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.