December 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Better Than Human (KEVIN KELLY12.24.12, Wired)

It's hard to believe you'd have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that--in slow motion--is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields. Those who once farmed were now manning the legions of factories that churned out farm equipment, cars, and other industrial products. Since then, wave upon wave of new occupations have arrived--appliance repairman, offset printer, food chemist, photographer, web designer--each building on previous automation. Today, the vast majority of us are doing jobs that no farmer from the 1800s could have imagined.
It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today's occupations will likewise be replaced by automation. Yes, dear reader, even you will have your job taken away by machines. In other words, robot replacement is just a matter of time. This upheaval is being led by a second wave of automation, one that is centered on artificial cognition, cheap sensors, machine learning, and distributed smarts. This deep automation will touch all jobs, from manual labor to knowledge work.

First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually getting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs.

All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don't call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games' stats or generate a synopsis of a company's stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn't matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Fearing racial backlash, Shas shelves campaign video that stokes fear of Africans in Israel (ASHER ZEIGER December 31, 2012, Times of Israel)

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party prepared, and later nixed, an election campaign video intended to fuel fear of African migrants and garner support for its anti-migrant policies ahead of the January 22 elections, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth revealed on Monday.

The message of the five-minute video (which is viewable, in Hebrew, here) is that only Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who currently serves as Israel's interior minister, can battle the threat purportedly posed by African migrants, whom Yishai and other right-wing politicians consistently refer to "infiltrators."

For the time being, the video has been shelved by Shas officials for fear of public backlash due to its racial undertones, the report said.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Dartmouth Hockey Declaws UNH Wildcats, 4-1 (Tris Wykes, 12/31/12,  Valley News)

More than half of the National Hockey League's 30 teams sent scouts to last night's Dartmouth-New Hampshire men's hockey clash. What they and an announced Thompson Arena crowd of 4,500 saw was a decisive, nonconference victory by the Big Green, a 4-1 triumph over the country's second-ranked team on the first night of the Ledyard Bank Classic. [...]

A roar rang out as time expired, and the arena sound system blared Queen's Another One Bites the Dust. Dartmouth is 7-0 at home this season and is averaging better than four goals per game in Thompson. The Big Green bandwagon is starting to fill as expectations build that this could be one of the program's best seasons in recent years.

"They were the better team tonight, and that's the bottom line," said UNH coach Dick Umile, his lips pursed and his expression dark. "They won it from start to finish."

Said UNH forward Austin Block: "I thought we got dominated in the first period."

During the few stretches where Dartmouth (8-2-2) did falter, sophomore goaltender Cab Morris had events in hand, finishing with a career-high 31 saves. The 6-foot-4 backstop wasn't spectacular, but he made a number of difficult saves look routine and never gave off that shaky vibe that can make one's squad nervous.
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December 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Big Idea: The Diversity of Conservative Opinion (Peter Lawler, December 30, 2012, Big Think)

If liberals take Douthat's advice, they can be enlightened not only about conservative erudition, but about conservative diversity.  The articles in the "neocon" Weekly Standard are way different from those in the isolationist and traditionalist American Conservative.  For a 10-minute tutorial, GOOGLE what each journal is saying about the possible appointment of Hagel as Secretary of Defense. You will find out immediately that the AC is much more concerned about what "neocons" think about Hagel than what liberals think about him.

GOOGLE  a bit more and you discover that the smart, learned, and well-intentioned authors at the AC and The Front Porch Republic rarely voted for Romney.  Not only that, they're often as hostile to "capitalism" and globalization as the authors who write for the proudly leftist Nation.  

What's the big difference between American conservatives and leftist nationalists? They have different views on how much big government can remedy the excesses of big business.  Another difference concerns their view of the goodness and enduring viability of local institutions and traditional morality.  They actually tend to agree that Marx's description of capitalism  as reducing our freedom to "nothing left to lose" is largely true.  They differ a lot on the goodness and efficacy of some socialist antidote.  From a socialist view, the Front Porchers are agrarian reactionaries.  From a Porcher view, the Marxists are irresponsibly "Gnostic" utopians. 

For paleos the tribe is white Christian men, for neos it's Jews.  On the other hand, conservatism--in its traditional Burkean sense--actually is Christian, so it eschews tribalism.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Obama: "One way or another, we'll" solve "fiscal cliff" (AKE MILLER, LINDSEY BOERMA, 12/30/12, CBS NEWS)

Two days before the "fiscal cliff" deadline, lawmakers and aides are working around the clock to cement a deal before across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts land at the start of the New Year.

Most of the players have projected confidence that some form of a deal remains in reach. "One of two things is going to happen when it comes to the fiscal cliff," predicted President Obama today on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Number one, we're going to see an agreement in the next 48 hours, in which case, middle-class taxes will not go up. If that doesn't happen, then Democrats in the Senate will put a bill on the floor of the Senate, and Republicans will have to decide if they're going to block it, which will mean that middle class taxes do go up. I don't think they would want to do that politically, but they may end up doing it."

If all else fails, said Mr. Obama, "then we'll come back with a new Congress on January 4 and the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle class families."

There's nothing in a deal to avoid the cliff for the GOP.  

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


Laws Are for Little People : And not for David Gregory. (Mark Steyn, 12/28/12, National Review)

David Gregory intended to demonstrate what he regards as the absurdity of America's lax gun laws. Instead, he's demonstrating the ever greater absurdity of America's non-lax laws. His investigation, prosecution, and a sentence of 20-30 years with eligibility for parole after ten (assuming Mothers Against High-Capacity Magazines don't object) would teach a far more useful lesson than whatever he thought he was doing by waving that clip under LaPierre's nose.

To Howard Kurtz & Co., it's "obvious" that Gregory didn't intend to commit a crime. But, in a land choked with laws, "obviousness" is one of the first casualties -- and "obviously" innocent citizens have their "obviously" well-intentioned actions criminalized every minute of the day. Not far away from David Gregory, across the Virginia border, eleven-year-old Skylar Capo made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days. For her pains, a federal Fish & Wildlife gauleiter accompanied by state troopers descended on her house, charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species, issued her a $535 fine, and made her cry. Why is it so "obvious" that David Gregory deserves to be treated more leniently than a sixth grader? Because he's got a TV show and she hasn't?

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Electric car charging goes wireless : Wireless charging sales for electric cars will surpass 280,000 by 2020, according to Pike Research. (Antony Ingram,  December 30, 2012, CS Monitor)

[W]hen an electric car parks over the ground pad, it creates an electromagnetic field, converted into electrical current within the car to charge the battery. As the name suggests, no wired connection between the electric car is required, and ground pads can even be installed out of sight under the road surface. 

Pike suggests that convenient charging is becoming a major factor in electric car purchase decisions, and the "park and forget" nature of wireless charging is an attractive concept.

The research group also suggests that the potential for frequent, brief stops where wireless charging is abundant could be a large factor in reducing 'range anxiety'.

Several large carmakers have already formed partnerships with wireless charging companies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Pentagon Readying 800,000 for Rolling Layoffs (DION NISSENBAUM And DAMIAN PALETTA, 12/30/12, WSJ)

The Pentagon is preparing to notify its entire civilian workforce to prepare for furloughs if Congress and President Barack Obama are unable to reach a deal before Jan. 2 to avert automatic spending cuts.

A senior defense official said Sunday that the Pentagon would notify 800,000 civilian workers to brace for furloughs in the new year, meaning the workers would be ordered to take mandatory leave without pay for a certain period. 

December 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


The kebab pizza is Sweden's favourite (The Local, 29 Dec 12)

Sweden's first pizzeria opened in 1947 in Västerås, central Sweden after 300 Italian guest workers moved to the city. In the 1960s pizzerias started popping up around the country and pizza became the most common fast food in Sweden.

Kebab first came to Sweden in the 1980s and is often served with a dipping sauce made out of sour cream or yoghurt and a special spice mix. It is known as kebab sauce in Sweden and can these days be bought pre-made in supermarkets.

The standard toppings on a kebab pizza are tomato sauce, cheese, onion, fefferoni peppers, kebab meat and, of course, kebab sauce. Some people also like to add fresh lettuce or cucumbers to their kebab pizza.

Then there's the Viking kebab pizza, which is a kebab pizza folded before baking to resemble a Viking ship.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Policy Implications of Capital-Biased Technology: Opening Remarks (Paul Krugman, 12/28/12, NY Times)

So, if the recent plunge [in labor share in GDP] is the shape of things to come, what difference might it make?

The short answer is that it will pose problems for the current mechanisms by which we fund social insurance programs; but it will not undermine our ability to afford those programs, and it would in fact be cruel and basically irrational to slash social insurance in response to a declining labor share.

OK, maybe that was too quick. Let me take it more slowly: a substantial part of our social insurance system -- Social Security and the hospital insurance portion of Medicare -- is funded through dedicated payroll taxes. If payrolls lag behind overall national income, this will tend to leave those programs underfunded given the way the laws are currently written.

But America as a whole won't have gotten poorer: the money is still there to support the programs, it's just coming in the form of capital rather than labor income.

....when the reality of the labor theory of value is that labor has no value?  

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Does Belief in the Afterlife Diminish Man? (Donald DeMarco, 12/11/12, Crisis)

A true Christian does not think of himself as someone standing at a bus stop and doing nothing more than waiting for the bus (that will take him to heaven).  He understands that what he does in this life determines his reward in the next.  If we are faithful to the commandment to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors, that love will secure our place in heaven.  The existence of the afterlife should supply people with a strong motivation to live well in this life.  On the other hand, if there is no afterlife and we are all headed for oblivion, what is the point in being loving and decent human beings in this life?  Under such circumstances, life would be comparable to the uneventful tenure of a lame-duck politician.

The real problem is scarcely ever stated.  And it is this:  by clinging to the present world, believing it to be the only world that is real, we can become highly reluctant to recognize its faults, no matter how glaring they might be.  It is like a doting parent who cannot abide any criticism of his only child, or the youngster who cannot tolerate anyone disparaging his baseball card collection.  Human beings have an inveterate propensity to overvalue what they have and turn a blind eye to their imperfections they contain.

The Christian regards his life as a gift from God and holds it sacred.  He also valuates it in terms of an ideal, which is to say, something more perfect.  Heaven is the reward for a life well lived.  But if a person identifies his life with the ideal, it may not occur to him that it stands in need of considerable improvement.  As a result, he loses an important incentive to work hard to improve himself.  Would a factory worker expend himself if he knew that at the end of the month, there would be no pay check?

The theocentric view is inclusive inasmuch as it includes man, whom God embraces with his Love.  The anthropocentric view, by definition, excludes God.  But it also excludes, by implication, man, since it closes him off from the Infinite to which he is naturally inclined.  In other words, the anthropocentric view, in addition to denying God, diminishes man.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


US Senate renews Bush-era warrantless surveillance act (PressTV, 12/29/12)

On Friday, the Senate approved a five-year extension by a 73-23 vote and sent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to President Barack Obama, who is highly likely to sign it. 

The spy program started shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York under the George W. Bush administration. 

December 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Netanyahu's self-inflicted multiple defeats (Alon Ben-Meir, 12/27/12, Times of Israel)

In the past two months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered four defeats that undoubtedly will have serious repercussions on Israel's global standing, especially if he succeeds in forming the next Israeli government. President Obama's reelection humiliated Netanyahu, who openly supported Mitt Romney; he suffered a second defeat when the Palestinian Authority secured an observer Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly. It was also a slap in the face for Netanyahu when much of the European community overwhelmingly voted in support of the Palestinians' UN bid while the rest abstained, sending an ominous signal to Israel signifying where the EU stands in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His string of defeats continued with the flare-up in Gaza, from which Hamas emerged with a stunning political victory.

...he's never been stronger domestically.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Obama should grant amnesty to immigrants (Antonia Montes, December 27, 2012, The Progressive)

Before the end of the year, presidents often consider grants of pardon and amnesty. This year, Pres. Obama should grant amnesty to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, excluding those guilty of heinous crimes like murder, rape, armed robbery and child abuse.

Undocumented immigrants work hard, make great sacrifices, save their earnings and rely primarily on themselves and their personal networks to survive in this country. [...]

[W]hile many undocumented immigrants incur payroll deductions and pay into the Social Security system, they aren't able to receive economic or medical benefits once they reach retirement age, such as Social Security or Medicare.

Essentially, these hard-working individuals put more into the system than they receive or consume -- the exact opposite of their "free rider" depiction that conservatives so often use.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


E.P.A. Chief to Step Down, With Climate Still Low Priority (JOHN M. BRODER, December 27, 2012, NY Times)

Lisa P. Jackson is stepping down as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after a four-year tenure that began with high hopes of sweeping action to address climate change and other environmental ills but ended with a series of rear-guard actions to defend the agency against challenges from industry, Republicans in Congress and, at times, the Obama White House.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Flournoy for SecDef : Ten reasons the president should ditch Chuck for Michèle. (ROSA BROOKS | DECEMBER 26, 2012, Foreign Policy)

6. She has a vision of where the department needs to go. 

Unlike Secretary Panetta, a generalist who was brought in as a transitional secretary to help the department through an election year and a tough budget season, Flournoy would come to the job as someone who has spent her whole career in defense policy. She has a deep understanding of how the security environment has changed over the past decades and the ways in which the United States will need to adapt. We'll be facing high-end asymmetric threats at the same time we'll be dealing with the "low end" consequences of state weakness and instability. We'll need to invest in increasing our agility: We'll need to be able to respond to advanced anti-access and area denial technologies, and we'll need to help partner states counter terrorist insurgencies. We'll also need to respond to the challenges that will be produced by climate change and similar dispersed, inchoate phenomena, and this will require us to build the capacity of allies, partners, and the international system.

Flournoy also understands that change will need to occur during a period of extreme fiscal constraint. She knows where the department's lean and where there's fat. She knows what can safely be cut and where we need to invest. Under Flournoy, strategy would drive budget, not the other way around.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Our Failed Approach to Schizophrenia (PAUL STEINBERG, 12/25/12, NY Times)

TOO many pendulums have swung in the wrong directions in the United States. I am not referring only to the bizarre all-or-nothing rhetoric around gun control, but to the swing in mental health care over the past 50 years: too little institutionalizing of teenagers and young adults (particularly men, generally more prone to violence) who have had a recent onset of schizophrenia; too little education about the public health impact of untreated mental illness; too few psychiatrists to talk about and treat severe mental disorders -- even though the medications available in the past 15 to 20 years can be remarkably effective.

Instead we have too much concern about privacy, labeling and stereotyping, about the civil liberties of people who have horrifically distorted thinking. In our concern for the rights of people with mental illness, we have come to neglect the rights of ordinary Americans to be safe from the fear of being shot -- at home and at schools, in movie theaters, houses of worship and shopping malls.

It is not an act of love to treat people who are mentally deranged as if they were normal.  Nevermind whether they are a risk to us, it requires us to stand idly by as they damage themselves.
Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


The Freedom of Faith: A Christmas Sermon (SIMON CRITCHLEY, 12/23/12, NY Times)

Dostoevsky in no way wants to defend the position that Ivan Karamazov outlines in his poem. But Dostoevsky's great virtue as a writer is to be so utterly convincing in outlining what he doesn't believe and so deeply unconvincing in defending what he wants to believe. As Blake said of "Paradise Lost," Satan gets all the best lines. The story of the Grand Inquisitor places a stark choice in front of us: demonic happiness or unbearable freedom?

And this choice conceals another, deeper one: truth or falsehood? The truth that sets free is not, as we saw, the freedom of inclination and passing desire. It is the freedom of faith. It is the acceptance -- submission, even -- to a demand that both places a perhaps intolerable burden on the self, but which also energizes a movement of subjective conversion, to begin again. In disobeying ourselves and obeying this hard command, we may put on new selves. Faith hopes for grace.

To be clear, such an experience of faith is not certainty, but is only gained by going into the proverbial desert and undergoing diabolical temptation and radical doubt. On this view, doubt is not the enemy of faith. On the contrary, it is certainty. If faith becomes certainty, then we have become seduced by the temptations of miracle, mystery and authority. We have become diabolical. There are no guarantees in faith. It is defined by an essential insecurity, tempered by doubt and defined by a radical experience of freedom.

This is a noble and, indeed, God-like position. It is also what Jesus demands of us elsewhere in his teaching, in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you or persecute you." If that wasn't tough enough, Jesus adds, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect." This is a sublime demand.  It is a glorious demand. But it is, finally a ridiculous demand. Inhuman, even. It is the demand to become perfect, God-like. Easy for Jesus to say, as he was God. But somewhat more difficult for us.

Don't fret, Christ gets his comeuppance on the Cross, when the going gets hard and He despairs, leading God to the realization that even He can't be perfect if human. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


1 large head broccoli (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 pound whole-wheat capellini pasta
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Position one of the racks in the top third of the oven.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Cut the broccoli, including the stems, into 2-inch pieces. Peel any thick stem pieces to remove the thick skin.

On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange the broccoli in a single layer. Drizzle with the oil, then sprinkle with salt to taste and toss well. Place on the top oven rack and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is crisp tender and slightly brown at the edges. Transfer the broccoli to a large skillet, add the pepper flakes and the chicken broth, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

When the water in the large pot comes to a boil, add a hefty pinch of salt and the pasta. Stir and cook for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is limp but not quite cooked through. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the broccoli pan. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt to taste. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and serve with crusty bread. Makes 4 servings.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Pecans find their way into all sorts of baking (LEE SVITAK DEAN, 12/26/12, STAR TRIBUNE)

Kathleen Purvis has heard all the pronunciations. And they don't bother her a bit. It's not the word but the flavor that has made the nut a favorite of hers. She tells the story of the pecan -- and her love of it -- in a charming new book by the University of North Carolina Press. Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook ($18) is part of a new single-subject series that pays homage to the regional foods of the South. Hers is a joyful -- and very tasty -- tribute to the ubiquitous Southern nut. [...]

If there's one pecan recipe to master, what would it be? "Pecan pie. It always makes people happy,"

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Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


The new face of religion in New England (G. Jeffrey MacDonald, 12/26/12, The Christian Science Monitor)

The Ark is symbolic of a transforming religious landscape in New England. Long defined by dominant Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant institutions, the terrain is undergoing a fundamental shift as traditional denominations cope with steep declines in membership and shutter churches and seminaries.

At the same time, evangelical and Pentecostal groups are doing just the opposite. They're expanding their footprint in what statistics show are America's four least religious states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. And because more and more Americans today identify with no particular religion, what happens in this land of spiritual free agency could offer insights into the future of religion across the country. The recent changes in New England have been significant:

•Between 2000 and 2010, the Catholic church has lost 28 percent of its members in New Hampshire and 33 percent in Maine. It has closed at least 69 parishes (25 percent) in greater Boston.

•Over the same period, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) established 118 new churches in northern New England, according to the 2010 Religion Census. About 50 of them inhabit buildings once owned by mainline churches.

•Other denominations are growing, too, including Pentecostals: Assemblies of God (11 new churches in Massachusetts) and International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (13 new churches in Massachusetts and Maine). The Seventh-day Adventists, an evangelical group, opened 55 new churches in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine between 2000 and 2010, according to the Religion Census. Muslims and Mormons are experiencing membership gains as well.

More change looms on the horizon. In 2013, northern New England will lose its only mainline Protestant seminary and accredited graduate school of religion when the Bangor Theological Seminary closes in May. Three months later, Southern Baptists will open Northeastern Baptist College - the first SBC-affiliated pastor-training college in northern New England - in Bennington, Vt.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Why Obama Fled His Hawaii Vacation in Shadow of the Fiscal Cliff (Lauren Ashburn, Dec 27, 2012, Daily Beast)

It would be one thing if he was cutting his vacation short for actual work, but we know better.

He headed back in town for one reason only: to join in the political posturing.

Never mind that the man can work anywhere, anytime, thanks to all of the gizmos on Air Force One, a sizable entourage, and secure telephone lines. Nope, he has to be seen landing his chopper on the South Lawn, propping his leather loafers on his mahogany desk in the Oval.

As they say in La-La Land, it's all about optics, baby.

December 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Democrats push for tax cuts they once opposed (Zachary A. Goldfarb, December 25, 2012, Washington Post)

Democrats seeking a deal to avert the year-end "fiscal cliff" are trying to etch into stone the signature economic achievement of Republican President George W. Bush by permanently extending tax cuts enacted during his tenure.

President Obama has put the extension of the tax cuts for most Americans at the top of his domestic agenda, a remarkable turnaround for Democrats, who had staunchly opposed the tax breaks when they were written into law about a decade ago.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Homes for the homeless: a smart investment in dignity (Monitor's Editorial Board, December 26, 2012, CS Monitor)

Two decades ago, a simple idea was floated in the United States: Give homeless people a home rather then temporary shelter and their sense of personal dignity will rise, opening the way for them to solve their problems. 

The idea finally spread nationwide under President George W. Bush and has been enhanced by President Obama. This has led to an amazing result: Despite the drop in personal income and a rise in poverty caused by the 2007-09 recession, homelessness has dropped in recent years, according to new data.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


FreedomWorks tea party group nearly falls apart in fight between old and new guard (Amy Gardner, December 25, 2012, Washington Post)

The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.

Richard K. Armey, the group's chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group's Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey's enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks' top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone -- with a promise of $8 million -- and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington's most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.

Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey's agreement to leave the group.

The episode illustrates the growing role of wealthy donors in swaying the direction of FreedomWorks and other political groups, which increasingly rely on unlimited contributions from corporations and financiers for their financial livelihood. Such gifts are often sent through corporate shells or nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their donors, making it impossible for the public to know who is funding them.

In the weeks before the election, more than $12 million in donations was funneled through two Tennessee corporations to the FreedomWorks super PAC after negotiations with Stephenson over a preelection gift of the same size, according to three current and former employees with knowledge of the arrangement. The origin of the money has not previously been reported.

These and other new details about the near-meltdown at FreedomWorks were gleaned from interviews with two dozen current and past associates, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Euroscepticism growing among voters, Guardian/ICM poll finds (Tom Clark, 12/26/12,

The public mood of Euroscepticism is hardening, according to an exclusive Guardian/ICM poll that finds 51% of respondents would vote to take Britain out of the EU, against just 40% who say they would vote to stay in.

They belong in NAFTA.
Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Is that Christmas Tree Kosher? (SHMUEL ROSNER, 12/25/12, NY Times)

Last week, Jewish religious authorities in Haifa issued a warning that establishments holding Christmas and New Year's celebrations would lose so-called kashrut supervision. Many Israelis won't eat in a place where food is not certified to have been prepared according to Jewish dietary laws.

"New Year's celebrations must not be held at the end of the civil calendar," the Haifa rabbinate said in a letter to local hotels and restaurants. "It will not be possible to continue our supervision for anyone who infringes our instruction."

One can't possibly expect a rabbi to be present at a place where a Christian holiday is celebrated, the rabbinate argues. In fact, it is even forbidden for "a Jew to be present in a place where idol worship is being conducted." The Christmas tree may be one such idol -- the nativity scene is, of course.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


A German Resurgence, Feet First (NICHOLAS KULISH, 12/25/12, NY Times)

In a little more than a decade, Germany has invested nearly $1 billion in its youth programs, with academies run by professional teams and training centers overseen by the national soccer association, the Deutscher Fussball Bund, or D.F.B. The programs testify to the long-term strategic thinking and to the considerable resources that have driven Germany's rise to renewed prominence in -- and at the expense of -- a struggling continent.

"Once the Germans have decided to transform, to reform, they do it," Emmanuel Hembert, an expert in the business of soccer at the consultancy A. T. Kearney, said. "It has been the case for the labor rules; it's the case for football where they changed their model; and it's had a very positive impact."

The products of the new factory system were exhibited in striking fashion this season. Germany sent seven professional teams into European competitions, and for the first time all seven advanced to the knockout rounds beginning in the new year.

The three German teams in the hypercompetitive Champions League -- Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke -- all won their groups. Less noticeable but equally important is the depth and parity in the German game. Teams from the midsize cities Leverkusen (pop. 160,000) and Mönchengladbach (pop. 260,000) were among the four that advanced in the slightly less prestigious Europa League.

The German league has seized the advantage while many clubs in crisis-stricken, austerity-squeezed countries like Spain and Italy have been unable to deal with deep debts and older stadiums in poor condition. The Spanish team Valencia started the season with an unfinished stadium and no sponsor for the team's jersey, a standard moneymaker in European sports.

The German teams "are preparing for an era of European dominance," Hembert said. "The time of the German league is coming."

Where England's soccer analysts bemoan a British league brimming with foreign mercenaries but crowding out local players, German teams have improved with a rising share of domestic players. At the same time, they have overcome stereotypes of ugly but effective play and today are more likely to be compared by opponents to finely tuned Porsches than grinding Panzer tanks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson dies aged 83 (Alexandra Topping, 12/26/12, The Guardian)

Gerald Alexander Anderson - famous for the use of "Supermarionation", or the use of modified puppets - was born in 1929 in Hampstead, north London, and began his career as a film trainee at the Ministry of Information before starting work at Gainsborough Pictures. He later set up AP Films with some friends.

With commissions thin on the ground Anderson and his team were eager to produce their first puppet show The Adventures Of Twizzle. Others including Torchy The Battery Boy, and Supercar followed. Success continued with Fireball XL5 and Stingray. But it was Thunderbirds, filmed on the Slough Trading Estate in Berkshire and first broadcast in 1965 that made his name. With the catchphrase "Thunderbirds are go!", the programme revolved around International Rescue, a secret emergency service run by the Tracy family aided by London agent Lady Penelope and her butler, Parker.

In 1966, Thunderbirds was made into a major feature film for United Artists, Thunderbirds Are Go, which was followed by a sequel, Thunderbird 6.

Anderson moved towards live action productions in the 1970s, producing Space: 1999. In the 1980s, a burst of nostalgia for his Supermarionation series led to the commission of new productions, including a remake of Captain Scarlet. New Captain Scarlet, a CGI-animated reimagining of the 1967 series, premiered on ITV in the UK in 2005. He also worked as a consultant on a Hollywood remake of his 1969 series UFO, directed by Matthew Gratzner.

Anderson was a one-of-a kind film and television producer, who had far-reaching influence, according to his fan club dedication. "Anderson's unique style of filmmaking influenced the imaginations and careers of countless creatives that succeeded him, and his productions continue to be shown around the world to new generations of fans," it read.

Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds dies (David Millward, 26 Dec 2012, The Telegraph)

His science fiction puppet shows, which also included Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 captivated generations of children.

Characters from Parker the chauffeur to Lady Penelope and Brains - the chief engineer of International Rescue - became cult figures whose popularity outlasted the short span of the original series.

Anderson had had a varied career before going into film production, including a spell studying fibrous plastering - which he gave up because of dermatitis.

He set up the AP film company with friends and Thunderbirds, which was filmed on a trading estate in Slough, was his crowning achievement, even though other shows followed.
Thunderbirds - with the catchphrase "Thunderbirds are go" were essential viewing for children in the 1960s who not only loved the characters but the space ships and futuristic sets.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Christmas and commerce: It's not all bad (Barrett Duke, Nov 29, 2012, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission)

Let me give you some things to think about. For one thing, it's true that stores, restaurants, and a multitude of businesses enrich themselves at Christmas. But those stores employ people. They sell products by manufacturers that employ people. We need that employment to continue. The lives and wellbeing of millions of families depend on it.

And there is more up-side to the commercialization of Christmas than that. During Christmas, the gospel message is plastered across America. The very word "Christmas" reminds people of Jesus Christ. Clearly, they aren't getting the whole story, but it's better than nothing. It gives us a good starting place to talk about all that Christmas means.

And it's not only the "Merry Christmas" signs and advertisements that help us with our work of evangelism. There is also all that Christmas music. Some of it, to be sure, is pretty unengaging, like Frosty the Snowman. But I'll take Frosty the Snowman when the playlist includes a song like Silent Night, with its captivating reminder of the miracle of the virgin birth.

Then, there's the whole Christmas spirit the stores help us promote. I understand that many of these store owners just want to get us in the spending mood. But there is a benefit in that mood-altering activity. Most people are just in a better mood at Christmas. They smile more, they think more about the people in their lives. They are moved to generosity and compassion toward the less fortunate. At least for a while, there is a little more peace on earth in some people's lives and across the nation.

We also cannot overlook the impact of nostalgia. Christmas reminds us of simpler times, before all the hardships of life, the bad decisions, the disappointments. It reminds us of a faith that once stirred in our hearts. Such reflection is a seedbed for evangelism. Christmas offers us a perfect opportunity to remind people that it is possible to get a new start. And for those without memories of better days, it gives us opportunity to tell them the Jesus of Christmas can give them a better present and future, that through Jesus, they can escape the chains of their past. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Don't Fear That Expired Food (DAN CHARLES, December 26, 201, NPR)

Here's the short answer: Those "sell-by" dates are there to protect the reputation of the food. They have very little to do with food safety. If you're worried whether food is still OK to eat, just smell it.

