of cruelty. Most of us will use it more routinely - to win friendship and love. So what lies behind the apparent spontaneity of laughter? (Robert Provine, 9/02/12, The Observer)

[I]n our politically correct, feel-good, be-happy time we are shielded from - and underestimate - the dark side of laughter that was better known to the ancients. If you think laughter is benign, be aware that laughter is present during the worst atrocities, from murder, rape and pillage in antiquity to the present. Laughter has been present at the entertainments of public executions and torture. On street corners around the world, laughing at the wrong person or at the wrong time can get you killed. The publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad by a Danish newspaper triggered calls for the death of the cartoonists and a worldwide murderous rampage that left many dead and injured. Although radical Islam is most in the news, all monotheistic religions ruthlessly suppress humorous challenges to their spiritual franchise. The killers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, were laughing as they strolled through classrooms murdering their classmates. Laughter accompanies ethnic violence and insult, from Kosovo to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Laughing with brings the pleasure of acceptance, in-group feeling, and bonding. But laughing at is jeering and ridicule, targeting outsiders who look or act differently, pounding down the nail that sticks up, shaping them up, or driving them away.

Pssst...those aren't opposites, they're the same thing.  And it is that political correctness that precludes the Left from humor.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Defined Contributions Define Health-Care Future (Peter Orszag, 12/06/11, Bloomberg)

Over the next decade, we are likely to see a shift in health insurance in the U.S.: So-called defined-contribution plans will gradually take over the market, shifting the residual risk of incurring high health-care costs from employers to workers. [...]

The movement toward defined-contribution plans for health insurance is, in some ways, similar to the one that occurred for pensions, as Kenneth L. Sperling and Oren M. Shapira explained in an article earlier this year. The pension shift occurred in a series of stages: First, the traditional defined-benefit plan was redesigned. Then a hybrid approach was introduced (the cash- balance plan). Finally, defined-benefit plans were frozen.

The change in health insurance is already well under way in coverage for retirees. In the early 1990s, in response to accounting changes and rising costs, companies began to re- evaluate retiree health plans, and some capped the amount they were willing to pay at a multiple of existing costs. Over time, as those limits were reached, most companies declined to raise them, thereby effectively creating defined-contribution retiree health-insurance plans, with the company's contribution set by the cap. Exchanges have been created to allow retirees to use these employer contributions to purchase their own health insurance.

For current workers, the precursor to a defined- contribution approach is the "consumer-driven" health plan. This typically has higher deductibles and co-payments than a traditional plan has, and it is often tied to a health savings account. It typically still provides generous insurance for catastrophic cases.

The share of workers enrolled in such plans remains quite low but is expanding rapidly. A recent survey of large companies found that, in 2012, almost three-quarters will offer consumer- driven health-insurance plans.

The natural next step will be for employers to strictly limit their health-insurance contributions to a set amount of money that workers could use to buy insurance. Companies will thus eliminate their exposure to unexpectedly high health-care costs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


LET'S BE FRIENDS : Two Presidents find a mutual advantage. (RYAN LIZZA, 9/02/12, The New Yorker)

[A[ turning point came after the 2010 midterm elections. Obama had promised, during his campaign, to build a politics of consensus rather than of partisan conflict, but that approach wasn't working against an increasingly right-wing Republican Party set on his defeat. Pollsters deemed Obama the most polarizing President in history, and he was rejected in 2010, much as Clinton had been in 1994. Meanwhile, the approval ratings for Clinton, who was focussed on international projects, had soared. The balance of power in the relationship began to shift as the Administration saw that enlisting Clinton might solve more than one problem.

In December, Obama negotiated a compromise tax deal with Republicans--a two-year extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts in return for some economic stimulus--that many House Democrats deplored. Liberals complained about the deal, much as Obama had criticized Clinton before 2008. What had happened to boldness? On December 10th, Clinton met alone with Obama in the Oval Office for seventy minutes, one of their longest sessions to date. Afterward, they sauntered into the briefing room, surprising reporters. Clinton gave a forceful defense of the tax deal, which helped quell the liberal uprising.

By early 2011, the White House was turning its attention to reëlection. Jim Messina, the deputy chief of staff, moved to Chicago to manage the campaign, and he took charge of the Clinton account. Messina hadn't worked for Obama during the Democratic primaries in 2008 and had no interest in the old conflicts. "Jim Messina just cares about getting two hundred and seventy electoral votes--period," the knowledgeable Democrat said. "And he knows Bill Clinton helps him along that path. He doesn't care what he said in South Carolina in 2008."

Clinton, Messina told me, is one of the few people who can make the case for Obama among voters who still haven't made up their minds. "They're looking at this through an economic framework, and he's going to be incredibly important to that discussion," Messina said. "He's now effective with almost every demographic. I mean, he's in the sixties now"--meaning that more than sixty per cent of Americans view him favorably. "The current two political figures in America who have those numbers are Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama."

In November, not long after the round of golf, Messina and Axelrod made a pilgrimage to Clinton's Harlem office. Messina brought a PowerPoint slide show and briefed the former President on campaign strategy. At the time, the Obama team was alternating between two arguments about Romney. One presented him as an inveterate flip-flopper, the other as a right-wing ideologue who would return the country to a pre-New Deal dystopia. Clinton advised them to stick with the second argument. It would help with fund-raising, he said; liberal donors would be more motivated to fight a fierce conservative. If they defined Romney as a flip-flopper, undecided voters might think that he could return to his moderate roots once he was in office. "They tried to do this to me, the flip-flopper thing," Clinton said, according to someone in the room. "It just doesn't work." He told the Obama aides that voters never held the flip-flopper attacks against him because they felt that he would simply do what was right.

After Clinton agreed to appear at several fund-raisers, Obama turned him into a leading character in his stump speech. "All we're asking is that we go back to the same tax rates that we paid under Bill Clinton," Obama said in Boone, Iowa, recently, using a line that he repeats in most campaign speeches these days. "And you know what? That was a time when our economy created nearly twenty-three million new jobs, the biggest budget surplus in history, and millionaires did pretty good, too."

Obama had found a way to capitalize on an unusual political development. In an effort to sell deficit reduction, many Republicans have been extolling the former President's legacy. Even Mitt Romney has presented Clinton as a responsible centrist and a champion of welfare reform, unlike Obama. "Almost a generation ago, Bill Clinton announced that the era of big government was over," Romney said earlier this year, trying to magnify divisions between the two Presidents. "President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship. It's enough to make you wonder if maybe it was a personal beef with the Clintons, but really it runs much deeper."

