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.