[T]hese dates don't really tell you anything about whether food is safe.

According to Ruff, most products are safe to eat long after their expiration date. In fact, even meat or milk that's clearly starting to spoil is not necessarily dangerous. "Very often, you won't eat it because of the smell, and you probably won't like the taste, but in a lot of cases, it's unlikely to cause you illness," he says.

That's because it's not the food that sat on the shelf too long that makes you sick, Ruff says. It's the food that got contaminated with Salmonella or Listeria bacteria, or disease-causing strains of E. coli. And that food might not smell bad as it might have arrived in the store only yesterday.

"In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can't think of [one] that was driven by a shelf-life issue," Ruff says.

Canned food, in particular, can stay safe for a really long time. In 1974, scientists at the National Food Processors Association in Washington, D.C., got their hands on several old cans of food.

Janet Dudek, now semi-retired and living in Vienna, Va., was among the scientists who analyzed this old food. Her assignment was a can of corn, vintage 1934, that was found in someone's basement in California.

When they opened the can, Dudek says, the contents looked and smelled pretty much like ordinary canned corn. Analysis showed that it had most of the usual complement of nutrients -- although there were lower levels of a few, such as vitamin C.

Results were similar for century-old canned oysters, tomatoes, and red peppers in cans recovered from a sunken steamboat, buried in river silt near Omaha, Neb.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


A cost savings everyone should endorse (Ruth Marcus, December 25, 2012, Washington Post)

The difficulty -- and the money-saving opportunity -- arises because, in the view of most economists, the current method of calculating changes in the CPI overstates the inflation rate.

It fails to account for what economists call upper-level substitution bias, and what my mother would call plain common sense: If the price rises for a certain commodity in the basket of goods used to measure inflation, consumers will choose a cheaper alternative. In my house, when the price of beef soars, we substitute chicken.

The CPI doesn't and, as a result, taxpayers are undercharged and beneficiaries are overpaid -- a lot. The overestimate is small -- less than 0.3 percentage points annually -- but, much like compound interest, it adds up over time.

Changing the inflation measure to what is called chained CPI would save $225 billion over the next decade.

Of that, $95 billion would come from increased tax revenue, $80 billion from Social Security (assuming built-in protections for the very old and very poor, about which more later) and the rest from other programs. Because of the compounding effect, the savings in later years would be even larger.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Why 2012 was the best year ever : Never in the history of the world has there been less hunger, less disease and more prosperity (The Spectator 15 December 2012)

It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. [...]

Take global poverty. In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Yet the achievement did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world's not just getting richer, but fairer too.

The doom-mongers will tell you that we cannot sustain worldwide economic growth without ruining our environment. But while the rich world's economies grew by 6 per cent over the last seven years, fossil fuel consumption in those countries fell by 4 per cent. This remarkable (and, again, unreported) achievement has nothing to do with green taxes or wind farms. It is down to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories.

And what about the concerns that the oil would run out? Ministers have spent years thinking of improbable new power sources. As it turns out, engineers in America have found new ways of mining fossil fuel. The amazing breakthroughs in 'fracking' technology mean that, in spite of the world's escalating population -- from one billion to seven billion over the last two centuries -- we live in an age of energy abundance.

Advances in medicine and technology mean that people across the world are living longer. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. The number of people dying from Aids has been in decline for the last eight years. Deaths from malaria have fallen by a fifth in half a decade.

Nature can still wreak havoc. The storms which lashed America's East Coast in October proved that. But the speed of New York City's recovery shows a no-less-spectacular resilience. Man cannot control the weather, but as countries grow richer, they can better guard against devastation. The average windstorm kills about 2,000 in Bangladesh but fewer than 20 in America. It's not that America's storms are mild; but that it has the money to cope. As developing countries become richer, we can expect the death toll from natural disasters to diminish -- and the same UN extrapolations that predict such threatening sea-level rises for Bangladesh also say that, in two or three generations' time, it will be as rich as Britain.

War has historically been humanity's biggest killer. But in most of the world today, a generation is growing up that knows little of it. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo says there have been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century. Whether we are living through an anomalous period of peace, or whether the risk of nuclear apocalypse has proved an effective deterrent, mankind seems no longer to be its own worst enemy. We must bear in mind that things can fall apart, and quickly. Germany was perhaps the most civilised nation in the world in the 1920s. For now, though, it is worth remembering that, in relative terms, we have peace in our time.

...that the singular piece of bad news for conservatives is that, because we ran a wek candidate, voters chose a Republican Democrat over a Democratic Republican, so we'll have to share credit for the peace dividend-driven recovery just as we did in the Clinton-Gingrich boom.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The great books Spectator writers and others hate (The Spectator, 21 December 2012)

Find out which books PD James, Sam Leith, Susan Hill, Mark Amory, Barry Humphries and many more hate, then tell us about yours in the comments section. [...]

Susan Hill

It could easily have been War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov but I plan to have another bash at those so I'm keeping them in reserve. Since I was 18 I have been told I should read Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu by people who knew all seven volumes by heart and loved every line. You cannot, it seems, be lukewarm about Proust. Knowing that love of it is a badge of honour, and mark of a finely attuned and appreciative literary mind, I have tried eversomany times to get beyond Book One. Indeed, I have probably read Book One more often than I have read Great Expectations, which is saying something. I have even plucked Volume Three or Seven, off the shelf and tried to start there, so please don't judge me, or tell me I haven't given it a chance. It's no good. I find the endless sentences distancing, the people without interest. I cannot care about upper-class French people of the 19th century. Mea culpa, of course. My loss too. But if I have not managed to find the key by the age of 70, I guess I never will. I am denied any enjoyment of Proust's great novel and there it is. I tried to find one word to sum up how it seems to me. The word is 'anaemic'. [...]

Jonathan Meades

If you can't get beyond half a dozen pages of On The Road at the age of 18 it's unlikely that you will later in life. I have, however, on a couple of occasions punished myself by pressing on and coming to the benevolent conclusion that it must possess some sort of sociological importance that is extra-literary. 'It defines a generation' -- that sort of tosh. Of course it doesn't. Like all of the beats, with the exception of Burroughs, Jack Kerouac was an artless, undisciplined, unfunny solipsist wrapped in a mantle of cosy outsiderness, comforting self-pity and snug alienation.
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December 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 PM


The Shale Revolution's Shifting Geopolitics (ALAN RILEY, 12/25/12, NY Times)

The shale energy revolution is likely to shift the tectonic plates of global power in ways that are largely beneficial to the West and reinforce U.S. power and influence during the first half of this century. [...]

[M]any supporters of energy independence miss a key point: The major geopolitical impact of shale extraction technology lies less in the fact that America will be more energy self-sufficient than in the consequent displacement of world oil markets by a sharp reduction in U.S. imports. This is likely to be reinforced by the development of shale oil resources in China, Argentina, Ukraine and other places, which will put additional pressure on global oil prices.

The second factor is the potential to use natural gas for transportation. Some analysts suggest that this will only be a realistic prospect for fleet and long-haul road transportation. But they are overlooking the immense advantage that natural gas has as a transportation fuel in America and Europe, which have both developed a natural gas infrastructure in urban areas that takes piped natural gas into homes, offices and supermarkets. Once gas is cheap and widely available, it is possible to consider dealing with the "last mile" problem of providing home refueling kits so consumers can fill up natural-gas powered cars in their own garages.

The incentives to develop shale oil and natural gas are very great. But so far, the United States has only experienced the first stage of low natural-gas prices and the reimportation of energy intensive industries such as chemicals and steel because of low gas prices. The next stage of the shale revolution's impact is going to be felt as major stimulus gets under way from lower oil prices. More broadly, the shale revolution will grant the United States a greater range of options in dealing with foreign states.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


The Polyphonic Spree On World Cafe (World Cafe, December 25, 2012, WXPN)
Formed in Texas by bandleader Tim DeLaughter in 2000, this massive group -- the number of members often nudges toward 20 or more -- is well-suited to re-imagine popular Christmas music, combining the instrumentation of a rock band with the layered harmonies of a choir.

This Christmas season, the band has hit the road with its "Holiday Extravaganza," turning each of its shows into a sort of traveling holiday music carnival. Here, The Polyphonic Spree brings its dense, exuberant songs to the World Cafe studios to perform spirited renditions of Christmas classics.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Corporate tax rate overhaul may be part of a 'fiscal cliff' deal (Jim Puzzanghera, 12/25/12, Los Angeles Times)

The White House wants to put a corporate tax overhaul, along with changes to the individual income tax system, on a fast track as part of any deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

The centerpiece of an overhaul would be slashing the 35% corporate tax rate, a goal long sought by corporate executives and lobbyists.

December 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


J.J. Watt's Christmas Spirit : The star player's relationship with three local orphaned Jewish children (Adam Chandler, December 24, 2012, The Tablet)

Prior to his first season in Houston last year, Watt paid a visit to a Houston hospital to visit Aaron and Peter Berry, two of the three Berry children who were orphaned after their parents died in a car accident that summer. Both boys were also paralyzed in the accident. Over the past year and a half, Watt has become a fixture in the lives of the Berry children, texting with them daily, sneaking them out of school for a Texans practice, squiring them away to a Justin Bieber concert, and even saluting them on national television after making a sack.

ESPN put together a great video feature about Watt and the Berry children, who have not only become a major focus of the Jewish communities across Texas, but who have also captivated one of Texas' biggest and newest stars.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Consumers Climb Out of Debt (BEN CASSELMAN, 12/24/12, WSJ)

U.S. households spent 10.6% of their after-tax income on debt payments in the third quarter of the year, the lowest level since 1983, according to recently released Federal Reserve data. Add in other required payments that aren't classified as debt--such as rent and auto leases--and the figure rises to 15.7%, also near a 30-year low.

December 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


A Brief History of American Prosperity : An entrepreneurial culture and the rule of law have nourished the nation's economic dynamism. (Guy Sorman, Autumn 2012, City Journal)

America's predominance isn't new; indeed, it has existed since the early nineteenth century. But where did it come from? And is it in danger of disappearing?

By the 1830s, the late British economist Angus Maddison showed, American per-capita income was already the highest in the world. [...]

The replacement of labor with capital investment helped usher in the American industrial revolution, as the first industrial entrepreneurs took advantage of engineering advances developed in the fields. The southern states made a great economic as well as moral error in deciding to keep exploiting slaves instead of hiring well-paid workers and embracing new engineering technologies. The South started to catch up with the rest of the nation economically only after turning fully to advanced engineering in the 1960s as a response to rising labor costs.

The enormous American territory and the freedom that people had to move and work across it--guilds were nonexistent in the new country--also encouraged an advanced division of labor, which is essential to high productivity, as Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations. And Americans' mobility had a second benefit: by allowing entrepreneurs and workers to shift from location to location and find the best uses of their talents, it reduced prices, following David Ricardo's law of comparative advantage. Today, globalization has the same effect, making prices drop by assigning the production of goods to countries that are relatively efficient at making them. But in nineteenth-century America, the effect was concentrated within a single large nation. Both the extended division of labor and the law of comparative advantage reduced prices to a level lower than any seen before, despite America's high wages.

Democracy, too, encouraged ever-cheaper products. In Europe, an entrepreneur could thrive by serving a limited number of wealthy aristocrats--or even just one, provided that he was a king or a prince. Not so in the democratic United States, where entrepreneurs had to satisfy the needs of a large number of clients who compared prices among various vendors. America's leading entrepreneurs haven't always been the greatest innovators, but they have been the greatest cheapeners and tinkerers. Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile, but he figured out how to make it less expensive--a mass product for a democratic market, at first American and then global.

The ultimate American economic invention was standardization, which further reduced production costs. Standardization evolved in America because consumers there tended to share a taste for the same products and services. Companies consequently began providing similarly priced goods and services of the same general quality to citizens constantly on the move across the American expanse. Not only did Coca-Cola, Hilton hotels, and McDonald's become successful companies; they became forces for stability in a remarkably mobile society.

Immigration has been another component of American economic dynamism, for evident quantitative reasons: national GDP grows when total population and productivity increase simultaneously. But this effect has worked particularly well in the United States because its immigrants have tended to be young, energetic, and open to American values. Immigration is a self-selecting process: those who find the courage to leave behind their roots, traditions, and family often have an entrepreneurial spirit. (Indeed, prior to the emergence of the modern welfare state, it was tough to survive in America without such a spirit.) The newcomers, from Irish workingmen in the nineteenth century to Russian scientists in the twentieth, have continually reenergized the economy with their skills and knowledge.

They have also added a wild variety to American life, which helps explain why American culture--highbrow or lowbrow, sophisticated or pop--has dominated the world. In the cultural arena, at least, the globalization of the modern world is actually its Americanization. Roughly 80 percent of the movies seen in the world every year, for instance, are produced in the United States. This surely has something to do with the fact that, from the first days of the film industry, Hollywood's producers and directors hailed from all parts of the globe, intuitively knowing what kind of movies would appeal not just to Americans but to people across the planet.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Sen. Barrasso: Obama sees a 'political victory' in going over the cliff (Alicia M. Cohn, 12/23/12, The Hill)
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Sunday he thinks President Obama wants to dive over the so-called "fiscal cliff."

"I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes," Barrasso told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."

...who wants Clinton/Gingrich-era taxes and Bush-era spending, what easier way to get them?

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Egyptian constitution approved, preliminary results show (Ingy Hassieb and Abigail Hauslohner, December 23, 2012, Washington Post)

Preliminary results on Sunday from a two-day national referendum showed that the charter has passed. President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood party and state media said that 64 percent of voters said yes to the Islamist-backed constitution, though the results are not expected to be officially announced until Monday.

Many of the charter's supporters said they hoped that the approval of the new code of law would bring stability to Egypt's streets after weeks of political crisis and nearly two years of uncertainty since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Fiscal Fail: Government Agencies Plan Few Significant Changes For January, Despite Cliff Hype (Ryan Grim, 12/22/2012, Huffington Post)

 On Jan. 1, 2000, the world awoke to find that little had changed since the night before. After years of hype around what was then called Y2K -- the fear that computer systems across the globe would collapse, unable to handle the year shifting from '99 to '00 -- the date change turned out to be a momentous non-event.

Next week, the United States is in for much the same, after months of frantic hype about the economic disruption that awaits if Congress and the president fail to reach a deal and the federal government goes "over the fiscal cliff."

The so-called fiscal cliff is a combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. But the agencies responsible for implementing those changes, including the IRS and the Pentagon, are well aware that congressional and White House negotiators will most likely come to some sort of deal within weeks or months -- and so they are planning to carry on as usual, according to a broad review of private and public government plans.

In other words, there will be no cliff. There won't even be a slope.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


How do Muslims celebrate Christmas? Turkey, Top of the Pops and Shloer : In a Muslim home Christmas is about friends and family - festive cheer in the winter drear. Much as it is for other people, I imagine (Huma Qureshi, 12/19/12,

I absolutely love Christmas.

Baking mince pies, choosing presents and then wrapping them all up and writing Christmas cards ... I'm possibly not nearly cynical enough, but I love all the festive stuff that goes with this time of year. I love how everyone gets a day off. I love how everyone travels back to their parents' house on Christmas Eve, like some sort of ritualistic voyage. I love the telly listings and the food and the noise of everyone being together. Love it. It's up there with Eid. This year, I've outdone myself - I organised my Christmas presents last month.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are of Christmas day - the family round the table, my dad carving a huge halal turkey which we'd have ordered weeks in advance, heaps of brussels sprouts, sticky carrots and roast potatoes and a bottle or two of Shloer (our version of a, er, posh non-alcoholic drink) to pass around. We'd play Scrabble and Monopoly and watch the Queen's speech, Top of the Pops and the EastEnders Christmas special. Sometimes my mum would do the Asian thing and we'd end up with 40-odd family friends joining us, which would mean less leftovers, but that was OK too. Last year, my Christmas-loving brother was in charge of the menu - he went so far as tracking down an organic, halal goose.

Christmas in my Muslim home was obviously not a religious thing: it was (and is) about being on holiday and getting together with friends and family, something festive and bright to cheer up the winter drear. I imagine this is how it is for most people.

But at school, where we kneeled every morning after assembly for the Lord's Prayer, it was different. I was in every school nativity play, often a wise man with a keffiyeh-styled tea towel on my head, and I sung hymns and carols in every school Christmas church service, ending with big happy shouts of "Merry Christmas everyone!" and plates of mince pies passed round as we'd bundle out the church door.

The traditions are passing on: soon, my four-year-old nephew will be making his debut in his school Christmas play.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Cast iron heats up again  (NOELLE CARTER, 12/20/12, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Why is cast iron so big? Well, it easily lends itself to almost any kind of cooking. Cast iron heats evenly, without hot spots, and retains that heat better and longer than other types of cookware. Properly cared for, cast iron can last years -- centuries even. Plus, it's reasonably priced, especially compared with other cookware.

Cast iron is made by pouring the molten metal into individual sand molds. Once the cookware is cast, it needs to be "seasoned." Because iron corrodes so easily, a fat -- oil, lard or grease -- is used to build a protective layer. Properly applied and heated, the oil hardens over time (polymerizes) to form a dense, slick layer on the surface of the iron. Cast iron is, if you will, the original non-stick pan.

"People are tired of Teflon and all that other stuff," says David G. Smith. An avid collector and dealer of antique cast iron, he's known as "the Pan Man" and is coauthor of two bibles on collectible cast iron.

According to Doris Mosier, who has been collecting and dealing in antique cast iron for more than 30 years, most of her new customers buy three things: a skillet, griddle and Dutch oven. Mosier says a basic skillet will set you back about $50, a basic griddle $45 to $50, and a Dutch oven $85 and up, depending on the size.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


UTOPIAN FOR BEGINNERS : An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented. (JOSHUA FOER, DECEMBER 24, 2012, The New Yorker)

There are so many ways for speakers of English to see the world. We can glimpse, glance, visualize, view, look, spy, or ogle. Stare, gawk, or gape. Peek, watch, or scrutinize. Each word suggests some subtly different quality: looking implies volition; spying suggests furtiveness; gawking carries an element of social judgment and a sense of surprise. When we try to describe an act of vision, we consider a constellation of available meanings. But if thoughts and words exist on different planes, then expression must always be an act of compromise.

Languages are something of a mess. They evolve over centuries through an unplanned, democratic process that leaves them teeming with irregularities, quirks, and words like "knight." No one who set out to design a form of communication would ever end up with anything like English, Mandarin, or any of the more than six thousand languages spoken today.

"Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn't mean they're optimal," John Quijada, a fifty-four-year-old former employee of the California State Department of Motor Vehicles, told me. In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled "Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language." Written like a linguistics textbook, the fourteen-page Web site ran to almost a hundred and sixty thousand words. It documented the grammar, syntax, and lexicon of a language that Quijada had spent three decades inventing in his spare time. Ithkuil had never been spoken by anyone other than Quijada, and he assumed that it never would be.

In his preface, Quijada wrote that his "greater goal" was "to attempt the creation of what human beings, left to their own devices, would never create naturally, but rather only by conscious intellectual effort: an idealized language whose aim is the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken human language, while minimizing the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that is seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language." [...]

A gaunt man with closely cropped hair sat on one side of the room and recorded the proceedings on a camcorder. He slouched in his chair, showing only intermittent interest in the proceedings, until he came to the front of the room to address the conference. He introduced himself as Igor Garkavenko. Rather than hand his camcorder off to someone in the audience, he continued to hold on to it while he spoke, pointing it at me and our translator.

As he spoke, the translator whispered in my ear; Garkavenko spoke so fast and monotonously that it was difficult to keep up. He mentioned a recent stint in prison, described reading Bakhtiyarov's book, "Active Consciousness," in his jail cell every day, and the transformational effect that psychonetics had had on his political and philosophical consciousness.

Near the end of his speech, the translator stopped speaking. The color had fled his cheeks. "Do you realize who this guy is?" he whispered to me. "This guy is, like, the No. 2 terrorist in Ukraine."
A quick Google from our seats pulled up a news report with a photograph of the man who was standing at the podium. Garkavenko, it turned out, was the founder of a militant far-right Russian nationalist organization called the Ukrainian People's Revolutionary Army. In 1997, he was sent to prison for nine years for firebombing the offices of several Ukrainian political and cultural organizations, as well as the Israeli cultural center in Kharkov.

I turned to my translator. "What in the world is this guy doing at a linguistics conference?"

I leaned over to Quijada and told him what I had just read. We looked around the room at the collection of young men and women in attendance, and were suddenly struck by a question that probably ought to have dawned on us earlier: What were any of these people doing here?

After the conference wrapped up, Quijada and I met over a cup of coffee to debrief, and to try to figure out what we had just taken part in. We ran Internet searches on Bakhtiyarov and Garkavenko, and, with the help of Google Translate, we decoded some of their writings in Russian, including a trail of Garkavenko's anti-Semitic blog posts. "A considerable proportion of the populace knows the role of the State of Israel, and the élites related to it, in those disastrous processes that the peoples of the former Soviet Union are now living in," one of his essays proclaimed. I read that one aloud to Quijada, who twiddled anxiously with the strap of his luggage, a look of devastation on his face.

We discovered that Bakhtiyarov, in addition to his work on psychonetics, moonlights in politics. In 1994, he joined the leadership of the Party of Slavonic Unity, a short-lived ultra-nationalist movement whose goal was the reunification of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus into a Slavic confederation that would also include Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks, and Bulgarians.
In interviews, Bakhtiyarov talks of developing "intellectual special forces" that can bring about the "reëstablishment of a great power" in greater Russia, and give birth to a "new race . . . that can really be called superhuman."

An intellectual élite capable of seeing through the tissue of lies to the underlying essence of things needs a language capable of expressing their new way of thinking. Like Heinlein's fictional secret society of geniuses, who train themselves in Speedtalk in order to think faster and more clearly, Bakhtiyarov and the psychoneticists believe that an Ithkuil training regimen has the potential to reshape human consciousness and help them "solve problems faster." Though he denies that psychonetics is a political project, it's hard to uncouple Bakhtiyarov's dream of creating a Slavic superstate from his dream of creating a Slavic superman--perhaps one who speaks a disciplined, transparent language such as Ithkuil.

"When I get home, the first thing I'm doing is draft a letter to Dr. Bakhtiyarov saying I don't want to have anything else to do with psychonetics," a dispirited Quijada told me. "What if, God forbid, this were labelled as pseudoscience, or some sort of cult? I wouldn't want to be complicit in that. To find out that, when all is said and done, I'm ultimately a pawn for these misguided Nietzschean whatever-they-are . . . it just turns me off."

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Recollecting Laughter: On the Cultural Value of Satire (Daniel McInerny, 12/21/12, Imaginative Conservative)

Have we, as a culture, lost our ability to appreciate satire?

The question occurred to me recently as I was reading Gordon Wood's Revolutionary Characters, picked up on a Thanksgiving trip to Colonial Williamsburg. In the concluding chapter of the book, Wood remarks upon the prevalence of satire in the literature of the revolutionary writers, and in doing so articulates nicely the social character of satire:
"Satire as a literary device depends upon a comprehending and homogeneous audience with commonly understood standards of rightness and reasonableness. Since the satirist can expose to instantaneous contempt only what is readily condemned by the opinion of his readers, he must necessarily be on intimate terms with them and count on their sharing his tastes and viewpoint" (emphasis added).

Eighty years ago, when Evelyn Waugh began publishing his early satiric novels--Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, Black Mischief, A Handful of Dust, Scoop--he could count on a fair slice of his popular audience sharing the tastes and viewpoint that inspired his literary invective. Of course, Waugh disavowed the suggestion that his novels were satires. Satire, he claimed, in agreement with Gordon Wood, presupposes a shared moral ethos, and in Waugh's opinion, no such ethos existed in the West of the early 20th century.

...but America, the world's most conformist culture, is uniquely satirical.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


It's a Wonderful Country: Pottersville or Bedford Falls? : In the classic Christmas film "It's a Wonderful Life," the humane society of Bedford Falls is built on conservative principles, not contemporary liberal ones. (Carson Holloway, December 21st, 2012, The Public Discourse)

[B]edford Falls is preserved as a moral community not by the intervention of the federal government but by the public-spiritedness and virtue of local citizens led by George Bailey--who, as far as we know, never gets to meet the Congressman, let alone tell him to wait. Needless to say, the solving of social problems by virtuous individuals working together at the local level has certainly not been the American Left's preferred method over the last three or four generations.

Religion, too, holds a very different place in Bedford Falls than in contemporary liberalism, and in such a way that contemporary liberals could hardly claim to be defenders of the kind of community depicted in It's a Wonderful Life. The film begins with a series of prayers, prayers made by various citizens on behalf of George Bailey, whose life has reached a point of crisis. Indeed, the film tells a story of divine intervention into one man's life, an intervention prompted by the prayers of his friends. The film is unintelligible except on the supposition that there is a God who is concerned with the fate of each person, who watches over his creatures and listens to their prayers.

Moreover, we learn from Capra's story that one expression of God's care is his law, which must not be violated even under duress, and which will be supported by the laws of a decent community. George Bailey admits that he was considering suicide, but other characters remind him, and us, that suicide is against the law both in Bedford Falls and in heaven.

It would be unfair to say that contemporary liberalism entirely repudiates this religious view of life, but it is fair to say that it has often harbored and treated as an ally a radical secularism and skepticism that does repudiate it, openly and aggressively. There is in America today an increasingly imperialistic form of atheism. Not content merely not to believe, it feels a public duty to attack and ridicule those who do. It dismisses with scorn the idea that humanity holds any special place at all in a cosmos ruled by necessity and chance, let alone the belief that there is a personal God who cares about the fate of individuals and responds to their prayers.

Liberalism sometimes, rejecting belief in any law higher than that devised by men, goes so far as to promote a radical form of autonomy according to which even suicide could be viewed as a "right." Again, I do not mean to say that this position is embraced by all contemporary liberals, but it finds a political home with them that it does not find with conservatism.

Religion also holds a place in the public life of Bedford Falls that America's contemporary liberalism disallows. In the film's famous last scene, George's daughter Zuzu tells him, "Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." We know from the rest of the story, however, that George's children attend public school, because earlier in the film, in the grip of anger and despair, he complains bitterly about the poor quality of his children's teachers, who are supported by the taxes he pays. In Capra's Bedford Falls--as in the rest of 1946 America--teachers were free to promote religious belief in public schools. This arrangement has since been undermined by liberal activist judges pushing for the state's equal neutrality between religion and irreligion--despite that idea's lack of roots in America's traditions, its Constitution, or an impartial reading of how the founders understood the First Amendment.

If religion helps explain the goodness of those citizens who want to help George Bailey, it does not seem to explain his desire to help them. George never mentions a religious motive for his public service, and he even admits--ironically, in his own prayer--that he is not a praying man. What, then, is his motive? Contrary to Ken Burns's suggestion, Bailey is not driven to serve his fellow citizens, at the cost of his own ambitious dreams, simply by love for his fellow men. Bailey is certainly a decent and humane person, but his decency and humanity alone cannot overcome his deep desire to escape Bedford Falls, which he regards as a rather insignificant place, and to make his mark on the larger world.

What prompts Bailey to stay and serve his fellow citizens is a most conservative impulse: filial piety. The Building and Loan, the business that allows Bailey to help ordinary people realize their dreams of home-ownership, was built by his father, Peter Bailey. His father asks him to consider taking over the business, explaining to him the importance of its work in the community. George Bailey resists, but changes his mind after his father's death, especially when the business faces liquidation if he does not stay to administer it. Out of love and respect for his father, the younger Bailey keeps a photograph of him at his desk years after his death to remind him of his motive for maintaining the Building and Loan.

This kind of filial piety--the sense that one should weigh heavily the wishes of a father against one's own ambitions, and perhaps even sacrifice the latter to the former--is utterly alien to and relentlessly undermined by contemporary liberalism's cult of individual autonomy, understood as freedom from all traditional authority, even and especially the authority of fathers.

Finally, we might consider the standards that guide Bailey's service to his fellow men. Why does he think it's important to help them buy homes for their families? Bailey follows his father's example, which is more than merely traditional. When Peter Bailey tries to convince his son to work at the Building and Loan, he justifies its work by appealing to human nature. He tells him that the institution's work helps to satisfy a "fundamental urge," that it is something "deep in the race" for a man to want his own, privately owned home. This standard found in human nature supplies the Baileys, father and son, with a standard of goodness, of what constitutes true human flourishing, that teaches them how to do good for their fellow men. The things that are good are the things that are experienced as good by human beings as such, and not merely the things that any particular set of human beings might happen to desire.