It's hard to overstate how inconsequential our presidential elections have become.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Conceived in Liberty : How William Livingston gave the American Revolution its rationale (myron Magnet, Summer 2012, City Journal)

[H]is greatest battle concerned the founding of King's College, later Columbia, which New York's Anglicans (including the De Lanceys) wanted to establish as a sectarian institution with a royal charter. Their plan opened an old wound: in a colony only 10 percent Anglican, only the city's two Dutch churches and the Anglican Trinity Church had royal-charter protection, and Trinity alone received all the money from a 1693 tax imposed to support Protestant ministers, not specifically Episcopal ones. Now the Anglicans wanted to set up their own college with money raised from lotteries that the Assembly had authorized for the general "Advancement of Learning," with a faculty to be paid from the colony-wide excise tax. "It is a standing Maxim of English Liberty, 'that no Man shall be taxed, but with his own Consent,' " Livingston wrote. The "Money hitherto collected is public Money," the Reflector observed of the college. "When the Community is taxed, it ought to be for the Defence, or Emolument of the Whole: Can it, therefore, be supposed, that all shall contribute for the Uses, the ignominious Uses of a few?"

Moreover, as he surveyed the colonial colleges, most looked like the Yale he remembered, places less of education than of indoctrination--literally, for they were training prospective clergymen in the doctrines of their sect. But much college teaching is bound to be indoctrination, forming as well as informing, with powerful consequences. "The Principles or Doctrines implanted in the Minds of Youth," Livingston wrote, "pass from the Memory and Understanding to the heart, and at length become a second Nature." In time, they "appear on the Bench, at the Bar, in the Pulpit, and in the Senate, and unavoidably affect our civil and religious Principles." Therefore, instead of indoctrinating students with sectarian dogma, why not infuse them with "public Spirit and Love of their Country," with "Honour and Probity," and with "Zeal for Liberty," which will "make them more extensively serviceable to the Common-Wealth?"

Since the college will be so critical for the future of all New Yorkers, why not have it publicly chartered, funded, and controlled by the people's elected representatives in the Assembly? Since its graduates will in due course "fill all the Offices of the Government," public oversight will allay fears that any one sect will gain control and teach "Doctrines destructive of the Privileges of human Nature." After all, "as we are split into so great a Variety of Opinions and Professions; had each Individual his Share in the Government of the Academy, the Jealousy of all Parties combating each other, would inevitably produce a perfect Freedom for each particular Party." And to ensure further that the college won't be "a Nursery of Animosity, Dissention and Disorder," it should admit students "of all Protestant Denominations, upon a perfect Parity as to Privileges." Madison paraphrased Livingston's idea that sect countering sect protects liberty in his great Federalist 10: while a "religious sect, may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the confederacy," he wrote, "the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger" that any one faction can tyrannize over the rest.

Of all possible sectarian colleges, an Anglican one would be the worst, Livingston passionately believed, since the Church of England's 39 Articles, which the Reflector gently satirized, curb freedom of thought. "Let not the Seat of Literature, the Abode of the Muses, and the Nurse of Science; be transformed into a Cloister of Bigots, an Habitation of Superstition, a Nursery of ghostly Tyranny," Livingston pleaded. And he was deadly serious in his fear of tyranny, for he thought that High-Church Anglicans resented the Glorious Revolution of 1688--with its strictly limited monarchy, its 1689 Bill of Rights, and its Act of Toleration of Protestant dissenters--and believed instead in the divine right of kings. Only six years before the Reflector began, the Stuart pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, had tried to restore divine right before being routed on Culloden Moor, and he still had partisans among the Tories.

The college opened as an Episcopal institution in July 1754, with seven students meeting in the Trinity Church vestry. A 1756 deal split the lottery money between the college and a quarantine center for crewmen of infected ships--"between the two pest houses," William Smith, Sr., scoffed--and the college didn't shake off the stigma that the Reflector had placed on it until after the Revolution.

At its heart, the college debate was political, and it led Livingston to set forth his deepest political beliefs, the first public exposition of Lockean social-contract theory in the colonies, complete with Locke's insistence on the right to resist and depose a monarch. Journalistic and unsystematic, his half-dozen essays on the subject add up to a coherent argument that provided the Revolution's key justification. Untangled, it runs like this.

Before there was any government, nature made men free and equal and endowed them with rights. Yet people voluntarily "consented to resign that Freedom and Equality" and put themselves under "the Government and Controul of" a ruler, as "a Remedy for the Inconveniences that sprang from a State of Nature, in which . . . the Weak were a perpetual Prey to the Powerful." To "preserve to every Individual, the undisturbed Enjoyment of his Acquisitions, and the Security of his Person," men "entered into Society" and appointed magistrates or kings "to decide Controversies," investing them "with the total Power of all the Constituents, subject to the Rules and Regulations agreed upon by the original Compact, for the Good of the Community."

This was a choice of the lesser of two evils, for "Government, at best, is a Burden, tho' a necessary one. Had Man been wise from his Creation, he . . . might have enjoyed the gifts of a liberal Nature, unmolested, unrestrained. It is the Depravity of Mankind that has necessarily introduced Government; and so great is this Depravity, that without it, we could scarcely subsist," wrote Livingston, more strongly influenced by Thomas Hobbes's vision of the State of Nature as a war of all against all than even Locke was. To guard against man's inborn tendency to invade the "Person or Fortune" of his neighbor, he wrote, echoing Hobbes's understanding of psychology, we "have ceded a Part of our original Freedom, to secure to us the rest."

For Livingston, the point of this account of government's origin was that it clearly marked the limits of royal power. "Communities were formed not for the Advantage of one Man," he insisted, "but for the Good of the whole Body." Since subjects gave their king power only to defend them "in the peaceable Possession of their Rights, by punishing the Invader," only "what is injurious to the Society, or some particular Member of it, can be the proper Object of civil Punishment; because, nothing else falls within the Design of forming the Society."

Men aren't angels.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM

JD McPherson On World Cafe (World Cafe, August 22, 2012, NPR)

JD McPherson's "big break" came when he introduced himself to producer and bassist Jimmy Sutton of The Four Charms via MySpace. After receiving several of McPherson's demos, Sutton immediately recognized his talent, and the Oklahoma native moved to Chicago to begin recording with Sutton. The pair released a music video for "North Side Gal," which became a viral hit.

JD MCPHERSON PERFORMS AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR (Mary Lucia, Minnesota Public Radio and Scott Olstad, Minnesota Public Radio, August 28, 2012, The Current)

When he stopped by The Current studios in July for a performance, he had just finished traveling through 3 countries in 5 days. JD McPherson visited the MPR booth to talk with Mary Lucia and play some tunes for the crowd.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 AM

The dB's In Concert (NPR, August 31, 2012)

The recently reunited power-pop band hits the stage at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live for a set of songs spanning its career. The group's first studio release in 25 years is titled Falling Off the Sky.

