November 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


French mouths water with the return of Burger King (FRANCE 24, 11/29/12)

The US fast food chain's imminent return after it quit the country in 1997, citing the brand's poor commercial performance, has been the subject of intense and repeated rumours for years.

And the confirmation on Thursday that the iconic Whopper sandwich was on its way back immediately triggered an avalanche of enthusiasm on the Internet.

By lunchtime on Thursday the hashtag #BurgerKing was "trending" as second most popular on Twitter France.

Some Twitter users were disappointed, however, that the chain will only be opening two restaurants - one at Marseille's Provence Airport and the other at a motorway service station near Reims in the Champagne region - at least initially.

No one eats French food voluntarily.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Actually, conservatives should favor even fewer people paying income tax (Reihan Salam, SEPTEMBER 20, 2012, Reuters)

[R]epublicans, Mitt Romney included, should give serious consideration to Michael Graetz's Competitive Tax Plan (CTP).

Conservatives hate the idea of new taxes. But imagine if every time you bought a cup of coffee, it said on the receipt that you had also just paid a 12.3 percent consumption tax to the federal government. Instead of paying your taxes once a year, you would pay taxes every time you made a purchase. What better way to remind people of all of the money government spends, and all of the money government spends foolishly, than to make them pay for government several times a day?

That's not all. Imagine also that the federal income tax only applied to income over $100,000 for married couples, $50,000 for single filers, and $75,000 for head of household filers. Households that earn less than this "family allowance" would be under no obligation to file a federal income tax return. In that case, the 12.3 percent consumption tax would pay for liberating millions of Americans from the IRS. According to a recent analysis from the Tax Policy Center, the tax policy rules in effect today will require 147,540,000 tax units to file taxes in 2015. Under Graetz's CTP, that number would fall to 36,625,000.

Even those poor souls who still have to file under the CTP will benefit, paying a much-reduced federal income tax at a basic rate of 16 percent and a surtax rate of 25.5 percent on income above $200,000. These low marginal tax rates would improve work incentives for high earners far more than Mitt Romney's proposed tax cut and would be an even bigger improvement relative to President Obama's proposed tax increase for the top 2 percent of households. And though the CTP wouldn't completely eliminate taxes on savings and investment, it dramatically lowers them, particularly for families of modest means.

One concern is that even with this radical shrinking of the income tax, poor families that spend the bulk of their income would pay more under a consumption tax. That is why the CTP includes a generous per-worker and per-child rebate that would be used to offset payroll taxes. These rebates would also serve as a replacement for the earned-income tax credit, which is the chief reason tens of millions of low-income households have to go through the hassle of filing income tax returns. The end result is that the tax burden under the CTP would be exactly as progressive as it is under today's tax rules.

The CTP would strike a blow against the IRS's intrusiveness, a cause all conservatives should cheer. And as Graetz explained to me, "by eliminating millions of people from the income tax, you'll never get them back." Once the inflation-indexed exemption is raised, "you'll never get a politician to agree to lower the exemption from $100,000." It has many other benefits as well. For example, while Mitt Romney has called for a 25 percent corporate tax rate and President Obama has called for a 28 percent rate, the CTP cuts the corporate rate to 15 percent. In one fell swoop, this would make the U.S. a far more attractive destination for foreign investment, reduce tax avoidance and be conducive to economic growth.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Why Republicans Should Back Universal Health Care (Regina Herzlinger,  APR 13 2009, Atlantic)

[R]epublicans could instead offer a consumer-controlled universal coverage system, like that in Switzerland, in which the people, not the government, control how much they spend on health. There are no government health insurance programs. Instead, the Swiss choose from about 85 private heath insurers. Rather than being stuffed into the degrading Medicaid program, the Swiss poor shop for health insurance like everyone else, using funds transferred to them by the government. The sick are not discriminated against either -- they pay the same prices as everyone else in their demographic category. Like the US, Switzerland is a confederation of states that, as in the US, oversee the insurance system. Enforcement by the tax authorities has produced 99 percent enrollment.

This consumer-driven, universal coverage system provides excellent health care for the sick, tops the world in consumer satisfaction, and costs 40 percent less, as a percentage of GDP, than the system in the US. The Swiss could spend even less by choosing cheaper, high deductible health insurance policies, but they have opted against doing so. Swiss consumers reward insurers that offer the best value for the money. These competitive pressures cause Swiss insurers to spend only about 5 percent on general and administrative expenses, as compared to 12-15 percent in the US. And unlike Medicare, the private Swiss firms must function without incurring massive unfunded liabilities. Competition has also pushed Swiss providers to be more efficient than those in the US. Yet they remain well-compensated. 

We can also learn from the mistakes made by the Swiss. For example, they pay providers for fragmented care, rather than for integrated treatments for diseases or disabilities. The Swiss sustain an inefficient hospital sector, and they aren't transparent about the cost and quality of providers. 

Republicans could enact Swiss-style universal coverage by enabling employees to cash out of their employer-sponsored health insurance. (Although many view employer-sponsored health insurance as a" free" benefit, it is money that would otherwise be paid as income.) The substantial sums involved would command attention and gratitude: a 2006 cash out would have yielded $12,000 -- the average cost of employer-sponsored health insurance -- thus raising the income of joint filers who earn less than $73,000 (90 percent of all filers) by at least 16 percent. Employees could remain in with an employer's plan or use this new income to buy their own health insurance. 

November 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Like it or not, the state of Palestine is semi-officially on the map (RAPHAEL AHREN, November 30, 2012, Times of Israel)

On Thursday night, the world made much more than just a symbolic gesture. In recognizing Palestine as a nonmember observer state at the UN General Assembly -- the same status as The Vatican -- disregarding Israeli and American warnings that such a step was premature and would impede the resumption of peace talks, the overwhelming majority of nations sent an unambiguous message to Jerusalem: we want a Palestinian state and we're tired of your obstinacy in preventing it.

Sixty-five years after the United Nations decided to divide British Mandate Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, and nearly 20 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, even many of Israel's friends and allies have grown tired of what they perceive as the government's lack of initiative and good intentions when it comes the future of this region. If you want us to say no to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's initiative, then offer us something that we can say yes to, Western diplomats are saying.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Combating Inequality May Require Broader Tax (EDUARDO PORTER, 11/28/12, NY Times)

Many Americans may find this hard to believe, but the United States already has one of the most progressive tax systems in the developed world, according to several studies, raising proportionately more revenue from the wealthy than other advanced countries do. Taxes on American households do more to redistribute resources and reduce inequality than the tax codes of most other rich nations.

But taxation provides only half the picture of public finance. Despite the progressivity of our taxes, according to a study of public finances across the industrial countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we also have one of the least effective governments at combating income inequality. There is one main reason: our tax code does not raise enough money.

This paradox underscores two crucial lessons we could learn from the experience of our peers around the globe. The first is that the government's success at combating income inequality is determined less by the progressivity of either the tax code or the benefits than by the amount of tax revenue that the government can spend on programs that benefit the middle class and the poor.

The second is that very progressive tax codes are not very effective at raising money. The corollary -- suggested by Peter Lindert of the University of California, Davis in his 2004 book "Growing Public" -- is that insisting on highly progressive taxes that draw most revenue from the rich may result in more inequality than if we relied on a flatter, more "regressive" tax schedule to raise money from everybody and pay for a government that could help every American family attain a decent standard of living.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Glenn Beck, the art critic, dunks Obama figurine in 'pee pee' (David Ng, November 28, 2012, LA Times)

Beck was inspired by a recent painting depicting Obama as a crucified Christ figure. In the video he also referred to Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary," a painting that used elephant dung to portray the mother of Jesus; Lucian Freud's nude portrait of an obese civil servant; and several others.

"Here's the thing: I don't like any of these paintings," he said. "But they have a right to be [at a museum]."

Affecting a French accent, Beck questioned whether liberal art critics would show the same level of tolerance for art with politically conservative themes. He then submerged the Obama figurine in the jar of "pee-pee."

...let us just put it this way: Mr. Beck is a flaming anus.  The question isn't whether the Left will be tolerant of such offensive behavior, but why he thinks conservatives should be.  All he's done is demonstrate that he is an ill-mannered lout.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Study: Being Younger in Classroom Affects Performance (Iceland Review, 11/28/12)

Being younger than one's classmates affects academic performance as well as children's risk of being on prescribed drugs for ADHD, according to a new study conducted in Iceland. [...]

The study also found that the youngest third of children in the class were over 50 percent more likely to use stimulants for ADHD than the oldest third in class.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM

Corn and Bacon Loaf (MIami Herald, 11/28/12)

Adapted by the Modesto Bee from "Relaxed Cooking With Curtis Stone"

12 ounces hardwood-smoked bacon, coarsely chopped

1 ear sweet corn, husked

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 1/4 cups milk

3 large eggs

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh chives

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Fry the bacon until browned and crisp, and drain on paper towels. Brush an 8-inch loaf pan with bacon drippings. Set aside 1/2 cup of bacon drippings to cool (add cooking oil if you have less than 1/2 cup).

Slice the kernels off the corn cob. You should have about 1 cup.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne in a large bowl to blend.

In another bowl, whisk the milk, the eggs and 1/2 cup bacon drippings. Stir in the bacon, 11/2 cups of the cheese, the corn and chives.

Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture just until blended. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle top with remaining cheese. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Make 1 loaf, 12 slices.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:00 AM


The fight for a grand bargain (David M. Walker NOVEMBER 29, 2012, Reuters)

[T]he battle is far from over. Ideologues and special interests on the left and right are marshaling forces to crush all efforts to achieve a reasoned fiscal compromise. We are about to discover if our elected representatives are leaders or minions.

Each party has its sacred cow, untouchable in previous negotiations. For the Republicans, it is their insistence on no tax increases; for the Democrats it is a refusal to consider cuts to social insurance programs.

Both positions are irresponsible -- because we cannot address our structural deficits and mounting debt burdens without additional tax revenues and reform of existing social insurance programs. After all, total federal liabilities, unfunded promises for Medicare and Social Security, and other commitments are more than $71 trillion and growing by about $100 billion a week.

Already, however, several major unions and other special interest groups - for example, AARP and The Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare - have launched campaigns to pressure members of Congress to keep social insurance programs off the table in connection with any fiscal Grand Bargain.

These efforts coincide with the "Social Security Protector's Pledge" championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). His pledge now has signatures from 110 representatives and 11 senators.

Meanwhile, Americans for Tax Reform still has signed no-tax pledges from more than 200 representatives and many senators. You can bet that right-wing ideologues will be threatening to punish any Republican legislators who stray.

November 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


One fiscal cliff fix: Raise the gas tax (Steve Hargreaves, November 28, 2012, CNNMoney) 

As lawmakers race to negotiate a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, some experts say one tax increase should be on the table: a gas tax hike.

Currently at 18.4 cents a gallon, the federal gas tax is used primarily to build and repair roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. The tax raises about $32 billion a year.

But that's not enough. The government hands out about $50 billion a year to states and towns to help with road costs. The difference comes out of general funds or has to be borrowed. Meanwhile, the gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993.

"Establishing a sustainable resource base for transportation needs to be part of any grand bargain," said Emil Frankel, a former transportation expert in the George W. Bush administration and now director of transportation policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "In the short run, raising the gas tax is the best way to do that."

...a mileage tax to the infrastructure funds.  You use the roads even if your car doesn't use gas.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


US military chiefs 'planned to blow up the moon with nuclear bomb' as show of Cold War muscle, physicist claims (ROB WILLIAMS, 28 NOVEMBER 2012, Independent)

US Military chiefs, keen to intimidate Russia during the Cold War, plotted to blow up the moon with a nuclear bomb, according to project documents kept secret for for nearly 45 years.

The army chiefs allegedly developed a top-secret project called, 'A Study of Lunar Research Flights' - or 'Project A119', in the hope that their Soviet rivals would be intimidated by a display of America's Cold War muscle.

Anyone with any strategic nous would realize the way to intimidate them was to blow up Moscow. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


Shooting of Florida teen is no Trayvon Martin case, attorney says (Tristan Smith, 11/28/12, CNN)

The violence was sparked by a confrontation about loud music at a gas station, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said.

Dunn told authorities that he had asked the teens to turn down the blaring music from their vehicle adjacent to his, as he waited for his girlfriend to return to the car.

Michael Dunn, 45, was denied bond earlier this week on the murder charge.

He heard threats from the teens, Dunn told police, he felt threatened and thought he saw a gun in the teens' car. He grabbed his gun and fired at least eight shots, authorities said.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis, among the teens, was killed. There were no guns found inside the teens' car, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said.

At least you can't get away with not charging the shooter anymore.

Brevard suspect pleads not guilty in slaying of Wolfson student (Dan Scanlan, 11/26/12,

A gun collector in Jacksonville for his son's wedding, Dunn told police he felt "threatened" after an argument with the Wolfson High student over loud music coming from a sports-utility vehicle parked next to him at the Gate station at 8251 Southside Blvd. Davis was in the back seat when "there were words exchanged," followed by gunfire at 7:40 p.m., said Jacksonville homicide Lt. Rob Schoonover.

"Our suspect produced a weapon and started firing into the vehicle. Our victim was shot a couple of times," Schoonover said. " ... They were listening to the music. It was loud; they [other teens] admitted that. But I mean that is not a reason for someone to open fire on them." [...]

Schoonover said Dunn and his girlfriend were next to the red SUV containing Davis and three of his friends. Dunn's girlfriend was inside when Dunn and Davis exchanged words. Shots were fired, leaving Davis hit and eight or nine bullet holes in the SUV, Schoonover said.

The couple drove off after Dunn told her he had "fired at these kids," Schoonover said. They went to their hotel, then returned to Brevard County when they learned what had happened from local news.

Witnesses gave police Dunn's license plate number, which led police to his home. Schoonover said Dunn was planning to turn himself in when he was arrested.

Jacksonville detectives spoke to him after his arrest, where he said "he felt threatened and that is the reason he took action," Schoonover said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


The Outlines of a Budget Deal Are Obvious : But it requires the kind of real compromise not offered by Obama 1.0 (KARL ROVE, 11/28/12, WSJ)

With a big assist from Ohio, the president clinched a second term after a tough fight. In his victory statement, he pledged to "continue our economic progress" and see "our servicemen and women . . . come home." There were high hopes and a belief he had a mandate.

The year was 2004, and the president was George W. Bush.

The turbulence began almost immediately. Mr. Bush ran on Social Security reform. But in the election aftermath, no congressional Democrat supported it while many Senate and House Republicans were eager to see the issue go away.

Mr. Bush's comprehensive immigration reform floundered as congressional Democrats, especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, did in the measure. Some of its supporters, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, voted for amendments that gutted the reform.

While Mr. Bush campaigned on a platform of winning the Iraq war, after the 2004 election many Democrats--including Mr. Obama--still tried to defund the war, even opposing a debt-ceiling increase in an attempt to starve its funding.

The lesson? A president doesn't get his way in a second term nearly as easily as he does in his first term.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Tom Cole: Join with President Obama on quick deal (JONATHAN ALLEN, 11/27/12, Politico)

Republican Rep. Tom Cole urged colleagues in a private session Tuesday to vote to extend the Bush tax rates for all but the highest earners before the end of the year -- and to battle over the rest later. [...]

Cole's position is striking because he's hardly a "squish" -- Norquist's term for a weak-kneed lawmaker -- when it comes to Republican orthodoxy. Cole served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and in other official posts within the party.

He might also provide cover for other Republicans looking to make an agreement to avoid a sharp fall off the so-called fiscal cliff.

"I think we ought to take the 98 percent deal right now," he said of freezing income tax rates for all but the top 2 percent of earners. "It doesn't mean I agree with raising the top 2. I don't."

Instead, he told POLITICO, Republicans should fight the president over tax rates for the top earners after everyone else is taken care of.

The only question is what we'd get in return.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


The Future: Back to the Past (DON BOUDREAUX on NOVEMBER 26, 2012, Cafe Hayek)

Lately, I've encountered with unusual frequency claims that the 1950s were a glorious economic time for America's middle-class - a time so glorious, what with strong labor unions and high (above 90%!) marginal income-tax rates and all, that we middle-class Americans of today should look back with longing and envy on those marvelous years of six decades ago.

So on Saturday I bought on eBay this Fall/Winter 1956 Sears catalog. [...]

So let's ask: how long did a typical American worker have to toil in 1956 to buy a particular sort of good compared to how long a similarly typical American worker today must toil to buy that same (or similar) sort of good?  Here are four familiar items: refrigerator-freezers; kitchen ranges; televisions; and automatic washers.

Sears's lowest-priced no-frost refrigerator-freezer in 1956 had 9.6 cubic feet, in total, of space.  It sold for $219.95 (in 1956-dollar prices).  (You can find a lovely black-and-white photograph of this mid-'50s fridge on page 1036 of the 1956 Sears catalog.)  Home Depot today sells a 10 cubic-foot no-frost refrigerator-freezer for $298.00 (in 2012-dollar prices).  (You can find it in color on line here.)

Therefore, the typical American worker in 1956 had to work a total of 219.95/1.89 hours to buy that 9.6 cubic-foot fridge - or a total of 116 hours.  (I round to the nearest whole number.)  Today, to buy a similar no-frost refrigerator-freezer, the typical American worker must work a total of 298.00/19.79 hours - or 15 hours.  That is, to buy basic household refrigeration and freezing, today's worker must spend only 13 percent of the time that his counterpart in 1956 had to spend.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Colombia and the Philippines: Worlds Apart but on the Same Path to Peace (Robert Valencia, 28 November 2012,  ISN)

In addition to their love for telenovelas, as well as their cuisine and religion borne out of a shared Spanish heritage, Colombia and the Philippines now have one more thing in common. This [month], both countries took another step toward peace with their respective armed groups, which could lead to the end of internal conflicts that are among the oldest in the world. On October 15, the Philippines entered into a peace accord with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Two days later, Colombia's government began peace talks in Oslo with the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Each of these presents a unique opportunity for civil society to sustain peace by fostering trust and accountability over issues such as land rights, delivery of social services, political participation at the local and national level, and tolerance for other people's beliefs.

Extremely tight ties to, and support from. America.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Hamas and the Two-State Solution (Paul R. Pillar | November 27, 2012, National Interest)

What is one of the first things Hamas does when it is fresh off standing up against an Israeli assault and widely perceived to have gained ground politically at the expense of its intramural rival, Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority? It voices support for Abbas's effort to get his organization's status at the United Nations upgraded from observer to "non-member state." Given the way Hamas is routinely suspected and reviled in some quarters, this move is sure to give rise to explanations that are convoluted and conspiratorial--that what Hamas is saying is a ruse, or is just a tactic for harassing Israel, or is a step toward shoving the Palestinian Authority aside while Abbas is down.

The explanation that is simple and straightforward, and ought to be obvious, is much more likely to be accurate: that Hamas supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, and that diplomacy is the preferred way to achieve that goal. 

November 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 PM


Obama quietly signs bill shielding airlines from carbon fees in Europe (Keith Laing, 11/27/12, The Hill)
President Obama has signed into law a bill that requires U.S. airlines be excluded from European carbon emissions fees. 

Environmentalists had framed the bill as the first test of the president's commitment to fighting climate change in his second term and urged him to veto it. Obama quietly signed it Tuesday over their objections.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


U.N. chief says crises show need for interfaith amity (Tom Heneghan, Nov 26, 2012, Reuters)

Spurred into action by the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States - in which most of the militants involved were Saudi nationals - and radical Islamist bombings in Saudi Arabia two years later, the king has brought together Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in Mecca to discuss how to counter extremism in Islam.

He hosted an interfaith conference in 2008 but had to hold it in Madrid because the kingdom is so conservative. However, Saudi officials at the Vienna conference stressed the dialogue message was being spread back home as well.

"The aim is to promote acceptance of other cultures, moderation and tolerance," said Fahad Sultan AlSultan, deputy head of a Saudi national dialogue effort launched in 2003. "There are problems but we have achieved some success."

KAICIID is managed by a board with three Muslims, three Christians, a Jew, a Buddhist and a Hindu. It aims to help religions contribute to solving problems such as conflicts, prejudice and health crises rather than be misused to worsen them.

"The prime purpose is to empower the active work of those in the field, whether in the field of dialogue, of social activism or of conflict resolution," said Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, representing Judaism on the nine-seat board of directors.

Unlike other interfaith projects run by churches or non-governmental organizations, KAICIID is an international body sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain, with strong backing from the Vatican as a "founding observer".

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Nanoparticles Make Steam without Bringing Water to a Boil : A new trick could reduce the energy needed for many industrial processes and make solar thermal energy much cheaper. (Phil Muncaster on November 27, 2012, Technology Review)

Steam is a key ingredient in a wide range of industrial and commercial processes--including electricity generation, water purification, alcohol distillation, and medical equipment sterilization.

Generating that steam, however, typically requires vast amounts of energy to heat and eventually boil water or another fluid. Now researchers at Rice University have found a shortcut. Using light-absorbing nanoparticles suspended in water, the group was able to turn the water molecules surrounding the nanoparticles into steam while scarcely raising the temperature of the remaining water. The trick could dramatically reduce the cost of many steam-reliant processes.

November 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Under the radar, Israel eases restrictions on Gaza (ELHANAN MILLER, November 26, 2012, Times of Israel)

Nizar Ayyash, the head of Gaza's fisherman's union, told The Times of Israel that since Saturday, the Israeli navy has allowed Palestinian fishermen to fish up to six nautical miles from the coast, doubling the previously allowed fishing zone.

"The Israeli army has moved the buoys to mark the new boundary," Ayyash said, "but the fishermen are still harassed and shots are fired now and then."

"It is not entirely clear to us what the new arrangements are," said Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, an Israeli organization that deals with Palestinian freedom of movement, noting that her organization obtains all information about measures on the ground from Gaza locals, not the Israeli government. Gisha reported that Gaza Strip farmers were also allowed this week to come within 100 meters (110 yards) of the border with Israel and tend to their farms.

Before the recent escalation, the official "no-go" area on the Gaza side of the border was 300 meters, but at times stretched as far as 1,500 meters into the Strip, comprising 35 percent of Gaza's arable land, Gisha reported.

A spokesman for the IDF declined The Times of Israel's request to comment on any new Israeli government regulations concerning Gaza. The Israeli government was also tight-lipped about specific  arrangements.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


How China Sees America : The Sum of Beijing's Fears (Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, September/October 2012, Foreign Affairs)

To peer more deeply into the logic of the United States' China strategy, Chinese analysts, like analysts everywhere, look at capabilities and intentions. Although U.S. intentions might be subject to interpretation, U.S. military, economic, ideological, and diplomatic capabilities are relatively easy to discover -- and from the Chinese point of view, they are potentially devastating.

U.S. military forces are globally deployed and technologically advanced, with massive concentrations of firepower all around the Chinese rim. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) is the largest of the United States' six regional combatant commands in terms of its geographic scope and nonwartime manpower. PACOM's assets include about 325,000 military and civilian personnel, along with some 180 ships and 1,900 aircraft. To the west, PACOM gives way to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for an area stretching from Central Asia to Egypt. Before September 11, 2001, CENTCOM had no forces stationed directly on China's borders except for its training and supply missions in Pakistan. But with the beginning of the "war on terror," CENTCOM placed tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan and gained extended access to an air base in Kyrgyzstan. 

The operational capabilities of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific are magnified by bilateral defense treaties with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Korea and cooperative arrangements with other partners. And to top it off, the United States possesses some 5,200 nuclear warheads deployed in an invulnerable sea, land, and air triad. Taken together, this U.S. defense posture creates what Qian Wenrong of the Xinhua News Agency's Research Center for International Issue Studies has called a "strategic ring of encirclement."

Chinese security analysts also take note of the United States' extensive capability to damage Chinese economic interests. The United States is still China's single most important market, unless one counts the European Union as a single entity. And the United States is one of China's largest sources of foreign direct investment and advanced technology. From time to time, Washington has entertained the idea of wielding its economic power coercively. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the United States imposed some limited diplomatic and economic sanctions on China, including an embargo, which is still in effect, on the sale of advanced arms. For several years after that, Congress debated whether to punish China further for human rights violations by canceling the low most-favored-nation tariff rates enjoyed by Chinese imports, although proponents of the plan could never muster a majority. More recently, U.S. legislators have proposed sanctioning China for artificially keeping the value of the yuan low to the benefit of Chinese exporters, and the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has promised that if elected, he will label China a currency manipulator on "day one" of his presidency.

Although trade hawks in Washington seldom prevail, flare-ups such as these remind Beijing how vulnerable China would be if the United States decided to punish it economically. Chinese strategists believe that the United States and its allies would deny supplies of oil and metal ores to China during a military or economic crisis and that the U.S. Navy could block China's access to strategically crucial sea-lanes. The ubiquity of the dollar in international trade and finance also gives the United States the ability to damage Chinese interests, either on purpose or as a result of attempts by the U.S. government to address its fiscal problems by printing dollars and increasing borrowing, acts that drive down the value of China's dollar-denominated exports and foreign exchange reserves.

Chinese analysts also believe that the United States possesses potent ideological weapons and the willingness to use them. After World War II, the United States took advantage of its position as the dominant power to enshrine American principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments and to install what China sees as Western-style democracies in Japan and, eventually, South Korea, Taiwan, and other countries. Chinese officials contend that the United States uses the ideas of democracy and human rights to delegitimize and destabilize regimes that espouse alternative values, such as socialism and Asian-style developmental authoritarianism. In the words of Li Qun, a member of the Shandong Provincial Party Committee and a rising star in the Communist Party, the Americans' "real purpose is not to protect so-called human rights but to use this pretext to influence and limit China's healthy economic growth and to prevent China's wealth and power from threatening [their] world hegemony."

In the eyes of many Chinese analysts, since the end of the Cold War the United States has revealed itself to be a revisionist power that tries to reshape the global environment even further in its favor. They see evidence of this reality everywhere: in the expansion of NATO; the U.S. interventions in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo; the Gulf War; the war in Afghanistan; and the invasion of Iraq. In the economic realm, the United States has tried to enhance its advantages by pushing for free trade, running down the value of the dollar while forcing other countries to use it as a reserve currency, and trying to make developing countries bear an unfair share of the cost of mitigating global climate change. And perhaps most disturbing to the Chinese, the United States has shown its aggressive designs by promoting so-called color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. As Liu Jianfei, director of the foreign affairs division of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in 2005, "The U.S. has always opposed communist 'red revolutions' and hates the 'green revolutions' in Iran and other Islamic states. What it cares about is not 'revolution' but 'color.' It supported the 'rose,' 'orange', and 'tulip' revolutions because they served its democracy promotion strategy." As Liu and other top Chinese analysts see it, the United States hopes "to spread democracy further and turn the whole globe 'blue.'"

Sino-American affairs are pretty easy top understand.  We ignore them because they are no threat.  They're obsessed with us because we're an existential one.

November 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 PM


Pressure Grows on Egyptian Leader After Judicial Decree (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, November 25, 2012, NY Times)

[T]he justice minister, Ahmed Mekki, the influential leader of a judicial independent movement under Mr. Mubarak and one of Mr. Morsi's closest aides, was actively trying to broker a deal with top jurists to resolve the crisis.

The situation is the most acute test to date of the ability and willingness of Mr. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president and a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, to engage in the kind of give and take that democratic government requires. But he also must contend with real doubts about the willingness of his anti-Islamist opponents to join him in compromise. Each side is mired in deep suspicion of the other, a legacy of the decades when the Brotherhood survived here only as an insular secret society, demonized as dangerous radicals by most of the Egyptian elite.

"There is a deep mistrust," said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo who studies the Brotherhood. "It is an ugly round of partisan politics," he said, "a bone-crushing phase."

The scale of the backlash against the decree appeared to catch Mr. Morsi's government by surprise. "In his head, the president thought that this would push us forward, but then it was met with all this inflammation," Mr. Mekki said. He faulted the president for failing to consult with his opponents before issuing it, but he also faulted the opponents for their own unwillingness to come to the table: "I blame all of Egypt, because they do not know how to talk to each other."

Government and party officials maintained that Mr. Morsi was forced to claim the expansive new powers in order to protect the process of writing the country's new constitution, and that the decree would be in effect only until the charter was in place. A court of judges appointed under the Mubarak government was widely rumored to be about to dissolve the elected constitutional assembly, which is dominated by Mr. Morsi's Islamist allies -- just as the same court had previously cast out the newly elected Islamist-led Parliament -- and the decree issued by Mr. Morsi on Thursday gave him the power to stop it.

...everyone else is obligated.  
Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy (SCOTT SHANE, 11/25/12, NY Times)

Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials.

The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. [...]

The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president's role in the shifting procedures for compiling "kill lists" and approving strikes. Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.

"There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an "amorphous" program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.

Ah, the conceit that he's the only human trustworthy enough to wield power....

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Nobel literature winner Herta Mueller calls 2012 choice of China's Mo Yan a 'catastrophe' (Associated Press, 11/25/12)

Herta Mueller, the 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, says the choice to give this year's award to Mo Yan is a "catastrophe" that never should have happened, and accuses the Chinese writer of praising the Asian country's tough censorship laws.

In an interview published in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter on Saturday, the Romanian-born author -- whose struggle under Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship has influenced most of her works -- says she wanted to cry when she learned of the 2012 laureate choice. She says she feels "it's a catastrophe," and an "incredibly upsetting" choice.

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world's food crisis? : Philipp Saumweber is creating a miracle in the barren Australian outback, growing tonnes of fresh food. So why has he fallen out with the pioneering environmentalist who invented the revolutionary system? (Jonathan Margolis, 11/25/12, The Observer)

[T]he work that Sundrop Farms, as they call themselves, are doing in South Australia, and just starting up in Qatar, is beyond the experimental stage. They appear to have pulled off the ultimate something-from-nothing agricultural feat - using the sun to desalinate seawater for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses as required, and thence cheaply grow high-quality, pesticide-free vegetables year-round in commercial quantities.

So far, the company has grown tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers by the tonne, but the same, proven technology is now almost ready to be extended to magic out, as if from thin air, unlimited quantities of many more crops - and even protein foods such as fish and chicken - but still using no fresh water and close to zero fossil fuels. Salty seawater, it hardly needs explaining, is free in every way and abundant - rather too abundant these days, as our ice caps melt away.

So well has Sundrop's 18-month project worked that investors and supermarket chains have lately been scurrying down to Port Augusta, making it hard to get a room in its few motels, or a table at the curry restaurant in the local pub. Academic agriculturalists, mainstream politicians and green activists are falling over each other to champion Sundrop. And the company's scientists, entrepreneurs and investors are about to start building an £8m, 20-acre greenhouse - 40 times bigger than the current one - which will produce 2.8m kg of tomatoes and 1.2m kg of peppers a year for supermarkets now clamouring for an exclusive contract.

It's an inspiring project, more important, it could be argued, than anything else going on in the world. Agriculture uses 60-80% of the planet's scarce fresh water, so food production that uses none at all is nothing short of miraculous.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Hostess went off long before its Twinkies (Christopher Caldwell, 11/23/12, Financial Times)

[T]he dark age of US cuisine was a golden age of good jobs. Hostess, 80 per cent unionised, was a throwback. It was also $1bn in debt. Hostess had asked its 18,500 workers to take steep wage cuts and sought to extricate itself from responsibilities to pay into pension funds until 2015. Executives warned the company would die otherwise. They were not bluffing. The company blamed one of its bakers' unions for having "launched a campaign to cripple the company's operations". Those workers accused the company's investors of "vulture capitalism". An argument is about to begin on whether the bakers or the bankers were right.

If there was mismanagement, it was well-meaning mismanagement. Far from being stripped by union-bashers, Hostess was an experiment in union promotion. As Fortune magazine has pointed out, the private equity company Ripplewood Holdings, its top shareholder after 2009, sought out union-friendly companies to strengthen. Ripplewood was close to Richard Gephardt, former House minority leader, and other Democrats.

Fear not, Twinkling Good Vanilla Snack:

Remember those golden vanilla snack cakes from when you were a kid? Soft, springy and full of rich creamy white filling. Well, these snack cakes will bring you right back to Saturday morning cartoons and school lunch boxes, without the chemical additives. These cakes won't last through a nuclear winter like the urban legend says, they are so good they will disappear in a twink of the eye! 

vanilla snack cakes

snack cake filling

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spritz a filled cake pan (aka cream canoe pan) with a light layer of cooking spray. Set aside.