Contemporary American liberalism has largely rejected such standards of goodness as unduly restrictive and even oppressive. Fixed standards rooted in human nature might require that society say "no" to some disordered desires that are incompatible with our nature. Our liberalism, however, recoils from such discipline, because it is incompatible with liberalism's egalitarianism, its insistence that all ways of life and all desires must be regarded as equally acceptable.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


This sacred text explains why the US can't kick the gun habit (Jonathan Freedland, 12/21/12, The Guardian)

If you really want to know why the US can't kick its gun habit, take a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC. You don't even have to look at the exhibits. Just study the queue. What you'll see are ordinary Americans lining up, in hushed reverence, to gaze at an original copy of the United States constitution, guarded and under heavily armoured glass. It is no exaggeration to say that for many Americans this is a religious experience.

When outsiders hear that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment of the US constitution, I suspect many imagine this is like saying it's "protected by law", something that can easily be changed, as it would be in their own countries. But this is to underestimate what the constitution means to Americans.

It is indeed a sacred text. Despite, or perhaps because, the US is a country animated by faith, the "founding fathers" are treated as deities, their every word analysed as if it contained gospel truth. Any new idea or policy proposal, no matter how worthy on its own merits, must be proven compatible with what those long-dead politicians of the late 18th century set down - otherwise it's unconstitutional and can be thrown out by the supreme court, the high priesthood selected to interpret what the great prophets of Philadelphia intended.

I don't mock America's awe for its constitution. On the contrary, I regard that text as the most powerful statement of democratic principle - starting with its declaration that "we the people" are sovereign - and human rights ever written. Its system of checks and balances is mathematically and beautifully precise in its determination to prevent unfettered, over-centralised power. It represents the unfinished business of England's own incomplete revolution of 1688. It's no exaggeration to say that this single document makes the US possible, cohering an immigrant nation with no common bonds of blood or soil around a radical idea.

But when the attachment to that text calcifies into a rigid dogma, danger beckons. Even the best ideals can become warped: note how the first amendment guarantee of free speech has allowed unlimited spending on TV campaign ads by anonymous corporate donors. In the case of the second amendment, a constitution designed to be a document of liberation instead imprisons the US, shackling it to an outdated rule that makes easy the murder of schoolchildren. Polls show a majority of Americans favour greater gun control, but the US constitution stands stubbornly in their way. The scholar Daniel Lazare describes America as "the frozen republic", chained to decisions taken when the right to bear arms meant the freedom to carry a musket. He wants the US to revamp its constitution, like most of the other countries of the world: "Why must Americans remain slaves to the past?"

Absent a cataclysm, such as the US suffering a total defeat in war, it's hard even to imagine such a thing.

Which is, of course, the point of the Constitution in the first place.  Rather than discarding rights every time there's an unfortunate incident, we require a cataclysm.  It forces us to act deliberatively, rather than emotionally,

Reid's liberal power play (George Will, December 23, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Ideas are not responsible for the people who believe them, but when evaluating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ideas for making the Senate more like the House of Representatives, consider the source. Reid is just a legislative mechanic trying to make Congress' machinery responsive to his party's progressivism. And proper progressives think the Constitution, understood as a charter of limited government, is unconstitutional.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Why Rising Ticket Prices and Technology Lead NFL Fans to Stay Home (Miranda Green, Dec 23, 2012, Daily Beast)

Economists and sports buffs are at odds as to what has caused the shift from the thrill of the stadium to the comfort of a couch or bar. Some say it's the technology that has naturally made television a better story teller for America's new greatest pastime.

"The at-home experience continues to get better. It's really the golden age for fans," says McCarthy. "They are watching games on their 50-inch HD monitors, they have access to ... there is NFL Redzone, where you can watch every single score in real time and you have access to food and other comforts at home."

Others speculate the reason for increased television viewing is that stadiums are failing to captivate audiences and instead focusing their efforts on TV deals. After all, that's where the majority of the money is. Consider for a moment that each team made $102.5 million from the national TV deal last year and that the NFL's revenue from broadcasting is more than double what it made from ticket sales. In other words, smaller numbers of fans and declining sales of beer and popcorn may not put too hurt the bottom line of owners too much.

Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at technology firm ConvergeEx, says it's the economy that has rendered tickets too expensive for the average Joe. He says a significant factor of lowered NFL attendance is that fans simply can't afford to go to games. "If you take a family of four to a football game and you get the average seat--between the parking and making the day for the kids a good experience [with concession items] you are spending about $600, which is the price to pay for a good TV back home," he said.

One of the curiosities about football that folks seldom give thought to is not just that the Super Bowl ads are more anticipated and discussed and better remembered than the game itself but why this is so.    The game clock still just counts off 60 minutes, but even regular season games last so far over 3 hours that the late kick-offs are at 4:25.  The NFL requires of its viewers a massive investment of time for a minimal amount of action.  Indeed, the attraction of the Redzone for fans is that scoring plays in other games help alleviate the tedium of the one you're watching.  In a very real sense, three and a half hours of advertising are periodically interrupted by a series of downs.  Except that, if you're in attendance at the game, it's three and a half hours of watching guys stand around doing nothing, periodically interrupted by a series of downs.

December 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


In Hezbollah stronghold, Lebanese Christians find respect, stability : In a Christian home in a Shiite suburb of Beirut, images of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah share mantel and wall space with the Virgin Mary. (Ariel Zirulnick, December 21, 2012, CS Monitor)

Lebanon's sectarian divides are legendary, and the residents of the historically Christian neighborhood of Harat Hreik, now a Hezbollah stronghold, remember well the civil war that set Beirut on fire. They were literally caught in the middle of some of the most vicious fighting, with factions firing shots off at one another from either side of their apartment buildings.

But in the intervening years, as Hezbollah cemented its control over the suburb of Dahiyeh, which includes Harat Hreik, the militant group has been an unexpected source of stability and even protection for the few remaining Christian families. Just a few blocks away from Nasrallah's compound is St. Joseph's Church, a vibrant church that Maronite Christians from across Beirut flock to every Sunday. 

"I feel honored to be here. They are honest. They are not extremists. It's not like everyone describes," Gholam says. "I can speak on behalf of all my Christian friends. They would say the same thing." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Conservative Blue : Republicans are enacting bold reforms in Democratic bastions of the Midwest. (CHRISTIAN SCHNEIDER, 18 December 2012, City Journal)

Michigan's tussle with unions follows a two-year imbroglio in Wisconsin, where, early in 2011, Republican governor Scott Walker virtually eliminated public-sector collective bargaining. Walker's move inflamed the state's government unions, leading to months of demonstrations, disruptions, and recall elections. Last June, Walker survived a recall, beating Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett (his opponent in the 2010 general election) by seven percentage points--a larger winning margin than he had enjoyed two years earlier.

Perhaps the most surprising recent labor battle has been in Illinois, where Chicago's Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has challenged public-union benefits and work hours. In September, Emanuel refused to cave in to the demands of 26,000 striking Chicago teachers. The teachers wanted pay increases of 30 percent to reflect a longer work day, and they objected to a proposed teacher-evaluation system. For almost two weeks, 350,000 Chicago schoolchildren sat home, while their teachers marched in picket lines. But Emanuel stood firm, and the teachers returned to work. (Emanuel has also challenged the city's operating-engineers' union on overtime policy and has proposed privatizing Chicago's recycling system.)

None of these initiatives is particularly innovative; Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state, for example. Twenty-four U.S. states have either reduced public-sector collective bargaining or don't permit it at all. Big cities deal with restrictive union contracts every fiscal year.

The real surprise is where these changes are taking place. Michigan is the birthplace of the United Auto Workers; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) originated in Madison, Wisconsin; the Teamsters National Union formed in Chicago in 1901.

December 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Americans for Prosperity weighs in on the failed 'Plan B' (Bob Costantini, 12/21/12, NBC News Radio)

The news releases arrived via email at almost the exact same time Wednesday. The liberal Campaign for America's Future was screaming for "No Deal" and warning of a "Grand Swindle" of cuts to Social Security and Medicare should President Obama go wobbly in his fiscal cliff negotiations.

At the other end of the spectrum, the plea by the conservative Americans for Prosperity -- an organization backed by the Koch Brothers -- warned of House Speaker John Boehner's position offering a "trillion dollar plus tax increase" in order to get some nebulous spending cuts down the road.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


The Fiscal-Cliff Battle Is Already Over, and the Republicans Have Won It (Major Garrett, DEC 13 2012, Atlantic)

In ways inconceivable to Republicans of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Democrats have embraced almost all of their economic arguments about tax cuts. Back then, sizable swaths of the Democratic Party sought to protect higher tax rates for all. Many opposed President Reagan's 1981 across-the-board tax cuts and the indexing of tax brackets for inflation. Many were skeptical of Reagan's 1986 tax reform that consolidated 15 tax brackets into three and lowered the top marginal rate from 50 percent to 28 percent (with a "bubble rate" of 33 percent for some taxpayers). They despised the expanded child tax credit and marriage-penalty relief called for under the GOP's Contract With America.

Now all of that is embedded in Democratic economic theory and political strategy. The only taxes that the most progressive Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson wants to raise are those affecting couples earning more than $267,600 and individuals earning more than $213,600 (these are the 2013 indexed amounts from President Obama's 2009 proposal of $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals). Yes, some of this increase would hit some small businesses. But that can be finessed.

The larger point is that Republicans are pushing on an open door on taxes. The GOP has won nine-tenths of the tax argument. It just hasn't figured out what do with victory.

This is especially true if, as Democrats suggest, there would be a trade of some structural reforms to Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for raising marginal tax rates on top earners.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


How Democrats Became Liberal Republicans (BRUCE BARTLETT, 12/21/12, The Fiscal Times)

Many on the left are puzzled by Barack Obama's apparent willingness to support dramatic reductions in federal social spending. It is only because Republicans demand even more radical cuts in spending that Obama's fiscal conservatism is invisible to the general public. But those on the political left know it and are scared.

Yesterday, left-leaning law professor Neil Buchanan penned a scathing attack on Obama for abandoning the Democratic Party's long-held policies toward the poor, and for astonishing naiveté in negotiating with Republicans. Said Buchanan:

"The bottom line is that President Obama has already revealed himself to be unchanged by the election and by the last two years of stonewalling by the Republicans.  He still appears to believe, at best, in a milder version of orthodox Republican fiscal conservatism - an approach that would be a fitting starting position for a right-wing politician in negotiations with an actual Democrat.  Moreover, he still seems to believe that the Republicans are willing to negotiate in good faith."

Others on the left, such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and others raise similar concerns. They cannot understand why Obama, having won two elections in a row with better than 50 percent of the vote - something accomplished only by presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan in the postwar era - and holding a powerful advantage due to the fiscal cliff, would seemingly appear willing to gut social spending while asking for only a very modest contribution in terms of taxes from the wealthy.
The dirty secret is that Obama simply isn't very liberal, nor is the Democratic Party any more.

...would just make his presidency even more like that of Reagan and GHWB.

December 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


The Original Originalist : Robert Bork's lasting legacy (Adam Freedman, 20 December 2012, WSJ)

More important, Bork is one of a handful of jurists who succeeded in changing the way Americans view our supreme law: the Constitution. In 1987, originalism--the doctrine that the Constitution should be applied as originally understood--was considered a fringe theory. The reigning philosophy in academia and on the bench was that we have a "living Constitution," in short, that judges can unilaterally change the document's meaning. In his 1990 book, The Tempting of America, Bork became the first scholar to provide a detailed explanation of originalism for the general public. He also dispelled the myth that originalism seeks to divine the secret intentions of the Constitution's framers. Rather, it is an attempt to understand how the text would have been understood by "those who ratified our Constitution and its various amendments." Bork explained that this task was vital "because what the ratifiers understood themselves to be enacting must be taken to be what the public of that time would have understood the words to mean." [...]

Today, originalism has moved from the fringes to the mainstream. Many liberal legal scholars concede that judges ought to be guided by the original understanding of the Constitution.

No Supreme Court nominee today dares disavow originalism or declare his or her sympathy with a "living Constitution" philosophy. When Elena Kagan faced Senate confirmation for the Supreme Court in 2010, she went out of her way to praise originalism as an interpretive method. As the future justice explained: "Sometimes [the framers] laid down very specific rules. Sometimes they laid down broad principles. Either way, we apply what they say, what they meant to do. So in that sense, we are all originalists."

Indeed we are. And for that, we should thank Robert Bork.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


'The idea we live in a simulation isn't science fiction' (Justin Mullins, 12/18/12, New Scientist)

If the universe is just a Matrix-like simulation, how could we ever know? Physicist Silas Beane thinks he has the answer

The idea that we live in a simulation is just science fiction, isn't it?

There is a famous argument that we probably do live in a simulation. The idea is that in future, humans will be able to simulate entire universes quite easily. And given the vastness of time ahead, the number of these simulations is likely to be huge. So if you ask the question: 'do we live in the one true reality or in one of the many simulations?', the answer, statistically speaking, is that we're more likely to be living in a simulation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Without Babies, Can Japan Survive? (ALEXANDRA HARNEY, 12/20/12, NY Times)

THE first grade class at the elementary school in Nanmoku, about 85 miles from Tokyo, has just a single student this year. The local school system that five decades ago taught 1,250 elementary school children is now educating just 37. Many of the town's elegant wooden homes are abandoned. Where generations of cedar loggers, sweet potato farmers and factory workers once made their lives, monkeys now reside. The only sounds at night are the cries of deer and the wail of an occasional ambulance.

Nanmoku's plight is Japan's fate. Faced with an aging society, a depopulating countryside and economic stagnation, the country has struggled for decades to address its challenges. As Japan goes to the polls on Dec. 16 for parliamentary elections that will most likely mean the seventh prime minister in six years, voters need to demand that politicians address the most important issue of all: the country's low birthrate.

Sadly, this issue is hardly being discussed on the campaign trail. 

..whether a nation with no culture should survive?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Stand Up to the Intimidators (Paul R. Pillar, December 19, 2012, National Interest)

Neither Chuck Hagel nor anyone else has a right to any cabinet post, but given how this matter has already evolved, if the president now does not nominate him for the defense job it will be universally seen as a caving in to the neocons and Netanyahuites. Mr. Obama will be politically weaker as a result. He will have lost political capital rather than having conserved it. And he will have encouraged more such intimidation in the future.

Conversely, standing up to the intimidators and pushing a Hagel nomination through to confirmation would improve his ability to battle against the same forces on other issues. 

Mr. Pillar is on to something here, but its meaning eludes him.  The only importance of a potential Hagel nomination lies in its symbolism.  No one actually thinks that he'd be a good secretary of defense, nor that he brings any worthwhile ideas to the national security debate.  The only reason to nominate him would be to give a thin Republicanish veneer to a post that is going to be required to accept and justify massive spending cuts.

All Republicans are doing is stripping away the veneer, at which point, nothing remains.  So the President could try to force a nomination fight, but it's a battle where he can only lose.  Either the nomination loses outright or he gets a secretary who is worthless, a definitively Pyrrhic victory.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


How Housing Is Driving Economic Growth (Dec 20, 2012, Daily Beast)

According to the NAR, the total housing inventory fell to a mere 2 million homes available for sale. Given the rate at which homes are being bought, that represents a meager 4.8 months supply, compared to 5.3 months in October. The inventory is reaching levels not seen since right before the housing boom entered its truly overheated phase: November's inventory was the lowest since September of 2005, when there were only 4.6 months worth of homes on the market.

Another positive sign: the market is starting to clear out foreclosed homes and homes sold at a discount from the outstanding amount of the mortgage (short sales). In November, 2011, foreclosure sales and short sales were 29 percent of all home sales. In November 2012, they were only 22 percent, down from 24 percent in October. Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for NAR, predicted in a statement that "The market share of distressed property sales will fall into the teens next year based on a diminishing number of seriously delinquent mortgages." This bodes well for the economy as a whole. It's better when home sales are a money-making proposition, not a way for deeply indebted homeowners to cut their losses or for banks to get back whatever they can from delinquent mortgages.

This steady increase in sales and steady decrease in existing inventory means one thing going forward: more building. Data from the National Association of Homebuilders shows that builders are more confident in the strength of the market for single-family than they have been since April, 2006. The NAHB data measures both the current sentiments of builders and their future prospects. The former is at such high levels now because some builders are starting to make money hand-over-fist again. Toll Brothers, the high end builder, saw huge profits driven nearly entirely by new building.

In a statement, the company's CEO, Douglas C. Yearley Jr. said that "pent-up demand, rising home prices, low interest rates, and improving consumer confidence motivated buyers to return to the housing market in 2012."

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Saying (and Watching) Grace at Christmas (Peter Augustine Lawler, 12/20/12, Imaginative Conservative)

So Christmas is all about grace and redemption.  It's also about the strange and wonderful person who wanders the world in the hope (conscious or unconscious) about grace.  It's also, of course, about the personal, loving, and creative God who became man and wandered among us for a while.  What's more wonderful than that?  

My Christmas list for you the three best movies about the mystery of grace received.

We've liked all three films mentioned very much, and written about one: The Apostle.  

And we'd add a few, some almost accidental, entries where characters experience grace and redemption : Groundhog Day; Lars and the Real GirlThe Straight Story;  The Big Kahuna; and About Schmidt

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


The Liberation of General Motors (Steven Rattner, 12/19/12, NY Times)

For General Motors, the separation will conclusively remove the appellation of "government motors," a stigma that the company had argued affected the buying decisions of a meaningful segment of consumers.

The divorce will ultimately also liberate G.M. from a number of government-imposed restrictions, importantly including those relating to executive compensation. These restrictions adversely affected G.M.'s ability to recruit and retain talent. Now, compensation decisions will be made by the company's board of directors, just as they are in every other public company in America.

From Washington's point of view, divesting its remaining shares will end an uncomfortable and distinctly un-American period of government ownership in a major industrial company.

..was always whether to hold out for the profit or return more quickly to the Anglo-American model.  We've got plenty of money.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Why Japan is Obsessed with Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas (K. Annabelle Smith, 12/19/12, Smithsonian)

It's Christmas Eve in Japan. Little boys and girls pull on their coats, the twinkle of anticipation in their eyes. Keeping the tradition alive, they will trek with their families to feast at ... the popular American fast food chain KFC.

Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan--only one percent of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian--yet a bucket of "Christmas Chicken" (the next best thing to turkey--a meat you can't find anywhere in Japan) is the go-to meal on the big day. And it's all thanks to the insanely successful "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign in 1974.

When a group of foreigners couldn't find turkey on Christmas day and opted for fried chicken instead, the company saw this as a prime commercial opportunity and launched its first Christmas meal that year: Chicken and wine for 834 2,920 yen($10)--pretty pricey for the mid-seventies. Today the christmas chicken dinner (which now boasts cake and champagne) goes for about 3,336 yen ($40).

And the people come in droves. Many order their boxes of  "finger lickin'" holiday cheer months in advance to avoid the lines--some as long as two hours.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Korea gets first female president (The Korea Herald, 12/19/12)

Conservative Park Geun-hye clinched a climactic election victory Wednesday to become South Korea's first female president on the back of pledges for political reform and measured economic democratization.  [...]

The president-elect is expected to bolster the alliance with the U.S. while seeking improved strategic ties with China. She has expressed firm resolve on her intolerance to North Korea's provocations, the most recent being its Dec. 12 rocket launch. Park, however, has also expressed willingness to better cooperate with Pyongyang to defrost highly strained inter-Korean relations.

Her emphasis on balanced growth and welfare appeared to have struck a chord with the swing voters as the country faces a challenging year ahead amid a slumping economy, frosty ties with North Korea, simmering feuds with Japan and a growing rivalry between the U.S. and China.

It was a day of victory for the conservatives, with Hong Joon-pyo of the Saenuri Party winning in the election for South Gyeongsang Province governor, and conservative-leaning former education minister Moon Yong-lin being elected as Seoul City education superintendent. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Why is Gary Bettman trying to destroy the NHL? (Jonathan Mahler, December 20, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

Bettman wants to eliminate signing bonuses, cut the salary cap, increase time in the league required before free agency and set the maximum duration of contracts at five years. By one economist's estimate, these proposals would reduce the average player's wages by 15 percent to 20 percent.

This get-tough approach was no doubt inspired by Bettman's mentor, National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern, who put a big dent in player compensation with last year's lockout and was never made to pay for betraying his fans: Even after shortening its regular season by 16 games, the league went on to set records for TV viewership.

The NHL, however, is not the NBA. It's a badly broken league, and much of the damage has been inflicted by its own commissioner. By pushing teams into unnatural markets -- ice hockey doesn't belong in Phoenix any more than beach volleyball belongs in Winnipeg -- Bettman created a huge financial gap between franchises that he's now trying to redress by taking money out of the players' pockets.

Instead of viewing his job as the custodian of a sport with a long and proud tradition -- the Stanley Cup has been around since the 19th century -- and a deeply devoted fan base, Bettman is acting like the chief executive of a restaurant chain who can't stop looking for new markets to exploit, regardless of whether there's demand for his product. This hasn't worked for the NHL any better than it worked for Krispy Kreme.

At least Krispy Kreme had an excuse: Publicly traded companies are under constant pressure to deliver increased revenue to satisfy impatient shareholders. As sacrilegious as it sounds, professional sports leagues don't have to keep growing to stay healthy.

December 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Cooling Down the Fears of Climate Change : Evidence points to a further rise of just 1°C by 2100. The net effect on the planet may actually be beneficial. (MATT RIDLEY, 12/19/12, WSJ)

[Nic Lewis. A semiretired successful financier from Bath, England, with a strong mathematics and physics background]  first collaborated with others to expose major statistical errors in a 2009 study of Antarctic temperatures. In 2011 he discovered that the IPCC had, by an unjustified statistical manipulation, altered the results of a key 2006 paper by Piers Forster of Reading University and Jonathan Gregory of the Met Office (the United Kingdom's national weather service), to vastly increase the small risk that the paper showed of climate sensitivity being high. Mr. Lewis also found that the IPCC had misreported the results of another study, leading to the IPCC issuing an Erratum in 2011.

Mr. Lewis tells me that the latest observational estimates of the effect of aerosols (such as sulfurous particles from coal smoke) find that they have much less cooling effect than thought when the last IPCC report was written. The rate at which the ocean is absorbing greenhouse-gas-induced warming is also now known to be fairly modest. In other words, the two excuses used to explain away the slow, mild warming we have actually experienced--culminating in a standstill in which global temperatures are no higher than they were 16 years ago--no longer work.

In short: We can now estimate, based on observations, how sensitive the temperature is to carbon dioxide. We do not need to rely heavily on unproven models. Comparing the trend in global temperature over the past 100-150 years with the change in "radiative forcing" (heating or cooling power) from carbon dioxide, aerosols and other sources, minus ocean heat uptake, can now give a good estimate of climate sensitivity.

The conclusion--taking the best observational estimates of the change in decadal-average global temperature between 1871-80 and 2002-11, and of the corresponding changes in forcing and ocean heat uptake--is this: A doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F).

This is much lower than the IPCC's current best estimate, 3°C (5.4°F).

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


What a new inflation measure would mean for your wallet (Annalyn Kurtz, 12/19/12, CNNMoney)

The government currently measures price increases using the Consumer Price Index, which tracks a broad basket of consumer goods. That measure is also used to determine increases in tax brackets and cost-of-living adjustments for retirees receiving Social Security benefits.

But some critics say the government is overstating inflation. In reality, when prices rise, consumers turn to alternatives instead of paying more. So for example, if prices rise significantly on beef, they may buy chicken instead.

Enter "chained CPI," a separate measure that accounts for such substitutions, and therefore paints what some call a more realistic picture of inflation's impact on consumers.

With Christmas Eve church services coming up, I bought a J Crew blazer, pair of LL Bean chinos and a Ralph Lauren button down at the Thrift Store for $9.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Republicans Turn to An Unlikely Name for Inspiration: George W. Bush (Beth Reinhard, December 19, 2012, National Journal)

As Republicans reassess their future in the presidential wilderness, seeking a message and messenger to resonate with a new generation of voters, one unlikely name has popped up as a role model: former President George W. Bush.

Prominent Republicans eager to rebuild the party in the wake of the 2012 election are pointing to Bush's successful campaigns for Hispanic votes, his efforts to pass immigration reform, and his mantra of "compassionate conservatism." Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and at least 40 percent in 2004, a high-water mark for a Republican presidential candidate.

In contrast, Romney received only 27 percent of the Latino vote, after taking a hard-line approach to illegal immigration during the Republican presidential primaries, touting "self-deportation" for undocumented workers. In exit polls, a majority of voters said that Romney was out of touch with the American people and that his policies would favor the rich. While Romney beat Obama on questions of leadership, values, and vision, the president trounced him by 63 points when voters were asked which candidate "cares about people like me."

These signs of wear and tear to the Republican brand are prompting some of Bush's critics to acknowledge his political foresight and ability to connect with a diverse swath of Americans, although the economic crash and unpopular wars on his watch make it unlikely he will ever be held up as a great president.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Former High Court Nominee Bork Dies (STEPHEN MILLER, 12/19/12, WSJ)

Nominated by President Reagan to fill the Supreme Court spot of the retiring centrist justice Lewis Powell, Mr. Bork became the object of opposition by liberals who feared, among other things, that he would tip the court's balance on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Mr. Bork had publicly condemned the decision as legally shoddy, and affirmed this view under Senate questioning.

Within an hour of his nomination in 1987, Sen. Edward Kennedy, paladin of the left, rose in the Senate to condemn Mr. Bork's jurisprudence.

"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution," Mr. Kennedy said. "The doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens."

The words rankled and Mr. Bork dismissed them, telling author Michael Kelly that "There was not a line in that speech that was accurate." But the speech set the tone for the hearings, the first ever televised for the high court, which ended in Mr. Bork's being rejected, 58 votes to 42. [...]

Collaborating at times with Yale constitutional scholar Alexander Bickel, Mr. Bork developed a conservative judicial philosophy centered on what he took to be the original intent of the Constitution's framers.

In an influential 1971 Indiana Law Journal article, he assailed the high court's recognition of a right to privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut, contending that the court should recognize only rights clearly specified in the Constitution.

Among his other controversial holdings was that the first amendment applied only to political speech, and that Roe v. Wade was a usurpation of state's rights. It was that position, more than any other, that would galvanize opposition to his Supreme Court nomination. [...]

Mr. Bork, looking distinctly out of the ordinary with his rotund frame and scraggly red beard, barely tried to sugarcoat his contempt for judges who found new "rights" lurking in the Constitution. Meanwhile, critics vilified him and tried to dig up dirt by investigating such ephemera as his video rentals. (The leaked list contained mainly Hollywood classics; the leaking of the list help spur the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, thus fulfilling Mr. Bork's contention that Americans enjoyed a right of privacy only as enumerated by specific legislation.)
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Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Obama's Weakness on Treaties (JOHN B. BELLINGER III, 12/19/12, NY Times)

The Obama administration has been slow to submit new treaties to the Senate, and only nine have been approved so far. In contrast, the George W. Bush administration secured Senate approval of 163 treaties over eight years. These included not only bilateral treaties but also multilateral agreements on many important subjects, including human rights, atmospheric and marine environmental protection, the laws of war and arms control.

Most of those 163 treaties were approved by unanimous consent of the Senate, including conservative Republicans. On multilateral treaties like the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention and the United Nations Transnational Organized Crime Convention, Bush administration officials worked hard to address concerns raised by individual senators.

Now President Obama must devote more energy to securing Senate approval for pending treaties, both by using the presidency's bully pulpit to explain the benefits and by directing administration officials to pay more attention to the concerns of individual senators.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


How news media can help prevent shooting massacres (Chris Allen, 20 December 2012, Online Opinion)
There is no mystery about school killings. The real causes are staring us in the face; criminological research demonstrates that these are copycat crimes.

Notice how they echo and change the storylines of past crimes: locations were in the 1980s post offices, then became gun-free schools and malls; perpetrators were first PLO terrorists, then aging males with relationship issues and in recent years mentally unstable young men.

Research in the USA showed that the mainstream news media provide training manuals for copycats, with their inset boxes listing weapons in 'arsenals'; they refer to the killers' 'meticulous planning' while laying out easy bullet-point lists of actions leading up to the crimes. The killers he researched kept articles from Time and Newsweek, and obsessively watched news and current affairs reports on how they could easily get guns to commit massacres. Now they turn to NBC, CNN and ABC and the online media. The news shows, not computer games or violent movies, are the most effective teachers of mass killing.

We understand now that people build maps or scripts of how to act from what they see others around them doing. The more alike someone seems, the more their situation can be applied to yours, the more likely it is you will act like them. This applies to choice of fashions and musical tastes, choosing education options - and to committing crimes. News people know this and enforce internal guidelines to help prevent suicide and crime copycats. But for a mass shooting, the urgent opportunity to boost audiences and present copy overwhelms their ethical hesitation, and they convince themselves their carefully-preened moral outrage is a force for good.