September 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


The election's invisible war (Fred Hiatt, August 31, 2012, Washington Post)

Obama has commanded the war in Afghanistan with a kind of split-the-baby ambivalence. In 2009, he ordered a major ramp-up of U.S. troops while setting the date to begin their withdrawal. His motivations -- encouraging the Afghans to take ownership of the fight, managing war fatigue at home -- were understandable. But the obvious question was: If the strategic goal justifies such a commitment of U.S. lives, how can it be prudent to order a withdrawal regardless of whether the goal has been achieved?

Iraq was strategic. It worked. Afghanistan was a sideshow.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Mitt Romney's Congressional Allies Gear Up for First 100 Days (Steven T. Dennis, 8/31/12, Roll Call)

No one, however, may be more valuable to a Romney administration than Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio). He has experience in the House, knows the budget and tax issues as well as anyone outside of Ryan and has the respect of and credibility with Democrats, aides and fellow lawmakers told Roll Call.

Although Portman doesn't have a powerful chairmanship, he's trusted by his Conference, is very close to Romney and was on the nominee's very short list for vice president.
Portman told Roll Call earlier this week that he wants to stay in the Senate rather than join a Romney cabinet, suggesting that his experience would be best suited to navigating legislation through that chamber. He's already discussed the intricacies of the Senate reconciliation process with Romney.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the Romney campaign's liaison to the Senate, also has a lot of experience as the former House Majority Leader and Whip; he's a consummate dealmaker who knows how to make the trains run on time. Blunt has a keen political sense and navigated the bruising intraparty battles the last time the GOP held the House, the Senate and the presidency.
Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), a senior member of the Finance Committee who is one of the Senate's most respected leaders on budget issues, also gets mentioned as someone who will play a larger role in the chamber.

Romney has grown close to a cadre of key surrogates, many of whom are younger GOP lawmakers, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), among others.

Former Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney surrogate, said some of the younger Republicans will help push Romney's agenda beyond the obvious players chairing committees and in the leadership.
"These new and very aggressive and dynamic Senators, everybody from a Rubio to a Portman, to a Roy Blunt, and Ron Johnson" will give energy to the administration's efforts, Talent said. "There are a lot of people even thought they are new to the Senate [who] are very accomplished in getting a reform agenda done, and Rob [Portman] is one, Roy [Blunt] is another obviously; I think Rubio's hit the ground running there, and Johnson has too. There's a lot of those people."

He continued, "And then you are going to have people who have been there for a long time, and want to do things and haven't been able to do it - your Mike Crapos, people like that, and I think you'll see them stepping up to."

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said Ryan's selection also will help Romney get the ball rolling.

"You've got a lot of former House Members in the Senate now ... so he's got a lot of those guys that he's worked with, and he's close to the leadership as well," said Spicer who named Sens. John Thune (S.D.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Portman and Blunt.

"Romney already has a lot of relationships on the Hill but Ryan's got a lot of connections that will add some firepower to Hill outreach," Spicer said.

Spicer pointed to Camp as someone likely to be particularly helpful.

"If you look at the challenges that we're going to face legislatively, having the chairman of the Ways and Means committee who is committed to making things roll is a good thing," he said.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Liberal Values in the Age of Interdependence (Benjamin Barber, Spring/Summer, 2012, Logos Journal)

In taking up issues facing liberalism today, we need not focus on liberal values, because they haven't changed. They are still defined by equality, social and economic justice, democracy and democratic participation and engaged citizenship, which has been true since the inception of liberal democracy in the age of democratic revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. And as the name suggests, as liberals we continue to cherish liberty; we know however that sustaining liberty require citizenship, equal access to political power and a democratic political community - call it public liberty.

Nor need we divert ourselves with nomenclature. In speaking of liberals, I mean progressives, leftists, small-d democrats, those willing to advocate change on behalf of improving the world and who work on behalf of equality, justice and democracy. It saddens me that so many liberals are reluctant to be called liberal when the term should be a banner for effective political struggle and a fighting liberal creed.

We do need to address our altered realities, however. For liberals seem to have taken too little account of changes in capitalism, technology and the global order that impact how liberal values must be framed to be relevant to today's political struggles. Where capitalism and its political allies acknowledge automation, globalization and the new information economy (if only in order to exploit to further their political and economic interests), liberalism has remained stationery, failing to take the measure of such changes. As a consequence, a politically costly asymmetry has emerged between conservative political thinking and liberal political thinking. Liberals too often act as if we still live and organize and vote in a 19th century society of manufacturing jobs, bi-polar class struggle and independent and sovereign nation states; and in a political arena where the goal is to maintain the power of national syndicalism and enlarge the social-state and improve the conditions of our American working class without thinking about the consequence for workers elsewhere in the world.

Capitalism, and particularly the predatory elements that support a brute version of unregulated capitalism, have taken the measure of change and developed an approach to privatization, markets and the flow of labor and capital that take advantage of new conditions and thus privilege neo-liberal ideology, however unjust, as relevant and effective. The liberal reaction to globalization has been parochial, to oppose or overcome it. The neo-liberal and conservative reaction has been cosmopolitan, to embrace it.

And what was the result of liberal conservatism routing the progressives? Well, in addition to liberating the Communist world and the Middle East, Dire Poverty Falls Despite Global Slump, Report Finds (ANNIE LOWREY, March 6, 2012, CS Monitor)

A World Bank report shows a broad reduction in extreme poverty -- and indicates that the global recession, contrary to economists' expectations, did not increase poverty in the developing world.

The report shows that for the first time the proportion of people living in extreme poverty -- on less than $1.25 a day -- fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008. And the biggest recession since the Great Depression seems not to have thrown that trend off course, preliminary data from 2010 indicate.

The progress is so drastic that the world has met the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half five years before its 2015 deadline.

And what does the future hold if the triumph of conservative values endures?:  Global poverty to be virtually wiped out by 2030, claims top U.S. think tank (DAILY MAIL, 29 July 2012)
Poverty across the planet will be virtually eliminated by 2030, with a rising middle class of some two billion people pushing for more rights and demanding more resources, the chief of the top U.S. intelligence analysis shop said on Saturday.

If current trends continue, the 1 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day now will drop to half that number in roughly two decades, Christoper Kojm said.

'We see the rise of the global middle class going from one to two billion,' Kojm said, in a preview of the National Intelligence Council's global forecast offered at the Aspen Security Forum in 
Colorado. [...]