2) Place all ingredients except beaten egg whites into a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth.

3) Working in thirds, fold the beaten egg whites into the batter. Take care to keep the batter light; fold, don't beat.

4) Fill each section of the snack cake pan 2/3 full. The cakes will puff quite a bit during baking, but will shrink back during cooling. Bake the cakes in a preheated oven for 8-12 minutes, until golden brown.

5) Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Using a flexible spatula, gentle remove each cake and cool flat side down on a rack until completely cool. In the meantime, prepare the snack cake filling.

6) In a small saucepan cook flour and milk over medium heat until a paste forms. Stir constantly and do not allow mixture to brown. Remove from heat and let cool 1 minute. Add vanilla and stir until smooth. Press a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the paste to avoid forming a skin and set aside to cool completely.

7)In the bowl of your mixer beat butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy, scraping bowl to fully incorporate ingredients. Add cooled flour/milk mixture and continue to beat 5 minutes on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Use to fill snack cakes or cupcakes. Filling will remain creamy; store at room temperature 3-4 days.

8) To fill snack cakes: Place about 1 cup of filling into a clean pastry bag fitted with a round pastry tube, or use filling tool included with snack cake (cream canoe) pan. Gently insert the tube into the underside of the cake, about halfway through the cake. Using gentle pressure, squeeze a small amount of filling into the cake. You'll feel the cake expand under your fingers. Do not overfill, or the cake will burst. Repeat for a total of 3 times per cake. Store cakes well covered at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Peace in our time? Scientist makes bold prediction that war is on the wane and will halve over next 40 years (LEON WATSON, 23 November 2012, DailyMail)

'The number of conflicts is falling,' said Professor Hegre. 'We expect this fall to continue. We predict a steady fall in the number of conflicts in the next 40 years.

Futurologist: Research by Professor Håvard Hegre suggests conflict will halve by 2050

'Conflicts that involve a high degree of violence, such as Syria, are becoming increasingly rare.

'We put a lot of work into developing statistical methods that enable us, with a reasonable degree of certainty, to predict conflicts in the future.

'A conflict is defined as a conflict between governments and political organisations that use violence and in which at least 25 people die. This means that the model does not cover either tribal wars or solo terrorists like Anders Behring Breivik.

'In the 1700s it was normal to go to war to expand your country's territory. This strategy has passed its sell by date. But, demands for democracy may be suppressed with violence and result in more violence in the short term. As in Libya.'

His research has found there has been a decrease in armed conflicts and the number of people killed since World War II and this trend will continue.

'War has become less acceptable, just like duelling, torture and the death penalty.'

Infant mortality, calculated by the UN up to 2050, is one of the key factors in Professor Hegre's model.

'Countries with a high infant mortality rate have a high probability of conflict. Infant mortality is now decreasing everywhere.'

The UN has also estimated population structure up to 2050. The population is expected to grow, but at a slower pace than today, and the proportion of young people will decrease in most countries, with the exception of countries in Africa.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna has extrapolated the level of education up to 2050.

The simulation model is also based on the last 40 years' history of conflicts, of all countries and their neighbours in the world, oil resources and ethnicity. The conflict data were collated by the Uppsala University

'Economic changes in society have resulted in both education and human capital becoming important. A complex economy makes political violence less attractive.

November 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Morsi's Unavoidable Purges (Walter Russell Mead, 11/24/12, Via Medea)

While Morsi is being criticized in and out of Egypt for his assumption of dictatorial powers, it's worth noting that his plans to bypass Egypt's judicial system are grounded in a reality: Egypt's judges were handpicked by the thoroughly corrupt Mubarak regime and did the old dictator's bidding without protest for many years. Neither the judges as a group nor the judiciary as an institution are entitled to any particular respect.

This is an example of a problem that many revolutionary regimes face around the world. Do you allow the judicial lapdogs of the old dictator to act as umpires in the new regime, or do you destroy all the institutions of society and try to rebuild everything from scratch? Do you allow yourself to be bound by corrupt judges defending privileges of the old regime, or do you cast down the legal system and cast off the restraint of the laws?

Neither alternative is a good one and this is one of the reasons why most revolutions end in disappointment and new dictatorship.

Morsi is right that the judicial system often acts to protect the interests of the Mubarak power elite, and right too to hold the system in deep contempt. But his critics and opponents are right to warn that his action paves the way for dictatorship and opens the doors to widespread abuse of powers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


The Scientific Blind Spot : Knowledge is less a canon than a consensus. (DAVID A. SHAYWITZ, 11/18/12, WSJ)

In 1870, German chemist Erich von Wolf analyzed the iron content of green vegetables and accidentally misplaced a decimal point when transcribing data from his notebook. As a result, spinach was reported to contain a tremendous amount of iron--35 milligrams per serving, not 3.5 milligrams (the true measured value). While the error was eventually corrected in 1937, the legend of spinach's nutritional power had already taken hold, one reason that studio executives chose it as the source of Popeye's vaunted strength.

The point, according to Samuel Arbesman, an applied mathematician and the author of the delightfully nerdy "The Half-Life of Facts," is that knowledge--the collection of "accepted facts"--is far less fixed than we assume. In every discipline, facts change in predictable, quantifiable ways, Mr. Arbesman contends, and understanding these changes isn't just interesting but also useful. For Mr. Arbesman, Wolf's copying mistake says less about spinach than about the way scientific knowledge propagates. [...]

Knowledge, then, is less a canon than a consensus in a state of constant disruption. Part of the disruption has to do with error and its correction, but another part with simple newness--outright discoveries or new modes of classification and analysis, often enabled by technology. A single chapter in "The Half-Life of Facts" looking at the velocity of knowledge growth starts with the author's first long computer download--a document containing Plato's "Republic"--journeys through the rapid rise of the "@" symbol, introduces Moore's Law describing the growth rate of computing power, and discusses the relevance of Clayton Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation. Mr. Arbesman illustrates the speed of technological advancement with examples ranging from the magnetic properties of iron--it has become twice as magnetic every five years as purification techniques have improved--to the average distance of daily travel in France, which has exponentially increased over the past two centuries.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Japanese Stocks? Yes, They Really Think So (Roben Farzad, November 23, 2012, Business Week)

Less than a quarter-century ago, Japan was the economic envy of the world. In 1989, Tokyo-listed shares represented nearly half the planet's equity value, while the land beneath the city's royal palace was worth more than all of California. American nightly news anchors practically misted up when they had to report that Rockefeller Center was turning Japanese.

Two lost decades and massive property- and stock-bubble explosions later, Japan is a one-word cautionary tale. Caught in economic and demographic atrophy--and stewarded by countless false-start prime ministers--the country has become a hub for zombie banks, a generation of disenchanted youth, and fading brands such as Sony (SNE), Sharp (6753:JP), and Panasonic (PC).

Last year, for the first time, sales of adult diapers in Japan exceeded those for babies. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Republican Super Pac aims to win over Hispanics with immigration reform (Ed Pilkington, 11/22/12,

Carlos Gutierrez, former commerce secretary under George Bush and the man who spearheaded of Romney's outreach to the Hispanic community, has called on the Republican party to drop its perceived hostility towards the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US or risk alienating the increasingly powerful Latino vote. He has set up a Super Pac called Republicans for Immigration Reform to instill new thinking within the conservative movement.

"What we want to do with the Super Pac is to provide some intellectual cover to Republicans so that they can move forwards without being politically hindered. If we are to remain the party of entrepreneurs and economic freedom and American prosperity, we have to also be the party of immigration," Gutierrez told the Guardian.

Gutierrez is one of a growing number of influential Republicans who have spoken out since Romney's defeat on 6 November in favour of reform. Key party figures, including the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, former presidential candidate John McCain and the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, have signalled that they are ready for a radical rethink.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Jeb Bush in 2016? Not Too Early for Chatter (JIM RUTENBERG and JEFF ZELENY, 11/23/12, NY Times)

Mr. Bush is said by friends to be weighing financial and family considerations -- between so many years in office and the recession his wealth took a dip, they said, and he has been working hard to restore it -- as well as the complicated place within the Republican Party of the Bush brand. Asked this week about whether his father would run, Jeb Bush Jr. told CNN, "I certainly hope so."

For now, however, "It's neither a 'no' nor a 'yes' -- it's a 'wait and see,' " said Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime friend and adviser to Mr. Bush. "It continues to intrigue him, given how much he has to share with the country."

After Mitt Romney's defeat by a Democratic coalition built around overwhelming support from Hispanics and other fast-growing demographic groups, many Republicans are looking for a candidate who can help make the party more inclusive without ceding conservative principles -- and no one is the subject of more speculation at this point than Mr. Bush.

To his supporters, Mr. Bush is the man for the moment. His wife, Columba, was born and raised in Mexico. He speaks Spanish and favors overhauling the immigration system in a way that would provide a route to citizenship for people already in the country illegally but otherwise law-abiding.

Mr. Bush supports school choice and stricter performance standards, pitting him against teachers' unions but putting him in league with Republican power brokers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Bush's education project, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, has support from major party donors like the Walton family and the hedge fund executive Paul E. Singer, and has attracted support from the Bloomberg and Gates foundations.

Mr. Bush opposes abortion, and he is no less an opponent of higher taxes than his brother, President George W. Bush, was in his two terms. However, he has refused to sign the antitax pledge of the conservative activist Grover Norquist, who helped lead the rebellion against his father when the elder President Bush broke his own "no new taxes" promise during his first and only term.

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November 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Why immigration reform didn't happen in 2007 (Sean Higgins, November 20, 2012, The Examiner)

Now that immigration reform is back in the news, it is worth looking back at what exactly happened in that last failed effort.

Kennedy and McCain had tried to get a bill going in 2005 and 2006 without much success. Most Republicans were automatically opposed to anything that smacked of amnesty -- like the bill's pathway to legalization for existing immigrants. But in 2007, the Democrats regained control of the House. That meant -- in theory, anyway -- the main obstacle was a GOP Senate filibuster. But a deal arose with the support of several moderate and even conservative Republicans, such as Arizona's Jon Kyl.

It was at this point that many on the Left began to step away. Frank Sharry, who was then executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told The Washington Examiner that although conservative opposition was the biggest stumbling block, there were also "divisions on the Left."

"There was little mobilization in support of the bill," Sharry said. Organized labor was split. The Service Employees International Union favored a deal. But the larger AFL-CIO opposed guest-worker programs, which were expanded in the bill to win Big Business and GOP support.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Another Republican lawmaker ditches Norquist tax pledge (Meghashyam Mali,11/22/12, The Hill)
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) on Wednesday said that addressing the nation's looming "fiscal cliff" took precedence over honoring the anti-tax pledge he signed for conservative activist Grover Norquist.

"I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge," said Chambliss to local Georgia television station 13WMAZ. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Another Republican lawmaker ditches Norquist tax pledge (Meghashyam Mali,11/22/12, The Hill)
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) on Wednesday said that addressing the nation's looming "fiscal cliff" took precedence over honoring the anti-tax pledge he signed for conservative activist Grover Norquist.

"I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge," said Chambliss to local Georgia television station 13WMAZ. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don't Understand by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - review (David Runciman, 11/21/12, The Guardian)

[A]ntifragile jumps around from aphorism to anecdote to technical analysis, interspersed with a certain amount of hectoring encouragement to the reader to keep up. The aim, apparently, is to show how much more interesting an argument can be if it resists being pinned down.

There are two problems with this. First, the book is very hard going. Everything is taken to link to everything else but nothing is ever followed through. Taleb despises mere "theorists" but still aspires to produce a theory of everything. So what we get are lots of personal reminiscences buttressed by the ideas of the few thinkers he respects, almost all of whom happen to be his friends. The result is both solipsistic and ultimately dispiriting. Reading this book is the intellectual equivalent of having to sit patiently while someone shows you their holiday snaps.

The other difficulty is that too many of the ideas contained here appear thin and brittle rather than rich and flexible: fragile rather than antifragile. Taleb is keen on "heuristics" - shortcuts to wisdom that encapsulate human experience - but often these seem simply to reflect his own prejudices. To take just one example: Taleb thinks modern states become fragile when they get into debt, and that a prerequisite of political antifragility is rigid fiscal conservatism. This is nonsense. Eschewing debt makes states just as fragile as having too much of it. The durability of both the British and American states throughout their history has depended on their ability to use public debt to adapt to different challenges. As political analysis, Taleb's heuristic - "when you don't have debt you don't care about your reputation ... and somehow it's only when you don't care about your reputation that you tend to have a good one" - is glib and unconvincing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


Poetic justice: Romney likely to finish at 47 percent (Greg Sargent, 11/22/12, Washington Post)

When all the votes are counted, could Mitt Romney really end up achieving perfect poetic justice by finishing with 47 percent of the national vote? Yup. Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says new votes in from Maryland put Romney at 47.56 percent. He predicts with certainty that with all of New York and California counted, Romney will end up below 47.5 percent of the vote.

Rounded, of course, that would put the final tally at 51-47.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Cancer Survivor or Victim of Overdiagnosis? (H. GILBERT WELCH, 11/22/12, NY Times)

So here is what we now know: the mortality benefit of mammography is much smaller, and the harm of overdiagnosis much larger, than has been previously recognized.

But to be honest, that general message has been around for more than a decade. Why isn't it getting more traction?

The reason is that no other medical test has been as aggressively promoted as mammograms -- efforts that have gone beyond persuasion to guilt and even coercion ("I can't be your doctor if you don't get one"). And proponents have used the most misleading screening statistic there is: survival rates. A recent Komen foundation campaign typifies the approach: "Early detection saves lives. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98 percent. When it's not? It decreases to 23 percent."

Survival rates always go up with early diagnosis: people who get a diagnosis earlier in life will live longer with their diagnosis, even if it doesn't change their time of death by one iota. And diagnosing cancer in people whose "cancer" was never destined to kill them will inflate survival rates -- even if the number of deaths stays exactly the same. In short, tell everyone they have cancer, and survival will skyrocket.

Indeed, if we had a massive public health campaign to tell everyone that cancer is a natural part of being human it might destigmatize the condition enough that folks would calm down and deal with it rationally.
Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


'Power of One' author Bryce Courtenay dies at 79 : Derided by critics and adored by the public, Bryce Courtenay, the shrewd advertising executive who became Australia's most popular author (Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney3:56AM GMT 23 Nov 2012, The Telegraph)

Born in Johannesburg in 1933, he is said to have based The Power of One on his troubled childhood. He was the illegitimate child of a dressmaker, Maude Greer, and a clothing salesman, Arthur Ryder, who lived with his wife and their five children. He spent several years in an orphanage shortly after his birth and later claimed that he overcame brutal beatings by learning to box and tell stories. He claimed he was "one of the most applied and academically gifted children the school has seen" but was banished from the country after teaching literacy to black people.

Though various elements of his biography have been challenged - including tales of accidental encounters with Stephen King, Clive James and Germaine Greer - he admitted falsifying aspects of his life but never for personal or financial gain. And he denied claims by his sister that he lied about his difficult upbringing in South Africa.

Courtenay's 21st and final book, Jack of Diamonds, was released in Australia on November 12. He was married to Benita for 40 years - before their divorce in 2000 - and the pair had three sons. His 1993 bestseller April Fool's Day, was a tribute to his youngest son, Damon, who contracted HIV/Aids via an infected blood transfusion in 1991 and died at the age of 24.

In one of his final interviews, he claimed that he tried to be honest but that ultimately the "only thing that is authentic about what a writer writes is his work."
"My job, and that's my job, is to dress the naked truth," he told ABC Television.

"To make it interesting, to make it viable, to make it seem like something you understand and feel and love."

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Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Higher Gas-Tax Idea Joins Fiscal-Cliff Talks (JOSH MITCHELL, 11/23/12, WSJ)

The federal gas tax was last raised in 1993 and 1990, each time as part of a deficit-reduction plan. After failing for years to overcome public opposition, supporters of another increase see the current talks as a once-in-a-generation chance to raise the tax, which finances highway and transit construction.

The U.S. government spends roughly $52 billion a year on highway and transit projects, but the gasoline tax is generating only about $37 billion annually. That has created a roughly $15 billion annual shortfall that Congress has filled in recent years by taking money from the government's general fund, adding to the budget deficit. Transportation experts say that without a permanent fix, the shortfall will widen with declines in gasoline consumption as Americans drive more fuel-efficient autos and use other means of transportation.

"Anybody in the transportation community's been talking about a need to raise the fuel tax for many years now," said Bill Graves, head of the American Trucking Associations, which represents truckers. "No one [in Congress] wants to publicly acknowledge it, no one wants to publicly go there. But privately they all they get it."

The gas-tax revenue is distributed to states to finance transportation projects, such as repaving highways and building new subway stations. Business groups supporting an increase say these projects create jobs, reduce traffic congestion and speed the transport of workers and goods, helping the economy.

The 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission proposed raising the gas tax as part of a broad deficit-reduction plan.

It's especially important to be able to raise the consumption tax as the price falls.

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November 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Economists, Obama administration at odds over role of mortgage debt in slow recovery (Zachary A. Goldfarb, November 22, 2012, Washington Post)

One year and one month before President Obama won reelection, he invited seven of the world's top economists into a private meeting in the Oval Office for their advice on what do to fix an ailing economy. "I'm not asking you to consider the political feasibility of things," he told them in the previously unreported meeting.

There was a former Federal Reserve vice chairman, a Nobel laureate, one of the world's foremost experts on financial crises and the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund , among others. Nearly to a tee, they said Obama should introduce a much bigger plan to forgive part of the mortgage debt owed by millions of homeowners underwater on their properties. [...]

The meeting highlighted what today is the biggest disagreement between some of the world's top economists and the Obama administration. The economists say the president could have significantly accelerated the slow economic recovery if he had better addressed the overhang of mortgage debt left burdening Americans when housing prices collapsed. Obama's advisers say that they did all they could on the housing front and that other factors better explain why the recovery has been slow.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Egyptian President and Obama Forge Link in Gaza Deal (PETER BAKER and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 11/22/12, NY Times)

President Obama skipped dessert at a long summit meeting dinner in Cambodia on Monday to rush back to his hotel suite. It was after 11:30 p.m., and his mind was on rockets in Gaza rather than Asian diplomacy. He picked up the telephone to call the Egyptian leader who is the new wild card in his Middle East calculations.

Over the course of the next 25 minutes, he and President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt hashed through ways to end the latest eruption of violence, a conversation that would lead Mr. Obama to send Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the region. As he and Mr. Morsi talked, Mr. Obama felt they were making a connection. Three hours later, at 2:30 in the morning, they talked again.

The cease-fire brokered between Israel and Hamas on Wednesday was the official unveiling of this unlikely new geopolitical partnership, one with bracing potential if not a fair measure of risk for both men. After a rocky start to their relationship, Mr. Obama has decided to invest heavily in the leader whose election caused concern because of his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing in him an intermediary who might help make progress in the Middle East beyond the current crisis in Gaza.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM



The Gaza cease-fire deal reached Wednesday marks a startling trajectory for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi: an Islamist leader who refuses to talk to Israelis or even say the country's name mediated for it and finally turned himself into Israel's de facto protector.

The accord inserts Egypt to an unprecedented degree into the conflict between Israel and Hamas, establishing it as the arbiter ensuring that militant rocket fire into Israel stops and that Israel allows the opening of the long-blockaded Gaza Strip and stops its own attacks against Hamas.

In return, Morsi emerged as a major regional player. He won the trust of the United States and Israel, which once worried over the rise of an Islamist leader in Egypt but throughout the week-long Gaza crisis saw him as the figure most able to deliver a deal with Gaza's Hamas rulers.

The Egyptians also reportedly told Netanyahu to knock it off or lose the peace deals with Egypt and Jordan, which he couldn't afford headed into an election.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Abortion rate falls during Obama's first year in office: was it because of Obama? (SUSAN MICHELLE TYRRELL, Nov 22, 2012, LifeSiteNews)

Last month news reports told us this:

Just this year, 17 states set new limits on abortion; 24 did last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights nonprofit whose numbers are widely respected. In several states with the most restrictive laws, the number of abortions has fallen slightly, pleasing abortion opponents who say the laws are working.

Of 50 states in our nation, 41 of them have passed over 90 new laws supporting LIFE--and now the national CDC statistics prove that we can fight abortion even with a president who doesn't. The report last month continued to note states where abortion rates had fallen (including Texas where pro-life Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature have fought to de-fund Planned Parenthood and push through pro-life laws):

States within the nation's most restrictive region, the midsection, include North and South Dakota, which each have only one abortion clinic and have seen the number of abortions drop slightly since 2008.

And they include Texas, which has the most prescriptive counseling laws -- requiring, among other things, that doctors tell women abortion is linked with breast cancer. A group of scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute in 2003 concluded abortion did not raise the risk of breast cancer.

A Texas law passed last year requires women to get an ultrasound and their doctors to describe the fetus. Texas abortions also have dropped every year since 2008.

The Associated Press story notes:

The decline, detailed on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Both the number of abortions and the abortion rate dropped by the same percentage.

[T]he truth is simple: if the new laws didn't effect the abortion rate, Planned Parenthood wouldn't have spent oodles of money fighting these laws since federal law supersedes state law, and federal law hasn't changed. The numbers speak for themselves, and the Associated Press reports says, "Abortions have been dropping slightly over much of the past decade. But before this latest report, they seemed to have pretty much leveled off."

Notable facts include the state of Mississippi, with only one abortion facility, which hovers on the verge of being closed. The report says:

Mississippi had the lowest abortion rate, at 4 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age. The state also had only a couple of abortion providers and has the nation's highest teen birth rate. New York, second to California in number of abortion providers, had the highest abortion rate, roughly eight times Mississippi's.

New York, it should be noted, has fewer abortion restrictions and many abortion facilities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Only 1 in 5 think Israel 'won' the eight-day battle against Hamas (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 22, 2012)

Only a fifth of Israelis think Israel "won" the eight day conflict with Hamas that ended on Wednesday, and fewer than two fifths feel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handled the conflict well, according to an opinion poll taken Thursday. [...]

In the survey, for Channel 2 news, 29% of those polled felt Hamas had been the winner in the conflict, 20% said Israel, 46% chose neither, and 5% had no answer.

Meanwhile, Hamas 'victory' gives West Bank a fighting spirit (ELHANAN MILLER, November 22, 2012, Times of Israel)

In the Muslim Quarter, Gaza was the talk of the day. Inside a falafel shop, three men watched Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh deliver a victory speech on a TV latched to the ceiling.

"We want a final resolution of the Palestinian issue," said one of the men, as he glanced away from the screen. "These temporary solutions that drag on for years while the West Bank is swallowed up by settlements are unacceptable."

The man was referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his continued advocacy of peace negotiations with Israel. Twenty years of talks have left West Bank Palestinians with little, Jerusalem residents say today, and Hamas's steadfastness during operation Pillar of Defense has provided them with a new source of inspiration. [...]

The Palestinian street is quickly slipping into combat mode, inspired by the fighting words emanating from Gaza. Jibril Rajoub, a former Palestinian security chief who speaks fluent Hebrew, appealed to Israel on Channel 2 News Thursday to stop that process by re-engaging the PA, which has favored negotiations over violence.

"For eight years, we've not thrown a stone at you from the West Bank," he said. "What have we gotten from you? We want our state on the 1967 borders ... that will live in peace alongside the state of Israel."

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


The 50 Free Apps We're Most Thankful For (Whitson Gordon, 11/22/12, Lifehacker)

It's the time of year where we all give thanks, and among many other things, we here at Lifehacker are thankful for all the free apps out there that improve our lives (and the developers that make them!). Here are 50 of our favorites.

We asked you which free apps you're most thankful for, you offered hundreds of suggestions both classic and new. Here, we've taken your votes (and added a few of our own) and ranked our 50 apps using those votes as a guide. So without further ado, here are 50 free apps for your downloading feast.

ADP has a fantastic app--if you use their payroll system--that allows you to punch your timecard, check benefits, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Hamas declares 'victory' after cease-fire (KHALED ABU TOAMEH, 11/21/2012, Jerusalem Post)

Sources in the Gaza Strip said that the Hamas leadership instructed its members to abide by the cease-fire and to stop firing at Israel.

"History will mention that Gaza once hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with rockets," boasted a Hamas activist in Gaza City.

"Today we triumphed. This is a victory from Allah."

Ahmed Bahr, a senior Hamas official, welcomed the cease-fire agreement.

"The resistance groups have achieved a historic victory and paved the way for the battle of liberating Palestine," he said.

Mashaal: I accept a Palestinian state on '67 borders (Jerusalem Post.11/22/2012)

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal declared a position on Palestinian statehood that is nearly identical to that of his Fatah rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in an interview with CNN aired Wednesday.

"I accept a Palestinian state according [to] the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return," the Hamas leader told Christine Amanpour in Cairo.

Pushed about his party's refusal to recognize Israel, Mashaal said such a declaration could only be made once a Palestinian state has been created.

Bibi Netanyahu would not have behaved any differently this month if he were pro-Hamas.
Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


This year, as every year, we're thankful for all the usual stuff, not least that so many of you still stop by the blog to read and comment.  

But what about all the more trivial things we have to be thankful for?  Here are 5:

Sirius/XM Radio in the car--how did we spend so much time waiting for kids to finish after-school activities before we had satellite radio?

The Camera on your phone--I've done almost an entire year of daily cloudspotting photos with just the phone in my pocket.

Spotify--especially useful for the dabbler, allowing you to check artists out before you buy and to summon up almost any tune from your murky past.

College Hockey--Dartmouth home games aren't just massively entertaining as sport, they're also a singularly kid-friendly social event.

Double Bubble Gum--$7 for a 380 count bucket at BJs

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


'Borgen,' 'The Thick of It,' Bond: What to Watch During the Thanksgiving Weekend (Jace Lacob,  Nov 21, 2012, Daily Beast)

Borgen (LinkTV and online at

If you haven't yet fallen under the spell of Danish political thriller Borgen, here is the perfect opportunity to watch a marathon of Seasons 1 and 2 as LinkTV will air all 20 episodes of this penetrating and intelligent series over the holiday weekend, from Thursday to Sunday.  Revolving around the political, moral, and ideological struggles of Denmark's first female prime minister, Borgen is hands down the best television show of 2012, and the women at the show's center--Sidse Babett Knudsen's sympathetic statsminister Birgitte Nyborg and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen's ambitious journalist Katrine Fønsmark--deliver two of television's strongest and most nuanced performances in a show that holds up a microscope to the political and media spheres in Denmark. The result is an unforgettable and insightful drama that will have you forgetting that you're reading subtitles. 

Bonus tip: Don't worry if you don't have DirecTV or Dish or if you're away from your television this weekend: you can watch the episodes online at for two weeks after the on-air marathon.

Stream On: The Danish West Wing (June Thomas, June 1, 2012, Slate)

[A]nd for the first time ever, I got so stuck on a show that I absolutely, positively had to know how it all worked out. As soon as I got home, I ordered up the Region 2 DVD from, and I didn't leave the couch for an entire weekend.

That show was Borgen, a Danish drama about that nation's first female prime minister--a sort of Scandinavian West Wing meets Commander in Chief meets ... well, there is no U.S. analog for a show that allows a beloved character to have an abortion and regret it but apparently recover just fine, thank you very much.

I had a fabulous weekend on the sofa, but it was a solitary pleasure--since most of my friends couldn't watch the DVDs even if I had gone door-to-door proselytizing for the show, there was no chance for the kind of spirited back-and-forth conversations among friends that are such a fun part of the TV-watching experience.

And then I learned that Link TV is airing the show in the United States right now. Link TV, which bills itself as "the first nationwide television channel and website dedicated to providing global perspectives on news, events and culture," is available on satellite via the Dish Network and DirectTV, and a few cable providers around the country run some of its programming. Unfortunately, my cable system is Link-less, but for a limited time, Link is streaming the first season of Borgen on its website, and it will start airing and streaming Season 2 on Sunday, June 3. (Get the full scoop on the Link TV website.)

Borgen--the title is translated as Government, though borgen means castle, which is the nickname for Denmark's parliamentary building--is a rumination on power, ambition, integrity, love, and the art of making a deal. (Hero Birgitte Nyborg's first task is to form a coalition and thereafter to keep it together.)  It's a grown-up story about a strong, smart, funny woman who is responsible for the fate of her country and its people but is still hot for her husband and worried about her kids.

The show is beautifully plotted. The many intrigues in the worlds of politics, journalism, business, and PR are given just enough twists and turns to be surprising, but never so many that they become tiresome. It also provides a deliciously sneaky peek at Danish life. Did you know that Danish vicars wear Hamlet-like neck ruffles, that Scandinavians really do eat those hard old crisp breads (sometimes even in bed), or that Danes often hold meetings standing around tall tables? I've been to Denmark twice, and I didn't.

Borgen: The Best TV Show You've Never Seen (Andrew Romano, Jul 30, 2012, Daily Beast)

Think of Borgen as The Anti-Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin's gourmet drama about a cable-news anchor on a "mission to civilize" the masses was supposed to inherit The West Wing's mantle--until it turned out to be a preachy mess. The good news is that everything Sorkin gets wrong, Borgen gets right. (In the States, the Season 2 finale airs Aug. 5 on LinkTV; the show is already a hit in Europe, and a U.S. remake is in the works.) While The Newsroom is stuck in the past, bathing its grouchy male hero, Will McAvoy, in beatific lightbeams every time he grumbles about the good old days--you know, when "real newsmen" bestrode the earth--Borgen dramatizes the cutting-edge struggles of a woman who wouldn't even exist in the world Sorkin wants to revive: Birgitte Nyborg, the first female prime minister of Denmark.

She is a riveting protagonist. McAvoy is only powerful because Sorkin says so; Nyborg must take power from a bunch of bulbous male politicians who refer to her as "Mommy" whenever she leaves the room. McAvoy is brilliant because everyone keeps calling him brilliant; Nyborg, in contrast, actually does a lot of brilliant things (thwarting an ambitious rival, outwitting a dangerous dictator). For McAvoy, every problem has an easy, righteous answer, but Nyborg has to learn the hard way: one day, she and her rangy husband, who has put his career on hold for her, are boffing and bantering like a Nordic Bogart and Bacall; the next day, his sense of self has eroded and their perfect post-feminist "deal"--he runs the household, she runs the country--begins to collapse. The difference between the two shows is the difference between reading an overwrought op-ed about the sorry state of politics and actually living out those complexities in real time. Guess which is more compelling.

Borgen isn't the first show about a female politician; Commander in Chief, Parks and Recreation, Veep, and Political Animals all put women in positions of power. But by obsessing over the delicate, seesawing balance between what its characters do at the office and what they do at home, Borgen digs deeper. How should Nyborg respond when the company that has just hired her spouse, a sought-after CEO, also stands to profit from one of her policy decisions? Does she risk her marriage and force him to resign, even though he's going stir-crazy at home? Or does she put her husband ahead of her government?

The supporting storylines are equally nuanced. What happens when the spin doctor in charge of Nyborg's message and the star reporter covering her ascent are exes? Does the former deny the latter access? Does the reporter flirt to get the story? And how do their colleagues react? On Borgen, every public decision has private consequences, and vice versa, which is something that Hollywood usually ignores and that actual politicians, operatives, and journalists have to hide. Finally getting to see these secret repercussions spool out and spill over is spellbinding; they raise the stakes on everything that happens, suffusing even the most quotidian moments with suspense.

As a result, Borgen tends to keep its characters in a constant state of flux--a cinematic trick that's especially rewarding because it's so rarely attempted on TV.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Turkey Is Basic, but Immigrants Add Their Homeland Touches (KIM SEVERSON, 11/25/04, NY Times)

For all those struggling to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table, consider the plight of Yaser Baker, a restaurateur in this city's Arabic shopping district.

First Mr. Baker had to find a turkey that was slaughtered according to Islamic dietary law, a challenge because some local halal butchers decided not to sell turkeys this year. Then he had to adapt the traditional American recipe to Arabic tastes, which meant bathing it in lemon and olive oil and stuffing it with rice, beef and pine nuts.