But they don't stop there. The responsible news media provide billions of dollars in name recognition, photo publicity and hours of discussion about the significance of the killings and their perpetrators. They partner with political activists, fomenting hatred of the journalists' political enemies and creating moral campaigns to punish them. Their actions invest the killers with a huge social significance, that these mentally unstable, morally deficient losers would never otherwise achieve.

Detailed news 'instruction' has taught even the mentally handicapped how; and enormous social significance is guaranteed if they act. Our news services created the string of mass murders, and made an engine to keep it going.

December 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


The economic return of Iceland has proved that the joke was on us (Dan White, December 16 2012, Irish Independent)

WAY back in the autumn of 2008, the joke in financial circles was that the only difference between Ireland and Iceland was a letter and six months. Now, with the Icelandic banks preparing to issue foreign currency bonds once again, it turns out that the joke was on us.

Remember when the Icelandics did the unthinkable and, unlike Ireland, told bank creditors to take a hike? They also imposed capital controls and allowed the value of their currency to fall - the Icelandic krona has lost almost half of its value against the euro over the past five years.

The "experts" queued up to assure us that these latter-day Vikings would be severely punished for their impertinence. While no one forecast that a hole would open up in the North Atlantic and swallow Iceland whole, some of the predictions came pretty darned close.

Meanwhile, we in Ireland did what we were told and repaid over €70bn of bank bonds at par. By doing so, even at the cost of bankrupting the State, the "experts" assured us that we would retain the confidence of the markets. Now, four years later, it is clear that, not for the first time, the "experts" have got it wrong. Catastrophically and utterly wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


UK to name part of Antarctica Queen Elizabeth Land (David Shukman,12/18/12,  BBC)

At the cabinet meeting, the Queen sat in the PM's usual seat - with Mr Cameron and Mr Hague sitting on either side of her.

It is believed to be the first time a monarch has attended peace-time cabinet since George III in 1781. George I ceased to chair cabinet in 1717. [...]

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles] dismissed suggestions from some that the Queen was crossing a constitutional line by attending the cabinet.

"We are her cabinet, we operate for her. She was sat in the seat where the Prime Minister traditionally sits and, given it's her cabinet, she can come any time she wants."

The monarch is that final bulwark of liberty that we sadly lack.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Obama Caving on Social Security (Matthew Rothschild, December 18, 2012, The Progressive)

Forcing seniors to make do with less on Social Security is not something Obama campaigned on, and it's not something we need Democrats for.

But there were plenty of warnings.

Obama's first appointee to head the Office of Management and Budget, Peter Orszag, was in favor of this proposal.

And Obama appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which lent momentum to this idea of cutting Social Security.

And Obama floated this idea of the new and reduced Consumer Price Index last summer when he tried then to get Boehner to sign on to the "grand bargain."

Bernie Sanders warned us all during the campaign that Obama was wobbly on this issue, and worried about the President's willingness to cave on the Consumer Price Index.

Sanders told Sam Stein of HuffingtonPost back in September that Obama was likely to throw seniors overboard with the so-called "chained CPI."

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


The President Negotiates With Himself (ANDREW ROSENTHAL, 12/18/12, NY Times)

We have seen this so many times in the past four years that I certainly hope President Obama is not falling for it again.

Take a problem, any problem--economic meltdown, debt ceiling, rising deficits, you name it--which Republicans and Democrats are supposed to resolve through negotiation. Mr. Obama says he is ready to talk, and makes an initial offer that includes concessions to right-wing demands. Then he offers more concessions.

Republicans also claim they're ready to talk, and maybe in private they offer compromises (like we're told John Boehner did over the debt ceiling in 2010). But in public they stand firm on their positions, stick to their rhetorical talking points and brush back whatever the president suggests as not enough.

Eventually they meet somewhere around the president's 20-yard line.

It's happening again, right now, in the fiscal cliff talks.

In the absence of any ideas or ideology of his own, he just wants to be told what to do.

December 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Trillion-dollar deficits are sustainable for now, unfortunately (John H. Makin, 12/13/12,  American Enterprise Institute)

Trillion-dollar federal budget deficits have continued to be sustainable first because the federal government is able to finance them at interest rates of half a percent or less. Two percent inflation means that the real inflation-adjusted cost of deficit finance averages -1.5 percent, much to the dismay of savers seeking even a modest return on "safe" assets. [...]

The importance of the borrowing cost minus growth gap in precipitating a financial crisis is demonstrated most spectacularly by the experience of Greece, as shown in figure 6, which compares Greece's borrowing cost minus GDP growth gap with that of the United States. From the late 1990s, when Greece was scheduled to adopt the euro (most notably from 2000, when Greece was able to issue eurobonds) to 2008, Greece and the United States experienced virtually identical gaps, including negative gaps (borrowing costs below growth) during the 2002-07 "golden years" for debt accumulation.

After late 2009, when Greece revealed that its primary deficit had been far larger than previously reported, its borrowing costs soared while growth collapsed. The growth collapse was exacerbated by austerity programs aimed at reducing the primary deficit. Such ill-conceived efforts to condition bailouts on austerity were designed to reduce Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio but actually caused it to rise. This happened because growth fell so rapidly that tax collections collapsed and the primary deficit was little affected while the borrowing cost to growth gap soared, as figure 6 shows. The gap then soared to 65 percentage points, while the US gap fell to a remarkably favorable -2.2 percent, where it remains today. (See figure 7.)

The hyperbolic claim that the United States is becoming Greece because of the absence of dramatic progress on deficit and debt reduction is unfortunately ridiculous. There is not yet a sign that a US fiscal crisis will emerge to force Congress to enact fundamental measures like entitlement reform to reduce the growth of spending, or tax reform to enhance revenues through faster growth.

And really you can't just look at government, but at society as a whole.  How much more do you make on the money in your 401k than we pay in interest on federal debt?
Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


China's Bad Diplomacy (James Clad, Robert A. Manning | December 17, 2012, National Interest)

A joke now making the rounds in Asia asks, "who is America's most effective diplomat in Asia?" The punch line brings knowing laughter: "'Mr. Beijing.' Yes, Mr. Bob Beijing is playing America's best hand."

The joke's sting lies in the law of unintended consequences. Beijing's increasingly provocative moves include cutting a Vietnamese seismic-exploration ship's cables, disrupting oil exploration, declaring the entire South China Sea under Chinese sovereignty and making some hitherto unpublicized but very sensitive challenges to Malaysia. All seem tailor-made to produce exactly what China says it doesn'twant: a de facto anti-China coalition backed discreetly by the United States and reaching from India to the Sea of Japan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Conservative Survival in a Progressive Age : Big government and the social revolution are here to stay. The conservative role is to shape both for the better. (PETER BERKOWITZ, 12/12/12, WSJ)

Political moderation is a maligned virtue. Yet it has been central to American constitutionalism and modern conservatism. Such moderation is essential today to the renewal of a conservatism devoted to the principles of liberty inscribed in the Constitution--and around which both social conservatives and libertarians can rally.

"It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good," observed James Madison in Federalist No. 37. The challenge, Madison went on to explain, is more sobering still because the spirit of moderation "is more apt to be diminished than promoted by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it."

In a similar spirit, and in the years that Americans were declaring independence and launching a remarkable experiment in self-government, Edmund Burke sought to conserve in Great Britain the conditions under which liberty flourished. To this end, Burke exposed the error of depending on abstract theory for guidance in practical affairs. He taught the supremacy in political life of prudence, or the judgment born of experience, bound up with circumstances and bred in action. He maintained that good policy and laws must be fitted to the people's morals, sentiments and opinions. He demonstrated that in politics the imperfections of human nature must be taken into account even as virtue and the institutions of civil society that sustain it must be cultivated. And he showed that political moderation frequently counsels rejecting the path of least resistance and is sometimes exercised in defending principle against majority opinion.

Madison's words and example and Burke's words and example are as pertinent in our time as they were in their own. Conservatives should heed them as they come to grips with two entrenched realities that pose genuine challenges to liberty, and whose prudent management is critical to the nation's well-being.

The first entrenched reality is that big government is here to stay. 

December 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Egypt's Islamists aim to build on constitution vote (Shaimaa Fayed and Tamim Elyan, Dec 16, 2012, Reuters) 

President Mohamed Mursi has won initial backing from Egyptians for a new constitution that he hopes will steer the country out of crisis, but which opponents say is an Islamist charter that tramples on minority rights.

A first day of voting in a referendum on the draft basic law resulted in 56.5 percent 'Yes' vote, Mursi's political party said. An opposition official conceded that Egyptians voting on Saturday appeared to have backed the measure.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


The norse origins of Bilbo Baggins (Nancy Marie Brown, 12/13/12, National Post)

In the late 1920s J. R. R. Tolkien provoked an argument. Opposing him, among others, was C. S. Lewis. Tolkien had not yet written The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Lewis had not yet written The Chronicles of Narnia. They were debating the appropriate curriculum for English majors at Oxford University, where they both taught.

Tolkien believed too much time was spent on dull and unimportant writers like Shakespeare, whom Lewis revered. Instead, Tolkien thought, students should read Snorri Sturluson.


And not only Snorri but the other fine authors of the Icelandic sagas and the Eddic poems. And the students should read them in Old Norse.

Lewis had read the mythological tales from Snorri's Edda in English as a boy. He found the Norse myths more compelling -- as stories, he said -- than even the Bible. Like Tolkien, he was drawn to their Northernness: to their depictions of dragons and dwarfs, fair elves and werewolves, wandering wizards, and trolls that turned into stone. To their portrayal of men with a bitter courage who stood fast on the side of right and good, even when there was no hope at all.

It's even better in the original, Tolkien said. He had been reading Old Norse since his teens. He loved the cold, crisp, unsentimental language of the sagas, their bare, straightforward tone like wind keening over ice. Reading Snorri and his peers was more important than reading Shakespeare, Tolkien argued, because their books were more central to our language and our modern world. Egg, ugly, ill, smile, knife, fluke, fellow, husband, birth, death, take, mistake, lost, skulk, ransack, brag and law, among many other common English words, all derived from Old Norse. As for Snorri's effect on modernity, it was soon to mushroom.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Everything You Need to Know About the Changing Face of America Can Be Seen on a Baseball Diamond : Since childhood, whatever was happening in America was happening on the baseball field. (Cheech Marin, December 11, 2012, AlterNet)

Whatever was happening in America was happening on the baseball field. Whether it was more and more Negroes or long hair and long sideburns and mustaches, baseball was there, reflecting the changes in America. I distinctly remember the day I went to see the Dodgers play the Oakland A's and everybody on the field was black. At first, I didn't notice it. It was just the Dodgers vs. the A's, until I heard a guy in back of me say, "Man, it's the Blacks vs. the Blacks." I looked out into the field and he was right -- everybody from the pitcher to the catcher, from the infield to the outfield... everybody was black. They were no longer even Negroes; they were black or Afro-Americans, I guess, because most of them wore Afros, which stuck out in big clumps on either side of their head, under their caps. I still don't know which looks funnier; ponytails or Afro clumps.

What a long way we had come. There were no longer "Negro Leagues" where only "Negroes" played to "Negro" crowds. There was parity on the field now. The best players played regardless of color. It reflected America where African Americans had worked their way upward into the middle- and upper-classes by their ability and they were entitled to be as good or bad or crazy or sane as anyone else... and most of them are.

So I guess what I was noticing as I sat in my massage chair, knocking back a cold one, watching the Dodgers and the Giants, was that, yes there were still plenty of blacks playing major league baseball, but now, most of them spoke Spanish. From what I understand, there are fewer and fewer African-American players and more and more Latino players. The African-American athletic pool does not seem to solely depend on baseball as their professional sports conduit to a better life. There is a huge amount of black pro football players and the NBA is dominated by black players, but baseball -- America's national pastime -- now seems to be the proving ground for Latino players... and increasingly Asian players. Baseball is, and for a long time, has been global, but the "Big Show" is still in the U.S. Just as the demographics of America are shifting, so is the percentage of Latino ballplayers. There is one interesting question that hangs in the air, though. Are the new players going to be counted as Latino or black? What box did Manny Ramirez check on his census form?

Just about every Latin American country has sent players to the big leagues: from the Dominican Republic to Costa Rica. They are among the biggest stars in the league... if not the biggest. It is triple hard for Cubans because they usually come here through political channels and have to renounce their country and leave their families behind ($50 million contracts seem to ease the pain a little, though, a far cry from earlier days when Latino players were segregated to separate hotels in each city they visited). Coaches expected them to automatically understand English as soon as they put on the uniform and were often treated like children no matter how much they were paid. The teams that developed a great relationship with Latino players are teams like the Dodgers with managers or coaches like Tommy Lasorda who actually spoke Spanish from having coached in the winter leagues in Mexico and Venezuela. One time, I was visiting the Dodgers clubhouse before a game, and Lasorda had me take a picture with several Latino players and fans and gave directions to everybody in perfect Spanish. The Dodgers usually lead the league in attendance every year in a city whose population is almost 70 percent Latino. First place or last place, they come in league-leading numbers every year. Loyalty and communication are always rewarded in sports. Ozzie Guillén, former-manager of the Chicago White Sox, once complained that new Asian players were given translators while Spanish-speaking players were left to cope on their own. I often wonder how attendance is in Chicago, even when the "Sox" lead their division.

New Yorkers don't even think twice when they hear someone refer to their team as "Los Mets." "Los Jankees" is the favorite team of most Puerto Ricans. Just the other day, I saw a guy with a t-shirt, proclaiming that he was for "Los Doyers." (As a side note, his shirt had an image of Cheech and Chong on it, too, I guess from the day we read the park rules shown on the big screen at every home game.)

What I think it all is the increasing globalization of all sports. Basketball is without doubt totally global. Numerous NBA players -- some of the best in the league -- are from Europe, South America, Australia, and China. Soccer has been popular worldwide except for America until recent years. Now there are as many soccer leagues in the U.S. as there are Little Leagues for baseball (and of course, the U.S. women's national soccer team won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics and won the World Cup several years ago). While there can be a case made for pro football being the new America's national pastime, for me, as long as Los Angeles doesn't have a team, it can't be a national anything... if you know what I mean.

In the end, the great leveler in any sport is performance on the field or on the court. Kids don't care what language players speak or if they eat tacos, rice, or sauerkraut. They don't care if they're white, black, or brown. They develop lifelong devotion, loyalty, and admiration for players who leave everything they have out on the field... or just throw them a ball over the fence.

¡Arriba béisbol!

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Japan's conservative LDP projected to win landslide (Deutsche Welle, 12/16/12)

The conservative Liberal Democratic Party appears to have won Japan's parliamentary election in a landslide. Two of the country's leading broadcasters have projected an absolute majority for the party. [...]

A return to power by Shinzo Abe is expected to usher in an era of a more assertive Japanese foreign policy. During the campaign, Abe pledged to improve ties with Japan's already close ally, the United States, and take a tougher line in a row with China over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
Abe also pledged to take a number of steps aimed at jump-starting Japan's sluggish economy, including a major increase in spending on public works.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


THE TALE-TELLING DAYS ARE OVER : Whatever happened to an outdoorsman's sacred right to exaggerate? In the age of digitized adventure, the fish that got away is gone forever. (IAN FRAZIER, November 2012, Outside)

[A]s a grown-up supposedly immune to phantasms, I learned from Russians when I was traveling in Siberia that somewhere in its remotest parts is Coca-Cola City (Gorod Koka-Kola), which was built during the Cold War as a reproduction of an American city. The residents of Coca-Cola City speak perfect English and use American products and behave like Americans, providing a realistic setting in which the Russian spymasters can train special operatives who will be sent to the U.S. Coca-Cola City is alleged to be the topmost of top-secret sites, and it is closed, of course, to all visitors. I'm not sure if that's why I never could pin it down on the map. I suspect that it does not exist and never did--but who can say? The rumor of it made Siberia more Siberian for me.

YOU MIGHT NOT THINK that any human creation as hardy as lies could be in danger of dying out, but I'm afraid that, at least outdoors, they are. Nowadays, a good outdoor what-if story has a much smaller chance for survival. Some years ago, you may remember, observers in the deep woods of eastern Arkansas said they had seen an ivory-billed woodpecker, the wonderful and near mythic bird that black people called Lord God Bird because of its soul-shivering appearance. There had been no confirmed sightings of the ivory-bill in decades, and its possible extinction was and is bad news. The observers who said they had seen it weren't trying to deceive, just being wishful, and because they recorded it with a video camera their wishfulness was eventually dashed--close analysis of the video revealed that the bird was not an ivory-bill.

It would have been nice to think that the bird still survived someplace far away in the forest. But truth is always better than error, I suppose. Consider the recent case of the giant wild hog Hogzilla. A Georgia man said he had shot it while it was running around someplace in the woods, and he posted pictures of it online. This eight-foot-long, 800-pound animal was as monstrous a creature as the Georgia swamps had ever seen. The man added that he had buried the hog in a grave marked with a cross (though feral, it had been a Christian hog, apparently), and because of the excitement stirred up on the Internet the man eventually had to submit the corpse for examination. Through DNA testing, experts determined that it was a mix of wild hog and domestic pig. Its size suggested it had eaten a lot of hog feed. Such a disappointment--Hogzilla, a pen-raised fake. How much more stimulating to believe that there are 800-pound wild hogs infesting the swamps of Georgia. One hates to think what a radio collar and a wildlife-management team would have done to William Faulkner's bear.

The Hogzilla debunking was another example of the pesky trend toward factuality currently sweeping the out-of-doors. Technology, of course, is at the root of it. The global landscape used to be a theater of various shadings--sunlit fields and canyons of dark obscurity, trackless jungles, and misty Shangri-las. Now the whole world is like a cineplex when the lights have come on. Almost no place on the surface of the planet is really obscure anymore. Satellites watch it all and can let you know to the millimeter how far continental drift moved your swimming beach last year. What's up along the banks of the great, gray-green Limpopo? How's traffic on the road to Mandalay? What's the snowpack like across the wide Missouri? The Internet or Google Earth will tell you.

Traveling in Siberia a decade ago, I thought I was pretty much beyond the reach of checkability; in fact-checker shorthand, anything I wrote would be "O.A.," which stands for "on author," meaning "unverifiable by anything other than the author's say-so." I did not need to worry that any checker would visit where I had been, nor was it likely that an irate reader would write in claiming I had got something wrong about the tundra zone of the Chukchi Peninsula, given the difficulty of getting there and the absence of any reason to go. But then time and advancing technology proved me wrong. During the many years my Siberian research took, satellite imagery of the earth's surface became available online, and my claims about the lay of the land in Siberia proved to be checkable after all. Even in far-flung places, descriptions could be verified. If I said there was no bridge over a remote Far Eastern river that I had crossed by ferry, the checker could look on Google Earth and see that, in fact, no bridge showed up in the satellite photo, and a small boat much like a ferry could be seen crossing there.

Today the adventurer's tale-telling days are over and his crooked ways have been made straight, and every untruth can be revealed. No point in lying: we've got it all on tape, as the TV detectives say. If you claim you drove to Nunavut and we think maybe you didn't, we'll just look at the E-ZPass records for the toll roads along the way. And if they don't tell us, the cell-phone towers will. Formerly, a cell-phone tower could follow a phone only when the phone was on, and smart criminals knew to turn it off before committing crimes. Now phones ping the towers and the towers record the presence of the cell phones in the vicinity, often whether they are on or not, and to escape the network's observation you must remove the battery entirely. Almost everywhere, some degree of electronic connection can be assumed.

...who sweat they've seen catamounts within the past month.  I ain't buyin'....yet....
Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Young adults still have their sights set on American dream : A new survey disproves the notion that 'echo boomers' -- a combination of Generations X and Y -- intend to remain renters and are clueless about homeownership. (Mary Umberger, December 16, 2012, LA Times)

[A] new survey from a major real estate company, [...] contends that 18- to 35-year-olds do indeed like the idea of owning homes, and they've learned a thing or two from watching their parents struggle with the housing market.

And by the way, that young adult child of yours, the one who has moved back home and established residence in your basement? He's probably not a slacker -- he just may be acting "strategically," said Sherry Chris, chief executive of the Better Homes & Gardens real estate brand. Here's an edited version of what her company gleaned about 20- and 30-somethings: [...]

What we found was the opposite of all the chatter and noise. This group of young adults is very much in tune with owning real estate. Their values are similar to their parents'. They don't have any feeling of entitlement. They're hardworking, and homeownership is important to them.

Nearly all said they were willing to adjust their lifestyles to save for a home. Sixty-two percent said they would eat out less, 40% said they would work a second job and 23% said they would move back home with their parents to save money. They're being strategic about saving money to own a home.

They also said that all the media coverage of the housing crisis has taught them the importance of doing their research and planning, and they think they're more knowledgeable about the process than their parents were at their age. But they want to be ready to own -- 69% said that someone is ready to buy if they can maintain their lifestyle, and 61% agreed that the "readiness indicator" is if they have a secure job.

I think this group is more cautious and conservative than we thought.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Facebook's self-affirmation pushes GOP out of mainstream (Steve Welch, December 16, 2012,

Facebook pushes combative tones, extreme views, and single-issue agendas to the forefront, while even-tempered discussions about comprehensive reforms are buried and rarely seen at all.

First, people are more likely to have friends on Facebook and in real life who agree with their political positions than oppose them. This is human nature. If you are politically active, you are likely to have friends who are also politically active, which means when you post something, your friends tend to agree with you. This turns Facebook into a political echo chamber of consenting "likes," shares, and comments.
Second, posts in Facebook that receive a lot of likes and comments rise to the top of people's feeds. This means more controversial posts appear more frequently, drowning out more mundane opinions and thoughts. The result is the amplification of extreme views, which focuses people on single issues. Not only has Facebook become an echo chamber; it amplifies the echoes of extreme views more.
Third, even if you happen to have friends of different political persuasions, their posts are less likely to come up in your feed. Facebook makes money when you click on posts and links, which means Facebook wants you to see things that you agree with. This subtly lulls you into believing the world in general shares your point of view. Not only is Facebook creating an echo chamber that amplifies extreme views, it doesn't allow outside voices into the chamber at all.

Finally, because Facebook feels like a news site, where real news is mixed with unqualified opinion, the two become indistinguishable. The fact-based argument of New York Times columnist David Brooks is given the same weight as the political activities and gut feelings of the Pennsylvania Pastor Network. So now the echo chamber is amplified, closed off, and validating opinions as facts in people's minds.

I am sure the same thing is happening to Democrats. Of course, since my Facebook profile indicates I am a Republican and I tend to click on conservative links, I will never see what Democrats are writing about.

Try just unfriending folks who post argumentative political stuff.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Russell Kirk on Malcolm X (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

Inconsistent and erratic though many of his remarks were in recent months, Malcolm X may have been working his way toward some program less crazy than that of the Black Muslims he left--and who seem to have wreaked their vengeance upon him.  He despised the sentimental American liberal of the sort that patronizes the Negro, and his first principle was that the Negro must work out his own improvement.

In time, his talents for leadership, and the fact that his very notoriety compelled him to think about what he said, might have converted him gradually from fanatic utterance to reasonable courses.  The man had more in him than simple hatred.

Had Malcolm X been born in the modern black Africa with which he proposed American Negro solidarity, in this time of troubles he might have gone straight to the top; for he had the intelligence and the zeal and the self-confidence which give men power in revolutionary eras.  He might then have risen to the dignity of president or premier; but then, too, he might have died at the hands of assassins, as still more African politicians will die before this year is out.

In America, he was a freak; in 'emergent' Africa, he would have been a statesman.  In Africa, after all, 'separation' of the races is a possibility; but to have separate Negro commonwealth in which Malcolm X professed to believe never could be realized in America.

Our Chicago meeting was not acrimonious, and I should have liked to talk to Malcolm X longer, to ascertain if truly there was forever a great gulf fixed between us.  But that unquiet spirit will not be heard again.

While MLK was a spent force by the time of his death and had wandered off into what would have been damaging economic and foreign policy byways, Brother Malcolm had just become truly interesting and his ideas stood to genuinely improve the lot of black Americans.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Migrants 'will push house prices up by an extra 10%', Theresa May warns (JAMES SLACK, 12 December 2012, Daily Mail)

Her officials pointed to research by Professor Stephen Nickell which predicted that, if net immigration runs at 190,000 a year, house prices will end up 13 per cent higher over the next two decades than they would if migration were at zero. 

Currently, net migration - the difference between the number of people arriving in the UK and those leaving - is 183,000, though Mrs May has vowed to reduce it to the 'tens of thousands'. 

She said: 'More than one third of all new housing demand in Britain is caused by immigration.

'And there is evidence that without the demand caused by mass immigration, house prices could be 10 per cent lower over a 20 year period.'

Indeed, the best way to reduce the wealth of homeowners and the pace of economic growth is to make homes less valuable.

December 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


GENERAL PRINCIPLES : How good was David Petraeus? (DEXTER FILKINS, 12/17/12, The New Yorker)

[B]y almost every measure, the American soldiers and marines who went into Iraq and Afghanistan were grossly unprepared for their missions, and the officers who led them were often negligent. In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, many American military units travelled to the National Training Center, a sprawling patch of California desert. There they took part in enormous mock tank battles against a phony enemy, called the Kraznovians, that was meant to stand in for the Iraqi Army but had in fact been modelled on the Soviet military in an imaginary invasion of Western Europe. When the real invasion got under way, in March, 2003, American soldiers came under attack from a hidden enemy that was wearing no uniform at all. There had been plenty of warnings that an anti-American insurgency might spring up, and none were heeded. The generals were unprepared.

How the Army got to such a point is the subject of Thomas Ricks's "The Generals,'' a series of vivid biographical sketches of American commanders from the Second World War to Afghanistan. In Ricks's view, their quality, with a few exceptions, has steadily declined. His poster boy for the terrible early period of the Iraq war is Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, whom he accurately portrays as a decent man but an incompetent commander. Sanchez's worst decision was signing off on harsh interrogations of Iraqi detainees--which, when the photographs leaked from Abu Ghraib, resulted in one of the war's signal disasters. But his real sin was neglect. Stupefied as the insurgency spread around him, and paralyzed by Washington's insistence that everything was under control (for months, Rumsfeld forbade American officers to use the word "insurgency"), Sanchez effectively delegated the strategy for the war to the lower-ranking generals beneath him.

In the summer and fall of 2003, many of those generals turned their men loose on Iraq's population, employing harsh measures to round up insurgents and compel civilians to hand them over. The central tactic was to sweep villages in the country's Sunni heartland--the center of the insurgency--and haul in the military-age men. These young men, who were mostly of no intelligence value, were often taken to Abu Ghraib, where their anger ripened. I witnessed several such roundups, and could only conclude that whichever of these men did not support the uprising when the raids began would almost certainly support it by the time the raids were over. Faced with a small but significant insurgency, American commanders employed a strategy that insured that it would metastasize.
During the crucial first year of occupation, the one general who cut a conspicuously different path was Petraeus. After leading the Army's 101st Airborne Division in the invasion, he settled his troops in the northern city of Mosul, and began to implement the counter-insurgency strategy that has become his signature. What distinguishes this method from other types of war-fighting is its focus: instead of concentrating on the enemy you want to kill, concentrate on the civilians you want to protect. At the time, this idea was considered exotic in the Army. But, two hundred and fifty miles removed from Baghdad, Petraeus could ignore his commanders' edicts. He put former Baathists on the payroll and spent millions on things like irrigation projects and new police. "Money is ammunition,'' he liked to say. Killing bad guys was relegated to a lower priority. Soldiers on patrol were not even permitted to fly American flags. Through much of 2003, while Iraq imploded, Mosul stayed relatively calm.

In coming years, Petraeus's Mosul experience became the American strategy for all of Iraq. The way it did so is the subject of Fred Kaplan's forthcoming book "The Insurgents." (The title is ironic: the insurgents in Kaplan's compelling story are a dissident group within the Army.) In Kaplan's telling, a small group of men, with Petraeus the most prominent, found one another and mounted an end run around the military bureaucracy, thereby saving Iraq, and probably the entire Middle East, from a war even more cataclysmic than the one we already had.

A book about bureaucratic change would make for dry reading if it didn't have a colorful main character, and Petraeus, wherever he goes, appears ready-made: he's smiling, educated, super-fit, and very smart--and he likes to talk to reporters. In news stories, he emerged as unfailingly driven and precise. "All In," the recent biography by Paula Broadwell, portrays him as "intense," "smart," "all energy"--a superhero in fatigues. As we now know, owing to the revelations about Petraeus's extramarital affair with Broadwell, he is also a human being. But neither Broadwell's book, which extolls Petraeus on practically every page, nor the recent attacks on his character offer much help in assessing what sort of general he actually was.