The rising middle class will have little tolerance of authoritarian regimes, combined with the economic resources and education needed to challenge them.

That Mr. Barber is right is a damning refutation of him and his ilk.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


A Breakthrough in U.S.-Indian Relations? (Bruce Riedel | August 29, 2012, National Interest)

The Indian military is close to purchasing a major American combat-weapon system for the first time in decades. Despite a history that might suggest otherwise, India is betting on American reliability as an arms supplier.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The Coming Collapse: Authoritarians in China and Russia Face an Endgame (Jackson Diehl, September/October 2012, World Affairs)

There is a broad consensus that China's growth is likely to slow, but when and at what pace is uncertain and there is no saying whether this slowdown will be smooth or not. Any sudden slowdown could unmask inefficiencies and contingent liabilities in banks, enterprises and different levels of government--heretofore hidden under the veil of rapid growth--and could precipitate a fiscal and financial crisis. The implications for social stability would be hard to predict in such a scenario.

Similarly, in late May a group of experts convened by Aleksei Kudrin, a mainstay of the Putin government for more than a decade until his resignation last year, issued a report declaring that "research shows that the crisis" in the Russian economy and political system "has become irreversible, regardless of the scenarios of its further development. Maintaining political stability, let alone a return to the pre-crisis status quo, is no longer possible." In a press conference, Kudrin said there was a fifty-percent chance that Russia was headed for a recession that would produce a political breakdown and a change of government.

Despite such auguries, the Obama administration continues to pursue a policy toward both Russia and China that assumes that the existing power structures will continue indefinitely. Its primary aim is to "engage" the top leaders on a transactional basis--a strategy that, for Obama, has become a quasi-ideology in foreign policy. Thus did he welcome Xi to Washington in February with talks that focused on economic issues and geopolitical cooperation--and ignored the incipient domestic political turmoil in China that had prompted a senior police official from the city of Chongqing to seek asylum in a US consulate days earlier, in a development that would soon become a full-blown leadership crisis.

After Putin's controversial election as president in March, Obama, overlooking the growing street protests in Moscow, invited him to an early meeting at Camp David (which Putin later cancelled) and dispatched National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon to Putin's dacha outside Moscow to deliver what a Russian official described as "a multi-page detailed document, whose main message is that Obama is ready to cooperate with Putin."

While critiquing these advances, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign also appeared unprepared for the possibility of upheaval in Russia or China. 

It is equally horrifying for Left and Right that the End of History is real, for the Left because their self-hatred turns out to have been misplaced and for Right because there's no one left to hate.  
Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


How leaping into bed harms relationships : Study backs what mother always said; when it comes to sex it's best to wait (ROGER DOBSON, 02 SEPTEMBER 2012, Independent)

Religion and science don't normally make for happy bedfellows, especially when it comes to sex. But now, it seems, they're in total agreement. A study into the effects of having sex before marriage suggests it's much better not to. Those who abstain during their courtship or build up a gradual sexual relationship, rather than leaping into bed on the first date, are more likely to have happier and longer relationships.

The researchers who carried out the study, the first of its kind, say that early sexual satisfaction may stunt the development of other key ingredients of healthy relationships, such as commitment, caring, understanding and shared values. "Precocious premarital sexual activities may have lasting effects on relationship quality," they say. "Courtship is a time for exploration and decision-making about the relationship, when partners assess compatibility, make commitments and build on emotional and physical intimacy."

Almost 50 years since the sexual revolution, which began, according to Philip Larkin, in 1963, the evidence suggests an open-legs policy is not so rewarding after all. "The postponement of sexual involvement is associated with higher levels of relationship quality," say the researchers from Cornell University. "Women who deferred sexual involvement for over six months reported significantly higher levels of relationship satisfaction, commitment, intimacy and emotional support, as well as sexual satisfaction with their partner, than did those who became sexually involved within the first month."

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


LANCE ARMSTRONG'S SECRET IS OUT : The news leaks about The Secret Race have vastly undersold its importance. Tyler Hamilton's book is a historic, definitive indictment of cycling's culture of doping during the Armstrong era. (CHRISTOPHER KEYES, September 2012, Outside)

 It's hard to describe the impact of The Secret Race by boiling it down to seven or eight shocking anecdotes. The book delivers them--make no mistake--but its real power comes from Hamilton's unprecedented attempt at full disclosure. And I mean full. The book is the holy grail for disillusioned cycling fans in search of answers. In a taut 268 pages, Hamilton confidently and systematically destroys any sense that there was ever any chance of cleaning up cycling in the early 2000s, revealing the sport's powerful and elaborate doping infrastructure. He's like a retiring magician who has decided to let the public in on the profession's most guarded techniques.

Beginning with his first doping experiences as a member of the U.S Postal Service team in 1997, Hamilton reveals not only what he and other riders were doing and taking (EPO, steroids, testosterone, Actovegin, blood transfusions, and on and on), but also how they were taking it (in the case of EPO, intravenously--and Hamilton has the scar to prove it). He tells us how most riders evaded detection (one trick: French laws bar testers from showing up between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M., so cyclists "microdosed" EPO at ten and the drug was gone by morning) and how the game was rigged in a way that made testing nearly irrelevant ("If you were careful and paid attention," writes Hamilton, "you could dope and be 99 percent certain that you would not get caught"). Supporters still clinging to the claim that Armstrong passed more than 500 drug controls will be shocked to learn how insignificant those tests really were.

Not that all this doping and evading was a cinch. Hamilton describes the exhausting deceptions and logistics required to obtain the drugs, hide the drugs, store the blood bags, schedule the dosing--the hundreds of details necessary to maintain the high-40s hematocrit level that keeps a racer competitive on the course and safe in the control room. At times the evasive measures sound like techniques from a cheap spy novel. There are disguises, prepaid cell phones, clandestine meet-ups in random hotel rooms, and lots and lots of code names, including "red eggs" (testosterone pills), "Edgar" (EPO), and "oil" (testosterone drops). At one point, Hamilton get a text from his doctor on his prepaid phone during a Tour de France rest day: "The restaurant is 167 miles away." Translation: Meet me in room 167 for your blood transfusion.

The drugs are everywhere, and as Hamilton explains, Armstrong was not just another cyclist caught in the middle of an established drug culture--he was a pioneer pushing into uncharted territory. In this sense, the book destroys another myth: that everyone was doing it, so Armstrong was, in a weird way, just competing on a level playing field. There was no level playing field. With his connections to Michele Ferrari, the best dishonest doctor in the business, Armstrong was always "two years ahead of what everybody else was doing," Hamilton writes. Even on the Postal squad there was a pecking order. Armstrong got the superior treatments.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


The Shock of the New (MARTIN AMIS, 9/01/12, NY Times)

In the official version, though, Alex is afforded full redemption. He simply -- and bathetically -- "outgrows" the atavisms of youth, and starts itching to get married and settle down; and he carries around with him a photo of "a baby gurgling goo goo goo." We are asked to accept that Alex has turned all soft and broody -- at the age of 18.