Finally he had to brace for reaction from his Muslim neighbors, some of whom are either too devout or too upset about the war in Iraq even to acknowledge Thanksgiving.

But for Mr. Baker, Thanksgiving is all about the bird.

"Believe me, I don't look at it as an American holiday or a holiday that is not for Muslims," said Mr. Baker, a Palestinian and naturalized American who has been in the United States for 24 years. "I live in America. You tell me to eat turkey, I'm going to eat turkey."

The desire to celebrate Thanksgiving was so strong for Leticia Maravilla, a Mexican immigrant, that she roasted her first turkey before she had her green card, struggling through a newspaper recipe in English.

"I wanted to do it the same way Americans did it," she said, speaking from Los Angeles though an interpreter.

Suffice it to say, there is no "Dutch way."

(originally posted: November 25, 2004)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Got the Puritan blues (Jeff Jacoby, November 23, 2005, Boston Globe)

Ah, yes, the blue laws -- those rules and regulations imposed by New England's 17th-century Puritan theocrats to govern moral conduct and ensure proper observance of the Sabbath. The product of an era when ''witches" were hanged, blue laws dictated what people could wear, forbade travel on Sunday, and made it an offense to miss church. The Puritans ''carried their efforts to control private activities in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to extremes unknown elsewhere," notes the Family Encyclopedia of American History. For example, church doors were bolted during Sunday services to prevent restless congregants from leaving early.

It is hard to imagine how these laws could have survived the ratification of the Bill of Rights. But survive they did, some of them for centuries. In Massachusetts, Chapter 136 long barred most commercial activity on Sundays and legal holidays. Not even Cotton Mather would have been able to make sense of the anachronistic crazy quilt of definitions and loopholes that the law turned into over time. The same statute that barred shops and businesses from operating on ''common days of rest" also listed dozens of exceptions to the rule, including the sale of nitrogen, the operation of garden centers and public bathhouses, and the transportation of ice, bees, or Irish moss. Supermarkets weren't allowed to sell groceries, but convenience stores were. Buying a painting at an art gallery was OK. Buying paint at Home Depot was forbidden.

In 1994 Massachusetts voters finally made it lawful for all stores to open on Sunday and the summer holidays -- Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July. But the old restrictions, as illogical as ever, still apply on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

''Thanksgiving is not like any other day," Reilly insists. ''It's been the one day when people didn't have to work. People should be allowed to be off that one day, to have a day to spend with their family. This is one of those issues where tradition wins over for me."

Tradition is a fine thing, and Thanksgiving is suffused with it. But what Reilly is defending is not tradition but coercion. Americans are able to decide for themselves how to spend Thanksgiving. Given a choice, some will opt for family and turkey. Others will grab the chance to go to work for double pay. It isn't for the attorney general of Massachusetts, or any other state official, to make that choice for them.

The blue laws are and always have been obnoxious deprivations of liberty.

Not only is this the most anti-consrvative thing ever written by a putative conservative, but it betrays a moronic understanding of liberty. MA should return to stricter Blue Laws, not relax what little good is left.

(originally posted: 11/23/05)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Despite historians' efforts, Thanksgiving misconceptions endure (Lisa Anderson, 11/23/06, Chicago Tribune)

For starters, there is no conclusive evidence that turkey was on a menu that more likely starred venison, ducks, geese and shellfish. There might have been stewed pumpkin, but certainly no pumpkin pie in the then almost certainly ovenless Plymouth Colony. Cranberry sauce was as yet unknown to the colonists and the Indians, and neither yams nor white potatoes were grown yet in the New World. There is nothing to suggest the Native Americans popped corn and bestowed it on their colonizers. And there likely was no groaning board around which diners gathered.

"Did they even have a table? Maybe," said Elizabeth Pleck, a historian at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who has written extensively on the history of Thanksgiving.

The modern Thanksgiving tradition is rooted in a 165-year-old historical misunderstanding that goes far beyond the question of whether turkey was served. There was no connection made between Pilgrims and Thanksgiving until 1841, when Alexander Young published a book in Boston containing a letter written by Edward Winslow, one of the Plymouth Colony leaders, on Dec. 11, 1621.

(originally posted: 11/23/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Give thanks -- it's good for you (Bruce Chapman, 11/22/07, The Seattle Times)

When a family member learned not long ago that he was dying of cancer, he visited a church he hadn't much seen and, while leaving, he picked up a tract on the topic of facing death. The very first suggestion was to give thanks. Initially, it seemed perverse to him; after all, he was counting his impending losses, not his blessings.

But, he followed the advice and it literally transformed him, and, among other things, gave him new courage and hope.

Gratitude has been called the gateway to the virtues. As Cicero put it, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all others," opening the heart to deeper appreciation, compassion, repentance, forgiveness, generosity and wisdom. Giving thanks should be cultivated as a habit. It is a kind of therapy for the spirit.

[originally posted: 11/22/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Turkey dinner crosses cultures (MARICEL E. PRESILLA, 11/18/04, Miami Herald)

I recall with startling clarity my first Thanksgiving dinner in the United States. It was 1970, and my family had been in Miami for only four months, staying with relatives. This was to be the first important family gathering in our own new home, a graceless, sparsely furnished old house in the city's southwest section.

I was heartbroken, in no mood to celebrate. The pain of leaving behind my beloved aunts, grandmother and boyfriend was compounded by the unfriendliness of our new neighborhood, an odd, sad place with few sidewalks where nobody seemed to walk.

Still, the golden turkeys of television commercials and magazine ads beckoned, reminding me of our traditional New Year's feasts back in Cuba. More poignantly, the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims began to resonate in my mind as a symbol of hope in the face of our own tribulations.

Like most newcomers to this country, we turned Thanksgiving into our own hybrid feast. Used to our own homegrown turkeys, we succumbed to the easy charm of a plump-breasted Butterball bird, which we dutifully defrosted and marinated Cuban-style with plenty of garlic and bitter orange (naranja agria) juice.

Instead of braising the turkey in a large cauldron as we had done back home, we roasted it in the oven. We served it with congr�, the rice and red kidney bean dish traditional to my hometown of Santiago de Cuba, plus canned yams and cranberry sauce -- concessions to what we considered true Thanksgiving fare that also satisfied our Cuban penchant for mixing sweet and sour flavors.

Teary-eyed, we toasted our good fortune and those we had left behind. I felt a surge of gratitude for the roof over my head, and, for the first time since our arrival, my mood lightened with a real sense of optimism. That same night, as we cleared the table, we got news that the man who is now my husband had managed to swim across Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. Naval base and freedom.

Since that day, Thanksgiving has symbolized crossover and arrival for my husband and me. Wherever we happen to be, we gather with family or friends for a heartfelt feast. The canned stuff of old has been replaced by fresh sweet potatoes and cranberries, but our menu continues to be a paean to the best of two worlds, with foods rooted in history and tradition.

My feast is always anchored by turkey, the only important domestic animal of pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America and the sine qua non of the American Thanksgiving table since the 19th century.

(originally posted: November 25, 2004)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


On the origin of the species: Where did today's bird come from? The answer may surprise you. (John Bemelmans Marciano, November 25, 2010, LA Times)

The first Europeans to lay eyes on the bird we today call a turkey were likely Christopher Columbus and the crew of his fourth American voyage. They called the animal gallina de la tierra, or land chicken. In Mexico, Spanish conquistadors came across a domesticated version of the bird that they sent back home, to wide culinary success. By 1530, the bird was common on Spanish poultry farms, and not long after in British barnyards as well. It was there that this New World creature became confused with another, somewhat similar-looking species of bird.

This avian doppelganger was an African species known to Europeans as far back as Aristotle and the great naturalist Pliny, who called the bird meleagris. The English had two names for this animal, both having to do with where the bird was thought to come from. The first was guinea fowl, after the Guinea region of Africa, from which Portuguese traders imported the birds. The other was Turkey cock, for reasons that are today mysterious. Was there some Turkish merchant who brought the animals to England? Or were the English just atrocious with geography? The confusion got sorted out in utterly arbitrary fashion, with the Old World species taking the name guinea fowl and the newcomers winning sole English-language possession of the word turkey.

About 100 years after the New World turkey arrived in Europe, the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. There, they found an animal that bore a strong resemblance to the turkey they knew back home, although this wild variety did not take kindly to attempts at being domesticated. None of this deterred the natives, for whom the animal was a chief food source and their favorite bird to hunt. It is by no means certain that these wild northern turkeys were served at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, but it is quite possible.

...provided it ends up in your belly?

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[originally posted: 11/25/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Feasting on Thanksgiving History (ROGER MILLER, November 22, 2006, NY Sun)

When you sit down to your sumptuous feast this Thanksgiving, if you spare a thought or a prayer for those who brought you the holiday, make sure you're remembering the right people. It was the Pilgrims, not those sour Johnnies-come-lately, the Puritans, who celebrated the first American Thanksgiving.

We confuse them all the time. I was reminded of this in rereading a classic of American historical writing, "Saints and Strangers," by George F. Willison. This splendid amalgam of research and writing, first published in 1945 by Reynal & Hitchcock, reveals a lot of truths and puts straight a lot of errors concerning these ancestors of ours. [...]

All right, then, we do know that they sailed straight from Plymouth in England to Plymouth in the New World and that they were all good, solid, middle-class burghers who set up democracy straightaway. Correct? No, they sailed from the Netherlands, where they had spent several years in rancorous religious infighting. Saint or Stranger, they were all from the lower classes, some desperately poor.

The past is ironic prologue: The Dutch tolerance that allowed the Separatists to worship as they pleased also upset them because it tended to "corrupt" their children into non-Separatist ways. If the Saints sound similar to the Muslim "separatists" in the Netherlands today, then bear in mind that the Saints, when they got to Plymouth, formed a government only a little less exclusionary than the one they had fled in their native England.

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[originally posted: 11/23/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Thank You. No, Thank You: Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers Are Gobbled Up (Melinda Beck, 11/23/10, WSJ)

It turns out, giving thanks is good for your health.

A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional and physical well-being.

Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They're also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.

Now, researchers are finding that gratitude brings similar benefits in children and adolescents. Kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don't, studies show.

"A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or our grandmothers told us, but we now have scientific evidence to prove them," says Jeffrey J. Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., who has conducted much of the research with children.

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[originally posted: 11/23/10]

November 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Personality traits predict placebo pain relief (Helen Albert, 11/19/12, Cosmos Online)

The team assessed the effects of different personality traits on the degree of pain relief provided by a placebo. Volunteers were told they were going to experience pain from a continuous injection of hypertonic salt water into their jaw muscle, but that a 'pain killer' (disguised placebo) would be applied beforehand.

The researchers measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood before and after the test to evaluate levels of stress experienced by the participants, as well as evaluating the degree of secretion and activation of pain killing opioid chemicals in the brain during the experiment.

They found that people who scored highly for personality traits such as altruism, straightforwardness, and resiliency on psychiatric questionnaires had the greatest pain relief after placebo treatment, the lowest levels of cortisol in the blood, and the greatest degree of opioid activation in the brain.

In contrast, people who scored highly for being angry or hostile did not feel pain relief in response to placebo, had higher levels of cortisol, and had the lowest measurable amount of opioid activation.

"We ended up finding that the greatest influence came from a series of factors related to individual resiliency, the capacity to withstand and overcome stressors and difficult situations," said Zubieta.

"People with those factors had the greatest ability to take environmental information - the placebo - and convert it to a change in biology."

"This is a really interesting study that shows that placebo analgesia is associated with certain positive psychological traits," said neuro-rheumatologist and pain expert Anthony Jones from the University of Manchester in England.

"The nice thing about this study is that they have shown that the strength of these relationships is related to the release of natural opiates in regions of the brain that are concerned with emotional regulation and resilience to stress and change," he added.

Zubieta and colleagues said that people who are able to manufacture these 'natural pain killers' in response to placebo may be more resilient in stressful situations, which is supported by the lower levels of cortisol seen in these individuals.

They may also make better patients and have a better patient-doctor relationship than people who are naturally more hostile.

"Placebo effects are not necessarily due to placebo pills," commented Colloca.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Free Textbooks Spell Disruption for College Publishers: Startup companies offering knockoff textbooks are attracting students, and lawsuits. (Michael Fitzgerald on November 19, 2012, Technology Review) 

In 2011, [Ariel Diaz] started Boundless Learning, a Boston company that has begun giving away free electronic textbooks covering college subjects like American history, anatomy and physiology, economics, and psychology.

What's controversial is how Boundless creates these texts. The company trawls for public material on sites like Wikipedia and then crafts it into online books whose chapters track closely to those of top-selling college titles. In April, Boundless was sued by several large publishers who accused the startup of engaging in "the business model of theft."

Theft or not, the college textbook industry is ripe for a disruptive shock from the Internet. Publishers today operate using what Mark Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan, calls a "cartel-style" model: students are required to buy specific texts at high prices. Perry has calculated that prices for textbooks have been rising at three times the rate of inflation since the 1980s.

On average, college students spend around $1,200 each year on books and supplies. Those costs, which sometimes exceed the tuition at a community college, are prompting a wider rebellion against commercial publishers. In February, California legislators passed a law directing the state to produce free versions of texts used in the state's 50 most popular college courses. In October, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said printed textbooks, a $6 billion industry in the United States (when sales of both used and new books are tallied), should be made "obsolete."

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


A Wonderful Life : Terry Teachout reaches down deep into the soul of Louis Armstrong. (Thomas S. Hibbs, 11/20/12, National Review)

At one point during Terry Teachout's play Satchmo at the Waldorf, the character of Louis Armstrong, performed by the accomplished stage and screen actor John Douglas Thompson, talks about his astonishing ability to string together a series of high Cs on his horn. Satchmo adds that, after those high notes, he likes "to take things way back down low, so you know you been somewhere." Something similar is true of Teachout's play. As with the experience of all true art, you know you've been somewhere. [...] Teachout's very risky composition of a one-man play, focusing primarily, of course, on Armstrong but secondarily on Armstrong's manager, Joe Glaser, and with brief appearances by Armstrong's musical nemesis, Miles Davis, could have easily faltered in any number of ways. Bad pacing, uneven shifts between characters, or the inability of the actor to sustain a 90-minute series of monologues -- any of these could have derailed the performance.

Happily for viewers, none of these difficulties surface. The script scintillates, and the performance captivates, from start to finish. Above all, theatergoers will discover a very happy coincidence of material and performer, with John Douglas Thompson moving with ease back and forth between the characters, masterfully altering the emotional register -- from anger to sorrow, from desperation to joy -- and keeping the audience entertained throughout. (A lengthy standing ovation followed the performance I attended last weekend in Philadelphia.)

Prompted by a famous photograph of a pensive and weary Armstrong backstage at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1971, just months before his death, Satchmo at the Waldorf is a behind-the-scenes presentation of the life of Louis (pronounced Lewis, not Louie, because, as Armstrong says, "I ain't French. I'm black") Armstrong, the man. As he says early on, "People don't know me; all they know is what they see on TV."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


A Plea for Bipartisanship (Douglas Schoen and Jessica Tarlov, 11/19/12, Daily Beast)

According to our poll, both parties are viewed negatively. Fifty-eight percent view the Republicans in Congress unfavorably, 56 percent say the same about the Democrats, and 70 percent believe that we need a new party dedicated to compromise, conciliation, fiscal discipline, and economic growth that draws on the best ideas from both sides.

Moreover, there is huge concern that the political class in Washington has not provided any meaningful approach to addressing our mounting fiscal challenges. Sixty-one percent of the electorate disapproves of how Obama and the Democrats in Congress have handled the issues surrounding the fiscal cliff, and 58 percent gave a similar response about the Republicans. Meanwhile, an extraordinary 88 percent of those surveyed agreed with this statement: "We need a bipartisan agreement to reduce the deficit, where everything is on the table, and both Republicans and Democrats compromise on some positions they feel strongly about."

On the policy substance, 66 percent of respondents favored a tax increase for upper-income Americans, and 49 percent endorsed a program whereby Congress reduces the federal budget deficit through equal spending cuts and tax increases--both statistics that favor Obama's position. (In the latter poll, 35 percent favored only spending cuts, and 5 percent favored only tax increases.) At the same time, lest Democrats get carried away, it is important to note that an even greater number of respondents--75 percent--believe the current level of federal spending helps neither individuals nor the economy.

November 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


Catalonia is voting on its future in Spain - and Madrid is worried (Giles Tremlett in Sabadell, 11/19/12, The Guardian)

The red and yellow striped flags of Catalonia bobbed about giddily as Lluis Recoder delivered his message: despite the crisis gripping Spain, Catalans could be as rich as Scandinavians.

"If we were a European state we would be seventh in Europe in per capita income, after Denmark and Sweden," the Catalan nationalist and regional government minister declared, to an enthusiastic response. His figures are based on wealth calculations that can look skewed. (Struggling Ireland is, for example, richer on a per capita basis than thriving Germany). But they are seen here at least as proof that Catalonia - a region of almost eight million people - could be not just viable but also wealthy if it were to separate from Spain.

"It is very viable," said Artur Mas, the Catalan president, in an interview with the Guardian. "What is not viable is the current situation."

The Catalan separatist campaign will come to a head this weekend in an election that will in effect serve as a plebiscite on the region's future in Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


The new ruralism: how the pastoral idyll is taking over our cities: Meadows nestling beside tower blocks, children cavorting in rustic playgrounds, not to mention all those farmers' markets - these days, our cities can't seem to get enough of the countryside (Paula Cocozza, 11/18/12, The Guardian)

Children's play is only the start of it. Everywhere you look, the countryside has crept into cities and towns - the way we shop, eat, read, dress, decorate our homes, spend our time. Street food is sold out of revamped agricultural trucks, or from village-delivery style bicycles. City-dwellers are booking into a growing number of courses on rural life; urban bees and chickens are commonplace (though do keep up: ducks are where it's at now). And when Rebekah Brooks wanted to get the prime minister's attention? "Let's discuss over country supper soon."

In Liverpool, according to Grant Luscombe, founder of environmental education charity Landlife, wildflower meadows have been sown across the city from a derelict site next to Anfield football stadium to an estate of tower blocks in nearby Kirkby, where schoolchildren bring their easels. "It's like Monet," he says.

It might seem a leap from the meadows of Liverpool - you could take a train to Euston in central London and be met by another wildflower meadow outside the station - to the beautiful artificial bird nests and dandelions that earlier this year decorated the famous windows of London department store Liberty, but there is something of the same impulse behind them all. We can't get enough nature in our lives.

It is a trend whose tendrils are wrapping around the walls of our homes with flora and fauna-themed wallpaper, rustic furniture and apparently endless bird ornaments, so you can celebrate the pastoral while stuck in front of the box - that's the box that's overrun with nature programming, of course. Or perhaps with your feet up and a copy of Robert McFarlane's bestselling The Old Ways, a paean to the delights of rambling.

Every other month Elle Decoration proclaims "the wonders of wood". Used apple crates are hailed as a stylish storage solution. The humble milking stool is exalted as a furniture shape of prototypical purity by hip designers such as Another Country, its proportions seeming to convey some sort of Platonic ideal. "A stool boiled down to a minimum", is how the man behind Another Country, Paul de Zwart, puts it, as if the chisel has scraped away the layers to release an essential simpleness lurking within. It is a beautiful stool, and a clever one. Appearing at once simple by nature and simple by design, it begs appreciation of all the complex calculations that have produced it, and promises to take its owner one step nearer to an uncomplicated life.

As De Zwart well knows, his stool demonstrates the most fashionable way to join a leg to a seat - with "a loose tongue", a traditional rustic device. If you don't know what that looks like, check your chairs. Where the top of the leg pokes through the seat, you will see a little wooden strip dissecting the circular top of the leg, like the line through a pill. (If your chair legs don't poke through the seat, there's no helping you.)

Not surprisingly, the most exalted woods in current design are not the exotics but humble pine and oak.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Post-Election Poll: Obama Voters Say "Let's Make a Deal" (MICHELLE DIGGLES and LANAE ERICKSON HATALSKY, Third Way)

80% of Obama voters strongly agree that "Democrats and Republicans both need to make real compromises to come to an agreement on fixing the deficit."

82% say that should include both tax increases and spending cuts, with only 5% of Obama voters favoring tax increases alone and 10% preferring only spending cuts.

79% of Obama voters believe it would be better for the country if the President and Congress made changes to fix Social Security and Medicare than if they made no changes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Entitlements Split Democrats : Changes to Medicare, Other Safety-Net Programs Debated as 'Fiscal Cliff' Looms NAFTALI BENDAVID AND JANET HOOK

With deficit talks kicking off in earnest, Democrats are divided on the magnitude of changes they would accept when it comes to overhauling Medicare and other safety-net programs.

The party is split between those who would agree to major adjustments, including increasing premiums for wealthier beneficiaries and raising Medicare's eligibility age, and those who rule out such moves altogether. In the middle is a group that would tolerate some cuts as long as they didn't hit beneficiaries directly.

A Democrat president, all the Republicans and some Democrats.

November 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


10 reasons a carbon tax is trickier than you think (David Roberts, 11/19/12, Grist)

Here are 10 reasons for a more tempered and realistic attitude toward a carbon tax.

1. It's conservative.

There's a reason so many conservative (and neoliberal) economists support carbon taxes: They fit comfortably in a worldview that says problems are most effectively solved by markets, with minimal government intervention.

Current markets have a flaw: They do not reflect the external costs associated with carbon dioxide emissions (namely, the impacts of a heating planet). The answer, economists argue, is to determine the "social cost of carbon" and to integrate that cost into markets via a carbon price, tax, or fee. With an economy-wide, technology-agnostic carbon tax in place, the market will eliminate carbon wherever it is cheapest to do so, insuring that we don't "overpay" for carbon reductions.

Implicit (and often explicit) in this view is the notion that other attempts to tackle carbon -- say, EPA power plant rules, or fuel-economy standards, or clean-energy tax credits -- are merely backdoor, inefficient ways of pricing carbon. If you get the social cost of carbon right and levy an economy-wide tax that prices all tons of carbon equally, then you have optimized the market, carbon-wise. All other regulations and subsidies will only serve to disrupt market efficiency. They are sand in the gears, as it were. [...]
7. The carbon lobby will want to axe EPA regulations in exchange.

Exxon has been supporting a carbon tax (notionally) for several years, but it's made clear that it sees such a tax as "an alternative to costly regulation." This is what everyone's favorite dirty-energy lobbyist Frank Maisano recently wrote (behind a paywall):

No carbon tax should be considered before serious regulatory reform is undertaken. The U.S. EPA is moving forward on an approach that regulates carbon, which is akin to fitting a square peg in a round hole. Not only is it legally dubious, but it is not likely not work in practice, either.

Suffice to say, the fossil fuel lobby would never give a carbon tax their OK unless EPA regulations on carbon (and possibly other pollution regs) were scrapped. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Google's Internet Service Might Actually Bring the U.S. Up to Speed : In a radical departure from its core business, the search giant is installing high-speed fiber neighborhood by neighborhood. (David Talbot, November 19, 2012, Technology Review)

Compared to many countries, the United States has slow and patchy Internet service. While a few areas enjoy very fast service, overall the United States ranks 24th worldwide in speed, with consumers receiving an average of 11.6-megabits-per-second download speeds.

An affordable service that is nearly two orders of magnitude faster began in one neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, last Tuesday.

In planning the deployment, Google carved the metropolis into 202 neighborhoods, and asked interested residents and businesses to pay $10 to preregister for the service. Once a critical mass did so--ranging from 5 to 25 percent per neighborhood (Google calls them fiberhoods), depending on the population density--Google went ahead with the street-level installation. If people reneged on their pledge to subscribe, they'd lose the $10.

The actual service is a bargain compared to many services that provide much slower speeds. Google's gigabit Internet service is priced at $70 per month. When bundled with TV, the price rises to $120--and Google is certainly pushing that additional service (see "Searching for the Future of Television" and "Google Launches a Superfast Internet and TV Business"). Users subscribing for a TV service get a two-terabyte storage box for recorded shows and a Nexus 7 Android tablet to use as a remote control. (As a budget alternative, Internet at five megabits per second is available for a one-time fee of $300.)

The US mail is faster than our local FairPoint service.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Economist magazine bets professor over China's future (Laurence Knight, 11/11/12, BBC News)

"China has grown very rapidly in the last 30 years, but it has been following a model that is not unique," says Prof Pettis.

"In the 50s and 60s almost everyone 'knew' that the Soviet Union would overtake the US in the 70s - even Jack Kennedy - but it didn't happen. Instead, the Russian economy got mired in debt and years of stagnation."

Other examples include the Brazilian economic "miracle" of the 1960s and 1970s, says Prof Pettis, that ended in a 1982 financial crisis and a "lost decade" of growth, or Japan's rapid ascent up until its own 1990 crisis and subsequent two-decade stagnation.

What these countries have in common is an enormous level of government-led investment - in roads, trains, schools, hospitals, education and training.

"You can get tremendous growth by keeping investment levels high," he explains. "And in the early days, growth is healthy and sustainable.

"But later... you very easily reach a point where you can't identify economically viable projects any more, and you overshoot and start misallocating capital in a pretty significant way. That's when debt rises more quickly than the economy's capacity to service it."

China has been overinvesting perhaps since the 1990s, according to Prof Pettis, and certainly in the last five to 10 years.

"A lot of growth is fake," he says. "If you spend $1bn building an airport, it generates the same amount of [economic output] today whether or not anyone actually uses the airport.

"If no-one uses it, however, the economic value created by the airport is not enough to repay the debt, and so future growth must decline as wealth is transferred from some other part of the economy to pay down the debt."

He says that there are three main sources of growth for China. The first, investment, is already exhausted. The second, exports, are also no longer viable, as China's main export markets in Europe and the US are depressed, and China's trade surplus has become politically contentious in those countries.

The third option is for ordinary Chinese people to increase their spending on consumer products and services.

But here the numbers just don't stack up. Consumers account for just a third of spending in China - an unprecedentedly low share for any major economy - while investment accounts for a whopping half of the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Repeat testing common among Medicare patients (Genevra Pittman, November 19, 2012, Reuters Health) 

In a new study, up to half - or more - of older adults on Medicare who had a heart, lung, stomach or bladder test had the same procedure repeated within three years.

Those tests typically aren't supposed to be routinely repeated, researchers said. For some of them, such as echocardiography and stress tests for heart function, there are recommendations specifically against routine testing.

"What we were struck by is just how commonly these tests are being repeated," said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, lead author of the report from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Gorging the Beast : Tax cuts didn't starve big government. (Andrew Ferguson, November 26, 2012, Weekly Standard)

And then Niskanen, looking over 25 years of budget data, noticed something about STB: It didn't work. In fact, attempts to starve the beast by tax cuts seemed to lead to increased federal spending.

Niskanen looked at both spending and taxes as a percentage of GDP. On average, he found, if federal revenues declined by 1 percent, federal spend- ing increased by 0.15 percent. When revenues rose, on the other hand, relative spending decreased. A fur- ther study in 2009 by another Cato economist, Michael New, came to the same conclusion after the gluttonous administration of George W. Bush. Under Bush and his mostly Republican Congress, new benefits like subsidized Medicare drugs and increased federal education spending followed on the heels of large tax cuts.

Niskanen's explanation for the failure of STB was straightforward, a conjecture based on standard economics: When you cut the price of something, demand for it will increase. Lowering taxes without lowering benefits meant that tax- payers were getting the benefits at a discount. [...]

Why do tax increases lead to decreased spending? "Demand by current voters for federal spend- ing," he explained, "declines with the amount of this spending that is financed by current taxes." When you make them pay for government benefits out of their own pockets, in other words, voters will want fewer of them. The journalist Jona- than Rauch put Niskanen's point more pithily: "Voters will not shrink Big Government until they feel the pinch of its true cost."

For that reason, the great liber- tarian pot-stirrer said that spending would never decrease--that government would never get smaller--until federal revenues increased from 15.8 percent of GDP, where they are today, to higher than 19 percent of GDP: an amount totaling in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

...while today's taxes are abnormally low, 19% wouldn't be terribly high.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Bush's Burma Policy, Obama's Victory Lap : The president inherited an effective policy of sanctions, diplomatic pressure and human-rights advocacy. (Mary Kissel, 11/18/12, WSJ)

[B]urma's political calculations had little to do with Mr. Obama or with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The country's change instead was prompted by--steady yourself, Foggy Bottom--the administration of George W. Bush, who put in place a diplomatic framework that nudged Burma in the right direction when the generals were finally ready to embrace reform.

The Bush foreign policy placed a strong emphasis on human rights and instituted a multilateral effort to pressure the junta, using regional bodies like the 10-member Association for Southeast Asian Nations and international organizations like the United Nations. The Bush team also maintained sanctions against the junta's leaders and steered humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people as best they could.

When the Obama crew took over the State Department, they "reviewed" these policies for months--and then discovered that the status quo was quite appealing. "The results of that review," said Scot Marciel, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs said in 2009, "were first, to reaffirm our fundamental goals for Burma, that we want to see a Burma that is at peace, unified, prosperous, stable, respects the rights of all of its citizens, and is democratic. That hasn't changed."

Having made the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi her personal cause, the former First Lady deserves much of the credit here.

November 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


 A decisive conclusion is necessary (GILAD SHARON, 11/18/2012, Jerusalem Post)

We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima - the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they'd really call for a ceasefire.

Were this to happen, the images from Gaza might be unpleasant - but victory would be swift, and the lives of our soldiers and civilians spared.

IF THE government isn't prepared to go all the way on this, it will mean reoccupying the entire Gaza Strip. Not a few neighborhoods in the suburbs, as with Cast Lead, but the entire Strip, like in Defensive Shield, so that rockets can no longer be fired.

There is no middle path here - either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. 

All you need to know about what's happened to the Israeli soul is that those are viewed as the only two options for the Palestinian people.
Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Hamas aims high in its ceasefire demands : Islamists wants open borders for Gaza and no more Israeli strikes; Jerusalem says any deal must mean an end to rocket fire -- for good (Times of Israel, November 19, 2012)

An Israeli envoy was whisked from the tarmac at Cairo's international airport to talks with senior Egyptian security officials. The top Hamas leader in exile Khaled Mashaal held talks with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who also spoke by phone with the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

Hamas' demands, as presented by Mashaal, include open borders for Gaza and international guarantees that Israel will halt all attacks on Gaza, including targeted killings of the movement's leaders. The assassination of Hamas' military chief last week after days of smaller exchanges between the two sides marked the start of the Israeli offensive, the most intense since a three-week-long war four years ago.

The Islamists view the current round of fighting as an opportunity to pry open the borders of Gaza, which slammed shut in 2007, after Hamas wrested control of the territory from its political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In response to the takeover, Israel and Egypt -- then under Morsi's pro-Western predecessor Hosni Mubarak -- sealed off Gaza to disrupt Hamas rule.

"We will not accept a cease-fire until the occupation (Israel) meets our conditions," said Izzat Rishaq, a senior Hamas official who is involved in the cease-fire efforts in Cairo.

Free movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is seen as vital for Hamas' continued control of Gaza.

Trading something symbolic for something substantial is strategic nous.
Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Tocquevillian Reflections on the Meaning of the Election (Peter Augustine Lawler, November 12, 2012, Ethika Politika)

So how would Alexis de Tocqueville react to our "progressive" president's reelection?  His first comment might be:  Don't overreact!  Think a bit about what really happened.

Tocqueville makes a key distinction between SMALL and GREAT political parties.  Great parties are parties of high principle.  Their dominance on the political stage has the advantage of bringing great men into political life.  They have the disadvantage of rousing up animosity that readily leads to war.  So great parties make great men happy and most men miserable.  Lee and Lincoln were given by the Civil War challenges worthy of their great talents and ambitions, as was Washington by the Revolutionary War.  But these bloody conflicts were devastating for ordinary lives--for most people's hopes and dreams.

Democracies, however, hardly ever have great parties.  Most of the time our parties are coalitions of diverse interests and short on clear and divisive principle.  Politicians make petty appeals to ordinary selfishness, and people vote their interests.  The bad news is that great men are repulsed by the small stakes and contemptible motives of political life, and so they stay away from it.  The good news is that the outcomes of elections aren't so important, and people aren't roused up to take to the streets or grab their weapons.  The winning candidate and party is the one that most effectively builds a majority coalition of diverse interests, and the losing candidate and party end up acknowledging that, most of all, it got outhustled.