The truth is Petraeus really was exceptional. In many ways, the biggest problem that the American military faced in Iraq was itself. When Petraeus and other officers tried to change the approach in Iraq, they hit a wall of entrenched resistance. After the war in Vietnam, American generals banished the idea of counter-insurgency, perhaps figuring that if they didn't plan for such a war they wouldn't have to fight one. Military academies were dominated by such notions as the "Powell doctrine," which held that future wars should be fought with maximum force and brought to an end as quickly as possible. In Ricks's telling, the American military, by the time of the attacks of September 11, 2001, was a sclerotic institution that rewarded mediocrity and punished innovative thinking. In recent years, eighty-four per cent of the Army's majors have been promoted to lieutenant colonel--hardly a fine filter. Becoming a general was like gaining admission to an all-men's golf club, where back-slapping conformity is prized above all else. When the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq began, the top U.S. field commander was General Tommy Franks, a shortsighted tactician who didn't bother to plan for the occupation of either country. Franks had the good sense to step down in the summer of 2003, just as Iraq began to come apart.

Ricks argues, convincingly, that what changed in the military was the practice of firing commanders who failed to deliver results. His starting point is General George Marshall, the Army chief of staff during the Second World War, who culled underperforming generals and promoted the better ones, constructing a ruthlessly efficient fighting force. The practice withered during the Vietnam War, replaced with micromanagement by civilian leaders. (Recall photographs of Lyndon Johnson choosing bombing targets.) With even the most mediocre generals moving upward, the Army ossified at the top. Sanchez was not the exception; he was the rule. "Like the worst generals of the Vietnam era, he tended to descend into the weeds, where he was comfortable, ignoring the larger situation--which, after all, was his job,'' Ricks writes. Yet Sanchez paid no price for his failures, Ricks notes: "The vocabulary of accountability had been lost."

No matter how much money you waste on "staying prepared," you're always unready for the next war.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


BB King: The Life Of Riley, DVD review (Martin Chilton, 11 Dec 2012, The Telegraph)

The Life Of Riley, an exceptionally good documentary about B.B. King - born Riley B King on 25th September 1925 - was first shown in cinemas and now has a DVD release.

Although the documentary (produced and directed by Jon Brewer) showcases his music - as does an excellent soundtrack to accompany the film - it also does full justice to a remarkable life.

King certainly had a right to the blues. He had a difficult, lonely upbringing after his mother Nora Ella Farr's early death. King was forced into arduous farm work and cotton-picking from the age of seven. Even small children toiled 'from can to can't' . . . "from when you can see to when you can't," King explained. There is lovely footage of him returning to drive a tractor after he has become a star.

Of course, growing up in pre-war Mississippi meant being exposed to a world where racism was a deadly, daily threat. King says that seeing a Ku Klux Klan mob hang a young black boy "was something I never forgot".

The film pieces together his path to success, from the Memphis musicians who were willing to help him learn; to his time as a disc jockey at WDIA, America's first all black radio station. His nickname there - Blues Boy - was soon shortened to B.B. The tributes are fulsome and varied but what stays in the memory are two touching scenes. The first is when the Governor of Mississippi declares a B.B. King Day (in the state in which he saw a lynching, don't forget) and King is moved to deep tears. There is also a wonderful clip from a concert King gave at the White House with Mick Jagger, in which Barack Obama joins them on stage.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


All Negotiations Are the Same (Michael Tomasky, Dec 14, 2012, Daily Beast)

[O]n one level, all negotiations are the same. Each side has to think about looking strong to its base or members. Then the eleventh hour comes and it's time to talk turkey. So nothing truly important seems likely to happen here, to me, until right after Christmas.
However, some event is needed to trigger the talking of turkey. In my case, it was our brilliant proletarian formula. It broke the tension. So one side or the other is going to have to come up with some semi-innovative way to settle some of the looming questions, or at least defer them in a creative fashion.

...the breakthrough would have already occurred, with Republicans accepting tax increases and the President entitlement reforms.

December 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


In truth, Ravi Shankar couldn't stand the hippies (Mick Brown, 12 Dec 2012, The Telegraph)

Ravi Shankar always displayed a slightly ambivalent attitude to the extraordinary enthusiasm with which his music - sober-minded, serious, not a little taxing - was greeted by younger Western audiences in the Sixties. At Madison Square Garden in 1971, in the celebrated Concert for Bangladesh which had been organised by his friend George Harrison, the first plangent chords of Shankar's sitar-playing were received with rapturous applause, obliging him to lecture the audience: "If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing even more." [...]

The rock audiences who came to pay homage he haughtily dismissed in his autobiography as "these strange young weirdos"; while his appearances at the Monterey and Woodstock festivals - the great quasi-religious gatherings of the alternative society - were apparently painful ordeals, where the audiences were "shrieking, shouting, smoking, masturbating and copulating - all in a drug-crazed state... I used to tell them, 'You don't behave like that when you go to hear a Bach, Beethoven or Mozart concert.'" Quite.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM


Hagel Is The Wrong Choice (Gil Troy, Dec 14, 2012, Daily Beast)

If Barack Obama entrusts the Department of Defense--not even the State Department but the Pentagon itself--to Chuck Hagel, he will be embracing his morally neutered, European, Nobel Prize-winning self. He will be indulging his anti-Bush animus, continuing his 2008 campaign by picking a Bush-bashing Republican. He will be nominating a candidate who sees moral equivalence where he should see moral clarity, who has an exaggerated faith in negotiating with totalitarians who act in bad faith (like the Iranian mullahs and Hamas terrorists), who comes out with callow, I'm-okay-you're-okay amoral Kumbaya assessments such as claiming, during the intifada, shortly after 9/11: "We will need a wider lens to grasp the complex nature and consequences of terrorism."

A Hagel appointment would also again demonstrate Obama's tone-deafness when it comes to reassuring Israelis--a reassurance necessary for any real peace progress. For he will be nominating a man who in an interview that is now being widely posted said that: "The political reality is that ... the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," implying that support for Israel is more Astroturf than grassroots. He also once chided a pro-Israel critic by saying, "I'm a United States Senator. I'm not an Israeli senator," further triggering fears that Hagel sees Israel through a distorted Walt-Mearsheimer lens rather than as a true blue-and-white friend to the red-white-and-blue.

The great Senator and American Ambassador to the U.N., Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who crossed the aisle gracefully, sought a muscular idealism in foreign policy, finding McGovern's approach too apologetic and Kissinger's approach too utilitarian. We must ask "how much does freedom matter to the United States today?" Moynihan preached. We must learn to recognize and confront totalitarian evil which will employ any tactic to advance particular goals, he advised. And he sought, his colleague Leonard Garment noted, "to generate excitement," to "dramatize the ideology of the West." That is not the skill set or track record Chuck Hagel brings--nor is that the skill set or track record John Kerry would bring to the State Department.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


With Gap Wide and Time Short, Obama and Boehner Meet (JONATHAN WEISMAN and JACKIE CALMES, 12/14/12, NY Times)

If no deal is reached, Republicans are increasingly talking about a more hostile outcome in which the House passes legislation that extends tax cuts for the middle class, sets relatively low tax rates on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates, and cancels the across-the-board defense cuts, but leaves in place across-the-board domestic cuts. 

Nevermind that we spend way too much on it, goring your own sacred cow makes you more serious.

December 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 PM


Fantastic ISI Holiday Book Sale! Books for Imaginative Conservatives (Winston Elliott III, 12/13/12, Imaginative Conservative)

Our friends at ISI have made all of their books available at a 40% discount for this holiday season. All TIC readers should got to their online bookstore and add these books to your library. Introduce your family and friends to the ideas of Russell Kirk and other conservative thinkers by purchasing extra books to give away as gifts.

Here is a list of books that The Imaginative Conservative recommends with short descriptions from the ISI store...

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Why Obama Betrayed Susan Rice (Peter Beinart, 12/13/12, Daily Beast)

In a sense, the Rice saga exemplifies everything we have come to admire and distrust about our president. He's calculating, strategic and totally unsentimental. What you did for him yesterday always pales in comparison with what you can do for him tomorrow. 

...was that her only qualification was that she's an Obama insider, so she had nothing to fall back on.  And he cares more about Republicans than about her.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM

A Choral Christmas With Stile Antico (TOM HUIZENGA, December 05, 2012, fromWGBH)

Stile Antico is a 13-member a cappella choir based in London. Most of these fresh-faced singers are still in their 20s, but they've already racked up some impressive awards for their recordings -- mainly of intricately woven music from the Renaissance.

And that's just what the group has in store for us in this concert at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge, Mass. -- hand-picked sacred music for the Christmas season from the English Tudor era, by such 16th century composers as Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Indianapolis to replace fleet with electric, hybrid vehicles (Associated Press, December 12, 2012)

Indianapolis wants to become the first major city to replace its entire fleet with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Mayor Greg Ballard signed an executive order Wednesday mandating that the city replace its current sedans with electric vehicles. The city will also work with the private sector to phase in snow plows, fire trucks and other heavy vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, and it will ask automakers to develop a plug-in hybrid police car because one doesn't yet exist.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Catalonia joins Scotland in push for 2014 independence vote (Giles Tremlett, 12/13/12, The Guardian)

Europe faces an unprecedented attempt by two regions to form new states in 2014 after politicians in Catalonia reached an agreement to call a referendum in the same year that Scots will be asked whether they want independence.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM

N. Joseph Woodland, Inventor of the Bar Code, Dies at 91 (MARGALIT FOX, 12/13/12, NY Times)

Had Mr. Woodland not been a Boy Scout, had he not logged hours on the beach and had his father not been quite so afraid of organized crime, the code would very likely not have been invented in the form it was, if at all. [...]

He holed up at his grandparents' home in Miami Beach, where he spent the winter of 1948-49 in a chair in the sand, thinking.

To represent information visually, he realized, he would need a code. The only code he knew was the one he had learned in the Boy Scouts.

What would happen, Mr. Woodland wondered one day, if Morse code, with its elegant simplicity and limitless combinatorial potential, were adapted graphically? He began trailing his fingers idly through the sand.

"What I'm going to tell you sounds like a fairy tale," Mr. Woodland told Smithsonian magazine in 1999. "I poked my four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason -- I didn't know -- I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines. I said: 'Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes.' "

That transformative sweep was merely the beginning. "Only seconds later," Mr. Woodland continued, "I took my four fingers -- they were still in the sand -- and I swept them around into a full circle."

Mr. Woodland favored the circular pattern for its omnidirectionality: a checkout clerk, he reasoned, could scan a product without regard for its orientation.

On Oct. 7, 1952, Mr. Woodland and Mr. Silver were awarded United States patent 2,612,994 for their invention -- a variegated bull's-eye of wide and narrow bands -- on which they had bestowed the unromantic name "Classifying Apparatus and Method."

But that method, which depended on an immense scanner equipped with a 500-watt light, was expensive and unwieldy, and it languished for years.

The two men eventually sold their patent to Philco for $15,000 -- all they ever made from their invention.

By the time the patent expired at the end of the 1960s, Mr. Woodland was on the staff of I.B.M., where he worked from 1951 until his retirement in 1987.

Over time, laser scanning technology and the advent of the microprocessor made the bar code viable. In the early 1970s, an I.B.M. colleague, George J. Laurer, designed the familiar black-and-white rectangle, based on the Woodland-Silver model and drawing on Mr. Woodland's considerable input.

Thanks largely to the work of Alan Haberman, a supermarket executive who helped select and popularize the rectangular bar code and who died in 2011, it was adopted as the industry standard in 1973.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


U.N. summit implodes as U.S., others spurn Internet treaty (Declan McCullagh  December 13, 2012, CNet)

"This conference was never meant to focus on Internet issues," said ambassador Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation to the Dubai summit. "The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years -- all without U.N. regulation."

The UR is the most annoying sort of socialist, the kind that exists only in the fever dreams of the Right.

December 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


On Moral Values, Liberals More Prone to Stereotype Than Conservatives (Tom Jacobs, 12/10/12, Pacific Standard)

Regarding issues of morality, "people overestimate how dramatically liberals and conservatives differ," psychologists Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and Jonathan Haidt write in the online journal PLoS One. Specifically, their research suggests those on the left unfairly assume their counterparts on the right are cold-hearted on issues involving harm and fairness.

"There are real moral differences between liberals and conservatives," the researchers write, "but people across the political spectrum exaggerate the magnitude of these differences, and in so doing create opposing moral stereotypes that are shared by all." [...]

"Extreme liberals exaggerated the moral political differences the most, and moderate conservatives did so the least," Graham and his colleagues report. "Liberals were the least accurate about conservatives and about liberals."

Liberals tended to stereotype conservatives as uncaring, rather than realize that conservatives' genuine concerns about harm and fairness are tempered by other moral values that have less value to the left, such as loyalty and respect for authority.

Distorting the picture further, liberals tend to underestimate the degree to which their fellow liberals take those "conservative" values into account when making moral evaluations. Although conservatives did this to some degree, liberals showed a stronger tendency to stereotype their political soul mates, assuming an exaggerated level of ideological purity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


How Republicans Can Steal Obama's Budget Mojo (Edward Glaeser, Dec 11, 2012, bLOOMBERG)

The Republicans should also demand consolidation of federal social policies. The U.S. has six large programs -- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, unemployment insurance and the earned-income tax credit -- spread across four Cabinet departments and the Internal Revenue Service.

Every one of the six plans encourages recipients to earn less, because aid levels are tied to income. Although the adverse incentives in an individual program are 
moderate, collectively they can represent an effective tax rate far exceeding 50 percent. (How this works: The federal housing vouchers follow a 30 percent rule -- you spend 30 percent of your income on housing if you have a voucher. If your income goes up by a dollar, 30 cents of it goes for increased housing payments. With food stamps, for every extra dollar you earn, your allotment goes down by 30 cents. Putting the two programs together adds up to a 60 percent tax on earnings.)

The six programs should be better targeted, to provide more effective aid for the disadvantaged at less cost. Rather than extending unemployment insurance, which encourages long jobless spells, current recipients should receive a fixed payment for a limited duration that they will receive as long as they either look for work or find a job. Consolidation will also highlight the total amount of U.S. welfare spending, and will force serious thinking about the trade-offs between different types of spending.

Most important, the Republicans need to demand fundamental changes in Social Security and Medicare. They have already endorsed the easy solution: raising eligibility ages. That move will cut costs, and it is the right response to any Social Security funding shortfalls. Yet it will not save Medicare.

Any program that offers an open-ended commitment to pay for new medical procedures will generate an unending stream of expensive new treatments from private-sector innovators. As economists Jeffrey Clemens and Joshua Gottlieb have documented, when Medicare reimbursement rates go up, costly elective procedures also become more common, with little improvement in patient health.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 PM


Stone Age people were making cheese over 7,000 years ago (STEVE CONNOR, 12 DECEMBER 2012, Independent)

Stone Age people living in northern Europe were making cheese more than 7,000 years ago according to scientists who believe they have found the first direct evidence of dairy processing.

December 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Seafood fraud widespread in N.Y., probe finds (Tiffany Hsu, December 11, 2012, LA Times)

There's a good chance that the white tuna sashimi served up at your favorite Manhattan sushi joint isn't white tuna at all.

Instead, 94% of the fish labeled as white tuna in New York turned out to be escolar, a type of snake mackerel with a toxin linked to digestive problems, according to an investigation by conservation and advocacy group Oceana.

DNA tests of 142 seafood samples taken from New York grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues showed that 39% were mislabeled as different species, according to Oceana.

Earlier Oceana tests showed a 31% fraud rate in Miami, 48% in Boston and 55% in Los Angeles.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever : In a bowling alley one night, Bill Fong came so close to perfection that it nearly killed him. (Michael J. Mooney, 6.20.2012 From D Magazine)

[A]ll you have to do is say the words "That Night" and everyone at the Plano Super Bowl knows what you're talking about. They also refer to it as "The Incident" or "That Incredible Series." It's the only time anyone can remember a local recreational bowler making the sports section of the Dallas Morning News. One man, an opponent of Fong's that evening, calls it "the most amazing thing I've ever seen in a bowling alley." 

Bill Fong needs no reminders, of course. He thinks about that moment--those hours--every single day of his life. 
Most people think perfection in bowling is a 300 game, but it isn't. Any reasonably good recreational bowler can get lucky one night and roll 12 consecutive strikes. If you count all the bowling alleys all over America, somebody somewhere bowls a 300 every night. But only a human robot can roll three 300s in a row--36 straight strikes--for what's called a "perfect series." More than 95 million Americans go bowling, but, according to the United States Bowling Congress, there have been only 21 certified 900s since anyone started keeping track. 

Bill Fong's run at perfection started as most of his nights do, with practice at around 5:30 pm.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Treasury sells remaining AIG shares (James O'Toole and Aaron Smith, December 11, 2012, CNNMoney)

The Treasury Department said Tuesday it had agreed to sell the last of its shares in insurer AIG, resulting in what it says is a $22.7 billion profit on one of the key bailouts of the 2008 financial crisis.

All those pundits who said the danger of TARP was that it might work too well were right.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


The robot economy and the new rentier class (Izabella Kaminska, Dec 10, 2012)

It seems more top-tier economists are coming around to the idea that robots and technology could be having a greater influence on the economy (and this crisis in particular) than previously appreciated. Paul Krugman being the latest. [...]

Apart from a few fringe voices, the technology factor -- and its likely effect on the natural unemployment rate as society moves towards a more leisure-focused framework, since all the hard jobs are done by robots and computers -- became victim to a deathly silence in the world of serious economic thinking. [...]

If you think about it, inequality is always going to be the natural consequence of a technologically-driven deflationary environment. Whereas in inflation, those with financial claims (a.k.a money) are impoverished as their purchasing power is eroded, while those in debt are enriched -- in deflation, those with financial claims (the result of increasing rentier flows, if Krugman's point is valid) become enriched as those in debt become increasingly impoverished.

In that sense QE and any move to "debase" financial claims is a move to dilute the wealth effect on legacy claims, which now claim a disproportionate share of available output, at least compared to what they did when they were created.

Low interest rates in many ways are thus only self-correction mechanism bringing the system back to balance -- trying to offset the growing power of the innovation-based capital rentier class.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


You want Hamas to behave? Then it's time to let it govern (Matt Hill, 10 Dec 2012, The Trelegraph)

[H]amas faces tough new choices in the wake of its recent confrontation with Israel. Like any radical group that succeeds in gaining power, it will increasingly be forced to make a painful choice between ideological purity and accommodation to the realities of government.

For some time Hamas has seen a power struggle between its commanders in Gaza, who shun any talk of future compromise with Israel, and its exiled leaders, who are influenced by the outlook of their hosts in countries like Egypt and Qatar, and increasingly see the idea of never-ending "resistance" for the dead end it is.

So far Israel has played its part in enabling the group to avoid choosing between these two ways of thinking. With Gaza under economic blockade and military siege since Hamas came to power in 2006, the organisation has never made the transition from resistance movement to governing party, with all the painful compromises that entails. [...]

Giving Hamas a chance to exercise real power in Gaza would empower less extreme elements who advocate a rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority and closer ties with moderate regional powers like Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. In this way, Israel could begin a process of nurturing the group's pragmatic strain, coaxing it towards compromise and legitimacy and eventually leaving its diehard militants on the margins - just as the world did with the PLO in the 1980s and 90s.

December 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Robots and Robber Barons (Paul Krugman, 12/09/12, New York Times)

[T]here's no question that in some high-profile industries, technology is displacing workers of all, or almost all, kinds. For example, one of the reasons some high-technology manufacturing has lately been moving back to the United States is that these days the most valuable piece of a computer, the motherboard, is basically made by robots, so cheap Asian labor is no longer a reason to produce them abroad.

In a recent book, "Race Against the Machine," M.I.T.'s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that similar stories are playing out in many fields, including services like translation and legal research. What's striking about their examples is that many of the jobs being displaced are high-skill and high-wage; the downside of technology isn't limited to menial workers.

Still, can innovation and progress really hurt large numbers of workers, maybe even workers in general? I often encounter assertions that this can't happen. But the truth is that it can, and serious economists have been aware of this possibility for almost two centuries. The early-19th-century economist David Ricardo is best known for the theory of comparative advantage, which makes the case for free trade; but the same 1817 book in which he presented that theory also included a chapter on how the new, capital-intensive technologies of the Industrial Revolution could actually make workers worse off, at least for a while -- which modern scholarship suggests may indeed have happened for several decades.

December 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


The Recalibration of Conservatism (Peter Wehner, 12.06.2012, Commentary)

Messrs. Ryan and Rubio offered intelligent defenses of limited government while also acknowledging the important role of government. And they used terms like "compassion," "the common good," "civil society," and "social infrastructure." Their tone was inclusive, humane, aspirational, and captured the true, and full, spirit of conservatism.

What Ryan and Rubio are doing is widening the aperture of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, which in recent years either ignored (in the case of civil society and education) or took aim at (in the case of compassion) issues and concepts that are morally important and politically potent. It isn't so much that what was being said was wrong, though in some cases (like on immigration) it was; it's that the vision being offered was constricted. 

The task facing conservatives today is somewhat akin to what Ronald Reagan faced in 1977 with the GOP, Bill Clinton faced in 1992 with the Democratic Party, and Tony Blair faced in 1994 with the Labour Party. In this instance, the Republican Party and conservatism have to remain powerful defenders of liberty and limited government. But they also have to establish themselves in the public imagination as advocates for reform and modernization, of the middle class and social mobility, and of a generous, inclusive vision.

More what Margaret Thatcher did than what Reagan did, but exactly what Clinton, Blair, W and Cameron did--reclaim the Third Way.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal With Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood : Guidance from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush taught the author how to accept and understand his son's Asperger's syndrome. (Ron Fournier, December 4, 2012, National Journal)

Our noses were practically touching the wall. Tall, white, and seamless, it was the only thing standing between us and the president of the United States. "Stay right there," a White House aide told me, my wife, and three children. "The president will be with you in a minute." Suddenly, the wall opened; it was a hidden door to the Oval Office. "Come on in, Fournier!" shouted George W. Bush. "Who ya' dragging in?"

It was my last day covering the White House for the Associated Press, and this 2003 visit was a courtesy that presidents traditionally afford departing correspondents. I introduced my wife, Lori, and two daughters, Holly and Abby, before turning to their 5-year-old brother. "Where's Barney?" Tyler asked.

"He's coming!" Bush replied as his Scottish terrier scampered into the room. "Let's do a photo!"

As the most powerful man on Earth prepared to pose for a picture, my son launched into a one-sided conversation, firing off one choppy phrase after another with machine-gun delivery. "Scottish terriers are called Scotties, they originated from Scotland, they can be traced back to a single female named Splinter II, President Roosevelt had one, he called it Fala, Dad says he kept him in the office down there when he was swimming, there's one in Monopoly, my favorite is the car ..."

I cringed. Tyler is loving, charming, and brilliant--he has a photographic memory--but he lacks basic social skills. He doesn't know when he's being too loud or when he's talking too much. He can't read facial expressions to tell when somebody is sad, curious, or bored. He has a difficult time seeing how others view him. Tyler is what polite company calls awkward. I've watched adults respond to him with annoyed looks or pity. Bullies call him goofy, or worse.

But the president was enchanted. Waiting for Tyler to take a breath, he quickly changed the subject with a joke. "Look at your shoes," Bush told Tyler while putting a hand on his shoulder and steering him toward the photographer. "They're ugly. Just like your dad's." Tyler laughed.

Ten minutes later, we were walking out of the Oval Office when Bush grabbed me by the elbow. "Love that boy," he said, holding my eyes. 

I thought I understood what he meant. It took me years to realize my mistake.


When he's not biking or golfing, George W. Bush spends time in his nondescript office in a suburban Dallas bank building. In the cozy reception area, orange leather chairs line the walls, upon which hang pictures of the 43rd president hosting assorted world leaders at Camp David. Tyler pointed to former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and asked me, "Was he an Elvis fan?" How did he know?

"He ain't nothing but a hound dog," Tyler said, making us both laugh.

After a few minutes, Bush's aide came for us. "I changed my mind," Tyler said as we made our way to the  office. "You do this." But he relaxed as soon as he saw Bush. The ex-president was tilted back in his chair with his feet propped on a neat desk and a coffee cup marked "POTUS" in his hands. Tyler seemed to grasp that Bush was not taking himself--or us--too seriously. After quick handshakes and hellos, Bush got down to business.

"Going to school?" the former president asked my son.

"Yes," Tyler replied.

"Do you like school?"

"Pretty good."

"Favorite subject?"

"American studies."

"Do you like to read?"

"Yeah. I read all the time. I don't have a favorite topic."

"Fiction? Nonfiction? Sports?

"I don't know much about sports."


"I really don't like mysteries."

"Most 14-year-olds don't like to read," Bush said, stretching for a compliment.

Worried that the conversation was going nowhere, I reminded Tyler what Clinton had asked him to do eight days earlier.

"Oh, yeah," he said to Bush. "Bill Clinton sends his best."

Bush smiled warmly. "We've been friends," he said. "We've shared experiences. We're like brothers."

I could feel my stomach tightening, worried that Bush would consider Tyler rude or obtuse. I nervously change the subject to sports, a passion Bush and I share. "Stop butting in," I wrote in my notebook. Bush politely engaged with me but quickly turned back to Tyler.

"So, Tyler, at 14 this is probably an unfair question to ask, but do you have any idea what you'd like to be when you get older?

"Maybe a comedian."

"Maybe a what?" Bush said, a bit surprised.

"A comedian."

"Well," Bush replied, "I'm a pretty objective audience. You might want to try a couple of your lines out on me."

"Nah," Tyler demurred. "I don't have any material"

I tried to prod Tyler into sharing a bit of the stand-up act that won him second prize at a school talent show. I nudged him about the improv classes he was taking.

Bush let him off the hook. "Ah, interesting," he said. "I've met a lot of people. You know how many people ever said, 'I think I'd like to make people laugh?' You're the only guy. That's awesome."

Bush had connected. With an impish smile, he told Tyler about the time that rocker/humanitarian Bono was scheduled to visit the White House. The president's aides, knowing that their boss was unimpressed by celebrities, worried that Bush would blow it. "[Chief of Staff] Josh Bolten comes in and said, 
'Now, you know who Bono is, don't you?' Just as he's leaving the Oval Office, I said, 'Yeah, he's married to Cher.' " Bush raised an eyebrow. "Get it?" he asked Tyler. "Bone-oh. Bahn-oh."

Afterward, I asked Tyler about the Bono joke. He said, "Sounds like something goofy you would say." But for me, the exchange was an eye-opener. Tyler was terse, even rude, but Bush was solicitous. Rather than being thrown by Tyler's idiosyncrasies, he rolled with them, exactly as he had in the Oval Office nine years earlier. He responded to every clipped answer with another probing question. Bush, a man who famously doesn't suffer fools or breaches of propriety, gave my son the benefit of the doubt. I was beginning to think that people are more perceptive and less judgmental toward Tyler than his own father is. Bush certainly was. [...]

On the trips to Arkansas and Texas, I saw through both presidents a successful future for Tyler--in Clinton, big possibilities for a boy with a sharp mind and rough edges. In Bush, Tyler's gift of humor as a means to find confidence in himself and connections with others. I learned that while Tyler was not my idealized son, he was the ideal one. In the Oval Office, years ago, I thought Bush had ordered me to "love that boy" in spite of his idiosyncrasies. Now, I realize, I love my son because of them.

This is what I tried to tell Tyler in the car outside the bookstore. "I get it, Dad," he said dismissively. "Now can we go home? I want to play video games." And so we go.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Tax Arithmetic Shows Top Rate Is Just a Starter (JACKIE CALMES, 12/09/12, NY Times)

Even if Republicans were to agree to Mr. Obama's core demand -- that the top marginal income rates return to the Clinton-era levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent after Dec. 31, rather than stay at the Bush-era rates of 33 percent and 35 percent -- the additional revenue would be only about a quarter of the $1.6 trillion that Mr. Obama wants to collect over 10 years.

When returning to the rate that obtained at the time of the world's greatest economic boom cuts the deficit that much you can tell how unserious all the posturing about a "cliff" is.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Forget the fiscal cliff: buy America (Philip Stephens, 12/06/12, Financial Times)

A year or so ago, the Beijing-based Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations made an unpublished assessment of the various components of US power. The CICIR serves China's intelligence agencies and has a reputation for unvarnished analysis. It found many more entries on the positive than on the negative side of the US balance sheet.

Some of these strengths speak for themselves. America's military reach will be unrivalled for decades. It has a stable political system. The country's demographic profile is significantly better than that of any potential rival. Washington sits at the centre of the world's most powerful alliance system. Its intelligence capabilities are unmatched. The US has huge advantages in technological prowess and intellectual resources. Around the world it exerts a strong cultural draw. It has a global outlook.

The Chinese identified some counterpoints: an underperforming economy, rising public debt and deficits, social polarisation and political gridlock in Washington. What's striking, though, is the qualitative nature of the pluses and minuses. The advantages are mostly permanent. The security afforded by geography is not something the US can lose. The same can be said for abundant natural resources and relative resilience against climate change. Compare this with the identified weaknesses. With a measure of political resolve, they are all more or less tractable.

