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.