Both of our candidates, two decent, talented men short on high principle, ran small, highly calculated, and even cynical campaigns. 
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Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


The Eugenic Impulse (Nathaniel Comfort, 11/12/12, The Chronicle Review)

"The ultimate ideal sought," wrote Harvey Ernest Jordan in 1912, "is a perfect society constituted of perfect individuals." Jordan, who would later be dean of medicine at the University of Virginia, was speaking to the importance of eugenics in medicine--­a subject that might seem tasteless and obsolete today. Yet nearly a century later, in 2008, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the biomedical research institute on Long Island's north shore, published a book titled Davenport's Dream, which shows that eugenic visions persist. Charles Davenport, ­a colleague and friend of Jordan's, had directed Cold Spring Harbor for the first third of the 20th century, turning it from a sleepy, summertime marine-biology laboratory into a center for genetics research­--and the epicenter of American eugenics.

Davenport's Dream is a facsimile of Davenport's major work, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (1911), prefaced by nearly 200 pages of commentary by scientists, historians, and legal experts­ celebrating Davenport and expanding on questions of genetics and eugenics in biomedicine. In the volume, the genome guru Maynard V. Olson writes that dbSNP, the database of small genetic variations, makes possible the fulfillment of Davenport's dream. "Here," he writes, "is the raw material for a real science of human genetic perfection."

Davenport thought he had the raw material for a real science of human perfection. The original conception of eugenics, described by the British polymath Sir Francis Galton in the late 19th century, was based on the breeder's subjective, holistic understanding of heredity. The rediscovery of Mendel's rules of heredity in 1900 seemed to place eugenics on an empirical, quantitative, scientific footing. And so it did, ­relative to Sir Francis.

Davenport and his cronies used genetic arguments to promote the betterment of the human race through marriage, immigration, and sterilization laws, as well as through propaganda and research. But eventually, Progressive-era human genetics and eugenics came to seem out of date. Through the second half of the 20th century, Davenport was geneticist non grata, an embarrassing black mark on the pedigree of human genetics, like a Nazi grandfather you'd rather not bring up in conversation. 

...was the confusion of farm breeding programs with evolution.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Literary Bond Superior to Movie Version : Compare Ian Fleming's fictional creation in his novels to what we see on the screen and the differences start piling up. It's the books, not the films, that should be the standard Bond (Allen Barra, 11/11/12, Daily Beast)

The man who never lost a fight in the movies was, in his literary incarnation, not physically imposing. SMERSH estimated his height at "183 centimeters, weight 76 kilograms, slim build." Or six feet and 168 pounds. Fleming's Bond is no superman, though the Russians thought him an "all-round athlete, expert pistol shot, boxer, knife-thrower... knows the basic holds of judo. In general, fights with tenacity and has a high tolerance of pain." Lucky for him, because in all the 1950s books he is tortured by people who mean business, not supervillains like in the movies who want to explain their plans and show him their erector-set operations with inexplicably obvious self-destruct buttons.

This is because they are Communists. The grim visage of Cold War is never far from Bond's mind in any of the early books. Casino Royale's le Chiffre, Auric Goldfinger, the hideous and asexual Rosa Kleb in From Russia With Love, Mr. Big, the fierce African-American crime boss in Live and Let Die, were all Communist agents--vermin eating at the vitals of the free world. [...]

In The Man Who Saved Britain (2006), Simon Winder argued that Fleming's novels would fade, regarded at best mere addendums to the Bond films. I would maintain the opposite. Outside of the first few Connery films and a handful of others since then, most of the Bond movies have been a waste of time. The books, on the other hand, have attracted perhaps the smartest readership of any genre writer since Raymond Chandler. Chandler, in fact, was one of Fleming's biggest boosters, along with Kingsley Amis (who wrote a fun little book, The James Bond Dossier, and a Bond novel himself), Anthony Burgess (who wrote an introduction to a British edition of the Bond paperbacks), Cyril Connelly (author of perhaps the best parody of Fleming, "Bond Strikes Camp"), Christopher Isherwood, Elizabeth Bowen, and even John F. Kennedy, who, in a 1961 edition of Life magazine named From Russia With Love one of his 10 favorite books, along with Stendhal's Scarlet and Black. Fleming was particularly proud of Kennedy's endorsement; he probably died without knowing that another fan, Lee Harvey Oswald, had checked his works out of a New Orleans public library.

Fleming's Bond is an avatar of a time still strongly felt if only dimly remembered. The Cold War may be dated, but so is the Victorian London of Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe's pre-boom Los Angeles. There will always be room in the fictional pantheon for someone willing to die in the service of his country. And when you do what you're told as well as Ian Fleming's Bond, you shouldn't be begrudged a little grated egg with your caviar.

Similarly, but with even less literary pretense, Mickey Spillane's early Mike Hammer books are a helpful reminder of how much decent people hated Communists.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


New Efforts by Barna Group, NAE, Others Aim to Reach--and Understand--Hispanics : Evangelical leaders capitalize on post-election interest in U.S. Latinos. (Melissa Steffan, 11/15/2012, Christianity Today)

The Barna Group announced Tuesday the launch of its new Hispanic research division, Barna: Hispanics, which coincides with the release of its first report, "Hispanic America: Faith, Values and Priorities."

In addition, more than 150 evangelical leaders renewed their calls for comprehensive immigration reform. On Tuesday, the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) issued letters to President Obama and federal lawmakers demanding a meeting within the next 92 days--a reference to the number of times the Hebrew word for immigrant (ger) appears in the Bible.

The EIT, which launched in June, is calling for lawmakers to "create just and humane immigration laws" that adhere to six principles: respect for "God-given" human dignity; protection for families; respect for the rule of law; guaranteed border security; fairness for taxpayers; and a path toward legal status for qualified immigrants.

Original signatories of the EIT include the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Sojourners, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

Such calls for immigration reform among evangelical leaders--as well as these particular principles--are not new. In 2010, the NAE ran a similar ad campaign, "An Evangelical Call for Bipartisan Immigration Reform," advocating the same principles verbatim.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


The Books Interview : Anne Applebaum: "Why did so many people co-operate with what were clearly evil and unjust regimes?" (JONATHAN DERBYSHIRE PUBLISHED 08 NOVEMBER 2012, New Statesman)

You describe a process in the Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe after the war that you call "passive collaboration".

I struggled for the correct phrase. Someone who read the manuscript said, "You shouldn't use the word 'collaboration'." On the other hand, I couldn't think of what other word I could use.

What I meant were people who went along with things because they had very bad choices and because the circumstances of their lives forced them to do it.

I have huge sympathy for people who lived in, say, Poland or Czechoslovakia in that period. I have much less sympathy for people in the west. There was always information about what was going in eastern Europe. They had plenty of good choices. So I don't feel sympathy for Eric Hobsbawm and his friends but I do have sympathy for unwilling, half-enthusiastic communists in eastern Europe in the 1950s. They had a tough time. [...]

You mentioned Eric Hobsbawm. How do you see the role of western communists and fellow-travellers in this period? You mention Sartre, among others, in the book.

They assisted in legitimising the regimes, at least for a period, but I wouldn't overplay their role. They were important in legitimising the Soviet Union in the 1930s - that was when they did real damage.

You suggest that there was nothing inevitable about the fate of eastern Europe. It's not as if the countries in the region were predisposed to totalitarianism.

Right. If Austria had been taken over, Austria would have been a communist country. And if the Soviets hadn't taken over Poland, Poland wouldn't have been a communist country.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Tax reform? We need a revolution : We should be shifting from taxes on corporations and income to taxes on pollution, wealth and consumption. (Bruce Ackerman, November 18, 2012, LA Times)

In framing the case for reform, the commission took the basic tax system as a given. In contrast, a final deal should recognize that the country is taxing the wrong things. We should be shifting from taxes on corporations to taxes on pollution and wealth, from taxes on income to taxes on consumption. These changes would increase revenue and promote a more just and efficient economy.

The corporate tax is the brainchild of the early 20th century. Progressives used it as symbol to demonize evil corporate fat cats conspiring against the public good. But shareholders can pass on a great deal of the tax to workers and possibly consumers. To the extent that investors bear the burden, the high corporate rate encourages them to send their money overseas.

The traditional aims of the corporate tax are better served by other means. Imposing an annual wealth tax on the super rich is a more effective way to curb economic inequality. On very conservative assumptions, a 2% annual wealth tax on households with $7.2 million in assets -- the top half of the top 1% -- would yield $70 billion a year. As the experience of France, Norway and other nations shows, it is perfectly feasible to impose such taxes, and they would put real meaning into the rhetoric of shared sacrifice.

Similarly, a carbon tax on polluters to curb global warming provides a better way to ensure corporate responsibility. The tax could yield an estimated $1.25 trillion over the next 10 years. This gives firms a powerful incentive to clean up cheaply, while consumers pay prices that encourage them to buy products that do less environmental damage. Japan has already introduced such a levy, and it is on serious agendas elsewhere.

These taxes are usually nonstarters for Republicans in the House. But would they consider them an acceptable price to pay in exchange for reduced corporate rates? The corporate tax yielded $175 billion last year. With the new taxes generating $2 trillion over a decade, the corporate rate could be cut significantly as part of a grand bargain that generated a huge net gain for the Treasury.

The president and the speaker also should be expanding their negotiating room by considering how a tax on consumption might contribute to a better deal on the income tax.

Other than his wealth tax, why tax income at all?

November 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


First Talks Bring Hope of Broad Budget Deal (CAROL E. LEE, JANET HOOK and DAMIAN PALETTA, 11/16/12, WSJ)

Leaders from both parties and aides to Mr. Obama said they agreed to make concessions to achieve a deal. For Democrats, that included a willingness to curb entitlement programs, such as Medicare. For Republicans that meant a willingness to raise tax revenue. The question for each side, however, is how.

White House and congressional staff will next week begin sorting through details of what a framework will look like. The leaders are expected to convene for another meeting after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Under a proposed framework, policy makers would have to agree to the amount of revenue they would raise through an overhaul of the tax code as well as the savings they would get through changing entitlement programs like Medicare. The deadline for Congress to enact these changes would be some time next year.

Republicans know tax revenues are drastically below their historic average of 18% of GDP.  Democrats know you can't run an annual budget drastically higher than that.  The rest is just posturing.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


US energy is changing the world again (Daniel Yergin, 11/16/12, Financial Times)

The idea of "energy independence" was first proffered by Richard Nixon during the 1973 oil crisis. Every president since has held out the promise that the US could return to self-sufficiency and so, it was thought, become less vulnerable to Middle East turmoil and high prices.

Yet until recently, the only pertinent question seemed to be how quickly would the rate of oil imports increase? As it turned out, it was technology, facilitated by higher prices - and not grand policy - that have propelled the turnround of the past few years. Two developing technologies - hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling - were successfully combined to spark the US shale gas revolution. In a decade, shale gas has risen from 2 per cent of US natural gas production to 37 per cent. The US has overtaken Russia as the world's largest natural gas producer.

Oil explorers soon began to apply these technologies to previously unproductive rocks. The result is the surge in what has become known as "tight oil" (owing to the density of rocks from which it is produced).

The economic effects of this revolution in unconventional forms of production are already apparent. The most immediate has been in employment - more than 1.7m jobs have been created. The development of shale gas and tight oil involves long supply chains, with substantial sums being spent across the country. It is these jobs that have made Mr Obama and many state governors supportive of shale gas and tight oil.

The impact will increase. By 2020, 3m jobs could be created by the energy revolution. Most will have salaries higher the average US job. This means more money for cash-strapped governments. By that year, government revenues from taxes and royalties arising from unconventional oil and gas could be over $110bn, according to analysis by IHS.

The other increasingly important impact is on global competition. US natural gas is abundant and prices are low - a third of their level in Europe and a quarter of that in Japan. This is boosting energy-intensive manufacturing in the US, much to the dismay of competitors in both Europe and Asia. Billions of dollars of investment are now slated for US manufacturing because of this inexpensive gas.

...but instead waited until the profits were flowing to rotten regimes and speculators.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Teenage Gamers Are Better At Virtual Surgery Than MDs (Colin Lecher,11.16.2012, Popular Science)

A lot of people see videogames as the archetypal time-waster. That's silly, and there have been a lot of studies that show why. The latest? Researchers have found that high school- and college-age gamers are better virtual surgeons than medical residents.

Scientists from University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston had a hunch that students with a regular videogame diet (high school sophomores who played two hours of games a day and college students who played four) would be primed for virtual surgery tools. They were right. When performance with those tools was measured, the game-playing students did better than a group of residents at UTMB.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Big Idea: The Hell of Pure Possibility (Peter Lawler, November 16, 2012, Big Think)

Here's a thought of the novelist Walker Percy's searching character Will Barrett in The Last Gentleman:

For until this moment he had lived in a state of pure possibility, not knowing what sort of man he was or what he must do, and supposing therefore that he must be all men and do everything. But after this morning's incident his life took a turn in a particular direction. Thereafter he came to see that he was not destined to do everything but only one or two things. Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him.

 Here's Percy's thought:  Sartre was wrong to say that hell is other people.  Hell is the experience of "pure possibility."  It's the experience of not knowing who you are or what you're supposed to do. It's  to have no order or direction to your life except what you might quite arbitrarily choose for yourself.  If you might be everyone or might do anything, you don't have what it takes to turn your life in any "particular direction." You're unlucky enough not to have what it takes to live--meaning  live well.

According to David Brooks in his most recent column:  "At some point over the past generation, people around the world entered what you might call the age of possibility. They became intolerant of any arrangement that might close off their personal options. "

In keeping with Mr. Lawler's recent essays, isn't it largely marriage and parenthood that replaces possibility with direction?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


American Creed : A popular video-game series takes on the Revolutionary War. (Robert VerBruggen, 11/17/12, National Review)

Unfortunately, ACIII gets off to a painfully slow start -- while the series is known for letting its Assassins explore huge historical cities, playing through specific "memories" (missions) at their leisure, this entry forces players along a linear storyline for quite some time. Several hours pass before the main character is even born (the Animus first taps into the memories of the protagonist's father), and several more go by before our new Assassin, the half-white/half-Native American Connor, is fully trained and the events of the Revolution start heating up.

It's worth the wait, though. Eventually, Connor is allowed free rein in a gigantic, beautiful, almost photorealistic rendering of early America, with forests bursting with wildlife, cities buzzing with conversations about the current political tensions, and taverns full of forgotten betting games like Nine Men's Morris. Colonial cities, most strikingly Boston, have been recreated through a combination of actual maps and creative license.

As the story unfolds, Connor takes part in countless pivotal events, from the Boston Massacre to the war's most important battles. Even with the series' Dan Brown-style conspiracy theories worked in at every turn, it is difficult for an American not to revel in a game that involves hurling tea into Boston Harbor, killing British tax enforcers, and accompanying Paul Revere on his famous ride.

Further, the franchise has always done a tremendous job of bringing historical personalities to life -- most memorably, in Assassin's Creed II, Leonardo da Vinci let players take a prototype of his flying machine for a test drive - and in Assassin's Creed III the developers have seized the opportunities presented by the American Revolution. Israel Putnam appears as a gruff, cigar-chomping general, Ben Franklin as a refined academic, and Samuel Adams as a dedicated and thoughtful revolutionary who's more than willing to help Connor keep a low profile.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly (JUSTIN HECKERT,  November 15, 2012, NY Times Magazine)

The girl who feels no pain was in the kitchen, stirring ramen noodles, when the spoon slipped from her hand and dropped into the pot of boiling water. It was a school night; the TV was on in the living room, and her mother was folding clothes on the couch. Without thinking, Ashlyn Blocker reached her right hand in to retrieve the spoon, then took her hand out of the water and stood looking at it under the oven light. She walked a few steps to the sink and ran cold water over all her faded white scars, then called to her mother, "I just put my fingers in!" Her mother, Tara Blocker, dropped the clothes and rushed to her daughter's side. "Oh, my lord!" she said -- after 13 years, that same old fear -- and then she got some ice and gently pressed it against her daughter's hand, relieved that the burn wasn't worse.

"I showed her how to get another utensil and fish the spoon out," Tara said with a weary laugh when she recounted the story to me two months later. "Another thing," she said, "she's starting to use flat irons for her hair, and those things get superhot."

Tara was sitting on the couch in a T-shirt printed with the words "Camp Painless But Hopeful." Ashlyn was curled on the living-room carpet crocheting a purse from one of the skeins of yarn she keeps piled in her room. Her 10-year-old sister, Tristen, was in the leather recliner, asleep on top of their father, John Blocker, who stretched out there after work and was slowly falling asleep, too. The house smelled of the homemade macaroni and cheese they were going to have for dinner. A South Georgia rainstorm drummed the gutters, and lightning illuminated the batting cage and the pool in the backyard.

Without lifting her eyes from the crochet hooks in her hands, Ashlyn spoke up to add one detail to her mother's story. "I was just thinking, What did I just do?" she said.
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November 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


India stepping up to the challenge of post-2014 Afghanistan (Sanjeev Miglani, NOVEMBER 12, 2012, Reuters)

To be an Indian in Kabul is to be greeted warmly wherever you go, whether it is negotiating a security barrier or seeking a meeting with a government official. There is an easing of tensions (in Afghanistan, the fear uppermost in the mind is that the stranger at the door could be an attacker and you don't have too long to judge), Bollywood is almost immediately mentioned, and your hosts will go out of their way to help.

To be a Pakistani is a bit more fraught. The body search is rigorous, the questioning hostile, and, more often than not, you have to be rescued by a Western colleague especially if you are entering one of those heavily guarded, unmarked restaurants frequented by foreigners.

To the ordinary Afghan, India and Pakistan have followed two different paths in the country beginning from the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 when there was hope in the air and you could walk in the streets of Kabul (instead of trying to escape it) to the current time when the Taliban have fought back and hold the momentum as the West withdraws after a long and ultimately, unsuccessful engagement.

While the Indians have been applauded for helping build roads, getting power lines into the capital, running hospitals and arranging for hundreds of students to pursue higher education in India, the Pakistanis are accused of the violence that Afghans see all around them, from the attacks in the capital to the fighting on the border and the export of militant Islam.  It's become  reflexive: minutes into an attack, the blame shifts to Pakistan. "They must have done it."

A Rand study into the differing strategies adopted by the rivals in Afghanistan quotes a 2009 BBC/ABC News/ARD poll which showed that 86 percent of Afghans thought Pakistan had a negative influence in Afghanistan, with only 5 percent saying it had made a positive contribution. India's impact, by contrast, was seen as positive by 41 percent of Afghans and negative by only 10 percent. Overall, 74 percent of Afghans held a favourable view of India against 8 percent of those who had a positive impression about Pakistan.

Quite a stunning reversal from the time when Afghanistan under King Zahir Shah supported Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971 wars against India.

Since that opinion poll, things have only gotten worse for Pakistan, with the breakdown in its ties with the United States, principally over the sanctuaries that American officials say militants enjoy in Pakistan's northwest, adding to its sense of isolation.

With America leaving while the fires still burn in Afghanistan, India may well be the country best positioned to pick up some of the slack, the authors of the Rand study, Larry Hanauer and Peter Chalk, argue.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Compassionate Conservatism Redux : Bush 43 was on to something important, and he got the votes to prove it. (Jonah Goldberg, 11/16/12, National Review)

He called his new approach to domestic policy "compassionate conservatism."

For years, I've criticized "compassionate conservatism" as an insult to traditional conservatism and an affront to all things libertarian. 

Bush liked to say that he was a "different kind of Republican," that he was a "compassionate conservative."

I hated -- and still hate -- that formulation. Imagine if someone said, "I'm a different kind of Catholic (or Jew, or American, etc.): I'm a compassionate Catholic." The insinuation was -- by my lights, at least -- that conservatives who disagreed with him and his "strong-government conservatism" were somehow lacking in compassion.

As a candidate, Bush distanced himself from the Gingrich "revolutionaries" of the 1994 Congress, and he criticized social conservatives such as Robert Bork, who had written an admittedly uncheery book, Slouching towards Gomorrah. He talked endlessly about what a tough job single mothers have and scolded his fellow conservatives for failing to see that "family values don't end at the Rio Grande." As president, he said that "when somebody hurts, government has got to move." According to compassionate conservatives, reflexive anti-statism on the right is foolish, for there are many important -- and conservative -- things the state can do right. that after millennia of poverty and hunger, just a few decades of the Second Way eliminated both.  Of course, the problem for the Second Way is that its economic model is unsustainable and it is morally enervating.   W was one in a line of Anglospheric advocates of the Third Way, which accepts that the social safety net has done much good and perfects capitalism, but seeks to place it on a sounder financial and social footing by replacing mere government handouts and dependency with personal savings and market driven mechanisms for increasing those savings over a lifetime.  The Right and the Left still think the struggle is between 1st and 2nd, when, in fact, it's just about who presides over the implementation of the Third.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


China's Great Shame (YANG JISHENG, November 13, 2012, NY Times)

After 50 years, the famine still cannot be freely discussed in the place where it happened. My book "Tombstone" could be published only in Hong Kong, Japan and the West. It remains banned in mainland China, where historical amnesia looms large and government control of information and expression has tightened during the Communist Party's 18th National Congress, which began last week and will conclude with a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

Those who deny that the famine happened, as an executive at the state-run newspaper People's Daily recently did, enjoy freedom of speech, despite their fatuous claims about "three years of natural disasters." But no plague, flood or earthquake ever wrought such horror during those years. One might wonder why the Chinese government won't allow the true tale to be told, since Mao's economic policies were abandoned in the late 1970s in favor of liberalization, and food has been plentiful ever since.

The reason is political: a full exposure of the Great Famine could undermine the legitimacy of a ruling party that clings to the political legacy of Mao, even though that legacy, a totalitarian Communist system, was the root cause of the famine. As the economist Amartya Sen has observed, no major famine has ever occurred in a democracy.

Once Lenin is delegitimized the Revolution goes with him.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


President's Deficit Plan Casts a Wide Net for Revenue (DAMIAN PALETTA, 11/15/12, WSJ)

President Barack Obama's proposal to reduce the deficit by $1.561 trillion over the next decade includes more than 70 changes in the tax code that would affect everyone from high-income Americans to options traders, as well as oil and gas companies, and even some golf courses.

No voter thought taxes were insufficiently complex.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Election Over, Liberals Call For Entitlement Cuts (Merrill Matthews, 11/15/12, Forbes)

To address the "fiscal cliff," both the Washington Post and USA Today propose spending cuts on entitlement programs.

The USA Today editorial headline screams "Cut entitlements to control debt."  "Yes," it continues, "taxes need to go up, and not just for the wealthiest Americans.  And yes, there's room for cuts in the Pentagon and other federal departments.  But changes in these areas, as needed as they may be, would still be overwhelmed by the burst in spending on Social Security and Medicare as the Baby Boom generation retires and lifespans increase."

The Washington Post, working off the same talking points, writes, "Any serious debt-reduction plan has to include revenue and defense cuts.  But no serious one can exclude entitlements."

So, um, if entitlement cuts are such an important part of addressing the fiscal cliff, then why didn't the media demand that Obama discuss entitlements in his campaign?

Oh, I remember.  They were part of the liberal effort to scare seniors into thinking that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan--who talked about Medicare and Medicaid reform--would be the ones cutting entitlements.

November 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 PM


The coming 'economic renaissance' (Annalyn Kurtz, November 15, 2012, CNN Money)

Could an energy boom, a housing recovery and easy money from the Federal Reserve be the perfect mix for an American revival? Consulting firm Oxford Economics certainly thinks so.

New forecasts released by the firm predict the U.S. is on the brink of an "economic renaissance," with economic growth accelerating to more than 3% a year starting in late 2013. (Gross domestic product is currently growing around 2% a year.)

The key contributors could include an increase in U.S. exports and a boom in domestic energy production.

The sooner John Boehner cuts a deal the better for the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


Fetish for making things ignores real work (John Kay, 11/17/12, Financial Times)

When you look at the value chain of manufactured goods we consume today, you quickly appreciate how small a proportion of the value of output is represented by the processes of manufacturing and assembly. Most of what you pay reflects the style of the suit, the design of the iPhone, the precision of the assembly of the aircraft engine, the painstaking pharmaceutical research, the quality assurance that tells you products really are what they claim to be.

Physical labour incorporated in manufactured goods is a cheap commodity in a globalised world. But the skills and capabilities that turn that labour into products of extraordinary complexity and sophistication are not. The iPhone is a manufactured product, but its value to the user is as a crystallisation of services.

Many of those who talk about the central economic importance of manufactured goods do so from an understandable concern for employment and the trade balance. 

The insistence that the makework be done domestically at higher wages is antieconomics.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 PM


Romney Lost, but His Ideas May Still Be Winners (YUVAL ROSENBERG, 11/15/12, The Fiscal Times)

Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, have signaled a willingness to eliminate or cap tax deductions as a way to raise more revenue. That's an idea that Romney floated toward the end of the campaign (and it's similar to a proposal presented to Congress by President Obama that would cap the rate for deductions at 28 percent).

Now a new Gallup poll of 1,009 adults conducted after the election suggests that some elements of Romney's plan are still resonating with Americans. Almost all those surveyed said the economy and job market need to be a top priority in Obama's second term. But 88 percent say entitlement reform is extremely or very important, with another 10 percent calling it somewhat important. About 70 percent say cutting federal spending and simplifying the tax code should be priorities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Costs of employee health benefits rose just 4.1 percent in 2012 (DIANE STAFFORD, 11/14/12, The Kansas City Star)

The cost of employee health benefits in 2012 grew just 4.1 percent nationally, the smallest increase in 15 years. [...]

Twenty-two percent of all employers offer consumer-directed plans, and the percentage leaps to 59 percent among the largest employers.

An employer's cost of coverage in a typical consumer-directed plan is about 20 percent lower than the cost of providing employee access to a more traditional Preferred Provider Organization plan, the Mercer report said.

Nearly half of employers, 45 percent, said they now had or were considering using a defined contribution plan that would require their employees to pay anything above the employer's set contribution.

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


It's Income, Not Ethnicity (Fred Bauer, November 13, 2012, National Review)

Comparing the numbers of today with those of 2004 is instructive. While Romney lost households making between $30,000 and $49,999 by 15 points, George W. Bush lost them by only 1 point in 2004. Obama won voters from households making under $100,000 by ten points in 2012; Kerry won them by 1 point in 2004. In most of the battleground states, Kerry eked out a narrow margin of victory among those households making between $30,000 and $49,999; by 2008, Obama was scoring blowouts in that demographic. For example, Bush won it by three points in Pennsylvania in 2004, but Obama won it by 17 points in 2008 and 23 points in 2012. If Romney had pulled even somewhat near Bush's 2004 performance among voters making under $50,000, he would be president-elect at this moment.

Granted, inflation means that $30,000 was worth more in 2004 than it is today, and therefore this category represents a poorer demographic now, but the changes in voting patterns are still striking. The 20-point sea change in Pennsylvania working-class support between 2004 and 2008 cannot simply be chalked up to inflation or to a change in ethnic composition. Nor can Romney's poor performance with the working class be attributed entirely to the president's Bain attacks: The biggest Republican drop among the working class occurred in many states between 2004 and 2008.

The Republican shortfall with the working class in 2012 was due not simply to the nominee's personal background but to wider issues with Republican policies. In the wake of a decade of lost economic ground and the near-meltdown of 2008, many non-affluent voters seem to have a deep distrust of the ability of Republican policies to work for them. Romney's poor showing among this demographic underlines the fact that Republicans have not yet found an antidote to this distrust. Further tax cuts will not counter it, nor will promises to end Obamacare. As Ross Douthat suggested the other day, the concerns of average Americans are not the same today as they were in 1979, so Republican policies will have to change with them. By the end of the campaign, Governor Romney was beginning to tout a more forward-looking economic message, one that emphasized industrial renewal, energy development, and middle-class restoration. It was this message that made the election as close as it became on November 6.

Moving economic discussions beyond a fetishization of tax cuts need not be a surrender to the Left. There are, after all, authentically conservative responses to financial consolidation, deindustrialization, escalating health-care costs, soaring energy prices, and middle-class decline. It seems clear that, if Republicans cannot craft a message and a policy platform that speak to the needs of many in the middle and working classes, their ability to form a national governing coalition will remain in doubt.

Unsurprisingly, the party has declined to exactly the extent it has renounced its most successful presidencies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


China's Bad Loans Rise for Fourth Quarter as Economy Slows (Bloomberg News, November 15, 2012)

Chinese banks' bad loans increased for a fourth straight quarter, the longest streak of deterioration since the data became available in 2004, highlighting pressures on profit growth as the economy weakens.

Non-performing loans rose by 22.4 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) in the three months ended Sept. 30, to 478.8 billion yuan, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said in a statement on its website today. Bad loans increased at all types of institutions, including the largest state-owned lenders, rural banks and foreign banks, the regulator said.

China's banking system is grappling with rising defaults and weaker loan demand after economic growth decelerated for a seventh quarter.

November 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


More employers embrace high-deductible health plans to pare costs (Chad Terhune, November 14, 2012, LA Times)

A new report finds that 36% of large employers offered consumer-directed, high-deductible health plans in 2012, up from 14% five years ago. Enrollment in those plans has risen to 16% of all covered employees, compared with 5% in 2007, according to benefits consultant Mercer.

Employers are pushing these plans in part because they are about 20% cheaper than the cost of a conventional PPO -- or preferred-provider organization -- plan, Mercer said. The cost of a high-deductible medical plan with a health savings account is $7,833 annually per employee compared with $10,007 for a  PPO plan.

"If we're not already at the tipping point for consumer-directed health plans -- and we may well be -- at this rate of growth it's coming soon," said Laura Baker, a senior health and benefits consultant for Mercer in Los Angeles.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Want Less Inequality? Tax It : Revive the big idea of British economist Arthur C. Pigou! And apply it to America's most outrageous problem. (LIAM C. MALLOY AND JOHN CASE NOVEMBER 14, 2012, American Prospect)

Pigou, a key bridge figure in the history of his field, was one of the earliest classical economists to notice that markets do not always produce the best possible social outcomes. The pollution generated by a factory imposes costs on those who live downstream or in the path of its airborne emissions. The risks assumed by banks leading up to the recent financial crisis imposed costs on just about everybody. Market transactions often generate what economists call "externalities"--side effects, sometimes positive but often negative, that affect people who do not participate in the transaction.

Pigou, having recognized the problem, was the first to propose a solution. Society should tax the negative externalities and subsidize the positive ones. This simple notion--if you want less of something, tax it--is why his ideas periodically bubble up in the service of combating a recognizable cost to society, like pollution. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Marriage vs. Existential Loneliness: Still More on the Christian View (Peter Lawler, 11/13/12, First Things)

We relational beings are erotically directed the intimate relationship called marriage. As Pope John Paul II explained, in the absence of woman the first man was marked by an "existential loneliness." [...]

So existential loneliness, of course, means more than being unable to fulfill your natural purpose as a social animal. Adam quickly realized that by naming the animals that he was alone among the animals he named. He had the freedom of the being with a name who can name, and so he couldn't integrate himself into the rest of creation.

Adam's loneliness was being without woman, without a person made in God's image who can know and love him just as he is as a whole being--another being with a name who can name.

We require loving relationships with other persons, and usually a spouse and children, to be who we really are as relational beings. That need is not merely physiological or biological, although it is that. It is the need of the being made to love and be loved personally. It is through personal knowing and loving that we live in the image of God. We can't be whole or self-sufficient persons all alone, even as God himself cannot.

The remedy for existential loneliness is not the surrender of personal identity--as a Buddhist or Socrates might say--but the loving relationship of one person with another--whole persons shaped by bodies but not determined by bodily necessity the way the other animals are. We need to be loved by a person who complements or completes us, who's not just like us but for us, and each of us is for that other person.