The implications of the exploitation of unconventional oil and gas reserves has been underestimated. Most obviously, shale oil and gas will reduce dependency on Middle East petrocarbons. Over time that will encourage a scaling back in the US commitment to the region's security, freeing up economic and military resources for Mr Obama's pivot to Asia. Countries such as China that are heavily dependent on imported energy will be much more vulnerable to geopolitical shocks.
The big gain, though, comes in the form of the competitive stimulus promised by abundant cheap gas. The age of offshoring is likely to give way to the era of onshoring. The US growth rate will rise and the current account deficit will shrink.

Europeans are already complaining that cheap US gas is encouraging a flight of energy intensive businesses across the Atlantic. How can, say, Europe's chemicals producers - buying expensive Russian gas - compete with US rivals guaranteed access to cut-price feedstock.

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


Evangelicals may boost immigration shift (Joe Garofoli, December 2, 2012, SF Gate)

Richard Land endorsed Mitt Romney, opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and is a leader in one of the nation's largest organizations of Southern Baptists.

But on Tuesday he and other conservative Christians - as well as antitax leader Grover Norquist - will be in Washington to lobby for a major goal of President Obama's second term: opening the path to citizenship for immigrants.

It's the right thing to do from a moral perspective, say Land and other evangelical Christian leaders.

The notion that the lobbying is a "but," rather than part and parcel of being a faithful Christian, is the damage the Right has caused.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


The Feminine Mistake (JANE MILLER, 12/09/12, In These Times)

Hobsbawm didn't figure in
 my book, but he was there in spirit
 as the kind of British socialist (E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams were others) who wrote as though feminism, not to mention racism and multiculturalism, distracted from the core problem for any capitalist society: class.

Eric Hobsbawm, the historian I interviewed for In These Times earlier this year, died in October at 95. An affectionate friend and an impressive scholar, he had one striking blind spot. He saw no point in feminism and disliked the word "gender" as feminists use it. might have thought that dismissing away 100 million Marxist murders was a significant sight defect.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Maher: Obama Should Implement Carbon Tax As A 'Personal F*** You to the Koch Brothers' (Noel Sheppard, December 07, 2012, Newbusters)

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Nelson Mandela 'proven' to be a member of the Communist Party after decades of denial (Colin Freeman, and Jane Flanagan, 08 Dec 2012, The Telegraph)

The former South African president, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, has always denied being a member of the South African branch of the movement, which mounted an armed campaign of guerrilla resistance along with the ANC.

But research by a British historian, Professor Stephen Ellis, has unearthed fresh evidence that during his early years as an activist, Mr Mandela did hold senior rank in the South African Communist Party, or SACP. He says Mr Mandela joined the SACP to enlist the help of the Communist superpowers for the ANC's campaign of armed resistance to white rule.

His book also provides fresh detail on how the ANC's military wing had bomb-making lessons from the IRA, and intelligence training from the East German Stasi, which it used to carry out brutal interrogations of suspected "spies" at secret prison camps.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


A free-trade agreement with Europe? (David Ignatius, December 5, 2012, Washington Post)

[A] big idea is taking shape that could revitalize the U.S.-European partnership for the 21st century. It was the talk of Berlin and Hamburg when I was there a week ago, and there's a similar buzz in Washington. The idea is free trade -- specifically, a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement -- which I'll optimistically call "TAFTA."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tipped the U.S. hand on Nov. 29 when she said at the Brookings Institution, "We are discussing possible negotiations with the European Union for a comprehensive agreement that would increase trade and spur growth on both sides of the Atlantic." She noted the "long-standing barriers to trade and market access" that would have to be removed to make any such deal possible, such as the European Union's protectionist agricultural rules.

Clinton is said to envision an "economic NATO" -- a comprehensive agreement covering trade in goods, services, investment and agriculture. Indeed, a joint working group of U.S. and E.U. officials is about to release a final report arguing for such a comprehensive deal.

It would also shift the UR's legacy even further right.
Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Stem-Cell Cures Without the Controversy (MATT RIDLEY, 12/09/12, WSJ)

Until Dr. Yamanaka's breakthrough of five years ago, few biologists held out much hope that the cells of an adult person could be made into stem cells, in contrast to those of an embryo. Debate still continues among biologists about whether such adult cells approach the gold standard of adaptability that embryonic stem cells show, but few would now bet against that goal being achieved one day.

It's not far-fetched to conclude that, thanks to induced pluripotent stem cells, the embryonic stem-cell debate is fading fast into history. If stem cells derived from the patient's own blood are to offer the same therapeutic benefits as embryonic stem cells, without the immunological complication of coming from another individual, then there would be no need to use cells derived from embryos.

Indeed, that was one of Dr. Yamanaka's original motivations when he set out to induce pluripotency in adult cells. Though he supported embryonic stem-cell research in principle, he once said: "I thought, we can't keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way."

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


How America catches tunes (Geoffrey Clarfield, 12/09/12, National Post)

As I turned off the highway to enter the town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, I could not contain my excitement. In my mind's ear I could hear that classic 1970s hit song The Weight, penned by the Canadian born guitarist of The Band, Robbie Robertson:

I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead
I just needed some place where I can lay my head,
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
He just grinned and shook my hand, "no" was all he said.

Nazareth Pennsylvania is the factory town of C.F. Martin and Co. Established in 1833, for the last 180 years they have been producing merica's best acoustic guitars. German émigré master guitar maker Christian Frederick Martin Sr. established the company and it has maintained family ownership ever since, now under the successful management of Christian Frederick ("Chris") Martin the IV, born in 1955. It is one of America's most unique, longest-lasting family businesses.

Dissatisfied with the hierarchical, guild-like structure of the Early-19th-century German guitar-making scene, master guitar maker Martin took his commitment to excellence across the ocean and provided an ever democratizing country with the instrument that has come to express its artistic soul, eventually building his factory in Nazareth after having first established his reputation with the guitar players and musical instrument wholesalers of pre-Civil War New York City and its environs.

Virtually every major figure in modern folk, rock, blues, folk rock and country either plays a Martin or has played one; Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Robbie Robertson, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Bess and Alan Lomax, Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry and Big Bill Broonzy. Last but not least, yours truly -- committed folk guitarist, singer and proud owner of two Martin guitars.

The Martin Company is aware that so many clients have a desire to see, feel and experience the factory where their instrument was born. And so every day at 11:30 a.m. you can sign up for a one-hour tour of the factory. When the tour guide asked us who owned or had played a Martin almost everyone raised his or her hand. Clearly, here I stood among the blessed, and with these other visitors I began my great guitar pilgrimage at the source of good sound.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Liberals Slam Andrew Cuomo's Deals With New York GOP (David Freedlander, Dec 9, 2012, Daily Beast)

Last month, Chris Hayes, the wonky host of his own morning television show on the liberal MSNBC looked straight at the camera and announced "Democrats cannot count on New York's supposedly Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo as an ally and every Democratic primary voter in the entire country should know that, too."

"One would have thought that a Democratic governor would have worked hard to reverse the Tea Party's 2010 gains in his state," added Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. "You would hope that a governor with his eyes on the White House would prefer to cooperate with the diverse progressive legislators of the Democratic/Working Families Party majority rather than the all-white, nearly all-male moderate-to-conservative GOP minority."

The Daily Kos went even further, with head man Markos Moulitsas accusing the governor of New York of acting in way telling the netroots, that "If you're looking for a successor to Obama who will be a strong Democrat who will fight for Democratic ideals and his or her party, don't be looking at Cuomo ... Cuomo is a worthy successor to the legacy of Joe Lieberman ... It should make him persona non grata in a Democratic presidential primary."

December 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Months before graduation, West Point cadet quits, citing culture of overt religion (, 12/06/12)

A cadet quitting West Point less than six months before graduation says he could no longer be part of a culture that promotes prayers and religious activities and disrespects nonreligious cadets.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


How Crash Cover-Up Altered China's Succession (JONATHAN ANSFIELD, 12/04/12, NY Times)

 "Thank you. I'm well. Don't worry," read the post on a Chinese social networking site. The brief comment, published in June, appeared to come from Ling Gu, the 23-year-old son of a high-powered aide to China's president, and it helped quash reports that he had been killed in a Ferrari crash after a night of partying.

It only later emerged that the message was a sham, posted by someone under Mr. Ling's alias -- almost three months after his death.

The ploy was one of many in a tangled effort to suppress news of the crash that killed Mr. Ling and critically injured two young female passengers, one of whom later died. The outlines of the affair surfaced months ago, but it is now becoming clearer that the crash and the botched cover-up had more momentous consequences, altering the course of the Chinese Communist Party's once-in-a-decade leadership succession last month.

China's departing president, Hu Jintao, entered the summer in an apparently strong position after the disgrace of Bo Xilai, previously a rising member of a rival political network who was brought down when his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman. But Mr. Hu suffered a debilitating reversal of his own when party elders -- led by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin -- confronted him with allegations that Ling Jihua, his closest protégé and political fixer, had engineered the cover-up of his son's death.

According to current and former officials, party elites, and others, the exposure helped tip the balance of difficult negotiations, hastening Mr. Hu's decline; spurring the ascent of China's new leader, Xi Jinping; and playing into the hands of Mr. Jiang, whose associates dominate the new seven-man leadership at the expense of candidates from Mr. Hu's clique.

The case also shows how the profligate lifestyles of leaders' relatives and friends can weigh heavily in backstage power tussles, especially as party skulduggery plays out under the intensifying glare of media.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Bin Laden, Torture and Hollywood (FRANK BRUNI, 12/08/12, NY Times)

[T]he movie of the year is also the political conundrum of the year, a far, far cry from the rousing piece of pro-Obama propaganda that some conservatives feared it would be. "Zero Dark Thirty," which opens in theaters on Dec. 19 and presents itself as a quasi-journalistic account of what really happened, gives primary credit for the killing of Bin Laden to neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations but to one obsessive C.I.A. analyst whose work spans both presidencies. And it presents the kind of torture that Cheney advocated -- but that President Obama ended -- as something of an information-extracting necessity, repellent but fruitful.

Even as David Edelstein, the film critic for New York magazine, named "Zero Dark Thirty" the best movie of 2012 in a recent article, he digressed to say that it "borders on the politically and morally reprehensible," because it "makes a case for the efficacy of torture."

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Poll: Republicans think anti-tax pledge is bad idea (Natalie Jennings, December 6, 2012, Washington Post)

A large majority of registered voters, including 77 percent of Republicans, say it's a bad idea for members of Congress to sign a pledge to never raise taxes on the wealthy, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The No Good, Very Bad Outlook for the Working-Class American Man : The U.S. economy is still a powerful engine, but workers aren't seeing the benefits, less-educated men are struggling, and the rich have disconnected from everyone else. (Jonathan Rauch, December 5, 2012, National Journal)

Begin with Chart 1. It shows one of the most basic of all economic relationships, that between productivity and hourly compensation. Productivity measures the value of the output (brake pads, stock transactions) a worker produces in, say, a day; compensation is a measure of earnings that includes the value of benefits such as health insurance. The chart also shows compensation for all U.S. workers and specifically for workers in production and nonsupervisory jobs--blue-collar and clerical jobs, for example.


For decades, productivity and compensation rose in tandem. Their bond was the basis of the social compact between the economy and the public: If you work harder and better, you and your family will be better off. But in the past few decades, and especially during the past 10 years or so, the lines have diverged. This is slippage No. 1: Productivity is rising handsomely, but compensation of workers isn't keeping up.

True, compensation is still rising, on average. But the improvements are spotty. Production and nonsupervisory workers--factory, retail, and clerical workers, for example--saw productivity gains disappear from their paychecks much earlier and got hit harder than did supervisors and professionals. Over the past 30 years or so, their compensation has hardly risen at all.

"This is something that has been happening and building for years and is now really rooted in the economy, and it's vicious," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington. "There's a remarkable disconnect. The problem isn't a lack of the economy producing sufficient income to make everybody's living standards improve--it's that the economy is structured so that the majority don't benefit." Or, to state the point more cautiously, the majority doesn't benefit from productivity gains very much--certainly, less than our parents and grandparents did.
Notice that recessions and expansions barely register in the trend lines. Long-term, gradual forces, rather than short-term jitters, are at work. Charts 2 and 3 hint at what those might be. Chart 2 shows how much wages (not compensation, this time) have grown for workers in different income brackets. The higher you stood on the income ladder, the better you did; the highest-paid 1 percent of earners soared above and away from everyone else, practically occupying an economy of their own. By contrast, the bottom 90 percent of earners--which is to say, almost everyone--saw barely any increase, and much of what they did see came in the boom years of the late 1990s.

So, productivity is rising, but it isn't being evenly allocated; the top is effectively disconnected from the rest of the spectrum--slippage No. 2. One reason, especially pronounced in the past decade or so, is that fewer of the productivity gains are flowing to workers, and more are flowing to investors. Chart 3 shows what happened. From the end of World War II through about 1980, almost two-thirds of every dollar of income generated by the economy flowed to workers in the form of wages and benefits. Beginning around 1980, workers' share began to slide and, in the past decade or so, has nose-dived, to about 58 percent. The difference went to shareholders and other investors--who provide capital rather than labor--in the form of higher returns on their holdings.

Why would workers be receiving a smaller share of output, and why would the share they do receive be skewed toward the top? No one is sure, but Sonecom's Shapiro tells a plausible story. First, globalization has reduced American companies' ability to raise prices, and thus to increase their workers' pay, without losing competitiveness against companies in, say, China and India. Second, a smaller share of the value that companies produce today comes from the physical goods made by people like factory workers, and a larger share comes from ideas and intangible innovations that people like software designers and marketers develop. Between the early 1980s and the mid-2000s, Shapiro says, the share of a big business's book value accounted for by its physical assets fell by half, from 75 percent to only 36 percent.

"So the basis for value shifts," Shapiro explains. "This is the full flowering of the idea-based economy." Which is great if you are a brain worker or an investor; otherwise, not so much.

Mr. Rauch, like so many others, misses the obvious: it is not compensation that has been disconnected from productivity but labor.    The idea workers and the technology they've produced have made much of the physical labor force superfluous and any skills they may once have had irrelevant.  That's why we could turn jobs into social payoffs at home and ship them abroad to the undeveloped world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Neoliberalism in the American military and its impact on civilians (JENNIFER MITTELSTADT, 7 December 2012, OpenDemocracy)

Folded into the current military spending cuts is a neoliberal agenda to privatize and outsource the retirement and health care benefits of military personnel and their families. Americans may consider these proposals of minimal concern, and of interest only to military personnel, veterans, and their families. But their implications reach far wider: they are part of a comprehensive neoliberal plan to privatize virtually all government social welfare programs and entitlements.

Promulgated by free-market advocates at the Heritage Foundation, corporate interests on the Defense Department's Defense Business Board, and the private Business Executives for National Security, current military health and retirement proposals seek to replace existing government programs with privately-held, market-based healthcare and pension programs. They closely mirror free-market proposals for Social Security, pension privatization, and health care privatization in the civilian sector.

Instead of using the current government-contracted HMO/PPO model, called TriCare, military personnel and their families would receive health care vouchers allowing them to either purchase whatever health care plan they chose from an array of private sector providers. Instead of earning defined retirement benefits - pensions - soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines would each pay into privately held 401K programs - or simply take a lump sum of cash. In a win-win for corporate advocates, cuts to what they call the "excessive" and "burdensome" human side of the military will simultaneously fund greater spending on expensive weapons and communications systems. And under the pretext of providing "choice" to military personnel, the programs decrease total benefits and increase private sector access to government funds and the money of military personnel. [...]

While Friedman and his acolytes failed to transfer military services to the private sector in the 1970s and the 1980s, free market advocates in the 1990s succeeded. Members of the Defense Science Board and the Business Executives for National Security - the same groups proposing current privatization of military pensions - used the occasion of the post Cold War drawdown and the slumping economy to introduce corporate boardroom practices such as cutting overheads, increasing efficiencies, and improving "quality" as budgetary coping mechanisms for a sharply reduced spending regime.

Vice President Al Gore's "Reinvention of Government" pushed these further, introducing widespread outsourcing practices throughout federal agencies. President Clinton then appointed Wall Street financiers like Joshua Gotbaum from investment firm Lazard Frères to lead a special outsourcing office in the Pentagon. Together, the policies of the Clinton era resulted in a historically unprecedented transfer of military support services from the public to the private sector. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Morsi's decree cancelled, constitution referendum to take place on time (Ahram Online, 9 Dec 2012)

Islamic scholar Selim El-Awa, a member of Egypt's National Dialogue, announced that president Mohamed Morsi had called off the controversial constitutional declaration he issued last month. [...]

However, El-Awa said the referendum on the new draft constitution, slated for 15 December, will go ahead as scheduled, defying the demonstrators who believe the proposed national chart does not fulfill the aspirations of Egyptians.

"If the people voted no to the referendum, a new Constituent Assembly will be formed within three months via general elections, after which it will write a new constitution within six months," El-Awa read out one of the articles of the new constitutional declaration.

The decree was only needed so the constitution could be written without interference from regime holdovers.  

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Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Exhilaration Gap (Joe Posnanski, 12/08/12)

Here, then, are the Top 10 sports by Exhilaration Gap. I even put a little score by each sport: +100 means the sport is boundlessly better live, -100 means the sport is boundlessly better on TV. And, you should know, these numbers were carefully calculated and recalculated in the time when I wasn't checking to see if any baseball news was breaking at the winter meetings.

1. Hockey (+77 EG)

The obvious choice. The thing is, live hockey is not just a better sport to watch and consume, it's really a DIFFERENT sport. Hockey on television has actually gotten much better (this would have been 100 EG before high-def and better camera work made hockey on TV an improved viewing experience). But there seems no way for hockey on TV to capture the speed and force and openness of the game. Especially the openness. The rink is much bigger than television can capture, and the players are skating much faster, and while television (for obvious reasons) must follow the puck, when you are a live participant the eye scans the entire landscape, seeing the open man before the puck gets there, anticipating the breakaway before it happens, observing just how fast these players are moving BEFORE the collision.* Television, for all its wonders, can't quite get at the stuff that makes hockey so much fun to watch.

A general formula: The volume of how much someone does not like hockey corresponds precisely to how few times that person has seen a live hockey game. [...]

9. Pro football (minus-16 EG)

In my mind, pro football is superior on television in almost every way. No, television cannot quite convey how loud the stadium gets, the passion (or anger) of the fans, the dimensions of the field. But to me, it more than makes up for these things with amazing replays, numerous angles, in-game updates, interesting announcing (when you can get it) and cameras that almost put you on the field. I've also heard from many, many people that the pro football live experience is becoming less and less fun, there's so much rage, so many fights or near fights, it's no place to bring your kids. I used to be an NFL season-ticket holder, and I thought it was getting awfully chippy even four or five years ago. People tell me it's even worse now. For all this and more, I'd much rather watch the games on television.

...the game is over in under two hours.  An NFL game in person is not just boring but interminable.

December 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 PM


The Man Who Killed Poetry: Joseph Epstein And His Essays (David X Novak, 06 December 2012, Contemporary Poetry Review)

[T]he original essay merits consideration, in light of Epstein's other literary writings, if just as a historical relic. Epstein, carefully modest, has asked and answered, "Will my writing outlive me? I am reasonably certain that it won't". But if any of his literary writings merit survival (I cannot speak for his fiction), I would place "Who Killed Poetry?" first in the queue, and not just for the contention it seems to have stirred, but for what it said.

The substance is not simply, as he writes elsewhere, that "I happen to think that we haven't had a major poet writing in English since perhaps the death of W.H. Auden or, to lower the bar a little, Philip Larkin." Greatness in poetry can be reduced to Auden's formulation--a "risky generalization," according to Epstein--that "to become a poet of the first rank, great talent is not enough; one must get born at the right time and in the right place." This, insofar as it escapes being a tautology, is probably true. Yet is that enough to raise the ire of established authors like Philip Levine? Epstein's piece--indeed his literary outlook--is about more than that.

The crux of Epstein's argument is this: "Whereas one tended to think of the modernist poet as an artist--even if he worked in a bank in London, or at an insurance company in Hartford, or in a physician's office in Rutherford, New Jersey--one tends to think of the contemporary poet as a professional: a poetry professional."

Not all responses to Epstein's article were negative. Commentary ran letters of affirmation, including one from Brad Leithauser, who called Epstein's diagnosis "precisely right" concerning "the present poetry 'scene' (the readings, the academic appointments, etc.)" and pinpointing "a peculiar sociological phenomenon." Epstein's view jibed with Leithauser's experience as a teacher himself:

As poetry becomes "sadly peripheral," hundreds and hundreds of jobs for poets open up.... In numerous ways, these many jobs for "poetry-writing teachers" conceal from our poets themselves the situation we find ourselves in.... Instead of readers we have undiscerning and potentially idolatrous undergraduates; each campus is like a little kingdom.

"The poets who come out of this [insular] atmosphere", Epstein wrote, "are neither wholly academics nor wholly artists." As such (the implication was) they performed neither function very well.

In a wildly incoherent article published in 2006, titled "Who Keeps Killing Poetry?", D.W. Fenza (then and still Executive Director of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs) wrote, "To discover that a writer as witty as Joseph Epstein dislikes contemporary poetry may be a sad and curious happenstance" (which is not what Epstein said). But more pertinently: "Writing programs support artists for who they are and not what they do. AWP and its many colleges and universities have created the largest system of literary patronage the world has ever seen." This may be the case, but it begs the question: is the writing supported any good? (Not so to judge by Fenza's own. To wit, his justification of writing programs as "effective curators in building audiences" for contemporary poetry: "When I was an English major in the 1970s, my professors, classmates, and I referred to [Elizabeth] Bishop as merely 'pretty good for a woman poet.'" But, "Contemporary poets and feminist scholars taught, anthologized, and elevated the status of Bishop's work, as they had Dickinson's. When I attended my graduate writing workshops, my peers and teachers extolled Bishop's work; they chastened me. My constellations were mightily realigned; the sky improved.") Not only that. In their "curatorship", writing programs helped: build audiences for working-class poets, African-American poets, gay and lesbian poets, Latino poets, and poets from many nations. Academe has helped to expand the horizons of literature by adding new experiences: what it is like to be a mother or sister, what it is like to be a soldier in Viet Nam, what it is like to be Vietnamese, and so on.

Sorry, but those are not "new experiences" and the Vietnamese, with a literary history and culture of their own, did not need a workshop to teach them what it feels like. As the Devil ("I'm all o'ersib to Adam's breed") might have whispered, "It's pretty, but is it Art?"

Fenza's comments are echoed (actually antedated) by Philip Levine: "I think poetry now is very healthy. It's open house. It doesn't matter how tall or short you are [John Keats didn't know there was a proscription!], what color you are or what sex you are or what nine sexes, you can put anything in your work. Leaving aside what he means by "nine sexes", let's follow Levine's ambrosia: "You can write about anything. No matter how badly you write you can find someone who'll publish you. Time will sift the good stuff from the bad. As far as readership goes it's the largest it's ever been."

Time will sift, so we don't have to. "Standards have collapsed so completely," writes Thomas Bethell in The American Spectator ("Poets Galore and Subsidized Poets," March 2009) "that only political criteria now seem valid when it comes to deciding what's good and what's not."

The question is: what modern English department would have a great poet on its staff?
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Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


1947's Zionists, Today's Palestinians (David N. Myers, Dec 7, 2012, Daily Beast)

Sixty-five years ago, the Zionist movement scored the greatest success in its history--recognition on November 29, 1947, by the United Nations General Assembly, of the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. U.N. General Assembly resolution 181 called for the creation of a Jewish state alongside an Arab State, with Jerusalem as an international protectorate. It was this diplomatic act that brought the State of Israel into existence.

Last week, on November 29, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly was the site of another triumph, when it voted overwhelmingly--138 to 9, with 41 abstentions--to affirm the status of Palestine as a non-member observer of the U.N. Rather than greet this news as a long-awaited affirmation of the principle of partitioning Palestine into two states, Israel, backed by the U.S., led a tiny group of opponents of the resolution.

The parallels between the two events--and between the Zionist and Palestinian movements--are striking. Indeed, it seems as if Palestinian leaders took a page directly ouf the ZIonist playbook in turning to the United Nations. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Asimov's Foundation novels grounded my economics : The fantastical tale offers a still-inspiring dream of a social science that could save civilisation (Paul Krugman, 12/04/12,

There are certain novels that can shape a teenage boy's life. For some, it's Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged; for others it's Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. As a widely quoted internet meme says, the unrealistic fantasy world portrayed in one of those books can warp a young man's character forever; the other book is about orcs. But for me, of course, it was neither. My Book - the one that has stayed with me for four-and-a-half decades - is Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, written when Asimov was barely out of his teens himself. I didn't grow up wanting to be a square-jawed individualist or join a heroic quest; I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon, using my understanding of the mathematics of human behaviour to save civilisation. [...]

[T]he way Asimov's invented societies recapitulate historical models, goes right along with his underlying conceit: the possibility of a rigorous, mathematical social science that understands society, can predict how it changes, and can be used to shape those changes.

Isn't the only difference between the two sorts of fans that a Randian thinks he's so special that no one should be allowed to impinge on his life in any fashion and a Foundation-geek thinks himself capable of impinging on every living being's life for the better?

December 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


The Myth of Martyrdom challenges what motivates suicide attacks (Paul Muir, Dec 7, 2012, The National)

[Adam] Lankford's chief contention is that suicide attackers, far from being martyrs or soldiers for a religious/political cause or homicidal lunatics, are in most cases just plain suicidal - otherwise normal people who are driven to self-destruction by depression, fear, anxiety, grief or personal failure.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Gore knocks Obama on climate change inaction (CBS News, 12/06/12)

In a speech before the New York League of Conservation Voters on Thursday, former Vice President Al Gore criticized Obama's lack of concerted action to address climate change, saying that while he deeply respects "our president and the steps he has taken," it's time to move beyond lip service.

"We cannot have four more years of mentioning this occasionally and saying it's too bad that the Congress can't act," said Gore, according to Reuters, arguing that the White House must act more aggressively to dispel the inertia that has gripped Capitol Hill's response to climate change.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


The Left's Flip-Flop on the Bush Tax Cuts (Steve Conover, December 4, 2012, American)

With the so-called fiscal cliff approaching, politicians are virtually unanimous that the expiration of the Bush-era tax law presents a clear and present danger to the middle class. According to the White House, the typical middle class family's taxes would jump by $2,200 per year. The president recently took this message directly to the people: "Tell members of Congress what a $2,000 tax hike would mean to you. Call your members of Congress, write them an email, post it on their Facebook walls. You can tweet it using the hashtag 'My2K.'"

Curiously, however, hardly anyone has noticed that today's sentiment is a flip-flop for just about any Democrat who has run for any political office any time in the past decade -- from the presidency on down. Why? First, consider the Left's decade-long mantra deriding the Bush tax policies as "tax cuts for the rich," then ask a simple question: how could the expiration of "tax cuts for the rich" hurt anyone but the rich?

In other words, if the Bush cuts actually were just "tax cuts for the rich," then their expiration couldn't hurt the middle class. On the other hand, if their expiration would hurt the middle class, then characterizing them as "tax cuts for the rich" was a false message all along.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Morsi tips the strategic balance in the Middle East : The new Egyptian president has moved to consolidate the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, with unpredictable consequences. (George Friedman , 5 December 2012, Mercator)

The fundamental question in Egypt is whether the election of Morsi represented the end of the regime founded by Nasser or was simply a passing event, with power still in the hands of the military. Morsi has made a move designed to demonstrate his power and to change the way the Egyptian judiciary works. The uprising against this move, while significant, did not seem to have the weight needed either to force Morsi to do more than modify his tactics a bit or to threaten his government. Therefore, it all hangs on whether the military is capable of or interested in intervening. 

It is ironic that the demands of the liberals in Egypt should depend on military intervention, and it is unlikely that they will get what they want from the military if it does intervene. But what is clear is that the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant force in Egypt, that Morsi is very much a member of the Brotherhood and while his tactics might be more deliberate and circumspect than more radical members might want, it is still headed in the same direction.

For the moment, the protesters in the streets do not appear able to force Morsi's hand, and the military doesn't seem likely to intervene. If that is true, then Egypt has entered a new domestic era with a range of open foreign policy issues. The first is the future of the treaty with Israel. The issue is not the treaty per se, but the maintenance of Sinai as a buffer. One of the consequences of Mubarak's ouster has been the partial remilitarization of Sinai by Egypt, with Israel's uneasy support. Sinai has become a zone in which Islamist radicals are active and launch operations against Israel. The Egyptian military has moved into Sinai to suppress them, which Israel obviously supports. But the Egyptians have also established the principle that while Sinai may be a notional buffer zone, in practice the Egyptian military can be present in and responsible for it. The intent might be one that Israel supports but the outcome could be a Sinai remilitarized by the Egyptians.