It feels like a startling loss of nerve on Burgess' part, or a recrudescence (we recall that he was an Augustinian Catholic) of self-punitive guilt. Horrified by its own transgressive energy, the novel submits to a Reclamation Treatment sternly supplied by its author. Burgess knew something was wrong: "a work too didactic to be artistic," he half-conceded, "pure art dragged into the arena of morality." And he shouldn't have worried: Alex may be a teenager, but readers are grown-ups, and are perfectly at peace with the unregenerate. Besides, "A Clockwork Orange" is in essence a black comedy. Confronted by evil, comedy feels no need to punish or correct. It answers with corrosive laughter.

In his 1973 book on Joyce, "Joysprick," Burgess made a provocative distinction between what he calls the "A" novelist and the "B" novelist: the A novelist is interested in plot, character and psychological insight, whereas the B novelist is interested, above all, in the play of words. The most famous B novel is "Finnegans Wake," which Nabokov aptly described as "a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room." The B novel, as a genre, is now utterly defunct; and "A Clockwork Orange" may be its only long-term survivor. It is a book that can still be read with steady pleasure, continuous amusement and -- at times -- incredulous admiration. Anthony Burgess, then, is not "a minor B novelist," as he described himself; he is the only B novelist. I think he would have settled for that.

Except, of course, that if Ludovico's Technique doesn't work then the central philosophical question of the entire novel is removed and all that remains is some violence and obscure dialect.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


At Paralympics, First Thing Judged Is Disability (SARAH LYALL, 9/02/12, NY Times)

Paralympians have to be assessed by international classifiers before arriving at the Games. But, said Peter van der Vliet, the International Paralympic Committee's chief medical classifier, some 245 athletes here have been deemed borderline -- hovering between one grade and another -- and have been reassessed at the Games. Forty have been moved to different classifications, and eight athletes (in track and field, swimming and judo) have been ruled ineligible and sent home because, he said, they did not meet "the minimal disability criterion."

The classification process is multifaceted and different for each sport. Riders in international equestrian events are observed riding in competition. They also have to undergo face-to-face medical evaluations from two international classifiers, involving a range of movements that tests for strength, coordination and flexibility. The exercises can be as straightforward as touching a finger and thumb together, moving the shoulder, or placing a heel in set spots on the ground.

"They seem like simple tasks," said Dawson, "but when I started doing them I was like, 'Oh, my life -- this is so difficult.' "

The system is meant to focus on the athletes' physical abilities and on the limitations their disabilities impose, not on their riding prowess. But it can anger competitors who believe that they are being forced to compete against people who are less disabled than they are.

"People will say, 'You shouldn't be in grade 1A -- you ride so well,' " said Donna Ponessa, a rider on the United States team. She has multiple sclerosis and is paralyzed from the chest down. She uses a wheelchair and a ventilator, except when she rides. "But I've given up a year and a half of my life for the Olympics," she said -- time almost entirely spent riding, exercising at the gym or working.

Riders with fluctuating conditions like multiple sclerosis are frequently re-evaluated, and athletes unhappy with their classifications can appeal.

"There are two reasons for this," Mr. van der Vliet said. "First, it's a fundamental right that if an athlete believes a wrong decision is taken, he has a right to protest. And with some athletes their default mode is that they will challenge a decision any time they can when they are not in agreement with it." their results in the event?

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


The Woman Who Would Save Football : Dr. Ann McKee has been accused of trying to kill the sport she loves, but she may be its only hope (Jane Leavy, August 17, 2012, Grantland)

"I'm a Cheesehead," McKee says.

This explains the framed 1968 Green Bay Packers yearbook and the January 22, 1969, cover of Sports Illustrated with Jerry Kramer cradling Vince Lombardi in his arms. Her pooches at home wear Green Bay Packers dog tags. Within reach of her desk, she has a roster of empty-headed bobbleheads -- Brett Favre in green-and-gold, in white-and-green, in purple-and-white; and Aaron Rodgers, Favre's estimable successor in the huddle and in her affections. And a hero of another kind of artistry -- a ringer in street clothes named Vincent van Gogh.

Every football Sunday, she parks herself in front of the TV in her authentic Packers foam Cheesehead ($17.95 at and Rodgers's no. 12 jersey and prays that none of the men on the field end up on a dissection table. To date, she has found ravages of CTE, the neurodegenerative brain disease that has become her life's work, in over 70 athletes, nearly 80 percent of those she has examined. Among them: 18 of the 19 NFL players she has autopsied; three NHL enforcers; and a boy just 17 years old. McKee, who received $1 million in funding from the VA as well as a home for her lab, has also documented evidence of CTE in combat veterans exposed to roadside bombs.1

"The coolest thing about Ann is she spends all day doing autopsies on NFL players and can't wait for the weekend to put on her Packer sweatshirt and climb into bed with a big bag of popcorn and a beer," says Gay Culverhouse, former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who now advocates on behalf of former players.

"Well, I don't usually do it in my bed," McKee says.

The Packers' loss to the Giants in the playoffs was a blow, but also an opportunity to work. By Super Bowl Sunday, she had recovered sufficient equilibrium to host a family party. She wore her Cheesehead -- and even volunteered to send me a photograph. "I love it -- I love football," she says, her face falling like the pocket collapsing around her favorite quarterback. "I'd like to put everything I know about it in another room when I'm watching it. But it's hard to do it through the whole game. I have enormous admiration for the physical athleticism and ability. It's strategic but requires skill that most people don't have. I get extremely caught up in it. At the end of the game I think, How could I watch this?"

The day America gave itself to Super Bowl XLVI feels as long ago as the Roman Empire. Since then?

March 2: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces the findings of an investigation into bounty hunting by the New Orleans Saints, a system -- football's favorite word -- organized by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

March 21: Goodell suspends Williams as well as Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton.

April 4: A tape recording of Williams's pregame exhortation is released: "Kill the head, the body will die." (Those pregame, pep talk fighting words sicken Perfetto. "I've seen what happens when the brain is killed," she told me a month before her husband's death. "It is a long, agonizing journey for that body to die.")