So marriage is, for Christians, the primordial sacrament, the sacrament that's most deeply the visible sign of the presence of God or personal logos in the world. It's through marriage, above all, that man participates in this world in the relational life of the person. It's in marriage, above all, that our logos is most properly directed to personal knowing and loving.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Yen Edges toward Brink : Those forecasting a reckoning for Japan's currency have been foiled before, but there are reasons to believe the situation has changed (Andy Xie, 11/12/12, Caixin)

The economic statistics tell the horror story best. Japan's nominal GDP in 2011 was 9 percent lower than in 2007 and 2.5 percent lower than in 1992! In 1992, the national debt was only 20 percent of GDP. It is now 230 percent. Essentially, 200 percent of GDP in fiscal stimulus hasn't turned the economy around.

The depression dynamic begins with declining incomes. People then spend less to cope. Shops and restaurants become emptier. The weak demand depresses business profitability and investment. The former depresses the stock market, and the latter labor income. Both pressure people to spend even less.

Few people pay attention to Japan's problems nowadays. Financial markets pay a lot of attention to the United States' economic problems. But its nominal GDP rose 7 percent between 2007 and 2011 and is likely to rise another 4 percent in 2012. Japan could at best achieve zero growth in nominal GDP in 2012. The performance gap between the United States and Japan is 20 percent in nominal GDP since 2007. America's national debt has doubled since 2007 and reached 100 percent of GDP in 2012. Its trend isn't sustainable either. But Japan's debt problem is more advanced in depth. Its debt crisis should occur before the United States'.

Japan's problem doesn't get much attention because it has funded its debt with domestic savings. The home bias in Japan's national savings is very strong. Hence, the thinking goes that if the Japanese government isn't viable in the long run, the country is. One could assume that Japan can reshuffle its balance sheet and ask its savers to take a big haircut in their savings one day to solve the problem.

Another alleviating factor is Japan's egalitarian economic structure. The economic depression hasn't turned into an employment crisis. The unemployment rate is relatively low. It's just that everyone is getting less pay. A recent survey shows that the Japanese salary earner's pocket spending money from their wives has declined to the level three decades ago, showing the severity in income decline. Japan just spreads the pain evenly to avoid wreaking havoc on part of the population. This is why Japan doesn't look like it is in depression on the surface. [...]

The only sensible market argument for strong yen in the past is that Japan could keep all its problems inside. Maybe it's the wrong policy. But Japanese like it and other people can't do anything about it. That argument no longer holds true. Japan's recent trade deficit is the beginning of a trend. Its savings rate has been declining with an aging population. If the fiscal deficit doesn't decline, there isn't enough money at home to fund it. The emergence of a trade deficit now and current account deficit soon reflect a savings shortage in Japan. What foreign investors think of Japan will begin to matter to its bond market. Foreign investors are unlikely to buy into Japan's crazy policy combination.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Democrats Like a Romney Idea on Income Tax (JONATHAN WEISMAN, November 12, 2012, NY Times)

 With both parties positioning for difficult negotiations to avert a fiscal crisis as Congress returns for its lame-duck session, Democrats are latching on to an idea floated by Mitt Romney to raise taxes on the rich through a hard cap on income tax deductions.

The proposal by Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, was envisioned to help pay for an across-the-board income tax cut, a move ridiculed by President Obama as window dressing to a "sketchy deal." But many Democrats now see it as an important element of a potential deficit reduction agreement -- and one they can claim to be bipartisan.

The cap -- never fully detailed by Mr. Romney -- is similar to a longstanding proposal by Mr. Obama to limit income tax deductions to 28 percent, even for affluent households that pay a 35 percent rate. But a firm cap of around $35,000 would hit the affluent even harder than Mr. Obama's proposal, which has previously gotten nowhere in Congress.

That's a start, but get rid of all deductions and simplify the code.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


The Party's Problem (Ramesh Ponnuru, November 14, 2012, National Review)

Clinton won the White House because of the recession of the early 1990s, of course, but also because the end of the Cold War took foreign policy off the table, badly weakening Republicans, and because he systematically addressed Democratic liabilities on welfare, crime, and other values-laden issues. During the presidential debates of 2004, Bush did well on social-issue questions while being defensive on economic issues. In 2006, when Democrats took Congress, they racked up their biggest margin against a Senate incumbent in Pennsylvania, where they ran a candidate who opposed abortion and same-sex marriage.

For the last 50 years, voters have been alarmed by rapid expansions of government (which goes a long way toward explaining the good Republican years of 1966, 1978, 1980, 1994, and 2010) but also by the prospect of major cuts to government (which goes some way toward explaining 1996 and 2012). In other years, they have held vaguely government-skeptical sentiments while approving most proposals for gradual increases in government assistance (for families paying for college, seniors trying to get prescription drugs, and so on).

After the 2006 and 2008 Democratic blowouts, liberals started to view their victory as the new normal in American politics, the result of inexorable demographic forces. After the 2010 Republican victories, some conservatives began to think that was the new normal. Republicans, they thought, had lost in '06 and '08 because of the Iraq War, the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Bush's big spending, and congressional scandals. Given a straight-up choice between conservatism and liberalism, though, the people would choose the former. The 2012 results give credibility to the liberal interpretation and subtract it from the conservative one. It's the 2010 election, not the 2008 one, that is starting to look aberrant.

The Iraq War, the financial crisis, and other issues specific to the late Bush years obviously did play a huge role in the 2006 and 2008 defeats. But it's also true that Republicans weren't even arguing that they had a domestic agenda that would yield any direct benefits for most voters, and that has to have hurt them. Taxes had been the most powerful economic issue for Republicans for a generation, but Republicans misunderstood why. In the '80s and '90s, Republicans ran five presidential campaigns promising to make or keep middle-class taxes lower than they would be under Democrats, and won four of them. In 2008 they made no such promise but did say they would lower the corporate tax rate.

In the exit polls in 2008, 60 percent of voters said that McCain was not "in touch with people like them." McCain lost 79 percent of the voters who said that. To get a majority of the popular vote, he would have had to win 96 percent of the 39 percent of voters who were willing to say he passed the threshold test of understanding their concerns. It's amazing he came as close as he did. (Fifty-seven percent of voters said Obama was in touch, and he had to win only 81 percent of them; he got 86 percent.)

In 2012, the exit pollsters asked a different version of the question: "Who is more in touch with people like you?" Obama beat Romney by ten points, even while losing the "better handle the economy" question by one. Romney, unlike McCain, did offer middle-class voters a tax cut, although it's not clear that this fact made its way through the din of the campaign to register with the voters. His campaign made efforts -- sporadic rather than sustained -- to make the case that his agenda would deliver stronger growth and higher wages. He rarely suggested it would make health care more affordable.

On only one issue did the campaign consistently make the case that Romney would take specific actions that would yield tangible benefits for most Americans: He would allow energy exploration, which would reduce the cost of living for everyone. He devoted time to that theme in his convention speech, which did not touch on affordable health care, higher wages, or the middle class. The energy argument was sufficiently effective that Obama had to steal some of its rhetoric.

The absence of a middle-class message was the biggest failure of the Romney campaign, and it was not its failure alone. Down-ticket Republican candidates weren't offering anything more -- not the established Republicans, not the tea-partiers, not the social conservatives. Conservative activists weren't demanding that Romney or any of these other Republicans do anything more. Some of them were complaining that Romney wasn't "taking the fight to Obama"; few of them were urging him to outline a health-care plan that would reassure voters that replacing Obamacare wouldn't mean taking health insurance away from millions of people.

Romney's infamous "47 percent" gaffe -- by which he characterized voters who do not pay income taxes as freeloaders and sure Democratic voters, which they aren't -- made for a week of bad media coverage and some devastatingly effective Democratic ads. It was not, however, a line of thinking unique to Romney. It was an exaggerated version of a claim that had become party orthodoxy.

A different Republican presidential nominee might not have made exactly that gaffe, or had a financial-industry background that lent itself to attacks on outsourcing. He would almost certainly have had a similar weakness on economic policy, however, and might have had additional weaknesses too. (Romney at least won independent voters, which it's hard to imagine Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, or Rick Santorum having done.) To put it differently: The problem isn't so much that Romney was vulnerable to a set of attacks that appear to have discouraged working-class whites from voting; it's that he didn't have anything positive with which to counter those attacks.

The Republican story about how societies prosper -- not just the Romney story -- dwelt on the heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations: an important story with which most people do not identify. The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family. A conservative reform of our health-care system and tax code, among other institutions, might help with these goals. About this person, however, Republicans have had little to say.

Other than W, who ran and won twice--in addition to carrying a midterm--on personalized retirement accounts, HSAs, prescription drug benefits, and education and housing vouchers.  It's pretty simple: the GOP can be the Third Way Party or the minority party, because the citizenry of the Anglosphere is Third Way..

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


The smokescreen putting young men's health at risk (Thomas Coy, 12/13/12, Mercator)

Considered objectively, the acceptance and encouragement of such self-destructive behavior is indistinguishable from hatred.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


WHY ONLINE EDUCATION WORKS (ALEX TABARROK, November 12th, 2012, Cato Unbound)

I see three principle advantages to online education, 1) leverage, especially of the best teachers; 2) time savings; 3) individualized teaching and new technologies.


The importance of leverage was brought home to me by a personal anecdote. In 2009, I gave a TED talk on the economics of growth. Since then my 15 minute talk has been watched nearly 700,000 times. That is far fewer views than the most-watched TED talk, Ken Robinson's 2006 talk on how schools kill creativity, which has been watched some 26 million times. Nonetheless, the 15 minutes of teaching I did at TED dominates my entire teaching career: 700,000 views at 15 minutes each is equivalent to 175,000 student-hours of teaching, more than I have taught in my entire offline career. Moreover, the ratio is likely to grow because my online views are increasing at a faster rate than my offline students.

Teaching students 30 at a time is expensive and becoming relatively more expensive. Teaching is becoming relatively more expensive for the same reason that butlers have become relatively more expensive-butler productivity increased more slowly than productivity in other fields, so wages for butlers rose even as their output stagnated; as a result, the opportunity cost of butlers increased. The productivity of teaching, measured in, say, kilobytes transmitted from teacher to student per unit of time, hasn't increased much. As a result, the opportunity cost of teaching has increased, an example of what's known as Baumol's cost disease. Teaching has remained economic only because the value of each kilobyte transmitted has increased due to discoveries in (some) other fields. Online education, however, dramatically increases the productivity of teaching. As my experience with TED indicates, it's now possible for a single professor to teach more students in an afternoon than was previously possible in a lifetime. [...]

Time Savings

Tyler Cowen and I have created a new online education platform,, short for Marginal Revolution University, after our blog of that name. In putting together our first course, Development Economics, we were surprised to discover that we could teach a full course in less than half the lecture time of an offline course. A large part of the difference is that online lectures need not be repetitive.

Dale Carnegie's advice to "tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said" makes sense for a live audience. If 20% of your students aren't following the lecture, it's natural to repeat some of the material so that you keep the whole audience involved and following your flow. But if you repeat whenever 20% of the audience doesn't understand something, that means that 80% of the audience hear something twice that they only needed to hear once. Highly inefficient.

Carnegie's advice is dead wrong for an online audience. Different medium, different messaging. In an online lecture it pays to be concise. Online, the student is in control and can choose when and what to repeat. The result is a big time-savings as students proceed as fast as their capabilities can take them, repeating only what they need to further their individual understanding.

We get even more savings by eliminating the fixed time-costs of attending class. Before I even begin my lecture, many of my students will have driven half an hour just to attend the class, followed by another half an hour to get home. And with online lectures there is no looking for parking! Combining these savings with more concise lectures and we get big time savings.

Time Shifting

As with a play, offline teaching requires that every customer consumes at the exact moment that the supplier produces. As with a movie, online education is consumed and produced more flexibly. In the online world, consumers need not each consume at the same time, and suppliers need not produce at the moment of consumption.

It's costly to coordinate consumers and suppliers, and the increase in cost reduces the amount of education consumed. I teach a class at George Mason University, 7:20-10 pm on Tuesday nights. I suspect that this is not the preferred time to learn for any of my students, and it's certainly not the preferred time for me to teach; it's merely the best time to coordinate me and as many students as possible.

The inflexibility of offline teaching also reduces the quality of teaching and of learning. Despite caffeination, by 9:30 pm fatigue sets in, and my teaching quality begins to fall. I am not as sharp at 9:30 pm as at 7:30 pm, and neither are my students. As the quality of both sender and receiver declines, less is communicated. As a result, it makes little sense for me to try to teach complex ideas after 9:30 pm. I try to structure my class to accommodate, but sometimes it's not possible and I end up either teaching less or teaching less well.

November 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Misreading Election 2012 (Andrew Kohut, 11/13/12, WSJ)

[M]ost observers are overstating the gravity of the GOP's problem. In particular, they are paying too little attention to how weak a candidate Mitt Romney was, and how much that hurt Republican prospects.

Here is what the exit poll found. Mr. Romney's personal image took a hard hit during the primary campaign and remained weak on election day. Just 47% of exit-poll respondents viewed him favorably, compared with 53% for Mr. Obama. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney's favorable ratings were among the lowest recorded for a presidential candidate in the modern era. A persistent problem was doubt about his empathy with the average voter. By 53% to 43%, exit-poll respondents said that Mr. Obama was more in touch than Mr. Romney with people like themselves.

Mr. Romney was never fully embraced by Republicans themselves, which may have inhibited the expected strong Republican turnout. Pew's election-weekend survey found Mr. Romney with fewer strong supporters (33%) than Mr. Obama (39%). Similarly, a much greater percentage of Obama supporters (80%) than Romney supporters (60%) told Pew that they were voting for their candidate rather than against his opponent.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Bright LED Bulbs Arrive At Last (Martin LaMonica, November 13, 2012, Technology Review)

Osram Sylvania this week is shipping an LED light bulb that gives off as much light as a 100-watt incandescent, a sign that lighting manufacturers have successfully tackled the technical challenge of making bright LED bulbs.

The bulb gives off light in all directions, making it suitable for most applications, and consumes 20 watts of power. The expected retail price is just under $50. Osram Sylvania estimates that the bulb will save $220 over its life, assuming consumers pay the national average of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Jindal: End 'dumbed-down conservatism' (Jonathan Martin, November 13, 2012, Politico)

"We've got to make sure that we are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything," Jindal told POLITICO in a 45-minute telephone interview. "We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys." [...]

Declaring that Republicans "can't be beholden to special interests or banks," the successor to Huey P. Long indicated support for provisions in the Dodd-Frank law, which requires banks to increase their reserves to prevent future taxpayer-funded bailouts.

Even more notably, Jindal suggested he'd look favorably on something akin to the "Volcker rule."

"You've seen some conservatives come around to the idea that if banks are going to be using FDIC-insured deposits, they shouldn't be allowed to co-mingle those funds with some of their riskier investment banking activity," Jindal said. "There needs to be stronger walls between insured deposits, the taxpayer protected side of business and riskier side of business that generate these risks and profits."

Asked if Wall Street generally has too much influence on Republicans, he said: "I think special interests in general have certainly too much influence in Washington, D.C."

In comments that will raise eyebrows among some of the RGA's donors, Jindal decried "agnostic" lobbyists who work both parties.

"They're access donors because they know whoever is in power -- that's who they want to be friends with to get their special perks in the Tax Code," he said.

Jindal said he didn't want to see tax rate increases but called for broad tax reform to rid the code of loopholes and make it fairer for more Americans.

"Depending on the other reforms that are made, certainly I'd be open to the idea of having more deductions, credits available to lower-income [filers]," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Text Messaging Declines in U.S. for First Time, Report Says (BRIAN X. CHEN, 11/12/12,  The New York Times)

For the first time, the American wireless market saw a decline in the total number of messages sent by each customer each month, according to a report published Monday by Chetan Sharma, an independent mobile analyst who is a consultant for wireless carriers. In the third quarter of this year, cellphone owners sent an average of 678 texts a month, down from 696 texts a month in the previous quarter.

Though that's a small dip, the change is noteworthy because for several years, text messaging had been steadily growing in the United States. Mr. Sharma said it was too early to tell whether the decline here would continue, but he noted that Internet-based messaging services, like Facebook messaging and Apple's iMessage, had been chomping away at SMS usage. He said the decline would become more pronounced as more people buy smartphones. A bit more than 50 percent of cellphone owners here have smartphones.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


'Congratulations, Partner': What Boehner Could Say in a Memo to President Obama (IRA STOLL, 11/12/12, NY Sun)

[W]e'll go even further than the ObamaCare tax. We'll offer up something that Mitt Romney was talking about in the presidential campaign, which was limiting the value of tax deductions for upper-income taxpayers. As Greg Mankiw, the chairman of the economics department at Harvard and a Romney campaign adviser, pointed out over the weekend, capping itemized deductions at $50,000 for each filer and keeping tax rates where they are today would raise $749 billion in tax revenue over ten years, with 79.9 percent of that coming from the top one percent of taxpayers.

And if the ObamaCare Medicare tax, the increase in state income taxes, and a new limit on deductions aren't enough for you, we'll go even further in the direction of balancing the budget on the backs of the rich by doing something the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, talked about in his interview with the Wall Street Journal published this past weekend. The Journal said Mr. McConnell "wants means-testing for programs like Medicare." "Warren Buffett's always complaining about not paying enough in taxes," the Journal quoted Mr. McConnell as saying. "What really irritates me is I'm paying for his Medicare."

So those are my "gives." Let's get to the "asks." All the other rates -- income, capital gains, dividends, payroll -- stay the same for another four years as they were in 2012. I would go down to two years on this if you want to make the 2014 midterm elections about this issue, but I think it's better for reduction of uncertainty to go at least four years out. The one exception is the corporate tax rate, where even you've said that for international competitiveness reasons we need to bring the rate down. My people are going to be annoyed by these increases in the Medicare tax and by the ceiling on deductions. But since the corporate taxes are really paid in the end by the shareholders, a cut in the corporate tax rate would allow me to say to Republican donors that on a net basis they're coming out unscathed, while you can go to the Democratic base and say "we finally forced those rich bastards to pay more taxes -- I mean 'asked people like me to pay a little more.'" It's a win-win.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Board games are growing in popularity again : Table-top games, once overshadowed by video games, are drawing people who want more social forms of entertainment. Still, it's a tough business for publishers. (Todd Martens, 11/12/12, Los Angeles Times)

Blockbuster board games are unusual, but Days of Wonder has one in its Ticket to Ride.

The already-classic cardboard game, in which players strategize over how to build the best railway routes, was released in 2004 and has worldwide sales of "several hundred thousand units per year," said Eric Hautemont, co-founder of the Los Altos, Calif., game company.

That places it in the forefront of a blossoming independent game world, in which new titles such as monster bonanza King of Tokyo and kingdom-building game Dominion are fighting to join traditional classics such as Monopoly and Sorry.

Driven by online word of mouth on board game websites such as BoardGameGeek and by the popularity of online digital games, including Days of Wonder's Small World, old-fashioned board games have acquired cult status and are growing in popularity.

The American board game thriller Pandemic and imports such as Carcassone and the Settlers of Catan are the titles most often cited as having fueled the table-top renaissance. They have been followed by hits such as the celebration of misery game Gloom, the civilization epic 7 Wonders and the galactic adventure Race for the Galaxy.
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November 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 PM


Republicans at a crossroads (Rod Dreher, 11/08/12, BBC)

Surveying the smoking rubble of the Republican Party's election hopes, the right-wing talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh made a declaration.

"Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It's just very difficult to beat Santa Claus."

Read those two sentences carefully, for they tell you a lot about the massive psychological problem the Republicans face - and why it will be extraordinarily difficult and painful for them to deal with reality. [...]

The Republican Party is becoming a perversely rigid sect, more concerned with being militantly correct than being pragmatic and successful. With each passing election cycle, their purity will become the purity of the desert.

There are many American liberals who counsel conservatives that all would come right for us again if only we would jettison our principles and become liberals.

No, thanks. Conservatives must be conservative, but we must also recognize that conservatism is not an ideology, but a way of approaching the world, the chief virtue of which is prudence.

As the great modern conservative Edmund Burke taught, the act of governing - indeed, "every human benefit and enjoyment" - requires compromise.

The talk-radio Jacobins and the suburban sans culottes may not like that kind of treacherous talk, but it is the essence of the conservative political temperament.

Burke once observed that "a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation."

He might have said the same thing about the Republican Party. Then again, the old boy was probably a RINO.

...can't they please stop bothering us with them?

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Cornel West: Obama A 'Republican In Blackface,' (Andrew Kirell, November 12th, 2012, Mediaite)

He explained that the election season saw a "truncated" version of political discourse with climate change being overlooked.

West then took a stab at the president: "It's very sad. I mean, I'm glad there was not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Republican, a Rockefeller Republican in blackface, with Barack Obama, so that our struggle with regard to poverty intensifies," he said.

"That's a pretty rough assessment of President Obama," Goodman replied.

"Oh, that's what we have. Richard Nixon is to the left of him on health care. Richard Nixon's to the left of him on guaranteed income," West followed up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


U.S. to become world's largest oil producer before 2020, IEA says (Tiffany Hsu, November 12, 2012, LA Times)

The U.S. will become the world's top producer of oil within five years, a net exporter of the fuel around 2030 and nearly self-sufficient in energy by 2035, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

It's a bold set of predictions for a nation that currently imports some 20% of its energy needs.

Recently, however, an "energy renaissance" in the U.S. has caused a boost in oil, shale gas and bio-energy production due to new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fuel efficiency has improved in the transportation sector. The clean energy industry has seen an influx of solar and wind efforts.

Typically, the Empire imports raw materials and make finished goods.  We'll be doing the opposite.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


The GOP's media cocoon : The GOP is suffering from Pauline Kaelism (JONATHAN MARTIN | 11/12/12, Politico)

"What Republicans did so successfully, starting with critiquing the media and then creating our own outlets, became a bubble onto itself," said Ross Douthat, the 32-year-old New York Times columnist.

"The right is suffering from an era of on-demand reality," is how 30-year-old old think tanker and writer Ben Domenech put it.

Citing Kael, one of the most prominent Republicans in the George W. Bush era complained: "We have become what the left was in the '70s -- insular."

In this reassuring conservative pocket universe, Rasmussen polls are gospel, the Benghazi controversy is worse than Watergate, "Fair and Balanced" isn't just marketing and Dick Morris is a political seer.

Even this past weekend, days after a convincing Obama win, it wasn't hard to find fringes of the right who are convinced he did so only because of mass voter fraud and mysteriously missing military ballots. Like a political version of "Thelma and Louise," some far-right conservatives are in such denial that they'd just as soon keep on driving off the cliff than face up to a reality they'd rather not confront.

One of the most amusing instances of this bubblewrapping is the claim that to cite a mainstream media source is to delegitimize one's argument.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Japan turns to US amid fears over China (Mure Dickie, 11/09/12, Financial Times)

Japan's defence minister has called for revision of the guidelines that govern its military co-operation with the US, amid concern in the region over China's increasingly assertive maritime policies and rapidly growing naval power.

The comments by Satoshi Morimoto, three days after Barack Obama was re-elected as US president, reflect efforts by Tokyo to strengthen the half-century-old alliance, which have been given added impetus by an island sovereignty dispute with China.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Officials Say F.B.I. Knew of Petraeus Affair in the Summer (SCOTT SHANE and CHARLIE SAVAGE, 11/12/2, NY Times)

A close friend of the Petraeus family said Sunday that the intimate relationship between Mr. Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, began after he retired from the military last year and about two months after he started as C.I.A. director. It ended about four months ago, said the friend, who did not want to be identified while discussing personal matters. In a letter to the C.I.A. work force on Friday, Mr. Petraeus acknowledged having the affair. Ms. Broadwell has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Under military regulations, adultery can be a crime. At the C.I.A., it can be a security issue, since it can make an intelligence officer vulnerable to blackmail, but it is not a crime.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


The Americanness of the American Revolution : Why the Founders succeeded (MYRON MAGNET, Autumn 2012, City Journal)

A key reason the revolution succeeded was its strictly limited scope. The Founders sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity. They aimed to make a political revolution, not a social or an economic one. Their Lockean social-contract political philosophy taught them that the preservation of individual liberty was the goal of politics. Its basis was the surrender of a portion of man's original, natural freedom to a government that would protect the large remainder of it better than any individual could do on his own--the freedom to make your own fate and think your own thoughts without fear of bodily harm, unjust imprisonment, or robbery. The Founders' study of history taught them that the British constitution under which they had lived--"originally and essentially free," as Boston preacher Jonathan Mayhew described it--was the ideal embodiment of such a contract. It was "the most perfect combination of human powers in society," John Adams wrote in 1766, "for the preservation of liberty and the production of happiness"--until George III began to violate it. So Americans didn't take up arms to create a new world order according to some abstract theory. They sought only to restore the political liberty they had actually experienced for 150 years, and they constructed their new government to preserve it.

The Protestantism of the Founding Fathers also helped the Revolution succeed. Their Protestant worldview placed an intense value on the individual--his conscience, the state of his soul, his understanding of Scripture, his personal relation to God, his salvation. It was an easy step for them to assume that, as each man was endowed by his Creator with an immortal soul immediately related to God, so he was similarly endowed with rights that are "not the Donation of Law," as Constitution signer William Livingston put it, but "prior to all political Institution" and "resulting from the Nature of Man." It was easy for them to assume, therefore, that the individual, not the state, took center stage in the human drama. They saw the state as merely instrumental to the fate of the individual.

But their Protestantism also gave them a history that helps explain why the colonists didn't need or want a social revolution. The many non-Anglican dissenters among them had already had such a revolution: they had been forced to uproot themselves from their relatives and friends, from "the fair cities, villages, and delightful fields of Britain," fleeing religious persecution into "the arms of savages and barbarians" in pursuit of liberty of conscience, as Mayhew put it in 1763. The Plymouth Pilgrims, who wrote a literal social compact in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, were only the first wave of a tide of such immigrants fleeing persecution: English and Scottish Presbyterians, Baptists, and Quakers; German pietists; French Huguenots; and others followed. In the eighteenth century, their offspring--John Jay, for example, who descended from New York's huge contingent of Huguenot refugees from Catholic oppression, and Livingston, whose Presbyterian great-grandfather had fled Scotland for Holland after the Stuart restoration--had as lively a sense of lucky escape from the Old Country's murderous religious tyranny as American Jews whose forebears had escaped Russian pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust had in the twentieth century. They had as acute a sense of having had to start their lives over again in a land that afforded them almost providential religious and political freedom, safety, and opportunity. [...]

So when, after 150 years of letting Americans run their own affairs, the British government began to meddle malignly with their liberty once 22-year-old George III became king in 1760, following the death of his grandfather, George II, the colonists unsurprisingly responded to the interference with outrage. After decreeing new colonial customs duties and stricter enforcement in 1764, London imposed its first direct levy on the colonies in 1765 in the Stamp Act, taxing every colonial newspaper, journal, legal document, almanac, playing card, and other paper product, in flagrant contravention of the "standing Maxim of English Liberty," as Livingston had quoted it more than a decade earlier, " 'that no Man shall be taxed, but with his own Consent.' " As Washington wrote to a friend, "I think the Parliament of Great Britain hath no more Right to put their hands into my Pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into your's, for money." Property doesn't belong to the government, and the social contract gives government no right to tell you what to do with your own.

The American Revolution, then, was doubly limited in its aims: limited to making only a political change without altering social or economic arrangements, and determined to set strict limits to its new government, fearful that any governmental power beyond the barest minimum necessary to protect liberty too easily could become a threat to liberty itself. So apprehensive were the Founders on this score that the governmental structure they erected after the Declaration of Independence proved too weak to perform its essential function of protecting their lives, liberties, and properties adequately, prolonging the Revolutionary War and increasing the hardships of the men who fought it. With great misgivings, the Founders had to create a new constitution to give government the necessary powers, but their most urgent concern was to make those powers limited and enumerated, hedged around with every check and balance they could think of to prevent tyrannical abuse.

With similar prudence and modesty, when they wrote the new constitution, the Founders nursed no grandiose illusions that they were going to change human nature by altering the structure of government. Except for Thomas Jefferson, they didn't believe in human perfectibility, as did some of the French philosophes whose worldview Jefferson had absorbed in his years in Paris as well as from his voluminous reading. The Founders certainly didn't aspire to create something like the New Soviet Man. They had a very clear-eyed assessment of human nature. After all, their social-contract theory rested on a psychology that acknowledged what Patrick Henry called, conventionally enough, "the depravity of human nature," with its lusts, aggression, and greed no less inborn than its rights. They tried to create a republic that would flourish with human nature as it is, with all its cross-grained passions and interests. They never forgot, as Alexander Hamilton cautioned, "that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious."

Vitally, by demanding of fellow Englishmen that we be treated as Englishmen we drained them of the will to fight us.  Our cause was too much their cause for a total war.
Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Online Courses Put Pressure on Third-World Universities : How a teacher in El Salvador became an advocate of massive open online courses, and why hardly anyone listens to him yet. (Antonio Regalado, November 12, 2012, Technology Review)

The University of El Salvador, located in San Salvador, is the only public university in the country. It spends $60 million a year to teach 50,000 students, and its budget is so limited that it can only accept about one-third of applicants. (By comparison, the University of Michigan, which has a similar number of students, spends $1.3 billion.) Protests over the shortage of spots regularly shut down the campus. Semesters don't end on time. U.S. News & World Report ranks it 68th in Latin America.

Martinez says the arrival of MOOCs is adding to an already "huge pressure" to improve the university. And early data on the new Web classes suggest they may have similar impacts elsewhere. Coursera, the largest MOOC company, reported in August that of its first million users, 62 percent were from outside the U.S., led by students in Brazil, India, China, and Canada.

So far, students are coalescing around such classes in ways that are improvised and ad hoc. Some are using online bulletin boards to arrange study groups at cafés in cities like Shanghai and Madrid. "We do hope that people grab these classes and build on them," says Anant Agarwal, the head of edX and the teacher whose voice is heard narrating the electronics class. He even imagines overseas "educational dormitories" springing up, where some entrepreneur might charge for food and a bed and perhaps supply a teaching assistant to help with classwork.

In several cases, enterprising teachers have taken the lead. A U.S. graduate student, Tony Hyun Kim, used edX last spring to teach high school students in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. A dozen passed the course. After hearing about it, the National University of Mongolia sent several deans on a mission to visit Agarwal at edX's offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While MOOCs could be an opportunity to improve education in poor regions, they're also profoundly threatening to bad professors and to weak institutions. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Mr. Hamilton's Growth Strategy (THOMAS K. McCRAW, 11/11/12, NY Times)

The face value of federal and state debts was about $74 million, including $12 million owed to Dutch banks. Federal income for 1790 amounted to just $1.6 million -- a debt-to-income ratio of 46 to 1. (Today that same ratio is about 6.5 to 1.)

Hamilton first paid off the foreign debt by rolling it over through new loans from abroad. Determined to establish the nation's creditworthiness and avoid default, he then consolidated the remaining debts at their par, or face, value, which was higher than their market value -- a move opposed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who said it would reward speculators.

Meanwhile, he temporarily ignored Jefferson and Madison's idea of repaying the principal of the domestic debt. Instead, he persuaded Congress to authorize new bonds to replace existing obligations, while reducing the interest rate to 4 percent from 6 percent. He then announced that all interest would be paid in gold, and that receipts from import duties would be earmarked for these payments -- reasoning that bondholders would rather get 4 percent in gold than 6 percent of nothing.

Hamilton then established the Bank of the United States as a private, profit-making institution. Shares in the bank soon rose, and it would eventually have branches in all major cities -- at a time when only three small banks existed in the entire country, and when Jefferson and other founders opposed the very existence of banks. The bank, together with funding of the debt, vastly increased liquidity in the country, much as the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, has tried to do today. [...]

By 1794, four years after his plan went into effect, the federal debt had increased a bit, but revenues had risen more than threefold. The debt-to-income ratio had shrunk to 15 to 1 from 46 to 1; by 1800, it was 8 to 1.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


To Slow Warming, Tax Carbon (DIETER HELM, 11/12/12, NY Times)

America has only the crudest energy policy. And yet its carbon emissions have been falling sharply. Why? Because the United States is switching from coal to gas. At the same time, Europe is moving from gas, which is expensive there, to much more polluting coal -- especially in Germany, which is phasing out its nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Europe's "answer" to global warming is wind farms and other current renewables. But the numbers won't ever add up. It just isn't possible to reduce carbon emissions much with small-scale disaggregated wind turbines. There isn't enough land for biofuels, even if corn-based ethanol were a good idea (a questionable proposition). Current renewable-energy sources cannot bridge the gap if we are to move away from carbon-intensive energy production. So we will need new technologies while in the meantime slowing the coal juggernaut.