A remilitarized Sinai would change the strategic balance, but it would only be the beginning. The Egyptian army uses American equipment and depends on the United States for spare parts, maintenance and training. Its equipment is relatively old and it has not been tested in combat for nearly 40 years. Even if the Egyptian military was in Sinai, it would not pose a significant conventional military threat to Israel in its current form. These things can change, however. The transformation of the Egyptian army between 1967 and 1973 was impressive. The difference is that Egypt had a patron in the Soviet Union then that was prepared to underwrite the cost of the transformation. Today, there is no global power, except the United States, that would be capable of dramatically and systematically upgrading the Egyptian military and financially supporting the country overall. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


The conservative learning curve (E.J. Dionne Jr., December 5, 2012, Washington Post)

Over the long run, the most important impact of an election is not on the winning party but on the loser. Winners feel confirmed in staying the course they're on. Losing parties -- or, at least, the ones intent on winning again someday -- are moved to figure out what they did wrong and how they must change.

After losing throughout the 1930s and '40s, Republicans finally came to terms with the New Deal and elected Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Democrats lost three elections in the 1980s and did a lot of rethinking inspired by Bill Clinton, who won the White House in 1992. In Britain, the Labor Party learned a great deal during its exile from power in the Margaret Thatcher years. The same thing happened to the Conservatives during Tony Blair's long run.

...all the GOP has to do is reclaim the mantle of Thatcher/Clinton/Blair/Howard/W/Harper/Cameron

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


You Can Give a Boy a Doll, but You Can't Make Him Play With It (DEC 6 2012, Atlantic)

The problem with Egalia and gender-neutral toy catalogs is that boys and girls, on average, do not have identical interests, propensities, or needs. Twenty years ago, Hasbro, a major American toy manufacturing company, tested a playhouse it hoped to market to both boys and girls. It soon emerged that girls and boys did not interact with the structure in the same way. The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them, and played house. The boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof. A Hasbro manager came up with a novel explanation: "Boys and girls are different."

They are different, and nothing short of radical and sustained behavior modification could significantly change their elemental play preferences. Children, with few exceptions, are powerfully drawn to sex-stereotyped play. David Geary, a developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri, told me in an email this week, "One of the largest and most persistent differences between the sexes are children's play preferences." The female preference for nurturing play and the male propensity for rough-and-tumble hold cross-culturally and even cross-species (with a few exceptions--female spotted hyenas seem to be at least as aggressive as males). Among our close relatives such as vervet and rhesus monkeys, researchers have found that females play with dolls far more than their brothers, who prefer balls and toy cars. It seems unlikely that the monkeys were indoctrinated by stereotypes in a Top-Toy catalog. Something else is going on.

Biology appears to play a role. Several animal studies have shown that hormonal manipulation can reverse sex-typed behavior. When researchers exposed female rhesus monkeys to male hormones prenatally, these females later displayed male-like levels of rough-and-tumble play. Similar results are found in human beings. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a genetic condition that results when the female fetus is subjected to unusually large quantities of male hormones--adrenal androgens. Girls with CAH tend to prefer trucks, cars, and construction sets over dolls and play tea sets. As psychologist Doreen Kimura reported in Scientific American, "These findings suggest that these preferences were actually altered in some way by the early hormonal environment." They also cast doubt on the view that gender-specific play is primarily shaped by socialization.

Professor Geary does not have much hope for the new gender-blind toy catalogue: "The catalog will almost certainly disappear in a few years, once parents who buy from it realize their kids don't want these toys." Most little girls don't want to play with dump trucks, as almost any parent can attest. Including me: When my granddaughter Eliza was given a toy train, she placed it in a baby carriage and covered it with a blanket so it could get some sleep.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Elmo's Lovers Open Up : Maria Elena Fernandez interviews two of Kevin Clash's accusers and the attorney of the third to piece together the events that led to the beloved puppeteer stepping down last month. (Maria Elena Fernandez, 12/06/12, Daily Beast)

So it's inappropriate to say that rape victims should carry babies to term but okay to refer to them as their assailants' lovers?

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Fed Data: Are We Richer Than We Thought? (Matthew Zeitlin, Dec 6, 2012, Daily Beast)

In the third quarter, according to the Fed's latest "Flow of Funds" report, debt held by households fell 2 percent at an annual rate, and home mortgage debt declined three percent, continuing a trend that started in 2008. Consumer credit, on the other hand, rose for the eighth straight quarter, this time at an annual rate of 4.5 percent. All told, households have $12.9 trillion debt, non-bank businesses has $12.1 trillion and state, local and federal government has $14.3 trillion in debt. The hidden riches, such as they are, came in household net worth, which is household assets minus their debts. It stood at $64.8 trillion, a $1.7 trillion increase, from the second quarter. Of that increase, $800 billion came from rising stock and mutual fund values, and $370 billion came from higher real estate prices.

This time around, however, the rise in housing isn't being accompanied by a rise in mortgage debt. That's because many underwater homeowners are not able to sell their homes or refinance. Instead, they are patiently making their mortgage payments and getting closer to positive equity in their homes. Meanwhile, mortgage modifications and foreclosures continue to lop off mortgage debt. At the same time, home values are rising across the board, and are rising especially sharply in some of the areas most affected by the housing crash. Finally, a huge portion of new mortgages are actually refinancings. For example, at Wells Fargo, the biggest mortgage servicer in the country, 72 percent of mortgages in the third quarter were refinancings. Also, the government's program to assist distressed homeowners whose homes are worth less than the outstanding mortgage, HARP, have exploded. The program has completed 709,000 refinances through September; the program has done 1.7 million total since its inception in April, 2009.  Of those completed this year, 142,000 have been for homeowners whose mortgage is worth 25 percent more than the value of their home.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Why second-hand bookshops are just my type (Theodore Dalrymple, 03 Dec 2012, The Telegraph)

Birds of a feather flock together: and if birds could be tweedy rather than feathery, I would be of that genus or species. With others of my ageing type, I assemble outside provincial book fairs waiting tremulously for them to open, as drinkers waited outside pubs in the days when they still had opening and closing hours. We all rush in, hopeful of finding something special and fearful that others will find it first. It isn't only fish that get away.

How many hours, among the happiest of my life, have I spent in the dusty, damp or dismal purlieus of second-hand bookshops, where mummified silverfish, faded pressed flowers and very occasionally love letters are to be found in books long undisturbed on their shelves. With what delight do I find the word ''scarce'' pencilled in on the flyleaf by the bookseller, though the fact that the book has remained unsold for years, possibly decades, suggests that purchasers are scarcer still.

Alas, second-hand bookshops are closing daily, driven out of business by the combination of a general decline in reading, the internet and that most characteristic of all modern British institutions, the charity shop. Booksellers tell me that 90 per cent of their overheads arise from their shops, and 90 per cent of their sales from the internet. Except for the true antiquarian dealers, whose customers are aficionados of the first state and the misprint on page 287, second-hand bookshops make less and less economic sense.

...misses his own point--all the great finds await at Thrift Stores and local Book Sales, not at shops where savvy owners have picked over the stock and jacked up the prices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


How I Know Higher Taxes Would Be Good For The Economy (Mark Sunshine, 12/05/12, Forbes)
I am one of the non-believers because I don't think that low taxes always encourage high growth or investment.  In fact, I am virtually certain that current low tax rates are a disincentive to economic growth and risk taking.

Traditional tax cut economists think that since ultra-high taxes discourage work and investment, lower and lower taxes must endlessly improve incentives.  They use mathematical models to "prove" their theories and pretend that incentives work the same in high tax environments as in low tax times.  Unfortunately, they are wrong.

Once tax rates are low enough so that ordinary folks don't think that the government will just confiscate the fruits of their labor, real people in the real world stop obsessing about taxes.  Instead, most normal people work to satisfy their personal economic goals.  They earn money to buy a their desired level of life style and economic security and they continue to work hard until they perceive that they have achieved their objective.

Some workers never get to their economic promised land and have to work hard up to and through retirement.  But some taxpayers earn enough to buy essentially everything that they need and have saved enough so that they can live off of investment earnings.  For those taxpayers, lower tax rates just make it easier to still live the life style they want without working very hard or taking risk.

Let me give you a couple of real live examples of how low taxes hurt incentives.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Label Refuses to Die (Tom Jacobs, 12/03/12, Pacific Standard)

[A] newly published study that suggests sexual mores remain stubbornly stable. It concludes that, more than a half-century after the introduction of the birth control pill, the sexual double standard is alive and well and still influencing women's everyday behavior.

The research, published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, is by three University of Michigan psychologists led by Terri Conley. Last year, she authored a paper that challenged evolutionary psychology's thesis that women are less interested in casual sex than men. Men have a better chance of passing down their genes to a new generation if they sow their seed widely, according to that widely circulated evolutionary psychology theory, while women's odds increase if they're in a stable relationship in which the man helps raise their children. Thus a different set of deep, unconscious impulses lead men to be more promiscuous than women.

In contrast, Conley's research suggested that, under the right circumstances--that is, when the experience promises to be safe and pleasant--women are just as likely as men to engage in casual sex. Her new paper adds stigma and the prospect of backlash to that equation, and finds they inhibit women's choices.

December 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Britain, become a republic! You can even keep the Queen! (DAN HIND and JAMIE STERN-WEINER 3 December 2012, OpenDemocracy)

Britain has been fooled. Told that 'republicanism' just meant sacking the monarchy, the British have missed its radical vision for the future. We interview the author of a new pamphlet that seeks to ignite the flame. [...]

Montesquieu characterised the English constitution as a 'republic [hiding]... under the form of monarchy'. If Britain is a de facto republic, why does it take 'the form of monarchy' at all?

Well, I agree with Montesquieu, and with Bagehot who made a similar point. I call it an illicit republic because I wanted to stress the extent to which rule is out of sight.

The monarchy is still useful. For one thing it confounds the reforming imagination. It is kind of indefensible in logic, but it is emotionally appealing to lots of people. So the blundering rationalist calls for its abolition and everyone laughs at the silliness of those who don't enjoy our rich traditions, and so on. Like I say it is part of how the game of public speech is played.

More seriously, the current constitution, where the Crown-in-Parliament rules, gives enormous discretionary power to a tiny handful of people. Many people think that they live in a constitutional monarchy that also is a democracy. They are wrong on both counts. They live in an absolute monarchy whose sovereign power has been captured by a Parliament. This Parliament has conceded some democratic elements but the people are not sovereign. The country is not even formally, let alone maximally, republican. But this has nothing to do with the fact of a crowned head of state. The issue is the constitutional status of the general population. Britain isn't, as a matter of boring old fact, a democracy. This matters a great deal; it is a large part of how Britain's particular version of capitalism organises itself.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Rajon Rondo: NBA's Most Valuable Rebel : Pushy, combative behavior used to be embraced in professional basketball. Sujay Kumar says the Celtics outspoken point guard should be celebrated for keeping the tradition alive. (Sujay Kumar, 12/02/12, Daily Beast)

[W]hile today's players retweet each other and hand out pregame high-fives like they were BFFs, Rondo's philosophy of treating the opposing team like they're the enemy is refreshing. He isn't auditioning for the Portland "Jail Blazers." He hasn't choked a coach. He's not throwing brutal elbows. There's no malicious intent. He's just keeping it real. But someone should really tell him you just can't mess with referees.

This edge is good for the NBA. Why not go back to the days of bad boys? You know, guys with massive egos who talk trash about your mother and shatter your ankles (not literally). As Garnett would say, it's a bar fight. Rondo, with his cockiness and propensity to take on the league's best in talent and fisticuffs, is the best at what he does.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM


Republicans not handling election results well (PPP, 12/04/12)

49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. We found that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn't exist anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM

TAKE FIVE, DAVE (via Glenn Dryfoos)

-Dave Brubeck, Who Helped Put Jazz Back in Vogue, Dies at 91 (BEN RATLIFF, December 5, 2012, NY Times)
For all his conceptualizing, Mr. Brubeck often seemed more guileless and stubborn country boy than intellectual. It is often noted that his piece "The Duke" -- memorably recorded by Miles Davis and Gil Evans in 1957 on their collaborative album "Miles Ahead" -- runs through all 12 keys in the first eight bars. But Mr. Brubeck contended that he never realized that until a music professor told him.

Mr. Brubeck's very personal musical language situated him far from the Bud Powell school of bebop rhythm and harmony; he relied more on chords, lots and lots of them, than on sizzling, hornlike right-hand lines. (He may have come by this outsiderness naturally, as a function of his background: jazz by way of rural isolation and modernist academia. He was, Ted Gioia wrote in his book "West Coast Jazz," inspired "by the process of improvisation rather than by its history.")

It took a little while for Mr. Brubeck to capitalize on the greater visibility his deal with Columbia gave him, and as he accommodated success a certain segment of the jazz audience began to turn against him. (The 1957 album "Dave Digs Disney," on which he played songs from Walt Disney movies, didn't help his credibility among critics and connoisseurs.) Still, by the end of the decade he had broken through with mainstream audiences in a bigger way than almost any jazz musician since World War II.

In 1958, as part of a State Department program that brought jazz as an offer of good will during the cold war, his quartet traveled in the Middle East and India, and Mr. Brubeck became intrigued by musical languages that didn't stick to 4/4 time -- what he called "march-style jazz," the meter that had been the music's bedrock. The result was the album "Time Out," recorded in 1959. With the hits "Take Five" (composed by Mr. Desmond in 5/4 meter and prominently featuring the quartet's gifted drummer, Joe Morello) and "Blue Rondo à la Turk" (composed by Mr. Brubeck in 9/8), the album propelled Mr. Brubeck onto the pop charts.

Initially, Mr. Brubeck said, the album was released without high expectations from the record company. But when disc jockeys in the Midwest started playing "Take Five," the song became a national phenomenon. After the album had been out for 18 months, Columbia released "Take Five" as a 45 r.p.m. single, edited for radio, with "Blue Rondo" on the B side. Both album and single became hits; The album "Time Out" has since sold about two million copies.

In 1960, realizing that most of the quartet's work centered on the East Coast, the Brubecks, with their children, Dan, Michael, Chris, Darius and Catherine, moved to Wilton, where they stayed. They later had one more child, Matthew.

Genial as Mr. Brubeck could seem, he had strong convictions. In the 1950s he had to stand up to college deans who asked him not to perform with a racially mixed band (his bassist, Gene Wright, was black). He also refused to tour in South Africa in 1958 when asked to sign a contract stipulating that his band would be all white. With his wife as lyricist, he wrote "The Real Ambassadors," a jazz musical that dealt with race relations. With a cast that included Louis Armstrong, it was released on LP in 1962 but staged only once, at that year's Monterey Jazz Festival.

When Mr. Brubeck's quartet broke up in 1967, after 17 years, he spent more time with his family and followed new paths. In 1969 he composed "Elementals" (subtitled "Concerto for Anyone Who Can Afford an Orchestra"), a concerto grosso for 45-piece ensemble. He later wrote an oratorio and four cantatas, a mass, two ballets and works for jazz combo with orchestra. Most of his commissioned pieces from the late '60s on, many of them collaborations with his wife, whose contributions included lyrics and librettos, were classical works.

As a composer, Mr. Brubeck used jazz to address religious themes and to bridge social and political divides. His cantata "The Gates of Justice," from 1969, dealt with blacks and Jews in America; another cantata, "Truth Is Fallen" (1972), lamented the killing of student protesters at Kent State University in 1970, with a score including orchestra, electric guitars and police sirens. He played during the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting in 1988 and he composed entrance music for Pope John Paul II's visit to Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1987.

In 1968 he formed a quartet with the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, and later he began working with his musician sons Darius (a pianist), Chris (a bassist), Dan (a drummer) and Matthew (a cellist). He performed and recorded with them often, most definitively on "In Their Own Sweet Way" (Telarc, 1997).

    -BIO: Dave Brubeck (All Music)
    -OBIT: DAVE BRUBECK 1920-2012: Dave Brubeck: A jazz icon who reached a massive audience (Howard Reich, December 5, 2012
    -TRIBUTE: Farewell, Dave Brubeck (ROBERT SCHLESINGER, December 5, 2012, US News)
    -TRIBUTE: R.I.P. Dave Brubeck (Tom Breihan, 12/05/12, StereoGum)
    -TRIBUTE: Dave Brubeck Was Jazz's Greatest Centrist: Take five - hits from the Brubeck catalog, that is. (Matthew DeLuca, Dec 5, 2012, Daily Beast)
    -TRIBUTE: R.I.P. Jazz Titan Dave Brubeck (Larry Fitzmaurice, December 5, 2012, Pitchfork)
    -ESSAY: Dave Brubeck's Jewish cantata (Adam Soclof · December 5, 2012, JTA)
    -TRIBUTE: Dave Brubeck (1920-2012): An Appreciation (Something Else! Reviews)
    -Dave Brubeck: Making a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord: This jazz icon sought to break racial barriers, cross national boundaries and build cultural connections. Then he found the Catholic faith. (Mark Lombard, American Catholic)
Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


George W. Bush to Republicans: Embrace Immigration (John Avlon, Dec 5, 2012, Daily Beast)

On Tuesday morning, the Bush Center held a conference on immigration and economic growth at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. It was only the second major policy speech the former president has delivered since leaving office, and Bush let himself wax poetic on the subject of immigration: "Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul." [...]

The core message of the conference was that America needs more immigrants, not fewer, in the current economic climate. It was bipartisan in tone, arguing that we should be competing for the best and the brightest, including offering green cards with graduate-school diplomas--one of the few immigration measures that Senate Republicans and Democrats agree on. Most notable was the call for comprehensive immigration reform of the kind Bush backed in 2007, including what a new book from the Bush Center calls "a compassionate solution" for undocumented workers now in the country. In a campaign season, that would be called "amnesty."

All this is breathtakingly sensible given the tortured state of immigration debate in the Republican Party. Romney consistently pandered to the worst impulses in his party on this issue--first using it to get to the right of John McCain in 2007, and then Rick Perry in 2011. It was a cynical and short-sighted strategy, as Romney campaign manager Eric Fehrnstrom recently acknowledged--and contributed to the former governor's pathetic lack of demographic diversity in this year's general election.

Bush is not a proud policy wonk. But over the past four years, we have consistently been reminded of what a steadying and centering impulse he was on the most conservative wing of his party. The GOP--hell, the country--missed his voice during the unhinged ground zero mosque debate. Bush was always an advocate of religious tolerance, especially toward Islam at the height of the war on terror.

Republicans will need to decide whether to follow the Bush-McCain-Rubio wing of its party or the likes of Limbaugh. It should be an easy call. Sadly, it is not.

Likewise, Bush was consistent in reaching out to the Hispanic community, both as a border-state governor and as president. Xenophobic voices were not tolerated in his administration. As Bush said in Tuesday's speech, "America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. As our nation debates the proper course of action relating to immigration, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the spirit of immigrants."

In the wake of Romney's election defeat, it has fallen to another Bush--Jeb--to raise the flag for a modern and inclusive Republican Party. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


With military's push, biofuels can grow (Andrew Holland, December 2, 2012, CS Monitor)

For strategic and budgetary reasons, the military has identified this dependence on oil - a single point of failure - as a threat to national security. The Air Force and (especially) the Navy have embarked on a program to address this threat. Put together, the potential market for Air Force and Navy biofuels is expected to be about 700 million gallons per year by 2020. For an industry that is only just beginning to commercially produce fuel now, that will require significant investment. But it also should give investors some certainty that there will be a buyer for these fuels, so long as they are available. Once capital is made available for commercial-scale plants, this sector can grow very quickly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM



[C]utting (or eliminating) the payroll tax is a remarkably good idea. By the same token, the payroll tax itself is a remarkably bad idea, and not just because it's regressive. The payroll tax is a bad idea because it's a tax on jobs--and jobs are something we want more of, not less of. It's not a tax on "job creators" who may or may not get around to creating a job sometime. It's a tax on job creation itself. [...]

By all means let's have a stiff carbon tax--a whole carbon-tax package, one that folds in levies on other pollutants and on the wasteful or dangerous use of natural resources in general. And, at the same time, let's make the carbon tax the source of the trust fund. Call it the Dignity for Seniors tax, because that's what it would provide. Or the National Patrimony tax, because that's what it would preserve. Or the Social and National Security tax, because it would underwrite both kinds.

Or, maybe, the More Payrolls Tax. As John Marshall and Daniel Webster long ago pointed out, the power to tax involves the power to destroy. With the More Payrolls Tax, we would no longer be using that power to destroy jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Africa: Ripe for investment (Hibah Yousuf,  December 5, 2012, CNNMoney)

Over the past decade, Africa has been the second-fastest growing economy in the world, with GDP accelerating more than 5% a year on average, according to the World Bank.

And even as the global economy has slowed in recent months, growth in Africa has largely remained on track, with the World Bank predicting the continent could be on "the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago, and India 20 years ago."
Africa's natural resources are certainly a big driver of the growth, but an even bigger factor is the continent's rising consumer class.

"The consumer demand in Africa is enormous," said Larry Seruma, managing principal at Nile Capital Management and manager of the Nile Pan Africa Fund (NAFAX), the only U.S. mutual fund to focus exclusively on the continent of Africa.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, household consumption is now higher in Africa than in India or Russia, and is only expected to surge further. In fact, the number of African households with discretionary income is expected to jump by more than 50% to almost 130 million by 2020.

December 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Lessons on School Choice from Sweden (Adam Ozimek, 12/03/12, Forbes)

A recent paper by Bohlmark and Lindahl uses high quality administrative data for the entire country of Swedend for students who attended compulsary school (grades 1 through 9) from 1988 to 2009. Importantly this includes data for the period prior to the 1992 voucher reform. This allows them to control for pre-reform trends, which studies in Chile did not have, a fact that Bohlmark and Lindahl argues may have biased the results.

Sweden's voucher policy allowed easy entry of independently run private schools which any student could attend. Prior to this policy less than 1% of Sweden's students attended private schools, but by 2009 it had increased to 11%. The authors find that the higher percent of voucher students there are in a district the better students do on a variety of outcomes. They find a a positive effect on test scores, compulsary school grades, choosing an academic high-school track, high-school grades, probability of attending college, and average education by age 24. The study is impressive in it's scope of data, especially in tracking later outcome variables.

Importantly, they find that the primary way that competition effects outcomes is by improving the performance of the nearby public schools, and not by outperforming the public schools.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


A tax we could learn to love (David Frum, 12/03/12, CNN)

Take three worrying long-term challenges: climate change, the weak economic recovery, and America's chronic budget deficits. Combine them into one. And suddenly three tough problems become one attractive solution.

Tax carbon. A tax of $20 a ton, rising at a rate of 4% per year, would over the next decade raise $1.5 trillion, according to an important new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That $1.5 trillion is almost twice as much as would be recouped to the Treasury by allowing the expiration of all Bush-era tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers.

The revenues from a carbon tax could be used to reduce the deficit while also extending new forms of payroll tax relief to middle-class families, thus supporting middle-class family incomes.

Meanwhile, the shock of slowly but steadily rising prices for fuel and electricity would drive economic changes that would accelerate U.S. economic growth.

The average age of U.S. cars and trucks has reached nearly 11 years, a record.

Millions of Americans want new cars. They are waiting for market signals as to what car to buy. They want to know that if they choose a fuel-efficient vehicle, they won't feel silly three years from now when their neighbor roars past them in a monster truck because gas has plunged back to $2 a gallon.

Mr. Frum's hilariously obtuse memoir fretted that W was directionless until 9-11, not recognizing that taxes on income and investments were being reduced, vouchers brought to education and housing, market mechanisms to health, and the push was on for personal accounts in public retirement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 AM


'I Pretty Much Wanted to Die' : The origins of Lost, as told by the people who made it, in an exclusive first serial excerpt from The Revolution Was Televised (Alan Sepinwall, November 26, 2012, Grantland)

In the summer of 2003, Lloyd Braun was in the middle of a rocky tenure as chairman of ABC Entertainment. A few years earlier, ABC had geared its entire primetime schedule around the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, in the process making it impossible to grow new scripted hits; the Millionaire phenomenon inevitably fizzled, and the network was still recovering.

On vacation with his family in Hawaii, Braun watched his network's broadcast of the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, then went down to the beach to watch the sunset and meet up with his wife and kids. As he waited, he began pondering the idea of doing Cast Away as a TV show, but couldn't figure out how to make it work with only one actor and one volleyball.

"And then the notion of Survivor popped into my head," recalls Braun. "I don't know why. And I put it all together: What if there was a plane that crashed and a dozen people survived, and nobody knew each other. Your past was almost irrelevant. You could reinvent who you were. You had to figure out -- how do you survive? What do you use for shelter, for water? Is it like Lord of the Flies? How do we get off the island, how do you get home? And I start to get very excited about the idea, and I start thinking about the title Lost."

Braun had liked the name ever since he saw it attached to a short-lived NBC reality show, and kept it filed away in his head, waiting for the right idea to pair it with. Now, he had that idea -- and not much more.

He returned to the mainland and headed to an ABC corporate retreat, where executives had been instructed to pitch one series idea. Braun had another one all ready to go, but as he sat there waiting for his turn, "I was thinking of the original idea and thought it was lame. So I said, 'To hell with this, I'll pitch Lost,' knowing it was probably too high-concept for the room. And I did pitch it, and it was dead silent after I pitched it."

The only executive who showed any interest was Braun's head of drama development, Thom Sherman, and the two resolved to make it "our little baby," as Braun puts it, for that development season. Others were aware of it, but no one understood why their bosses were so obsessed with it.

Sherman hired a writer named Jeffrey Lieber, and as Lieber worked, Braun became infamous around the ABC offices for hovering over the idea's progress: "All year long, it's starting to become a running joke: All I'm asking about is this project."

Braun got a pile of pilot scripts from that year's development batch around Christmas, and quickly thumbed through looking for Lieber's. He found the first danger sign on the cover page: Lieber had changed the title to Nowhere. As for the script itself, Braun's gentle in saying that it "did not live up to my expectations, and I felt, in fact, fell prey to many of the concerns that many people had when they first heard the idea. I was very disappointed."

Given how late they were into the development season (which typically takes 8 or 9 months from summer to early spring), Sherman suggested they shelve the idea and try again next year.

"I said, 'Thom, there's no next year for us,'" says Braun, who knew the kind of thin ice he was on thanks to the network's recent performance. "At that point, it was clear to me that I didn't think any of us were going to be surviving. This was the time to take a shot at a show like this."

Lieber was out,1 and Braun turned to the one writer he suspected could do something with this on such short notice: J.J. Abrams.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 AM


The Coldscape (Nicola Twilley, Fall 2012, Cabinet)
More than three-quarters of the food consumed in the United States today is processed, packaged, shipped, stored, and sold under artificial refrigeration. The shiny, humming stainless steel box in your kitchen is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak--a tiny fragment of the vast global network of temperature-controlled storage and distribution warehouses cumulatively capable of hosting uncounted billions of cubic feet of chilled flesh, fish, or fruit. Add to that an equally vast and immeasurable volume of thermally controlled space in the form of shipping containers, wine cellars, floating fish factories, international seed banks, meat-aging lockers, and livestock semen storage, and it becomes clear that the evolving architecture of coldspace is as ubiquitous as it is varied, as essential as it is overlooked.

J. M. Gorrie, a Florida doctor, was awarded the first US patent for mechanical refrigeration in 1851, with a device intended to cool cities rather than popsicles. Held back by heavy opposition led by the powerful natural-ice trade, not to mention the technical challenges that made early coldspaces risky as well as expensive propositions, artificial refrigeration for food only snowballed in the first half of the twentieth century, alongside the invention of plastic wrap and the introduction of self-serve supermarkets. Its story is central to every aspect of our national postwar narrative: the widespread entry of women into the workforce, the rise of suburban living, and the reshaping of the American landscape by the automobile. Gradually, at first, but now completely, in the United States--the first refrigerated nation--and then beyond, a network of artificially chilled warehouses, cabinets, and reefer fleets have elided place and time, reshaping both markets and cities with the promise of a more rational food supply and an end to decay, waste, and disease. 

Despite the efforts of industry bodies, government agencies, and industrial archaeologists, this vast, distributed artificial winter that has reshaped our entire food system remains, for the most part, unmapped. What's more, the varied forms of these cold spaces remain a mystery to most. This guide provides an introduction to a handful of the strange spatial typologies found within the "cold chain," that linked network of atmospheric regulation on which our entire way of life depends.