April 19: Ray Easterling, former Falcons safety, commits suicide. He and his wife were lead plaintiffs in the first class action suit filed against the NFL, in August 2011, seeking damages for seven former players. A year later, there are approximately 113 suits pending, involving more than 3,000 players, which have been consolidated into a master complaint in federal district court in Philadelphia. This class action suit charges the NFL and official helmet maker Riddell with negligence and hiding information linking football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries.2

April 30: Headstrong, an Off-Broadway play about a former NFL player living with post-concussion syndrome, premieres.

May 2: Goodell suspends four Saints players, including Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee who has advocated for independent neurologists to be on the sidelines. That same day, Junior Seau, a future Hall of Famer who did not have a diagnosed history of concussions, was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest -- the same awful methodology Dave Duerson chose when he killed himself, leaving a suicide note asking that his brain be left in care of Ann McKee and her team. The findings of CTE in Duerson's brain were released on May 2, 2011.

June 13: Pop Warner football, which registered more than 285,000 children ages 5-15 to play in 2011, bans head-to-head hits and limits contact in practice to 40 minutes a day.
That night, Terry Bradshaw, the former Steelers quarterback who now receives treatment for short-term memory loss at the Amen Clinic in Newport Beach, California, told Jay Leno: "In the next decade, we will not see football as it is."

It is a measure of the sea change in public perception that Junior Seau was immediately popularly diagnosed with CTE, despite the existence of personal problems that might have played a role in the suicide. On July 12, his family announced that part of his brain tissue had been donated to the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for study. Two weeks later, Goodell announced the creation of NFL Total Wellness, a new program of mental health benefits, including Life Line, a free telephone service staffed by mental health professionals and suicide prevention experts. The next day the medical examiner in Richmond, Virginia, confirmed a diagnosis of CTE in Easterling's brain.

The potential cost of employment in McKee's favorite sport is never far from her mind. She reaches for Green Bay Brett and flicks his molded-plastic noggin with her finger. The oversize head bobbles and wags, lurching back and forth on its spring like a kid trying out a pogo stick. Only the smirk on his prefab mug remains fixed.

"Get the irony?" she says.

Over the last four years, McKee has become the most visible member of a cohort of research scientists and family members -- wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the dead, dying, and demented -- who have forced the issue of chronic brain trauma into the forefront of American consciousness. The process has engendered enormous publicity as well as criticism and jealousy in the scientific community, which is every bit as competitive as the NFL. Her work has brought "a great deal of acclaim, exposure, and recognition," says neurosurgeon Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University and co-director of CSTE. "But at the same time it's brought a great deal of pressure. Not everybody greets her findings with the same degree of enthusiasm."

War-painted denizens of the upper deck may view her as The Woman Trying To Destroy Football. In fact, she is The Woman Trying To Save Football From Itself. The process has engendered a particular intimacy with those who entrust their loved ones to her posthumous care. Virginia Grimsley, whose husband, John, was the first NFL player diagnosed by McKee, says, "He's in good hands with her. They're all in good hands with her.

"If Joe Six-Pack was as educated as the wives that have gone through this and as Dr. McKee, Joe Six-Pack would sit down, shut up, and continue to drink his six-pack," Grimsley says. "She's not trying to destroy football."

McKee says: "I'm just trying to tell football what I see."
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September 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Perhaps when you are 6' 6', 300 lbs and your Dad is your high school football coach you are simply fated to attempt a pro football career. The newest King Arthur Flour employee, Brian Barthelmes, followed that path, foreordained or not, to four years of Division I football at the University of Virginia and then to the New England Patriots.

Then again, maybe when you find yourself on the margins of the pros for a few years-being released at the end of camp and then signed to the taxi squad-and realize you're getting more enjoyment out of teaching Junior Seau and Tedy Bruschi to play guitar and ukele than out of putting on your pads next to them, the fates have a different course in mind for you. Certainly, Brian found some inner peace, and a wholly new personal drive, when he accepted one last cut from Bill Belichick along with the coach's advice to figure out what he really wanted to do. That something was to walk away from a game he was ambivalent about anyway and to pursue a career as a musician instead.

It was unquestionably a fortuitous turn of events that saw Brian meet up with Scott Thompson in a Providence bar one night in 2007. By then the former offensive lineman had turned the bedroom of his apartment into an ersatz studio and was picking away at guitar and banjo, writing and recording his own songs. Thompson, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, was a guitar player with a shared interest in making music and the two began playing together in the early morning hours.

Their collaboration evolved into the band Tallahassee when they added one of Thompson's fellow students, Shawn Carney, on bass and then drummer Matt Raskopf. An EP and a full length album, "Wolfe Moon" (2009), were followed by  "Jealous Hands"  in 2011 and the indie music world really started taking notice.  My Old Kentucky Blog gushed , "this country-folk quartet have found a musical crossroads lying somewhere between The Avett Brothers, Iron and Wine, Alabama and themselves. The song Jealous Hands is a heart-stopping standout; a lush, halting, carnivalesque dirge whose lonely, spooky tone is outweighed by the all-encompassing, homey-warmth of Barthelmes' comforting croon." The Sound and the Fury named it one of  their top 20 albums of 2011].  In Your Speakers enthused, "Throughout the album, Barthelmes' vocals thrive. The songs themselves are populated with a wealth of folk-instruments masterfully mixed (guitar, banjo, resonator, mandolin, upright bass, keys), which sets the stage for Barthelmes pitch perfect vocals (somewhere between Tindersticks' Stuart Staples and Iron & Wine's Samuel Beam)." And all three reviewers at  The Round Table gave it a thumbs up .  Topping it off, they were invited to do a Daytrotter Session

Meanwhile, Brian's previous career makes an irresistible hook for stories and has led to appearances on NPR's Only a Game  and write-ups in places like the Providence Phoenix and ESPN Boston. But one thing stands out in all the posts and profiles, while the football past lures them in, it's the quality of the musical present that really grabs their attention.

This burgeoning success convinced the band members that they have a real shot at the brass ring and they decided that a full commitment to the music meant they all had to reduce their living expenses. So when Brian's wife had an interview for a job at Dartmouth, and the couple got a glimpse of the Upper Valley, they decided to make the move North.

Brian had been doing social work but felt like he needed a change of pace and something not quite so emotionally intense. He applied to a couple of companies whose products he liked and was hired by King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT. The warehouse job provides him the sort of physical workout he hadn't been getting for the past several years-replenishers walk about 12 miles a day-and, thanks to the flexibility of supervisors Ryan Boynton and Robin Royce, a schedule that will allow him to continue touring and working on the band's third album.

