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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