There are three sensible ways to do this: tax carbon consumption (including imports); accelerate the switch from coal to gas; and support and finance new technologies rather than pouring so much money into wind and biofuels.

Putting a price on carbon is fundamental. If consumers and businesses do not bear the cost of their carbon pollution, they won't do much about it. This carbon price should not discriminate between locations: global warming is global. If China does not put a price on carbon, and Europe does, then China will effectively receive a huge export subsidy.

November 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


A More Impressive Win Than in 2008, and a More Important One (James Fallows, NOV 7 2012, Atlantic)

The Party itself. For the first time in my conscious life, the Democratic party is now more organized and coherent, and less fractious and back-biting, than the Republicans. It is almost stupefying to imagine that.

But think about the facts: We've now had four of the past six presidential elections won by Democrats. In five of the past six, the Democrat has won the popular vote. The most effective advocate for the current Democratic incumbent was the previous Democratic president. The current president's toughest rival in the primaries is now his Secretary of State, and another former rival is his vice president. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the nominee dared not even mention the existence of the previous Republican president. His rivals in the primary were tepid at best in shows of support. Democrats now disagree about a lot, from their relationship with Wall Street to the ethics of drone wars. But they are a more coherent whole than through most of their recent history -- and much more coherent than the Republicans.

In ceding the argument for his own presidency to Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama cemented himself into the Third Way slot--a position he'd already staked out via the mandate.  Meanwhile, the cyclical nature of modern Anglospheric politics meant that the GOP was still so addled by Obamacare that it positioned itself as a First Way party.  Almost inevitably, in 2016 Republicans will nominate a Third Way candidate and Democrats a Second.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Bipartisan immigration reform back on the table (Reuters, November 11, 2012)

The Graham and Schumer plan has four components: requiring high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; strengthening border security and enforcement of immigration laws; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a path to legal status for immigrants already in the country.

Schumer said the plan embraces "a path to citizenship that's fair, which says you have to learn English, you have to go to the back of the line, you've got to have a job, and you can't commit crimes."'s Part 5 that matters most, abolishing quotas.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Boehner Tells House G.O.P. to Fall in Line (JONATHAN WEISMAN and JENNIFER STEINHAUER, 11/10/12, NY Times)

Members on the call, subdued and dark, murmured words of support -- even a few who had been a thorn in the speaker's side for much of this Congress.

It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Mr. Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise with Democrats on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt.

With President Obama re-elected and Democrats cementing control of the Senate, Mr. Boehner will need to capitalize on the chastened faction of the House G.O.P. that wants to cut a deal to avert sudden tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts in January that could send the economy back into recession. After spending two years marooned between the will of his loud and fractious members and the Democratic Senate majority, the speaker is trying to assert control, and many members seem to be offering support.

"To have a voice at the bargaining table, John Boehner has to be strong," said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, one of the speaker's lieutenants. "Most members were just taught a lesson that you're not going to get everything that you want. It was that kind of election."

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM

Dee Dee Bridgewater On JazzSet (MARK SCHRAMM, 11/08/12, NPR)

Held each summer in the lovely hillside country of Westchester County, the Caramoor Jazz Festival is in a Venetian theatre in a rolling woods, about 40 miles northeast of New York City. All summer, Caramoor presents chamber music, opera, Latin music, a resident orchestra and more -- rain or shine. The 2012 jazz lineup featured Bridgewater, drummer extraordinaire Roy Haynes, solo pianist Kenny Barron, award-winning vocalist Gretchen Parlato and the smoking-hot Cookers all-star band.

Bridgewater's musical director is Edsel Gomez, arranger and pianist. He's her orchestra, pacesetter and descarga driver all in one. Craig "My Handyman" Handy on saxophone shadows and boxes with Bridgewater's voice. They revel in their closeness in "Besame Mucho." Michael Bowie played bass for Abbey Lincoln, one of Bridgewater's mentors and friends (as heard in her Tribute to Abbey on JazzSet). Bridgewater first heard Kenny Phelps last year in the house band at The Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis. He was accompanying finalists in the American Pianists Association competition. She loved the pianists, but she got Phelps' phone number on the spot.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


The Return of Thomistic Political Philosophy, Part II (JOSEPH G. TRABBIC, 3/22/12, Thomistica) Some Catholic thinkers have criticized the notion of human rights, Alasdair MacIntyre for instance. How do you think Maritain would respond to critiques like MacIntyre's?

Dr. Dennehy: I have not read MacIntyre in some years, but my initial thought is that Maritain would respond to the communitarian argument in two ways. First, he would point out that the "society of free men" that he describes and defends is not individualist in the way that advocates of the laisssez faire conceived of society as a kind of heap of individuals struggling to ascend to the top and whose obligations to society were negatively conceived as not harming others by force, fraud, or intimidation. Maritain argues, on the contrary, that a society of free men has four characteristics; it is personalist, communal rather than individualistic, pluralist, and Christian or at least Theist. Thus for Maritain a society worthy of free persons must not only be just but also commit itself to "civic friendship." The second way that Maritain would reply to the communitarians is to call attention to the rights of the person as ontologically grounded in human nature in virtue of what it means to be a human being. The exigencies of the human person arise from that ontological fact: each human being is not simply a part of society but a whole as well. Unlike animal groups, human society has a common good, which Maritain describes as a moral good that pertains to society as a whole and yet flows over each of its members. If I am qualified to teach philosophy, society can compel me to teach the subject, but it cannot compel me to teach a particular philosophy as true. The reason is that each of us is a whole in himself has been created by God to exist by his own free will. Maritain borrows here from Aquinas who argues that just as the runner strives to win the race but cannot put all that he is and has in the effort to win (he knowledge of astronomy and the Bible, e.g.), so the person cannot put all that he is and has into serving society (his knowledge of God, the desire to know the truth, and to increase his "freedom of personal expansion," e.g.). Thus, for Maritain, the rights of the person follow from the nature of the person.

The second book in this volume, The Rights of Man and the Natural Law, contain seminal references to the human person that Maritain will develop more fully in his book, The Person and the Common Good, which appeared in print about 1948.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


A King at the Height of His Reign (WILL FRIEDWALD, 11/10/12, WSJ)

The King of Rock 'n' Roll was at his all-time pinnacle in the early 1970s, and virtually every number during those 1972 New York performances, which have just been reissued in a deluxe concert CD and DVD package titled "Prince From Another Planet," is as moving as that climactic moment in Rapid City.

"Prince" marks Presley's evolution into an artist of the 1970s. He's moved beyond the three-chord rocker who shook up a generation in the 1950s with his gyrating hips and his brilliant synthesis of country, pop and R&B, and likewise transcended the more internationally focused movie star of the 1960s.

Concert-era Presley was different from any of his previous incarnations. A decade earlier he had begun to grow as a performer, in terms of vocal range but also material--his foray into songs in Italian, French and German, for instance, indicated he wanted to be more than just another hillbilly. That growth took a detour during his movie years, when his artistically short-sighted manager, Colonel Tom Parker, pressured him into recording songs they could own a piece of but weren't necessarily worthy of him.

Every song in the two Garden shows features Presley at his greatest. There's a portion of both concerts that covers his early hits, but even then the King isn't interested in simple nostalgia. He does "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Love Me Tender," but after coyly introducing "Hound Dog" as his "message song," the arrangement that follows is far from retro, deriving more from James Brown or some contemporary funk band than from the Elvis tradition.

There are only a few of the often trite songs of his early years (for example, "Teddy Bear"), but these are balanced by more mature country songs, like Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" and Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," imbued with a depth and profundity that their composers could have hardly imagined. His own more recent hits, like the blockbuster "Suspicious Minds," sound better than their studio incarnations, and Presley is engaged throughout in an intimate and spontaneous relationship with the 20,000 members of his audience (he was the first artist to completely sell out four consecutive shows in the Garden) in a way that distinguishes the best blues artists. In fact, one of the most effective numbers from the afternoon show is a straight-up 12-bar blues, "Reconsider Baby," by Ray Charles's mentor, Lowell Fulson; it's a deeper, more stirring rendition than Presley's youthful interpretation more than a decade earlier.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The absurd, irresistible Simon Templar lives on : The stories of The Saint - the most enduring of the Clubland Heroes of the 1920s - still prove as preposterous and readable as ever (Allan Massie, 10 Nov 2012, The Telegraph)

The Saint is wholly preposterous; that is part of the charm. His creator, Leslie Charteris, must have known this but, at least in the early books, he delighted in his creation, and wrote with an infectious exuberance, often wittily. (Eventually he became bored with him, and the later books were written by others, merely supervised by Charteris.) He was, despite an education at an English public school and Cambridge, somewhat of an outsider himself, his father being Chinese.

Perhaps this is why the Saint is an anti-establishment figure; unlike the other Clubland Heroes he has no friends in high places. He owes something to Raffles, E  W Hornung's gentleman-cracksman, but Raffles generally eschews violence. One sometimes thinks the Saint's true heirs are the superheroes of the comic books.

Reading the Charteris books must always have required a willing suspension of disbelief. Probability, especially when the Saint finds himself in a tight spot, was never something that concerned his author. Yet, somewhat to my surprise, the books are still enjoyable, principally because they are agreeably inventive and even more agreeably light-hearted. There is violence and there is killing, but it is done in jest, and the blood is only ketchup. [...]

There was never any pretence that they were realistic. Raymond Chandler, tired of the genteel school of mysteries where bodies are found in country-house libraries and murderers employ untraceable poisons, praised Dashiell Hammett for giving murder back to the sort of people who commit it. His opinion may be questioned, for all sorts of people, after all, commit murder. Nevertheless, crime fiction has mostly followed Chandler's route. Death in the modern crime novel is no fun, rarely for laughs. The Saint is different, a court jester of crime - though of course a beautifully dressed jester.

The sign of The Saint, which appears on virtua...

The sign of The Saint, which appears on virtually every edition of every Simon Templar adventure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM

Wanda Jackson On Mountain Stage (NPR, November 5, 2012)

The Queen of Rockabilly performs songs from a 40-year catalog. Jackson began her career in high school but soon found herself touring with the likes of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, who encouraged her to perform rock 'n' roll. Last month, she released her 31st studio album, Unfinished Business.

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November 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM

Pokey LaFarge And The South City Three On Mountain Stage (NPR, November 9, 2012)

Pokey LaFarge and his backing band The South City Three make their first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Paramount Theater in the border town of Bristol, Tenn./Va., in partnership with the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. Hailing from St. Louis, LaFarge mixes the sounds of a bygone era: early string-band music, ragtime, country blues and Western swing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


More Evidence that Obama's Victory Reflects the Economic Fundamentals (Patrick Egan, 11/08/12, NY Times)

By September, the fundamentals had improved enough to make Obama a slight favorite.  The figure below plots the incumbent party's share of the two-party presidential vote against the average growth rate in the nation's GDP over the three quarters preceding the election.  Separate regression lines trace the relationship for years when an incumbent was actually on the ballot (like 2012) and those when he was not (like 2008).   (The steeper slope of the first line indicates that the economy affects election results more strongly when the president is actually running for reelection; the fact that it lies above the second line illustrates the advantage enjoyed by incumbents.)

The growth rate between January and September of 2012 averaged 1.8 percent.  As shown in the figure, this yielded a predicted share of 51.2 percent of the two-party vote for incumbent Obama.    How well did this forecast the actual outcome?  Right now (as of noon on November 8th) the popular vote totals stand at 60,771,081 for Obama and 57,876,223 for Romney--exactly 51.2 percent for the incumbent. 

What really stands out is how badly Ross Perot screwed GHWB.
Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


MY WIFE'S LOVER (CHUCK KLOSTERMAN, July 13, 2012, NY Times Magazine)

My wife is having an affair with a government executive. His role is to manage a project whose progress is seen worldwide as a demonstration of American leadership. (This might seem hyperbolic, but it is not an exaggeration.) I have met with him on several occasions, and he has been gracious. (I doubt if he is aware of my knowledge.) I have watched the affair intensify over the last year, and I have also benefited from his generosity. He is engaged in work that I am passionate about and is absolutely the right person for the job. I strongly feel that exposing the affair will create a major distraction that would adversely impact the success of an important effort. My issue: Should I acknowledge this affair and finally force closure? Should I suffer in silence for the next year or two for a project I feel must succeed? Should I be "true to my heart" and walk away from the entire miserable situation and put the episode behind me? NAME WITHHELD

Don't expose the affair in any high-profile way. It would be different if this man's project was promoting some (contextually hypocritical) family-values platform, but that doesn't appear to be the case. The only motive for exposing the relationship would be to humiliate him and your wife, and that's never a good reason for doing anything. This is between you and your spouse. You should tell her you want to separate, just as you would if she were sleeping with the mailman. The idea of "suffering in silence" for the good of the project is illogical. How would the quiet divorce of this man's mistress hurt an international leadership initiative? He'd probably be relieved.

The fact that you're willing to accept your wife's infidelity for some greater political good is beyond honorable. In fact, it's so over-the-top honorable that I'm not sure I believe your motives are real. Part of me wonders why you're even posing this question, particularly in a column that is printed in The New York Times.

Your dilemma is intriguing, but I don't see how it's ambiguous. Your wife is having an affair with a person you happen to respect. Why would that last detail change the way you respond to her cheating? Do you admire this man so much that you haven't asked your wife why she keeps having sex with him? I halfway suspect you're writing this letter because you want specific people to read this column and deduce who is involved and what's really going on behind closed doors (without actually addressing the conflict in person). That's not ethical, either.

How do folks like General Petraeus manage to screw their own lives up so badly?
Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


The Party of Work (DAVID BROOKS, 11/08/12, NY Times)

The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.

Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.

Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it's often not government. It's a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don't rise. It's a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It's a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It's chaotic neighborhoods that can't be cured by withdrawing government programs.

For these people, the Republican equation is irrelevant. When they hear Romney talk abstractly about Big Government vs. Small Government, they think: He doesn't get me or people like me.

It';s especially peculiar that a guy who built his fortune on making companies more efficient by cutting deadwood jobs should have been so confused about the job numbers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


The Election and the Right (Yuval Levin, November 8, 2012, National Review)
The Democratic Party is mostly an incoherent amalgam of interest groups, most of which are vying for benefits for themselves and their members at the expense of other Americans. This kind of party is why America's founders worried about partisanship and were, at least at first, eager to avoid a party system. It is a bunch of factions more than a party. The basic distinction between a faction and a proper party--a distinction proposed by Edmund Burke, among the first positive proponents of parties in the Anglo-American tradition--is that a faction seeks power over the whole for its own advantage while a party seeks power to advance its own vision of the good of the whole. "A party," Burke wrote, "is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavor the national interest upon some principle in which they are all agreed."
Some of today's Democrats do advance such a view of the good of the whole--a progressive view by which the national interest is served by replacing traditional mediating institutions with the more rational and technocratic public institutions of the welfare state, replacing what they take to be a stifling combination of moral collectivism and economic individualism with what they take to be a liberating combination of moral individualism and economic collectivism. It is this view that conservatives call "the Left" and which we oppose and resist. But the Democrats are not united by this view and are by no means all agreed in it. The party's electoral strength is not a function of its commitment to this view or of the public's acceptance of it. Its electoral strength is a function of a coalition of special-interest groups that provide both voters and activists in return for the party protecting their interests at the expense of those of other Americans when it is in power.
The Republican Party has its own interest groups too, of course. It has often been too protective of big business, above all. But interest groups of this sort in Republican politics play nothing like the role they have in Democratic politics. The Republican Party, for good and bad, is much more of a real party--largely united and moved (and increasingly so) by a complicated and often contradictory but at bottom very coherent worldview we call conservatism which, to vastly overgeneralize, argues for traditional morality, free enterprise, and a robust national defense. The party's electoral strength is without question a function of this view and of the public's acceptance of it (or lack thereof). Its electoral fate therefore depends on its ability to lay out this vision of American life (at least in part translated into concrete policy) for voters in an appealing way and to persuade them of its virtues and its value to them and their country.
This can of course involve explaining to specific groups why a more conservative government would be better for them in particular, but it generally should not mean offering certain groups benefits or protections at the expense of others for the sake of their votes. I do think there are some parts of our society that deserve special consideration and special treatment. I would favor a tax code designed to be more supportive of middle-class parents, for instance--but that's because I think it would be good for America, strengthening us where we are weak and helping to redress the mistreatment of families in our current tax code. I favor benefits and protections for the poor and the vulnerable, provided they are designed to encourage independence and to lift people out of poverty wherever possible. But those are, at least as I understand them, outgrowths of a broader conservative worldview--they are my conservatism applied to specific instances, and I think they should be persuasive to everyone, not just to people in the groups that might benefit, because I think they would be good for the country. I don't think I would change my mind about them if an election went poorly, though I might change which of them I emphasize in response to the needs of the moment or I might change the way I argue about them to try to be more persuasive to one kind of fellow American or another.
There is much legitimate room for debate among conservatives about immigration, for instance. I probably fall on the less restrictionist end of that spectrum on the right. But I would not suggest that the Republican Party should move my way because there are more Hispanic voters in the country. I think it should move my way because I think that way is right for our country, and it's my job to persuade other people of that.
And that, at the end of the day, is the challenge for conservatives in the wake of this election. The argument that any individual (and therefore party) should just change substantive positions (especially on crucially important issues) because there is more of one kind of voter or another than there used to be is just not a serious argument. It suggests that the substance of our politics is nothing more than cynical electioneering. Republicans tend not to believe that, and even those who do could never hope to compete with Democrats on that front. They should instead offer the country an applied conservatism.
The job of conservatism, and to the extent that it is a conservative party then also the job of the Republican Party, is to lay out its vision before voters in an attractive and serious way, to show them how it builds on America's strengths to address America's weaknesses, how it enables human thriving, how it could be applied to the particular problems we face today in ways that would help solve those problems, and why it is good for each and all of us Americans. That means we need to speak to a coherent and appealing understanding of American life today, and that we need to translate our ideas into very concrete policy particulars that would advance them.

It is, of course, the case that the GOP is the party of traditional morality (Christianity) and American values.  So for it to have become so closely identified with the hatred of immigrants is not only antithetical to its principles and purposes but is to some significant degree self-delegitimizing.  Indeed, the notion enunciated here, that opposition to immigration is a "substantive position," is particularly embarrassing from someone like Mr. Levin, who knows better.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


McCain Beats Romney! (PAUL KENGOR, 11.9.12, National Review)

Brace yourselves, conservatives. What I'm about to say will hurt, and it should hurt -- and I'm not the first to notice. (Kudos to Rush Limbaugh, who noticed and is hitting this point hard.) Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election not so much because he got fewer votes than Barack Obama but because he got fewer votes than John McCain in 2008.

Additional votes are still coming in, but, as of the time of my writing, Romney received around 57.8 million votes in 2012. In 2008, John McCain received 59.9 million. Romney got over 2 million fewer votes than McCain. And in the final count, he will almost certainly have received considerably fewer votes than McCain.

Obama received 60.6 million votes in 2012, almost 9 million less than he received in 2008. If Romney would have had McCain's vote total, he would have been much closer in the popular vote and might have even had enough to win the Electoral College. Or, better put, if Mitt Romney had secured just a tiny fraction more votes than John McCain -- as we conservatives were certain he would -- he might have won the presidency.

We know this: Romney won independents by 5 points, and they made up 29% of all voters. McCain didn't win independents.

The weakness of the primary field was ultimately fatal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Welcoming Immigrants Begins With How You Talk About Them (Seth Mandel, 11.09.2012, Commentary)

Immigration reform and taking a more welcoming attitude toward immigrants makes sense on every level-economically, morally, culturally, etc. But at the risk of being accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I think something needs to be said about the way this argument is taking shape, with particular emphasis on the newfound expression of support for Hispanic immigration on the right. As I said, there are many logical reasons to welcome immigrants and to support immigration reform. But conservatives who have previously opposed it and are now admitting that cynical electoral considerations are driving their evolution are making an understandable, but still devastating, mistake.

The way that conservatives talk about immigration reform must be reformed as well. They must understand that there is now a cultural suspicion of the right on the part of a large segment of the immigrant population, especially Latinos, and for good reason. Immigrants are well aware of the debate over immigration here. And they remember-and will for some time-that when they arrived here with nothing but the clothes on their back, desperate for a chance at a better life for themselves and their children, one party said "come on in" and the other said "turn around and go back."

Simply supporting immigration reform is not going to do away with this, especially if people describe Latino immigrants as some kind of demographic setback they must alleviate in order to win elections. That's dehumanizing too. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Belcea Quartet Plays Beethoven At Carnegie Hall (TOM HUIZENGA, 11/07/12, NPR)

This concert is one of three the ensemble is presenting at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. They focus on Beethoven's final quartets -- among the most personal, enigmatic and powerfully forward-thinking pieces in his output. In the late quartets, the idea of the string quartet became whatever Beethoven wanted it to be.

The Op. 127 Quartet in E-flat, heard in this concert, might be laid out in the traditional four movements, but the piece has the weight and the length of a massive symphonic statement.

The Op.130 Quartet in B-flat, constructed as a light-hearted serenade in six movements, feels more like a raw, intimate communication -- like a late night phone call from a troubled friend. In the Cavatina, Beethoven instructs the first violinist to play as if "choked up" (beklemmt). And even the momentary rays of sunlight in the preceding German dance are somehow veiled.

The quartet originally ended with a muscular, unprecedented 15-minute fugue (known as the "Grosse Fuge") that Chorzelski calls "a nuclear explosion, aimed at threatening the very idea of structure and gravity." Beethoven's publisher forced him to write a substitute finale and released the fugue as a separate piece. But even that more docile ending, Chorzelski told, is filled with mischief.

November 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Heartland Draws Hispanics to Help Revive Small Towns (MIRIAM JORDAN, 11/09/12, WSJ)

Hispanic migration to the Midwest has political implications. Though only 2.2% of eligible voters in Iowa are Latinos, President courted them. He won in five out of seven counties that together are home to half of Iowa's Latino population. The president also won in Wapello County, where Ottumwa is the county seat. Nationally, Hispanics accounted for 10% of the electorate for the first time, and helped power Mr. Obama to victory.

The "Latino Diaspora" is playing a key role in revitalizing small-town America once plagued with a shrinking tax base and dim prospects for economic growth.

Since the 1990s, Latinos have flocked to places like Dalton, Ga., to work in the carpet mills, and to the Piedmont section of North Carolina to work in furniture manufacturing. Many Hispanics work in the hotels and golf courses of Hilton Head, S.C. Some analysts believe the influx could eventually tip more traditionally Republican Southern states into the Democratic column.

The big Hispanic movement to Midwestern small towns has been more recent. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population in the Midwest swelled 49%, more than 12 times the 4% overall population growth there, according to the census.

The number of Latinos climbed 82% in Iowa during that decade and now represents 5% of the state's population, the census found. The Hispanic population grew 82% in Indiana, 77% in Nebraska and 74.5% in Minnesota. Beardstown, Ill., now holds a Cinco de Mayo celebration with mariachi bands and children performing Mexican folk dances across from the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law.

You can either hate your neighbor or be a conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Hannity: I've 'evolved' on immigration and support a 'pathway to citizenship' (MACKENZIE WEINGER | 11/8/12, Politico)

Sean Hannity said Thursday he has "evolved" on immigration and now supports a "pathway to citizenship."

Hannity told his radio listeners Thursday afternoon that the United States needs to "get rid of the immigration issue altogether."

"It's simple to me to fix it," Hannity said. "I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here -- you don't say you've got to go home. And that is a position that I've evolved on. Because, you know what, it's got to be resolved. The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done."

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Moore's Law Is Becoming Irrelevant : The CEO of ARM says power-efficient chips for mobile devices will move into desktops, laptops, and servers. (Tom Simonite, November 9, 2012, Technology Review)

Companies like Apple and Samsung are the public face of the smartphone and tablet boom, but they all rely on ARM, the British company that licenses the energy-efficient processor designs required by mobile devices. Those chips were once considered significantly less powerful than the x86 processors found in desktops, laptops, and servers--a market dominated by Intel--but that gap appears to be closing. Microsoft is exploring a switch to ARM's technology for traditional computers, suggesting that ARM's technology will soon shape more than just mobile computing. ARM's CEO, Warren East, met this week with MIT Technology Review's senior IT editor, Tom Simonite.

For decades the computing business has been guided by Moore's Law, which predicts the rate of improvements in computing power. You have a different focus.

We have always been about efficiency, miles per gallon instead of top speed. That's actually what matters. Mobile is an easy example: you know that phone is constrained because it's battery powered.

But [even if] you can plug [a computer] into a socket, [efficiency] is a serious issue for the world. Servers use huge amounts of power. Data centers get located in strange regions of the world where it's naturally cooler. More and more of this mobile stuff [also] means more and more servers are required. We've actually changed the way people design servers [by making them smaller and lower-powered]. Instead of being restricted to big data centers where you know you can get massive amounts of power in, you can distribute these things. You could have many more servers. The analogy I would use is routers. Once upon a time, routers were effectively mini-computers in a massive box. Cisco managed to reduce that to things you have in your home. There's no reason it shouldn't go that way for servers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


GOP Firms Grip on Statehouses With Gubernatorial Wins (MEG HANDLEY, November 7, 2012, USN)

The addition of at least one governorship to the GOP column brings the party's tally to 30 and marks the highest number held by either party in 12 years, according to the Republican Governors Association. The all-time high for the GOP was 34 seats in the 1920s.

Reinforcing the Republican lead in governorships strengthens the party's position against Democratic policies such as Obamacare, a CNN report noted, and arms the GOP with influence in Washington, despite the fact the White House will be blue for another four years and the GOP failed in its mission to capture the Senate.

November 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Obama campaign attack ads appeared effective in defeating Mitt Romney (THOMAS M. DEFRANK, 11/.07/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

 The President who promised hope and change four years ago sealed another term by embracing the same old slash and burn.

Mitt Romney's fate might have been sealed over the summer, when President Obama's campaign carpet-bombed the Republican with attack ads.

The commercials hammered Romney as a craven capitalist who sent jobs overseas, refused to release his tax returns and would give zillionaires like himself even heftier tax breaks at the expense of the middle-class.

While demonizing Romney, the strategy also deflected attention from Obama's handling of the economy. Obama's subliminal message was stark: You may not like me much, but Romney's worse -- much worse.

It worked.

"That was the key strategic calculation, " said political scientist George Edwards of Texas A&M University. "Romney wanted a referendum on Obama's performance, but Obama made it a choice between two people.

"He was successful in arguing that Romney was not just an unattractive choice but a risky choice," Edwards added.

Mitt just never seemed like he cared much about average people.  And a shockingly high percentage of us are rather average.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Obama should raise taxes on the middle class (David Callahan, NOVEMBER 8, 2012, Reuters)

Obama promised on the campaign trail that he wouldn't raise taxes on the middle class and implied that repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would yield enough revenue. In fact, more than three-quarters of all revenue lost by the U.S. Treasury because of the Bush tax cuts is due to cuts that benefit households making under $250,000, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Simple math suggests that as long as the vast majority of earners are paying the lowest tax rates in half a century, it will be hard to tame the deficit without deep spending cuts.

Forcing such spending reductions, of course, was a key goal of the Bush tax cuts - which stand as the crown jewel accomplishment of small-government conservatives over the past two decades. If Obama lets the bulk of these tax cuts stand in his second term, he will grant a permanent victory to that movement and its agenda of steadily downsizing a range of federal programs.

Tax their consumption.
Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Vietnam Tech Exports Overtaking Garments Eases Trade Gap (Bloomberg News, Nov 8, 2012)

Vietnam's cost advantage has drawn investments from U.S. and South Korean technology companies, whose exports have overtaken garments and provided a bright spot for a government struggling to revive economic growth.

Intel Corp. (INTC), Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) and Jabil Circuit Inc. (JBL) are among a growing roster of companies setting up or expanding in Vietnam, spurring exports amid a global slowdown that has damped demand for goods from other Asian nations. Shipments of mobile phones and other electronics from Vietnam surged 91 percent in the first 10 months of the year to $16 billion, making them the biggest source of export revenue.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Immigration Issue Hurts GOP with More Than Just Hispanics (Max Boot, 11.08.2012, Commentary)

Respondents were then asked what should happen to most illegal immigrants working in the U.S.-should they be offered a chance to apply for legal status or deported? Sixty-five percent of respondents said they should be offered a chance to apply for legal status-what Republican politicians normally characterize as an "amnesty for illegal aliens." Only 28 percent said that they should be deported. This suggests that Republicans' anti-immigration views hurt them not only with Latinos but with a broader electorate, which is more sympathetic to undocumented migrants than Republican leaders are.

A Christian party is naturally pro-immigrant.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


National Rifle Association shut out on Election Day (Rachel Weiner, November 8, 2012, Washington Post)

The Sunlight Foundation ran the numbers and found that after spending nearly $11 million in the general election, the National Rifle Association got a less than one percent return on its investment this cycle. That is, less than one percent of the money went toward the desired result. 

The group supported 27 winning candidates, but most of its money was spent targeting winning Democrats (including over $7 million against President Obama) or bolstering losing Republicans (including $1.8 million supporting Mitt Romney and $500,000 backing Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock). 

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Seatbelts on planes are pointless, says Ryanair boss  (Hannah Furness, 07 Nov 2012, The Telegraph)

Mr O'Leary, the chief executive of budget airline Ryanair, dismissed the notion seatbelts were an essential safety requirement, saying: "If there ever was a crash on an aircraft, God forbid, a seatbelt won't save you." reversing the seats so they face the back of the plane. But, then, he's not talking about safety.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Republican leader Boehner may be ready to bargain (Dana Milbank,November 7, 2012, Washington Post)

[B]oehner's talk of common ground is likely to enrage the no-compromise wing of his House Republicans, who live in fear of the tea party, Grover Norquist, the Club for Growth and other enforcers of conservative orthodoxy. And tea party leaders have convinced themselves that Romney lost because he wasn't conservative enough. The Tea Party Patriots, for example, attributed Romney's defeat to his being a "weak moderate candidate, handpicked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment."

More likely, the tea party itself bears the blame for Romney's loss -- just as losses of far-right candidates kept Republicans from taking over the Senate.

To survive conservative primary challenges from Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and others, Romney had to take positions that ultimately doomed him in the general election. His tough-on-immigration stance, in particular, helps to explain his loss of more than 70 percent of the Latino vote, which sealed his defeat.

Boehner knows this, of course, and that is why he was so careful when he made his remarks Wednesday afternoon, taking the rare precaution of using a teleprompter. He left without answering questions, and when reporters shouted queries at him, he only smiled.

"The American people have spoken," Boehner said somberly, his eyes glistening. "If there's a mandate in yesterday's results, it's a mandate for us to find a way to work together."

The President will force Democrats to accept more of what the GOP wants than it ever could have.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Why left should seek a fiscal deal (Gabe Horwitz NOVEMBER 8, 2012, REUTERS)

[A] network of liberal groups, on Thursday, plan to demand a national day of action against a balanced, grand bargain that could pull the nation back from the fiscal cliff it faces. The beef of this progressive coalition is that a real budget deal would almost certainly cut Medicare spending and may possibly include a proposal to make Social Security solvent through the century.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


China: Worse Than You Ever Imagined (Ian Johnson, NOVEMBER 22, 2012, NY Review of Books)

Originally published in 2008, the Chinese version of Tombstone is a legendary book in China.1 It is hard to find an intellectual in Beijing who has not read it, even though it remains banned and was only published in Hong Kong. Yang's great success is using the Communist Party's own records to document, as he puts it, "a tragedy unprecedented in world history for tens of millions of people to starve to death and to resort to cannibalism during a period of normal climate patterns with no wars or epidemics."

Tombstone is a landmark in the Chinese people's own efforts to confront their history, despite the fact that the party responsible for the Great Famine is still in power. This fact is often lost on outsiders who wonder why the Chinese haven't delved into their history as deeply as the Germans or Russians or Cambodians. In this sense, Yang is like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: someone inside the system trying to uncover its darkest secrets.