Given the band members' backgrounds and Brian's own love of drawing it should come as no surprise that their website- -is a work of art. It also includes a generous helping of their music for listening and download. Visit because you're curious about the singing offensive lineman, but be prepared to stay because you will love the music.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


The Obama Delusion, Explained : Making excuses for the president.(ANDREW FERGUSON, 9/10/12, Weekly Standard)

Conservatives who consider Obama a thinly disguised Leninist will be surprised that liberals have grown disenchanted with their onetime hero. But you can't underestimate the naïveté and ignorance that inflated the bubble of the Obama Delusion--how fragile it was, how vulnerable to the first pinprick of reality. It turns out they really did expect a "transformative" presidency that would move us beyond left and right. They meant it! And in this childish belief they were encouraged by their candidate, who might have meant it too, for the same reasons. Obama's admiration for Barack Obama, after all, was even greater than theirs, and his ignorance of the messy practical realities of self-government almost as complete. 

By now, Fallows writes, "there is plenty of evidence about the things Obama and his team cannot do." These include managing the various crises in the Middle East, overcoming the culture wars, and restoring the economy to the full bloom of health. The author might have added several more items: writing a budget for the federal government, let's say, or containing health care costs, or reducing, rather than enlarging, the federal debt. .  .  . I'm sure you can come up with a few items of your own. Even balanced with what Fallows insists are Obama's successes--installing Obama-care, withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, "encouraging the Arab Spring" (?), managing relations with China--the executive tasks that were beyond Obama's competence should be enough to declare a mostly failed presidency. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Party of Strivers (DAVID BROOKS, 8/31/12, NY Times)

Speaker after speaker at the convention in Tampa, Fla., celebrated the striver, who started small, struggled hard, looked within and became wealthy. Speaker after speaker argued that this ideal of success is under assault by Democrats who look down on strivers, who undermine self-reliance with government dependency, who smother ambition under regulations.

Republicans promised to get government out of the way. Reduce the burden of debt. Offer Americans an open field and a fair chance to let their ambition run.

If you believe, as I do, that American institutions are hitting a creaky middle age, then you have a lot of time for this argument. If you believe that there has been a hardening of the national arteries caused by a labyrinthine tax code, an unsustainable Medicare program and a suicidal addiction to deficits, then you appreciate this streamlining agenda, even if you don't buy into the whole Ayn Rand-influenced gospel of wealth.

On the one hand, you see the Republicans taking the initiative, offering rejuvenating reform. On the other hand, you see an exhausted Democratic Party, which says: We don't have an agenda, but we really don't like theirs. Given these options, the choice is pretty clear.

But there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism. There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions. [...]

The wisest speech departed from the prevailing story line. It was delivered by Condoleezza Rice. It echoed an older, less libertarian conservatism, which harkens back to Washington, Tocqueville and Lincoln. The powerful words in her speech were not "I" and "me" -- the heroic individual. They were "we" and "us" -- citizens who emerge out of and exist as participants in a great national project.

Rice celebrated material striving but also larger national goals -- the long national struggle to extend benefits and mobilize all human potential. She subtly emphasized how our individual destinies are dependent upon the social fabric and upon public institutions like schools, just laws and our mission in the world. She put less emphasis on commerce and more on citizenship.

Which is why the sooner the Party stops nattering about repealing Obamacare and starts talking about how we'll reform it--to make it more market oriented--and extending it--so that it is truly universal--the easier it will make governing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


The Long Strange Trip of Dock Ellis (Patrick Hruby, ESPN)

In 1970, the Reds swept the Pirates for the National League pennant. Two years later, Cincinnati won again, knocking defending World Series champion Pittsburgh out of the postseason. Three months after that, Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente -- future Hall of Famer, team leader, civic icon, a father figure to Ellis -- died in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico. Heartbreak ensued. The Pirates fell into a deep and lasting funk. Ellis coped with the pain the only way he knew how: by getting angry. He fumed over the Reds' talking smack from their dugout in the waning moments of the '72 NLCS. He fumed over his teammates' subsequently being all too eager to laugh and josh with their rivals. Cincinnati used to be scared of Pittsburgh. Now, it was the other way around.

And so, on May 1, 1974, a cool evening, Reds at Pirates, Pete Rose crouched at the plate to lead off.

Third pitch, Ellis hit Rose in the side.

Fourth pitch, Ellis drilled Joe Morgan in the kidney.

Sixth pitch, Ellis nailed Dan Driessen in the back.

Tony Perez dodged four pitches, earning a walk. Ellis tried to hit Johnny Bench in the head. Twice.

Finally, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh walked to the mound. "What's wrong?" he asked, deadpan. "Can't find the plate?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Obama's new challenge: Disappointment (JONATHAN ALLEN | 9/1/12, Politico)

You can hammer Obama on health care. Mock his golf outings. Demand to see his birth certificate and Harvard transcript, and call him a European socialist bent on turning the American Dream into a Belgian nightmare. He'll throw his head back and laugh at you like a Bond villain.

But tell voters he's not the man America fell in love with in 2008 -- and pine, however disingenuously, about his unfulfilled potential -- and a shiver runs through his Chicago campaign headquarters.

They must look like the Shackleton Expedition at this point.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Liberal Education as Problem Identification: The Case of Elections (Peter Lawler, August 31, 2012, Big Think)

One feature of democracy that we're thinking a lot about these days is elections.  The giants of political philosophy don't agree on how to think about elections,  but they tend to agree that they are both beneficial and dangerous to democracy.  But with all their problems, we democrats these days could hardly do without elections.

Harvey Mansfield, quite the relevant political philosopher, gives us a quick primer on how a freshman reading list in political philosophy can get anyone up to speed on the various identifiable features of the problem of elections.  You'll have to read his whole (brief) article to really learn something.  But for those whose learning style is PowerPoint or TED lecture or blog post, I will reduce each of the six philosophers to a single proposition (also known as bullet point).

One of the signal geniuses of democracy, and the reason that the Right's partisan hysteria about President Obama is so malignant, is that elections make us complicit in our own governance.  There is no reason to expect better of the Left, but conservatives have a moral obligation to remember that any duly elected government is a "we," not a "them."  

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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


How Fed stimulus earns a profit for taxpayers (Annalyn Censky, September 1, 2012, Money)

The Fed then earns interest on the Treasuries it holds, and while interest rates are very low, the sheer mass of bonds the Fed holds nevertheless makes for quite a windfall.

The Fed earned a $77.4 billion profit last year, and of that, most was from interest payments. The year before, it earned $81.7 billion, and in 2009, it earned $53.4 billion.

That's up significantly from the pre-crisis years, when the Fed had a much smaller portfolio, with far fewer bonds. In 2007, it earned $38 billion.

After paying some of its own administrative expenses, the Fed turns most of those profits over to Treasury, which can use them to pay government bills.