These are spaces in which a perpetual winter has distorted or erased seasonality; spaces that are located within an energy-intensive geography of previously unimaginable distance--both mental and physical--between producers and consumers. Artificial refrigeration has reconfigured the contents of our plates and the shape of our cities--it has even contributed to the overthrow of governments, as anyone familiar with the rise and fall of United Fruit can attest. Perhaps most bizarrely, although their variations in form reflect the particular requirements of the perishable product they host, coldspaces have, in turn, redesigned food itself, both in terms of the selective breeding that favors cold-tolerance over taste and the more fundamental transition from food as daily nourishment to food as global commodity.

Welcome to the coldscape: the unobtrusive architecture of man's unending struggle against time, distance, and entropy itself.

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 AM


Happy the Man : Dana Gioia has the courage of his contentment (JAMES GARDNER, 11/19/12, Weekly Standard)

As contemporary poets go, Dana Gioia is a classicist. In his new collection of poems, his voice, well-modulated and never shrill, falls effortlessly into the rhythms of iambic pentameter, and occasionally into rhyme, as he explores emotions that are none the weaker for being held so fastidiously in check. Gioia, who is also a librettist and translator of Seneca's Hercules Furens, is distinguished among his contemporaries for the striking clarity of his diction: Disavowing the morbid self-referentiality of so many of today's poets, he has written poems that can usually be understood at the first approach. And, lest there be any risk of inclarity, he has the decency to provide, where needed, brief explanatory notes at the end of the volume.

To praise his clarity may not sound like much of a recommendation, but it is. Though thoroughly alive to the complexities of life--a subject that occupies his poetry as much as it does that of his contemporaries--Gioia is nevertheless so confident in the force of his message that he rarely resorts to those diversions and obscurities by which many of his contemporaries contrive not so much to conceal what they have to say as to conceal how little they have to say in the first place.

That is not the only respect in which he stands as something of an anomaly among his contemporaries. Although I would not presume to characterize his politics, I observe that he served honorably as head of the National Endowment for the Arts under George W. Bush; that--as mentioned--he writes admirably in iambic pentameter; and that his poems have appeared in the New Criter-ion and the American Arts Quarterly, two publications associated with the cultural right. Furthermore, he has worked unapologetically in corporate America, as a marketing executive at General Foods. It was only at the age of 40, two decades ago, that Gioia took up writing as a fulltime career.

And yet, as everyone knows, poets are supposed to hew to the left. True, Coleridge and Wordsworth started out as ardent defenders of the French Revolution only to end up as Tories, and e. e. cummings was more of a Republican than most of his admirers realize. But that was long ago. For the past few generations, the poetic establishment, like Hollywood, has been largely inhospitable to anyone on the right.

None of the great ones--Frost, Pound, Eliot, Hill, etc.--are of the Left.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:15 AM


As Supersymmetry Fails Tests, Physicists Seek New Ideas (Natalie Wolchover, November 20, 2012, Simons Foundation)

As a young theorist in Moscow in 1982, Mikhail Shifman became enthralled with an elegant new theory called supersymmetry that attempted to incorporate the known elementary particles into a more complete inventory of the universe.

"My papers from that time really radiate enthusiasm," said Shifman, now a 63-year-old professor at the University of Minnesota. Over the decades, he and thousands of other physicists developed the supersymmetry hypothesis, confident that experiments would confirm it. "But nature apparently doesn't want it," he said. "At least not in its original simple form."

With the world's largest supercollider unable to find any of the particles the theory says must exist, Shifman is joining a growing chorus of researchers urging their peers to change course.

In an essay posted last month on the physics website, Shifman called on his colleagues to abandon the path of "developing contrived baroque-like aesthetically unappealing modifications" of supersymmetry to get around the fact that more straightforward versions of the theory have failed experimental tests. 

December 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Switching from $1 bills to coins is no small change (Associated Press, December 3, 2012)

It's a simple matter of dollars and cents -- congressional auditors say doing away with dollar bills entirely and replacing them with dollar coins could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over the next 30 years.

This projection from the Government Accountability Office came as lawmakers begin exploring new ways for the government to save money by changing the money itself.

At a House subcommittee hearing Thursday, the focus was on two possible new approaches:

•Moving to less expensive combinations of metals like steel, aluminum and zinc.

•Gradually taking dollar bills out the economy and replacing them with coins.

The GAO's Lorelei St. James told the House Financial Services panel it would take several years for the benefits of switching from paper bills to dollar coins to catch up with the cost of making the change. Equipment would have to be bought or overhauled, and more coins would have to be produced upfront to replace bills as they are taken out of circulation.

But over the years, the savings would begin to accrue, she said, largely because a $1 coin could stay in circulation for 30 years while paper bills have to be replaced every four or five years on average.

Why waste money trying to preserve any physical currency?

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM



It's been almost a century since the British economist Arthur Pigou floated the idea that turned his name into an adjective. In "The Economics of Welfare," published in 1920, Pigou pointed out that private investments often impose costs on other people. Consider this example: A man walks into a bar. He orders several rounds, downs them, and staggers out. The man has got plastered, the bar owner has got the man's money, and the public will get stuck with the tab for the cops who have to fish the man out of the gutter. In Pigou's honor, taxes that attempt to correct for this are known as Pigovian, or, if you prefer, Pigouvian (the spelling remains wobbly). Alcohol taxes are Pigovian; so are taxes on cigarettes. The idea is to incorporate into the cost of what might seem a purely personal choice the expenses it foists on the rest of society.

One way to think about global warming is as a vast, planet-wide Pigovian problem. In this case, the man pulls up to a gas pump. He sticks his BP or Sunoco card into the slot, fills up, and drives off. He's got a full tank; the gas station and the oil company share in the profits. Meanwhile, the carbon that spills out of his tailpipe lingers in the atmosphere, trapping heat and contributing to higher sea levels. As the oceans rise, coastal roads erode, beachfront homes wash away, and, finally, major cities flood. Once again, it's the public at large that gets left with the bill. The logical, which is to say the fair, way to address this situation would be to make the driver absorb the cost for his slice of the damage. This could be achieved by a new Pigovian tax, on carbon.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Charles Portis, a Journalist With True Grit : The novelist Charles Portis, best known for his novels Norwood and True Grit, was also a brilliant reporter, and with the likes of Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin, helped introduce New Journalism. Jay Jennings, the editor of the new collection Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, on the legacy of Portis's reporting on the civil rights movement. (Jay Jennings, 9/25/12, Daily Beast)

In his fiction and magazine pieces over more than a half-century, the novelist Charles Portis, most celebrated for True Grit and much admired by fellow writers like Roy Blount Jr., Donna Tartt, and Wells Tower, has made relentless fun of journalists of all stripes. Ray Midge, the copy editor who tracks his errant wife to Mexico in The Dog of the South, comments about the fellow copy editor who stole her away: "His dress was sloppy even by newspaper standards." In Masters of Atlantis, newspaper people "treat as pests those who walk in off the street with inquiries, or even news." In a New Yorker humor piece, he describes the "journalist ants" of Burma, "scurrying about on the forest floor and gathering tiny facts." And in a long travel story about a river in Arkansas--included in the upcoming collection of his work I edited, Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany--he offers an opinion on both the climate debate and himself as a journalist: "Knowing nothing about changing weather patterns, but, being a journalist and thus having no scruples about commenting on the matter, I think they may well have changed."

These various put-downs, especially of himself, are a dodge, because although Portis the novelist is press-shy and publicity-averse, in his early career he was a skilled, diligent, and sometimes brilliant journalist, which the selection of his best newspaper work in Escape Velocity will demonstrate. After serving in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, he studied journalism at the University of Arkansas. (Looking back at those years in an interview with fellow newspaperman Roy Reed, he said, "I must have thought it would be fun and not very hard, something like barber college. Not to offend the barbers. They probably provide a more useful service.")

After graduating, he worked briefly at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, moved to the Arkansas Gazette in 1959 (a year after the paper had won two Pulitzer Prizes for covering the integration crisis at Little Rock Central High), and then began a four-year stint (1960-64) with The New York Herald Tribune, ending as London bureau chief before he quit to write novels. At the latter, he shared a newsroom with Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, and other reporters who were stretching their craft into what came to be known as New Journalism. In fact, in a 1972 piece in New York magazine excavating that "movement," Wolfe cites Portis as one of the preeminent feature writers in the city who followed the philosophy that "it just might be possible to write journalism that would ... read like a novel." Wolfe's own flamboyant style bears little resemblance to Portis's straightforward one, but in their reporting both showed--and eventually brought back to their respective novels--expertise in conveying "scene" and an eye for the telling detail. These qualities and other examples of Portis's extraordinary abilities as a journalist are best seen in his brief, overlooked tenure on the civil-rights beat, particularly during a busy spring and summer in the South in 1963.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


The Ricky Rubio Experience : Playing against Ricky Rubio is harrowing, but the point guard prodigy is playing against more than just his match-ups. (FLINDER BOYD, 11/28/12, The Classical)

The first time we played Spain was an exhibition in Seville. A couple minutes into the game, I stood next to him at half court during a free throw and wondered what all the fuss was about. Despite the presence of All-Stars Pau and Marc Gasol and local legend Juan Carlos Navarro, the sold-out crowd couldn't get enough of Ricky. From middle-aged men to teenage girls, everyone screamed his name; there was literal ooh-ing and aah-ing each time he touched the ball.

And yet he seemed to me to have no discernible physical gifts. He weighed 170 pounds dripping wet, wasn't nearly as Iverson-quick as I expected him to be and it took him a Mesolithic era to get his shot off. Of course, it was in my interest to believe all this. I'd been given the task of trying to shut Rubio down.

At only 5-11, I made a career out of being the smartest player on the court, understanding the nuances it takes to play the most difficult position on the floor. I'd spent the better part of the day studying tape, checking Rubio's tendencies and searching for weaknesses in his game, especially in the pick and roll, his bread and butter.

The pick-and-roll, elementary though it seems, is the single hardest play to perfect in all of sports and the basis of any good basketball team. Once a screen is set, a good point guard will go through his reads like a quarterback. Navigating through the matrix of defensive possibilities, he reacts to the other nine guys on the floor, then counter-reacts and possibly further counter-counter-reacts as the court shifts into a geometric puzzle, all in the blink of an eye. That super-fast dynamism is one of the fundamental challenges of basketball: hold the ball a split second too long, what was open has surely been gobbled up by time and space, and you're left at the defense's mercy. Years of practice and hundreds of games on, you begin to see the same patterns develop. Then, finally, a complex problem opens enough to reveal a straightforward solution.

Halfway through the first quarter, Rubio called for a screen on the right wing. I bodied him up, forcing him out of his operating zone, then quickly dove under the pick. We had planned to change up our defensive tactics often against the kid, to confuse him and get the ball out of his hands sooner than he wanted. He shifted to his left hand, then paused, just for a moment, switched hands again and used the screen again. I jumped over the pick, and my big man, the long, athletic Joel Freeland, held firm. Suddenly, like a racecar driver, Rubio changed gears from third to fourth and then fifth in the space of about three feet. I fought through the screen, and just when I thought we had him bottled up he froze for a millisecond, waiting for the defense to collapse. Then, at that exact right moment, Rubio flipped it right handed over to an open Navarro on the money. Navarro drove to the hoop and our collapsing defense fouled him before he could get a shot off. Ball out of bounds. A completely meaningless play in the scheme of the game. Also, though, a perfect play.

A few plays later, on a fast break, an open Navarro was in the corner, and Sergio Llull, another great shooter, was on the same wing guarded. There are several things that could have, and ordinarily would have, happened in this situation. Rubio might have lobbed it over to Navarro, allowing the defense to react and forcing Navarro to penetrate and make a play himself; that would ultimately ruin the fast-break. Rubio could have waited for the trailer, or simply dribbled to the opposite side of the floor where there was limited resistance. Rubio did none of these, instead making a beeline straight toward the defender. In essence Rubio, his defender, Llull and Llull's defender all converged at the intersection on the wing. It was a kamikaze play that no coach would ever teach, yet Rubio's choice ensured that the defense couldn't recover when he fired a bounce pass through a keyhole size opening to Navarro. Three points.

It was personally demoralizing, in a way that perhaps only people who have played the position would fully understand. What took me decades to decode seemed to be hardwired into his brain; he was playing with information I didn't quite have, while running an operating system different than my own. I felt like I was trying to catch an antelope with a butterfly net. No matter what I did or how quickly I beat him to the spot he'd make the right play at just the right moment.

And yet, curiously, Scariolo rarely took the reins off and let Ricky be himself. For much of the game Rubio would just slouch in the corner as a decoy, sucking his teeth and rolling his eyes like a petulant teenager.

A month later we met again in the European Championships in Warsaw. This was a game in which we nearly beat the mighty Spaniards, and from the opening tip it was clear the walls were closing in on Ricky. He was overthinking. When he had the ball, I almost stopped guarding him, playing, five and even ten feet away, daring him to shoot. At other times I almost completely forgot he was on the floor.

He'd given up probing the defense and attacking the paint, in favor of pointless swing passes around the perimeter. Strangest of all, he had stopped running the break, instead walking it up and surrendering to Scariolo's deliberate play calling. It made my job easier, but it was almost tragic watching the future of basketball banished to the bench every time he made a turnover, his head wrapped in a towel while politely cheering on his teammates. The kid with the permanent grin and unshakable confidence had stopped smiling.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:52 AM


Tax Pollution, Not Income: A Winning Issue for Politicians?  (David Callahan, 5/08/12, Demos))

[T]here may be an easy way to sell energy taxes: Which is to promote such taxes as an alternative to other taxes. Yes, you'll pay more in energy taxes, but you'll pay less in income taxes.

A new poll by Yale and George Mason Universities offers support for this strategy. Respondents were asked the following question:

Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who supports legislation to reduce the federal income tax that Americans pay each year, but increase taxes on coal, oil, and natural gas by an equal amount? This tax shift would be "revenue neutral" (meaning the total amount of taxes collected by the government would stay the same), and would create jobs and decrease pollution?

An impressive 61 percent of respondents said they would be more likely, or somewhat more likely, to vote for such a candidate. Only 20 percent said they'd be less likely.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 AM


The Military-Industrial Complex's Waning Political Influence (CHRISTOPHER PREBLE, November 29, 2012, US News)

In a recent paper, economists Christopher Coyne and Thomas Duncan paint a dire picture of the harmful effects of the permanent war economy. Most studies focus on total military spending (measured in either real or nominal dollars) to show the enormous growth in such outlays over the past 15 years. A few studies focus on the size of the Pentagon's budget relative to total federal spending, or to the economy as a whole, and claim that such costs are, in fact, quite modest.

But Coyne and Duncan, who are both affiliated with George Mason University's outstanding economics department, take a different approach. The true costs of the military-industrial complex, they explain, "have so far been understated, as they do not take into account the full forgone opportunities of the resources drawn into the war economy." A dollar spent on planes and ships cannot also be spent on roads and bridges. What's more, the existence of a permanent war economy, the specific condition which President Dwight Eisenhower warned of in his famous farewell address, has shifted some entrepreneurial behavior away from private enterprise, and toward the necessarily less efficient public sector. "The result," Coyne and Duncan declaim, "is a bloated corporate state and a less dynamic private economy, the vibrancy of which is at the heart of increased standards of living." [...]

There is now broad, bipartisan agreement that military spending should come down. A poll taken earlier this year (.pdf, Q56) found that 52 percent of Republicans, and 57 percent of independents, are opposed to any increase in taxes in order to maintain U.S. military superiority "over rising powers like China." A just completed Rasmussen survey found strong support for across-the-board spending cuts, and reported that voters "are notably less enthusiastic if the defense budget is exempted."

December 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


An Imperfect God (YORAM HAZONY, 11/26/12, NY Times)

[W]hile this "theist" view of God is supposed to be a description of the God of the Bible, it's hard to find any evidence that the prophets and scholars who wrote the Hebrew Bible (or "Old Testament") thought of God in this way at all. The God of Hebrew Scripture is not depicted as immutable, but repeatedly changes his mind about things (for example, he regrets having made man). He is not all-knowing, since he's repeatedly surprised by things (like the Israelites abandoning him for a statue of a cow). He is not perfectly powerful either, in that he famously cannot control Israel and get its people to do what he wants. And so on. [...]

So if it's not a bundle of "perfections" that the prophets and scholars who wrote the Hebrew Bible referred to in speaking of God, what was it they were talking about? As Donald Harman Akenson writes, the God of Hebrew Scripture is meant to be an "embodiment of what is, of reality" as we experience it. God's abrupt shifts from action to seeming indifference and back, his changing demands from the human beings standing before him, his at-times devastating responses to mankind's deeds and misdeeds -- all these reflect the hardship so often present in the lives of most human beings. To be sure, the biblical God can appear with sudden and stunning generosity as well, as he did to Israel at the Red Sea. And he is portrayed, ultimately, as faithful and just. But these are not the "perfections" of a God known to be a perfect being. They don't exist in his character "necessarily," or anything remotely similar to this. On the contrary, it is the hope that God is faithful and just that is the subject of ancient Israel's faith: We hope that despite the frequently harsh reality of our daily experience, there is nonetheless a faithfulness and justice that rules in our world in the end.

The ancient Israelites, in other words, discovered a more realistic God than that descended from the tradition of Greek thought. But philosophers have tended to steer clear of such a view, no doubt out of fear that an imperfect God would not attract mankind's allegiance. Instead, they have preferred to speak to us of a God consisting of a series of sweeping idealizations -- idealizations whose relation to the world in which we actually live is scarcely imaginable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Study reveals women spend one week a year on grooming (KATY YOUNG | 22 NOVEMBER 2012, The Telegraph)

A study of 2,000 women conducted by Opinium Research for Clairol Nice n' Easy has revealed just how vain a nation we really are. For every year of our lives, one week is spent in front of our mirror at home, grooming, prepping and preening. [...]

We'll spend just over 40 minutes getting ready for a night out with friends, just under 40 if we're headed out with our partner - good to know we've got our preening priorities right - and up to an hour preparing for a special occasion.

Gender, not nation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 AM


When He Washed My Sins Away (MARC MYERS, 11/26/12, WSJ)

Mr. Hawkins: In 1968, I hired Century Records, a local vanity label, to record an album of songs by the choir. My plan was to order 500 copies and have members sell them for about $5 each to raise money for our church.

One of the eight songs I wrote and arranged for the album was "Oh Happy Day," based on "O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice"-- a formal 18th-century hymn with a lovely, simple message. A year earlier I had updated the hymn with new chord voicings and a gospel feel. One of my influences at the time was pianist Sergio Mendes. I liked how he alternated between major and minor keys and created rhythmic patterns on the keyboard. My piano intro was along those lines. Our recording was made at the Ephesian Church during the summer of 1968. I chose Dorothy Morrison, one of our most experienced vocalists, to sing the lead.

Ms. Morrison: Edwin asked me to have the lyrics memorized by the recording date. But it wasn't until the drive over with my husband at the time that I began to commit them to memory. The lyrics were simple and they rhymed, but they were a lot to remember.

At the church, I wrote two sections on my palms with a pen. The third section I memorized. During the recording, I put up my hands, with my palms facing me. Everyone thought I was feeling the spirit. I was--but I also was reading the lyrics [laughs].

I ad-libbed on "When Jesus washed, oh, when he washed, my sins away." And I threw in a James Brown "good God" toward the end, which made the song feel even more current.

Mr. Hawkins: Our album--"Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord"--was ready a few weeks later. I gave 10 copies to each choir member to sell for the church. I was sure that "Joy, Joy!" or "To My Father's House" was going to be the song that would sell the album.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:38 AM


Our Hero Socrates : A similar version of this essay appears as the introduction to Nalin Ranasinghe's Socrates in the Underworld: On Plato's Gorgias (Peter Augustine Lawler, 2/01/10, Clarion Review)

The deepest depth of the Platonic dialogue is a return to its surface, which is genuinely illuminating conversation about the moral or purpose-driven concerns we really share in common. We learn that the true purpose of the capacity for speech given to particular members of our species is neither technical nor transgressive. It is an error to view words as primarily weapons for either practical manipulation or for destroying the various articulations of the moral responsibilities given to social persons open to the truth.

Socrates finally confirms the goodness of all that we've been given as the beings with eros and logos, which means that all pretensions to solitary liberation or autonomous self-sufficiency are revealed, deep down, to be nothing but unnecessarily misery-producing illusions. Speech directed by reason and pulled toward reality by eros is, most of all, what keeps us from being alone. It also allows each of us to make genuine progress toward personal moral perfection. Our truth-inspired responsibilities are both personal and social.

"The crucial question," as Ranasinghe articulates it, "has to do with how seriously one takes Socrates' understanding of the soul as the seat of moral agency." Do we really know enough to be able to say with confidence, against the skeptics, that our perception of moral choice is real? Socrates' "knowledge of ignorance" is his awareness that omniscience is not a human possibility. We can't really resolve the question of human freedom through the study of natural science, and one condition of our freedom is our ability to know that we can't fully comprehend or control all that exists. We don't have the power, in fact, to make ourselves more or less than humans stuck between the other animals and God. Divine freedom or blind determination by impersonal necessity will never characterize us.

Do we still know enough to know that being good and being happy are really choices open to us? Do we really know that any effort to feel good--to be happy--without really being good is bound to fail us? Socrates, Ranasinghe patiently explains, gives a psychic account of evil; good and evil are both profoundly personal.

I am evil, I can say, because I'm to blame if my soul is disordered, if I've been choosing against what I really know about myself. Evil is real and personal, and so it has a real and personal remedy. Telling the truth to myself as a rational and erotic being is the precondition for my choosing good over evil. That means that no radical social or technological transformation--no mega-effort to escape from the reality we've been given--can solve or even address the problem of evil. The Socratic way, which is the only way that respects the mystery of human freedom, is to proceed one soul at a time.

The Socratic teaching is morally demanding. The truth is, we're not excused from doing the right thing by being victims or playthings of arbitrary gods or impersonal forces. But it is also reassuring. An ugly old guy trapped in an unhappy marriage turns out to be the best and the happiest Athenian of all. We can live well in the most adverse circumstances. Our happiness doesn't depend on happenstance or what's beyond our control, just as it doesn't depend on being a successful control freak.

Socrates, Ranasinghe shows, was no Stoic. The Stoics were also tough-minded men. They did their duty as rational beings in what they saw as a cold, deterministic world, and so they thought it was possible to keep one's own fate in one's own control. The Stoics actually thought life is tougher than it really is. In their self-understanding, there's no room for freedom or love or real happiness.

The world would be evil if the Stoics are right, and one appropriate response would be tight-lipped rational endurance of what can't be changed. The Stoics were unerotic because they thought the only way to think of themselves as happy is to think of themselves as minds, and not as whole human beings. But Socrates was actually happy in thinking about who he really is, because the pull of his eros was away from the illusion connecting rational self-sufficiency with happiness.

If the Stoics are right on the facts, then the Epicureans (or the Epicurean sophists) actually make more sense. The world is evil insofar as it's hostile to my very existence. Everything human is ephemeral and pointless, and so both hope and fear make me stupid. Such sophists argue that since evil isn't caused by me and can't be remedied by me, my proper response to worldly events is apathy. I might as well try to lose myself in imaginary pleasures, including taking some proud pleasure in being able to rise above the futile sound and fury that surrounds me. My personal assault on reality is, in fact, a value judgment on reality. I'm free to do whatever it takes to get me through this hell of a life.

But the truth is that I can't ever fully believe that my perception of reality is nothing but a private fantasy. I can't turn what I really know about my death into "death" or a linguistic construction amenable to reconstruction with my happiness in mind. In a certain way the Epicurean teaching is tougher than the Stoic position. Losing oneself is a full-time job; there's no real break from the pursuit of pleasurable diversions. There's no greater source of human misery, perhaps, than believing that nothing makes us more miserable than thinking clearly about what we really know. The fact that that thought is very un- or anti-erotic also helps to explain why Epicureans don't actually have much fun; they, like the Stoics, mistakenly refuse to go where their erotic longings could take them.

One of the most wonderful and genuinely useful features of Socrates in the Underworld is the large number of pointed and witty contemporary applications of the way Socrates reconciles truth, virtue, and happiness. Here's the Socratic good news for us: Our alternatives extend beyond fatalistic Stoicism (as practiced by our Southern aristocrats), emotive religion (as practiced, say, by our Evangelicals) aimed at opposing the loving will of God to scientific or empirical nihilism, and the unerotic and otherwise boring Epicureanism promulgated by our academic deconstructionists, which animates the creeping (and often creepy) libertarianism that characterizes our culture as a whole.

Our lefty postmodernists and our right-wing free marketers, Ranasinghe shows, serve the same sophisticated cause of liberating us from any responsibility to moral truth. They think we'll be better off if we believe that what Socrates says we most need to know is unknowable, and succumb to their cynical claim that even the bonds of love are for suckers. By causing us to flee from what we really know and thus from our real potential for virtue, our sophisticates lead us to think and act as less than we really are. But it's still possible to recover who we really are; we can still imitate Socrates' ennobling example.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


The Moral Imagination (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

What is this "moral imagination"? The phrase is Edmund Burke's, and it occurs in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke describes the destruction of civilizing manners by the revolutionaries: 

All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion. 

On this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order. All homage paid to the sex in general as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded as romance and folly. . . . On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors, and by the concern which each individual may find in them from his own private speculations, or can spate to them from his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows . . . 

Nothing is more certain than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners, and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion. 

By this "moral imagination," Burke signifies that power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events "especially," as the dictionary has it, "the higher form of this power exercised in poetry and art." The moral imagination aspires to the apprehending of right order in the soul and right order in the commonwealth. This moral imagination was the gift and the obsession of Plato and Vergil and Dante. Drawn from centuries of human consciousness, these concepts of the moral imagination--so powerfully if briefly put by Burke--are expressed afresh from age to age. So it is that the men of humane letters in our century whose work seems most likely to endure have not been neoterists, but rather bearers of an old standard, tossed by our modern winds of doctrine: the names of Eliot, Frost, Faulkner, Waugh, and Yeats may suffice to suggest the variety of this moral imagination in the twentieth century.

It is the moral imagination which informs us concerning the dignity of human nature, which instructs us that we are more than naked apes. 

December 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Sovereignty Day Celebrated in Iceland (Iceland Review, 12/01/12)

Today, December 1, is Iceland's sovereignty day and students of the University of Iceland will celebrate the day with a special program as they have since 1922.

The program begins with a sermon in the university's chapel, followed by laying a wreath of flowers on the grave of Iceland's independence hero, Jón Sigurðsson, in the Hólavallakirkjugarður cemetery.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart (J. PETER PHAM, 12/01/12, NY Times)

Whatever else Congo's various armed groups may be, they are clearly viewed by large segments of some communities as de facto protectors -- a point underscored by the several hundred government soldiers and police officers who recently defected to M23 and publicly swore allegiance to it after the fall of Goma.

If Congo were permitted to break up into smaller entities, the international community could devote its increasingly scarce resources to humanitarian relief and development, rather than trying, as the United Nations Security Council has pledged, to preserve the "sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity" of a fictional state that is of value only to the political elites who have clawed their way to the top in order to plunder Congo's resources and fund the patronage networks that ensure that they will remain in power.

Despite its democratic misnomer, Mr. Kabila has repeatedly delayed holding local elections since 2005. For years, every last mayor, burgomeister and neighborhood chief in the entire country has been appointed by presidential decree.

Given the dysfunctional status quo and the terrible toll it has exacted in terms of lives and resources, the West should put aside ideological dogmatism in favor of statesmanlike pragmatism and acknowledge the reality that, at least in some extreme cases, the best way to break a cycle of violence is to break up an artificial country in crisis and give it back to its very real people.

People who think themselves a nation are one.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Let's Talk About X (DAVID BROOKS, 11/29/12, NY Times)

[I]f we're going to simultaneously address our two most pressing needs -- raising revenue and boosting growth -- we're going to have to break free from the 1986 paradigm.

That means asking the basic question: What is the single biggest problem with the tax code? It's not the complexity, bad as that is. The biggest problem is that it rewards consumption and punishes savings and investment.

You can't fundamentally address that problem within the 1986 paradigm. You can address it only through a consumption tax. This idea is off the table right now, but reality will inevitably drive us toward it. We have to have a consumption tax if we want to both grow the economy and reduce debt.

But isn't a consumption tax regressive since poor people spend a bigger share of their incomes than rich people? The late David F. Bradford of Princeton University effectively solved that problem with his so-called X Tax, which has recently been championed by Alan D. Viard of the American Enterprise Institute and others. Under the X Tax, you wouldn't pay the consumption tax at the cash register. Businesses would be taxed on their cash flow, taking an immediate deduction for investments rather than depreciating them over time. Households would pay tax at progressive rates on their wages but would not pay tax on income from savings.

The X Tax effectively taxes the money you spend right now and rewards savings and investment. The government could raise a chunk of revenue this way and significantly boost growth with little or no change in how tax burdens are distributed between rich and poor. Most economists vastly prefer consumption taxes to income taxes. 

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