Like The Gulag Archipelago, Yang's Tombstone is a flawed work that has benefited by being shortened in translation. The original work spun out of control, with Yang trying to incorporate everything he found and constantly recapitulating key points. This is one reason why the original was over 1,800 pages and published in two volumes. The English version is half the length and reorganized by Yang in conjunction with the translators, Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian, and an outside editor, the University of Wisconsin's Edward Friedman. The result is a much more compact book with Yang's most important work clearly showcased.

The original book started out with fourteen provincial case studies followed by six "policy" chapters and eight "analysis" chapters. The translation begins, like the original, with Yang's powerful chapter on Xinyang but then alternates provincial case studies with the broader chapters on policy and analysis. Only four of the fourteen provincial chapters are in the English translation but from my reading of both versions it seems that they have cut almost none of Yang's key findings, including interviews with victims and those responsible for the famine, and his best scoops from the archives. The English version retains all six policy chapters and five of the eight analysis chapters.

Yang's travails in piecing together the book are part of its lore.2 As a reporter for the government's Xinhua news agency, he had been a blindly loyal Party member. The turning point was the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre: "The blood of those young students cleansed my brain of all the lies I had accepted over the previous decades." That made him determined to write the history of the Great Famine, which had touched him directly: he had watched his father die in front of him, at the time thinking it was an isolated tragedy and only later realizing that tens of millions had also died.

The story Yang tells is by now familiar in broad strokes thanks to the work of earlier writers, especially for foreigners, notably Jasper Becker's 1996 book Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, but also because of the findings of demographers, local studies specialists, and Chinese memoirists and researchers who have over the years pulled together the basic facts. Yang's contribution is to have written a large-scale history based on these works and his own pioneering research in Chinese archives.

His main point is to prove that the Party, from the village chief up to Chairman Mao, knew exactly what was going on but was too warped by ideology to change course until tens of millions had died. Like Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, the book is a cry of outrage from a victim. Yang vowed to erect for his father an everlasting tombstone, one that would not crumble or fall with time, and he did so with this book.

November 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM


Boehner Extends Olive Branch on 'Fiscal Cliff' (Reuters, 11/07/12)

House Speaker John Boehner offered Wednesday to pursue a deal with a victorious President Barack Obama that will include higher taxes "under the right conditions" to help reduce the nation's staggering debt and put its finances in order.

"Mr. President, this is your moment," Boehner told reporters, speaking about the "fiscal cliff" that will hit in January. "We want you to lead."

Boehner said House Republicans are asking Obama "to make good on a balanced approach" that would including spending cuts and address government social benefit programs.

"Let's find the common ground that has eluded us," Boehner said while congratulating the president on winning a second term. 

Home Prices Up 7.6% From Year Ago (CONOR DOUGHERTY, 11/07/12, WSJ)

Home prices appreciated in a growing number of cities during the third quarter, the latest evidence that the real estate recovery is gaining momentum and breadth.

The median price for an existing single-family home was $186,000 in the third quarter, up 7.6% from a year earlier and the largest year-over-year growth since 2006, according to a report Wednesday from the National Association of Realtors. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM



President Obama won re-election primarily because he did so well with two key, and expanding, constituencies: Hispanics and members of the Millennial Generation. Throughout the campaign, Democratic pundits pointed to these two groups as being the key difference makers. They were right.

Let's start with Hispanics, arguably the biggest deciders in this election. Exit polling shows Obama winning this group -- which gave up to two-fifths of their vote to George Bush -- by over two to one. In 2008, Obama improved his winning margin with Latino voters from 67% in 2008 to 69% in 2012. And for the first time they represented 10% of the overall electorate.

Obama and the Democrats went after this constituency, taking some risks along the way about a backlash among whites. Obama's move to not deport young illegals if they came to this country as a child and met certain other criteria blurred any negative impact from a still weak economy. In contrast, Romney's platform of more or less making life so horrible that illegals leave canceled out all the GOP candidate's credible economic and social proposals that might have appealed to this group.

...who've grown up in an America where race doesn't matter, you need to stop running on race.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


A Status Quo Election (Fred Barnes, 11/07/12, Weekly Standard)

[T]here was huge hole in the GOP field.  The entire younger generation of smart, attractive Republicans didn't run:  Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Pat Toomey.  They were missed.  Several of them might have been stronger presidential candidates than Romney.  No doubt some or all of them will run in 2016.

They represent the Republican future in the best possible way.  They are the heirs of Ronald Reagan and advocates of a reform conservatism that is more relevant than ever, given the country's fiscal mess and foreign policy troubles.

No doubt the media will insist that Republicans must change, must sprint to the center, must embrace social liberalism, must accept that America is destined to play a less dominant role in the world.  All that is hogwash, which is why Republicans are likely to reject it.  Their ideology is not a problem.

But there is also a hole in the Republican electorate.  There aren't enough Hispanics.  As long as two-thirds of the growing Hispanic voting bloc lines up with Democrats, it will be increasingly difficult (though hardly impossible) for Republicans to win national elections.  When George W. Bush won a narrow reelection in 2004, he got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.  If Romney had managed that, he would have come closer to winning.  He might even have won.

So we're left with four more years of Obama, the man with no plan and no mandate.  It's not beyond the realm of possibility that he could have a successful second term with a booming economy and a de-polarized Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Study finds exercise adds to life expectancy, even for obese (Melissa Healy, 11/07/12, Los Angeles Times)

So, what's it worth to lace up those sneakers and break a sweat for about 30 minutes a day? About 3.5 extra years of life, on average -- and about 4.2 additional years for those willing to step up the intensity or put in closer to an hour a day of brisk walking or its equivalent, according to a new study.

Even for the severely obese -- those with a body mass index above 35 -- exercising for about 2.5 hours a week at moderate intensity or for 75 minutes at vigorous levels puts average life expectancy a notch above that of a normal-weight person who is sedentary, the research shows.

It's no surprise that exercise is good for you and will help you live longer. But the study published Tuesday by the journal PLoS Medicine sounds a loud wake-up call to "healthy weight" couch potatoes who believe their good BMIs will ensure them a long life.

Even for people with a BMI between 20 and 25, those who told researchers they were physically inactive were far more likely to die in the next decade or so than were overweight or obese exercisers. Among the 431,479 study participants over the age of 40, the sedentary were almost twice as likely to die during the course of the study than were participants who were highly active.

"This finding may convince currently inactive persons that a modest level of physical activity is 'worth it' for health benefits, even if it may not result in weight control," the study authors wrote.

10,000 steps

November 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 PM


Two quick thoughts and then to bed:

(1) When was the last time, if ever, that a president was re-elected to a second term but did worse in that race than in the first?  Ever?

(2) The big enchilada now is making sure that the GOP shares credit for the Peace Dividend-driven recovery.  To that end, John Boehner needs to say to the UR: "Okay, we're still here and you're still there, let's pass that Grand Compromise now."  That way the Republicans get credit for the coming plunge in deficits.

Actually, a third thought: If Mitt does lose FL, NV and CO will the nativist wing of the party please go away?

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 PM


The Other Brother found this cool interactive graphic at the Times, which lets you chart the respective paths to Electoral College victory.

For our contest you just need to pick:

(1) the overall vote percentages for president

(2) The composition of the Senate (currently 53D-47R)

and (3) The composition of the House (242R-191D-2 vacant)

We'll also live blog starting at 8pm on Election Night, so feel free to join in and chatter about your local races as well as the national returns. If you'd like to be added as a panelist to the liveblog (so we don't have to approve your comments, we can accomodate about 20), please let us know - we'll need an email address to send the invite to - by emailing

The live coverage will be on the permanent page for this post - click on the "continue reading" link, the timestamp above, or the comments link to go to the individual post.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Ah, the joys of living in a college town...the UR won the mock election at the elementary school by a margin of 327 to 5. The youngest was one of the unchosen few.  
Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


...though surely not original, that elections are like sporting events, but with one huge beneficial difference--our favorite team is always in them.  

This explains the excitement we feel about tomorrow and the trepidation.  Sure, we can comb through the party platforms and find some policy differences to gussy up the stakes of the contest, but, at heart, it's as much or more about how our team fares.  Thus, just as you may find the star pitcher your club just signed to be a rather loathsome creature, but still root like heck for him to win that playoff game, so too do many of us who'd not have listed Mitt Romney or Barrack Obama in our top ten choices for the respective nominations suddenly find ourselves fully vested in them.

But, you know what, just like there's always next season, so too is there always the next election.  And the party that celebrates in 1980 has to face 1982, of 1992 has to contend with 1994, of 2004 has to live through 2006 and of 2008 must suffer 2010.  So, if we win, best not be too cocky.  And if we lose, no point being morose.  The Party of  Freedom and the Party of Security are universal and eternal and we're lucky enough to live at a time when there's so little to choose between them that we get to bask in Liberty, peace and affluence, no matter which wins.

There's never a bad time to be an American, but Election Days are in many ways the best times.    

Nope, definitely wasn't original....For Men, Election Is Like Big Game (JONATHAN D. ROCKOFF, 11/06/12, WSJ)

For men, presidential-election nights affect testosterone levels as if they're watching their favorite team compete in the World Series or Super Bowl, according to a study that explored voters' reactions to the 2008 contest.

The study, published in October 2009 in the journal PLoS One, measured the testosterone levels of 163 men and women before and after Barack Obama's defeat of John McCain during the last presidential race. The study subjects, aided by chewing gum, gave saliva samples to researchers for testing.

Testosterone levels typically fall throughout a normal day. But levels stayed about the same among male Obama supporters on the 2008 election night. Among those who supported the losing side, the hormone levels dropped more than they normally would have--some 30% from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., the study found. (The election's outcome didn't affect testosterone levels in women, as researchers had expected.)

It was as if the men weren't just watching the outcome but closely identifying with one of the candidates, said Kevin LaBar, a Duke University neuroscientist who helped conduct the study. Similar hormonal changes have been observed in devoted male sports fans watching their favorite team play, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


The Electoral College Defends Liberty in Ways Direct Democracy Doesn't (LARA BROWN , November 5, 2012, US News)

[T]he framers in crafting the Constitution sought to promote two major principles: separation of powers and federalism. In short, government's power should be divided horizontally across the three national branches and vertically between Washington and the states. This competition for power would foster a system of "checks and balances," protecting individual liberty and undermining tyrannies. By staggering elections, setting different term lengths, forging different geographical districts, and designing different modes of selection, the framers sought to ensure officeholders would represent "the people" as American citizens and residents of a state. Accordingly, the Constitution "is neither wholly federal nor wholly national."

And this is where the Electoral College fits into our American system and defends liberty in ways that direct democracy does not, despite the fact that the framers imagined that it would operate differently than it does today.

How does it work? Like the World Series, you must win games (states), not merely runs (people). There's not a single election for president, but 51 elections, including the District of Columbia. According to Alexander Hamilton, this "affords a moral certainty, that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." If a baseball team were forced to play 51 games, wouldn't we all agree that the team that won the majority of those games would be the "better" team? Generally, this is what the Electoral College does: It forces presidential candidates to win both people (runs in a single game) and states (the majority of games). This makes the president an able representative of the United States of America, who is tasked with balancing national and federal interests.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


The world is safer. But no one in Washington can talk about it. (Greg Jaffe, November 2, 2012, Washington Post)

There's one foreign policy fact that President Obama and Mitt Romney dare not mention this election season. No American general will speak of it. Nor will it displace the usual hot topics at Washington's myriad foreign policy think tanks.

Measured by most relevant statistics, the United States -- and the world -- have never been safer.

Obama says terrorist networks remain the greatest threat to the United States. "We have to remain vigilant," he warned recently. But global terrorism has barely touched most Americans in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, with 238 U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks, mostly in war zones, according to the National Counterterrorism Center's annual reports. By comparison, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that 293Americans were crushed during the same stretch by falling furniture or televisions.

Beyond the United States, global statistics point undeniably toward progress in achieving greater peace and stability. There are fewer wars now than at any time in decades. The number of people killed as a result of armed violence worldwide is plunging as well -- down to about 526,000 in 2011 from about 740,000 in 2008, according to the United Nations. [...]

[U].S. defense spending, adjusted for inflation, is at the highest level since World War II and is unlikely to decline substantially. 

To the contrary, it'll trend towards the historical norm.  It's only the pace we're bickering about.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


How Democrats and Republicans View Your Retirement (EMILY BRANDON, November 5, 2012, US News)

Here's a look at how Democrats and Republicans differ in their perceptions of retirement:

Responsibility for funding retirement. Republicans (56 percent) are more likely than Democrats (42 percent) to say the responsibility for retirement finances rests largely with individuals, according to a recent Wells Fargo and Harris Interactive survey of 1,000 middle-class Americans. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to report that employers and the government should also play a role in funding retirement. "Most middle-class Americans are waking up to the fact that I own and control and am responsible for my own retirement," says Joseph Ready, executive vice president of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust.

When even 42% of Democrats are amenable it just isn't much of an issue any more.
Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Dems' drive to retake House falters (Alex Isenstadt, November 4, 2012, Politico)

Democrats are expected to pick up five seats at best -- a fraction of the 25 they need. On the eve of the election, some party officials are privately worried that Democrats might even lose ground and drop one or two seats to the Republican majority.

It would mark an epic failure for a party that has a legitimate shot at keeping the presidency and the Senate on Tuesday. The inability of House Democrats to pick off a good number of seats from one of the most unpopular House majorities in modern history will cause a lot of soul-searching in the party come Wednesday. [...]

After Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his No. 2 in August, Democrats were elated -- DCCC Chairman Steve Israel even dubbed the Wisconsin congressman a "majority maker."

The argument from Democrats: Ryan's controversial plan to rewrite Medicare would scare seniors, who would rush to the polls to pull the lever against Republicans. It's a bet that Democrats were willing to stake their hopes on: Sixty-four of the 123 TV ads the DCCC ran between Aug. 16 and Oct. 29 focused on Medicare.

Nearly three months after the Ryan pick was made, it's clear that these attacks never really took hold.

Democrats credit Republicans -- some of whom had been initially concerned about Ryan's impact on down-ballot candidates -- with launching a vigorous pushback on the issue, accusing Obama of including cuts to Medicare in his health care bill. By the time October was up, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found Mitt Romney leading Obama on the question of who's more likely to protect Medicare.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


LED Lighting Riding Price-Performance Curve (Martin LaMonica, November 5, 2012), Technology Review)

At first blush, expensive LED light bulbs are an unlikely technology to succeed with consumers. But the benefits of LEDs for lighting are becoming clearer, in terms of both cost reductions and high-tech features.

Best Buy last week introduced its Insignia line of consumer light bulbs in the familiar A19 shape. The bulbs use LEDs from Cree and give an amount of light equivalent to a 60-watt or 40-watt incandescent lamp. They're designed to last over 20 years, give off a white light at 3,000 Kelvin, and have a color rendering index of 80, according to Cree.

The cost for the 60-watt equivalent, which consumes 13 watts, is $16.99, and a 40-watt-equivalent bulb costs $13.99. That's a lot more expensive than comparable compact fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. But the Insignia shows that LED lighting costs are falling.

Two years ago, similar products from other manufacturers cost more than double what they do now. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


The Next President Is Lucky : Whoever wins the election will get to preside over a growing economy and look like a genius. (Matthew Yglesias, Nov. 5, 2012, Slate)

Partisans always prefer victory to defeat, but in retrospect some elections look like poisoned chalices. Jimmy Carter's narrow victory over Gerald Ford in 1976, for example, merely saddled the Democrats with the blame for economic problems that were global in scope and paved the way for Ronald Reagan's 1980 election. In 2004, Democrats were desperate to boot George W. Bush from office, but his second term wound up being uneventful in policy terms, and John Kerry's defeat allowed his party to duck a financial crisis that almost certainly would have come about one way or another.

While anything's possible, 2012 is shaping up to be the reverse kind of election: Whoever wins is poised to preside over a return to economic normalcy that's bound to make any kind of basically competent governance look fantastic compared to the last decade of misery.

If Mitt wins, the GOP gets all the credit.  If the UR holds on, he splits it with the Congressional GOP, as Clinton did.  Those are the stakes.

November 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Labour 'repositioning' itself on Europe - David Miliband  (BBC, 11/02/12)

Labour's support for a cut in the European Union budget shows the party is "repositioning" itself over Europe, David Miliband has said.

The former foreign secretary said his party had not become "anti-Europe" but was no longer "soft-headed"...

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


To the Precinct Station: How theory met practice ...and drove it absolutely crazy (Thomas Frank, The Baffler No. 21)

A while later I happened to watch an online video of an Occupy panel discussion held at a bookstore in New York; at some point in the recording, a panelist objected to the way protesters had of saying they were "speaking for themselves" rather than acknowledging that they were part of a group. Another one of the panelists was moved to utter this riposte:

What I would note, is that people can only speak for themselves, that the self would be under erasure there, in that the self is then held into question, as any poststructuralist thought leading through anarchism would push you towards. . . . I would agree, an individualism that our society has definitely had inscribed upon it and continues to inscribe upon itself, "I can only speak for myself," the "only" is operative there, and of course these spaces are being opened up . . .

My heart dropped like a broken elevator. As soon as I heard this long, desperate stream of pseudointellectual gibberish, I knew instantly that this thing was doomed.

"There is a danger," the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek warned the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park last year, and he wasn't referring to the New York Police Department. "Don't fall in love with yourselves." [...]

Nearly all of these books wander more or less directly into the "danger" Žižek warned against. They are deeply, hopelessly in love with this protest. Each one takes for granted that the Occupy campaign was world-shaking and awe-inspiring--indeed, this attitude is often asserted in the books' very titles: This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement (Berrett-Koehler, $9.95), for example. The authors heap up the superlatives without restraint or caution. "The 99% has awakened," writes the editor of Voices From the 99 Percent: An Oral History of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Red and Black, $15.99). "The American political landscape will never again be the same." What happened in Zuccotti Park was "unprecedented," declares Noam Chomsky. "There's never been anything like it that I can think of." But that is nothing when compared to the enthusiasm of former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges. In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Nation Books, $28) he compares Occupy to the 1989 revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. The protesters in New York, he writes,

were disorganized at first, unsure of what to do, not even convinced they had achieved anything worthwhile, but they had unwittingly triggered a global movement of resistance that would reverberate across the country and in the capitals of Europe. The uneasy status quo, effectively imposed for decades by the elites, was shattered. Another narrative of power took shape. The revolution began.

Or had it begun twelve years previously? In 1999, you might recall, lefties nationwide swooned to hear about the WTO protests in Seattle; surely the tide was beginning to turn. Then, in 2008, liberal commentators swooned again for Senator Barack Obama: he was the leader we had been waiting for all these years. Then, in 2012, they swooned in precisely the same way for Occupy: it was totally unprecedented, it was the revolution, et cetera. I don't object to any of these causes, as it happens--I supported Occupy; I voted for Obama; I was excited about the 1999 protests--but I can't stand the swooning. These books were written by educated people, certain of them experts on social movements. Why must they plunge so ecstatically into uncritical groupthink? [...]

Measured in terms of words published per political results, on the other hand, OWS may be the most over-described historical event of all time. Nearly every one of these books makes sweeping claims for the movement's significance, its unprecedented and earth-shattering innovations. Just about everything it does is brilliantly, inventively, mind-blowingly people-empowering.

And what do we have to show for it today in our "normal lives"? Not much. President Obama may talk about the "top 1 percent" now, but he is apparently as committed as ever to austerity, to striking a "grand bargain" with the Republicans.

Occupy itself is pretty much gone. It was evicted from Zuccotti Park about two months after it began--an utterly predictable outcome for which the group seems to have made inadequate preparation. OWS couldn't bring itself to come up with a real set of demands until after it got busted, when it finally agreed on a single item. With the exception of some residual groups here and there populated by the usual activist types, OWS has today pretty much fizzled out. The media storm that once surrounded it has blown off to other quarters.

Pause for a moment and compare this record of accomplishment to that of Occupy's evil twin, the Tea Party movement, and the larger right-wing revival of which it is a part. Well, under the urging of this trumped-up protest movement, the Republican Party proceeded to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives; in the state legislatures of the nation it took some six hundred seats from the Democrats; as of this writing it is still purging Republican senators and congressmen deemed insufficiently conservative and has even succeeded in having one of its own named as the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.

The question that the books under consideration here seek to answer is: What is the magic formula that made OWS so successful? But it's exactly the wrong question. What we need to be asking about Occupy Wall Street is: Why did this effort fail? How did OWS blow all the promise of its early days? Why do even the most popular efforts of the Left come to be mired in a gluey swamp of academic talk and pointless antihierarchical posturing?

It's not about empowering people, just stroking the self.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Bush's Third Term (JEREMY LOTT, 11.5.12, American Spectator)

Candidate Barack Obama presented himself as an agent of hope and change, a dramatic break with the failed policies and cynical politics of a tired, retiring president. That is not, to put it mildly, how things have panned out. Once electoral fervor dies down, scholars will surely notice something rather awkward: from a distance, the first term of the Obama administration looks a whole lot like a third term for George W. Bush.

And whoever wins tomorrow will govern just like Clinton and W and Blair and Cameron and Harper and Key and Howard...
Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


The Coming Post-Election GOP Freak Out : If Romney loses on Tuesday, watch for the right's outrage machine to kick into high gear. (Michael Tomasky Nov 4, 2012, Daily Beast)

What's the state of mind this weekend of the conservative outrage machine? With regard to liberals, I think it's fair to say as of Saturday that most of us (excepting your allowed-for percentage of nervous nellies) expect Barack Obama to win. If he somehow doesn't, we'll be surprised and deeply depressed. But provided the outcome doesn't involve some kind of Florida-style shenanigans, in a couple days' time, we'll come to terms with it.

When parody is done right it's sublime and, given the premise of the rest of the essay, tossing in that bit about how he and his ilk still aren't over 2000 can only be parodistic...right?

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


CMJ Gem: Tallahassee (Young Mary's Record, 11/02/12))

If you want something honest, you've come to the right place.  In the tiny, dark back room of "whatever that bar was" (my new name for the many places I can't remember during my NYC trip.) for their early afternoon CMJ slot, Young Mary's Record was lucky enough to discover the four painfully charismatic dudes that form up-and-coming musical gem, Tallahassee - doing just that - telling it like it is. 

Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, always poignant lyrics backed by an Americana-infused, still quite rock-n-roll to me- backing band?   Not a hard sell there.  Oh - and did I mention they just seem honest?  Like when the truth was cool.  Before musicians had so much hair gel and so many of their checks came from Twitter plugs and product endorsements.   Tallahassee kinda has a little of the same spark that brought the wild success of Alabama Shakes -- they believably and dually come from another time and they come from right now.   It's nostalgia before anything has even happened, without the hokey.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Economy Set for Better Times Whether Obama or Romney Wins (Rich Miller and Steve Matthews - Nov 4, 2012, Bloomberg)

No matter who wins the election tomorrow, the economy is on course to enjoy faster growth in the next four years as the headwinds that have held it back turn into tailwinds. Consumers are spending more and saving less after reducing household debt to the lowest since 2003. Home prices are rebounding after falling more than 30 percent from their 2006 highs. And banks are increasing lending after boosting equity capital by more than $300 billion since 2009.

"The die is cast for a much stronger recovery," said Mark Zandi, chief economist in West Chester, Pennsylvania, for Moody's Analytics Inc. He sees growth this year and next at about 2 percent before doubling to around 4 percent in both 2014 and 2015 as consumption, construction and hiring all pick up.

The big proviso, according to Zandi and Yale University professor Ray Fair, is how the president-elect tackles the task of shrinking the $1.1 trillion federal-budget deficit. The Congressional Budget Office has warned that the U.S. will suffer a recession if more than $600 billion in scheduled government- spending reductions and tax increases -- the so-called fiscal cliff -- take effect next year.

"There are a lot of things that are positive going forward for the economy," Fair said. "Hopefully, we can get a handle on the deficit" without dragging down growth too much.

A Republican Congress along with a President Romney would reap decades long political benefit from the reforms they could fund out of the peace dividend.
Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


The Kindest Cuts : Shrinking spending reduces deficits without harming the economy--unlike tax hikes. (ALBERTO ALESINA, Autumn 2012, City Journal)

In 2011, the International Monetary Fund identified episodes from 1980 to 2005 in which 17 developed countries had aggressively reduced deficits. The IMF classified each episode as either "expenditure-based" or "tax-based," depending on whether the government had mainly cut spending or hiked taxes. When Carlo Favero, Francesco Giavazzi, and I studied the results, it turned out that the two kinds of deficit reduction had starkly different effects: cutting spending resulted in very small, short-lived--if any--recessions, and raising taxes resulted in prolonged recessions.

We weren't the first people to distinguish between the two kinds of deficit-cutting, of course. In the past, such critics as Paul Krugman, Christina Romer, and some economists at the IMF have responded that the two approaches don't have different results. When an economy performs well after government spending cuts, they say, it's actually because the business cycle has picked up, or else because the government's monetary policy happened to be more expansionary at the time. But my colleagues and I took both factors into account in our research, carefully analyzing the business cycle and monetary policy in relation to each fiscal episode, and concluded that the difference between expenditure-based and tax-based actions remained.

The obvious economic challenge to our contention is: What keeps an economy from slumping when government spending, a major component of aggregate demand, goes down? That is, if the economy doesn't enter recession, some other component of aggregate demand must necessarily be rising to make up for the reduced government spending--and what is it? The answer: private investment. Our research found that private-sector capital accumulation rose after the spending-cut deficit reductions, with firms investing more in productive activities--for example, buying machinery and opening new plants. After the tax-hike deficit reductions, capital accumulation dropped.

The reason may involve business confidence, which, we found, plummeted during the tax-based adjustments and rose (or at least didn't fall) during the expenditure-based ones. When governments cut spending, they may signal that tax rates won't have to rise in the future, thus spurring investors (and possibly consumers) to be more active. Our findings on business confidence are consistent with the broader argument that American firms, though profitable, aren't investing or hiring as much as they might right now because they're uncertain about future fiscal policy, taxation, and regulation.

But there's a second reason that private investment rises when governments cut spending: the cuts are often just part of a larger reform package that includes other pro-growth measures. In another study, Silvia Ardagna and I showed that the deficit reductions that successfully lower debt-to-GDP ratios without sparking recessions are those that combine spending reductions with such measures as deregulation, the liberalization of labor markets (including, in some cases, explicit agreement with unions for more moderate wages), and tax reforms that increase labor participation.

Let's be clear: this body of evidence doesn't mean that cutting government spending always leads to economic booms. Rather, it shows that spending cuts are much less costly for the economy than tax hikes and that a carefully designed deficit-reduction plan, based on spending cuts and pro-growth policies, may completely eliminate the output loss that you'd expect from such cuts. Tax-based deficit reduction, by contrast, is always recessionary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Mud on his hands : Obama had one strategy this campaign: character assassination. But thanks to a voter backlash, Romney's optimism may well win the day (Kyle Smith, 11/04/12, NY Post)

Watch the campaign news segment with the sound turned down. You can see what's happening in their faces: Mitt Romney is earnest, optimistic and forward-looking. Barack Obama is sour with sarcasm, peevish, defensive and even downright angry. Nineteen-sixty John Kennedy has turned into 1974 Richard Nixon.

Whatever could be bothering this former apostle of light?

By downgrading its adulation, the country has let President Obama down, and the president, whose bizarre dislike for people was compared by one of his own aides to Bill Gates somehow achieving supremacy in the world of software without liking computers, can barely conceal his fury. that Mitt has become downright inspirational as he's finally bought into his own campaign now that he's running as himself.  

November 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Wisconsin State Journal flips for Romney (Rachel Weiner, November 4, 2012, Washington Post)

The Wisconsin State Journal, the state's second largest paper with a Sunday circulation of 118,000, has gone from endorsing Barack Obama in 2008 to supporting his opponent in 2012. 

"This is not an easy endorsement to make," the paper's editorial board wrote. "We endorsed Obama for change last time around. Now we're endorsing change again: Mitt Romney."

The paper faults Romney for his views on social issues and "unrealistic" promises, but praises his "reasonableness and smarts." Obama gets credit for Iraq, Osama bin Laden and school reform but the paper faults him for failing to pass a budget, tackle the debt or work with Republicans in Congress. that the Obama presidency will be remembered as successful to precisely the extent it built on W's policies.  

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Obama early vote edge tenuous (LOIS ROMANO, 11/2/12, Politico)

President Barack Obama is leading in an unprecedented early voting push by both campaigns that has already seen an estimated 22 million people cast ballots.

But some independent observers said that the president's lead may not be wide enough to make up the difference between Obama and Mitt Romney in some key battleground states on Election Day.

While Obama is ahead in early raw voting numbers in Florida and North Carolina, voting expert Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University, says Romney has effectively closed the gap enough that strong Republican turnout on Election Day could cost Obama those states.

"It's going to be difficult for Obama to pull enough ahead to win North Carolina to offset what Romney may do on Election Day," says McDonald, director of the United States Elections Project. "They're seeing the same numbers I am seeing."

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Gambling with the Fate of the World : Evan Thomas, Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World (H. W. Brands, October 24, 2012, National Journal)

MOST HISTORICAL questions have no more than modest relevance for current policy debates. Times and context change. The American economy grew rapidly under the protectionist regime of the late nineteenth century; would it thrive under a new protectionist regime? It's impossible to say, given the radically different nature of the modern world economy. The Vietnam War demonstrated the difficulty of defeating a committed insurgency aided by outside forces; is the American effort in Afghanistan similarly doomed? Maybe, but Afghans aren't Vietnamese, and the Taliban isn't communist.

Yet there is one historical question that has direct and overriding policy implications. It might be the most important historical question of the last century and must rank among the top handful of all time: Why has there been no World War III? To sharpen the question, in light of the answer many people reflexively supply: Did the existence of nuclear weapons prevent a third world war?

The question's significance is obvious, given the consequences of such a war. Its answer is less so, despite that reflexive response. Broadly speaking, there are two possible answers. One is that, yes, nuclear weapons prevented a third world war by pushing the cost of victory far beyond any achievable benefits. This answer presumes that the ideological competition between the United States and the Soviet Union would have escalated to war had the big bombs not scared the daylights out of everyone. The second answer is that, no, the nukes didn't prevent the war. Something else did. Perhaps war simply wasn't in the cards.

In order to assert that there was no WWIII you have to pretend that the 150 million victims of the Communist regimes (give or take millions) were a non sequitur.  Only a moral monster should assert such a thing, so the answer to the question must be that there was a WWIII.  This also gives the sharper question a rather clear answer: whether justifiably or not, the existence of nuclear weapons was used to extend the war and aid and abet these tens of millions of murders.  

These answers, meanwhile, lead to the great unasked question: how could it have conceivably have been worse for the US to launch a nuclear first strike and end WWIII in the 40s rather than to connive at allowing the mass murders and oppression to continue for an additional 5 decades?

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Cancer Screening Campaigns -- Getting Past Uninformative Persuasion (Steven Woloshin, M.D., Lisa M. Schwartz, M.D., William C. Black, M.D., and Barnett S. Kramer, M.D., M.P.H., 11/01/12, N Engl J Med 2012)

For nearly a century, public health organizations, professional associations, patient advocacy groups, academics, and clinicians largely viewed cancer screening as a simple, safe way to save lives.1 Public health messages and campaigns reflected and amplified this view, aiming to maximize the population's uptake of screening. One obvious approach was to use powerful tools of persuasion -- including fear, guilt, and a sense of personal responsibility -- to convince people to get screened.

A simple recipe for persuasion is to make people feel vulnerable and then offer them hope, in the form of a simple strategy for protecting themselves. The standard approach is to induce vulnerability by emphasizing the risk people face, often framing statistics so as to provoke alarm, and then offer hope by exaggerating the benefit (and ignoring or minimizing the harms) of a risk-reducing intervention.

For example: "If you're a woman over 35, be sure to schedule a mammogram. Unless you're still not convinced of its importance. In which case, you may need more than your breasts examined. Find the time. Have a mammogram. Give yourself the chance of a lifetime" (see image). This screening campaign is an example of pure persuasion. No nuance here: breast cancer is so common and deadly, and mammograms so effective, that you'd have to be crazy to forgo screening.