So indeed, quantitative easing reduces the deficit and debt - but remember, the impact is just a drop in the bucket, when it comes to the $15 trillion national debt.

Note that the Fed might be holding down the deficit through two other channels: Simply by keeping interest rates low, it makes it cheaper for the U.S. government to borrow. Second, if the Fed's policies are working to boost the economy, they are also probably boosting tax revenue for the government.

His pledge to replace Mr. Bernanke is among Mitt's worst purely political moves.  Fortunately, he isn't serious.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Brutality, anger fuel jihad in Russia's Caucasus (Alissa de Carbonnel, Aug 31, 2012, Reuters)

Throughout the 12 years since Vladimir Putin rose to power and crushed a Chechen separatist revolt, Russia has battled a simmering insurgency across its mainly Muslim Caucasus mountain lands: Chechyna and its neighbors Ingushetia and Dagestan.

With Putin back in the Kremlin after a four year hiatus as prime minister, he has tried to end the violence by emphasizing the unity of Russia, providing backing for mainstream clerics and cracking down hard on religious radicalism.

But the formula seems to be failing here, driving communities further into the embrace of radical religion, and sending more young men into the mountains to take up arms.

In the first half of 2012 alone, the Caucasian Knot website recorded 185 insurgency-related deaths and 168 wounded, making Dagestan one of the deadliest places in Europe. The number of men seized by security forces as suspected militants so far this year, tracked by Russia's leading rights group Memorial, has already exceeded last year's total.

And the violence has begun spreading beyond the Caucasus to other parts of the country, like Tatarstan, long a peaceful area on the Volga river in Russia's European heartland.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


The Man in the Empty Chair (LAWRENCE DOWNES, 9/01/12, NY Times)

Who thinks Clint Eastwood did a fine job?

I do.

Go ahead and snicker about how last night's eagerly awaited surprise convention speech by a Hollywood legend turned out to be an 11-minute ramble by a rumple-haired guy, 82 years old, talking without notes to an imaginary Barack Obama in an empty chair.

An imaginary Barack who tells Mr. Eastwood several times to shut up, then tells him and Mitt Romney to do an unspeakable thing to themselves.

Yes, it was very unexpected. But memorable! And the perfect distillation of the Republican campaign.

Personally, I'd have just hung a blue suit on a coat rack....
Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Everything You Think You Know About China Is Wrong : Are we obsessing about its rise when we should be worried about its fall? (MINXIN PEI, AUGUST 29, 2012, Foreign Policy)

The disconnect between the brewing troubles in China and the seemingly unshakable perception of Chinese strength persists even though the U.S. media accurately cover China, in particular the country's inner fragilities. One explanation for this disconnect is that elites and ordinary Americans remain poorly informed about China and the nature of its economic challenges in the coming decades. The current economic slowdown in Beijing is neither cyclical nor the result of weak external demand for Chinese goods. China's economic ills are far more deeply rooted: an overbearing state squandering capital and squeezing out the private sector, systemic inefficiency and lack of innovation, a rapacious ruling elite interested solely in self-enrichment and the perpetuation of its privileges, a woefully underdeveloped financial sector, and mounting ecological and demographic pressures. Yet even for those who follow China, the prevailing wisdom is that though China has entered a rough patch, its fundamentals remain strong.

Americans' domestic perceptions influence how they see their rivals. It is no coincidence that the period in the 1970s and late 1980s when Americans missed signs of rivals' decline corresponded with intense dissatisfaction with U.S. performance (President Jimmy Carter's 1979 "malaise speech," for example). Today, a China whose growth rate is falling from 10 to 8 percent a year (for now) looks pretty good in comparison with an America where annual growth languishes at below 2 percent and unemployment stays above 8 percent. In the eyes of many Americans, things may be bad over there, but they are much worse here.

Much of the misperception must be just a function of the persistence of the Yellow Menace meme.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


The Woman Who Needed to Be Upside-Down : A doctor is baffled: Why did a 
giant man walk into the ER holding 
a tiny woman by her feet? (Louis F. Janeira, July-August, Discovery)

The emergency room was busy that afternoon. I had just started my shift and was making my way through a scrum of frantic doctors, nurses, and orderlies when I heard yelling coming from the ambulance bay entrance.

"Put her down now!" I recognized the stern voice of Herb, one of our security guards.

"Get a stretcher, stat," said Ellie, the head nurse.

"You're hurting her," a woman yelled.

I ran to the ambulance bay, rounded a corner, and saw a huge man, seven-foot-something, holding a petite woman, maybe five feet tall, by her feet, her head dangling down. "I have to hold her this way," the man insisted.

"I'm fine," said the woman through her dangling long black hair. "I feel OK now."

Herb grabbed at the man's muscular arms, attempting to free the woman.

"This is my wife," the giant shouted. "Let go of me." He glared at Herb, who kept pulling at his biceps and wrists. A large group of ER personnel was now watching them from a distance.

"Let's everybody take a deep breath here," I said. "What's your name, sir?"

Herb released his grip on the man and took a step back.

"Jason," he said, more calmly now.

"Okay, Jason," I said. "Why are you carrying your wife by her feet?"

"Hi, Dr. Janeira," said the upside-down woman. "Remember me?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Gloria Romero: The Trials of a Democratic Reformer : In California's capital, union officials 'walk around like they're God.' This pro-labor former legislator wants to bring them back to earth. (ALLYSIA FINLEY, 9/01/12, WSJ)

Former Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson once referred to Sacramento as a "cowtown," but Gloria Romero, a pro-labor Democrat who served as California's Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2008, takes exception to the belittling description. The capitol building in Sacramento, she says, has "the eighth most powerful economy in the world under that dome," and it operates not unlike other wealthy kleptocracies. "There's no other way to say it politely. It's owned."

Topping the list of proprietors is the California Teachers Association, which she calls the most muscular union and political player in the state. Then there are the unions for nurses, prison guards, firefighters and police. Call them California's "deep state."

Ms. Romero now heads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, a large tent of liberals who are as diverse as an Occupy encampment but united by a common desire to improve accountability in public schools. The group supports Democratic school reformers running for political office and promotes legislation that toughens standards.

But before taking up her current charge, Ms. Romero served a dozen years in the legislature, where she was known for trying to clean up the capital's cronyism and corruption.

It wasn't exactly glamorous work, but it was eye-opening. "I've sat in all of those backroom meetings," she says. "That thing, if walls could talk, well think of me as a wall, and I'm talking. I've had it."

And talk she does, reflecting on how public unions have run (and overrun) the statehouse and how disgruntled, reform-hungry citizens like herself can take it back. 
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