Although the American Cancer Society ended that campaign in the 1970s, the use of persuasion is still going strong. For example, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a top-rated cancer hospital, ran an ad in the New York Times Magazine that read, "The early warning signs of colon cancer: You feel great. You have a healthy appetite. You're only 50" (see slide show at Many 50-year-olds who find this message scary may be surprised (and relieved) to learn that most 50-year-olds who feel great and have a healthy appetite do not have -- and will not soon develop -- colon cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that a 50-year-old's risk of developing colon cancer over the next 10 years is 6 in 1000, and his or her risk of dying from colon cancer is 2 in 1000. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Dispatch Poll: Ohio's a toss-up : Obama has edge, but high GOP turnout could turn Ohio to Romney (Darrel Rowland, 11/04/12, The Columbus Dispatch)
The "Ohio firewall" precariously stands for President Barack Obama, but a strong Republican turnout could enable Mitt Romney to tear it down on Election Day. 

The final Dispatch Poll shows Obama leading 50 percent to 48 percent in the Buckeye State. However, that 2-point edge is within the survey's margin of sampling error, plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.  [...]

The mail poll of 1,501 likely Ohio voters Oct. 24 through yesterday has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points. The partisan breakdown of those who returned the poll: 40 percent Democrat, 36percent Republican, 21 percent independent, and the rest divided among the other four political parties recognized in Ohio. 

Ohio - 4-point win for Obama in 2008 (Battlegroundwatch, 8/26/12)

In Ohio, voters are not required to give a party affiliation when they register to vote.

In 2008 according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted's website, Democrats out numbered Republicans by 174,000, 1.48 million to 1.30 million. The unaffiliated voters totaled 5.1 million.

In 2012, Democrats went from 1.48 million down to 827,000. That is a loss of 653,000. Republicans went from 1.3 million down to 894,000. That is a loss of 412,000.

The most dramatic change however was in unaffiliated voters. This segment of voters rose from 5.1 million to 6.3 million. That is an increase of 1.2 million more unaffiliated voters in the Buckeye state.

This was a cataclysmic shift away from the two major parties, although a larger shift away from the Democrats.

This gives Republicans the advantage in two distinct ways. First, their are now 67,000 more registered Republicans than their are Democrats. Second, more voters decided to leave the Democrat Party in favor of being unaffiliated/undeclared or Independent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Dead heat for Romney and Obama in latest Michigan poll (MyFoxDetroit, Nov 04, 2012)

Republican Nominee Mitt Romney 46.86%
President Barack Obama 46.24%
Another candidate 4.94%
Undecided 1.96%

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


A Face More Careworn, a Crowd Less Joyful (DAMON WINTER, 11/04/12, NY Times)

This time around many of his rallies have a small-town scale but lack the grassroots feel of '08. They have a uniform, packaged gloss, typical of most presidential events. At a rally at a baseball field in Virginia the president came out swinging, literally, with an imaginary bat. But the crowd was squeezed into a corner of the stadium to give the illusion of density. Four years ago, he would have been speaking in the center of that stadium with supporters lining the field and filling the stands.

In 2008, I observed him interacting with people more, not just as a solitary figure, standing at a microphone or shuttling from place to place. There is now a constant challenge to find candid, story-telling images. Every day on the trail is scheduled and scripted down to the minute, and covering it often feels like a carefully choreographed dance. In between rallies, there are a few "off the record" stops to local businesses and restaurants or official presidential duties, but most days are filled with this intricate series of repeating movements. Sometimes it feels as if we are just going through the motions, and I often wonder if he doesn't feel the same way.

November 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 PM


WMUR Granite State Poll: Presidential race in a dead heat (WMUR,  Nov 03, 2012)

With just three days before the election, a new WMUR Granite State Poll shows the presidential race is a dead heat in New Hampshire.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are each expected to get 47 percent of the votes, according to the poll. Two percent of voters polled said they will choose another candidate and 4 percent remain undecided.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Poor guy, hate is really all he has left to motivate his base.
Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Ryan: 'We believe in change and hope' (Alex Moe, 11/03/12. NBC)

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan echoed Mitt Romney's call to vote for "love of country" not out of "revenge," seizing upon a line of President Barack Obama's.

"Mitt Romney and I are asking you to vote out of love of country," Ryan told a crowd at Marietta College. "That's what we do in this country. We don't believe in revenge. We believe in change and hope."

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Miami Herald FL Poll: Romney 51%-Obama 45% (Marc Caputo, 11/02/12, Miami Herald)

Mitt Romney has maintained a solid lead over President Barack Obama in the latest Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald poll of likely voters who favor the Republican by six percentage points.

Romney's strengths: independent voters and more crossover support from Democrats relative to the Republicans who back Obama, according to the survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. [...]

Romney is winning handily among men, marginally losing with women voters and has outsized support among non-Hispanic whites. He's essentially winning on the issues as well: the economy, Medicare, foreign policy and looking out for the middle-class.

Coker noted the poll results are essentially unchanged from last month, when Romney led by a point more after he crushed Obama in their first debate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


2012 U.S. Electorate Looks Like 2008 : Composition of electorate by race, age, gender essentially the same (Jeffrey M. Jones, 10/26/12, Gallup)

Gallup identifies likely voters using a series of seven questions that ask about current voting intentions and past voting behavior. The resulting sample of likely voters has proven to give a generally accurate prediction of the final election outcome. For example, in 2004, Gallup's final likely voter estimate (before undecideds were allocated to the candidates) showed George W. Bush with a two-percentage-point advantage over John Kerry in an election Bush won by just over two points. And Gallup's final 2008 estimate showed Barack Obama outpolling John McCain by 11 points, a slight overestimate of Obama's seven-point margin of victory. [...]

[T]he largest changes in the composition of the electorate compared with the last presidential election concern the partisan affiliation of voters. Currently, 46% of likely voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 54% in 2008. But in 2008, Democrats enjoyed a wide 12-point advantage in party affiliation among national adults, the largest Gallup had seen in at least two decades. More recently, Americans have been about as likely to identify as or lean Republican as to identify as or lean Democratic. Consequently, the electorate has also become less Democratic and more Republican in its political orientation than in 2008. In fact, the party composition of the electorate this year looks more similar to the electorate in 2004 than 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


House Republicans may actually add to their majority on Election Day (Aaron Blake , November 2, 2012, Washington Post)

The Fix now projects that the 2012 race for the House is likely to be close to a draw, and there is even a fair chance that Republicans will add to their biggest majority in six decades on Tuesday.

Below, The Fix is updating the ratings of 10 House races, with most of them moving in the GOP's direction.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 10/28/12, NY Times)

While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits.

"Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70 to 80 percent full-time to at least 70 percent part-time across the industry," said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm.

No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation's major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs.

Technology is speeding this transformation. In the past, part-timers might work the same schedule of four- or five-hour shifts every week. But workers' schedules have become far less predictable and stable. Many retailers now use sophisticated software that tracks the flow of customers, allowing managers to assign just enough employees to handle the anticipated demand.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Are jobs obsolete? (Douglas Rushkoff, 9/07/12, CNN)

The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology's slow but steady replacement of working humans. Unless an external source of funding comes in, the post office will have to scale back its operations drastically, or simply shut down altogether. That's 600,000 people who would be out of work, and another 480,000 pensioners facing an adjustment in terms.

We can blame a right wing attempting to undermine labor, or a left wing trying to preserve unions in the face of government and corporate cutbacks. But the real culprit -- at least in this case -- is e-mail. People are sending 22% fewer pieces of mail than they did four years ago, opting for electronic bill payment and other net-enabled means of communication over envelopes and stamps.

New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures -- from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.

We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


What really happened to Xi Jinping (Mark Kitto, OCTOBER 31, 2012, Prospect)

In the first days of September, Xi chaired a meeting of the "red second generation," the sons and daughters of the party's old guard. The second generation are in late middle age and exert disproportionate influence through their families' political and commercial networks. It is considered prudent for the incoming leader to submit to them his plans for a tenure that will last, if all goes well, for the next ten years.

The second generation is split along factional and family lines. They hold grudges that go back decades. The recent Bo Xilai scandal is a good example of those hidden rivalries coming out into the open. When the second generation meet there is conflict, sometimes physical. Fifty years ago the battles between their parents might have ended with the loser being sent to a forced labour camp, or worse.

The meeting turned violent. They went at it hammer and sickle. Xi Jinping tried to calm them down. He put himself physically in the crossfire and unwittingly into the path of a chair as it was thrown across the room. It hit him in the back, injuring him. Hence the absence, and the silence, and the rumours.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


And the 'Jeopardy!' Answer Is: Buzz First : Contestants come armed with plenty of knowledge. The real test: How are your motor skills? (JOHN-CLARK LEVIN, 10/31/12, WSJ)

Answer: This is the best way to risk your intellectual dignity on national television. Question: What is "Jeopardy!"?

After many years of sitting with family or friends in front of the TV on weekday evenings, matching wits with the game-show contestants and host Alex Trebek, I decided last year to try to make it into the competition myself.

The first hurdle was an online test: 50 rapid-fire questions on a grab bag of subjects. More than 100,000 people try out each year, so I knew it was a long shot. Yet somehow I passed and was invited to an in-person audition in Los Angeles. There was a written test, mock gameplay and an interview. We were told that we would be called within 18 months if we had been selected. [...]

My study of the game also revealed that, since all the contestants are going to be bright and well-read, what sets them apart is motor skills: When Mr. Trebek finishes reading a clue, a producer arms a set of lights that viewers at home don't see. The goal is to press the button on a hand-held buzzer after those lights go on but before one of your opponents buzzes in. That window is often just several dozen milliseconds long. Human reaction time averages 190 milliseconds. So I would have to rely on listening to Mr. Trebek's voice alone and try to anticipate the lights.

I also decided on my strategy. Statistical analysis suggested that most players are too timid, so I settled on a desperado approach of buzzing in whenever I had an educated guess and of wagering as much money as possible. Making these decisions in advance would minimize the risk of a blunder under the hot lights and the glare of almost 10 million viewers.

When I tried out, 20 years ago, they brought us into a room and gave us little bells with the ringer on top, like your teacher used to have on her desk and they flipped over cardboard cards with the answers on them.  I was playing against a bunch of hefty farmer's wives in pant suits.  When they flipped over a card I'd ring the bell.  But they admonished me to wait until they'd read the whole answer out loud.  Then it became just a dexterity contest and the ladies kicked my behind. For months I'd have to writhe through episodes of the show where Betty from Vermont stood there buzzing like a maniac, from the moment the Answer appeared....
Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


The (Distinctively) Christian View of Marriage (Peter Lawler, November 1, 2012, Big Think)

With the coming of Christianity, the city could no longer command men and women to have children to replenish the human cannon fodder that had been lost in the last war, as it apparently it even commanded Socrates.  And it could no longer be understood to be allowed to treat persons like animals to be bred for improving the species or the city.  The objection we have to the eugenics schemes of Socrates in the Republic or those of the 20th century fascists in decisively personal or Christian.

That's why Christians have dissented from any theology that reduces persons to less than they really are.  The early Christians seemed like dangerous atheists to the Romans, and that why even or especially the most philosophic emperors--such as Julian and Marcus Aurelius--were so big on wiping them out before it was too late.

The Christians denied the very existence of the gods of the city, the divine foundation that secured the political community.  Their atheism, in fact, seemed more dangerous than that of the philosophers who exempted only themselves--because of their liberated minds--from the commands of the Laws.  For the Christian, every person is liberated from the degrading cave that was the ancient city.  No person--or not just philosophers--should submit to political domination.  We're all liberated by virtue of who each of us most deeply is.

The Christians are, in fact, political atheists because they know are made in the image of the personal God.  They are, above all,members of the City of God that transcends every political distinction by encompassing us all--Jew and gentile, Roman and barbarian, man and woman, black and white,  smart and not-so-smart, and so forth.

So Christian marriage is more personal than the civil marriage of the Greeks and Romans.  It's less political or less distorted by arbitrary patriarchal considerations.  Every innovation associated with Christian marriage aimed to elevate women to equality with men as free, relational persons, to reflect the truth, which we so readily deny with pride, that we are all equal as sinful persons under God.

The prohibition of divorce--a New Testament innovation--was for women, because divorce was rarely really available for them.  The sanctification of monogamy is all about the uniting of two equal persons for shared responsibilities.  Monogamy together with chastity were for locating sexual desire in a deeply relational or loving context, and so men could no longer exploit women as mere bodies.  Polygamy, found for example, in the Old Testament, was more a political than a relational institution, one that necessarily subordinates women to the will of men.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Axelrod: Obama Stump Speech Now 'Coming From His Loins' (Carol E. Lee, 11/02/12, WSJ)

At what point does the campaign's sexualizing of the President--at a time when they have to drive up the turnout of single women--become strategy, rather than faux pas?

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism (Rick Perlstein, The Baffler No. 21)

And what of Willard M. Romney's part in the game? There's a lot going on with Romney's lying, not all of it related to his conservative identity; he was making things up as a habit, after all, back when he was a Massachusetts moderate. To a certain extent, Romney's lies are explicable in just the way a lot of pundits are explaining them. When you've been all over the map ideologically, and you're selling yourself to a party now built on extremist ideological purity, it takes a lot of tale-telling to cover your back. But that doesn't explain one overlooked proviso: these lies are as transparent to his Republican colleagues as they are to any other sentient being. Nor does it account for a still more curious fact--for all the objections that conservatives have aired over Romney's suspect purity in these last months, not one prominent conservative has made Romney's dishonesty part of the brief against him.

It's time, in other words, to consider whether Romney's fluidity with the truth is, in fact, a feature and not a bug: a constituent part of his appeal to conservatives. The point here is not just that he lies when he says conservative things, even if he believes something different in his heart of hearts--but that lying is what makes you sound the way a conservative is supposed to sound, in pretty much the same way that curlicuing all around the note makes you sound like a contestant on American Idol is supposed to sound.

In part the New York Times had it right, for as much as it's worth: Romney's prevarications are evidence of simple political hucksterism--"short, utterly false sound bites," repeated "so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth." But the Times misses the bigger picture. Each constituent lie is an instance pointing to a larger, elaborately constructed "truth," the one central to the right-wing appeal for generations: that liberalism is a species of madness--an esoteric cult of out-of-touch, Europe-besotted ivory tower elites--and conservatism is the creed of regular Americans and vouchsafes the eternal prosperity, security, and moral excellence of God's chosen nation, which was doing just fine before Bolsheviks started gumming up the works. an extended essay arguing that your ideological opponents' argument that your own ideology is mad is a function of their madness.  You are they.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


The End of 'The Killing' Spree (JAVIER ESPINOZA, 11/01/12, WSJ)

Already a pop-culture phenomenon in Denmark with more than 1.5 million viewers tuning in, the series became an international success when a subtitled version was aired across Europe and the U.K. BBC Four showed the original series in 2011, which proved so popular the network aired the second season later that year, with viewer numbers doubling from the first to the second series. (In Denmark, the second season of "The Killing" was aired two years after the first.) The show was also remade in the U.S. by TV network AMC.

"I am a very big fan of U.S. shows," says Søren Sveistrup, creator and writer of "The Killing." "But at the time when we did this show, the U.S. shows had been too much of a recipe. I saw one episode and knew that there would be one killer, one case closed, and the heroine would go out with the forensic guy and they would have a fling. I was bored with the recipe so I wanted to do something different.

"People deserve quality in television," he adds. "You have to produce something that you think is intelligent. You want it to be emotional, of course, but I don't want to talk down to the audience."

Mr. Sveistrup's unformulaic formula? One murder to be solved over the course of 10 episodes (20 in the first season), each representing one day of the investigation. While a more intense experience, it also makes it more difficult for viewers to jump in midway through a series.

"You spend hours of drama dealing with it. That slows down the pace and that allows you to go much deeper into the characters and into the different subjects than I think TV viewers are used to," says Ms. Gråbøl, who worked closely with Mr. Sveistrup on each script's trajectory. "The success of the show proves that TV audiences actually want more than entertainment. They are not frightened to go a bit deeper."

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Face-to-Face : Following a subtle trail of artifacts, a Canadian archaeologist searches for a lost chapter of New World history. (Heather Pringle, 10/25/12,  NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE)

Something about the strange strands didn't fit. Patricia Sutherland spotted it right away: the weird fuzziness of them, so soft to the touch.

The strands of cordage came from an abandoned settlement at the northern tip of Canada's Baffin Island, far above the Arctic Circle and north of Hudson Bay. There indigenous hunters had warmed themselves by seal-oil lamps some 700 years ago. In the 1980s a Roman Catholic missionary had also puzzled over the soft strands after digging hundreds of delicate objects from the same ruins. Made of short hairs plucked from the pelt of an arctic hare, the cordage bore little resemblance to the sinew that Arctic hunters twisted into string. How did it come to be here? The answer eluded the old priest, so he boxed up the strands with the rest of his finds and delivered them to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

Years passed. Then one day in 1999 Sutherland, an Arctic archaeologist at the museum, slipped the strands under a microscope and saw that someone had spun the short hairs into soft yarn. The prehistoric people of Baffin Island, however, were neither spinners nor weavers; they stitched their clothing from skins and furs. So where could this spun yarn have come from?

There's a reason Cain slew Abel.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Jeremy Hunt to open world's first placebo hospital (News Biscuit, 10/25/12)

Britain's first hospital built entirely on the power of suggestion is to be opened next week as a cost-effective solution to the rising price of healthcare. The Royal London Placebo is totally fabricated, offers no actual treatments and will be manned entirely by extras from TV shows such as Casualty and Holby City.

'Each doctor will have a nice white coat, a plastic stethoscope and a range of brightly coloured sugar pills,' explained Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. 'No expense has been spared,' he said, 'except the expense of building an actual hospital with trained staff and equipment.'

The Royal Placebo is understood to be the first in a new generation of 'dummy hospitals' to be rolled out across the country, allowing the phasing out of the costly old style 'real' hospitals of the past.

The key would be to disguise the fact they're placebos.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


Tribune poll: Matheson trails Love 52 percent to 40 percent (Robert Gehrke, 11/01/12, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Brad Coker, managing director at Mason-Dixon, said that Matheson may be falling victim to the popularity of Mitt Romney.

"Romney is winning [Utah] by such a big margin and Republican voters are coming out because of Romney," Coker said. "It's just not a good year to be a Democrat in Utah."

Love -- with the backing of national groups and fundraising help from prominent national Republicans -- has also been able to keep pace with Matheson's spending and has become a popular figure among national Republicans, Coker said.

If Love wins the seat, she would become the first black Republican woman in Congress and the first black representative from Utah.

"I am encouraged by the momentum my campaign continues to gain which validates to me that Utahns are ready for a change in Washington," Love, who cast her own ballot Thursday, said of the results. "I know we have a lot of work left to do and know that every vote, voter and volunteer will make the difference on Tuesday."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Monitoring can prevent unnecessary prostate ops: study (AFP, 11/02/12)

Close monitoring of prostate cancer tumours may make radiation and surgery -- which can cause incontinence and impotence -- unnecessary, a new study has shown.

Prostate cancer is one of the slowest-growing forms of the disease, and many men with tumours may never develop symptoms during their lifetime, meaning that many are treated unnecessarily -- often with serious side-effects.

After decades of cancer hysteria folks, understandably, just want it out, no matter what that does to them.

November 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Who's Really Winning Early Voting? (Molly Ball, 4 NOV 2 2012, Atlantic)

In 2010, I looked at early voting in 20 states and found early signs of the disproportionate Republican turnout that would define the Tea Party wave. This year, the picture is more mixed, befitting the sort of non-wave election most are expecting. It should shock no one that signs point to a significant dropoff from 2008 for Obama; if Election Day trends hold, he seems likely to lose a handful of states he won four years ago. In particular, the early vote looks promising for Republicans in North Carolina, Florida and Colorado. But early voting in Iowa, Nevada, and (though it's tricky to assess) Ohio still looks strong enough for Democrats.

This analysis isn't conclusive; it's a faint clue at best. But with as much as 40 percent of the nationwide vote likely to have been cast before the polls open on Tuesday, here's what the early vote is telling us so far.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Innovative Immigrants (THOMAS K. McCRAW, 11/01/12, NY Times)

The economist Joseph Schumpeter -- yet another immigrant, and the most perceptive early analyst of innovation -- considered it to be the fundamental component of entrepreneurship: "The typical entrepreneur is more self-centered than other types, because he relies less than they do on tradition and connection" and because his efforts consist "precisely in breaking up old, and creating new, tradition." For that reason, innovators always encounter resistance from people whose economic and social interests are threatened by new products and methods.

Compared with the native-born, who have extended families and lifelong social and commercial relationships, immigrants without such ties -- without businesses to inherit or family property to protect -- are in some ways better prepared to play the innovator's role. A hundred academic monographs could not prove that immigrants are more innovative than native-born Americans, because each spurs the other on. Innovations by the blended population were, and still are, integral to the economic growth of the United States.

But our overly complex immigration law hampers even the most obvious innovators' efforts to become citizens. It endangers our tradition of entrepreneurship, and it must be repaired -- soon.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


French Socialists, Under Fire, Display a Lack of Fraternité (STEVEN ERLANGER, 10/31/12, NY Times)

The main business lobby, Medef, has warned of more bankruptcies and layoffs, while an association of the top French companies, the Association Française des Entreprises Privées, called for a 30 billion euro, or $38.8 billion, cut in public welfare fees paid by employers over the next two years to try to reduce the weight of taxes and promote competitiveness. The group also called on the government to cut spending by $77.7 billion over five years, warning that France could no longer afford to have the state producing 56 percent of G.D.P.

The complaints come as a much-heralded report due next week on how to improve French competitiveness -- commissioned by Mr. Hollande in July from Louis Gallois, the former head of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company -- is being played down by the government. Mr. Gallois and Medef want "a competitiveness shock," in which some social welfare fees now paid by companies would be transferred to the general budget or covered by other taxes.

But Mr. Hollande, who was criticized during the campaign as being indecisive and vague, said that a shock was a bad idea, and that he preferred a gradual "competitiveness trajectory."

...into the ash heap.

November 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Men Don't Mother (Jenet Erickson, October 26th, 2012, Witherspoon Institute)

Do mothers "father" and do fathers "mother" in the same way the other would do?

Canadian scholar, Andrea Doucet, has explored this question in her book Do Men Mother? Her extensive research with 118 male primary caregivers, including stay-at-home dads, led her to conclude that fathers do not "mother." And that's a good thing. Although mothering and fathering have much in common, there were persistent, critical differences that were important for children's development.

To begin, fathers more often used fun and playfulness to connect with their children. No doubt, many a mother has wondered why her husband can't seem to help himself from "tickling and tossing" their infant--while she stands beside him holding her breath in fear. And he can't understand why all she wants to do is "coo and cuddle." Yet as Doucet found, playfulness and fun are often critical modes of connection with children--even from infancy.

Fathers also more consistently made it a point to get their children outdoors to do physical activities with them. Almost intuitively they seemed to know that responding to the physical and developmental needs of their children was an important aspect of nurturing.

When fathers responded to children's emotional hurts, they differed from mothers in their focus on fixing the problem rather than addressing the hurt feeling. While this did not appear to be particularly "nurturing" at first, the seeming "indifference" was useful-- particularly as children grew older. They would seek out and share things with their dads precisely because of their measured, problem-solving responses. The "indifference" actually became a strategic form of nurturing in emotionally-charged situations.

Fathers were also more likely to encourage children's risk taking--whether on the playground, in school work, or in trying new things. While mothers typically discouraged risk-taking, fathers guided their children in deciding how much risk to take and encouraged them in it. At the same time, fathers were more attuned to developing a child's physical, emotional, and intellectual independence--in everything from children making their own lunches and tying their own shoes to doing household chores and making academic decisions.

As she evaluated these differences, Doucet wondered if fathers just weren't as "nurturing" as mothers. Their behaviors didn't always fit the traditional definition of "holding close and sensitively responding." But a key part of nurturing also includes the capacity to "let go." It was this careful "letting-go" that fathers were particularly good at--in ways that mothers were often not.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Wary of Future, Professionals Leave China in Record Numbers (IAN JOHNSON, 11/01/12, NY Times)

At 30, Chen Kuo had what many Chinese dream of: her own apartment and a well-paying job at a multinational corporation. But in mid-October, Ms. Chen boarded a midnight flight for Australia to begin a new life with no sure prospects.

Like hundreds of thousands of Chinese who leave each year, she was driven by an overriding sense that she could do better outside China. Despite China's tremendous economic successes in recent years, she was lured by Australia's healthier environment, robust social services and the freedom to start a family in a country that guarantees religious freedoms.

"It's very stressful in China -- sometimes I was working 128 hours a week for my auditing company," Ms. Chen said in her Beijing apartment a few hours before leaving. "And it will be easier raising my children as Christians abroad. It is more free in Australia."

As China's Communist Party prepares a momentous leadership change in early November, it is losing skilled professionals like Ms. Chen in record numbers. In 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are available, 508,000 Chinese left for the 34 developed countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That is a 45 percent increase over 2000.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


A Problem of Churchillian Proportions (JAMES ANDREW MILLER, 11/01/12, NY Times Magazine)

After one of the longest waits in publishing history -- more than 20 years -- the third and final volume of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill, "The Last Lion," is finally about to arrive in bookstores. Manchester, who died in 2004, will not be among those eagerly awaiting its reception. The man with the most at stake is the co-author of record, and in fact the actual author: Paul Reid, who had never written a book before and whose specialty before he met Manchester was features for The Palm Beach Post. The story of how Reid, 63, was plucked from anonymity and thrust into the spotlight is not a simple understudy-replaces-star saga, and it's safe to say that Reid could not have imagined what a mixed blessing he would experience after accepting Manchester's invitation to co-write the third volume of Churchill's biography. Now he has emerged from the project in a kind of literary shell shock, knowing that if the book is a success, most of the praise will go to Manchester, and if it flops, blame will fall on him.

Manchester would have been a hard act to follow for even a much more seasoned writer. Back in the late 1970s, he began his biography of Churchill for what would end up being a $1 million advance. Then a writer in residence at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., Manchester was the author of more than a dozen major works, including "The Death of a President," the landmark 1967 study of John F. Kennedy's assassination, and biographies of Gen. Douglas MacArthur ("American Caesar") and H. L. Mencken ("Disturber of the Peace"). He was also an outsize personality, known for writing sessions that lasted as long as 50 hours and for turning out books at a metronomic clip.

Each Churchill volume took Manchester four years to write, but the second was much more difficult for him. Unknown to Manchester's friends, admirers and, perhaps most important, his publisher, Little, Brown & Company, he had begun to struggle with writer's block. For years, it had been what he feared most, telling at least one intimate, "I've been lucky so far." Then, in March 1985, Manchester confessed in a note his son found among his papers: "For the first time in my life, I have a writer's block. It is a real crisis. In the past three weeks, I have written exactly four pages. It is very painful."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Corporate burlesque : The case for stripping away the secrecy surrounding firms' finances (Schumpeter, Nov 3rd 2012, The Economist)

[A] school of thought dubbed "open-book management" advocates sharing all or most of a firm's financial data with employees on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Widely promoted since the mid-1990s by the likes of Jack Stack, then the boss of Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation, a firm that refurbished diesel engines, and John Case, a management writer, open-book management doesn't just require bosses to shed their inhibitions when it comes to revealing numbers. It also involves teaching workers to read company accounts. Open-book managers devise scorecards and other tools that show staff how their individual efforts contribute to the bottom line. They also adopt profit-sharing schemes that let workers share some of the wealth they create. The aim is to persuade employees to behave like owners rather than drones.

The Great Game of Business, a training firm that provides advice on open-book techniques, estimates that at least 4,000 firms worldwide have embraced all or most of these ideas, while many others are flirting with them. One or two big companies, such as Southwest Airlines and Harley-Davidson, have dabbled with open-book management. Its most fervent adopters, however, are smaller private firms.

Since small firms are the most vulnerable during downturns, some observers expect to see books that were opened in good times slammed shut, as bosses try to stop workers from seeing just how bad things are. There is no scientific survey to determine whether this is true. But anecdotal evidence from the companies contacted for this column suggests that many have kept on sharing information during hard times. Some have given workers yet more data to chew on, for two reasons.

One is that transparency can calm jitters. For example, during the recent crisis King Arthur Flour, a Vermont-based flour company, drew up a contingency plan with four stages, the last of which involved lay-offs. At each stage, the plan spelled out clearly what King Arthur had to do to get back on track if it missed its financial targets. By sharing this with workers, King Arthur curbed wild and ill-informed speculation about the company's future. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Letitia Baldridge's real mission (Steve Chapman, October 31, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

[M]ostly what I noticed is that she was not so concerned about etiquette rules as about considerate behavior.

She told me a story to illustrate how notions of acceptable dress had declined. On a transcontinental airline flight, she said, she was seated next to a young man who was not wearing a shirt. She expressed amusement, not scorn, and noted, "He was a surfer-looking sort, and he had a nice build." But she gave me to understand that in her chat with him, she had learned that he really didn't know any better and that she had gently given him the idea that the next time, he might do well to cover up a bit.

I was not surprised to read what she once told the Times: "There are major CEOs who do not know how to hold a knife and fork properly, but I don't worry about that so much as the lack of kindness."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast (BEN MATTLIN, 10/31/12, NY Times)

My problem, ultimately, is this: I've lived so close to death for so long that I know how thin and porous the border between coercion and free choice is, how easy it is for someone to inadvertently influence you to feel devalued and hopeless -- to pressure you ever so slightly but decidedly into being "reasonable," to unburdening others, to "letting go."

Perhaps, as advocates contend, you can't understand why anyone would push for assisted-suicide legislation until you've seen a loved one suffer. But you also can't truly conceive of the many subtle forces -- invariably well meaning, kindhearted, even gentle, yet as persuasive as a tsunami -- that emerge when your physical autonomy is hopelessly compromised.

I was born with a congenital neuromuscular weakness called spinal muscular atrophy. I've never walked or stood or had much use of my hands. Roughly half the babies who exhibit symptoms as I did don't live past age 2. Not only did I survive, but the progression of my disease slowed dramatically when I was about 6 years old, astounding doctors. Today, at nearly 50, I'm a husband, father, journalist and author.

Yet I'm more fragile now than I was in infancy. No longer able to hold a pencil, I'm writing this with a voice-controlled computer. Every swallow of food, sometimes every breath, can become a battle. And a few years ago, when a surgical blunder put me into a coma from septic shock, the doctors seriously questioned whether it was worth trying to extend my life. My existence seemed pretty tenuous anyway, they figured. They didn't know about my family, my career, my aspirations.

Fortunately, they asked my wife, who knows exactly how I feel. She convinced them to proceed "full code," as she's learned to say, to keep me alive using any and all means necessary.

From this I learned how easy it is to be perceived as someone whose quality of life is untenable, even or perhaps especially by doctors. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM

How is that spelt?: An easy six-minute bread recipe for the ancient grain alternative (PHYLLIS GLAZER November 1, 2012, Times of Israel)

Higher in protein and B complex vitamins as well as simple and complex carbohydrates than wheat, spelt is also considered easier to digest due to its high water solubility, which makes nutrients more easily absorbed by the body. It also has a pleasant nutty flavor and is a delicious substitute for wheat in almost any recipe. I find it offers a lighter texture to baked goods than whole wheat flour. [...]

Quick Whole Spelt Beer Bread (Makes one loaf)

 3 ¼ cups whole spelt flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons molasses, silan or honey

1 ½ cups (340 ml) dark beer (unsweetened)

A little fine oatmeal or caraway seeds for garnish

Preheat oven to 180°C (350F). Butter a 12 X 7 cm loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the beer into the molasses and gradually add to the flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until it has the consistency of a sticky dough.

Pour the dough into the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread it evenly in the pan. Cut a 1 1/2 cm deep slit down the center, lengthwise (this will allow steam to escape).  
Sprinkle the top with a little oatmeal or caraway seeds.

Bake for about 40 minutes or more until the top of the bread is golden-brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, let stand 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

"Healthy Baking Made Easy" by Phyllis Glazer
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